The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Eight
Ronan arrived a day later, the house still in shambles. Seneca and Maikya had barely cleaned up the foyer, as busy as they were boarding up the front of the house. An awful draft came through the holes in the boards, prompting Ronan to call a professional carpenter, for their sake.
They hadn’t been able to clean the library. The night after Mago disappeared, Alless had staggered out into the snow barefoot, with no coat, screaming her sister’s name until her voice went hoarse. Close to midnight, just when Seneca was numbly realizing she might also be missing, Alless had shown up, wet and empty-eyed in the foyer.
“I didn’t find her.” That was the last thing Alless said to anyone before she trudged into the library and blockaded herself inside. Not that Maikya and Seneca had tried all that hard to get her to say anything else.
As soon as Ronan set down his suitcase, Seneca had flung herself into his arms, but she didn’t cry as she expected to. She just stared holes into the fabric of his shirt as she explained everything that had happened.
When she finished, Ronan thought for a little while. “Describe her again for me?”
“She was really, really big, with mostly brown fur - except her face, which kind of looked like a wraith’s, but blue-ish black instead of purple-ish black. She had these curled horns kind of like a Darigan Ixi’s…”
Ronan understood what had happened. “Seneca, it sounds to me like Alless accidentally brewed a transmogrification potion. What you described is a Mutant Acara.”
Seneca looked at him warily. “Are you sure? She didn’t look like the other Mutants I’ve seen...”
“Mutant Acaras don’t follow the typical pattern. And they’re quite frightening! I can understand why all three of you reacted the way you did, but in reality, this is a much easier problem to fix than Alless of Maikya’s was. We’ll just have to find her, morph her, and paint her.”
“Wow. That seems almost too easy…” Seneca frowned. “But if that’s true, how was she so strong? She broke down the door without even trying!”
Ronan shook his head. “All I can think is that Alless added a kick to the potion. You said she did intend for it to be a power-up for her Mazzew, after all…”
Ronan, Maikya, and Seneca suited up with their warmest winter clothes, and then went out into the frozen tundra in search of Mago. The wind blew as if to steer them clear of the trail, biting at their exposed body parts and blinding them with snow.
An hour into their search, Maikya cried out, “Look! There!”
Seneca didn’t understand what she was looking at, but the Draik dove forward and began shovelling through the snow. She unearthed a leatherbound book, wrapped in scraps of red fabric. “This is Mago’s, I’ve seen her carrying it around the house! And these - these must be the remains of her coat!”
Their hearts were alight at the discovery, and they tried to follow the trail, but footsteps are not so easily found in the snow as other clues. If Mago had been through here, her tracks were already gone. Worse, they had entered a part of Terror Mountain that was very sparsely populated. They couldn’t ask anyone if they’d seen a Mutant Acara rampaging past because there was no one around out here.
The party returned to the house to regroup. “We have to perform a tracking spell,” Maikya said with conviction, tossing off her gloves. “Ronan, would you help me? We could use all the power we can get.”
“Of course. But what about…?”
They turned to the library. Maikya pursed her lips. “No - we’ll deal with her later. Right now, we need things to go as smoothly as possible.”
“Alright. We’ll need a possession of Mago’s of course.”
“Will this do?” Seneca held out the book they’d found.
“Books are dicey,” Maikya said. “Their ‘true owners’ are always their authors… Besides, it’s been washed by the snow. We need something with her DNA, like maybe something her fur touched.”
“Like her favorite hat?”
“Yes - could you get that for me, Seneca? It’s right upstairs, in her room.”
They set up shop right in the foyer, only ten feet from the library. Cora kept scratching and whimpering at the door, but there was no response. It was hard for the three of them to work while ignoring the petpet’s anguish, but they managed, deciding to keep Alless at least vicariously involved.
The transformation spell required drawing a complicated map of Terror Mountain, with candles at key locations, and a giant circle drawn around it. Mago’s hat was placed at the topmost edge of the circle, and Ronan and Maikya sat across from each other, their eyes closed, their legs crossed, chanting.
Seneca expected the candles to flicker, or the hat to move. But nothing happened.
After they opened their eyes and saw how the spell had failed, Maikya frowned. “It’s only been twenty-four hours… Could she have left Terror Mountain already?”
She and Ronan traded worried looks. They cleaned up the map, and this time drew a map of Neopia.
“It’s so big…” Maikya murmured.
“We can’t rule anything out,” Ronan told her. “If the transmogrification overpowered her like you’ve said, she might be much, much faster now.”
