Return of the Crimson Witch: Part Five
Morguss led Henry back through the streets at a run, far quicker than before.
“Why are we running?” he gasped from behind her. “Did you not see what just happened? We need to fight!”
Morguss stopped dead and turned around. Henry could see that she was crying.
“I know Edna, and she’s got a plan,” she repeated.
“She’s dead!” Henry shouted. “What kind of a plan is that?”
Henry saw what the Moehog's eyes were saying.
I’ve known Edna my whole life and I just saw her die. You don’t want to make me angry with questions.
“The kind where you have to risk everything,” Morguss told him, her voice trembling.
Henry’s mind raced to conclusions.
“I see! She’s not dead, right?” he asked. “Sophie’s just pretending, so that Edna can hit her while she least suspects it?”
“You saw that magic hit her,” Morguss said, as she continued on her way. “You think anyone could survive a direct hit like that?”
“Then what’s this plan? Why are we running?” Henry demanded.
“We are running for two very important reasons,” Morguss explained. “Number one: when someone kills a friend you’ve known pretty much all your life and you know they are after you next, you don’t want to be around. Number two: if Edna really does have a plan, then she needs help to pull it off.”
“Pull what off?” Henry asked. “She’s dead!”
Morguss came to a dead stop again. Henry almost ran into her back.
“Witches exist on the line; we always have done,” she explained. “It’s where the power is. Between good and evil, between right and left, between up and down, right and wrong... and between life and death.”
“You’re making no sense!” Henry shouted.
“Good,” Morguss said simply. “If you don’t understand, then it’s better for you in the long run. Some things are not supposed to be known.”
She looked around; they’d stopped in the plaza. The Neopets were all still frozen, and the one Sophie had pushed over mere minutes before was still rocking on the ground. Morguss glanced over to the café, and saw Maria, frozen in the middle of delivering an order of the mysterious purple food.
But she wasn’t watching where she was placing the plates.
She was looking towards the palace.
Morguss switched her gaze between the waitress and the palace. Edna had looked at her just before leading them there, hadn’t she?
Did Maria know where Esmeralda was?
She’d followed her book half way across Neopia... almost drawn to it... and now she turned up in the Lost Desert just as Esmeralda was let loose.
“She said she wanted to visit the desert...” Morguss thought aloud.
“What?” Henry asked, taking the opportunity to sit down and catch his breath.
“You said some diggers had found a really old temple in the desert!” Morguss continued, hardly paying attention to Henry’s response. “I wonder... did Maria sense she was buried there? Mr. Dorchester... do you know where they are digging?”
“Henry, please... call me Henry,” he told her. “There’s a thousand digs going on at the moment in the desert... and that really isn’t my department.”
Morguss scowled at him. It wasn’t as efficient as Edna’s glare, but it did the job.
“Though, I have heard that one of the Expellibox tubes originally intended for Sakhmet has gotten mixed up in inter-dimensional interference. The exit now appears near a recently discovered temple,” Henry explained.
“Can you show me the way?” Morguss asked, reaching inside her endless robes for a broomstick.
“Ah... not as such... I’m not from the mapping department, you see?” Henry hesitated. “I think I have an idea that might work, though.”
“Leave her,” Esmeralda commanded mercilessly. “She got what she deserved... let that be a lesson about ‘balance’.”
Sophie choked back the tears, and with one last look at Edna, stood up.
“What now?” she asked.
“We find your friend... she’ll get the same offer as you, don’t worry,” Esmeralda cackled.
“Then we attack Faerieland?” Sophie asked.
Esmeralda smiled with glee.
“Yes...” she turned to look at the palace. “This place will make a good seat for my next empire, when we are done. I always liked the desert... so harsh, so unforgiving.”
“You think we will be able to attack Faerieland alone?” Sophie asked.
“They think I’m long gone,” Esmeralda laughed. “Half of them will fall before they even know who’s attacking them.”
“You want me to get in that?” Morguss asked.
“Provided you enter the third tube from the right, we should be fine,” Henry said reassuringly.
“What happens if I miss?” Morguss asked.
“You’ll either end up in Tyrannia, or cause a Fatal Error,” Henry told her.
“I don’t like the sound of that. What does a Fatal Error do?” Morguss asked.
Henry scratched his head.
“I don’t know exactly; it’s never happened before. But rest assured, it would only happen once, if you catch my meaning,” he explained.
They were stood in front of the Expellibox, having cleared a path through the frozen visitors.
