Witches in the Shadows: Part Six
“Don’t be silly, Neopia Central is up there!” Maria laughed, pointing up at the hole in the darkness.
Far above, or possibly below, Neopia Central still smouldered.
“It’s about balance,” Edna continued. “They want to live in our world. In order to do that, we have to live in theirs. The people they’ve possessed down there... gradually, their souls are moving up here.”
And slowly, their bodies become ours! the shadows screamed with delight.
“Once the people are all up here, they’ll close the portal, and the Void will collapse back in on itself without the magic. Everything will be reduced back to nothing,” Sophie told the barmaid.
“But we’re going to stop them,” Edna stated, setting her jaw solidly and turning to face the shadows.
You cannot! We are immortal! We have already won! the shadows laughed.
“Oh really?” Edna asked smugly. “You have three witches standing in the place where you have hidden all of their magic, with a girl who has a unique ability to find magical things, and you think you have already won?”
You are irrelevant! the shadows shouted.
“They’ll stop you! They always do!” Maria shouted happily.
She couldn’t see quite how that was possible, but it seemed to annoy the shadows, so that was enough for her.
Then we will remove their advantage! the shadows snarled.
The shadows lunged forward out of the gloom, striking out towards the witches. They were surprisingly agile for their ages, and easily ducked and weaved out of the way with only a few scratches for the claws of the shadows. Maria was not as fortunate.
She screamed as the shadows swirled around her, clawing at her flesh and ripping her dress. The Ixi fell to the floor as the shadows dissipated, and lay twitching there for a few moments.
“Maria? Are you alright?” Edna asked.
Maria got to her feet slowly, her movements sudden and jerky. She smiled broadly as she opened her eyes. Her purple irises were gone; the eyes instead were filled with a pure black colour that unsettled the witches.
“Yes,” Maria replied, her voice echoing as if she was saying the same words in many different voices, “I feel just fine.”
Edna recoiled immediately.
“What have you done with Maria?” she demanded.
“This vessel will be useful.” Maria smirked. “Your magic is difficult to operate; this vessel seems better suited to the task. We will use her to speed up the transfer.”
Maria outstretched her arms, and she was gently lifted off the ground. Dark magic swirled in the air around her, along with a few watching shadows. The dark spires that made up the city of the Void seemed to become a touch more defined.
“Give her back!” Edna demanded.
“We have no further use for you,” Maria sneered down at the witches.
She pointed at the three figures below her, and a sudden gust of wind blew up out of nowhere. The force of the gale intensified, forcing the witches back. Edna covered her eyes against the air that was battering them.
“We will stop you!” she screamed against the wind.
Her limbs gave up, and she was picked up off her feet. The gust blew her clear away from Maria and the work she was doing.
The blue Kougra sat in one of the alleyways between the dark spires, looking dejectedly at the wall in front of him.
He’d thought it would work, he really had. That was how Sophie had defeated the shadows back in Neovia, using light as a weapon.
But now the Kougra’s weapon was broken and lost, and he was alone in the dark city.
He glanced upwards at the blurry figures that milled about the ghostly streets. They were becoming more real by the second. Soon it would all be over. When they became solid, the switch would be complete and the shadows would win.
He’d failed them, he’d failed them all.
It was entirely his fault when he thought about it... if only he hadn’t made that deal with them back in Neovia...
The Kougra was interrupted from his thoughts by the sounds of three very distinct screams heading his way. He looked up too late, to see three Neopets hurtling through the air towards him.
They collided with force, knocking the Kougra to the ground.
Much cursing and general scuffling later, the three witches stood up and dusted themselves off.
“Well, that didn’t exactly go as well as planned,” Morguss sighed.
“We have to help her; it’s our fault she’s here,” Edna told them.
“Do you three mind?” the Kougra asked from the floor.
He was lying there in a rather dishevelled state. Edna was still standing on his cloak.
“The last thing I need at the moment is witches falling on me,” he muttered to himself.
“Could be worse, it could be a house,” Morguss said helpfully.
Edna glared at her friend.
“Why would a house fall on someone?” she demanded.
“You hear about it all the time,” Morguss said casually. “Hundreds of witches over the years have died of Sudden Houses. Second biggest killer of witches, it is.”
“And what’s the first?” Edna asked.
“Being thrown in your own oven of course; everyone knows that,” Morguss told her.
“I know you,” Sophie said, ignoring the other two. “You’re... Desmond?”
The Kougra nodded slowly.
“I wish I could say I was happy to see you again, Sophie,” he replied.
Morguss and Edna temporarily stopped their bickering.
“You know him?” Edna asked.
“This is Desmond,” Sophie explained. “He was the one that the shadows possessed, back in Neovia. They made him stand for election against Mayor Thumburt. He was banished, along with the rest of the shadows, just before I came to get you two.”
“I was banished to this place, the endless Void,” Desmond told them as he got to his feet. “Time does not pass here like it does in Neopia... it doesn’t exist here, after all. I spent what seemed like an eternity with the shadows. They tormented me, telling me their twisted plans for Neopia. But then.... then I saw some light, I saw a way out. I arrived in Neopia Central, and I knew I had to stop them. But now, it’s too late...”
“It’s never too late,” Edna said firmly.
“They have already won. They have your magic, they destroyed my weapon, and we are all trapped in their prison,” Desmond sighed.
“We have to rescue Maria,” Edna repeated to the witches.
