The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Eleven
M aikya soared through the frigid sky, dodging the Ice Draik at every turn. Whatever she lacked in size and physical strength, she made up for in speed and skill. She zapped the Ice Draik’s foot and it snarled at her, aiming to bite her wing, but she flew out of the way just in time. It helped that the blizzard was dying down; the Ice Draik had gotten in a few blows earlier, when the snow was blinding her to its location, but now, against the dark thunderheads in the sky, she could see her enemy much more clearly.
Unlike her sisters, Maikya liked to use a Yew Wand to concentrate her magic; the hands couldn’t be trusted to exert that kind of energy with precision. Twirling her wand into the air, she aimed a zap directly in the center of the Draik’s chest, knocking it off balance and -
With one final roar, the Draik split into thousands of shards of ice! Maikya almost fell out of the sky from shock; her last hit hadn’t been nearly powerful enough to cause that! But before she could ponder longer on what just happened, the distinct sound of collapsing snow roared from below her. The fortress was collapsing - and she didn’t know if Seneca and Alless had even gotten the hostages out!
She swooped down, fearing the worst, but in the stark white landscape she saw a colorful troupe of neopets leap out the side of the fortress and take off running for the treeline. Everyone was safe!
Maikya joined the troupe on a hill littered with withered trees. When she touched down, she noticed Alless had passed out.
“She’s alive,” Seneca said quickly, reading the apprehension in her eyes, “but she’s been knocked out pretty hard.”
“Who did this to her?”
Seneca told her everything that had happened. After the story was finished, Maikya touched her sister on the cheek.
“Rest. You’ve done so much for us already.”
A warm glow engulfed Alless’s face, and then died away. Her brow furrowed, and she looked about to open her eyes… but then her face relaxed again.
“She’s sleeping,” Maikya explained. “Hopefully I’ve undone any damage Mago caused, but…” She shook her head. “Things are such a mess already.”
Seneca scowled. “I know Mago has this evil thing going for her right now, but if she could’ve dropped that for one second to heal her sister…”
“Mago doesn’t know how to heal people,” Maikya said quietly. “It’s the rare area of magic she never had the knack for.”
Seneca, Erzo, Multint, and Colly were instructed to stay with Alless. Although it seemed Mago was out of the picture for now, Maikya needed to be with the other magic users to prepare to seal Sarabet away. She hadn’t appeared on the battlefield herself yet, but her mud warriors were still coming on strong, even as the results of Mago’s ice powers were receding.
Multint scowled, watching Maikya take to the sky and fly off into the center of the fray. “It’s not right, us hanging around here! We should be out there, helping!”
“Says the Ixi whose face looks like a Blumaroo Steak,” Erzo muttered.
Seneca sighed. “No, I understand. I want to help, too. But we can’t face magic without magic.”
“No, but we can face monsters with our fists!” Multint insisted, raising his cloven hooves menacingly.
“Don’t be ridiculous! We’ll just get in the way of the real heroes!”
“Look!” Colly interrupted, pointing.
The blizzard had long ago died down to a drizzle of rain. In the center of the slushy battlefield, where Craya, Ronan, Bella and Maikya slashed homunculi to pieces, there came a bubbling sound. The mud warriors paused, and so did the frontline heroes, watching as a massive figure rose from the soupy ground.
Sarabet cast them all in shadow, her eyes dark, her ears and tail bobbing on the wind as if in water. She stretched out her limbs, longer, longer, until they morphed into four barbed tentacles. All at once, the rain storm around them increased, and a crash of thunder shook the field.
Alless jerked awake, leaping out of Seneca’s arms. “What?! What’s happened?!”
The four of them pointed into the distance. Alless let her jaw drop. “Oh.” She swallowed. “Well. Are we going to help?”
“Are you crazy?!” Seneca cried. “You only just woke up! We’re no match for her!”
“No. But the mud warriors are still coming,” Multint pointed out. “That’s going to make it harder for the rest of ‘em to do their magic on ‘er.”
He had a point. Already they could see a struggle ensuing, as Sarabet towered like a terrible monster above them all.
Colly looked over at a nearby dead tree, and had an idea. “We might as well arm ourselves, right?” She ran over to the tree and started wrenching at one of the branches, using all her bodily strength to snap the branch free. The others understood what she was doing and joined in, tearing off branches of their own.