They said the incantation again. This time, a candle flickered on in Neopia Central, but only for a moment. They leaned forward, begging it to come back, but it didn’t. Still, they watched, hopeful.
About ten minutes later, Kiko Lake flickered to life.
“She’s moving,” Ronan said. “But where to?”
They watched for hours. Seneca tried to keep as vigilant as them, but very little was happening. She hated to be bored by her cousin’s disappearance, but she found herself slumping over onto the cold tile, anyway.
A long time later, she awoke very suddenly on her own. She sat up, scrubbing at her eyes. “What did I miss…?”
The illustration on the floor had been replaced with a map Seneca faintly recognized. Ronan and Maikya stared at a single lit candle in its center with dismay.
“Why would she go there?” Maikya whispered. “It’s just some lake near Neovia, isn’t it? What could she be looking for?”
Seneca turned to her father in askance. His face was stricken with an expression she had never seen him wear before - one of pure, unbridled terror.
“How could she know?” whispered Ronan. “For her to go there…”
He saw Seneca holding Mago’s book, which they had found earlier in the snow. Something seemed to click in his brain, because he asked her to let him see it.
It was not a printed book, as they had all expected, but a diary of some sort. Inside was page after page of handwriting Ronan hadn’t seen in years, accompanied by notes taken in his niece’s clumsy scrawl. The more he read, the more his conviction grew.
“I know where Mago’s going.”
“Where?” asked Seneca, looking over his shoulder. The book seemed to contain directions for…
“Spells,” said Ronan, holding the book aloft. “But not just any spells. This used to belong to someone I…” He shook his head, banishing the thought. “I never thought I’d see it again.”
“Why? Whose is it?” asked Maikya.
“This book belonged... to my sister. After everything that happened, this book of hers disappeared - I thought I misplaced it in the turmoil, but Lazan must have taken it.”
“Lazan? My father?” Maikya sat up. “My father knew your sister?”
“Yes, he knew Sarabet. And so did Craya. And your father, too, Seneca - Lascen knew Sarabet very, very well. Perhaps better than I did, in the end.”
Seneca felt chilled to the bone. Ronan rarely ever talked about his sister. “But what does your sister have to do with Mago? Hasn’t she been… gone, a long time?”
Ronan bowed his head. “I think Mago intends to awaken her.”
Seneca grabbed ahold of his shirt. “What are you talking about? Awaken her, like a vampire, or a zombie?” She looked to Maikya in askance, but she was just as confused.
Ronan sighed. “I haven’t been entirely truthful with you about my past, Seneca. Let me explain.”
Lascen, Craya, and Sarabet. Inseparable friends, and the three most powerful magic users I have ever met. They were the talk of Brightvale University’s Magical Arts program.
They had quite the reputation. Craya argued viciously with her professors, and Sarabet was constantly in trouble for fighting other students, but Lascen… as rebellious as he was, he was never cruel. He drew the line at pranks that would humiliate or frighten the students, preferring big, showy stunts that would endear the masses to him. He once lit up the atrium with a light show on the anniversary of Meridell’s discovery, just to make the professors who were prejudiced against their neighboring land angry. All the Meridellian students loved him for it, and it was then that I decided I wanted to be his friend.
The problem was, Craya and Sarabet didn’t like me hanging around - I suppose they felt defensive of their trio, and didn’t want a stranger to intrude. But Sarabet, especially, was bitter. Although she was my sister, she told me once that she felt like an outsider from the family. Every one of us had the same quiet temperament, except for her; she threw tantrums and got angry easily, and took out all her negative emotions in a very intense and destructive manner. She wondered if she’d been switched at birth, and her real family was out there… But of course, that was ridiculous. In keeping me away from her new friends, I think Sarabet wanted to preserve something for herself, a sense of belonging she couldn’t achieve at home. And so she thwarted my attempts to befriend Lascen.
But one day, Sarabet, Craya, and Lascen were attacked by rival students. The rivals ambushed them while they were on their way back to the dorms after dark. I happened to be coming out of the library at the time, and when I realized what was going on, I ran headfirst into the fight to defend my sister and her friends. After that, Sarabet was more accepting of my place in the group. Lascen and I grew close.
Lascen’s brother, Lazan, was in the year below us, and started tagging along once he entered school. We enjoyed being a squad, but I think Lazan and I knew deep down that the true bond was between Sarabet, Craya, and Lascen. They had big plans for their magic - they wanted to be the greatest magical warriors in Neopia, impervious to defeat. After graduation, while Lazan was finishing his last year, the rest of us relocated to Neovia. Sarabet chose the location; she liked dark magic, claiming it was was just a preferred style that got unfairly demonized a lot. She wanted to be near the source of it. I personally came to adore Neovia, as did Lascen. We even dressed in the town’s style, with affected accents, monocles, and cravats… But I digress.
