The Broken Soul: Promises and War - Part Six
Reaching the end of his tale, Cove stopped with a shuddering breath, having relived, for a moment, his darkest day. The day when he’d turned coward and fled rather than face the criticism and disappointment of his people. He’d lived so long in perfection, how could he have managed it?
Sarevor, having remained this long in silence, looked deeply unsettled and perplexed.
“How can that be true? Maybe she fooled you,” he suggested. “A soul can’t just separate.”
Saying nothing, Cove stood, lifted the hem of his shirt, and exposed a jagged, dark scar along his side. A side that had once burned like fire. Sarevor’s eyes widened at this, and, having given his small snippet of proof, Cove dropped himself back down onto the bench beside him.
“It’s not just that, Sarevor,” he admitted. “She told me everything she knew. She spoke of hundreds of things I’d never said out loud. Ever. She knew it all. All of my worst thoughts and feelings.”
Sarevor wanted to fight against this. He’d never heard of a soul separating. He couldn’t believe it was true. But if it was? What was there to do now? He’d thought he was fighting against a Draik that was like any other tyrant. If she knew all of Cove’s secrets, how much more devastating of an enemy could she be?
“It doesn’t matter,” Sarevor said, as much to himself as Cove. “You’ve seen what she’s done already. You have to stop her. You’re the only one that can.”
The fear on Cove’s face at this was unmistakable, but he seemed resigned to this as well, as if it had always been the only logical conclusion. No matter that he’d tried to run from it.
“I know, but how, Sarevor? If she speaks the truth, no one will want me as their king.”
Sarevor thought this was exaggerating a little, but he didn’t want to point out that, compared to Mahyla, the Draik’s Claw’s citizens would likely take a street urchin as a king just to be rid of her. He knew what these secrets exposed would do to his king. He understood the need to protect his pride, though he also believed that no one could say they were innocent of dark thoughts from time to time.
This was obviously too great of an error to Cove, these thoughts that made him imperfect. He had fled from them, after all, so they would have to find a way to defeat Mahyla without backing her into a corner into which she would feel compelled to spill his secrets.
“Maybe there’s a way to get rid of her. She’s part of your soul, right? So maybe there’s a way to reunite her.”
Cove cringed at the thought. “Yes. Maybe.”
“So we’ll find someone that knows how to.”
Cove frowned. “But who would know something like that?”
“Neopia’s known for its brilliant collection of witches. There’s got to be someone,” Sarevor told him.
Though Cove shrugged, unconvinced, Sarevor was already compelled by the idea. Finally, he had a mode of action. He didn’t have to simply sit around and wait anymore. All they had to do was find someone that knew how to reunite a soul, and all their troubles would be over.
Now, who would know about such lore?
It was settled then. With Cove back and ready to retrieve what he had forfeited, Sarevor saw no reason to continue to pretend to be Mahyla’s ally. Severing this connection would certainly unburden his soul, but it would also inform the Scarab Army that he had indeed not really switched sides, which would hopefully boast the morale of the Neopians they might have to call on for help.This choice was all too easy to make. His presence was no longer necessary to keep the citizens out of danger, as he had caused the most havoc by staying at Mahyla’s side, and so his conscience did not disturb him when he debated the very night after his reunion with Cove. There was no time to waste in finding someone to help them reunite Cove’s severed soul.
Once they’d discussed it, it had seemed that the only logical place to search for a witch was, of course, the Haunted Woods, so that was where they immediately travelled. On the venture there, they were greeted, repeatedly, by the news of Sarevor’s departure from Mahyla and the ever more persistent hope that this was the best sign that Cove Macduff was returning for his throne.
This theory brought out a new wave of Scarab Army supporters, and infuriated the tyrant, Mahyla, who was also rumored to have doubled her efforts in her army as well, intending to take Neopia by storm and claim all the territories she could. This would ensure her forces to fight back if Cove made a move.
But, for the present time, Cove hadn’t let it worry him. If he could only return Mahyla to where she rightfully belonged, there would be no war.
That task quickly proved more difficult than they’d expected. Especially when even Sophie the Swamp Witch had laughed in their faces.
“Fragmented souls?” she’d snorted. “Right. Next you’ll ask me to believe that Snorkles fly.”
“But it’s the truth!” Sarevor had insisted.
Sophie had only rolled her eyes and turned back to her cauldron, snapping, “If you’re looking for someone to buy your story, you should try Tippy. She lives in a shack near the Esophagor.”
When Cove and Sarevor had turned to go, Sophie had laughed aloud, as if she hadn’t really expected them to follow this advice. They left her with the sound of her disbelieving, snide remarks following close behind them. The last thing Cove heard was something about them having wasted her time with tales as absurd as Sloth becoming king of all Neopia. Cove didn’t find this amusing. After what had happened to him, he wouldn’t say that anything was impossible anymore.
