The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Four
"No, no, no - ma’am, wait!”
Ronan’s pleas were met with a slammed door. He gave a frustrated groan, raking Magma claws over his face. “How could I let this happen? We’ve been taking such careful stock...”
Seneca looked up from the codestone she’d been polishing. “What’s wrong?”
Ronan’s expression was sheepish. “It seems we ran out of Bogberries without realizing.”
Seneca paled. “Inventory was my responsibility! I’m so sorry…”
Ronan shook his head. “The shop has been incredibly busy lately, it’s an honest mistake. Although, I only get my Bogberries from a very specific supplier, and it’ll take several days to get to him.” He scratched his chin. “I don’t want to leave the shop alone…”
Seneca resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her father’s lack of subtlety. “I can go get the Bogberries, if you want.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Ronan said, but he was already writing the address down for her. She laughed.
“Consider it my way of making up for the mistake.”
Neovia. Where the streetlights stay on all times of day, because the thickness of the fog and the forest make it impossible to see otherwise. Seneca trudged through town, pulling her brown scarf tighter around her neck. It was such a stark contrast to the dry heat of Moltara, and yet Seneca had lived both places in her short lifetime.
Not that her familiarity with the cold made it any more bearable. She breathed heavily, just to watch her breath turn into a white mist, like something an Ice Draik might emit. Seneca looked at the quaint, dark shops, yearning to go inside and escape the bad weather, but her journey was far from over. Ronan’s Bogberry supplier didn’t live in town, but someplace far more befitting of such a product.
The dark cobblestones ceded to dark forest floor. Overhead, the trees parted, revealing on the far horizon skies that were dark with thunderheads. Seneca hesitated, trying to decide whether to take out her umbrella, before deciding that, if lightning were a possibility, her hat would be a safer bet.
She walked straight into an unrelenting downpour. The trees thinned to twisted, leafless things, and the dirt floor of the disappearing forest became mud. Seneca’s walk turned to a trudge as the soupy ground clutched at her Wellingtons, and she squinted into the dark, trying to discern an end to the forest. Ronan had told her that at the end lay the remains of a lake, turned to a soupy bog by an eternal rainstorm. That is where she’d find the Bogberry supplier.
Lightning flashed overhead, making Seneca flinch. She clutched her scarf, less to keep it in place and more to comfort herself, speeding up. Another flash - this time accompanied by thunder that was louder, closer. With a yelp of surprise, Seneca fell to her knees, paws over her sensitive ears.
When she opened her eyes, there was a bright red paw held in front of her face. She looked up, flabbergasted to see a Strawberry Gelert standing before her. She was wearing a layered dress that was weighed down by the rain, and holding an umbrella in the other paw. Around her neck was a necklace, from which hung an opalescent orange jewel. Seneca was entranced by the way the lightning played off its cracks, shining with a warm light… For some strange reason, Seneca felt like the jewel was staring back at her. But that was ridiculous, of course. It was an inanimate object.
“I’m Colly,” said the Gelert, her voice raspy and gentle. “Please, come inside with me. I own the boarding house just down this road,” she said, and she pointed to a little cobblestone path that Seneca could’ve sworn wasn’t there just moments before. “I’d hate to see you freeze out here in the rain.”
Despite her confusion, Seneca took the stranger’s paw, and followed the Gelert to a little grey building. Her Wellingtons slipped on the uneven configuration of stones, causing her to lean heavily on the stranger’s arm for support.
They entered a cozy space. After being out in all that grey, the overly saturated reds and greens decorating the living room made Seneca’s eyes hurt. At least, Seneca assumed it was a living room, but there was so much crumpled paper and unfolded cardboard tossed aside, it could just as easily be an indoor Rubbish Dump. The paper covered the couch, the floor, the tables, and in the center of the room was a white Krawk with the green tell-tale hair of one who’s been painted Christmas. She was dressed in a fitting (if ugly) holiday sweater, rapidly putting items into boxes and wrapping them as she hummed carols to herself.
Colly wasted no time. She ushered Seneca over to the couch, swiping off a great deal of colored tissue paper so she’d have room. Then she threw a blanket over her guest.
“I’ll be right back with hot Borovan in a second, Miss…?”
“Seneca. Thank you so much.”
Colly gave her a graceful smile before exiting. The Christmas Krawk looked up from her gift-wrapping to introduce herself as Bella.
“Sorry to take up so much space,” she apologized, gesturing to the paper mess, “but I run my gift-wrapping service out of this room, and I’ve got a ton of orders to fill.”
Seneca blinked. “You’re busy in the middle of summer?”
“Of course! You think Christmas is the only time of year neopets like to send each other gifts?”
Well, Seneca couldn’t really argue with that logic, although she still wasn’t sure why Bella was exclusively using Christmas colors in her wrapping.
