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Phantom Pain

by flufflepuff


      What I liked and disliked about life was that there were certain roads you were simply destined for. Some Ruki got easy ones. Others got twisting, winding ones. Yet others got foggy ones.

      Mine is a little bit of the last two, and it’s certainly not easy. I work at night as a Specter Specialist, or “secret spirit slayer,” as the children call it. They can call me anything they like, so long as it remains rumor.

      I don’t mind it so much, as I’ve been trained to handle the otherworldly since I was but a child. Sifu has taught me everything he knows, and then some, leading me to lands I’d only dreamed about.

      Still, I wasn’t in Neopia Central to sightsee. Having come from Shenkuu, I know to avoid the twigs beneath the fiery leaves and where to step to hide in the safety of the smaller, grassier mountains of Neopia Central. I have to travel carefully and silently, of course. This is the last day of the month of Collecting, and far too many injurious spirits are about. Should any child see me, I would be shunned, and any adult, and I’d become a Mootix under a microscope. Should any children see the spirits, the ones that truly mean them harm, they’d never want to trick-or-treat again.

      My road is an exhausting one, especially tonight. I press against the rusted side of the house, my eyes trained on three costumed children approaching this house in particular. Perfect.

      The Mynci knocks on the door, eyes aglow with the promise of candy. No princess costume like the one she is wearing can conceal the expectancy on her face as she and her friends chorus, “Trick or treat!”

      At that moment, I whisk my way behind the children, too quickly for anyone to notice.

      There it is.

      I leap into another patch of darkness, whacking the shadow with my long, pale blade, a long, admittedly fun lesson from Sifu once I was deemed ready for ethereal combat. The shadow convulses and flees in terror, and I go after it at once, my footsteps scarcely lowering the blades of grass I step on.

      There is no time to grimace at my shoulder’s ache from the blow’s recoil. This particular Halloween is very busy indeed, I notice as I hunt, glancing briefly at the sky to confirm what I already know. Yes—Kreludor is at its fullest. Every deed, regardless of how well thought out it is, has a touch of insanity to it. I saw it in the children’s faces, I see it in the shadow’s erratic flight pattern, and even, a little, in myself, but my spirit sword will block most of it. I am sure of it.

      At last, I corner the beast at a streetlamp, its light threatening to extinguish the shadow completely. I squint hard at it. But no, weak as it is, the shadow is still standing its ground. It truly intends to harm the children it encounters. Perhaps it could be Kreludor making it more aggressive. Even so, I’m willing to take no chances with their lives on the line.

      I lean closer to the flickering shadow, knowing its power has faded at least for the time being. “Keep away from the children,” I growl, my own dusky face and voice concealing no hint of ferocity. The shadow seems to strengthen in opacity as if to rebel. This one is tricky.

      I silence its whimpers with my blade, and dart back into the shadows to find others. This is going to be a busy night.

      That had been my twenty-fourth shadow creature, either vanquished or chided, tonight alone. I look up, hoping for the stars to guide me. They show that dawn is still several hours away. I sigh. My bones and muscles are aching, but this Halloween in Neopia Central depends on me. That is where the most children, and evil, reside after all.

      And so I trudge, taking great care not to step too hard on a leaf or twig. I watch children and partygoers alike, watching for the small spirits I’m used to slaying, but I’m keeping an eye out for something far more deadly.

      Sifu had warned me exactly once just before graduation: the master of all wraiths shows itself but once on Halloween nights when the moon is full. I have never seen it, but Sifu has. I do not know what it looks like, but Sifu tells me I’ll know. He has said nothing more about the wraith master, save that it would appear where there were the most awake and vulnerable lives.

      Right here. Of course.

      There have always been countless shops from Neopets and humans alike in Neopia Central, which means the children and partygoers are in especial danger tonight. No one must know, of course, lest the citizens panic.

      I’m perched in a tree, waiting and watching from an excellent vantage point. It takes me a while to realize this tree has a face and Neopoints on it, and candy at its roots, but it does not protest.

      For once, all is quiet, at least in the otherworldly sense. I stare hard at the points of light in front of me, coming out of a large building. My eyes strain to find a flicker of darkness in it. My legs threaten to tremble from being buckled in the treetops, but I force myself to breathe evenly and hold still. The lives of those I need to protect depend on me.

      Which is why the arm tugging me out of the tree takes me completely by surprise.

      I swear internally and steel myself for battle, readying a hand on my sword’s pommel.

      “That costume is like, totally legit! I mean, that’s like a wicked Shenkuu swordsman costume.” The stranger tugs at my clothes and I glare at him, only to realize there’s absolutely no malice in his face.

