Return of the Crimson Witch: Part Six
Edna drifted down through the darkness.
Or maybe she was drifting up; she wasn’t quite sure.
Either way, she was fairly confident there was drifting occurring.
This wasn’t just darkness; it wasn’t just the colour black. This was the place where the darkness waited; it was the place where the darkness slept. It was the Void, the endless space of nothingness. This was the unknown, the line between the world of reality, and the world of everything else.
The witches always lived on the line; it was where the magic and the power were, after all.
And here Edna was, walking the line between life and death... or drifting through it, as it happened.
“I am here to make a deal,” she said.
The magic that coursed through her soul gave her a voice to speak in a place where she had no body.
There will be a price, the darkness told her.
“It will be paid, don’t you worry,” Edna told the Void.
No tricks, creature of flesh! the darkness commanded.
“No tricks, I am a woman of my word,” Edna said politely.
You have a deal, the darkness rasped.
If Edna had possessed a body at that point, she would have smiled thinly.
She felt the darkness of the Void subside; the drifting came to an end.
She could feel her legs again, and her arms... the smells of Qasala drifted up her nostrils, and the sounds of nearby voices drifted into her ears.
She opened her eyes, and the world came back into focus. Her body ached as if she’d been run over by a marching band, but she couldn’t let that stop her. There’d be time for pain later, when she had to pay the price.
Slowly, she got to her feet, steadying herself so she didn’t fall over.
A few metres away, Esmeralda and Sophie were talking, their backs to the witch they thought was dead.
Their voices stopped abruptly, as they felt the tingling in the air.
Edna felt the magic rise up through her feet. She’d never felt power like it before. Around her, the buildings began to shake, and masonry fell to the floor from the roofs.
Edna knew what was coming, but Esmeralda didn’t. As the magical fault lines beneath Qasala exploded upwards, taking half of the city with it, Edna held herself steady and the old Kyrii fell to the floor.
And then the clocks started ticking again.
The flames flickered in the tomb once more. Nuria snatched her hand away from the tomb in terror. Then, she looked around, and focused on Morguss.
“Esmeralda is back!” he shouted.
“I know,” Morguss told her. “She’s in Qasala.”
“We have to warn Fyora!” Nuria gasped.
“There’s no time,” Morguss replied, taking the Faerie by the hand. “Edna’s fighting her; she must be if you’re breathing again.”
“Is that...?” Nuria asked as she saw the fallen Tonu in the secret room’s entrance.
“Dead; they all are,” Morguss said without remorse, aware that it was time of business and nothing else. “Edna’s tried crossing over to the Void, I’ll bet. She’ll be using shadow magic.”
Nuria snatched back her hand.
“She’s made a deal with the shadows?” she asked.
“It was the only way... we wouldn’t have enough power to stop her otherwise,” Morguss said, taking the Faerie’s hand again and dragging her through the tomb. “But it’s not going to be enough. Esmeralda will run if she thinks she’s beaten. We have to stop her.”
“We couldn’t kill her, you understand?” Nuria asked guiltily. “Fyora is not a murderer... when Esmeralda ripped up the book during the Great War; we captured her, and stored her here. Over time, her legend was passed to the witches. You glorified her, and we didn’t have the heart to tell you otherwise...”
“I understand,” Morguss replied. “If you want to make amends, use your magic.”
Henry dumbly followed behind, trying to absorb as much as the conversation as possible.
“You want a sandstorm?” Nuria asked, catching on quickly.
“As big as possible,” Morguss confirmed as they emerged into the desert sun.
There was smoke rising on the horizon, coming from the direction of Qasala.
“Are we too late?” Henry asked.
“The fault lines have exploded!” Nuria gasped, recognising a magical fire when she saw one.
“There’ll be talking shrubberies, mark my words,” Morguss said to the Ogrin as she prepared to cast a spell.
Nuria and Morguss stood opposite each other, and began to chant. The desert winds seemed to pick up, carrying sand towards the city.
Edna watched as the debris sent sky high by the explosion rained back down upon the city. Her hat had blown away and her straggled hair that was normally held in a tight bun beneath blew slightly in the wind. Now, she looked curiously like Esmeralda.
She felt the power that had come out of the fault lines. It had entered her, and now her body coursed with the magic of an entire planet.
In the distance, there were screams, and all around the city buildings were either burning or subsiding. In the days to come, government officials would explain it away as an unfortunate Internal Server Error within the Expellibox. Only the witches and Henry would ever know the truth.
Esmeralda got to her feet and turned as the wind picked up. She saw Edna, and her face contorted into a snarl.
“You! I killed you!” she screamed.
Edna didn’t reply; she was concentrating too hard on containing the power boiling up inside of her. If she unleashed it in the wrong way, she’d blow a crater the size of the moon in the desert.
Sophie had taken a few steps back from Esmeralda, and was watching her with an amused grin.
“Well,” Esmeralda continued, “I can deal with you! I am stronger than you!”
