Magic Vs. Money: Part Two
Part 2: Talya
“Be it ever so humble,” Sophie thought aloud as she came in sight of her shack, “there’s no place like home.”
Her meowclops mewed its cheerful agreement, though Sophie was far from cheerful herself. She didn’t like trespassers in her swamp, much less outsiders like Mr. Mogul’s henchmen. If only to herself, she would admit that she didn’t like being as cold and mean to outsiders as she often was, but there were just some things you had to do. If you let one uninvited guest go traipsing around your home uninvited without facing some consequences, soon everybody will be doing it and that’d be the end of her much loved privacy. They’d come to her every day begging for potions, or spells, or – horror of horrors – autographs.
At first, it had amused Sophie to learn that since breaking the curse on Neovia, she’d become something of a folk-hero in Neopia, but the novelty of it was far less satisfying than the bother was annoying. It had taken far too much work to reestablish her reputation as someone to fear and while it had solved the problem of too many visitors, it had led to a new one of there being far too many bugs in her swamp. She had no interest in going through all that again just to ram it into the skulls of the goons squad that her swamp was off-limits; better to make the point quickly.
Sighing heavily, she entered her shack, hung her hat on the rack and went over to her workbench. She set the glass jar aside and laid out the ingredients she’d gathered over the day. She hadn’t found all the wartroot bulbs, but she’d gotten everything else, so she wasn’t as far behind as she’d thought she’d be. That was some comfort, although not nearly enough for her liking. She took a paring knife and began to slice up her ingredients into the various measurements she needed for her potions. In the jar, the skidget stared up at her with its bulgy red eyes and made squeaking noises.
“Oh, shut up,” said the witch. “This is your own fault for trying to threaten me. If you’d been a bit more polite, I might have let you go, or at the very least turned you into something less unpleasant, but you had to go shaking your stick at me. As if I’d be afraid of some corporate goon with a flashy weapon.”
The skidget let out a long, mournful squeal. Sophie shot a fiery glare at it as she wiped her knife on her apron.
“I might, at some point, consider changing you back, but if you keep getting on my nerves, you can bet that won’t happen.”
The worm promptly quieted, curling up on the far side of the jar. Sophie nodded to herself, pleased, and then reached for another darkthorn vine. In the back of the shack, her meowclops made a curious noise. Sophie ignored this, but when it came back and began pawing at her dress, she found it considerably harder not to notice. She tried to shoo it with her foot, but it kept tugging at the hem, she quickly became upset.
“Knock it off!” she growled.
The petpet backed up a step and mewed at her, then went back to the closet on the far side of the shack and began pawing at the door and hissing. Sophie immediately noticed that the door was open a crack and turning her ear toward it, she heard a voice softly trying to shush the meowclops. Sophie sighed.
“Alright,” she said. “I know you’re in there, so you may as well come out. And it would be a good idea to do it before I have to come and get you out,” she added after a moment’s thought, “or you’ll be joining my last uninvited guest in the jar.”
There was a frightened squeal from the closet that made Sophie’s ears twitch. Laying the knife down on the workbench, she went over to the closet. Just as she was reaching for the handle, the door popped open and Sophie saw a young Xweetok with a lustrous red mane and tail curled up and huddling amidst the clothes and coats. Her eyes sparkled with tears in the dim lamplight and she seemed to be clutching her arm.
“If I had to guess,” said Sophie, “I’d say that you were the Winters girl that Mogul’s henchmen were looking for. Is that right?”
The girl sobbed, but said nothing.
“I don’t take kindly to trespassers in my swamp, let alone my own house. Especially not when they bring trouble with them.”
The girl leaned further into the clothes, tears running down her cheeks. Sophie’s face drooped a bit, too annoyed by the whole situation to even get angry over it. She reached into the closet and grabbed the Xweetok by the arm.
“Oh, come out of there,” she said. “You’re messing . . .”
As Sophie’s hand closed on the girl’s arm, she let out a piercing, painful shriek that made Sophie’s ears ring. The witch quickly released her and watched as she curled up on the floor in a tighter ball, her back turned, weeping.
“You’re hurt,” Sophie stated. “Pretty badly by the sound of it.”
The girl continued to cry. Sophie rolled her eyes skyward as if to ask fate why it was being so needlessly bothersome. With a sigh, she crouched down until she was eye-level with the girl.