It was essentially a ditch, carved into the stone. One side was made of glass so that people on the floor below could see the path of the scarabs that were thrown in. At the bottom, the tubes opened up, and there were a series of rather painful looking pegs between them and Morguss.
“I don’t think I’ll fit through holes built for scarabs,” Morguss pointed out.
“Don’t worry about that,” Henry laughed. “Like I said, the pipes are really just trans-dimensional portals. We could throw anything through them, including a small house... though the one time we tried that it caused a 404 message and spat the house back out at us. Sometimes, I wonder if old Thornpipe just didn’t write a complete magical programming language for the thing.”
Morguss peered over the edge again. Third tube from the right and next to it was certain doom. She breathed in deeply and held her breath like some kind of diver, and then jumped into the Expellibox.
She hit a peg on the way down, bruising her ribs, and turning her in the air, sending her flying face downwards into the pipe.
As she hit it, she felt her body coarse with static electricity, and the world seemed to blur, as if she was falling through a kaleidoscope.
Then she felt the world return, gravity first, and the colours of the desert sands focused in her vision. She fell forward, her head burying itself in the dune.
A moment later, Henry appeared out of thin air and fell on top of her.
With much cursing and hitting, Morguss got to her feet and dusted herself off.
“We will not be doing that on the return journey,” she said sternly.
“If we worked out the kinks, it could be a viable method of faster-than-light travel, I think,” Henry told her.
“Getting rid of the pegs would be a start,” Morguss muttered as her sides winced in pain.
“Yes, of course... though to make any viable alterations we’d have to find someone who actually understands how Thornpipe did it,” Henry explained.
“One wizard’s just as loony as the next,” Morguss suggested helpfully. “Now, where’s this tomb?”
Henry scanned the surrounding dunes. Atop one, a flimsy looking tent stood, not billowing in the wind.
Even out here, time had stopped.
“Come on, we don’t have much time,” Morguss said as she stormed off towards the tent.
Inside, they found some battered looking camping equipment, and a dark hole leading downwards. Carefully, they lowered themselves inside. Torchlight lit the walls, but the flames stood still, their flickers held at bay.
The walls were covered in hieroglyphs.
“Know much ancient Sakhmetian?” Morguss asked as she traced her hand over some of the symbols.
“None,” Henry told her.
“Me neither,” Morguss sighed.
“Madame Morguss...” Henry said, pointing towards the floor.
There was a young Neopet lying there, badly burned. Morguss could sense the magic used, even after all that time. He was dead, beyond her help.
“She was here,” the witch growled.
The pair made their way farther into the tomb, and stumbled upon a hole leading down to a lower level.
Morguss daintily lowered herself down on a rope, insisting that Henry didn’t look, before he joined her.
There was another body down there, a Tonu. He too had been badly burned by a magical attack.
Henry ran his fingers over some of the symbols on the wall.
“I’m no expert, but I’d say these hieroglyphs are much older,” he said.
“Over here,” Morguss whispered.
The Ogrin joined her at the entrance to a new room. It was dark inside, so Morguss lit a magic fire to provide some light.
In the centre of the new room was a time-worn sarcophagus, the lid open. Standing next to it was a statue of the Fire Faerie, Nuria. Her face was locked in an expression of horror.
“A statue of Nuria...” Henry said dismissively. “Almost all the temples in the desert have at least one. I don’t know why, it’s not as if she’s ever done a lot for the place...”
Morguss touched the stone of the statue’s arm. She felt the magic tingle.
“This isn’t a statue,” she muttered.
“You mean this is the real thing?” Henry asked.
“She must have found Esmeralda... woken her by accident...” Morguss explained. “I think I can cure her.”
“I thought witches didn’t like Faeries?” Henry asked.
“We don’t,” Morguss said as the magic swirled around her. “Right now though, we need a Faerie’s help.”
Gradually, the stone covering the Faerie receded, the colour slowly returning to the Faerie’s face. Nuria was restored in seconds.
But she stood there, all the same.
“What’s the matter?” Henry asked.
“She bore the brunt of Esmeralda’s magic...” Morguss muttered. “When she cast the time-stopping spell, it must have hit Nuria harder than most.”
“But I thought you said that magical creatures were immune?” Henry questioned.
“Not immune, just resistant,” Morguss told him. “Esmeralda must have wanted to make sure we couldn’t get help, so she concentrated more of the magic on Nuria.”
“Does that mean she can’t help us?” Henry asked.
“She’s frozen here as long as Esmeralda’s magic still stands,” Morguss said gravely.
To be continued...