Some nights, the voice of his old tormentor still echoes through Magax's head.
You were never meant to be a hero, boy. Stay on the dark side. The winning side. You'll be happier.
That voice – oh, how he hates that wretched voice – twists its way into his skull, pulsing through his thoughts like a heartbeat, a steady whispered rhythm that haunts his pathetic existence. It's background noise when he thinks, quiet static that he can't get rid of no matter how hard he tries.
They say that Hubrid Nox is dead. But this isn't true. Magax knows – Nox is still there inside his head, telling him lies and trying to manipulate him, tainting his thoughts, haunting him. It wreaks havoc on his sanity – what little he has left – to know that even now, Nox can control him so completely.
You were never meant to be a hero, boy.
Magax presses his fingers to his temple as if he can reach in and grab the traitorous whisper. Hush, he begs, but all he gets in return is a mocking cackle.
You can't get rid of me.
Of all the things Nox tells him, that is perhaps the most truthful.
The Haunted Woods is even more dangerous than usual at this time of night, and all around him the forest is alive in ways it shouldn't be. The trees blink curiously at him as he passes, their long, twisted branches reaching out to ensnare him, and the shadows swirl and flicker and loom in unnatural ways. Moonlight doesn't fall here, even though Kreludor is full and glorious tonight, and the darkness breathes, thick and pulsating, giving stolen life to everything it touches. Creatures deliquesce from its essence, ghouls and ghosts and gremlins and every other type of beastie you could imagine lurking under your bed, plus a thousand more you couldn't.
Magax is one of them. That's how he's made it so long here in the uncharted deeps of Neopia's most unfriendly land. He belongs here the same way the goblins do, the same way the ghosts and the Werelupes and the treacherous faeries do. The Haunted Woods is a haven for the lost and misunderstood souls, and the ones who ventured down the wrong path with the right intentions, and Magax belongs here as much as the next fallen hero does.
That's the spirit, boy. Heh, spirit – do you get it? You've got spirit! Muahahahaha –
Magax nearly punches himself in the head. There's not much worse than having a deceased super villain trapped inside your skull, except maybe a deceased super villain with a terrible sense of humor.
Nox is still cackling at his own joke when Magax comes to the graveyard, stepping soundlessly over the withered grass. The twisted metal gate squeals like a terrified child as he eases it open, splitting through the thick darkness like a fine-tipped blade. He closes it behind him and the latch falls closed without his bidding with a tired clang. The Blue Wocky weaves his way among the many gravestones. Most of them ancient and cracked, with the words long since worn away, but Magax knows who lies where. He's talked to many of this graveyard's residents, after all.
Hey, we haven't been here in a while. This is where I tried to take over the world. Remember that?
Rolling his eyes at the voice inside his head, Magax nods silently. He occasionally has flashbacks of ghostly Scorchios and Cybunnies, bent on conquering the world, clawing their way towards him over the cracked gravestones at Nox's command. The graveyard is silent now, except for a soft scratching sound somewhere off to the left and beneath Magax's feet, not unlike a bony hand rapping at the inside of a coffin. Off in the distance, a Werelupe howls. Everything is as it should be.
Magax surveys the stones solemnly, like a king observing his subjects, his keen yellow eyes searching for anything amiss. Inside his head, Nox is muttering about how the world would be so much better if he ruled it, but this is nothing uncommon. When he's satisfied, Magax turns and winds his way back towards the gate, nodding in silent greeting when a ghostly voice whispers his name and a feather-light touch of pale blue brushes his arm. Sorrow-filled red eyes watch in silence as he opens and closes the gate once more, the hinges screaming, and then turns and carries on his way until he is swallowed by the possessive darkness of the Haunted Woods.
This is how it has been. This is how it will be. From the cemetery, Magax will follow the black-watered stream down into the valley, through Sophie's Swamp and past the mushroom circle where the Ghost Meepits sing and dance to a melody only they can hear. He will go past the lair of the Werelupe King and into the mossy stretch of wood where the Dark Faeries will curse you if you disturb them, and then he will stroll through the woods until he finds a path, black and twisted, that takes him down to the glowing lagoon and up to visit the Brain Tree ... and eventually, he will find himself back at the cemetery where he started, and from there he will follow the black-watered stream down into the valley once more, and his journey will start again.