Slipping through the murk of the swamp into the solid ground but dense foliage of the woods, Sarevor and Cove tentatively made their way in the direction of the Esophagor.
When they found him, Cove was slightly unsettled by the sight of a bodiless mass with glowing red eyes and a mouth staring at him from out of the ground. He’d heard of the Esophagor before, but he’d never crossed his path until now.
Those red eyes glided slowly toward Cove, the expression on the Esophagor’s shapeless face looking mildly irritated. For a moment, Cove was worried that he was standing on some part of the Esophagor and had to look down to ascertain that he was not.
“What?” the Esophagor grumbled, and the ground beneath Cove’s feet shook slightly with his deep voice.
“We’re looking for a witch named Tippy. Can you tell us where she is?” Cove asked.
The Esophagor’s gaze now went from Cove to Sarevor and then back to Cove, at whom he aimed an irritated expression, pouting his lips as if answering this question was a great inconvenience to him. Cove didn’t see how a simple yes or no answer could be so troublesome.
“Yes,” he said finally.
They waited, but the Esophagor did not appear keen to say more. Sarevor—the less patient of the two—tried again.
“Well, where is she then?”
Red eyes shifted to take Sarevor’s smaller frame in. Cove had a feeling that the expression on the Esophagor’s face was now one of dislike, but Sarevor didn’t appear too troubled by this, as the feeling might very well have been mutual.
“The answer you seek requires a spooky milkshake, an icy negg, and a Lupe treat.” The Esophagor pursed his lips and then added, “And make it a meaty one.”
For a moment, neither Draik nor Usul moved, and then Sarevor made a little choking sound, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He was trying to make them bribe him for an answer? He dared to act in such an insulting manner before the king?
“Are you serious?” Sarevor demanded, cutting over the more civil reply that Cove had been about to speak.
The Esophagor growled. “How can I think on an empty stomach?”
Sarevor gaped at the beast, but before he could make another hot reply, Cove cut smoothly in to rescue the scene from turning into an argument. Sarevor had many amazing, commendable qualities, but he also had a short fuse, and Cove knew this better than anyone.
“I appreciate the fact that you cannot very well get food on your own, my friend,” Cove allowed, “but we have nothing with us, and we’re in a hurry. Please, any information you can give us will result in an outcome I’m sure you won’t regret.”
The Esophagor looked skeptical at this, not quite understanding what the Draik meant, and he studied him for several long minutes before, finally, as if he’d come to some conclusion, his eyes came to rest on Cove’s arm. He gave a little gasping start as he made out the bottom half of Cove’s tattoo from under his sleeve. This obvious recognition made Sarevor smile.
“Walk that way until you come to a lightning-damaged tree, then turn right. You’ll pass through a small clearing. It’s inhabited by Werelupes, but they’ll let you pass if you show them your arm. Keep going until you find a small dirt path. Follow it, and it will lead you to her shack,” the Esophagor blurted in a rush, and then fumbled with an, “I’m sorry... for earlier.”
Cove thanked him, but the best Sarevor—chagrined—could manage was a smile before they hastily left the Esophagor and took the path he designated. They only had a little trouble getting through the Werelupe clearing—in which they were allowed to meet the Werelupe king, Javiod, who finally allowed them passage while even wishing them luck when Cove had flashed his tattoo—and the journey to the shack took little more than an hour.
However, when they finally did reach the small home, they lost several minutes of precious time when they merely stopped to gawk at it. Like the typical description of a shack, it was a small box of a place made out of uneven wooden boards that looked worse for wear. The roof was sloping, the small porch was missing a few boards, and the one window was cracked.
But Cove and Sarevor had still never seen anything like it. It was painted a coat of brilliant, neon pink so dazzling that it seemed like a pink beacon in the darkness of the woods. Vines were growing up its sides blossoming violently yellow flowers like merry bursts of sunlight. Even the short stack of the chimney protruding from the roof was bizarre in the fact that it seemed to be puffing out tangerine orange smoke.
To top it off, a wooden sign sat just before the shack, stuck into the ground and leaning hazardously to the side. It was painted lime green with large black lettering that read:
THE CURE TO ALL POISONS IS A POTION OF HAPPINESS!
Just after the exclamation mark, a childlike drawing of an Aisha’s smiling head had been sketched in with tiny hearts floating around its ears.
Before either of them could begin to question what kind of Neopian lived in such a place—or before, even, the laugh that had been bubbling up Sarevor’s throat could escape—the door to the shack swung open with such force that it smacked the wall and bounced back at the Aisha that stepped out from behind it. It bumped her in the shoulder but she appeared not to notice.
“Oh guests! I knew you were coming! A bit sooner than I expected, but come in! Come in! I was just making some borovan!”
To be continued...