Alless pointed ahead. “Let’s go!”
The band of injured and otherwise not-very-magical neopets charged onto the battlefield, brandishing decaying tree branches like Tyrannian warriors with mighty clubs. They smashed and bashed their way through the mud neopets, startling the magic users they had come to aid.
“Alless?!” Maikya cried, just as her sister smashed a mud Mynci to pieces. “You’re sick! You shouldn’t be here!”
“Too bad - ‘cause I already am!” Alless smacked a Lenny made of mud square in the face. “Go - you have more important enemies to fight!”
The heavy rain was breaking apart the mud neopets as they were being generated, making them weaker and easier to beat. But they still came in large, distracting numbers. Maikya saw the value in letting her sister and the others fight and relented, running to where Sarabet’s menacing new form had emerged from the ground.
“What is that girl doing?!” Craya snapped to Ronan. They were back to back, fighting hordes on either side of them. “She can’t fight Sarabet alone!”
“She doesn’t have to!” Seneca and Colly swooped in and started beating the mud homunculi away. “You’re free to join her!”
“You brats shouldn’t be here! You get back to-”
“Craya, we don’t have a choice right now.” Ronan grabbed her by the stereotypical Aisha’s collar. “Come on!”
They left, squabbling all the way. Bella was cornered by a particularly large mud Ogrin, and was looking worse for the wear when Multint headbutted it from behind, and Erzo started to beat it enthusiastically with his tree branch. Bella was practically in tears from this touching reunion with her friends, that she needed to compose herself before she could join the others facing Sarabet.
The wind and rain bore angrily down upon the four magic users, but Ronan and Craya walked into the fray with their heads held high and expressions resigned. After all, this wasn’t the first time they’d fought Sarabet like this.
“It’s just like before, isn’t it?” Craya whispered.
“Yes.” Ronan squeezed her hand, once, quickly, before letting go. “And like before, we’re going to win.”
As if on cue, one massive tentacle came crashing towards them. Ronan tried to aim a binding spell at it, but was hit before he could finish, tumbling across the mud. He got back up.
So began the frenzy. Sarabet’s limbs lashed out mercilessly and they tried to stop her, but by now there were too many, too fast.
“Impossible,” Craya hissed. “How can she transmogrify herself so quickly?!”
But when Craya was knocked onto her back, she realized the answer lay above. The storm was weakening. Rain came down at a regular drizzle, and the clouds, although heavy and dark, did not rumble with thunder. Sarabet must be concentrating all of her power on one endeavor - beating them. Craya imagined that even the mud army was growing smaller and slower in its movements… Or at least, for everyone’s sakes, she hoped it was.
“Look out, Craya!” Maikya screamed.
Craya leapt to her feet, but not fast enough. One tentacle lashed out and curled around her body, trapping her arms at her sides and lifting her up high into the air. Craya struggled to break free, but Sarabet’s grip was too tight. All around her, it seemed Ronan, Maikya, and Bella were losing the battle - and there was nothing she could do to help them!
Sarabet swung Craya close to her face. She spoke in a slow, deafening rumble.
“How does it feel… to be the one… trapped?”
Craya grit her teeth. “You and your poetic revenge! Always hitting people back the same way they hit you, but a hundred times harder! You never were the creative one of our group, nor the one with the most restraint-”
This last word was squeezed out of her. Craya felt dizzy from the pressure on her body, and feared the black crawling into the corners of her vision...
The grip around Craya loosened. Sarabet had turned her massive head to look at the source of the voice, straining to be heard; it was the Strawberry Gelert, Colly. Craya hadn’t even seen her approach.
“Sarabet, PLEASE stop!” Colly pleaded. “You don’t have to do this anymore!”
While Sarabet was distracted, Craya zapped the tentacle that held her, startling it into letting go of her. She tumbled to the ground, then aimed a swift binding spell to the massive limb so that it went rigid and useless against Sarabet’s side.
This was the start of Sarabet’s downfall. With Sarabet knocked off balance by the weight of her useless limb, the others were able to subdue the rest of her tentacles, until she tottered above them like a child’s toy, thrashing from side to side but never falling over.
“You,” Sarabet snarled, glaring at Colly. “You tricked me!”