      He is a wraith—of that there is no doubt, but he exudes purple light instead of pure darkness. He doesn’t deserve my blade. All the same, you don’t just pull strangers out of trees. But before I can think to share my indignation, he goes on babbling.

      “They sent me to pick up stragglers before Bone Mansion locks us all in, so consider yourself lucky! Now come on, you’re going to miss all the fun!” The wraith gives a feeble excuse for his actions and tightens his grip on my arm.

      My breathing is no longer even. “Wait—“ I manage to croak, my voice rusty from disuse.

      I see it. A huge flash of blackness blotting out a moon. Others might mistake it for a Korbat or a Crokabek flying overhead, but I know better.

      “Come on, now. Once you get on the dance floor you’ll be having all the fun you need and more.”

      I struggle to get away, but the wraith is surprisingly strong. His heatless flames lick my light armor and my skin, giving me the sensation of cold pins and needles throughout my body. Should I use my sword?

      Instinctively I growl and unsheathe my sword with my second-best arm, and the wraith twitches his ears—Lupe ears, I realize—but he chuckles and keeps blathering on about how my costume is even more “legit” than he thought.

      I protest the whole way into Bone Mansion, which I’d been watching to protect, all the while glaring at the large shadow, whose features twisted into a face. Mocking me as the door slammed behind us.

      The party isn’t terrible, as parties go. There’s quite a spread of spooky food, lots of ballroom and crazy dancing alike, but I’m in no mood to join the festivities. I hang by a window, watching the wraith master flicker by and head for the shops.

      This isn’t good. I sincerely hope that the children are scattered, staying in their own homes. I try the imposing front door. It doesn’t budge.

      I turn to my wraith acquaintance, who is talking up a Kyrri dressed as Hannah. “Did you say we’d be locked in?” I attempt to confirm.

      “Yep! Only those with the best costumes and attitudes are allowed in.” He winks—or at least I think he does. It’s difficult to tell with the pulsing purple and black.

      “Speaking of which, where did you get yours?” The Kyrii grins, sipping her punch.

      “Well this isn’t quite a costume,” I begin to explain.

      “A modest warrior,” she chuckles, tossing a paw in amusement.

      “I’m serious!” I cry, exasperated, and draw my sword with a subtle shing. I love that sound.

      A hushed murmur ripples through the crowd as the partygoers see the magnificence of my handcrafted beauty.

      “Oh, my,” the Kyrri breathes, moving almost as if to touch it. “Where did you get that?”

      My features soften a little bit as I forget my mission for a moment. “My Sifu taught me how to make one. And so I did. Out of Kreludite and Haunted Wood ectoplasm.” An involuntary warmth crawls into my voice as I tell these complete strangers how I basically created my best friend—besides my teacher, of course.

      I swing my sword to demonstrate how smoothly it flows through air a mere split second before the Kyrri puts her paw forward at last to touch the sword. My reflexes are swift—I yank my sword back up—but not before it slashes through her white sleeve and a fair bit of skin.

      She yelps--more in alarm than in pain--and draws back, and I immediately stammer an apology. The stares I receive quickly sour from admiration to anger.

      All around, suggestions for what to do with me fly. Someone suggests tying me down, someone else suggests contacting the faeries to banish me, but I sense the most popular options are tied between keeping me hidden until the party is over, or simply kicking me out. The Kyrii is tearing her Hannah skirt to make a bandage. She’s as resourceful as the real Hannah, I’ll give her that. All the same, I have no honor if I don’t offer my help.

      “Miss, is there any way I can—“

      “Don’t touch me!” She swats my sword away, and I quickly return it to its sheath.

      “I didn’t mean to do that!” I shout, but even that is lost amongst the arguing.

      “Don’t be silly; the party is supposed to last until dawn. We can’t open the door yet. It would be bad luck besides.” The wraith shifts uncomfortably. He probably feels guilty for dragging someone so dangerous into the party.

      It’s eventually decided that I’m to be locked in one of the mansion’s many bathrooms in an underground room. Fantastic.

      As my prowess lies in the ethereal and not the physical, I am helpless as several muscular partygoers drag me to the tiny room, lit with orange candles and making me feel truly afraid. Not for myself--Sifu has drained that from me long ago--but for Neopia Central. In vain, I protest one more time.

      “I’m a real—“ The door slams in my face.


      For a moment I am tempted to use my sword against the door, but that would make the crowd dislike me even more and try to lock me away in more complex ways. So I wait and listen.

      The music starts again, slower this time, as though uncertain it wants to go on.

      Suddenly a scream erupts through everyone—no ordinary Halloween scream, filled with delight. This is a true scream of horror and I know the worst has come.

