Before the Tale: Part Five
“Well, hi there, Sophie! Aren’t you a tricky little witch to find. We searched high and low for you, and here we are. Brilliant!”
“Seb? Who are you talking to?”
“Just practising for when we find the little witchy.” Sebastian smiled gormlessly. Jaycee was very worried about him. This worry had increased to fear when he started singing “Everyone loves Sloth” at the top of his lungs.
Sebastian hated Sloth.
“It’s not much farther, Seb. According to this, we should pass a sign that says 'Please keep off the Meepits', and after that we need to head into the thickest part of the Woods and get lost. Then we should hit Sophie’s Shack while trying to get back to the main path,” Jaycee examined their instructions.
“There’s the sign there, look!” Sebastian exclaimed, pointing.
“Nah, Seb, that’s an actual Meepit. Let’s walk around here; I don’t think it’s seen us.”
They tiptoed around the snoozing Meepit and carried along down the path until they found the sign.
Three hours and a dozen stumbles and trips later, the trio were well and truly lost in the heart of the Haunted Woods.
“Alright, now what? How are we supposed to find the path in this mess?” Sebastian said, and screamed as a Spyder dropped down from a tree and landed on his nose. “GEDITOFF!” he wailed, repeatedly smacking himself in the face until he was satisfied it was dead. The result was a nasty purpling bruise swelling up his nose.
“I habe ‘pyders,” he grumbled, gingerly touching his nose, which had doubled in size.
Jaycee tried hard not to smirk but didn’t quite manage it. Good thing he couldn’t see her.
“We just walk around and try to get out. Here, hold Socks.”
They walked in every direction. North, South, East, West, up, down, around, forwards, backwards, sideways, in a circle, around the bend and back, over and under until they felt like they were the trudging through to the other side of the worlds.
Then, and only then, did they (Jaycee) see a faint glowing green light some distance away. They could have kissed the stars they were so happy. Hurray, at last they could get rid of this Meowclops.
Only when they were standing at Sophie’s front door did they start to feel scared. She was a witch, after all.
Always the hero, Sebastian rapped sharply on the door and stood protectively in front of Jaycee, who was holding a squirming and excited Socks in her arms.
“Who is it?” a voice called from inside the Shack.
“It’s... Sebastian. And Jaycee. We have your Meowclops... we found it in ─” he was cut short by the door flying open and Socks jumping over his head and into Sophie’s arms.
“Thank you! I’ve been out of my mind with worry... he’s never run away before. Where did you go, Pooky?” She buried her face in his soft fur and he purred contentedly.
“Pooky?” Jaycee repeated incredulously, and Sebastian smirked at her.
“Thank you, young Neopets. How can I ever repay you?”
“Well, now you mention it─” Sebastian began before Jaycee ‘accidently’ stomped on his tail.
“We just want some answers. There is so much going on; there are so many questions. We need some answers,” Jaycee said, ignoring Sebastian’s fiery gaze. Their original quest to return the Meowclops for a nice fat reward had somewhat paled with the crisis they had discovered.
“I can imagine. Come inside, sit by the fire. It’s freezing out here.”
When they had all settled into the lounge room with cups of hot Grackle Bug Brew Sophie began explaining. Somewhat.
“So what was the Brain Tree talking about? He mentioned the Darkness, and the stars going out. Things like that. He was hysterical,” Jaycee explained, smiling as Socks curled up on the rug in front of the fireplace.
“What else did he say?”
Sebastian cleared his throat and sat back more comfortably.
“Not much, but there was this Gypsy Elephante we met along the way. He told us some things, but he confused us even more. He talked about you, some Woeful Tale sort of thing, Krawks, Neovia─”
“Neovia!” Sophie interrupted him, her eyes wide. “Are you sure he said Neovia?”
“Absolutely.” He shrugged.
“You must be mistaken. Neovia is... dead. There’s nothing there. He can’t have meant it,” Sophie said, shaking her head firmly but her mouth was pulled into a tense grimace.
“What happened there, Sophie? Why is it empty?” Jaycee asked.
Closing her eyes briefly, Sophie exhaled slowly. When she opened them and began her tale with the flames from the fire dancing in her eyes.
