Yuletide Witches: Part Three
“The North Pole?” Stanley asked. “The Spirit of Giving actually lives there?”
“Not exactly,” Edna answered from her broomstick. “He lives in a version of the North Pole... not the actual one on Terror Mountain. It’s hard to explain, really; it’s kind of a mini-universe, though.”
“Oh... and how do we get there?” Stanley enquired.
“The entrance to the Spirit’s domain is guarded by powerful magic. It can only be accessed from the heart of Terror Mountain, the very heart of the entire winter season,” Sophie told him.
“Ah, I see... and why do you need me?” he pressed.
Edna sighed to herself.
“Why is it, every single time we ever talk to anyone, they keep asking questions!? Never once have we ever had the luck to find a mute!” she snapped.
Morguss moved her broomstick slightly as they flew, so that Stanley was positioned well away from Edna.
“It’ll be obvious when we get there,” Sophie explained. “We need someone who isn’t particularly magical.”
“Oh...” Stanley replied, somewhat let down by the knowledge that he didn’t appear to have any magical aptitude. “I must say... this is all very exciting! Meeting the Spirit? To be honest, I’d always had my doubts as to whether or not he actually existed!”
A frosty silence that had nothing to do with the chilly night air enveloped the three broomsticks. All three witches glared at Stanley, and Chestnut, the little Candychan, let out a brief gasp.
“What?” Stanley protested. “You can hardly blame me! No one ever sees the fellow; he arrives in the dead of night and is gone by morning. It seems perfectly logical that he’s a creature dreamt up by greedy shop owners looking to make a quick buck in the otherwise slow winter season.”
The Candychan shook his head miserably and shivered ever so slightly.
“We have to stop this... if it carries on till morning, everyone will think like him,” Chestnut muttered.
“Well, I apologise of course, now that I know he’s a living breathing Neopet,” Stanley continued, getting the distinct feeling there was something he wasn’t being told.
“Not strictly living,” Morguss corrected him. “Not strictly existing, to be honest.”
“So... he isn’t real?” Stanley frowned.
Sophie cleared her throat.
“Neopia’s full of magic,” she began to explain. “It filters up through the rocks and the trees, and runs through everything. Every single Neopet has magic running through them. In most it’s only a little background amount, but it is still there.”
“What does that have to do with this?” Stanley interrupted, causing Sophie to glare at him.
“Magic bends the rules; it makes the things that witches and wizards think about into reality,” Sophie continued. “Now, imagine if every single Neopet thought about the same thing, all at once... all that background magic, all focused onto one idea. It might just be powerful enough to make something pop into existence that wasn’t there before.”
“It doesn’t matter if the Spirit of Giving was dreamed up as a money grabbing scheme or not,” Edna added. “What matters is that enough Neopets believe he’s real now, so he is.”
Stanley chuckled slightly.
“Do you expect me to believe that the population of Neopia can change the universe simply by thinking about changing it?” he asked.
“Why not? It worked for the Spirit of Giving, the Easter Cybunny too,” Edna shot back. “Belief in something is often stronger than the thing itself.”
“Anyway,” Morguss added. “If everyone wakes up tomorrow to find Halloween in place of Christmas, you can bet that pretty soon no one’s going to believe in the Spirit of Giving. Then, he’ll just fade from existence, along with the other creatures that came with him.”
She glanced knowingly at Chestnut.
Up ahead in the distance, Stanley could see Terror Mountain looming. The peaks of the mountain were covered by thick snow clouds.
“The heart of Terror Mountain... isn’t that a jewel that the Bori guard?” he asked absent-mindedly.
In front of him, Morguss nodded.
“We’ll need it in order to open a portal to the Spirit’s domain,” she told him. “Don’t worry, though, the Bori don’t really guard it actively anymore.”
“Besides,” Edna pointed out, “it’s night time.”
Stanley had never seen Terror Mountain at night. He’d had day trips there as a child, and remembered the quaint little village of Happy Valley with fond memories.
But there were no skaters to be seen on the frozen pond as the witches passed overhead. Everyone was asleep, waiting for the morning of the Day of Giving. Stanley observed with horror that the scene had also changed in more drastic ways. As with Neovia, pumpkins adorned the heads of snowmen, while gothic candles burned atop the normally festive lampposts. The pine trees had all been stripped of their needles, and draped with spyderwebs. Stanley wasn’t close enough to see inside the windows of the houses, but he knew what would be waiting inside.
