Finding Crystal: Part Two
The Green Xweetok walked down the empty halls of the school, her hands tight and white-knuckled around her backpack straps. Her gaze slipped nervously from side to side, from the rows of lockers to the drinking fountains to the doors. It was all so very similar to her old school. But all so different.
As she passed a window, she could see the lake outside. A few Glass-Bottomed Boats bobbed on its still blue waters; Neopets laughed as they stroked through the lake. She stopped and pressed her nose against the window, her breath fogging the glass. There was her new house; a squat little red cottage, cheerful-looking and almost quaint. Too cheerful.
“Are you lost?”
The Xweetok turned, screwing her eyes shut and then opening them, blinking very fast. A scholarly-looking blue Lenny blinked down at her, clutching a folder under the crook of his left wing.
“Yes,” the Xweetok replied, her voice very small and quiet.
“What is your name?” the Lenny asked kindly, bending his knees slightly so that he was closer to her height.
“Carly,” she answered, her voice even quieter.
“Well, Carly, how old are you?”
“Ah, Miss Tie told me about you. She said she was expecting a new student. I’m the headmaster of this school, you see. Mr. Key. It’s easy to remember, isn’t it? ‘Key’ sounds like Kiko, as in Kiko Lake, which is where we live.”
“Do you know where my classroom is?” Carly mumbled.
“Yes. Follow me.” He turned and led her up the hall, keeping up a brisk pace that Carly struggled to follow. He finally stopped at a door identical to all the others and opened it. Carly peeked inside. A Yellow Kougra stood at the front of the classroom, her mouth halfway open as she chalked an equation on the blackboard. There was a creaking noise as the entire class turned in their chairs to look at Carly. The Xweetok ducked back behind Mr. Key.
“Your new student, Miss Tie,” Mr. Key announced, pushing Carly gently to the front of the classroom, beside the Kougra. And he left as suddenly as he’d appeared.
“You must be Carly,” the Kougra said, beaming down at the Xweetok. “I’m Miss Tie, the eight-year-olds teacher. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?”
Carly swallowed, feet fidgeting on the tile floor. “Um. . .my name’s Carly,” she started. “I just moved here from Neopia Central with my dad and my baby sister.”
“What about your mom?” a voice called from the multitude.
Carly blinked very fast again. “I. . .um. . .” She looked to Miss Tie for help.
The teacher looked down at her new student sympathetically. “Here, Carly, why don’t you sit in that empty seat over there. It’s next to the Green Ogrin, see? Olivia, wave your hand!”
A Green Ogrin waved cheerfully at the new student, patting the empty desk next to her with her other hand. Carly stepped forward hesitantly, weaving around the desks to get to her new chair. She sank down gratefully, staring at the blackboard, tears blurring the scene as Miss Tie continued her lecture.
. . .
“How was school?”
The Green Xweetok sighed dramatically, pulling a chair toward her and sinking into it. “Fine, Dad.”
“What classes did you have today?” The Blue Xweetok’s back was to her as he carefully sliced up an Ummagine.
“History, art, math, and gym.” The Xweetok shrugged off her backpack and pulled out a pencil and a sheet of paper.
“Hi, Carly! Happy birthday!” A Red Xweetok burst into the room, arms outstretched and feet pattering on the floor as she galloped across the room toward her sister.
“Oomph! Hi, Tess,” Carly answered, reluctantly hugging the Red Xweetok and pushing her away a few seconds later.
“You’re fourteen today!” Tess announced, jumping up onto the table and sitting on the edge, swinging her legs.
“Get off, Tess. You know you’re not supposed to do that.” Her father pushed her off gently, then scooped the Ummagine slices into a mixing bowl.
“My birthday’s next,” Tess announced proudly. “I’ll be eight next week.”
“I know,” her sister answered wearily, bending over her paper.
“I’m making your favorite dinner, Carly,” the Blue Xweetok said, his back still toward his daughters. “Ummagine Salad and Chokato Shortcake for dessert. Set the table, Tess.”
“ ‘Kay, Dad.” The little Red Xweetok grabbed a stack of plates, cups, and cutlery out of a cupboard and set them carefully around the table.
“How are you liking Kiko Lake, Carly?” the Blue Xweetok asked, tossing some more vegetables into the bowl.
“Dad, we’ve been living here for more than seven years now. I barely remember living in Neopia Central.”
“I don’t remember it at all!” Tess shouted cheerfully, plunking herself onto a chair next to her sister’s. “I was only a few days old when we moved, right, Dad?”
“That’s right, Tess.” Their father placed the salad carefully in the center of the table and poured water into the three plastic cups.
“Presents first!” Tess called cheerfully to her sister. “Can I go get them, Dad?”
The Red Xweetok leaped up and dashed out of the room, returning a second later gripping an armful of wrapped boxes. She dropped them in her sister’s lap, then landed neatly on her own chair, scooting it noisily across the ground to peer at the presents.
