The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Six
Seneca arrived in Moltara just past noon the next day, her mind weighing heavily with the tale Bella had passed on to her. In a selfish way, she supposed she wasn’t just worried for Colly and Erzo and Multint, but for herself, and for her cousins. She worried what would come of Alless, after the mistakes she had made. The thought of her becoming as bitter and isolated as Multint made her sick to her stomach.
The bell above the shop door jingled when Seneca entered. It could hardly stir her from her reveries, but then her father rounded one of the shelves and called her name in a panicked voice. The magma of his face had cooled, giving the impression of a nervous pallor.
“Seneca, I just received word from Alless - Maikya came home!”
She nearly dropped the sack of Bogberries. “Wh-what? But how?”
“They didn’t say; only that she’d returned. There’s a message here from Maikya herself, saying she’d like to see you, but if it’s too difficult… I mean, you only just returned from quite a long journey, so you could probably use some rest. I wouldn’t blame you...”
Seneca shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I’ll go to them. Take these: I’m going to dump my dirty laundry in my room and pack some fresh clothes.”
Ronan nodded, taking the sack from her. He lifted it up to inspect it, smiling when some bog mud dripped from the bottom. “Ah ha - this is a good batch!”
He went into the back of the shop to place them on the shelf, pausing before he left to look at the small portrait that hung beside the door. It depicted a smiling Split Lupe dressed in very plain clothes - Seneca’s late father, Lascen. Seneca had told him that a larger, much more solemn one of Lascen’s brother, Lazan, hung in her cousins’ house, but that she preferred this one because it felt more realistic. Although humble in size, this painting captured her father’s warmth well. Smiling, Ronan touched the wall next to this painting before he made his way to the part of the apartment above the shop, where he and Seneca lived.
“Seneca?” Ronan knocked on her door, but there was no answer. He frowned, and knocked again; nothing. “Seneca? Are you ready to go…?”
He pushed the door open. The light from the hallway fell across Seneca’s bed, where she lay fast asleep, crumpled beside an open suitcase. In her paws, she clutched a T-shirt, mid-fold.
Ronan smiled, then left the room without waking her. Seneca’s cousins could wait one more day to see her. Besides, this gave him time to send word by Weewoo of her impending visit.
The last time Seneca had visited her cousins, they had still lived on Mystery Island, and a warm sun had greeted her as soon as the boat landed ashore. The tropical petpets had fluttered in the air, and the lush plant life had made the walk from the docks to the manor a pleasant one.
Now, Seneca pulled her parka’s hood tightly over her sensitive ears as the boat lurched to a stop. “Last stop - Happy Valley,” the orderly called. Seneca stood up with a bevy of Ice, Snow, and Christmas neopets, and made her way into the freezing gale.
To her surprise, Mago was waiting for her at the dock, her big red Christmas Lupe parka making her stand out in the whiteness of the snow. She fixed Seneca with her usual lazy grin, her teeth glinting like a predator’s.
“Hi, cousin,” she said. “How do you feel?”
“Wonderful! I’m so glad Maikya’s fine.”
A certain bitterness glinted in Mago’s eye. “Well, she’d certainly be finer if this had never happened, but yeah, it’s good to have her home, at least.” She gestured for Seneca to follow. “C’mon - I’d prefer if I only had to push away this little snowfall we got now than the storm coming in a half hour.”
Seneca frowned. “What do you mean, push?”
Mago’s haughty but silent smirk implied she’d rather not tell, but show. She turned to the valley, where the snow was coming down in flurries, and stretched her arms out before her. As soon as she took one step forward out from under the dock’s awning, every snowflake that fell towards her seemed to go spiraling off in the opposite direction at the last second.
She was using her predilection for ice magic to propel the snow away from them! Seneca gaped in awe. She’d been told of Mago’s power, but she’d never gotten to witness it for herself.
Mago threw a tired look over her shoulder. “Are you coming, or what? I’ll leave you in the dust if I have to.”
Seneca ran to catch up. The journey up Terror Mountain was still a cold one, but it was not nearly as difficult as it would have been without Mago’s power. In addition to propelling the snow, she cleaved pathways out of snowdrifts as if with an invisible knife.
Upon arriving at her new home, Mago sighed, “Hovel, sweet hovel.” Indeed, compared to their Mystery Island manor, the new house was rather small. Seneca couldn’t even make out the architecture because of the snow piled on top of the house, but there was a warm glow emanating from the windows.
She couldn’t help it; with a frenzied grin, Seneca took off running down the path to the house, making Mago the one left in the dust. She threw open the door with a cry of, “Alless! Maikya!”
