The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Two
The next morning, Seneca made up for her leisurely first day by spending hours upon hours at Alless’s command. Seneca turned pages while Alless read and tried not to die of boredom, she grabbed whatever ingredients were needed and tossed them into the cauldron, and once she was even called upon to run down to the market and buy pickled Techos’ feet - bleugh! And because Alless had no stomach to signal when a break was due (and, in fact, had no basic needs to be met), Seneca had to wait until well after three to take a lunch break. By the time she dragged herself into the kitchen, Seneca was so tired, she grabbed the first item she saw in the fridge (a Rotten Omelette) and threw it between two moldy slices of white bread. She didn’t even wince at the rancid taste.
While walking past the kitchen, Mago saw Seneca sitting there, chewing slowly, eyes glazed over, and stopped to laugh. “Looks like Ally did a number on you!”
Seneca grimaced. “I’m glad to help her out, but I’ve got to admit this is more work than I thought it’d be.”
“That’s ghosts for you - they don’t have any concept of stamina! But you deserve some free time; if she gets to be too demanding, don’t be afraid to tell her to back off.”
Seneca had the feeling that Mago had a more voracious appetite than the average person, both for free time and for fights with her sister, but Seneca didn’t say anything. She merely nodded, finished her sandwich, and returned to the library.
Alless was on her case as soon as she cracked open the door. “Finally! What took you so long? I need you to hold this crystal while I recite an incantation!” Seneca did as she was told, and when the incantation was finished, the crystal made a very rude, gaseous noise, and turned green. Seneca, despite her complete lack of magic, was pretty sure this wasn’t what the crystal was supposed to do, but after a staring contest with it, Alless demanded Seneca toss it into the cauldron anyway.
The day was full of nonsensical moments like this, and they never seemed to lead anywhere. The best result of any of Alless’s potions was a yummy pineapple smell that filled the library, but the liquid itself was prone to randomly bursting into flame, so Seneca had a lovely time trying to dispose of it.
And then Alless hit a roadblock. Her eyes flitted frantically from spellbook to spellbook that was splayed open on the floor, until finally she gave a sigh of defeat. “I just can’t think. There’s nothing more I can do today.”
Like a ship released from the dock, she began to drift aimlessly about the room, a sour expression on her face. Despite Seneca’s relief at the unexpected break, she felt sorry for her cousin.
“What are you trying to do, anyway?” Seneca asked. “Are you just doing spells at random, or is there a goal to all of this?”
Alless paused in the air, her shimmering form catching the flame of the candles like misty weather often does, softening the light, dispersing it carefully. With one hand rubbing her glowing snout, Alless seemed to deliberate whether or not to answer, making Seneca all the more curious what reason a ghost could have for feverishly perfecting her magic.
“It might sound silly,” Alless warned. “And hopeless…” She shook her head. “No, no…”
Exhaustion replaced by the thrill of mystery, Seneca bolted upright in her seat. “You have to tell me, now! What? What?”
“...I’m trying to get my body back.”
“Oh… of course. I should’ve realized.” The solemnity of her cousin’s confession drained all the thrill out of Seneca.
But then, “Can’t you just… get painted a different color?”
Alless gave her a withered look. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that? This isn’t a regular Ghost paint job, Seneca. I’m like… well, I’m like The Ghost Lupe. This is a matter of magic having separated my spirit from my body and destroyed that body.”
Seneca thought about all the powerful witches and wizards who called Neopia home. “So nobody else has perfected a spell to fix a situation like that?”
Alless avoided her gaze. “Yes… but a very, very long time ago, and with ingredients that are utterly impossible to procure, now. The challenge is to come up with an alternative, but you can’t substitute ingredients at random. You have to experiment with the possibilities. Understand the properties of what is available to you.”
Seneca nodded. “Like a very extreme form of cooking.”
“In a way, yes. But magic is less logical.” Alless gave a grim smile. “Maybe that’s why Mago excels at it, while I don’t. I’m almost too analytical.”
