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Troubled Past - Nox: Part One


by karen_mckenzie

--------

I was born with dark powers that placed me apart.

      My family cast me out for what I could do.

      I was betrayed by the one Neopian I trusted and, when I was so close to my final goal, I was killed by a scholar I had no quarrel with.

      But I refused to stay dead.

      I am Hubrid Nox, ghost of a vampiric sorcerer, and this is my past.

      **

      I was born in a little village in the Haunted Woods, in which the inhabitants kept themselves to themselves and feared the trees around them, never daring to leave the paths in case a ghost or a Werelupe or a meepit turned out to be lurking in wait.

      Admittedly there were all these creatures nearby, but to be honest the only time anything actually came near the village was a witch, who cured the town of minor things like boils for the payment of frog spawn and left again.

      It was rather boring, for me. No siblings, very few other kids my age, both parents although doing their best for me not away from work enough to provide any source of entertainment.

      At the age of seven I took to ghost-watching, going against my parent's explicit instructions and hiding out in the woods, watching the spirits pass me by. It was calming, and fascinating; all shapes and species I saw, old, young, petpet, noble. They varied immensely besides that too. While some were perfectly formed, and glowed brightly with phosphorescence, others were dim, lurking, their features blurred and hidden as though seen through a veil of fog. After a while I devised a theory – ghosts age, and eventually fade away. I wondered how long this took, and began using a journal to record which souls I saw and when, and any noticeable changes (although there were few.)

      The first major thing that happened then was when, after I'd been watching them for a few years, an old man in the village died. But I saw him some time later, transparent and slightly surprised looking, hovering by himself in the forest. He saw me too, and seemed about to say something, but was as surprised as I was when no sound came out of his mouth.

      I had heard ghosts make noise before – ghastly wails and shrieks from some, quiet cries or muttering from others.

      That night I went home thoughtful, and when I got back I asked, like the innocent and unknowing child I was, "Why don't they let Mr Grey back into his house?"

      My parents stared at me. "Mr Grey is dead, Hubrid," my mother said carefully.

      I nodded. "Yes, but I've seen him in the woods! He looks lonely. And sad. And he couldn't talk-"

      My father cut me off. "Whatever you saw, wasn't Mr Grey. Ghosts aren't people, Hubrid, not anymore. They-"

      He himself was cut off by my mother's horrified voice. "You were in the woods? " she gasped.

      I backtracked fast. "Uh, no, of course not. I know how dangerous the woods are. I saw him from the path. Yeah."

      "Ghosts don't usually come this close..." my father muttered. "Stay away from them, Hubrid. You wouldn't want to be one yourself."

      **

      After that I was curious. Curious to know the answers to things like why could some ghosts do things that others couldn't? And why was the village so afraid of them? Sure, there was the whole, 'Ghosts are evil and mean nothing but harm and misery,' but I hadn't seen much of that side at all. There had to be something that had caused this rift between the living and the dead.

      So I started using the library.

      This killed many airborne petpets with one stone – I had found a vast source of knowledge full of anything, anything about ghosts, ghouls, spectres, all. And my parents stopped questioning me about why I spent so much time out of the house; they figured I was finally putting effort into my schoolwork.

      Hah. Education of that sort didn't mean much to me.

      The information I found was actually much better than I had hoped – I went in expecting far-fetched tales of horror, but came out filled with facts and observations that matched my own research. I learned that spirits do indeed age, although they took longer to fade if they felt unfulfilled, or still held strong emotions for the mortal world. Likewise, only ghosts who felt they needed to talk could speak, and ancient ones who were tired of existence could moan or screech their feelings out at the world.

      At a similar time I began trying to find and record some of the ghosts I saw most 's names, and histories. Some were easy – they hung around their gravestones and burial sites or still resembled what jobs or titles they had held in life, making it fairly simple to go and look up people from estimated time with estimated job.

      My journal got quite full.

      **

      And so years passed, myself growing in knowledge and form (because around that age growth spurts are weirdly common) and the village growing in its fear of the supernatural – or perhaps they had always been this scared and I just hadn't seen it.

      Anyhow, I was twelve and still young when the first nasty incident happened. Looking back I guess I was lucky to have had so long before something happened – because the ghosts I watched had noticed me, sure, but none of them bothered me. But I learned suddenly not all spirits are as passive as that.

      I was leaning against a tree, sketching the tiny faellie ghosts who skipped through its roots, when they fled, suddenly, disappearing from view.

      When I looked up, all the other spirits had gone too.

      I closed my journal and stared around, squinting into the gloom. Unnerved.