“No!” Colly’s eyes were filled with tears. “I didn’t, I swear! Sarabet, I-”
“Enough!” Craya snapped, silencing the girl. “We have a job to do! Everyone, come here and join hands with me, before the binding spells wear off!”
Craya, Ronan, Maikya, and Bella joined hands where Sarabet’s body erupted from the ground. She thrashed above them only for a little while, calming down the longer the chant went on. But not because of the spell itself.
Colly was still crying. The mud neopets had all been flattened. The Mutant Ixi, free from the fray, touched Colly’s shoulder, but she pulled away, running closer to where the spell was being conducted. She lifted her hand as if to reach out to Sarabet. There was genuine concern in her eyes, and anguish wrenching her features - not for her comrades, but for Sarabet herself.
At long last, a white light engulfed the magic users, and threatened to swallow up Sarabet, too. Years ago, a similar light had scared her, but now she looked upon it with the weary eyes of one who has seen the other side and knows now what lies ahead. The light didn’t seem so frightening now, but… If it was going to be anything like before, she was in for years of boredom and loneliness.
Sarabet craned her neck down so she could see Ronan and Craya. They stood side by side and hand in hand, just like all those years ago. But this time, someone was missing.
As memories flooded her mind, Sarabet’s eyes went glassy, and she struggled to speak.
“I miss… us. I miss... school. I miss the feeling when we all met… that some people… at long last... understood me…”
Craya lifted the orange jewel out of her pocket and raised it before her. Sarabet closed her eyes, bracing herself.
“Dnib reh!” Craya cried. This was the moment when the jewel was supposed to rise up into the air and glow. This was the moment when Sarabet was supposed to shrink down inside it.
But that’s not what happened. Sarabet cracked one final, unhappy smile, and then burst into particles of light.
Everyone, not least of all Ronan and Craya themselves, watched in horror as the glowing raindrops that had once been Sarabet fluttered and glowed in the sky. These little drops of light floated slowly downwards, fading and fading until they disappeared, just before hitting the ground. When the droplets of light had all gone, there was no trace of Sarabet left. Not a body. Not a voice. Nothing.
The rain stopped. The clouds parted. Craya lowered the hand that held the jewel. “She’s... not contained, she’s just…”
“Gone,” Ronan finished, voice heavy. “She’s gone.”
Despit their sadness, neither wept. They had mourned for Sarabet so many years ago, that this moment almost didn’t feel real. And yet, somewhere behind them, it seemed someone was doing the mourning for them. They turned to see Colly, face twisted with misery, little sobs shaking her whole body.
“I know she was dangerous,” Colly sniffed. “But I carried her with me… for so long… And I feel so bad…”
At either side of her were Multint and Erzo, making sure she didn’t collapse in her anguish. Craya sighed, never skilled with sadness, and unsure of how best to approach this stranger’s, when a weight disappeared from her palm.
Ronan took Colly’s paw and placed the orange jewel inside. “I know she’s not here anymore,” he said, “but I think you should keep it. To remember her by.”
Colly nodded, holding the jewel close to her heart. Once Ronan had rejoined her, Craya gave a huffy sigh. “Those things are incredibly difficult to make. I hope you’ll be reimbursing me, Ronan.”
“Of course,” Ronan said. He took his red-eyed friend by the shoulder and steered her away from the scene, where they could compose themselves in private.
There was nothing left to do but return to the shop. The battle was over, and their most formidable foe was defeated, scattered on the wind like dandelion seeds. Their other foe, meanwhile, had disappeared without a trace. Yet even as everyone else was content to start the long walk back to Neovia, Alless found herself scanning the landscape, searching for one last-
There. On that hill. That figure on the horizon, turned to solid black by the sunset at its back, did it have horns? Claws? It stood still, as if watching Alless watch it.
Then it took off running. Seneca called to her, but Alless barely heard her, so consumed was she with the pounding of her feet against the ground and the need to propel herself towards that dark figure. Alless ran across the mud, uncaring of how much dirtier she got, uncaring of how the rocks and broken branches battered her feet. She followed the sight of brown fur and the snapping of twigs until she came to a halt in the middle of the woods.
Lungs burning, Alless looked for a sign that Mago could be nearby, but it wasn’t to be found. She shut her eyes, tried to focus her ears, but there was only the pounding of her own heart.