Seneca gave a sheepish smile. She wasn’t about to argue against whatever beliefs made Alless feel better about her lot.
But then a thought occurred to her. “What about Mago? And Maikya? They can’t come up with the spell for you?”
“...That’s just it. It’s so difficult, even they can’t fathom a solution.” Alless sighed. “It requires more than just creating a vessel for the soul, you see. For me to possess an object, like a plushie, or an element, like water, would be easy. But we’re talking flesh, bone - and, perhaps the most difficult part of all, a return to my original form. I don’t just want any body - I want MY body back. But this is a task so difficult, even witches as skilled as my sisters can’t accomplish it without extensive study. Hence Maikya is gone right now, seeking out alternative solutions while I toil away here, making… fruity-smelling, inflammatory mud!”
With a cry of frustration, Alless flitted to the far corner of the library, with her back to her cousin. Seneca could read the titles of the titles of the books on the shelves through her body.
“Leave me be,” Alless grumbled. “I want to be alone for a while.”
Seneca opened her mouth to protest, but the way Alless’s shoulders drooped told her it was best to just listen. She’d comfort her later, when she was feeling disposed to accept company.
To while away her free time, Seneca went to her room to write a letter to her father. It read:
My boat ride to Mystery Island was safe, if boring. The sky was pink just before sunset, so the sailors were at ease the whole trip. I got to the manor late in the afternoon and helped Alless cook dinner… But you know, Mago is here, and her paws work perfectly fine, but as far as I can tell she doesn't do anything to help around the house! It’s no wonder Alless needs me here while Maikya’s away. I wonder how they put up with Mago’s laziness - she IS the youngest, but she isn’t a kid anymore.
Alless herself is somewhat moody and demanding, but I guess being a ghost will do that to you. I feel bad for her. Sometimes I think she doesn’t like me, but then she does little things that tell me she’s trying her best with what she has. I think maybe she’s been secluded too long, and maybe she just has a hard time talking to anyone outside of her sisters. From what I can tell, this is the first time in years she and Maikya have been separated like this.
Anyway, I hope things are going well, and that the shop’s so busy you make lots of neopoints and have no time to stress about me!
Your Favorite (and Only) Daughter,
When Seneca was finished writing, she stretched her aching limbs, and then folded up the letter in an envelope to mail later.
Now what? She was unsure how to pass the rest of her break, so she wandered into the hall in search of something interesting. There were so many rooms upstairs, way more than her cousins needed, and so she was curious what they were even being used for. As she slunk past each closed door, Seneca considered opening it up and peeping inside, when a painting at the end of the hall distracted her.
It was a massive portrait of a Brown Lupe, with narrowed eyes and a discontented pout. Paintings have a way of making the real seem surreal, and here the the light of the painting unnaturally highlighted the Lupe’s noble brow, and accentuated a strong chin he most certainly did not have in life, so it took Seneca a minute to realize it was a portrait of her uncle. But there it was, carved in a plaque beneath the painting: OUR FATHER, LAZAN. Whoever he had commissioned had painted him larger than life; Seneca could barely see the resemblance to her own memories of him. She reached forward tentatively, if only to trace the letters of his name.
Just then, Alless called her downstairs, to start supper. After one last look, Seneca turned away from the painting and headed to the kitchen, where she found Alless floating, dwiddling her thumbs.
“Seneca… I hope that you won’t leave, now that you’ve discovered how silly my goals are.”
The comment took Seneca by surprise. “What are you talking about? Of course I don’t want to leave - and your goals aren’t silly at all! In fact, if I were you, I’d want my body back, too!”
“Of course you would,” Alless huffed. “But you probably wouldn’t be so foolish as to try to get it back. Face it: I’m pathetic, refusing to just accept things as they are.”
