Deals with Magax: Part Three
"He's not dead," Magax stated, matter-of-fact.
Rosemary looked up at him in surprise. "What do you mean?" The two were standing in a graveyard, which was not out of the ordinary for them. What was out of the ordinary was the identity of Neopet lying under the tomb stone they were staring at. The stone was completely plain and unadorned; Grey, like all the other tomb stones, with nothing on it save the words, "Hubrid Nox". No dates, no quotes, no nothing. "They said that he was murdered by Xandra after she impersonated him. They had solid proof. How can you be so sure...?"
Instead of replying, Magax took out his necklace. Rosemary stared at it, drawn to it. Whenever it came into view, she was inclined to look at it, almost against her will. She didn't know why, though it could have something to do with the fact that it looked like it was made out of the same substance of her staff and Magax's ax.
Magax looked into the necklace and then nodded, grimly. "I don't understand but... his power still exists. If he died, this necklace would lose its power."
"You're talking about the Vow, right?" Rosemary asked tentatively. She never felt comfortable talking about Magax's past. She didn't know whether it was better to wait for Magax to open or ask herself about but so far she just kept with the former. It was his own past, after all; if he wanted her to know he would tell her. If he didn't, then why bug him?
Magax nodded slowly. He didn't stiffen up, the way he used to when she first joined him, but it was obvious he was uncomfortable.
The silence would have carried on for a while longer if Rosemary hadn't continued, "If the Vow is still here, then that means Nox's power hasn't disappeared, right? And if it hasn't disappeared then Nox hasn't disappeared either. So, what, did he fake his death?"
Magax shook his head. "I don't think so. The power of the Vow did falter at one point and was gone for a minute but I didn't think anything about it because it came back. Maybe he died and - found a way to come back?"
"At this point? I wouldn't put anything past him. I'm half expecting him to walk up to us made of jelly and tell us he took over Jelly World." Rosemary half expected Magax not to get it but he cracked a smile. Jelly World was a legend in his time, as well, then.
Suddenly, Magax's face darkened. He looked up. "No," he whispered. Then he glowered, muttered a dark and vehement, "Idiot!" and with that he took to the air and was zooming off.
"Hey!" Rosemary cried. She got up quickly, tripped, took to the air clumsily and fought to catch up. After that, all her concentration was taken up by dodging trees and trying to stay alive while keeping up with the relentless Wocky. After a while, she noticed they were headed in the direction of Nox's mansion.
Indeed, when they got to the mansion, Magax hit the ground running and Rosemary stayed in the air rather than run after him.
"Come on!" Magax shouted as he took off into the mansion, Rosemary wishing he would explain sometime today. The two hurried into the mansion and Rosemary felt a chill enter her body the moment she walked (well, flew) through the doors. She realized: she had never been inside Nox's mansion before. For obvious reasons, of course. She couldn't understand why Magax was in such a hurry to rush into the enemy's territory, especially since they already thought that Nox was still alive, but she trusted him enough not to try to stop him.
It was dark outside - but then it's always dark in Haunted Woods - and inside the mansion was no different, yet somehow she could see everything clearly. It was light enough that she could see but just a little, but Rosemary, for the life of her, couldn't find the source (not that they were leisurely touring the place so she had a chance to). There was a giant portrait of Nox himself hanging on the wall and Rosemary couldn't help but roll her eyes; it seemed just like something Nox would do. Magax wasn't bothering to look at anything but was speeding through the corridors and doors as if he knew exactly where they were going in the huge place. Sometimes Rosemary forgot that Magax used to work for Nox.
Finally, about fifteen corridors and doors, three secret entrances and ten passwords later, they reached a place that was pitch black. The whole mansion, as mentioned above, had been lit, albeit lightly. But this place was different, as if the puny light of the dying candle couldn't penetrate this darkness. Magax didn't seem fazed. He did something that made a scratching noise and next second he was holding a blazing torch and the darkness had to crouch backwards. They were standing on the landing of a staircase attached to the wall, leading down into a circular room that was... empty. It wasn't a room at all, just a big space. There was no floor, just dirt. But the dirt was completely covered in shapes and swirls - writing? Magax was tense and brooding beside her; he didn't seem to like this room very much. His eyes were fixed on something in the wide space and Rosemary, when she followed his gaze, realized the room wasn't so empty after all.