“You’d better let me take a look at it,” she said.
The girl turned partly around to look at Sophie over her shoulder and sobbed.
“I promise I won’t hurt you,” the witch said. “Now come on out and let me take a look.”
Hesitantly, the little Xweetok stepped out into the main room. In the light, Sophie could immediately see by the swelling that the girl’s arm was broken. She gestured for her to hold it out. Wincing and trembling from the pain, she did and Sophie examined it very closely. It didn’t appear to be a bad break, but even a minor fracture could be very painful. Sophie was amazed that the girl had been able to keep so quiet. She gestured toward her armchair.
“Take a seat,” she said. “I can patch this up and give you something for the pain.”
The girl obediently sat down as Sophie went to her shelves and rummaged through the various jars. Grabbing a few, she took them back to her workbench. Thinking how fortunate it was that she’d been out looking for darkthorn vines, she took a couple of longer ones and carefully trimmed down the thorns, then coated them with an anaesthetic healing salve. She went back to the trembling girl and kneeled down beside her.
“This is going to hurt a little, but try not to jerk around.”
The girl nodded and held out her arm again, turning away and closing her eyes against the pain. She gasped and clenched her teeth while Sophie felt out the break and squealed a little when she set it back in place, but otherwise stayed calm. After setting the bone, Sophie wrapped the vines around the girl’s arm so that the trimmed thorns injected the pain killer into her blood.
“Now, I’m going to have to make a temporary cast,” Sophie said. “It will keep the bone from coming out of place again, as long as you don’t move your arm too much. It should be just fine, but you should probably to go to a hospital just to be safe.”
Sophie stood back up and started for her workbench, but stopped when she heard the girl speak. Her voice was so soft and trembling that the witch couldn’t make it out. She turned around to look at the girl.
“I can’t,” she repeated, barely louder than the first time. “They’ll find me.”
“You mean those goons from NeoCorp?” Sophie asked.
The girl nodded.
“I don’t think you need to worry too much about them. I’m pretty sure that they’re scared enough not to come after you now. I made sure they got the point.”
The girl shook her head. “I can’t.”
Sophie sighed. “What’s your name?”
“Listen to me, Talya,” said Sophie. “You can’t stay here forever. I’ll let you stay the night if you want, but I’ve got lots of things to do and I can’t watch you while I’m doing it. You’re going to have to go home sooner or later.”
“But they’ll get me.”
Sophie buried her face in her palm. Why was this happening to her? Of all the people in the world that this girl could have found, why her? She didn’t want to get involved in this; it had nothing to do with her, so why was it that fate was conspiring to make it her business?
“Do you know why they came for your family, Talya?”
The girl shook her head.
“Do you know anything at all?”
Talya thought. “No, they just came. They just said that there’d been some trouble at Daddy’s work and that we had to go with them. Mommy asked what kind of trouble and the big Elephante just looked at her and she got all scared. They said that we were going to come with them whether we wanted to or not. Mommy told me to run and they grabbed her. The Elephante grabbed my arm and hurt it, but he let go when I screamed and then I ran out.”
Sophie shot another angry glare over her shoulder at the skidget in the jar. It shrank back away and tried not to look at her.
“They chased me and I ran into the swamp to get away,” Talya continued. “I found this house and thought I could hide here until they were gone. Then you came.”
Sophie went over to her cabinet and sifted through the drawers for some reeds and bandages to make a splint. She really didn’t want to get involved with this, but she already knew it was a bit too late. Talya was probably right that NeoCorp’s security was going to keep looking for her. If they knew she was hurt, a hospital was probably the first place they’d look. She couldn’t just drop the girl off with any of her friends, either and she certainly didn’t want to drag her parents or her brother into this mess. Sophie hated to admit it, but she was already too involved to go back now. She couldn’t just abandon the girl, no matter how much she wanted to, but if she let her stay here, it seemed a good bet that NeoCorp would start sending more security teams after her. Not that she was afraid of the goon squad – good heavens, no – but dealing with Mr. Mogul’s henchmen would be more bothersome than she wanted to put up with. There was only one thing she could really do.
“Alright,” she reluctantly conceded. “I’ll help you. I’ll find a way to get your parents back.”
Talya’s eyes brightened. “Really?”
Sophie nodded. “I will.”
She wasn't sure how, but she would.
To be continued...