“You’re not pathetic! You’re brave!” Seneca wanted to take her cousin’s paws in hers, but instead she settled for pumping her fist enthusiastically into the air. “I believe in you, Alless! You’re so studious and responsible, I bet you’ll figure out how to get your body back in no time!”
For a moment, Alless’s eyes were wide with shock - and then a smile took hold of her features. Instead of trying to suppress it, she let it go free, and Seneca was struck by her cousin’s quiet beauty.
“Thank you, Seneca. It means a lot to hear you say that.” She drifted over to the stove. “What would you like for dinner? I can make your favorite.”
Although every expert on manners would probably instruct Seneca to refuse the offer, to tell Alless she didn’t have to cater to her so, Alless’s cooking was delicious, and so Seneca was curious to see her tackle a Chia soup. Alless took to the project with an uncharacteristic cheerfulness, and by the time it was ready to serve, the two girls were giggling up a storm.
The next few days proceeded smoothly, with Alless easing up on both the intensity of her demands and how long she made Seneca work. Now that they could fill the silence with candid conversation, Seneca was less bored in her duties. It was starting to feel like this family reunion was a success after all, since even dinner conversations between Mago and Alless weren’t as strained.
On the fourth day, just after lunch, there was a knock at the door. Before Seneca could stand to answer it, she heard it open, followed by a joyful shriek from Mago.
“Maikya’s home! Maikya’s home!!”
Surprised, Seneca left her crum-covered plate at the table and joined her cousins in the hallway, Alless appearing shortly after. Maikya was a tall, willowy Lupe, with Silver fur and gentle eyes. Mago was clearly excited to see her, nearly bouncing on the soles of her back paws as she asked, “Did you see Craya in Brightvale? Did you?”
“Only very briefly,” Maikya replied, “you know what a recluse she is. But she did tell me to say hello.”
Just then, Maikya lifted her gaze to where Seneca stood. They locked eyes, and she smiled, slowly and surely, the intensity of her gaze sending a frightening chill throughout Seneca’s body.
Her sisters had said she was a good witch, but in that moment, Seneca understood it was so much more than that. Maikya was a SUPREMELY powerful witch. She didn’t know how she knew - it was an instinct, really - but magic was coiling underneath Maikya’s skin as if only just barely contained. In the face of such power, Seneca felt like an incredibly poor substitute.
“It’s nice to see you again,” Maikya said to Seneca. Her voice was gentle and soft, a stark contrast to both Alless’s hard, solemn tones and Mago’s sheer volume. “Thank you so much for coming here to help Alless while I was gone. I’m sure you were plenty busy enough with your own life, so I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you.”
Seneca couldn’t help but grin in reply. Powerful or not, this was her cousin, and she was so kind! “It was no problem, Maikya, I’m just happy to help.”
Maikya smiled in gratitude, and then the girls all piled into the kitchen to hear what stories she had to share. For the most part her journey was easy, lacking in conflict with which to entertain, but Maikya had a way of making the merest scenery and chance encounters sound fascinating. She painted a pastoral picture of Brightvale, that left Seneca dreaming of a day she could visit it herself.
However, about an hour before supper, Maikya waved her sisters’ prying questions off with one graceful paw. “Really, girls, that’s enough about me. I’ve told you everything I have to say save the machinations of the spell.”
“Then let’s discuss the spell,” Alless said.
Maikya chuckled. “Tomorrow, for sure. Tonight, we have a guest. Seneca?”
Seneca looked up over her cup of Borovan, surprised to have been called upon.
“How is Ronan? Is he well?”
Seneca nodded. “He’s healthy now, but a couple weeks ago he had a case of NeoPhobia. He works so hard around the shop, we didn’t even notice until he decided to go to market for more goods and had a panic attack stepping over the threshold.”
Maikya laughed politely. “Our mother often talked of Ronan as a tireless worker. He’d probably get along well with Alless.”
“I doubt it,” she muttered. Her barely concealed distaste struck Seneca like a barb. What could she possibly have against Seneca’s father, when they had barely ever spoken? But before Seneca could confront her, Maikya went on.
