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The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part One


by hybatsu

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      An explosion shook the manor to its core. When the shaking stopped, two Lupe sisters traded panicked looks, and went running in the direction from which the cacophony came. But it was already too late.

      As their footsteps thundered against the carpet, a young Lupe girl awoke in the library. Alless sat up, groaning when the blood rushed to her head and made it throb. She raised a paw to rub her temples, finding swelling, but thankfully nothing more. The room was blurry, her vision coming and going in waves, and it took her a moment to remember where she was, who she was.

      Alless made out the fuzzy shape of her spectacles on the library carpet. She reached out to grab them, and - odd. She frowned, relying on her sense of touch to find them, but her paws contradicted what her eyes knew. She was pretty sure those were her spectacles lying there - she wasn’t THAT blind without them - but when she tried to touch them, it was as if she were touching air. She raised her paws to her face, and was struck by the faded grey-teal of her fur, the way the light from the stained-glass window seemed to shine right through them…

      Alless gave a glass-shattering scream just as her sisters threw open the door. It took them, too, a moment to comprehend what they saw, but when they understood, they fell silent with sorrow and shock.

      Alless’s spell had gone terribly wrong. It had destroyed her mortal body, but left her spirit intact. She was, for now, a ghost haunting her own home.

      Three years after this tragedy took place, a Spotted Lupe came walking down the valley trail towards the village just as the sun was setting on Mystery Island. Named Seneca, the Lupe was a cheery girl who hummed as she walked, trying to focus on the glorious sunshine and not the nerves making a mess of her stomach.

      For the first time in years, she was going to visit her estranged cousins. She had lived with them for a short period as a child, but then she’d gone to live with her father, and strains amongst the adults had meant that she didn’t see her cousins again for years. In fact, they had had so little contact over the years that she was shocked when her cousin Mago had written to her just last week, asking for her help. Upon reading the letter, Seneca’s heart had been softened by memories of their childhood on the warm, sandy beaches, that she had leapt on the quickest ferry out of Moltara bound for Mystery Island.

      She passed row after row of pretty bamboo shacks, sporting palm leaves woven into roofs and coconuts mounted on sticks in tiki-style lawn ornamentation. But at the end of the road, there was a house - or rather, a manor - that deviated severely from this tropical theme. With its elaborate turrets and lavish paint job, it looked like it belonged in Neovia, given its gothic influences, or perhaps Brightvale, given its cheery coloration and regality, but certainly not rustic Mystery Island. The manor sneered of wealth and class, and Seneca didn’t even have to read the address written on her paw to know that this was her cousins’ home.

      She knocked on the door, and a dark green Christmas Lupe answered. It was Seneca’s cousin Mago, and she was wearing the same old red parka and Winter Blechy Hat with earflaps she always wore. Seneca had no idea how her cousin managed the Mystery Island heat in that outfit, and dreaded having to embrace all its fluffiness.

      But the hug never came. Mago took one look at Seneca and sighed, “Thank Fyora you’re here,” before hurrying her inside. When the door was shut behind them, Mago wasted no time, and Seneca had to jog to keep up.

      “I’m glad you could come,” Mago said sincerely. “Alless has been especially annoying lately. I know being a ghost is difficult for her, since she’s not able to touch anything, and our sister Maikya, who usually does everything for her, is off in Brightvale looking for exotic berries… But that’s really no excuse to whine so much! I told Alless she’d be better off if she got a familiar - maybe a nice Crokabek? I’ve heard they’re pretty smart, but she refuses to let any petpets near her precious spells. She says they’ll only mess things up for her, but honestly it’d be impossible for any assistant she employed to make her MORE of a failure at magic than she already is.”

      Something occurred to Seneca just then. “Wait a minute... can’t you help her, Mago?”

