Witches in the Shadows: Part Three
“Endless,” Edna cursed as the three witches walked.
“Well, they don’t seem that big from the air,” Morguss said defensively.
“Endless,” Edna repeated. “They call them the Endless Plains. Not the Delightfully Small Plains or the Plains You Can Nip Across in Five Minutes!”
They were walking across the wide expanse of farmland that separated Meridell, Neopia Central, and the Haunted Woods. The witches had flown across the plains many times, and had always remarked about how foolishly they were named. Now, it was all too clear. Neopia Central was a dot in the distance, and the sun had already risen into the morning air. Gobblers were calling out the new day in nearby farms, and slowly the world was waking up.
“At least it's morning; the shadows can’t do much in the daylight,” Sophie said after a while.
The other two witches nodded in agreement. They seemed to have temporarily forgotten about the shadows in all the confusion. They hadn’t just stolen the magic to cause an inconvenience. They had a plan. Somewhere, they were doing something very dangerous.
“Maybe they’re underground?” Morguss suggested. “Daylight wouldn’t affect them then.”
“Or maybe they’ve possessed someone,” Sophie added. “They did that to Desmond in Neovia, and he could walk around in the daylight just fine.”
The witches stopped dead in their tracks as they came to a brick wall. All the others they had encountered had gates that they had been able to open, but this one only had a small stile. It was just thin enough to stop the local Whinnies getting through. The witches eyed it dubiously.
“Remind me to curse some farmers when we get the magic back,” Edna hissed as she made her way up to the wall.
Carefully, and with much cursing, she squeezed her body through the small stone slit. Sophie followed, with an equal amount of huffing and puffing, and finally Morguss came through with very little difficultly at all.
“Diet,” she said lightly as Edna glared at her. “I told you I was on one. It’s very good; you should try it.”
The witches heard a loud rustling from the bushes by the side of the wall, and as they turned a Kau burst out of them dramatically.
He wore long flowing clothes and a cape that billowed ever so slightly despite the lack of any obvious wind. He wore a low brimmed hat which covered most of his face, but the loaded crossbow in his hand was in very plain sight.
“Your money or your life!” he proclaimed.
“Pardon?” Sophie asked.
“You heard me!” the Kau repeated. “Your money or your life! I’m not afraid to use this thing! Stand and deliver!”
“We are standing,” Morguss told him.
“We don’t deliver anything. You want the Neomail service,” Edna added.
The Kau sighed.
“Hand over your money,” he said slowly.
“What are you? A Highwayman?” Sophie smirked.
“Yes, actually,” the Kau replied, before striking a dashing pose. “You may have heard of me... I’m only Richard Turnip, the most famous and successful Highwayman ever to live.”
“I’ve never heard of you,” Edna scoffed.
“Shouldn’t a highwayman be riding a steed or something?” Morguss asked, her brain quickly finding the flaws in the situation that was presenting itself.
“Well... yes, but I had to sell my noble Alabriss, you see? Hard times and all...” Turnip explained.
“This isn’t much of a highway either,” Morguss continued. “The main road to Neopia Central’s half a mile over there.”
She pointed vaguely to the south. The witches had been keeping off the main road on purpose, largely to avoid unnecessary attention.
“Aha! But that’s where you’d expect to find me! I outwit the Defenders of Neopia at every turning!” Turnip said proudly.
“You outwit the Defenders of Neopia by hiding in a place where you can’t commit much crime?” Sophie asked.
“Yes, exactly,” Turnip told her. “But... we’re getting away from the point here. I want your Neopoints!”
The witches exchanged slightly nonplussed looks.
“Do we look as if we have Neopoints?” Edna asked.
The witches as a rule wore ragged, moth eaten old robes, and hats that had been made while Neopets were still discovering interesting concepts like fire or the wheel.
Richard Turnip seemed to consider this.
“Fine, it’ll be your lives then!” he said eventually.
“You can’t shoot us!” Edna shouted, her nostrils flaring.
“Why not?” Turnip asked.
“We’re witches! You can’t shoot witches!” she told him.
No dawn of realisation fell over Turnip’s face. It was clear to the witches at this point that they were dealing with a highwayman that was not the sharpest tool in the box.
In fact, they considered that whichever tool Turnip was had never been part of the toolbox, and had instead been dropped down a well and forgotten about for a number of years.
“What’re you doing to do?” Turnip laughed.
Edna paused. She had no magic; she couldn’t curse him.
Of all the days to run into someone who didn’t know what a witch was...
“This!” she said eventually, and kicked Turnip very hard in his shin.
The Kau keeled over in pain, and before the crossbow had time to fall from his hands, the witches were already running across the fields.
“That could have gone better,” Sophie said, holding her hat to keep it from blowing away.
“We can’t stop and wait for every timewaster we meet!” Edna said, not bothering to glance back. “We need to get to Neopia Central, now!”
Maria knocked politely on the door of the Soup Kitchen. A steady stream of homeless Neopets were making their way towards the place for their morning meal, but the door was locked. There was no sound of cookery coming from within.