Seneca turned her attention to the rain-streaked window, beyond which the grey mass of the bog was only just barely visible. The wind was so loud, it could be heard over the torrential tapping of the raindrops’ angry fingers against the glass, a low moaning, like a creature in mourning…
Bella heaved such a great sigh, Seneca was startled from her revery. The Krawk had stopped her wrapping and was staring out into the hall, at the stairwell.
“Poor Erzo,” she sighed. “He really takes to his Grey color…”
“Wait,” said Seneca, “so that crying isn’t the wind?”
Bella shook her head. “That’s Erzo - he’s another resident here at the house.”
The sobs tugged at Seneca’s heartstrings, making it impossible for her to relax. She shifted in her seat, getting as close to the arm of the sofa and as far from the mournful noise as she could get. “What’s wrong with him? Does he need our help?”
“Oh… you know Grey pets,” Bella said, lamely, but there was a tightness in her smile that made Seneca think there was more to it than that. But before she could ask, a gentle voice called, “All ready!” and Seneca looked to see Colly standing in the doorway, holding a tray with a pot of Borovan and three cups with saucers. As she was leaning over Seneca to serve her a drink, her pendant swung like a pendulum, hitting Seneca in the eye!
“Goodness, I’m so sorry…”
“It’s fine,” Seneca laughed, swatting the jewel away. “It’s really beautiful, actually… Where’d you get it?”
Colly’s Strawberry paw touched it protectively. “I found it nearby, actually. In the lake. I was just carrying it around with me, but a friend of mine was worried I’d lose it, so he turned it into a necklace for me.”
“Wow! Sounds like a pretty great friend.”
A certain sadness seemed to take hold of Colly’s gentle smile. She masked it with a question; “What brings you to our little corner of Neopia, Miss Seneca?”
“I came to find someone,” Seneca explained, “a Bogberry supplier by the name of Multint. My father Ronan owns a magical supply shop…”
“You’re Ronan’s girl?” Bella exclaimed.
Seneca started. “You know my father?”
“Well, of course. My mother and he used to be great friends!”
“Well that’s nice,” said Seneca. It was nice meeting someone who actually liked her father, for once.
Colly chimed in. “We know the supplier you’re looking for, too. His name is Multint, and he lives near here.” Colly’s paw creeped up her neckline to touch the jewel again. Seneca filed this information away without realizing, mostly consumed by relief that her journey was nearly over.
“Oh, thank Fyora… I thought I was so far off track! Maybe when the rain stops, Colly, you can show me to him.”
Colly and Bella’s smiles faded. “What’s wrong?” Seneca asked.
The two neopets traded looks, before Colly decided to be the one to explain. “...I’m afraid the rain won’t ever stop, Seneca. It’s been going on for three years. You’d be better off going as soon as possible, before it gets dark on top of everything else.”
Three years of rain! No wonder Ronan had asked her to go on this errand instead of going himself. As far as Seneca was concerned, this chore absolved her of inventory mistakes three times over. “Well, can one of you still take me to Multint?”
Colly opened her mouth to reply, but another voice, a young man’s voice, called, “I’ll take you.” Colly’s eyes went wide with shock, and Seneca turned to see who she was staring at.
A Grey Krawk stood at the bottom of the stairs. His handsome, almost noble clothes seemed drooping and grey like the rest of him, giving him the air of a deposed prince. He walked down the hall towards the women, dark hair flopped over his face and his expression morose.
“Oh, Erzo,” Colly simpered, “please don’t do anything that will upset you…”
“Everything upsets me,” he retorted, lip quivering. “I might as well do something upsetting that is also productive. Our guest needs to see Multint, and so do I. Therefore, I will take her.”
After a momentary staring match, Colly sighed, relenting. “Alright. Take her. But please, be civil.”
Erzo frowned harder. “When have I ever been rude to a guest?”
“You know that’s not what I mean,” Colly scolded. It made Seneca wonder who this Multint fellow was, and what his history he shared with the people of this boarding house.
The rain had decreased from a downpour to an angry drizzle, which the wind scattered in their faces. Erzo sighed lugubriously before shutting his umbrella, lamenting its uselessness in this weather. He and Seneca pulled their collars higher and trudged into the soupy landscape of the bog.
The muddy water rose to their knees. Seneca winced. “Wouldn’t it be better to use a boat out here or something?”
“I know where to step to avoid drowning, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Erzo replied.
The mud squelched in her fur. Seneca winced. “Well… That’s not ALL I’m worried about…”
She wondered at the fact Erzo would walk in this muck with such handsome clothes, but then, they were already so worn that perhaps it was just his way. His hair, too, hung stringy over his face, belying a neopet who rarely, if ever, groomed himself.
They came upon a cave, and Erzo indicated without saying a word that they were here. The end of their journey so relieved Seneca that she charged forward, not heeding Erzo’s warning.
It was as if the ground disappeared from under her. One moment she was navigating the layer of solid ground beneath the mud, and the next, there was no such ground, only more mud. Gravity grabbed Seneca by the ankle and yanked her into the bog, and suddenly all she saw was darkness, all she tasted was mud.
To be continued…