“It was so long ago. I was so young. We all were, my brothers and I. We lived in Neovia with our parents. It was a lovely place, everyone was so nice... everything was perfect. But that all changed when he came. Krawley. I doubt you’ll have heard of him. We sure hadn’t. I wish now we had. He came one day, with promises and dreams. He was so charming and polite... He offered us potions, to make all our dreams come true. And they did! Our lives were enriched by a simple little brew, of course we bragged about it to the town. Everyone tried it, everyone loved it. But then they started changing... twisting. They weren’t the same. My brothers... I had to run. I had to get away, the townspeople had gone mad. They blamed us! They were crazy. But they died, they all died. Neovia is empty now. And I’ve lived here in these Woods ever since,” Sophie finished with a small sniffle.
“That’s awful! And no one in the Haunted Woods could have helped?” Jaycee looked horrified.
“They didn’t know. Our mayor was a strange little Bruce, and he was big on independence. Too proud to ask for help. By the time anyone realised we needed help, it was too late.”
“We’ve met Krawley,” Sebastian put in, somewhat randomly.
“WHAT?!” Sophie shrieked, jumping up and sending her cup of tea flying.
“Uh, Krawley. We met him?” Sebastian shrank back in his seat, looking up at the enraged witch in front of him.
“In the Woods, on the way here. In a graveyard.”
Now it was Jaycee’s turn to tell Sophie their tale. She listened with an intense look in her eyes and her face was fierce.
“... and then we ran from him, after we found out he was actually the Krawk the grave belonged to,” she finished after ten minutes of jabbering on.
“You didn’t take one of his potions, did you?”
“No. We ran away then.”
“He’s here? Now? But why?” Sophie mused, turning her back on the two of them.
“When we got directions to here from Sidney, the Scratchcard guy, he said to take a piece of seaweed off the grave and bring it with us. Why?”
“May I have it?” Still with her back to them she held out her hand and Jaycee handed her the sloppy wet piece.
“Your tea has gone cold. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“That was weird, uh?” Sebastian said as soon as the witch was out of the room.
“I know, she wouldn’t answer about the seaweed,” Jaycee said quietly, trying to peer into the kitchen.
“But she’s nice, she’s not an evil witch.”
“I don’t like this, Seb. I think we should leave,” Jaycee whispered, her voice hoarse.
He opened his mouth to answer when Sophie walked back in with a full pot of Grackle Bug Tea. What were those bubbling green bits?
She spooned ladles of the brew into their cups and again turned her back on them, facing the fire.
They sniffed cautiously at their cups before taking tentative sips. It was much saltier than the last brew.
When Sophie spoke, her voice was low and still she would not face them.
“I have mixed the seaweed into this one. It might not taste as pleasant, but you won’t remember. This potion will alter your memories, erasing some. You won’t remember what happened in the Haunted Woods, and you won’t remember Neovia. Nor Krawley or even me.” She turned and met their horror-stricken gazes. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. I’ve had to use this potion on many Neopians that wander too far into the Woods and come across Neovia. It’s for your own good, don’t you see? You will be safe, not knowing what is happening here. Now that Krawley is back, I have to do something. You will be long gone from here and won’t know of the ruins of a town called Neovia. Maybe this time I can fix it. Maybe this time I can get it right. In loving memory of my brothers, Bruno and Reginald. And my mother and father and all the townspeople. This Tale of Woe has gone on far too long.”
“We can help! Let us help, don’t do this!” Jaycee said, blinking and shaking her head as colours swam in front of her eyes.
“Too many people have died because of Krawley. I won’t let him have two more. This ends, now.”
“Sophie...” Sebastian tried to sit up but found his head was too heavy to hold up. He flopped back uselessly onto the couch before everything went black.
“Wasn’t that just the best concert, Seb? I loved it!” Jaycee sighed happily, leaning back against the large rock.
“It really was. We should come to Tyrannia more often.” He smiled sleepily and put his arm around her.
“Hey, when’s that Gadgadsbogen Festival thing?”
“The one on Mystery Island? Not for a while, why?”
“I think we should go.”
“If you insist, Pinky.”
Together they watched the setting sun bathe the rocky plateau in its golden glow, while far, far away a war raged.
Life was good.