Troubled Past - Nox: Part Two
Left alone in the forest with no one alive for company. Over time my loneliness grew into bitterness, my bitterness into resentment, my resentment into cold, evil hatred. Fine! If the mortals, my mortals, my own kind, didn't want me then there was nothing to stop me from being on the ghosts' side, was there? WAS THERE?
I stormed through the trees, my hands darting around almost by themselves and blasting random objects with destructive magic. The ghosts had scattered – which was probably a wise move – except the ones which were still bound inside my globes, pulled along behind me like puppets. They flinched every time a shot ricocheted past them, sometimes missing by inches.
Eventually I cut the spells holding them captive, leaving just one in place that would allow me to summon them again at will. The sudden drain of energy I experienced once they had gone surprised me and I stopped, breathing heavily.
Where was I? I looked around and found that I was actually not that far from the village, now deserted. As if me legs could not bear to take me far from it. Oh well... It would be a good place to stay the night. But there was no way I could return to live there.
I entered my own house, cold and empty, and curled up in my own bed, wishing that this had never even started.
I stayed much longer than I had intended to, because I was using the library again. Necromancer. What was that?
There were no books directly on the subject and I guessed it was a forbidden art, probably really black magecraft. It turned out I was right.
Necromancy: The skill of raising/conversing with the dead.
Well, I already talked to them. But it had never occurred to me to try and raise ghosts. That would just be... Weird.
I wondered where I should live. Not here, obviously. And out in the woods alone would be a death wish.
Perhaps... Perhaps I could make my own place. Perhaps I could get the spirits to build me something, a mighty tower or a castle.
Whatever. First I just wandered, learning the ways and area of the forest and its inhabitants and always watching the ghosts.
I had left my journal hidden in my old room, of my old house. I didn't want anyone else to have it, but somehow couldn't bring myself to destroy the years of knowledge stored within it.
Eventually I found a place, atop a low hill that could see but not be seen from all angles and overlooked a 'deserted' fairground, which seemed completely empty until nightfall, when it came alive. I stayed away from it; it felt... Unhealthy.
But the spot on the hill was perfect. I called the bound ghosts back again, and set them about the slow task of creating a fortress. I didn't pretend to even guess at how long it would take them – first to clear the area of trees, rocks, etc., then acquire and shape the stones for the walls, and actually put it together. I wasn't expecting it finished any time soon, which was good because it did indeed take years.
I improved my sorcery. I made a makeshift, near un-findable shelter in the woods. I read books from the library, using low-level magic to bring them to me and send them back.
When I was eighteen, I grew a moustache. It was pretty epic, and could have rivalled even my father's, wherever he was now. So it was a shame that the only people to see it were the ghosts.
I didn't really have a plan – just something along the lines of Attack Some Mortals and Create a Ghost Army for Various Purposes were all I had. But I was just walking in the forest one day, now aged 23, fortress still not quite completed, when I bumped into someone. Literally strode right into them.
This was surprising. I'd seen people in this area of forest before, once or twice, but I'd taken care that they had never known I was there. And I'd just walked straight into someone. I took a step backwards.
It was a shortish Blumaroo only slightly taller than me, his long coat ruffled where I'd hit it and an astounded expression on his green face. He looked about 500 years old, and I wondered what he was doing here.
"Are you... You can't be... The great Hubrid Nox?" he croaked in a surprisingly strong voice.
I was suddenly on guard. How did he know who I was? Who was he? What-
Without waiting for an answer he grabbed my hand and shook it hard, and added, "I'd recognise a fellow mage anywhere of course, but your aura is huge! Did you really bring a million ghosts into your village on a festival day? I personally would have my doubts, more than ten are hard to control I find, but you are obviously full of power!" He stopped and beamed at me, now awaiting an answer.
"Less than a million..." I replied carefully, not sure if this man represented a threat or not. "More than a hundred."
His eyes widened, and I had the sudden suspicion he was putting on a show. This was added to when he said, "Oh yes, I almost forgot to introduce myself! I'm Leonard Clandestine, although I don't need to ask your name. Necromancer of the third level, too, although I find the dead easier to control than raise, myself."
He paused and grinned at me again. I had to resist the urge to run away.
Necromancer... Probably past his best, likely to be alone – mages don't like sharing power. Obviously a fake name, possibly even lying about his magic... I'd better be careful.
"Uh... Nice to meet you, Mr Clandestine." But, if you don't mind me asking, why are you here? Are you just passing through the area, or do you have business?"
"Mmh? Business, of course! With you, Mr Nox."
I noticed how he matched my slightly derogatory tone for the name, and realized he might not even believe that was my real name. My confusion mounted as he continued.
"You have no idea how long it's taken me to find you! And from your reaction, I must be the first... Oh, the others will be so jealous. A whisper here, a clue there, the information of a friend's brother's friend heard from through a keyhole... We've all been trying very, very hard. None of your former neighbours, few and far between as they are, seem to want to talk about it, and you hold your ghosts close. But at last, after these years of toil and searching, I have found you."
