Stachetastic: the Hair-Raising Origin - Part Six
After being knocked about by malicious winds, nearly falling into bottomless bogs, and narrowly escaping from a Korbat gang attack, the Lupe finally arrived at the abode of the Swamp Witch. Norman was only slightly grateful for Mr. Pierce's clear directions to Sophie's house, for if he got lost, then he would have a valid excuse to not have to go directly into the dangerous realm of the Swamp Witch. Then again, he could have been in even more danger if he attempted to get there on his own. The woods were not very navigable.
Thinking back, Norman was incredibly surprised that Mr. Pierce was not very suspicious at all when he and Lenora had asked him for directions. The Ogrin probably chalked it up to Norman being one of Sophie's hardcore fans.
The clearing was darker than the rest of the Haunted Woods he'd traveled through, as impossible as that seemed. In the near Crokabek-black darkness, Norman could make out glowing lights doing their best to dispel the darkness, but they were not getting very far in their endeavors. As Norman drew closer, he could see the thatched roof of Sophie's house become clearer in his vision, followed by a porch and several stepping stones one had to traverse in order to reach the rickety-looking porch.
The Lupe gulped and tightened his surgical mask. He steeled his nerves and hopped from stone to stone, taking care not to fall into the dark green swamp water of unknown depth. At last, the wooden door, sagging slightly on its hinge, was directly in front of him. The Lupe took a deep breath and raised a shaking paw. There was no way he would have come here had it not been for Lenora's urging and for his darned super-moustache. Norman put down his paw and took another deep breath, hoping the Ixi would not be at home or that she had not heard him approach.
But no, she was definitely inside, muttering strange incantations and causing a surge of glowing light every few seconds that leaked outside via the spaces of the doorframe.
By now, the poor Lupe's limbs felt far too stiff to move. A preposterous thought of using his moustache entered his mind, and the length raised itself, hovering close to the door as if it was an antenna. Norman jumped back, startled by the fact that his thought and the motion of his moustache connected for that brief moment. The Lupe seemed to regain his senses as he, without any conscious thought, knocked on the door with one paw. It was a very soft knock, but it was just enough to reach the ears of the bustling Ixi. "Eh?" Norman heard her mutter through the door, but she made no attempts to open it.
The light pouring out from the bottom and sides of the door surged in intensity with greater frequency, and, before Norman could realize it fast enough to take cover, a flood of magical energy exploded inside the house, causing the door and the wooden porch to rattle. Strange green smoke trickled like a Slorg across the floor and outside.
Norman gasped and put his paw to his muzzle to avoid smelling whatever the smoke was, but his sharp Lupe nose caught wind of the scent before he could stop himself. "Hmm... that actually smells pretty good," the Lupe thought to himself, now curious and hungry enough to push the door made ajar by the explosion.
The room was nothing special, with its floor, walls and ceiling consisting of wood. It had plenty of shelves fully stocked with jars and crawling creatures and an overstuffed armchair in one corner. What caught Norman's eye first, however, was the green smoke oozing from the large iron cauldron in the center of the room, with a gleeful-looking Ixi standing behind it. "What have we here, Rasmus?" she called, looking down at her Meowclops. Said Meowclops instantly began to drool.
"Oh, no, not me..." Norman murmured, eyes going as wide as saucers.
"What?" she snapped, glaring straight at Norman as if she had just noticed the intruder.
The Lupe's ears flattened and he let out a disappointed whine, slipping the surgical mask back on and stepping backwards onto her porch. "I...I'm sorry," he whined. "I was just-"
"Why are you standing there gawking? It's much cheaper to cook your meals at home, you know!" Sophie defended, pulling out a steaming roast chicken from the bottom of the cauldron with a pair of tongs. The Meowclops drooled even more and meowed for his dinner. "I'm coming, Rasmus." Sophie let go of the tongs with one hand and petted the top of her Meowclops's head.
The Lupe looked confused for a moment, but gathered his courage and cleared his throat. "Sorry to barge in on you like this, but I kind of need your help," Norman began to explain, slipping off his surgical mask and letting the two thick tendrils of fur coil on the floor.