There was a tombstone in the middle. It was big and magnificent, full of carved words and swirls, similar to the writing on the floor yet different, and it oozed with magic. Rosemary's eyes were captured by it instantaneously and she felt he breath get knocked out of her, as if she were physically punched. She was vaguely aware of Magax shout something beside rush past her but she couldn't take her eyes off the stone. Next thing she knew, she was standing on the carved floor on the same level as the stone. It took up the whole of her vision, except for the letters on the ground that she was just barely aware of in the peripheral of her vision. It wasn't just a stone. It was so... powerful. The magic emanated off it in waves and it pressed around her, the way the water presses around you when you are in the deep. Her breath caught in her throat.
"You are more like me than you realize, do you know? You can't take your eyes off the power..." the stone said. The words ran through her head and she realized it was Nox's voice. Still entranced by the stone, she growled as her senses sighted out the enemy.
It was trying to come out. No, not it... he. Hubrid Nox. It was Hubrid Nox and he was up to something. She could feel the spell around her. She took steps forward, her arms outstretched - until her hands met the cold, cold stone. Pain, heat, power; they entered her system the moment her hands met the stone and she felt, knew, that holding it back was impossible. But she didn't falter for a moment; she clenched her hands and threw everything she had against the spell. There were sounds of the steel against in the distance, almost as if it were her imagination, and the sound of a yell, fierce and feral. The stone was glowing and the light was strengthening but her mental hold was around, pushing back. But it was too strong, fighting back and peeping through her fingers that she... just... couldn't...
It was an explosion of light of magic and raw power and Rosemary was thrown through the air, but came to an unexpected slowed stop instead of a quick, absolute one. There was a moment where she thought she smelled candy floss, like at the fairs and the gypsies that used to come to her tribe, a hint of pink in the background against all the black, until that too was swallowed up.
* * *
"Drink this." Magax offered her a mug (Magax had mugs? She never knew) of something steaming. Rosemary took it gratefully and took an experimental sip to test the temperature. The drink was rich and sweet; her eyes closed in momentary bliss as she swished the drink around her mouth, tasting the rich flavor. She swallowed and sighed. Magax had gathered all the blankets he owned (plus some that Rosemary's parents had insisted on them taking) and had done his best to make her as comfortable as an Eyrie can be.
"You really lost it that time. Do you realize how close you got to dying?" There was only a hint of anger in the Wocky's voice, mainly he just sounded as tired as Rosemary.
"Was I out for long?" Rosemary asked, incredulous. She couldn't make up her mind if she had been asleep for a long time or only five minutes.
"Out for long?" Magax laughed humorlessly. "You've been out for a week. You only just showed signs of recovering two days ago. I thought you..." He trailed off and stared into space. Rosemary should have been worried about herself but she couldn't help but wonder whether Magax had gotten a wink of sleep this whole week.
Rosemary forced herself to hold back the questions for a bit, she didn't know if either of them to stand it quite yet. She drained her soup and Magax all but forced another down her throat before she warned that another one would make the whole lot come back up. Once she no longer felt dizzy, nauseous, or going to throw up, she decided she needed some satisfaction.
"What happened then? Back at Nox's mansion? The stone, the magic, what was I holding back anyway and-" She cut herself off when she realized she was babbling.
Magax looked down at his hands and the two sat in silence for a while, Rosemary forcing herself to be patient. Finally, he tried. "Let me start at the beginning. This is before I left Nox, mind. Hubrid Nox has always been planning... something. I don't know what it is but ever since I've met him, he's been experimenting, planning, and scheming. He showed me the stone a long time ago and told it was the most important thing in the entire mansion. He said, 'Magax, this entire mansion, it's really all for show; a play-thing. But this, this is what is important. This is the heart of everything, the reason. You are to protect this with your life and more, whatever it takes to keep it safe and untouched.'