But the sight of her cousins shocked her into silence. Seneca had gotten so used to Alless’s ghostly form, that to see a Royal Lupe with her very same features was unnerving. Alless smiled meekly but warmly at Seneca over her spectacles, and offered her paw. Seneca took it, dazed, noting vaguely that her cousin wasn’t wearing any of the Royal Lupe jewelry, and in fact had replaced the gaudy tiara with a traditional witch’s hat.
But Alless’s unique take on her paintbrush color wasn’t Seneca’s main concern. Standing beside Alless was a beautiful Draik, whose limbs were made of wood, and whose hair was a bouquet of wavy vines and flowers. The Draik was tall and willowy, and had gentle eyes that housed a certain sadness.
Most of all, this Draik looked incredibly familiar. She took Seneca’s hand in hers.
“Hello, cousin.” The sound of her voice confirmed it.
“Maikya? You changed species!”
Maikya chuckled in reply. The sound was dainty, musical. “Yes, I did.”
Just then Mago entered. “Aaawww, Alless, why didn’t you tell Seneca to close the door? Now the room’s wet and freezing cold! I am NOT cleaning this up!” She shot a glare at her sister, slamming the front door shut.
Alless flinched. “I’m sorry, Mago…”
“How was that Alless’s fault?” Seneca muttered. She looked to Maikya for guidance, but her older cousin was avoiding her gaze.
“Let’s go into the kitchen, Seneca,” said Maikya. “I have so much to tell you.”
Alless smacked Seneca’s paw away from the teapot. “Let me,” she commanded. She hurriedly went about the table, pouring Borovan for each girl. When Alless had finished and sat down, Seneca noticed Mago give her sister a dark look, before elbowing her cup off the table.
“Oops,” she said. “Guess you shouldn’t have put the cup where somebody could bump into it, Alless.”
“Yeah,” she grumbled, hoisting her skirts so she could crouch down and clean up the glass. After scraping in silence for a moment, she looked up over the table at Maikya. “You don’t have to wait for me. You can carry on with your story.”
Maikya looked troubled, but she didn’t argue. “Alright. I suppose you two have heard this already, anyway.”
“Where were you all this time, anyway?” Seneca asked. “When you disappeared that day, it looked like you were being sucked out of the window by an invisible vacuum, or something.”
Maikya’s gaze fell. “No… I left of my own free will. I was so shocked and upset, I didn’t know what to do. I flew blindly, as if following a predestined path. I was scared and confused, and I wanted to be alone to sort through my feelings.
“Craya’s house is located deep in the woods of Brightvale, and it is totally isolated from civilization. I think I went there because I knew, on some level, that if I wanted privacy, I could get it there… but maybe, on some level, I also wanted the comfort of my old magic instructor. As much as I love our parents, they haven’t been there for us nearly as much as Craya has, what with their long expeditions...
“In any case, I went straight to Craya’s house and hid myself in the rafters. She didn’t know I was there, at first. We gave each other quite a scare when she threw the curtains back - we were both seeing a stranger! I, a ghost, and she - no longer a Poogle! Well, I suppose now that she’s an Aisha again, she looks much more like her old self. It’s just not what I was expecting of her.
“Of course, the first thing I asked was if she could whip up a morphing potion for me, but she told me the same thing she told me when Alless destroyed her body: it isn’t like being painted Ghost. When the body is so thoroughly destroyed that only the spirit is left behind, impossible magic is required to restore it.
“I told Craya how I had come to be the way I was, and she said that it sounded like Alless and I had accidentally set up a contract of exchange: the spell had restored Alless’s body at the expense of mine. She said it was stupid of us to have tried to restore her body in the first place, and that she regretted ever providing me with the Everlasting Apple replacement.” Maikya stopped, suddenly. Alless had stood up; she cupped the broken glass in her paws and stared at Maikya, her eyes wide with anguish. “Oh, Ally - you know I don’t feel the same way Craya does. Restoring you was...”
“I’m going to throw these out,” Alless interrupted. She ran out of the kitchen before anyone could stop her.
Maikya stood, ready to call her back, but Mago insisted: “You can’t just leave the story off there! Tell Seneca how you got the way you are now, and let the baby cry in private.”
With one last troubled glance at the door, Maikya sat back down. Seneca’s blood boiled with anger for Mago’s rudeness towards Alless. She’d comfort Alless, later, for sure.
Maikya went on. “Craya wanted me to get to work on a new body right away, but I refused her help. I was tired, and confused, and I wanted to just drift amongst the trees, to seek solace in the isolation of the woods. Craya accepted this, if with some grumbling. Sometimes she would come out to check on me and offer some pittance. She often extended some half-hearted invitation into her home, saying she needed someone to argue with, or that it was too hot a day for even a ghost to be outside, but I turned her down every time.