"Oh, my!" Sophie exclaimed as she set the chicken down on two plates, too surprised to notice that he had barged in, and at dinnertime at that. "That's such a long moustache!" She ran to Norman just as Rasmus tucked into his dinner, chewing noisily.
The Ixi looked the nervous Lupe in the eye as she began to gently caress the long moustache. "It's so soft, too," she purred. "How long did it take you to grow it?" she asked, honey in her voice.
"Ten seconds," Norman answered timidly but honestly.
"You've got to be joking," the Ixi laughed as she pressed one of the tendrils to her cheek. "Was it a spell you used? A potion? A magical rock? I need to know!"
Norman raised an eyebrow, uncertain of his telling her the whole story. He hadn't quite expected her to be friendly and to help him right off the bat, but he hadn't foreseen her enthusiastic reception of himself and his moustache.
"It all started with my boss's experiment..."
Even with the lights in the clearing, no one traveling through the Haunted Woods would see the faint lights of Sophie's house. The dead of night was no time for one to be in the Haunted Woods regardless, and Norman was well aware of this. He tried to hasten the telling of his story to the Swamp Witch, who by now was so enthralled that she failed to notice Rasmus picking at her dinner, having finished his own.
"....So I'm trying to slow it down. Do you have any kind of quick fix for this?" The Lupe held up one end of his moustache.
The Ixi tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Hmm." She waved her arm and a magnifying glass flew straight into her palm. Sophie scrutinized the moustache she was holding in her other hand. "Normally, I don't help most who come to me asking for aid and not offering anything of your own, but you seem different in more ways than one." She squinted. "Do you have any idea what was in Ms. Wyndham's brew?"
"Not at all, Ms. Sophie, except that she was trying to make some sort of shampoo/conditioner mix." Norman shook his head sadly. "And I tripped and added an entire bottle of Supersize! by accident."
"Hold still. By the looks of your moustache, she wasn't making anything of the sort. The unusual shine and delicacy of your moustache tells me she put an unstable mix of Faerium and Krawkite. Krawkite is known for its bright silver color, which contributes to the sheen in your moustache, and the Faerium in it is what makes it so soft and lovely to touch. Had you absorbed any more of those two elements into your system, I dare say you would have become extremely fragile instead of becoming more muscular." Sophie cleared her throat. "The Supersize's job was obvious. I hate to say it, but it looks like your boss was not simply experimenting with shampoo and conditioner. She was up to something else entirely, and you're lucky you yourself didn't fall into her brew. Fyora knows what would have happened."
"But Ms. Wyndham can't have been...she doesn't know any magic!" Norman rebutted, although with some hesitation.
"No?" Sophie frowned. "I suppose that doesn't matter for now." She shrugged her shoulders and continued to inspect the moustache. "The point is, the mixture was so potent that even though only your moustache came in direct contact with it, the strength infused in her brew spread to your entire body. It's going to be hard to negate or slow any part of it down, least of all the moustache, but it can be done. Not with just a potion, mind you, but with training." Sophie waved away the magnifying glass and it settled back into its spot.
"I will help you--but at a price."
Norman's ears perked up at the words "help you." "Oh, yes!" He brightened, wagging his tail. "What do I need to give you? I don't have too many Neopoints on me..." he trailed off for a moment, his tail drooping. "But as soon as I get paid at work again I'll be sure to-"
The witch let out an ear-rending cackle. "I don't think you know who you're dealing with."
Norman could scarcely blink before he was held against the rickety wooden door at wand-point. "But what do you want?" His voice trembled upon seeing the tip of the wand glow.
Sophie responded by stroking the moustache. "This," she said. "Your moustache is full of magic and un-Neopian softness. It has many magical qualities and would make a lovely sweater. You give me the moustache each time it grows back and I'll give you the secret to slowing it down. You must stay here for one week for me to see its full potential."
Norman nodded as carefully as he could without letting his nose or his muzzle touch the glowing, curved point of the wand. The moustache would grow back every fifteen minutes. He wouldn't be sacrificing much... would he? The Lupe struggled to move his muzzle upward as Sophie leaned it closer to his neck. After the week with Sophie, it would be merely one day before he'd have to face Ms. Wyndham again.