"Well, that's what he said and I've thought about ever since then and I've tried to get to that room after I left, but Nox guards it like his life. I don't know what he does with it, but I have a theory.
"Nox has always been interested in death. He would hint at it when we used to talk and he's always looking at the interesting cases. I've never considered it before but I think that Nox wasn't interested in death itself but his own death."
"What?" Rosemary gasped.
Magax nodded. "Hubrid Nox has been alive for a long, long time. I can only imagine how long, since I came along pretty late along the line. What if he ever got tired of living? Or if he found something else beyond life?"
"Like being more powerful in death? I never considered necromancy could be so capable." Rosemary felt sick.
"Well, of course, you're young. You're still in your normal Neopian years and haven't passed into the super natural. Nox has passed it a thousand times over. It's not a strange thought, considering necromancy and just how little of it is known. I think that Nox has, somehow, harnessed the power of the undead!"
Rosemary lie back and let it all sink in. "But you haven't told me yet, what happened?" she continued.
Magax frowned irritably. "I was just getting to that. That day, I was shocked because I was reminded of the stone, so I wanted to get to it before Nox could come - if that was what was going to happen in the first place. But we were a bit too late. It seems Nox is in cahoots with the undead twin Wockies, Lanie and Lillie."
"Oh, I know of them!" Rosemary would have cried out if she had the strength but as it was she could just manage raising her voice a bit. "They attacked my tribe just over two decades ago; my father fought against them. I didn't think they had anything to do with Hubrid Nox, though. Isn't there a difference?"
"Of course there's a difference," Magax scoffed. "Up until that, I thought they had nothing to do with each other. I suppose it was only a matter of time before they allied; especially since Nox was planning on dying. But before I continue, I need to know, what happened to you?"
Rosemary went on to explain how the stone had immediately caught her attention and at the end how she had battled against it.
"That explains something, at least. When I entered, I noticed someone was in the room: Lanie and Lillie, probably there to keep me away or help with the spell. In any case, when they saw you, they tried to get to you by any means possible. I didn't let them, of course. They're a royal pain to deal with, since fighting one means fighting both and their biggest advantage is in cooperating. They couldn't beat me, though. It seemed we were both just keeping the other away from you. Then you suppressed the spell they were trying to do. I had to go pretty fast to keep you from slamming into the wall; thankfully the Twins high-tailed it.
"I don't think you prevented the spell but you did delay it. We should go back to the mansion but I doubt it will have any clues; Nox is too careful for that."
"Still, it's worth a look," Rosemary said and Magax nodded.
Of course, they couldn't go see the mansion right away, with Rosemary in that condition, and Magax refused to leave her alone and defenseless in the Haunted Woods, and not without reason. So they waited another week for Rosemary to recover before they dared go there. Just as they suspected, the mansion was empty and void, the stone underneath the mansion having disappeared. The books had disappeared and the omnipresent candle light that had been there before was gone. The magic, the presence – all gone. Must have been Nox that powered it all; now that he was gone, so was the soul of the mansion. Since the soul was gone, there was nothing to keep the curious away, and it seemed to be becoming a popular place that Magax didn't want to be. They found something in the mansion of interest, though. None of the documents that included Nox's personal works and experiments but hundreds of books that talked about necromancy and theories. Magax had transported the ones that looked the most important and Rosemary started to do her own research, wondering just how similar she was to the young Nox of long ago, who had just learned of his power.
Instead of warriors, they were now some kind of detective. For some time, they followed the clues and began to talk to people to find Nox (it was Rosemary's idea and she was the one who did all the talking). They confirmed what they already knew and, by some stroke of luck, found out Nox's new location; grudges against Nox were far and wide, and those who didn't want him back were not hard to find. Talking it over, the two theorized that the spell that they had prevented wasn't a resurrection spell but some kind of powerful side effect (like a boost in power or something along those lines). Since they prevented it once, they continued to prevent it again and again.