You need a life, Nox observes. Then he bursts out laughing. Do you get it? A life! Muahahahahaha!
Magax seems to have developed a tick in his left eye. It twitches with annoyance in time to the ebb and flow of the howling laughter inside his head. But the absolute worst thing about it is that Hubrid Nox has, once again, said something truthful.
Of course I have. Don't sound so surprised. You're nothing without me, boy, you know that. You've always known that.
A spear of agony bubbles up in the back of the Wocky's skull, tendrils of it spreading through his head in hairline cracks.
I made you the fighter that you are, Magax. Even creatures of the dark like you and I can't hide from the truth. Especially when it wants to find us.
Since the day he switched loyalties – from the wrong side to the right one – Magax has been trying to redeem himself. He had done terrible things at Hubrid Nox's command, things that even the faeries themselves would never forgive him for. And the one way that he ever could have earned the respect of anyone, himself included, was by destroying Nox once an for all. That had been his one chance at redemption. His one shot at earning respect, at becoming the good person he had the potential to be.
And then some psycho, impulsive sorceress out to take down the faeries had to go and ruin it all.
Ruin it all? Ruin it all! You're as bad as I am! Muahahahahaha! Nox comments, making Magax's head throb.
With one magical blast that had been as far out of Magax's control as the weather, his existence had been condemned. Wiping Hubrid Nox off the planet had been his job, and somebody else had gone and done it for him. And with the villainous Chia, all of Magax's hopes of a future had died as well.
Now he paces the Haunted Woods, looking for something – anything – that could lead him to a better place. A better life. One with a point.
Heads up, boy. You feel that?
He's standing beside the black-watered stream, his footsteps silent on the shadowy bank, when Nox's voice murmurs a warning. Sure enough, the scarred warrior can feel it, whatever 'it' is. His fists clench and his eyes narrow as he tries to pinpoint the source of the disturbance. Something is interrupting the darkness, making it uncomfortable.
He can feel the foreign presence of the Faerie Queen when she appears behind him. At first the fallen hero does not turn; For a moment, he watches her reflection on the surface of the black-watered stream, a glistening pillar of pale lavender amid the breathing shadows that shy away from her light. She does not address him. Instead, she waits for him to come to her.
When he does turn, he can barely look at her. Her glow is painful to his sensitive eyes, which became adjusted to the eternal gloom of the Haunted Woods long ago. A beautiful figure of feminine colors, majesty and leadership and endurance wrapped up in the skin of an elegant faerie and tied off with a bow made of delicate purple wings, who stands like a beacon in this wasteland of twisted figures and darkness. Fearless.
Magax lowers his head, half in respect and half in pain. He can feel her eyes on him, calculating and calm. She's interested, but not quite curious.
"Magax." Her word comes out as a sigh. He can't tell how she's feeling – If she's exasperated or disappointed or sympathetic, or a little bit of all three. Maybe something else entirely.
Inside Magax's skull, Hubrid Nox is spitting insults at the Faerie Queen, and between Fyora's light and Nox's yelling, the warrior's head feels like it's being cracked open. He wants to ask the faerie why she's here, but he doesn't think that she would appreciate being questioned by the likes of him. He stares down at the ground between them, silent, waiting.
"You've come a long way since I met you," Fyora says finally. Her voice does not betray what she is thinking.
Magax glances up at the queen. It's been over a year since the fall of Faerieland, when all of Neopia's faerie kind had been turned to stone and their beautiful cloud city toppled from the heavens to land, scattered and broken, beside the Haunted Woods. The faeries have had enough time to regain their strength and build their land, but the magnificent Faerie Queen still carries about her an air of sadness. The ruin of her kingdom, which she has ruled for so long, permanently haunts her.
Being haunted is something Magax can relate to.
"Years ago," the faerie says softly, "I said that Neopia would never forgive you for your crimes."
"That is how it should be," the Wocky whispers.
Oh, don't try to make diplomatic conversation with her, boy. Punch her or something! C'mon, don't let me down, Nox urges loudly.
Magax stares up, meeting Fyora's eyes for the first time. He wonders, briefly, what she sees when she looks at him. A warrior? A villain? A charity case?