She extended out her hand and sent a beam of green energy shooting towards Edna. The old Zafara merely waved her hand, and the energy was cast aside.
“Not today,” Edna stated.
Her voice had a curious echoing quality, as if she was saying the words in many voices at once.
Esmeralda snarled and then lifted both her hands. She charged up a bigger magical blast and sent it once more towards Edna. The old witch shielded herself with magic, and Esmeralda’s beam was deflected again.
“Why can’t you just die!?” Esmeralda screamed.
She prepared to charge another blast, but she found her powers weakened. Beside her, Sophie was casting magic of her own, designed to weaken Esmeralda.
“You?” the old Kyrii gasped. “But she made you who you are! She ruined your life!”
“No,” Sophie replied. “She saved my life. If I wasn’t a witch, I’d be nothing... I’d be worse than nothing!”
Esmeralda turned her fierce gaze back towards Edna. Around the three witches, a whirlwind was picking up. Sand had arrived, carried on the wind from the desert, and the square in front of the palace was now at the epicentre of a sandstorm.
The witches were in the safety of the storm’s eye, but if they moved, the sands would strip the bones for their bodies. Esmeralda was trapped.
She gathered up another blast, and sent it towards Edna.
Edna herself countered with her own magic, and the two beams of energy met between them, the sparks flying off at the centre, blinding all those present.
Try as she might, Esmeralda couldn’t overpower her opponent.
Edna put some more power behind her magic, and Esmeralda’s beam faltered. Edna’s beam of energy collided with the ancient Kyrii, and vaporised her on the spot. Edna would not take the chance of letting Esmeralda walk the line. She would not leave a body for her to come back to.
Her magic spent, Edna collapsed to the floor. The sandstorm, spiralling with the anger of the battle, dissipated.
As quickly as she dared, Edna discharged the magic she had borrowed back into the ground. She knew keeping that much for herself would kill her.
Sophie rushed over and helped Edna up, handing her the witch’s hat she always wore. The Zafara took it, and jammed it over her ears proudly.
“Is it over?” Sophie asked.
Edna remained silent.
“Dorchester!” the Kacheek with the thick glasses yelled.
Henry appeared at his side almost instantaneously.
“Yes, sir?” he asked.
“What is this!?” the Kacheek demanded, gesturing towards the fizzing wreck that was the Expellibox.
“Oh, the repair-wizards tell me that the Expellibox has suffered an Internal Server Error sir,” Henry explained. “They say it caused a feedback loop in the fault lines sir, that’s what caused the fires.”
“Why is the potted cactus plant on my desk singing?” the Kacheek asked.
“A side effect of the explosion, sir. It should return to normal within a few months,” Henry explained.
He carefully left out all mention of the witches in the explanation. They’d given him strict instructions that no one was to know what had happened. No one was to know that Esmeralda had returned.
Henry had found a clipboard. Clipboards always helped when you wanted to explain things; they made you seem so much more important. With the clipboard in his hands, Henry had already been unofficially promoted from General Dogsbody to the Man Who Knows About the Expellibox. It was a coveted title, even if it didn’t exist.
“Can the wizards fix it?” the Kacheek asked.
“Your cactus, sir? I doubt it,” Henry replied.
“No! The Expellibox!” the Kacheek shouted irritably.
“Oh, the main structure is still operational and the pipelines were not damaged...” Henry told him. “In fact the repair-wizards say the pipes have now spread out into some entirely new dimensions. They seem very interested in that; apparently it’s not possible. In a couple of weeks they should have the system up and running again, sir.”
“Good... good...” the Kacheek muttered.
He got the distinct idea that the wool was being pulled over his eyes... but he really didn’t understand how the blasted contraption worked.
“By the way, sir, here’s the E390 forms those witches needed filling out,” Henry added.
The Ogrin dumped a large pile of forms in the Kacheek’s arms. He sighed the well known sigh of a civil servant who knows his immediate future holds nothing but the prospects of double checking paperwork.
And then signing it in triplicate.
The witches flew through the sky as the moon rose and night set in. It was always best to leave before people started asking questions. If you hung around long enough, they might figure out you had something to do with it.
“That was powerful magic,” Morguss said across the night air.
“Yes, it was,” Edna said flatly.
“You borrowed the magic of the planet... that’s magic that’s never been done before,” Sophie pointed out.
“I know that,” Edna snapped, she could see where this was going.
“You made a deal with the shadows, didn’t you?” Morguss asked.
She needn’t have bothered asking; she already knew the answer.
“So what if I did? It was the only way to do what needed to be done!” Edna snapped.
“There’ll be a price,” Morguss said. “There’s always a price with the shadows.”
“I know there’ll be a price!” Edna shouted. “I know it, and I’ll pay the price when it’s time to! You understand? I kept the balance, Esmeralda is dead... that’s all that matters at the moment!”
Morguss and Sophie were silenced.
The witches flew on towards the Haunted Woods. Around them, the darkness seemed to grow deeper.
But Edna was right, they had kept the balance.
Esmeralda was gone.
Neopia was safe.