“Eventually, my brooding turned into a quiet meditation. I came to appreciate the stoicism of the trees, their sense of eternity. The way the flowers opened every morning to greet the day, and curled shut at night. I found peace in nature, and soon, I invited the great and beautiful forest into my heart… and my spirit. The branches listened to my every whim, and they curled and fused to create an entirely new body for me. I was grateful to the forest for bestowing this blessing upon me, and so I didn’t return home until I had properly thanked it.”
“You mean, you returned home when Craya saw you were fixed, and scolded you for not letting anyone know,” Mago corrected, her tone dry.
Maikya smiled bashfully in return. “Well…”
Seneca scratched her chin, processing it all. “Alless did tell me it was easier to create a new, artificial body for a disembodied spirit than it was to restore that spirit’s original body. Are you sure you’re okay like this, though?”
Maikya looked a little offended. “Of course. I just told you, it’s a blessing to be Woodland.”
“I dunno,” Mago huffed, “after all you did for Alless, I think she owes you a switch back. It’s not fair she gets her body back when it’s her own stupidity that destroyed it in the first place.”
“Enough,” Maikya scolded. “Alless did an awful thing, but it was a mistake, and she’s very sorry.”
“So you prefer living this way?” Mago pressed. “You don’t miss your old body at all?”
Maikya visibly struggled with this, her eyes flitting about the room, her lips sputtering without producing a sound. When a minute had passed and she still hadn’t come up with an answer, Seneca decided it was time to leave. She stood up.
“I want to talk to Alless. Where would I find her?”
Mago snorted. “Isn’t it obvious? The library.”
It was characteristic of Alless, of course, but Mago’s tone still irritated Seneca. “I mean, where’s the library? It’s my first time in this house.”
“Down the hall to the right,” Maikya replied. Seneca thanked her and left, silently noting that she hadn’t offered to come along.
“I’m an idiot, aren’t I?” Alless murmured. She stroked the Mazzew’s fur, and couldn’t resist letting her lips quirk upwards as the little petpet purred and nuzzled its head into her paw. “You silly little thing. I should’ve gotten a familiar sooner, huh?”
She was just burying her face in the Mazzew’s fur when Seneca entered. She paused, initially afraid her cousin was hiding her eyes because she was crying, and then she was just confused, having never seen Alless act so affectionate before.
Alless blushed, and lowered the Mazzew from her face. “Haven’t I embarrassed myself enough for one day?”
“Cuddling with a petpet isn’t embarrassing, it’s normal!” Seneca came and crouched down beside her. “Who’s this little guy?”
“Girl,” Alless corrected. “Her name is Cora. I picked her up in Tyrannia on a day trip not long after we moved here.” She scratched the Mazzew’s ear, causing her to tilt her head and lean into the touch. “I figured I could use at least one ally at home.”
“She’s cute,” Seneca said, reaching out to scratch the other ear. “She and I could make quite a team - the Alless Fan Club!”
Alless smiled in response, but avoided her eyes, focussing on Cora. The Mazzew had opened her eyes and stopped leaning into the touches, lifting her nose to sniff her owner’s face. Seneca saw tears, and laid a gentle hand on her cousin’s knee.
“While I’m here, I’m not going to let Mago talk to you like that. I should’ve drawn the line earlier, but I was cowardly. I promise, though, that from now on…”
“I deserve it.” Alless’s voice was hoarse. “I deserve to be exiled. I’m lucky they didn’t throw me out of the house.”
“Alless, it was a mistake. Maikya forgives you!” There was a deep silence. “...Doesn’t she?”
The tears in Alless’s eyes spilled forth like a river let loose from its dam. “I don’t know! She’s been polite to me since she returned, but she never defends me when Mago gets vicious, and she hasn’t said... I don’t need her to say she forgives me, Seneca. What I did to her was unforgivable. But when I tell her I love her, she doesn’t say it back. I’m afraid she hates me!”
Alless buried her face in her paws and sobbed. Cora curled in her lap, mournfully gazing at her owner’s hidden face… Basically, the whole display was very emotional, Seneca was having a hard time not bursting into tears herself.
With glassy eyes, a lump in her throat, and a veneer of confidence, Seneca declared, “We’re going to work this out, Alless. But whatever happens, know that we’re family. And I still love you.”
Alless nodded, burying her face in the crook of Seneca’s neck. “Thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Out in the freezing gale of Terror Mountain, a young Lupe crouched before a block of ice. She ran her paws over the top of the block, and despite the intense cold, it began to melt away. The nebulous shape began to tighten and sharpen like the view from a telescope, until the makings of a snout with sharp teeth began to form.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Mago whispered.
To Be Continued...