“Hello, Miss Soup Faerie?” she called through the wood.
There was no answer.
“No one’s seen her since last night?” she asked a scruffy Aisha nearby.
He shook his head.
“This is all very strange...” Maria sighed.
Gradually, she made her way around the back of the Soup Kitchen. The building was shaped like a giant cooking pot, so scaling it would be almost impossible, but it did have windows, here and there.
Maria had grown up on Krawk Island, so it was the work of a moment to force the window open from the outside like an expert thief.
Carefully, she climbed inside.
Maria had been to the Soup Kitchen often before she’d gotten her steady job at the Coffee Shop. She remembered the place as always bustling with activity, Neopets lining the many benches within while they ate. Now the benches were empty. The entire place seemed eerily quiet.
The Soup Faerie’s cauldron stood at the back of the Kitchen. There was no fire underneath it. Maria dipped her finger in experimentally.
The soup within the cauldron was stone cold. The Soup Faerie seemed to be long gone.
Maria walked around the back of the cauldron, and almost fell over what she found there.
A small creature, barely the size of a baby Neopet, was shivering in a collection of brightly coloured clothes.
Maria moved to pick it up, but hesitated as she saw the creature’s face. It was wrinkled beyond belief, with sunken, ancient eyes that looked up at Maria, almost pleading with her.
There were two fragile, insect-like wings on the creature’s back, barely flickering but for the violent shivering coursing throughout the being’s body. The wings glowed yellow, ever so slightly.
Maria recovered from the shock and scooped up the shrivelled thing. She looked into the eyes, and recognised them. They were the kind old eyes of the Soup Faerie.
“What happened to you?” Maria asked as the broken Faerie trembled in her arms.
The Soup Faerie opened her mouth as if to say something, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Even in the silence of the Soup Kitchen, Maria struggled to hear.
“Shop... Zard,” the Faerie told her.
“The Shop Wizard did this to you?” Maria gasped.
The Soup Faerie closed her eyes, as if pain was coursing through her body.
“You want me to get the Shop Wizard?” Maria tried again.
The Soup Faerie nodded ever so slightly.
“Hold on, I’ll take you to him,” the Ixi said, wrapping the Faerie tighter in the clothes that were now far too big for her.
Maria unbolted the door to the Kitchen and ran out through the crowd of hungry onlookers.
The Shop Wizard’s tent, shaped like a large hat, wasn’t that far away from the Soup Kitchen. Maria didn’t bother with waiting politely outside; she rushed straight in.
The inside of the Shop Wizard’s tent was lined with bookshelves, all heaving with books listing every single item for sale in the Marketplace. A tiny window near the tip of the tent let in the bare minimum amount of light. It illuminated the JubJub, who sat in the middle of the floor.
“Oh hello!!!” the Shop Wizard called out as soon as he saw Maria. “Do I know you?”
“No,” Maria said, holding out the Soup Faerie. “Something’s wrong with her.”
The little JubJub squinted at the shrivelled creature.
“Yes, I daresay there is!!!” he agreed.
“You have to help her!” Maria snapped.
“I do?” the Shop Wizard asked, frowning as if he was trying to remember something. “Is that what I do? Am I a doctor?”
Maria felt her nostrils flare. She may not have been a witch, but she disliked wizards all the same. They were good for nothing but silly accents and funny clothes.
“You’re the Shop Wizard,” Maria told him.
“Am I now?” the JubJub sighed. “Well, that would explain the books!!! I’ve tried reading them; do you know that they list lots of items for sale? None of what I read seems to stick, though...”
Maria stared at the JubJub.
“You’re the Shop Wizard!” she shouted. “You have the best memory in all of Neopia! You can name every shop in the Marketplace without blinking! Your memory’s so good that people say it’s...”
“It’s what?” the Shop Wizard asked.
“Magical,” Maria finished.
She glanced down at the Soup Faerie, still trembling in her arms.
Kauvara’s shop was powered by magic, and it had disappeared. The Soup Faerie was a magical creature, and she seemed to be on the verge of death, and the Shop Wizard had lost his magical memory.
Everything magical in Neopia Central seemed to be disappearing.
“Do you think you can remember who you are long enough to look after her?” Maria asked, handing over the Soup Faerie.
“Yes, you said I was a doctor or something... didn’t you? I can’t quite remember now!!!” the Shop Wizard laughed.
Maria nodded, almost in a daze as she left the tent.
She had to find someone who could help... but the only people she could think of were the witches, and they lived in the Haunted Woods.
Maria shivered slightly in the afternoon breeze, and then noticed as things seemed to get a shade darker around her. It was as if twilight was falling over the city.
“It’s not night yet...” she muttered to herself as she looked up at the sky.
There was the sun, just like normal... except there was something different.
Kreludor was gently drifting across it.
“An eclipse?” Maria wondered.
She watched as the city was silently plunged into darkness, only a thin halo of light remaining in the sky.
To be continued...