After the search proved futile, Alless stood there in the woods and panicked for a moment about what to do next. But only for a moment.
Feeling the urgency the distance that was rapidly growing between them, Alless cupped her paws around her mouth and screamed, as loud as she could:
“I’M SORRY! MAGO, I’M SORRY!”
There was no reply but that of her own love, echoed back.
Seneca had hardly stepped away from the mailbox when she was tearing her father’s letter open.
I miss you already. But this is an exciting new chapter of my life; although Neovia is filled with many painful memories, it has many happy ones, too. Ones of my youth, fresh out of school; of spending time with my friends and my sister; of Lascen, and of your childhood. I thought I’d become a Moltaran through and through, but I feel, when I walk down these foggy streets at night, that I am finally home. I look forward to setting up shop here, and to helping my community rebuild itself after all the damage Sarabet has caused.
The folks at the boarding house are doing well. I had tea with them yesterday - that Colly girl carries the jewel everywhere in a shirt pocket, and fusses with it constantly. Our dear friend Multint makes fun of her for it. It appears he’s living in the boarding house again; he’s dropped his Bogberry-growing business. I’m sad because he grew the best in Neopia, but since the rain stopped and the bog dried up he says they haven’t tasted the same. Not that he seems to care about the loss of this business; he spends a lot of time with those friends of his. The Grey one - Erzo? - has been talking about sharpening up his swimming skills again. The weather is so nice out there! Bright and full of sunshine... it’s very different from the rest of Neovia, haha.
Bella’s mother returns from the Lost Desert tomorrow. If she actually holds true to this promise, she’s in for quite an earful! So look forward to my next letter, because it’s sure to be a good one!
Love you lots,
There was another letter for Seneca from Craya. The old Aisha said to give her regards to the girls, and let them know they could visit, if they were really insisting on that kind of thing. Craya’s new students would love to see what successes graduates of her program had become, and for that reason, the girls must absolutely not visit while class was in session and get anyone’s hopes down. Also, was Seneca sure she didn’t want to enroll in a lesson or two? Craya would give them free of charge - she was sure she could get Lascen’s daughter to cast at least a small charm…
At this point in the letter, Seneca stopped reading. Rolling her eyes playfully, she stuffed the ones addressed to her into her pockets. Then, grabbing the stack of letters meant for her cousins, she ran into the manor. It was a warm Mystery Island day, and the sun was beating down on her hard.
“Maikya, Alless! I got the mail!” Her words echoed in the foyer, but the library door didn’t budge. She peaked inside to find it empty. “Alless? Maikya?”
She checked the kitchen, and the bedroom upstairs, and even shared a puzzled look with the portrait of her uncle in the hall. But then, finally, a voice called to her from an open window.
Seneca found the sisters in the garden out back. Alless was struggling with a wilted Chomato plant, while Maikya entertained herself making the grape vines sway like dancers with her magic.
Alless looked at Seneca seriously over her spectacles, and held out her paw. “Are those letters for us? Give them here.”
“No.” Seneca clutched the sisters’ mail to her chest. “It’s too hot, and I’m not going out there. You have to come get these your - hey!”
A vine had snatched the bundle out of her paws and now returned to Maikya’s side. She smiled triumphantly. Alless laugh as Seneca stood in the doorway of their childhood home, only half-serious in her fuming.
And while a gaggle of girls laughs together on Mystery Island, and friends in Neovia make peace with their pasts, perhaps an old Brown Lupe and his wife cut their way through the jungles of Geraptiku, on their way home to their daughters. Perhaps there is a Krawk witch, stumbling across the Lost Desert, feeling she had something important to tell someone about a jewel… before she shrugs this off and heads into the nearest scratchcard Kiosk. Elsewhere, perhaps deep in the Haunted Woods, a newly-formed bog bubbles with purpose.
But certainly somewhere, out in Terror Mountain, there is a Mutant Acara. She is living in a cave guarded by a powerful blizzard. There, she carries out a surprisingly quiet life with her roommates: one Ice Krawk and one Ice Draik. Someday, this Acara might feel brave enough to leave her cave. Someday, this Acara might feel brave enough to pay a visit to Mystery Island, or Neovia, or even Brightvale. Someday, this Acara might feel brave enough to settle old grievances by talking them through, but she’s not quite grown up enough for that.