The Lupe felt a poisonous heat against his muzzle as the wand came dangerously close to touching his fur. "I can do that. I'll stay," he said, trying to move his muzzle as little as possible while he talked.
Sophie waved her arm again, and a pair of scissors flew into her grasp. Opening the scissors, she gave Norman a stare that would make even the most ornery Kadoatie behave. Norman glanced around uneasily at the Aboogalas in a jar on a shelf, at Rasmus curled up on his little bed to sleep, and back at Sophie's hard, serious green eyes. "Norman, look at me," she said in a stern tone of voice.
Norman stared back. Was this the first part of training? His eyebrows shot up as she opened her mouth to speak once more, stroking the moustache thoughtfully.
"Remember, Norman. With great moustache comes great--"
"Responsibility?" the Lupe asked, his tail wagging hopefully.
The Ixi put a hand to her face and sighed, shaking her head. "No, Norman. With great moustache comes great fur!" Sophie roared cheerfully, and snipped off one tendril of the moustache. The blue fur rippled downward in a waltz with gravity and coiled beautifully in a circle as it fell to the floor. "Now, for the other one," Sophie said, reaching for the portion of the moustache still attached to the Lupe's muzzle.
Norman tried to hold as still as possible while she chopped off the other half of his long moustache. He put his hands to his nearly-bare muzzle again, petting the stubby remains of the moustache. It was always unusual, not having the weight of the hair against his muzzle. It was especially strange that Norman was inclined to incline his head upward to counterbalance the moustache while it was long, and that habit had not left him albeit the moustache had.
"What are you looking up for?" Sophie asked, mirroring his gaze and finding nothing but a stray Spyder.
"Nothing," Norman replied, looking down at his paws.
Sophie scooped up the fur and recoiled in mild dismay. "The moustache has lost most of its magic! I'm going to need lots of these if I am to do anything with it!" She cried out, kicking at her unmoving iron cauldron in frustration. She sighed, regaining her calm once she saw little Rasmus open his eye. "Well, no matter. You said that your moustache grows back to its full length every fifteen minutes after being cut, yes?"
"That's right." Norman nodded, feeling the stubby little patches of fur and distantly wondering what it was like to live with a smaller moustache. The experiment had only been a half a week ago, but to Norman, it felt like years. Time passed faster for those with superpowers, Norman supposed.
"Good. Now the first thing to remember is to think with your moustache, not against it."
Norman had to hold back a huff. He'd known this, having been able to control to some degree where he wanted it to go. The moustache had come close to knocking on the door, after all.
"I don't mean control it. You ask it to go places. Observe." Sophie removed her worn, patched hat, and closed her eyes. In a few moments, her hair was slowly floating about in the air as if it were underwater. The cascades of dark green hair fluttered to the left, then slowly to the right. "It's one of my lesser known powers," she bleated sheepishly. "Notice how I forced nothing. You and your moustache must be in tune with one another at all times. If not, you could be in quite a tangled mess. Do not force control upon it."
The Lupe nodded slowly, attempting to understand.
"Now, when you feel it growing back, will it to grow more slowly, but do not focus on stopping it completely, and especially do not panic if you are unsuccessful. Now if you'll excuse me, I've another potion to whip up. The moon is in its third quarter, and this is the perfect night for making lunar muffins and starting your potion. The latter will help in addition to your training. While you wait for your moustache to grow back, make yourself useful and tidy up around here. Consider it part of your training." The Ixi shot him a devilish smile as she sauntered back towards the cauldron.
Without complaint, Norman picked up a broom which seemed to be made of twigs and began to sweep. It wasn't much different for working for Ms. Wyndham, and the latter surely wouldn't miss him at work. As he swept, he thought of Ms. Wyndham, Amaryllis, Lenora, and Mr. Pierce. Ms. Wyndham would still be fussing around with her strange shampoo experiment, Amaryllis would be having a glorious time with Lenora, and Mr. Pierce would be considering repainting Lenora's work room. No one would really mind him missing.
The week passed quickly with Norman's intense practice. By the end of the week, Norman was sweeping the floor and gathering jars with his moustache, even going so far as performing one task with each half of the moustache.