I stared up at him. There were others? Looking for me? But it had been ages since my banishment and rejection, ages since I'd seen another living soul...
"Why do you want me?" I asked quietly.
He replied without hesitation. "To join your army, of course."
What. My army? My brain skidded through all this information, and figured:
-The rumours have mounted and multiplied and a large number of potentially dangerous sorcerers are looking for me
-They think I am amassing an army, probably of ghosts, and want a share in the power-play
-That might not be such a bad idea.
Well, why wouldn't it? The mortals, the ordinary ones, feared me and I hated them. The ghosts alike. And with the help of fellow mages, why shouldn't I...?
It would be immoral, sure. But I didn't care.
I could go along with it for now, at least.
"Sure. If you really want to. But I'm afraid you'll have to find your own accommodation, as I don't have anything set up for visitors at the moment. When do you reckon your... Friends will be arriving?"
He shrugged. "They're not 'friends'. Accomplices at some points, rivals at others. They'll probably turn up slowly... Follow my trail... And the more of them that come, the more will hear of it and follow, if you get that. But I won't tell them." He gave a sort of grimace-y smile and finished, "I'll go and set up some accommodation now, I think, if you don't mind. It's a pleasure to meet you, the legend, Hubrid Nox."
"The pleasure's all mine," I muttered absently.
Good manners seem to never wear off.
Over the next few weeks more of them did indeed arrive, dark, shifty people, most of whom had magic and all of whom wanted something. Revenge, power, even sometimes just to meet the 'legend of a Chia' who had, and I quote, 'destroyed his homeland using the powers of death brought by darkest necromancy and was going to do the same to the rest of Neopia.'
I told the particular ugly teenage Quiggle who said this what had actually happened, and he was really very disappointed. It turned out he had no magic potential whatsoever, and just wanted some fiery retribution for his own village. I advised him to go home before any real danger appeared – he couldn't even handle a weapon properly.
He left. The company of nasties continued to grow. As it did, old feuds and grudges from long ago and deeds long past resurfaced between various people and something kind of like an alliance system emerged. So-and-so was on their side, such-and-such was on your side, and that other guy was a lurker you didn't know. I didn't get involved – I didn't know anything about anyone, really, and I had the feeling that making myself unpopular with a more experienced sorcerer or fighter would be a bad idea.
They trained. Swords and knives flew faster than the eye could follow, bursts of bright magic lit up the sky. (One thing I had noticed was that there was not a single Light mage here. Almost all of them were Darks, or Earth/Fire/Airs. Not many Waters either, for some reason.)
No Lupes had joined either. This amused me.
Weeks past. Months fled. A few years trundled by. And always more people came, rugged, strong, scarred. After a while I asked that newcomers see me before entering the 'army' so that I could gain a little more insight to who and what were here. I didn't sent anyone away, but I did find that a lot more non-mages were joining than I had expected – and often they didn't stay non-mages for long. If a magic user thought that someone had potential, they could offer to give magic to the non-mage. I hadn't even known this was possible.
At some point Clandestine disappeared, and I can't say I was sorry.
All species, all ages, all levels. Most could summon, raise or control ghosts to some degree, and almost all were prepared to kill. I could see how dangerous it was to keep them together like this, but I had no choice.
Sometimes when I thought they wouldn't miss me, I would slip away and find Mirion, the Zafara ghost, and talk to her. She couldn't answer, but she made a good listener. It was good to have someone to confide in.
The fortress was finished. I ordered the entire library from my old village moved there, as well as some furnishings. No one but myself and the hosts who had built it even knew of its existence.
I was twenty seven now, as another small group of Neopians appeared to ask permission to join the ranks of my extended group. I bade them see me.
Three of them, a blue Wocky flanked by a Korbat and a Hissi. They bowed, and the Wocky's cloak shifted slightly enough for me to see the huge, worn axe that hung at his side. A non-mage, then. But there was something wrong with him, something different I couldn't quite get...
His yellow eyes met mine and it suddenly clicked. His ruff! His Wocky ruff, which they usually took such care and pride in, had been shaved to almost the point of nothingness. A tiny beard was all that remained of it.
I glanced at his companions, but they seemed normal enough.
"Nox." The Wocky spoke, and I realized he was probably only about eighteen. "I am Magax. These are my entourage, Jeneir and Keinar. We have been wronged by our people, and came to ask for a place in your battle plans."
His eyes glinted. I guessed that he had been through a lot, although exactly what could have been anything.
"Sure. Set up a camp, practise your skills, keep up and try not to get killed." I smiled evilly. "And I'd stay away from the ghosts if I were you; some of them around here are vicious."
I watched them go, and decided to keep an eye on the Wocky. He seemed powerful.
If I only I knew then what he would become.
To be continued...