      Mago outright laughed. “A powerful witch like me? Take time out of my schedule to help HER? Ha! Seneca, you always were the funny one. Oh, but you know, it’s already ridiculous enough Maikya spends all her time holding Alless’s hand through the simplest of incantations; she’s quite the powerful witch herself.” A pointy sneer stretched the limits of Mago’s face. “Although not nearly as powerful as me, of course.”

      They stopped outside a pair of double doors with brass handles. “This is it,” Mago announced, “the library. Little Miss Hermit’s inside, undoubtedly glaring at whatever open page I left her at in her spellbook, so your first arduous task will be to turn that for her. I’m sure you’ll do quite splendidly.”

      Mago gave a fluttery little wave and walked off down the hall, leaving Seneca to face her undead cousin on her own. The Spotted Lupe gave a weary sigh, then let herself inside.

      There were books wall to wall, stacked high on ornate shelves - a library, alright. It gave off a very wealthy air, with its little gold lamps, the chandelier that hung glittering from the ceiling, the heavy velvet curtains. The purple carpet was barely visible, however, due to the papers and magical artifacts strewn about.

      “Hello?” Seneca called. There was a rustling. She tried to approach its source, but stopped dead with a cringe when she stepped in something spongey and gooey. She looked down - an Eyeballberry! Gross! She wiped her foot off on an end-table’s cloth just as a ghostly Lupe floated around the corner of one massive bookcase.

      Alless scowled. “It’s hasn’t even been a minute since you entered my library, and you’ve already started to destroy it. I’m not sure how much use you’ll be to me if you’re this careless while we’re working on a more difficult spell.”

      Seneca’s stomach dropped. She came here to make a good impression and reconnect with her cousins, and she was already messing everything up! “I’m sorry, Ally, I didn’t mean to!”

      Alless didn’t accept the apology, but she dropped the subject. “I was hoping you’d come earlier in the day; I’ve made no headway in my research, and now it’s far too late to resume. Don’t you live in Moltara now?”

      Seneca was surprised she remembered. “Yes! Yes, we moved from Neovia to Moltara some time ago. But my father needed help around the shop, and while he might have been stalling because he’ll miss me, I wanted to do what I could for him before I left.”

      At the mere mention of her father, Seneca thought she saw an ugly expression pass over Alless’s face. But if it did, it was gone in an instant. “Nevermind,” said Alless, “I suppose you’ll just have to help me cook supper. You’ll be less of a danger once we get you away from these magical artifacts, although I suppose you COULD burn the kitchen down…”

      Alless floated to the door. Seneca was about to open it for her, but she was stopped by the sight of her cousin phasing through it. It was as if Alless’s body was evaporating, tendrils of grey-teal steam wisping after her. When she’d gathered her senses, Seneca followed, feeling silly for being surprised by her cousin’s ghostliness, even after all these years.

      The moment they entered the kitchen, Alless started giving orders. “Put a pot of water on the stove to boil. They’re in this cabinet - no, not that one, the biggest one! Yes, thank you. Now, from this cupboard, we need ginger…”

      Whenever Seneca was engaged in busywork, such as chopping vegetables, her cousin fell frighteningly silent. Seneca couldn’t stand it; she had to make conversation.

      “If there are usually three girls in this house, and you can’t touch anything, then why are YOU the one who makes dinner?”

      “Because it wouldn’t get done otherwise.” A pause. “I’m sure my sister has already told you what a terrible witch I am. I’m sure in doubting my potion-brewing ability, you’re also doubting whether this stew will taste any good.”

      Seneca blushed deeply. “Of course not…”

      “It’s alright if you are. I’m not denying that my magical skills are below average, but you must understand, Seneca, that I am the glue that holds this house together. I am the one who makes sure everyone stays fed, well-rested, and safe. It’s been this way since even before my… accident. My sisters may be excellent witches, but they aren’t equipped to take care of themselves.”

      Seneca nodded slowly, taking it all in. These girls may be her family, but she had to admit that she didn’t know them very well. Regardless, Seneca didn’t remember Alless having to take on the role of parent to her sisters back then, and said so.