"No," the Faerie Queen disagrees. "That is not how it should be." She leans lightly on her pulsating orb-tipped staff, studying him with an expression he still cannot read, although it looks a bit like sympathy. "I've learned many things recently, Magax. My kingdom was saved by a silver-tongued thief, as you may recall."
The scarred Wocky looks away again. The queen's bright glow is hard on his sensitive eyes. "Perhaps . . ." he ventures quietly, " . . . I'm not the one who's changed since we last met. Perhaps it's you who's changed, Your Majesty."
From the corner of his eye, Magax notices the corners of the queen's delicate lips twitch momentarily upward in a hesitant smile.
"This is not how it should be," Fyora says again. She takes a small step towards him. "Magax . . . I think you've suffered more than enough."
This time, the Wocky has no choice but to look at her as the meaning of her words sink in, and she regards him sadly, solemnly. She looks nearly apologetic. "Don't . . ." he begins, shaking his head, but the Faerie Queen continues to speak.
"You were wronged, Warrior. Perhaps you did commit crimes of great evil, but you have done your service. Hubrid Nox is no longer a threat to our world," she says gently, her head tilting to the side as she watches him, long locks of pale lavender spilling across her shoulders. "Your duty is complete."
I can't believe this. Are you listening to this nonsense? Tell her to bug off.
Magax turns away, his head spinning. "No," he whispers. "No. Queen Fyora . . . Nox isn't a threat anymore. But – but there's still another monster."
He looks at the black-watered stream that runs beside them, ever silent. Fyora's reflection glints on the surface, bright and beautiful and foreign. He watches as her glow slowly closes the gap between them, until he can feel her standing just behind him. Her elegant hand reaches out to rest delicately on his scarred shoulder.
"I'm the monster," he tells her quietly.
"You are many things, Magax," is all she says.
The crimes he had committed all those years ago were too foul, too evil, to ever be pardoned. He must serve his time. Hubrid Nox's death cannot change that.
Queen Fyora lifts her hand from the warrior's shoulder, and her long fingers curl around her staff. "The redeemed shall always be welcomed in Faerieland," she tells him.
A bitter smile spreads across Magax's face. "Too bad I'm not one of them."
There is nothing else to say. The Faerie Queen has offered Magax forgiveness, and he has turned her down. Still, neither moves just yet.
"Is it true," Fyora asks then, "that he is . . . in here?" As Magax turns towards the queen, she touches his temple lightly with her fingertips, just to the side of the scar that slashes vertically across his eye.
"Yes. He's swearing at me as we speak."
The Faerie Queen blinks. Her expression is easily comprehensible now – her sympathy, the pain she feels on the warrior's behalf, is obvious. And she hasn't even heard any of Nox's terrible puns.
"I can get rid of him for you," she offers.
"No." Magax steps backwards, away from her touch. "If it can be done, I have to do it myself," he tells her, hoping that she'll understand.
Queen Fyora nods slowly. "Alright," she whispers. Her sad purple eyes bore into him, laying his soul bare as she tries to comprehend, and he can't stand it. The Wocky takes another step away. He doesn't want her pity, and the longer this encounter continues the more his heart aches for what he can never have.
Perhaps she can tell, because after a moment, the Faerie Queen raises an elegant hand in a small gesture. "Farewell, Warrior," she says, a small smile on her face, and then she's gone. Just as quickly as she had appeared, the beautiful feminine figure dissolves into a sparkling swirl of faerie dust, is caught on a nonexistent breeze, and swept away, taking her light and her forgiveness with her.
The Haunted Woods is dark again. The blackness expands and swells in a sigh of relief to have the Faerie Queen gone, and off in the distance, a Werelupe howls.
You can't get rid of me, boy. We both know the truth.
Magax touches his temple, just to the side of his scar. His heart is empty and aching.
He turns then, following the black-watered stream down into the valley, through Sophie's Swamp and past the mushroom circle where the Ghost Meepits sing and dance to a melody only they can hear. He goes past the lair of the Werelupe King and into the mossy stretch of wood where the Dark Faeries will curse you if you disturb them, and then strolls through the woods until he finds a path, black and twisted, that takes him down to the glowing lagoon and up to visit the Brain Tree ... and eventually, he finds himself back at the cemetery where he started, and from there he follows the black-watered stream down into the valley once more, and his journey starts again.
This is how it has been.
This is how it will be.