Carly began unwrapping them. There were only three. The first contained a new binder. “Thanks, Dad,” Carly said, throwing the binder aside. “I’ll need it for all the essays the teachers have been hinting they’ll assign in the next semester.”
“Open mine next! I made it myself!” Tess declared.
Carly dutifully opened the smallest, flattest, and most poorly wrapped present of the bunch. Inside was a sheet of white paper covered with a brown and green crayon drawing of. . .what?
“Um. . .what’s this supposed to be?” Carly flipped the paper upside-down and surveyed it with a critical eye.
“It’s you!” her sister replied joyfully, bouncing in her seat. She jabbed a finger at the picture. “See, there’s your tail, and there’s your face!”
“Um. . .thanks, Tess.” Carly gently placed the paper on top of the binder as her sister beamed up at her.
The Green Xweetok reached for the final present, unwrapping it and letting its contents roll into her lap. She gasped softly as she fingered the handle of the Brown Paint Brush. “Dad. . .” she breathed, looking up at the Blue Xweetok. “How did you get this?”
He smiled weakly. “I’ve been saving for a long time. Years, in fact. Happy birthday, Carly.”
“Thanks,” she whispered back, and looked down at the paint brush. She cracked a rare smile. “Thanks.”
. . .
The Krawk kept her back to the Xweetok, an ivy-twined wooden staff in one hand, a dried Ummagine in the other. “Yes, Chris?”
The White Xweetok sat on a stool by the now-empty cauldron, one elbow on it as she leaned toward the witch. “Rue, what day is it?”
The witch tossed the Ummagine into the air, then caught it. “The first day of the Month of Sleeping. As you very well know.”
“Didn’t you say. . .that this day was. . .special to me?”
The Krawk tossed the Ummagine into the air again, this time allowing it to drop. She banged the staff on the ground quickly, and the Ummagine stopped in midair about a foot above the floor as suddenly as if it had landed on a table or a chair.
“You said that this day. . .was my. . .birthday.”
The Krawk banged the staff again, and the Ummagine dropped, landing on the floor with a dull thud.
“So I’m twelve today, right?”
Rue sighed and gently leaned the staff against the wall, kicking the Ummagine aside. The withered purple fruit rolled under the empty cauldron, coming to rest an inch away from Chris’s feet.
“Am I, Rue?”
“Yes,” the Krawk snapped, strolling toward the potions ingredients cupboard and pulling out a folded traveling cloak, patched and worn. It had been midnight blue in its youth. Rue remembered vividly the first time that she had worn it: on the very day that she had brought Chris into her cottage in the depths of the Haunted Woods.
“Do I. . .get a present or something?”
“A present? You mean besides the food and the shelter and the clothing that I have readily provided to you in the twelve years of your life? Supplies that I was not at all obliged to give, as I am not your parent. And the extensive magical education, that you are extremely lucky to receive.” Rue unfolded the cloak and let it drop to the floor. It had faded to a dull grey by now.
“Well, yes, Rue, and I am very grateful to you for supplying all that.”
“Good. Then you won’t be expecting a present, then?”
“Hmm. Good.” Rue strode over toward the cauldron and dropped the cloak inside.
“But. . .you don’t have to give me anything. . .but perhaps you can tell me something?”
“Like what? Like how to cast an Enchantment of Darkness, like I have been trying to teach you for the past week, and which I must repeatedly tell you how to do, as you somehow manage to bungle it every time?”
“No, no, but. . .I think I remember it now,” she lied.
The Krawk’s eyes narrowed. “Good. I shall test you on it later.”
“But. . .may I ask you something else, Rue?”
“I. . .you said I’m not your daughter. I knew that. But the question is, whose daughter am I? Where did I come from? Where are my parents, and why can’t they take care of me?”
The Krawk didn’t turn her head, but surprise flashed in her mind. And then pride, and a little smugness. Didn’t they always say that children took after their parents, no matter who raised them? And yet she’d managed to defy that. Chris was inquisitive and strong. Her parents were weak, both physically and mentally. Bless their poor hearts.
But things were complicated enough as it was. Rue like simple things, as simple as being a witch in the middle of the Haunted Woods could be. She kept herself alive, lived on the shadows, away from most of Neopia. The living population, anyway.
So she answered, putting as much force and finality in her voice as she could muster. “Don’t sidetrack the conversation, Chris. You and I both know that you were lying about the Enchantment. Start copying down the exact procedure and commit it to memory. In your room.”
The Xweetok took a spell-book and a calligraphy set with her into her room. Rue was relieved, thinking that she’d heard the last of this. She forgot it immediately and went to examine the dried Ummagine.
Chris, however, did not forget. If anything, it grew and swelled in her mind. She was determined to find an answer.
To be continued...