Witches in the Shadows: Part One
The cauldron bubbled; the potion was almost ready.
Three figures clad tightly in black peered anxiously into the mixture. They were witches, gathered in a dark and secluded house in the Darigan Citadel. From the crystal balls and purple sheets, to the rows of potions and the dimly flickering candlelight, the room reeked of the occult.
They were witches. But there was no cackling, and no curses.
It was serious.
“You are sure they mentioned the deal I made?” Edna, the witch of the tower asked irritably.
“Positive,” Sophie the swamp witch muttered. “They wanted Neovia as their payment. You know what the shadows are like; everything that lives is the same to them.”
“I could do with some soup,” Edna said hopefully.
Soup always helped the witches think.
“Haven’t got any,” Morguss, the witch of the Darigan Citadel and host of their coven meeting told her as she carefully stirred the potion.
Edna’s nostrils flared.
“What kind of a witch hasn’t got any soup?” she said suspiciously.
“I’m on a diet, if you must know,” Morguss said defensively.
“A diet!?” Edna gasped.
“It’s very good, I can eat practically anything... aside from soup. The pounds are just falling off. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was magic,” Morguss told her.
Edna frowned at her old friend, unable to form the words that expressed just why a witch on a diet was an unfathomable idea.
“You’ve been going to the city too much,” she said eventually. “It gives you funny ideas, going to the city.”
“You two, be quiet. It’s ready,” Sophie snapped.
The potion in the cauldron had turned black, like oil. The gentle steam it was giving off smelt faintly like liquorice and lemons combined. Morguss began to chant mystically.
“Speed it up,” Edna told her.
“Fine,” Morguss sighed. “You two have no respect for tradition, you know?”
The Moehog sprinkled a pinch of powder into the cauldron that made it froth. It was in truth the only part of the spell that was needed.
The vapours that rose from the mixture etched out a form in front of them.
It was a shadow, of sorts. It funnelled up out of the cauldron like smoke, indistinguishable from the fumes but for two beady red eyes. The eyes gazed past the witches, unaware that they were being watched.
The witches nodded solemnly.
The shadows, back again.
Months earlier, the witches had been to the Lost Desert. There, Edna had died. Her spirit had made a deal with the shadows, and they had brought her back. But there was a price, there was always a price.
The shadows had returned, and tried to claim the town of Neovia as their own personal empire. Sophie had fought them back, but in the end she’d just made them angrier. They’d had a taste of freedom, and the witches knew that the shadows would want more.
“What are they doing?” Morguss asked.
“If they have form like that, they are somewhere in Neopia. They don’t have eyes when they are in the Void,” Edna told her.
The shadow in front of them seemed to turn slightly, and the eyes focused on the witches, each in turn.
“...Can it see us?” Sophie asked.
Yes! the darkness rasped wordlessly, speaking directly to their minds.
The cauldron exploded with smoke, and more shadows spewed forth into the room. They spiralled round the witches, their evil eyes watching them with contempt.
Flesh! Witches! the shadows screamed, You cannot stop us! We had a deal!
“You broke it!” Sophie shouted at them, “You broke the rules when you invaded Neovia!”
“Our agreement is meaningless now,” Edna told them.
Then we will take back our side of it! the shadows screamed.
They lunged forward towards Edna, but found themselves blocked.
The Zafara had conjured up a magical light, which burned the shadows as they came close to her.
Magic! the darkness cursed. The flesh relies upon it. Without it, you are powerless!
“What do you mean?” Morguss asked them.
We will have our own land! We will have form! the shadows told them.
More of them emerged from the cauldron, filling the room as they circled like restless spirits. The witches couldn’t see each other through the darkness, and Edna felt her magical light dimming.
The shadows flew faster, their red eyes becoming blurs. Edna felt her light go out, and then she was lost in a sea of darkness. The screams of the shadows echoed in her mind, tormented by an eternity without form.
Your magic cannot help you now! the shadows shouted. Your magic is ours!
The shadows surged forward, and Edna felt herself falling endlessly into the abyss. Something was missing; she could feel it, like a limb that wasn’t there any more.
The shadows had taken something from her, and she felt lost without it.
