Return of the Crimson Witch: Part Four
The wave of silence washed over the witches, and then left as soon as it had arrived.
“I say, what was that?” Henry asked.
The witches were not paying attention to him; they had more pressing issues to deal with. Around the plaza, Neopets had stopped moving. There were people stopped while walking and running, street entertainers caught mid-act, and above them, Petpets were frozen in flight. Nothing was moving. Aside from Henry and the witches, time appeared to have ground to a halt.
“That’s powerful magic,” Morguss observed.
Sophie experimentally prodded one of the frozen passers-by in the stomach. The Nimmo fell backwards to the floor and rocked there silently, still frozen in his original pose.
“What’s happened?” Henry asked.
“Someone’s stopped time,” Edna told him.
“You think the Expellibox did this?” the Ogrin asked.
“No, if what you told us about the Spelling Box is right, it’d cause much more random magic than this,” Edna observed. “There’d be people with three heads, and talking shrubberies.”
“I remember when a fault line went haywire near Meridell,” she confirmed. “Darigan was having philosophical arguments with his window box for weeks.”
“Who did this then?” Sophie asked, not expecting an answer.
Edna glanced back towards the café.
“I think I know where they’ll be, whoever they are,” she said.
She didn’t explain herself any further, and began marching off towards one corner of the plaza. The others followed in her wake.
“So, if time has stopped, why are we still moving?” Henry asked as he followed.
“Magical creatures,” Sophie said simply. “We are resistant to certain types of magic. Just like if you held your hand over a candle long enough you wouldn’t feel the heat any more.”
“And me?” Henry asked.
“Maybe because you were standing so close to us,” Sophie suggested.
They followed Edna down an alley lined with market stalls. The traders all seemed to be caught in mid yell, but not a sound escaped their lips. Eventually, the alley widened out, and emerged into a large open space just in front of the palace.
There was someone waiting on the steps, and she was moving.
The old Kyrii smiled toothily as the four of them approached.
“I knew you’d come,” she rasped.
“You did this?” Edna asked.
She needn’t have bothered asking. The witches could sense the magic radiating off her.
Who was she?
The witches knew of practically every magic casting person on the planet... but this one didn’t seem at all familiar.
“Of course I did!” the old Kyrii shouted. “And you are the ones I have been looking for!”
“You’ve been looking for us?” Sophie asked. “You should have started in the Haunted Woods really... Qasala isn’t a sensible place to start.”
“The Darigan Citadel would be reasonable,” Morguss added. “Just who are you?”
The old Kyrii scowled at them.
“So, my face is wiped clean from history... even from my soldiers. Though you are traitorous,” she sneered.
The witches stared at her blankly.
“You destroyed my book,” she rasped.
“If this is about me getting angry and destroying some prizes last week that I was giving out to people who helped save Neovia,” Sophie volunteered, “I am afraid I can’t help. The Neovian town council told me that prizes were to be non-refundable.”
“What!?” the Kyrii screamed. “Have you no shame for what you did?”
“Listen,” Sophie snapped, “I don’t have to sit in my shack all day handing out prizes. I am a busy woman! I don’t have the time!”
“I am the Crimson Witch!” the Kyrii bellowed.
The witches fell silent.
“She’s dead,” Morguss laughed. “Who are you really?”
“Dead, am I?” the Kyrii cackled. “Those horrible Faeries would like you to think so. No, they couldn’t kill me. I am back.”
“Esmeralda?” Edna gasped.
The Kyrii smiled at the sound of her name.
“So, my tale is not completely forgotten,” she chuckled. “But that is in the past. You still destroyed my book.”
“We had to!” Edna snapped. “The Faeries were going to get it! You have no idea what would have happened; we had to keep the balance!”
“Balance?” Esmeralda asked. “Who cares about balance?”
The witches recoiled in horror.
“What did you say?” Morguss gasped.
Keeping the balance between good and evil was the sacred job of the witches. It was the first rule you learned. You curse a few, you save a few, and you keep Neopia as it is, no better and no worse. Esmeralda might as well have said that the sky was green.
“Enough of this,” Esmeralda rasped. “I am going to dispose of you, and then give those Faeries the same treatment. Then, Neopia is mine for the taking.”
“You can’t be Esmeralda...” Sophie muttered. “The mother of all witches was the inspiration to us all, the woman who united all Neopets and gave magic to the masses! She kept the balance! She created the balance!”
Esmeralda smiled a ruthless grin.
“She’s gone bad,” Edna muttered.
“I’m as I’ve always been,” Esmeralda snapped. “The Faeries stood in my way, so I created an army with magic to face them. Balance doesn’t matter to me any more than your pitiful lives.”
“What are we going to do?” Sophie hissed at the other witches.
“Morguss... get Mr. Dorchester out of here,” Edna ordered.
“But...” Morguss protested, but found Edna’s glare upon her.