"Bravo!" Sophie cheered, stuffing the newly shorn moustache into an enchanted clay pot about the size of her fist. The pot looked completely ordinary, but had the capacity to fit as much of only one item as anyone liked. "You're doing well, and the potion is almost ready." Sophie fetched an eyedropper and dripped two drops of Essence of Mortog into the brew, making the potion splutter foul-smelling black smoke in protest.
"I believe you're almost ready as well—and on top of that, I've got nearly as much fur as I wanted. Give it an hour or so and you can be on your way home." Sophie smiled at him, the act seeming much more natural than it had when he'd first entered her house. She gazed lovingly at her new sweater hanging on a peg, and was somewhat sad that the week was almost up.
"You really mean it?" Norman barked, wagging his tail wildly. His moustache tendrils were also waving with equal excitement, as if they were happy, too.
"Yes, of cou--"
"Oh Sophie! Do you have any green hairbrushes I can borrow?" A raspy, wheezy voice rang out with surprising volume.
Norman looked around, startled. "Who said that?"
Sophie bit her lip and flailed her arms about angrily, clearly wishing for the intruder to leave. Her voice betrayed her true feelings, and she called out in an oily voice, "No, Edna, I'm afraid I used the last of mine for a potion. You'll have to ask some random Neopian for it this time."
"Rubbish, child." The door banged open, revealing a short, green, and cross Zafara with her paws on her hips.
"Edna, come now, I already told you I don't have any left." Sophie made every effort to keep her calm, but Norman and even Rasmus the Meowclops could sense her tension. "It would only benefit you to leave. I'm very busy at the moment." And she dropped another Aboogala leg into the potion.
"Oh, is that so? Well, I don't believe you in the sli--" Edna stopped short and stared at the Lupe, her mouth hanging open. "Uncanny," she whispered, stepping close to a terrified Norman. Unlike Sophie, Norman had heard that Edna was ever so slightly mad, and did not take kindly to Neopets without magical abilities unless they did her bidding. "What a moustache!" she exclaimed in pure awe, caressing both tendrils. "And it's so soft, too!" She looked at Norman imploringly, creasing her wrinkles in strange and unflattering ways to achieve the expression. "Won't you give me just a small piece of it? I'm sure it's absolutely magical!"
Before an indignant Norman could reply, a green blast of magical energy whizzed past Edna's arm and outside of the door, firing straight into the mud and creating a small explosion which sent mud flying onto the porch. "He will do no such thing. The Lupe and I have already made an agreement concerning the moustache. Now..." Sophie brandished her wand, its tip glowing a dangerous shade of green. "Get away from him."
A pale, sickly green sphere materialized between Edna's paws. "I am willing to fight for such a valuable and unique prize. Bring it on!" Edna cackled, balancing on her tail like a Meerca.
Norman needed no urging to dive behind the cauldron and collect the Meowclops. Rasmus jumped into his arms and purred, shaking ever so slightly. Forgetting for a brief instant about the magic duel going on behind him, Norman gave the Meowclops a faint smile. After playing with the little fellow for a week, he noticed that Rasmus was just a scruffy, grey, one-eyed Amaryllis who wasn't nearly as finicky with his food as she was.
A blast that seared the wooden floor jolted the Lupe out of his thoughts. "You're going to pay for that!" Sophie screeched, holding her wand high above her head and foregoing any pretense of calm.
"Try and make me!" Edna crowed, laughing as she dodged the Ixi's furious attacks.
"You bet your unlucky Zafara's feet I will," Sophie growled, an unusually large and pulsating ball of energy gathering itself between her hands. Edna mirrored her every move, gathering pale green energy of her own into her paws.
The fight was akin to those he'd seen between customers in the Grooming Parlour, but it was much worse as the Lupe couldn't find anything to do but hide. He didn't want to risk himself or the potion by getting in the way. However, Norman's ears and tail shot straight up as he realized the extent of the damage they were about to do. "Come on, Rasmus!" Norman cried, filling a flask with the potion Sophie had been brewing and fleeing out the front door and across the stepping stones to relatively stable ground.
The resulting explosion sent Sophie's house flying several feet into the air before it slammed down in its former location. Sounds of breaking bottles and newly freed croaking creatures could be heard by the Lupe's acute ears. "Oh, no," he murmured softly. "Are you all right, Rasmus?" The Meowclops gave a mew in reply and nuzzled his arms.