After graduation, Craya and Lascen calmed down significantly. When Sarabet asked if they wanted to freeze the lake with all the tourists in it, they turned her down. When she asked if they wanted to catch some faeries and rile them up, then turn them against the townspeople, they cringed at the cruelty of the idea. And when she brought down a rainstorm just to cancel a Fairground festival she found loud and annoying… Well, it wasn’t the most evil thing she’d ever done, but it was immature. Lascen and Craya made no secret of how they disapproved of her behavior. What’s more, Craya and Lascen were no longer so interested in being the best at fighting with their magic - instead, they had turned their attention on starting up a new magical academy, which would welcome students of all levels of experience from across Neopia. To save up neopoints for this venture, Lascen had started running a magical supplies shop with me, and Craya wrote to Lazan, since his exploratory prowess might reveal the ideal location for such a school.
Sarabet told me many times it was my fault that her friends - Lascen, especially - had become so “boring.” I tried to explain to her that they were just growing up the natural way, but she wouldn’t listen. I soon learned that I couldn’t ever disagree with her if I wanted to retain our relationship, and what a relationship! After all these years, she seemed to finally see me as her brother. I didn’t want to lose all our progress, so I pushed any and all doubts I had about her out of my mind.
But as much as Craya and Lascen had matured, Sarabet regressed. Her friends were growing up and apart, and this filled her with a terror she could only express as a raging anger. The weather where she lived became erratic according to her mood, storming horrifically when she was at her most cantankerous... which was most of the time. The townspeople started to realize she was to blame for the storms, and they banded together to make her stop, but - oh, it was so awful. If Lascen and I hadn’t been nearby at the time and seen what was happening, I don’t know if we could’ve stopped her in time.
After the dust had cleared and our neighbors were safe, Lascen turned to me with urgency and said, “She’s out of control, Ronan. We have to do something about her before it’s too late.”
But I was in denial. Lascen may be her best friend, but I was her brother. “She’s not a bad person,” I insisted, “she’s just a bit dramatic. I’ll talk to her about calming down some.”
I told her she was endangering the people of the Haunted Woods and that she couldn’t throw magical temper tantrums anymore - it just wasn’t right for polite society. She didn’t howl at me and beat me for scolding her, but she didn’t respond much at all, really. She was so blank-eyed for our talk that I don’t know if a single word got through to her.
Nevertheless, afterwards she isolated herself deep in the woods. Her temper was as awful as ever. You could tell from the stories people told from time to time of a bog witch living in the woods, who’d attack children that ventured too close to her hut.
As the years passed, we all talked to her less and less. As you know, Seneca, after your mother returned to her pirate crew, Lascen settled down to focus on raising you. Craya started teaching young magic users on an individual basis. Even little Lazan had started up a family, and was involved in the ground-breaking discovery of Geraptiku on Mystery Island.
Still, I worried about Sarabet. After the rumors about the bog witch started to become more ominous, Craya decided to go out and talk to her. When she returned from her visit, she was stricken: Sarabet had talked of Neopia as a terrible world, hostile and unsalvageable. She said the only way to redeem it would be to raze and flood it, land by land, and only then would they be able to start anew.
Hearing this, Lascen said it was important to subdue Sarabet before she could go through with her plans, but I wouldn’t have it.
“She’s my sister, for Fyora’s sake! She isn’t evil! She’s strange, or maybe a little sick in the head, but she’d never actually attempt something so dangerous!”
“Why not? She’s done plenty dangerous,” Craya retorted. “Weren’t you there in school? What about the havoc she wreaked upon Neovia years ago? You didn’t talk to her yesterday, Ronan, I did. She was absolutely mad with power!”
Lascen put a gentle paw on my shoulder. “It’s alright, Ronan. We’re not going to do anything to her right away. But we have to talk her out of this child-attacking nonsense, at least. She’s a grown neopet, and she could really hurt someone.”
But when they tried to reason with Sarabet, she lashed out at them. She said that they had turned against her, that they were demonizing her without trying to understand her. They shouted at her to calm herself, to face reality and grow up, and that did it. She attacked. They were lucky they escaped her hovel alive.