There was a glint in her eyes that Morguss didn’t like.
“Come on, Mr. Dorchester,” the Moehog sighed.
She grabbed the Ogrin by his arm and dragged him back down the market alley they had arrived by.
“Then there were two.” Esmeralda smirked.
Morguss ran as fast as she could, which to Henry’s surprise was very fast indeed for such an old lady.
“Who was that?” he asked.
There was no reply. Henry dug his heels into the cobbles, bringing them to a stop.
“I said, who was that!?” he repeated. “I’m not going to go another step until you explain this!”
Morguss rounded on the Ogrin. Henry saw genuine fear in her eyes, and it unsettled him.
“That was Esmeralda, the first witch ever to live,” she explained. “She gave magic to the Neopets, stole it from the Faeries using a magic book. The legend goes she gathered a great army to challenge Fyora but in the heat of the battle she ripped up the book to stop Fyora using it. Turns out she ripped up a fake and hid the real one in Shenkuu. It turned up a few months back and we destroyed it, for the good of Neopia.”
“But now she’s back?” Henry asked.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but she’s the most powerful witch ever to live?” Henry asked. “And she wants you dead?”
“Yes,” Morguss agreed.
“Then why are Edna and Sophie fighting her by themselves? Surely you need all the power you can get?” Henry asked.
“Someone had to make sure you were safe,” Morguss pointed out.
“If they die, she’ll come after you. I don’t think that is safe,” Henry told her.
The cogs turned quickly in the brain of the Moehog.
“Fine!” she shouted, and began running back towards the palace, and the other witches.
Henry struggled to keep up.
Edna and Sophie exchanged a glance. It only lasted the briefest of moments, but it said everything that needed to be said.
Two witches against one, we can take her!
Who’re we kidding? She’s the most powerful witch ever to live!
We’re dead witches standing...
“Listen,” Esmeralda said as she began to descend the steps from the palace, “I’m a fair lady... you can join me, and we’ll take over Neopia together.”
“We’ll never join you!” Sophie spat. “You’re a disgrace! Everything you do is for your own gain!”
Esmeralda cocked an eyebrow at the Ixi.
“You think you’re any different?” she asked. “What about you... Edna, isn’t it?”
The Kyrii glared at the old Zafara, and Edna felt the force of her magic. Esmeralda was inside her mind, routing through her memories like a filing cabinet.
Edna saw them flash before her eyes, a slideshow of her life.
Esmeralda paused on one, and Edna saw her smile.
“Sophie of Neovia, daughter of Edmund and Alice,” she said, addressing the swamp witch. “You believe that your friend here is a true witch? You believe she keeps the balance, that she is not greedy? Let me tell you the truth about her!”
Sophie glanced at Edna. There was a strange twinkle in the old woman’s eye. Sophie recognised it; she knew exactly what Edna was planning, and it horrified her.
“You were driven from Neovia as a child,” Esmeralda continued, rifling through the thoughts of both witches. “Your brother carried you into the woods, escaping the curse that had befallen the town. There, the vile Faerie Ilere found you, and took you in. She tutored you in magic, she made you a witch.”
“History, nothing more,” Edna snapped.
“Sophie of Neovia... did you never wonder why Ilere was so far from her woodland lair that night?” Esmeralda asked with glee. “Did you not wonder why she took in a Neopet, having shunned outside contact for generations? Why she tutored you, set you on your course, turned you into a witch instead of the girl you should have been?”
Sophie stared wide eyed at the old witch.
“It was her!” Esmeralda laughed. “Edna asked her to do it! She asked her to walk through the woods that night! She asked her to take in any children she found! She asked her to teach them the powerful magic of witchery! Edna made you who you are; she tainted you! She made you a witch, forever!”
Sophie turned to Edna, her eyes full of tears.
“Edna...” she gasped.
“It has to be this way,” Edna whispered.
“She made you like her, to keep her company. An act of greed, so that she would not be alone in the Haunted Woods any longer. She ruined your life!” Esmeralda goaded Sophie. “Join me, Sophie... I will never lie to you; never manipulate your very life.”
Sophie stepped backwards from Edna, tears rolling down her cheeks, and joined Esmeralda on the steps. The oldest witch cackled madly.
In the alley, Morguss and Henry watched, silent and hidden in the shadows.
“Why aren’t you helping?” Henry asked.
“I know Edna,” Morguss told him. “She has a plan.”
Back on the steps, Esmeralda finished her laughter.
“Now, I shall finish you!” she snarled.
The old witch held out a hand, and a beam of green energy fired out of it. Edna lifted her hands to shield herself, but the blast knocked her down. Sophie ran forwards to her fallen friend, and knelt down.
Edna was not moving.
Eventually, Sophie recoiled in horror. If she had been crying before, now her face was like a downpour.
“She’s dead...” she whispered. “You’ve killed her...”
To be continued...