      “Our parents did everything back then,” Alless said, quietly. “That was before they were lost in the jungles of Geraptiku, of course...”

      “Oh - of course.” Seneca’s face burned with embarrassment at having drudged up an undoubtedly painful memory for Alless.

      “I’m sure they’re fine,” Alless insisted, waving off her cousin’s embarrassment. “Knowing my father, he’s completely assimilated into some lost civilization by now. He’s probably a high-ranking witch doctor, if not their king.”

      Per instruction, Seneca sliced up Tchea fruit, Aquaberries, and Chokatos for a fruit salad. When it was finished, she pulled out several bowls to set the table, her hand stuttering as if burned when she realized she’d grabbed a third by accident. If Alless noticed, she didn’t mention it. She just told Seneca to use the good napkins from the second drawer down.

      For the duration of the cooking Mago was absent, but the moment the food hit the table she waltzed right in, as if she’d had secret eyes (or noses) in the kitchen the whole time. She took a giant bite of the fruit salad and smiled. “Thank Fyora your cooking isn’t as bad as your magic, huh, Ally? And good job to you too, Seneca, for paying attention and making sure none of it got burned.”

      “Mago can’t help me in the kitchen,” Alless sighed. “She gets distracted.”

      Mago beamed as if this was something to be proud of. The food really was delicious, but Seneca ate with measured bites, lost in thought. Her normally bubbly personality quelled by apprehension, she sat in near silence as Mago babbled away about what a bore the people of the village were, never able to take a joke. So what, Mago had smothered the entrance to Geraptiku with black ice - was that any excuse to scream at her? Besides, it had been funny, seeing tourists slip and slide around all day. It wasn’t like Mago had eternally frozen it over, either - she’d erased the spell as soon as somebody got hurt. For a supposedly relaxed vacation spot, Mystery Island housed some pretty touchy people...

      Unable to eat, Alless spent most of dinner bickering with her sister for mistreating the neighbors. It was amusing, sort of, but mostly Seneca was just uncomfortable, so she was relieved when she could disappear into the kitchen and wash up.

      Darkness fell over Mystery Island. Mago turned in for the night. Alless looked at the clock with a sigh and said, “I suppose you’ll be abandoning me soon, too, Seneca.”

      Seneca thought of her poor cousin wandering the halls of the manor at night, and her sense of pity overpowered her exhaustion. “Ally, no! I can stay up with you awhile. Maybe we can read something…”

      Alless shook her head. “No - you’ve had a long journey, no doubt. I’ll show you to your room, and we can get started bright and early tomorrow.”

      “But won’t you be bored?”

      Alless gave a breathy laugh. “Not if you unroll a few scrolls for me to read, first.”

      After completing this task, they headed up the spiral staircase to the second floor. Seneca expected to be led to a guest room - something bland, with white sheets, drab curtains, and no personal effects - but she was shocked when she opened the door and was met with her childhood bedroom. Every plushie was still in its proper place, smiling down on her cozy Pink Poogle Bed. Standing in the room brought back a wave of happy memories from her childhood, so that all Seneca could do was turn to Alless with bewilderment.

      Alless averted her eyes. “We didn’t see the point of dismantling it after you left. If it’s too childish, I can show you to another room; the manor’s quite large…”

      Seneca shook her head. “No - I want to stay here. Thank you so much for leaving everything here. It reminds me of some of the happiest times of my life.”

      Alless tried to look grumpy, as usual, but the corners of her mouth kept floating upwards. “Yes - well. Good night, Seneca.”

      They parted ways. After using the bathroom, Seneca snuggled down in her bed, pulling every plushie she could reach close to her. She felt little again. It was kind of fun! And the fact that Alless had seemed so happy to bring Seneca to this room… Maybe this little family reunion was going to turn out alright, after all.

      Seneca drifted peacefully to sleep, a smile on her face.

      To be continued…

 
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