“Who is Maria?” Desmond asked.
“She’s a girl that was with us, the shadows possessed her. They are using her to speed up the transformation,” Sophie explained quickly.
“The shadows have taken a Neopet as a host? They are using her, speaking through her?” he asked, his mood suddenly brightening.
“Yes? Why?” Edna asked, quickly loosing her patience with the new person.
“When the shadows take a host that they control so completely, they begin to act irrationally, and the host can take some control for themselves,” Desmond explained.
Sophie’s eyes widened.
“Yes! I remember! That happened in Neovia!” she shouted, turning to the other witches. “That’s our way to stop this! We use Maria!”
“We’ll have to be quick,” Morguss said quietly, eying the blurry denizens of the city.
One nearby was already very clearly a Nimmo, and was becoming sharper by the second.
Maria floated above the dark city, surveying her work. Shadows seemed to fly in and out of her body, slowly becoming thicker and more real. Above her, she could see the real Neopia Central was becoming darker. The fires that had lit up the city had died, leaving only the twilight.
Maria watched through her eyes, powerless to do anything. The shadows had complete control; there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t even cry in despair.
The transfer is almost complete! a shadow screamed gleefully.
We should return to the Flesh world, another suggested.
Yes, this place has outlived its usefulness, a third agreed.
“There is still the matter of the Flesh witches,” the shadows said through Maria’s voice.
Down below, four figures had gathered in the gloom.
“Give Maria back!” Edna demanded.
“They have come to us! They make it so easy!” she laughed.
Maria floated down towards the ground.
“I won’t ask again,” Edna threatened, lifting her drainpipe menacingly.
“You cannot harm me!” she cackled. “You are nothing!”
She pointed down towards them, and one of the shadows nearby lunged forward, its claws ready.
Desmond darted in front of Edna and intercepted the shadow. The claws pierced the Kougra’s skin, but he was able to hold the darkness back. His hands sunk into the shadow like it was made of mud. It was almost solid, but not quite.
“Maria! I know you’re in there! You have to fight back!” Edna shouted up at the Ixi.
The shadows laughed.
“She is weak! She can do nothing! She wallows in her own despair!” they smirked.
“Please, Maria!” Edna continued.
There was still no response, but more shadows lunged forward at Desmond.
“Where is the girl who escaped Krawk Island?” Edna demanded.
The laughter of the shadows abruptly stopped.
“Where is the girl who trekked halfway across Neopia just to find us and give us a book?” Morguss asked, running forward to stand by Edna.
“Where is the girl who saved the planet?” Sophie asked, joining the others.
Maria’s resolve set.
She was that girl.
Riding a tidal wave of emotion, she wrestled control of her body back from the shadows. They screamed as they were expelled from her body, and she fell to the floor.
She didn’t give herself any time to stumble. She didn’t have much time before the powers the shadows had given her would fade. She didn’t have much time before she wouldn’t be able to perform magic anymore.
She didn’t have much time until she would be nothing more that a barmaid again.
She focused on the magic that surrounded her, the magic that had been woven into the very fabric of the Void, and carefully pulled at the thread.
The effect was instantaneous, Maria detonated like a bomb, a brilliant star shining pure white light to all corners of the dark city.
The light blinded the witches, and they felt a strange sense of dislocation as they were teleported away.
The shadows screamed and recoiled as the wave of light washed over them. They tried to hide in the alleyways of the dark city, but the light pursued them, and in the end the shadows succumbed to it.
Desmond stood in front of Maria, smiling as he bathed in the light. Slowly, his spirit began to fade away, becoming nothing more than a whisper on the wind.
The light faded, and the witches took a moment to readjust to their new surroundings. It was Neopia Central, but the shadows were nowhere to be seen.
Above them in the sky, the hole to the Void shone bright like the sun, illuminating Neopia Central in a warming glow. The witches were some distance away from the city, but they could hear the screams of the shadows as the purifying light washed over them.
Then it was over, a bright flash filled the sky, and the hole was gone. Daylight returned to Neopia Central. High above and falling at a rate of knots was a single white Ixi in a barmaid’s apron.
From the centre of the city, a bright yellow spark erupted into the air, flying up to meet the falling girl.
The Soup Faerie, restored to full power, caught Maria as she fell and cradled her in her arms as she gently descended back to Neopia.
“She’s going to be alright?” Sophie asked.
“I think so. She probably won’t remember it, though,” she said distantly. “I doubt the Soup Faerie will be in a rush to tell her either. She’s saved the world twice now, and no one remembers it.”
“We do,” Sophie told her.
“If the Soup Faerie’s back...” Morguss wondered.
The Moehog experimentally pointed at a nearby hedge. It promptly turned to jelly.
“The magic’s back!” Sophie gasped.
Wide smiles spread across the faces of the witches. Edna’s face contorted into a ruthless grin. She hitched up her robes and stalked off across the grass, heading away from the city.
“Where are you going?” Morguss asked.
Edna glanced back over her shoulder.
“There’s a highwayman on the path to Meridell who needs to learn a valuable lesson about what a witch is,” she called back.
Sophie and Morguss mirrored Edna’s grin.
By the end of the day, there was one more Mortog in the world, and one less highwayman.
In the Void, the darkness slept.
There were no more evil red eyes; there were no more faceless whispers. The city had faded into nothingness, and that was all that remained.
The darkness was benign.
And it would be, forever more.