      I raise my sword and take the briefest of moments to ready myself, but a sound stops me short. Cheering!

      They must have made the same mistake they did with me. The ‘costume’ trick, only mine was unintended.

      No more hesitation. I slam the blade, slicing through the wood only partway. My sword lodges in the door and I yank it free. But the crack is large enough for me to stomp through with four of my six legs.

      An unearthly whoosh settles over the entire house, and I cling to the sword, my fingers gently gripping the blade as it threatens to break my skin, friendly and protective though it may be.

      I blast my way through the door with my body, scattering splinters everywhere. I surge up the stairs back to where the party should be, but there is no party. There are no giant locked doors. There is only the last trail of a crowd leaving a ghost of a party, dizziness echoing through their features. They seem hypnotized, their legs focused on moving towards the wraith, no matter what I whisper to them or how much I shake their shoulders.

      At the head is the wraith master, a giant blob of blackness that seems to grow even larger as it moves. Its head tops that of the tallest pine tree in the vicinity. My number twenty-five, I think grimly.

      I poke the Xweetok next to me, but her vacant gaze is fixated on the large shadow, as are the other partygoers. The shadow stops a moment and looks at us. I immediately command my face to become empty, grit my teeth, and stare right back, trying not to become intimidated by the master’s size.

      Satisfied with its followers, it turns around and continues on its journey. I follow blindly and, once I know for certain its yellowy eyes are not currently drifting to the back of its head, I take a quick glance at the horizon, where I presume the wraith is taking us.

      There is a cliff overlooking the sea. An unusually tall cliff for Neopia Central, but there it is.

      I dart forward through the herded crowd, searching for an opportunity. The wraith stops before the cliff and turns to us once more, as if deciding who it should throw off first.

      This is my chance.

      I surge forward, sword drawn, and charge at him, aiming the sword right where I want it to.

      The master chuckles and leaps aside, leaving me barely enough time to stop myself before jumping off the cliff itself. I glare angrily at Kreludor for a split second. Why did it have to become full tonight?!

      The wraith uses that split second and shrieks—a sound that does nothing to its followers but brings me to my knees with rattling pain. Before I can regain my footing, I am immediately knocked onto my back and crushed, making every breath a struggle to live. It’s taunting me. It’s sitting on me!

      The crowd watches.

      My blade cries out at me with its Kreludor-white surface, two arms-lengths away. I can hardly focus on it, as my eyes are filling with black points of pain.

      A flash of purple sinks into the wraith master. I have just enough time to blink in surprise, then breathe raggedly as the wraith rolls off of me in equal surprise.

      I see the Lupe’s purple fangs sink into the beast, and it cries out, flailing its hulking mass to shake him off.

      My chest is weak from being crushed, and I can scarcely stand. My exoskeleton screeches as I crawl to the sword, raise it, then hurl it as hard as I can, which isn’t very hard at all. Still, even at my weakest, I know it will pierce the hide of the creature.

      The last thing I hear before even Kreludor’s light goes out for me is an inhuman cry of anguish, and the last thing I see is several tiny shadows scattering, and a purple mass crumpling to the ground.


      Douglass awoke surrounded by friends, a Kyrii in Hannah garb dabbing his forehead with a cool cloth.

      “Where’s the real warrior?” He croaked, then groaned at the pain the exertion caused.

      The Kyrii shook her head. “Silly thing,” she crooned. “You are the real warrior. Had that Ruki not sicced that wretched thing on us we would have had the time of our lives.”

      Douglass blinked. Did he hear that right?

      “But that thing—he actually destroyed it! You saw me, you saw the thing, you were all about to walk off a cliff! And…it must have thought I was one of its own.” The Lupe squeezed his eyes shut. It hurt to think, so much.

      “Shhh.” The Kyrii patted his cheek. “I think you need a bit more rest.”

      Douglass grumbled as the others left the room, a spare bedroom in Bone Mansion, he realized. He huffed and curled up, one paw under the pillow, but was shocked to find something sharp tucked beneath it. Confused, he lifted the pillow and found an alabaster dagger, as well as a note. The note looked like it had been written with a brush, Douglass noticed. This made him smile a little, for a reason he could not quite place.

      “Thanks for helping me. Be more careful next time. Stay safe next year! -- Ari.”

      Douglass lifted the dagger, twisting it to get a better look in the dim dawn light.

      He stared out the window, wondering where the Bone Mansion savior could be.

      “I’ll find out who you really are….Ari,” he thought, testing the name in his mind. “And when I do, everyone will learn what really happened.”

      The End.

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