The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Five
Seneca was dragged out of the bog, gasping and coughing up mud. Because her vision was still clouded, she didn’t see who carried her to the cave, but they tossed her carelessly to the stone floor as soon as they arrived.
“Oof,” Seneca hissed, rubbing her tail.
“You saved her!” Erzo’s voice cried. “At least, I think you did… You know, you really didn’t have to drop her like that.”
“I did what I had ta’,” replied a green blur. The voice was gruff, weighed down by a heavy Meridellian accent. Seneca reached up to scrub the mud from her eyes, and then opened them to see a Mutant Ixi, his silvery horns curled like jagged stalactites just shy of his deformed ears. In one cloven hoof, he carried a lantern, which illuminated the dripping walls of the cave. Seneca looked around blearily, noting the fungus on the walls, the ridges in the stone that resembled the mouth of a Relic Grarrl.
By the time she had turned her attention back to him, the Ixi had fixed her with a crotchety yellow glare. “What’re you lookin’ at?”
“My incredibly rude savior,” Seneca scoffed. She stood up, brushing clumps of mud off onto the stone floor. “Thank you for saving me, but who in Neopia are you?”
“Who wants to know?” the Ixi spat.
“This is Ronan’s daughter, Seneca,” Erzo supplied, drily ending the unnecessary difficulty. “She’s here to purchase some of your world-famous Bogberries.”
The Ixi Seneca now assumed must be Multint eyed Erzo up and down. “And I suppose you absolutely HAD to be the one to escort her here, eh?” He fixed Erzo with an ugly glare, but the young Krawk refused to drop his gaze. He was much braver than Seneca supposed a Grey pet should be, but perhaps he was so melancholy as to be apathetic to fear.
After a tick, Multint relinquished his glaring, and waved with one cloven hoof to indicate Seneca should follow him. “Be sure to keep up. You don’t want to get lost here; it can be like a labyrinth.”
They made their way through the cave, but Seneca’s expectations of long, winding paths and hidden corridors were cut short. After only one minute, Multint stopped the party and announced that they had arrived. He raised his lantern to illuminate the wall to their right, revealing a slimy, bumpy exterior. It was as if the cave had boils! Seneca felt nauseated at first, but then she realized there was something familiar about those grey, oozing bulbs…
“Bogberries,” she murmured. “I didn’t realize they grew on the walls of caves!”
“They do that in this bog, but you can’t just cultivate Bogberries in any old cave,” Erzo explained. “The humidity of the bog trapped here complements both the cave’s mineral makeup and the bog mud’s nutrients, creating the ideal conditions for the berries to thrive.”
“Know-it-all, ain’t ya?” Multint scowled at Erzo, unappreciative of the Krawk’s helpful explanation. He grabbed the young man by the sleeve. “Come here, you rascal.”
He dropped the lantern at Seneca’s side and dragged Erzo into the darkness; whether it was an act of politeness, so Seneca could perform her duties in light, or a means of preserving their privacy, so she couldn’t watch their fight, she wasn’t sure. Regardless, one couldn’t help if her expert Lupe ears picked up on some nearly-shouted conversation...
“Are you determined to bother me ‘til the day I croak?” Multint growled.
“We’re friends,” Erzo replied, voice firm. “Are you telling me I shouldn’t care when my friend spends his life isolated in a dirty bog?”
“Yes,” Multint quipped. “‘Cause it’s my life, and I’ve chosen to live it this way. I’m a mutant, and slime and darkness are what’s best for our kind.”
“You can’t possibly mean that. This cave is so gloomy and miserable…”
“As are you.”
If the retort stung, Erzo said nothing to indicate as such. “Come back to the boarding house,” he begged. “Even if it’s only a visit, please. Colly misses you. She won’t say it, but she’s worried about you.”
There was the sound of hard hoof on stone. “I’ve told ya time and time again, I’m HAPPY here!”
He hardly sounded happy, but Seneca didn’t have time to reflect. She realized the stomps echoing in the darkness meant he would be coming back, so she quickly tossed as many berries as she could fit into her knapsack. By the time he entered the lantern light, Seneca had pulled out a wad of neopoints.
She grinned sheepishly. “Here’s your pay, Mr. Multint… Now, if you’d kindly show us to the exit?”
Erzo sulked all the way home, refusing to take any of Seneca’s conversational bait. As soon as they entered the boarding house, he ran up the stairs to his room, leaving a bewildered Colly and Bella to ask what in Neopia had happened. Seneca explained that Erzo and Multint had argued, but she felt uncomfortable revealing what about, lest they judge her for eavesdropping. (And because, although she had eavesdropped, she now felt obligated to protect their privacy.)
Colly could only shake her head. “I’ll talk to Erzo. In the meantime, please, make yourself at home.”
Seneca and Bella stood in silence for an uncomfortably long time before Seneca finally asked, “Can you show me to a bathroom? I’m still caked in mud…”
“What? Oh! Of course! Right this way.” Evidently, Bella had been too worried about her friends to notice. She led Seneca up the stairs, walking with the caution of a child who has missed curfew. But the hall was eerily silent; whatever Colly and Erzo were talking about, it either did not require shouting, or was taking place in a soundproof room.
After her bath, Seneca went in search of Colly, but Bella intercepted her in the hall.
“You must be tired, huh? Let me show you your bedroom!”
It looked exactly like Seneca would expect a room in a boarding house to look, with a flowered bedspread, outdated curtains, and little in way of decoration. Bella tried to talk up the features of the room, but her attempts at friendly conversation were shaken by the solemn tones coming from the other room. Evidently, Erzo’s room was only one thin wall away.
