Troubled Past - Nox: Part Four
I woke, bleary, my neck throbbing and my mouth raw. I blinked around – it looked like I was still in the woods, although any amount of time could have passed. There was no sign of the Count – who had probably slunk back to his layer somewhere – and Magax was a short distance away to my right, and appeared to be stabbing something repeatedly into the ground. I wondered if it was safe to get up.
Ah, hang safety. I got up anyway, wincing as my muscles yelled at me. Then I realized there was something seriously wrong with my mouth.
I raised a hand, touched my teeth. Oh nooooo...
Magax turned to me now, looking surprised that I was standing. Then his expression turned guarded.
"Nox... Are you okay?"
I stared at him through eyes which later I would find out were bright red. "I don't know," I replied, my voice tainted with bitter sarcasm and mangled slightly by my fangs. "What do you think? Because I seem to be a blasted vampire!!! "
I flinched as my own shouting made my head ring. Magax just gave me a look.
"I don't know either," he said quietly. "You look like a vampire. But do you feel like one? Do you want to bite people or anything?"
"Uh..." I frowned. "No. I don't think so. Maybe I'm just not hungry?"
"Or maybe that stupid Blumaroo didn't get you properly. I knocked him off pretty fast."
I felt a spark of half-hope. "You think?"
He nodded. "And we can test you with the garlic later."
And that was how we limped back to the camp – well, I limped, Magax strode ahead and watched for anything else that might want to kill me – and the people of my 'army' were shocked when they saw me. I didn't blame them. However, my sudden transformation acted as a sort of catalyst for something I had been considering for some time. Within less than an hour I had the entire ensemble of my followers in front of me. And I spoke to them.
"You all know who I am. You all know what I've done. You all, no doubt, have heard by now of my 'accident' with the vampire. And it made me think. We've been here years! Years of practice and improvement, years of toil and rumours but nothing actually done. I am sure I am not the only one to have harboured these notions. So I have a proposal for you all. Even if we marched, right now, to conquer the forest or crush the mortals we would meet resistance, and only be able to target small areas at a time. However..."
I paused for effect.
"If we spread out first, seed ourselves into unsuspecting towns and groups, gain their trust and find their weaknesses, then spring out and attack all together , all across the Haunted Woods... Then we shall have them. Then we shall win!"
They cheered loudly in the way of rugged barbarians everywhere, and I smiled, not even remembering the effect my fangs would have. They screamed Evil Vampiric Overlord in every way possible.
Once they had quietened down, I addressed them again. "So go soon, disperse across the land, keep in contact with each other and -" I raised my eyes and they flashed, which would have looked epic if this were a graphic novel or comic instead of a piece of writing – "-Look out for the signal."
And they left. Just like that. A few days to gather whatever possessions they had, and in less than a week the only sign that anyone had ever been here were the burned out remains of campfires. And Magax.
Magax stayed, because apparently he felt he still had more to learn from me. I wasn't sure about this, so I began sending him out on missions, testing his power, skill and initiative. He seemed to enjoy them.
He trapped Faeries, attacked wanderers. He excelled.
I myself made more public appearances, lurking in the trees between paths and cursing travellers, or simply firing bolts of magic at them. Twice now I had met the Defenders of Neopia, and mocked their attempts to defeat me. I had grown stronger than I had ever considered, without leeching off other sources.
Oh, yes. And I learned how to use magic to distort the gravity around myself, or in other words, float. Tell me if you ever find anything more awesome than that because, come on, floating. Epicness.
But then, then. It was going so well, and I was even beginning to consider sending the signal out to the scattered mages, when it happened.
Magax and I were out on patrol – an inaccurate name for a thing we did, where the two of us would act out as enemy mages in the grounds of the fort or the forest itself, stealth duelling and gaining new techniques and tactics for attacks and defence. We did these about once a fortnight.
Blast! I darted behind a tree just in time to avoid Magax's bolt of magic. Zap! I sent one hurling back.
It was fast, it was skilled. Often we could not establish a clear victor, as it was not hard to drain yourself of power too quickly, futilely trying to hit your opponent.
Another of his strikes flew past, rebounding off a tree behind me and ricocheting into the undergrowth with great force. But as it did so, I heard a small shriek, quickly silenced – its owner clearly had been attempting to remain hidden.
I stuck a hand out in Magax's direction and motioned for him to STOP, and then COME HERE. Then I strode towards the source of the noise.
A tiny girl sat hunched as far back as possible against a tree, her eyes wide and terrified. She looked about eight.
"Please, no, don't hurt me, I'm lost, I can't find my way home, please..."
Magax reached my side. He saw her, paused, and finally muttered, "...Oh."
I came to a decision I wished I didn't have to. Glancing back at the fortress, clearly visible from here, I said, "She knows where we are. She knows who we are. Kill her."
He protested. "What? Nox, she's only a child -"
I snarled at him like a deranged animal, causing the girl to whimper sharply. "She is a danger! Do it!"
Something in his eyes hardened, dark. "No."
This shocked me. Perhaps it shouldn't have, perhaps I should have seen it coming. "Magax-"
"No!" He repeated. "Kill her yourself. I'm sick of doing your pointless, cruel deeds. I'm sick of you."
He turned and began to walk off. I shouted after him.
"You can't leave! I gave you everything you are, everything you ever will be!"
He did not glance back, but I heard his reply. "And I wish you hadn't, Nox."
My voice grew slightly desperate, and I hated myself for it. "Neopia knows what you've done! There is no way you can ever be forgiven!!"
His voice, fading, floated back fir the last time.
"At least I can try."
His tail vanished after him into the gloom of the forest.
I turned back slowly to the child. She seemed almost as horrified as I at what had just transpired, although I was almost certainly misreading her expression.
I should kill her. Why had Magax had a problem with that? He'd killed before, hadn't he? I'd never ordered him too, but...
Magax had never killed anyone. Never.
Come to that, neither had I.
I looked down at her. She was a Chia, like me. Like I had been, so long ago.
A tiny smug voice in my head said, 'Silly evil vampiric overlord. You just lost your only ally, for no reason at all.'
I was forced to agree with it.
"... Where do you live?" I sighed, broken. She stared at me.
"You... You're going to... Let me go?" she quavered. "But... But you just..."
"I know." I snapped, causing her to flinch. "I know. If you could avoid telling people about this that'd be nice. Now. Where. Do. You. Live?"
She was silent for a moment, and then murmured a town name. I pointed her in its direction, and watched her go.
Why did I do that?
Good question, a very good question. But it didn't matter.
Magax was gone. Where? Where would he be able to find respite? I didn't know that either.
You should send the signal, my brain told me. You should regain strength, take the woods as you planned.
But... Would they still follow me? What would I do if we succeeded? Despite all I'd said, despite all I'd done...
I didn't really want to rule the Haunted Woods.
What did I want? At that moment I wasn't sure. I had power. I had a reputation to uphold. A tiny, tiny part of me that I had thought buried and forgotten long ago surfaced and added, I want to help the ghosts.
...Well, I could do that. I'd probably benefit from controlling the Haunted Woods first though.
I trudged back to my fort, alone once more, playing out different scenarios in my head and making schemes for the future.
To be continued...