“I suppose he’ll be missing you. Will you be going home to him right away? I’ve barely gotten to see you.”
Seneca bit her lip. “I guess I’ll have to go home soon. But I wouldn’t right aw-”
She was silenced by a gust of wind that came from seemingly nowhere. She closed her eyes to the gale, and heard Mago give a frightened cry. When the gust died down enough that Seneca could open her eyes, Alless was gone.
“What a baby,” Mago huffed; she had recovered from her fright, save some ruffled fur. “What does she think she is, now, a poltergeist?”
Maikya looked grim. “Oh dear… I was afraid she’d be upset. She doesn’t want you to go, Seneca.”
“But I can’t stay here forever!” Seneca frowned into her cup, as if a fortune-teller scrying for answers in her crystal ball. After a moment, she stood up. “I’m going to go talk to her.”
“But wherever could she have gone?” Mago asked sarcastically. Seneca ignored her, heading straight for the library.
It was dark when she arrived; evidently, they hadn’t bothered to turn on any lights earlier. Now that it was night, the library looked properly haunted, befitting its ghostly resident. Chilled to the bone, Seneca flicked a switch by the entrance and transformed the space into one that was cozy and familiar.
“Alless? Alless, are you here?” Although there was no reply, the sound of sniffling told her where to go. Seneca made care not to step on any manner of fragile crystal or gooey spooky food as she went.
Alless was hunched in the corner where the E-F and G-H shelves met. When Seneca approached, she looked up, revealing eyes that were redder and more raw than her ghostly state usually made them.
“What’s wrong?” asked Seneca.
Alless narrowed her eyes. “That man’s going to take you away again! Even though you should be living with us!”
Hurt that such viciousness could be aimed at her father, Seneca said, “‘That man’ is my father!”
“He is not! Ronan’s not related to us at all! He’s just a friend of your REAL father’s who stole you from us!”
Seneca’s fists clenched at her sides, but she refused to raise them. “An adoptive father is still a real father, Alless. Ronan was my father’s best friend, and he helped raise me after my mother ran away to join that pirate crew. He didn’t steal me, and you don’t have any right to resent him!”
Chagrined, Alless dropped her gaze to the ground. “But I missed you… Being with you was so much fun, and after you moved away with him, we never saw each other anymore.”
So, the heart of the issue had finally revealed itself. With a sigh, Seneca hunkered down on the library floor beside her cousin. “Alless… it’s not like I wasn’t grateful to your family for taking me in, after…” She paused, swallowing down a wave of sorrow. “...After the accident. But Ronan cares a lot about me, and he never meant to separate us forever. I hate to say this, but that was your dad’s doing. We would have visited if we were allowed to, really!” Alless may have scowled at the floor, but she knew what Seneca was saying was true. Seneca went on. “When I return to Ronan, it won’t be because I don’t love you three! It’ll be because he’s my dad, and I miss him.”
“I’m sorry,” Alless murmured. “I didn’t realize my father’s hatred of Ronan went so deep he’d keep us separated. I’m sorry for holding this against him so long. It’s immature, I know…”
“But it’s understandable. You were just listening to your dad. Who wouldn’t?”
“Still… I’m sorry, for insulting Ronan. Adopted family is still real family.”
Alless made for quite a pitiful sight, with her tear-streaked translucent fur. Seneca sighed.
“I’m not leaving right away, you know. I want to see more of Maikya before I leave. And I want to see that what she brought back works, because I want to be able to hug you before I go home.”
Alless responded with a humorless smile. “Well… That last request might be impossible. But I’m glad you’re staying a little longer.”
Seneca looked at where Alless’s paw wavered on the carpet. After a moment, she put her paw over it, shivering only a little at the cold when they phased through each other. Alless looked surprised, but she didn’t move. They sat together like that for some time, the closest they could get to holding hands.
To be continued…