The witches slowed slightly as they flew inside the gaping cavern that made the entrance to the Ice Caves. Inside, without of the reflective sparkle of daylight, it was almost pitch black. It took a few moments for the witches to light themselves some magical fires. For some reason, all three witches chose to produce green fire, which bathed the Ice Caves in an unnatural eerie green glow. The ice reflected the light, and spread it all across the great cavern. As with outside, the place was deserted, though there was an unpleasant smell of rotten Neggs coming from the Neggery.
The three witches touched down near the mouth of an ice cavern that seemed to lead away from the main body of the Caves. Chestnut climbed off and ran off down the passageway ahead, leaving the others to follow in his wake.
It was a labyrinth of twists and turns that Stanley would have easily gotten lost in. As far as he could work out, every single stretch of passageway looked almost identical, with smooth ice walls reflecting back their images, etched out in green. Chestnut seemed to know the way, and trotted ahead without a single moment of hesitation.
It wasn’t long before they found the heart of the cave system. Years ago, a great war had been fought in that tiny space... though there was no evidence of it. The entire place was as bare as the rest of the Ice Caves, but for one ice formation in the centre.
The crystals formed a sort of organic pedestal, and a far grander crystal sat atop it. It glowed red in the darkness, equalling the brightness of the magical green fire.
“The Heart of the Mountain,” Chestnut announced almost reverentially.
His moment of awe was short lived, and he shook his head before turning to the witches.
“Hurry, we don’t have much time; he was very weak when I left,” he instructed them.
The witches nodded and spread out across the cave. They formed a triangle between them, with the Heart in the middle. Each witch extended out her arms to the other two.
“Keep it quick,” Edna hissed at Sophie and Morguss.
Stanley heard some brief chanting in languages that he didn’t understand, before the glow from the Heart intensified. The ground beneath Stanley began to shake, and strange ethereal red smoke began to pour out of the crystal.
Then, the shaking subsided, and through the smoke Stanley thought he could make out a scene on the other side. There were stars, and what looked like the northern lights.
The witches edged around the side of the newly opened portal as Chestnut ran forwards and leapt into it without a second look.
“Mr. Argyle?” Morguss said invitingly, gesturing towards the portal.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Stanley asked.
“I wouldn’t know; I’ve never done it before,” she supplied helpfully.
Stanley sighed before edging forwards. He tested the portal experimentally with a finger, finding that the scene of the ice fields in front of him rippled at the touch. He was just about to remark on this when someone kicked him from behind, sending him flying forwards through the portal.
It was a peculiar sensation. Stanley had expected it to feel like falling through water, but instead his skin merely tingled briefly like he had pins and needles all over, before he found himself in an entirely different place.
It was the ice fields he had seen before, covered in thick white snow as far as the eye could see. In the distance were crisp mountains, and above them the northern lights danced in a cloudless sky. He was standing on the crest of a hill, and below him was a small valley, in which there was a tiny little cottage that looked remarkably like those Stanley remembered from his days in Happy Valley.
Three soft impacts behind him signalled the arrival of the witches. Stanley turned to see them dusting themselves off. The portal seemed to have vanished, and he could see more mountains behind him.
In fact, now he looked, the entire valley was surrounded by them. It was a thick, impenetrable wall of stone.
“There’s no way into this place; no wonder no one’s ever found it,” Stanley marvelled.
“There’s no place to find, that’s why. Like I said, this place doesn’t really exist,” she explained. “You go beyond those mountains, there’s nothing. This is a mini universe tacked onto Neopia.”
“So how do we get out?” Stanley asked.
Edna pointed down towards the cottage. Chestnut was already running down the hill towards it.
“The Spirit’s house. There’ll be things we can use inside,” she explained, before hitching up her robes and following the Petpet’s paw prints.
Sophie set down her Meowclops in the snow and patted it gently before both of them followed Edna, and finally Morguss and Stanley brought up the rear.
No one bothered knocking on the door of the quaint cottage when they arrived. Chestnut waited patiently for Edna to get there, being unable to open it himself. Edna pushed it inward, and took in the scene of the cottage.
...it remained largely unchanged. Halloween did not appear to have visited.
“The Shoyru was more concerned with stealing the sleigh,” Chestnut explained as he ran forward. “I saw to the Spirit as best I could. I hope he’s still where I left him...”
Chestnut stopped in front of the cosy armchair that sat opposite the long since burnt out fireplace. There was a bundle of rags on the chair, and a Baby Yurble gurgled gently within them.
“This is the Spirit of Giving?” Edna asked critically.
“All that’s left of him,” Chestnut confirmed.
To be continued...