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A Phantom's Tale


by winterscars

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With exhaustion settling into his wings, the Hissi glides along the air, finally landing upon familiar, barren soil. He exhales softly, bowing his head and letting his tired body rest. But after a moment, he sets eyes of bright red on the sky and slithers into what was once familiar territory. The second he looks at his surroundings and remembers everything, a sharp jolt of bittersweet nostalgia assaults him – settling heavily in his heart. Lord Darigan, what he wouldn’t give to be one of them once more! As he sidles through the streets of his old town, he watches the way the sky glitters distantly – the way the starlight reflects off tall spires of gray and dark blue, the way it swims with red chasms carved into the earth. Wasteland though it may be, this is his home – and he’s returned after all these years. Desperately, he tries to remember things from the past – broken pieces of a history he had to leave behind.

      Leaving home had never been his choice. He’d wanted to stay here, coiled beneath the tall, spiked towers, slithering by the old fissure in the earth, sleeping amongst others of his purpled scales and bitter discontent. He’d been born here, in Darigan Citadel – his egg hatched and left amongst this world. It had never bothered him. To be honest, it’d been the only thing he knew – the darkness of the Citadel, the taste of the air, the scent of so many different things. Mist, moving air, shadows, darkness – that had been his life. He’d learned to fly here, learned to slither – and he’d established an old home for himself, where he would spend hours, days even, locked up to read stories. To let his eyes (back then such a handsome shade of yellow) grace the pages of old tomes had been his very dream. He’d ran his wings over the spikes on his head, the ones that trailed down his back – such perfection there had been there! To strike terror into the hearts of anyone who defiled his home outside of other Citadel-dwellers – that had been life. That had been his purpose. And as he would lay there, wrapped in his own coils, reading, he would always tell himself that nothing would change. That this was how things were always going to be. He’d been convinced of it, convinced and comfortable. And that was the way things were.

     Until he’d gotten curious, curse it all. He just had to get curious about the rest of Neopia.

     That evening had been the beginning of the end for him. In the middle of the night, he’d locked his door, taken a breath, slithered to the edge of the world he knew so well, and slid off. To fly like that had been a dream – slipping along the air, striking terror into the hearts of everyone who saw him. A dark Hissi with a tongue a sickly green; he whispered to everyone, told wondrous stories of Darigan Citadel and what it really was. He visited everywhere – through the thick foliage of Mystery Island, across the burning sands of the Lost Desert, upon ice on Terror Mountain. He saw everything, and as he increased his pool of knowledge and experience, he grew homesick. He began to miss the rolling plains of nothingness and the dark spires; began to miss the old homeland. The phantasmagoria that was traveling shattered, and he grew so tired of exploring – he longed for his shelves, covered in old books – longed for the solitude of his home. And the longer he stayed away, the worse he felt – he began to feel quite sick, quite tired. Grumpy, even. A young Scorchio eventually convinced him that perhaps he was actually ill – and even offered to take the Hissi to the hospital in Neopia Central. There, they had diagnosed him with Neomonia and said treatment was urgent – what a fool he was to turn down their offers for help!

     Instead, he’d slithered off, convinced he could find the pharmacy and the medicine he needed all on his own. And he’d tried – for about an hour. Then the tiredness and the general malaise that plagued him got to him, and he’d taken the time to find a cool, dark corner in the Haunted Woods (like they scared him; he laughed when anyone asked if it was terrifying and said they should visit Darigan Citadel before asking such things) to coil up in. He’d laid his head upon his coils and told himself he’d see about getting some Medicinal Soap in the morning. After all, he was so tired – and so sore! So he’d let himself drift off, convinced he’d see morning.

     When he woke, he stretched and smiled to himself – he felt much better. Had the illness gone away on its own? Perhaps he’d fought it off in his sleep. Chuckling at the image that brought, he’d moved about in the forest – and with each passing moment, a growing sense of unease settled inside of him. Why were there webs all about the trees? When he’d gone to sleep, it had been clean. And why did everyone look at him like they’d seen a ghost? They ran faster than they had when they'd seen him before! Confused and upset at the fact that no one would stop to tell him what had happened each time he tried to ask, he slithered into a shop – all the way back into Neopia Central. After getting similar reactions as he had on his way, he all but crept up to one of the shopkeepers and queried, “Before you take off in panic, would you please tell me what on earth is so terrifying? You’d think I appeared as Lord Kass himself!”