It was night in Neopia Central. If anyone had been paying attention, they might have noticed that it seemed darker than usual. The electric lamps that filled the streets with light seemed just a touch dimmer. In the dark alleyways, the shadows were slightly longer.
Suddenly, echoing through the streets were tortured screams and raspy whistling. Smoke travelling faster than any Neopet whipped through the streets and around the buildings.
As soon as it had begun, it stopped. The smoke was gone, and the echoes faded. Those still awake dismissed it as a hallucination.
If anyone had glanced towards the Marketplace, they might have seen that the normally bright and sparkling Shop Wizard’s tent seemed diminished, and the sounds of cooking from the Soup Kitchen had abruptly stopped.
In a quiet alleyway, the darkness still swirled, lingering after its brethren had departed.
Slowly, it took form, and colour spread across the body.
Clad in robes that obscured most of his frame, the figure stood up. A pale blue Kougra’s tail swished lightly across the pebbles, steadying the new arrival.
He lightly pressed against the alley’s wall, and found that his hand began to sink into the masonry. The figure withdrew his hand abruptly.
“Still not solid enough... there’s time,” he said with a curious echoing quality from beneath his hood.
The figure stalked out of the alleyway, and headed off towards the Marketplace. He’d find what he needed there.
In the Catacombs, a waitress at the Coffee Shop felt a shiver run down her spine. The white Ixi abruptly put down the tray she was carrying and leaned against the nearest table to steady herself.
A Shoyru shopkeeper rushed over and put her hand on the Ixi’s shoulder.
“Maria? Are you alright?” she asked with genuine concern.
“I... I don’t...” the Ixi hesitated. “Didn’t you just feel that?”
“Feel what, dear?” the shopkeeper asked. “I was serving a customer.”
She nodded back to the counter, where a green Krawk in a suit waited politely. Even at this time of night, the Coffee Shop was open. It made sense, really; those pulling the graveyard shifts often needed the liquid stimulus.
“There was a wind... and whispering, it sounded like,” Maria explained.
The Shoyru smiled sweetly.
“That’s just the draft blowing through the Catacombs, dear,” she said dismissively. “Sometimes it sounds like whispering, that’s all. You’ll get used to it when you’ve been down here as long as I have! Are you alright? Do you need to sit down?”
“No... no, I’ll be fine,” Maria insisted. “You go back to your customer.”
The Shoyru smiled and rushed back to the counter and the Krawk that was waiting. Maria sighed deeply, and picked up her tray once more.
There was something different, she was sure. There seemed to be something missing. All her life, she’d felt a kind of presence, just outside of her field of vision... but now... she felt alone. As if an old friend had just left her. She shivered once more, before continuing to serve the customers.
Edna opened her eyes, and the falling abruptly stopped. Groaning slightly, she got to her feet.
She was still in Morguss’s house in the Darigan Citadel. The cauldron had boiled over, and the dark liquid had poured out all over the floor. Everything else seemed the same though; there was no trace of the shadows to be seen.
Sophie and Morguss were also unconscious on the floor, but they roused themselves quickly.
Edna was staring out of the window. It overlooked the rest of the Citadel, and the starry night sky beyond.
“What happened?” Morguss asked, leaning groggily on a chair.
“It looks darker than before,” Edna said absently from the window.
“The shadows, they pounced on me... and I blacked out,” Sophie said, holding her head as a throbbing headache kicked in.
“Same here,” Morguss confirmed.
“That’s how they killed people... back in Neovia,” Sophie said absentmindedly.
“Well they obviously stopped short with us,” Morguss said, trying to regain her composure. “Good thing to, they should know their place. No one tries to kill a witch and gets away with it. I’ll give them a right seeing to, just you wait.”
“They weren’t trying to kill us,” Edna said quietly from the window.
“What were they doing then?” Sophie asked.
Edna turned to face them, and the other two witches saw genuine fear in her eyes.
“You can’t feel it? You can’t feel it missing?” she asked them.
Sophie and Morguss glanced at each other, and immediately understood. Yes, there was something missing, something very important. It had been a part of them for so long... it just hadn’t crossed their minds that it could be gone. But now they thought about it, there was something missing for the very seats of their souls.
“It’s gone,” Edna told them as tears welled up in her eyes. “The magic is gone!”
To be continued...