      Then it came screaming out of the darkness at me, it's mouth stretched open wide and it's bright eyes gleaming with evil malevolence. It was obviously a ghost, but it had blurred to almost nothing more than tattered bandages and that horrific face, but I was too stunned to do anything other than gape as it shot towards me. But ghosts couldn't harm mortals anyway, because they weren't solid.

      I went on believing that until it hit me across the face and knocked me to the ground, before giving a vicious cry and darting away.

      I just lay there, stunned, my world spinning slightly as I went over again and again what had just happened. I was so shocked that I didn't notice another ghost glide towards me and offer it's hand.

      I jumped a bit when I realized it was there, but numbly raised my own hand. It passed straight through hers. Was this some sort of ghost trick?

      But the spirit just frowned at its hand and I watched as it became more solid , less ghosty and more physical-y. I took it and she pulled me to my feet.

      She was a tall, well dressed Zafara lady who I'd seen here once or twice before but never found a record of in books. Now she smiled slightly and drifted away through the trees, leaving me alone.

      I stood there for a moment more, then shook myself and ran home, telling my parents the nasty bruising on my face was because I had fallen over a tree root and grabbing my journal to scribble this encounter down.

      **

      Only a few months past before I saw the harmful ghost again. Library searching had revealed nothing from before its death, but there was plenty of recorded incidents afterward – often nasty – that matched its appearance perfectly. As before, I was just minding my own business in the woods (well, the spirits' business) when they vanished without trace. I snapped my journal shut and stared around, watching for the evil creature.

      As before, it screeched out of near-nowhere and came straight at me, but as it did a new emotion stirred within me.

      Anger.

      I was angry at this thing that had attacked me, unprovoked, before. Angry about the deeds I had read it committed, picking on those alone, weak. There were even stories of it attacking other ghosts. And perhaps angry that it had returned, straight for me.

      Part of me couldn't understand this sudden rage, and hid in a corner to watch the conflict.

      I had no idea what I was going to do, but I stepped out to face the spirit as it darted ever faster, ever closer, and I let the anger fill me completely, charging my limbs with an almost physical force that felt powerful.

      Turns out it was physical. When the ghost was only seconds from me my arm shot forward and a bright green globe of crackling energy threw out and hit it, flaring before imploding inwards. In less than a second, both ghost and sphere had gone.

      I gawped. I sat down suddenly on the cold forest floor, my rage gone and shock, amazement, confusion and horror filling it's place. I had used magic. Magecraft. Sorcery.

      And I had vanquished a ghost.

      **

      This caused a large amount of thought for me. At first I was all for going straight up to my parents and demanding to know why I had mage blood – I was certain it's hereditary – but as I trudged back home I saw that may not be the best plan. Maybe they didn't know. So I decided to fall back onto my reliable friend the library again.

      As for the other matter... Well. I had blasted a spirit. Destroyed it. It felt like I'd killed someone, even though it was already dead. Even though it had been intent on harming me.

      The other ghosts didn't reappear that night, even though I waited, thinking, for more than an hour. I knew they had been watching.

      **

      The books told me that magic was passed in family, but if no-one found it in an individual after a certain amount of time it would fade itself out. Normal people and creatures often felt uneasy in the presence of mages, although other supernatural beings were fine. After the power had been found, the books recommended continuing practising – seeking more powerful and experienced magic users help – or finding some way of blocking it. And I had no intention of doing that.

      I also found the Zafara ghost, while looking through a list of old time mages. Her name was Mirion Black, a Neovian higher-class citizen in days long past. I'd never heard of Neovia, and wondered what she was doing so far from her resting place. However, I gave up wondering fairly quickly – my magic practise took up nearly all of my time, especially as I had no one to help me with it. At first I was only able to create the energy globes, and then I gradually learned to control them and fire them at things. They didn't seem to have much effect on physical stuff, but they were now much stronger than what I had destroyed the ghost with so I presumed that they were much more damaging to ethereal creatures.

      And again, the issue of ghosts. Not ghosts in general, but the ones who hurt people. The ones like that which had attacked me. The harmful, malicious spirits that, for some reason, hated the world and all those who inhabited it.

      The bad ghosts.

      I could kill them, yes. But I felt that would make me no better, and the other ghosts would really hate it. Maybe they thought I'd turn in them too. But I would never do that.

      Then, one day, it came to me. What if I could trap them? Enslave them? All the bad ghosts, held under control so that they could never misdeed again.

      No-one would have to live in fear of the ghosts anymore.

      So I began studying and practising binding spells, stopping spells, enchanting spells. To ensure that next time I encountered an evil spirit, I could put my theory to the test.