     “Lord Kass himself, huh?” the shopkeeper laughed, handing the Hissi a mirror. He dreaded the moment of shock – did the poor thing not realize he wasn’t of the material world anymore?

     Apparently not.

     The clatter of the mirror upon the floor was not fast enough to keep up with the fleeing serpent – he took to the air as fast as he could and flew, flew as far away as he could – this couldn’t be happening! But the image in the mirror rattled him to the core – and it burned in his mind, proving his worst nightmare. The haunted, brilliant red eyes – red like spilled blood, so different from the sick yellow they’d been. His scales had lost their beautiful purple color and had gone to a spectral bluish-gray – his spikes long gone, the black tip to his tail lost. His wings had become the same phantasmal color, and suddenly everything made sense – why everyone ran. But he hadn’t been that sick! Surely if he was that bad, he would’ve known! He’d landed hard in the Haunted Woods and coiled into a tight ball; he’d rested his wings over his face and he’d cried. And once he’d calmed down, staring at his new wings, he figured it all out. It’d been years since he’d gone to sleep – that was why things looked so different. So he picked up on the news and took everything just as it should’ve been taken – he read his newspapers and he ate (funny, hunger didn’t feel the same when he was just a lost soul). So they’d won the Altador Cup, and been through rough times. So Darigan Citadel was still the same old home he’d wanted to return to.

     And, spectral limits be forsaken, he’d go back home.

     Bowing his head once more, the Hissi sighs thickly and smiles in bittersweet remembrance. He hadn’t thought he could come all the way here – he’d been convinced his ghostly form wouldn’t allow it. But here he sits, his fingers upon the dirt, his smile back – he’s back home. Back where he belongs. And he wouldn’t mind exploring again, so long as he can come back here – after all, this is his home. This is where everything began, and this is where he is to always come back to. He tilts his head back, looking up at the sky, the stars like diamonds on black velvet. What a world he’s woken to!

     “...Vadim?”

     At the whisper of his name, he turns his head – no one should recognize him. To his surprise, an old acquaintance of his – a young Darigan Aisha – sits watching him, catlike as always. She rises on spindly legs and strolls over, her ears perked, her eyes wide. Scarlet eyes glowing from her purpled fur, she takes a breath and bounds over to him, looking over the Hissi like she’s seen something extravagant or beautiful. “We all thought you’d just... disappeared!” Pausing to rethink the right words, she sighs softly. “I’m sorry about what happened to you...”

     “Oh, but I’m not,” the serpent smiles, surprised his old friend remembers. “How did you recognize me? Without my scales the right color, or without my old spikes and tattered wings...” Somehow, somewhere inside of him, warmth wells. She remembered him after all this time – she even remembered his name! And beneath the starlight, she looks different, too – thinner, leaner. He watches her settle by him and extend one paw, lightly touching his wing – he wraps his fingers with hers and smiles when she realizes he doesn’t go straight through her. One day he’ll explain – he doesn’t understand it himself. He is solid, though upon will he becomes little more than a breeze on the wind. He supposes it’s just another part of being a ghost.

     The Aisha smiles and shrugs – her paw so cold in his chilled grip. When he lets go, she murmurs, “Look again, old serpent – your wings are still tattered. And you retained that black choker of yours – you always wore it everywhere. I’d recognize that any day.” She gets to her feet, following his eyes to the stars. “We all missed you. I know you, Vadim_Zharov, you’re a wandering soul. You like to travel, and even if your head is lost in the books you used to spend days locked away reading, your dreams are of open skies and new places to see. There’re new lands you should see – a misty world called Shenkuu, a fiery place called Moltara. Go, spread your wings and take flight – we’ll all be waiting here when you get back.” Her words are true, slipping from her heart – even if she wishes he’d stay so he could weave tales of his travels with his gifted tongue, now the same faint color as his body, she knows it’d be selfish to ask him to stay.

     Even when he says goodbye, the Hissi smiles. For he will always return home, he knows – there’s no reason for him to stay away from home. It was all he used to know, and it is still his place of residence – his old home may be locked away and foreign, but he can always slither in and hide amongst his books. He can always read and rest there, where he knows he’s safe.

     But for now, the phantom is content to explore the confines of Neopia – dancing with the updrafts, materializing in the shadows, watching everything with eyes of glowing red and a spectral image that is just as soon gone as it appears.

The End

 
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