Soon after, the sky darkened, and a deadly storm raged throughout the Haunted Woods. With her power, Sarabet leveled houses. She tore up the streets of Neovia, and when all was just about destroyed, she set her sights on Neopia beyond. No local magic user or faerie who went up against her was any match for her power. When we went to her in the pouring rain that final night, she was drenched in mud and her eyes were wild, unrecognizable. She told us she intended to destroy this entire, miserable planet.
But we were ready for her. We had agonized over whether or not we were making the right decision. Sarabet was our friend - my sister. I was the hardest to convince that something had to be done, but I couldn’t deny anymore what a monster she had become.
And so we decided that we would follow in Fyora’s footsteps, and do as she did to the Darkest Faerie. Using our combined power, we would seal Sarabet in a jewel. That way she’d still be alive, but she wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone anymore.
The task was not easy; we could barely see for the rain, and she was a fast, powerful fighter. Her tentacles lashed out like whips, but twice as painful. Still, we subdued her… at a cost.
Your father, Seneca… We watched Sarabet shrink into the jewel until she was not even a speck of violet, but Lascen? He simply vanished. There was a swath of black flame that consumed his body, and when it fell away, nothing, not even a scrap of clothing, was left. Maybe it was Sarabet’s last act of self defense, or maybe our own spell had consumed his body and spirit as energy… I don’t know, anymore. All I know is that he’s gone from our world.
Lascen’s destruction was so jarring, I couldn’t hold onto the jewel; it fell from my hands in the panic, and disappeared from sight. Even when the clouds finally parted, we could see nothing for the wreckage, for the mud. For a long time I was convinced the jewel ended up in the lake, but I could never find it. Before we moved, I asked a local witch to keep an eye out for the jewel and contact me immediately if it ever surfaced, but she never wrote to me. So I guess it never did.
“What happened after that? Why did I go to live with Uncle Lazan?”
Ronan hesitated. “...Lazan never liked me. He thought our shop was a waste of his brother’s time and potential, but the fiasco with Sarabet was the last straw. He blamed what happened to Lascen on me, for ignoring my sister’s growing evil. He took you away on the conviction that I was too negligent to raise a child. I had to fight to get you back.” Ronan pushed his goggles onto his head so he could rub his eyes. “Lazan was right. It was my fault. I should have let them handle Sarabet sooner, when she was easier to subdue, but I just…”
They sat in silence. Maikya’s claws were clenched. “My father… never told me any of that.”
“I’m sorry,” said Ronan. The burning coals of his Magma eyes had been extinguished by his tears. “Maybe he never thought it was the right time.”
“But Cray knew and she didn’t tell us, either.” Maikya’s jaw went rigid. “Why do adults keep so many secrets?”
“We like to think we’re protecting you.”
Seneca shook her head. “But I could’ve handled that, Ronan. I deserved to know what really happened to Lascen. And to your own sister!”
“I know. But I didn’t want you to blame me.”
“I wouldn’t blame you,” said a voice.
There was the sound of something heavy being dragged across a carpet, and then one of the library doors swung open to reveal Alless. She stood before them with eyes rubbed so raw, they resembled her ghostly ones.
“You wanted to believe the best of your sister,” said Alless. “Who wouldn’t?”
She marched into the middle of the room, to the awe of the gawking trio. “So, I’m guessing the current theory is that Mago learned dark magic from Sarabet’s book, and is now in the process of tracking down her jewel so she can release her?”
“Yes, correct,” Ronan said.
“But how would she have learned about the jewel? As Maikya just said, we didn’t know about any of that until now.”
Ronan shook his head. “I’m only telling you what I know.”
“Could her proximity to where you lost the jewel be a coincidence?”
He fixed her with a serious look. “I’ve learned not to ignore the signs simply because they concern a loved one.”
Alless processed this. “...Alright. Fine. We’ll assume the worst of Mago. How do we stop her?”
“By getting to her before she finds the jewel, of course,” said Seneca. “Duh!”
“We’ll need backup,” Ronan added. “Someone has to alert Craya.”
“No, Maikya. You’re a powerful witch, and you’ll have to be on call if Mago beats us to the jewel.”
They all avoided Alless’s gaze. She got the hint. “Okay. Maikya: you, Seneca, and Ronan can go ahead after Mago. I’ll get Craya.” Then, before Maikya could protest, “I’m the least valuable member of the team, right? So it makes sense I should be the one to fetch her.”
“Really, I’m the least valuable,” Seneca mumbled, referring to her lack of magic, but Alless brushed her off. At least someone who didn’t know magic couldn’t mess it up.
So it was decided. They would part ways, and meet up again at the same address in Neovia.
“...By the way,” said Seneca, “where in Neovia was that, again?”
To be continued…