“...Multint alone… not your business…”
“...You can’t mean… please understand… punishing himself…”
Seneca strained to hear more, but it was just as broken and muffled. With a frustrated sigh, she sank back on the bed beside Bella, who was watching the very same wall with a strained look on her face. Frustrated, Seneca reached across the blankets and grabbed the Krawk by the claw, arresting her attention.
“I know it’s nosy of me,” Seneca admitted, “but please, tell me what’s going on with Erzo, Multint, and Colly? What’s their history?”
Bella chewed her lip. “...If I tell you, I’m not sure it’ll actually clear anything up.”
Seneca frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean… even Colly and Erzo don’t know what’s wrong. Multint’s attitude towards them changed very suddenly, without any kind of warning.” She looked at Seneca, and whatever she found in her expression must look as comically bewildered as she felt, because Bella laughed. “Oh, alright. I’ll just tell you…”
Years ago, there was no bog. The Haunted Woods broke to reveal green fields, a massive, crystalline lake, and bright sunlight.
Multint, Erzo, and Colly grew up on that land together. I’m younger than they are, so I missed out on a lot of bonding; although they accepted me by the time I came along, I knew I’d never be as close to them as they were to each other. My mother insisted that because she’d acted as a sort-of guardian of them for years that they had to accept me, but I was never so sure. As far as I was concerned, they probably saw her as just some weird older tenant, and I as her weird kid.
They spent most of their time at the lake; back then, Erzo loved to swim, and he would do half-hearted tricks in the water while Colly fished. Multint would wade at the edge of the water, grumbling about the cold, but he never bothered to move more than a few yards away from his friends. He was gruff, as Mutant pets are bound to be, but he loved them deep down, and they knew this. He was self-conscious at times of his being Mutant, and of his thick accent, which belied his rural upbringing, but Colly’s constant kindness assured him he was worthy of their love. Instead of isolating himself in the bog, he lived in the boarding house. Back in those days, he wasn’t so averse to company.
One day while fishing, Colly pulled up her line to find that a beautiful orange jewel had somehow gotten tangled up in it. Everyone was entranced by its beauty, but on closer inspection Multint said it wasn’t worth much; it was just a pretty pebble. He was willing to toss it back for her, but Colly begged him not to. She said she could feel a loneliness in the jewel, and would feel terrible if she didn’t keep it company. Multint mocked her for her sentimentality - who cares about the feelings of a stone? - but from that day forward, she carried it with her everywhere.
A few weeks after they found the jewel, the lake started to become thick with overgrown algae and strange new, aggressive underwater life. After having one of his feet bitten hard enough to bruise, Erzo became afraid of what would happen if he kept playing in the lake, and decided to stay away from it. Multint mocked him for his childish fears, but Erzo never set foot in that lake again. Colly insisted on fishing there, though, until she caught a Titanic Squid that nearly devoured the dock. It had viciously attacked her, but not in the usual way squids do, dragging their prey into the water; it kept lashing her backwards, as if to drive her away from the water. Luckily, Multint and I were there, and we saved her before she could get too hurt.
Colly carried the jewel everywhere, but when she had to cook dinner or pay mind to the tenants, she would leave it out wherever she had happened to put it down, so that any ne’er-do-well could scoop it up. Just the thought of someone stealing the jewel drove Multint mad; he argued with her constantly about keeping a better eye on it, despite weeks ago having insisted it was just a useless, orange pebble.
Multint decided that he would make a necklace out of the jewel. That way, Colly could wear it without worrying about losing it. And so one day, while Colly was busy slaving away at the stove, her back turned to the table where it lay, Multint snatched it up, and took it to his workshop.
A funny thing, that day. I think I remember it most vividly because it was the day the endless rains started.
I remember going into the kitchen to talk to Colly, when suddenly there was a crash of the most awful thunder. It had been so pretty outside, so when that thunder hit, we both jumped about a foot into the air from sheer shock! We rushed away from the window, and that was when Colly started fretting - her jewel was gone! She was panicking quite a bit, so I soothed her with the promise that we would find it together.
We just about turned the house upside down before Multint returned. He wouldn’t hand it over at first, a guilty look on his face, and it wasn’t until he held it out that we understood: the pebble, once smooth, now had miniature fissures deep inside it, from him having pounded the fastener on top. We both probably expected Colly to be furious, but she gathered the jewel up against her chest and thanked him, in a strained voice, for making the necklace. She put it on right away.
Colly wore the necklace everywhere afterwards. But she wouldn’t look Multint in the eye, and I think he noticed. He’d been trying to cultivate berries out on the land for a while, but now he spent all of his time with his plot, far away from the boarding house. Whenever Colly or Erzo tried to talk to him, he’d answer less with his characteristic gruffness, and more with outright hostility. It took little for him to burst into furious shouting, and eventually, he exiled himself to the rapidly changing landscape.
Erzo used to wander the rains for hours, calling out to Multint, be he’d only ever rarely reply. It wasn’t long after that that Erzo turned Grey. Colly began to focus almost exclusively on her duties as owner of the boarding house, fearful of prodding Multint too hard and destroying what tenuous bonds they still retained.
It’s such a shame to see their friendship fall apart so suddenly. I’d swear, it’s this gloomy weather; it catches hold of people’s hearts and makes it so hard to see the good on the horizon, for all the the fog.
To be continued…