Despite the recent destruction, Norman could not help but laugh and ruffle the little Meowclops's head. "At least one of us has some sense."
Suddenly, a flash of yellow and blue darted into Sophie's house, piquing the interest of the Lupe. "Who do you suppose that could be?" Norman asked the Meowclops uneasily.
Rasmus yowled as if to say, "How should I know?" and effortlessly hopped on the stones to get back home. "Wait for me!" cried Norman, hopping onto the stones less steadily. He pushed open the door to see broken bottles, the upturned cauldron, a torn couch, and two very bruised and exhausted witches.
"How did I know?" The Masked Intruder sighed, shaking his head and folding his arms.
"Yeah, how did you know?" Norman was too stunned by the Kougra's sudden appearance to realize that this was the same Kougra who had investigated the crime scene at the Grooming Parlour one week ago.
Once he did realize it, a shudder of dismay ran through the Lupe. Would he be taken prisoner for tampering with the experiment? For being the center of the fight? The Lupe stared at the Kougra, who was busy picking his way through bits of broken glass to reach the two exhausted witches. Norman shrugged and exchanged glances with Sophie's Meowclops. It didn't seem like he would be discovered anytime soon, but he could be, at any second. This thought jarred Norman, who hastily sliced off his moustache once more in order to prevent any further suspicion. The Lupe stuffed it into the clay pot, which seemed to eat it with great gusto and without getting any larger.
"The Defenders can sense great surges of magic disproportionate to the particular land of Neopia they're in. That unusually powerful explosion could have meant serious trouble for you, the Meowclops, and these two. Speaking of which, are you ladies hurt?" The Kougra asked, taking Edna's paw and bringing her slowly to her feet, then doing the same with Sophie.
"Not quite." Sophie rubbed her head under her hat.
"Nor am I," Edna wheezed, wringing her tail.
"May I ask you ladies what the cause of such violent magic was? Judging from the blast marks, it was either a vengeful sort or someone was battling with the hope to gain something."
Edna snorted. "All I wanted was a piece of his grandiose moustache." She grinned, showing discolored teeth to the Kougra. "You ought to touch it, you know. The softness alone is enchanting, and there are sure to be magical properties within....it..." The Zafara trailed off as her gaze slowly moved from the Masked Intruder to a now moustache-less Norman. "What have you done?!" she cried.
The Kougra did not seem at all fazed by her outburst. "Sophie, how much of this Lupe's moustache have you collected? I'm guessing you were doing the same to brew up something new. The moustache of a Lupe is indeed a powerful item, whether or not it was infused with magic." Norman's ears perked up as he tried to look at his short moustache. He had power even before the experiment went awry?
"That's right," she answered the Kougra. "His moustache grows back every fifteen minutes or so if he does not think in tune with the moustache. Based on that and his recent progress, I would have to say..." The Ixi began to count on her fingers. "About forty two coils."
"Forty-two?!" the shorter witch let out a shrill shriek. "Why must it bother you so to give me just one, then?!"
"I'm right here," Norman mumbled, petting the top of Rasmus's head to console himself a little.
"Indeed. Surely, you could spare one?" The Kougra raised an eyebrow and turned towards the swamp witch.
After swearing under her breath, Sophie conceded. "Fine. Take it from him." As Norman went to fetch a furry coil from the clay pot, the Ixi added dryly, "If that Ms. Wyndham of his makes another potion like that, I'm sure Edna would be happy to use it."
The Kougra whipped around to face Norman, recognition entering the features visible from under his mask. "Ms.Wyndham, you say?" he said with complete incredulity. "Of course. How could I have missed this...?" The Kougra trailed off in wonder, and Norman began to stroke the Meowclops with more nervous force than he ever had, much to the displeasure of the latter. He handed the coil of moustache to Edna without comment.
After several moments, the Masked Intruder adopted a stern expression and clapped a paw on Norman's shoulder. "Young man, you've caused a lot of trouble around here, and in Neopia Central." The Lupe's tail slid between his legs and his ears drooped.
"I know, but I was only trying to--" The Kougra held up a paw to silence him.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to come along with me."
To be continued...