      I didn't have to wait long. Three months after my thirteenth birthday I was charged by a vicious Pteri ghost, unprovoked. I reacted fast, going to a full binding spell, forming it in my hands and letting it fire out at the oncoming threat. Just before it hit the creature's expression changed from cruel evilness to fear.

      The spell struck it, and expanded into a transparent blue-black bubble, the Pteri suspended within it harmlessly.

      "Wretched spirit," I said. I had read that you should be very firm and better-than-thou when dealing with captured ghosts (or... Wait... Maybe that was petpets...? Oh well.) and stuck to that. "Why did you attempt to attack me so?"

      The ghost spoke back – Aha, I thought, A talking one. Good – "Sorcerer," it replied, voice dripping hatred, "I attacked you because I did not expect one so young to be accomplished in dark magics."

      I narrowed my eyes theoretically. "You target the weak?"

      "Yep. No sense in striking those who fight back."

      I glared at him, wondering what to do next. I hadn't planned this far. I could send it away, decree that it never again attack a mortal...

      I had a better idea.

      "Wait in this clearing here, and don't move, I bind you!" I cried, all sudden dramatic wizardyness . "Until I call upon you to do different."

      And with that I left, before he could ask questions.

      **

      It took me months. Months to actively seek out and capture marauding evil spirits, and find enough information about them to be sure they couldn't escape. Months to hone my magic, for certain spells at least, to perfection.

      Although the ghosts had been avoiding me, I had had the good fortune to see the Zafara lady again – she turned to leave as soon as she realized I was there but I called, "Mirion! Mirion Black." And she stopped and looked at me, startled.

      She was much less distrustful than the others of her kind; I think she knew that the end of the first spirit had been a hideous accident on my part. I managed to persuade her to listen to me, and explained my plan. After I'd finished she stared at me, and mouthed words.

      Why would you do that?

      "Because," I muttered. "I just want them to know."

      She agreed to tell the other ghosts, and let them know too.

      **

      And so that was how, later, I returned to the woods to find more spirits than I'd ever seen gathered waiting for me, plus the few I had captured.

      I had chosen this day, this hour, specifically; today the entire village would be outside doing one of their silly rituals that were meant to keep the creatures of the forest away. I was pretty sure it had no effect whatsoever.

      We marched into my home, an impressive spectacle. A young dull-blue Chia with light streaming like rain his hands (just for effect) at the head of a torrent of spectres, who had chosen to follow walking or gliding, and those I had trapped floating suspended in glittering orbs.

      It had the intended effect, at first. The people stopped in their tracks and stared, and some of them murmured. I caught the words, "The Nox's son, Hubrid," and "What on Neopia does he think he's doing?! He'll get us all killed!"

      Ha, I thought. Not likely.

      We were making our way towards my own house because, to me, my parents were the most important. They were the only ones I needed to convince, the only ones who really mattered. Besides, the rest of the villagers were trailing along at a safe distance behind, curious and shocked at the same time.

      And then we reached my parents. Their reactions were as expected; my mother went pale, as though she were a ghost herself, and my father dropped the small tool he had been holding and gaped at the unearthly procession. The tool landed with a satisfying thunk.

      "Hubrid!" he managed to stutter at last. "You... What... Those are ghosts!"

      "Yes, Father!" I cried, very sure of myself. "But there is no need to fear them! See, those who walk freely mean no risk, and those who mean harm can be stopped! Why should we live in terror of the ghosts when they want little more than we do? They could be our allies! Our friends."

      Mr Grey gave a small wave, and got strange looks from the mortals gathered by.

      But my words did not seem to reach my father. His eyes darkened in pain and anger and he spat, "I am not the father of a monster like you."

      He turned and addressed the village. "We cannot stay here! It is no longer safe." He glared back at me. "Not anymore."

      And before my eyes the people fled, back to their dwellings to grab all the stuff they could carry and then regrouping behind my parents. My mother didn't say anything, but her expression told me all.

      It didn't say, ' Hubrid I'm so sorry, remember I love you,' or anything like that. No, it said, painfully clearly, 'Hubrid why have you betrayed us like this? Why?'

      Because, I wanted to scream, The ghosts are just people!!

      Then they left. Just like that. They disappeared across the border of the village, my father troubled, my mother shaken. I heard one last whisper on the edge of hearing. Necromancer.

      I didn't know what it meant and I didn't care. Tears blurred my vision and I saw the Pteri ghost in the corner of my eye. Although the spheres were soundproof, I could very clearly see it was laughing.

      I was fourteen.

To be continued...

 
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