But there came a point where they stopped all together. Not gradually but abruptly. The two decided that Nox had finally managed to avoid them long enough. There was really not much else for them to do but look around and wait for him to show up.
As it turned out, no more than a month passed before they found out.
* * *
Alexander Flint never liked to listen to stories. It involved sitting and listening, for long periods of time, and he was never very good at either. But his mother's stories were different. When he was listening to his mother's story, he wasn't sitting or listening; he was fighting off an army, he was saving the princess, he was protecting his humble home. He was leading an army, he was debating over the fate of his country, he was living the life of a non-Alexander Flint. One such story that she would tell him was the story of Magax and Hubrid Nox.
"Do you see that cookie jar?" his mother had asked him after telling him the story. "Of course you see it, you've been eying it all day. You've been wanting to take one or two, haven't you? Even though I told you not to? Don't be shy, I'm not doing this to get you into trouble. You might hold back - and you might not. You might just give in to temptation and have one. But then you'll feel guilty and worried someone might find out and punish you.
"Now imagine someone came and told you that having a cookie at any time is okay. If I wasn't here to tell you that it was wrong and there was someone else to tell you that that's all right, do you think you would do it? Yes, you would, because you want to have the cookie, and that person is giving you the perfect excuse to take it when you want it. No one will be there to tell you that it's wrong and that, now you've eaten it, you will get a stomach ache and won't be able to enjoy having a cookie the next day and the day after that. No, you will just have all the cookies you want and not think of the consequences.
"Such is like Magax's story. No one knows for sure where he was born and raised but he was taken in by Hubrid Nox at an early age. There he was told to do foul things, he was told that bad was good, praised when he did bad and given gifts. Tell me, Ander, if you were in that position, do you think you could have held back from eating the whole jar of cookies? And yet, after years and years and years of doing bad and being rewarded for it, he understood. He had no one to tell him and explain, yet he figured it out. Right and wrong, good and bad. He felt for what he had done, for the cookies he had eaten, and now he works to make amends - that means he's trying to make up for what he'd done; like baking cookies for everyone in the whole town. But what he did was far worse than just eating cookies; so he had to work even harder to make up for what he did. There are people who will never forgive, people who are constantly trying to make him go back to the way he was.
"Yet he still tries to do it, and that is nothing to be sniffed at."
Flint had thought of these words when he had first started his army to protect the land, the Brute Squad. He had thought of these words when he decided that he had to protect the Obelisk in Tyrannia from the power-hungry and ambitious.
He thought of these words now as he walked through the dense trees of the Haunted Woods. He was an Altadorian born and bred, and did not like this... cold. It wasn't freezing, like Terror Mountain, but it was a bone-deep chill that infiltrated your body no matter how much you wear. He couldn't understand how anyone could live here, but to each his own, as his mother would say. And the darkness as well. The best light you could ever get from the sun was sapped by the boughs overhead. So, it was dark, damp, and cold. He wasn't complaining about his adventure, he simply couldn't understand how people could live here.
He had went to great lengths to get here. He had Alhana the Patient behind in his stead to oversee the preparations. They hadn't started recruiting yet, so he should be back in time. It was just an errand he had to see to before the war started. At least, that was what he told them before he took off.
It had been difficult but Flint had many connections so it hadn't been impossible. Now, just around the corner was the graveyard that his informant had told him about. Just a little more now and he should find the Wocky he was looking for.
There he was.
Magax was shorter than he had expected. But despite this, he was still intimidating; and for Flint to be intimidated, no matter how slight, was quite a feat.
The moment Flint took a step through the entrance, the Wocky's ears pricked up. He turned around and, taking in Flint's formidable stature, plus his big mace and even bigger shield, Magax raised his ax but before he could do anything, Flint made the first move.
He put his mace on the floor.
Magax, understandably, looked surprised but he could at least recognize a well-meant truce when he saw one. In any case, he lowered his own ax.
"Magax!" Flint bellowed, with a voice so loud that no one else but him could have done in that cold, damp, unforgiving forest. "I have searched so long to find you! It is a relief, believe me, to see you here."
"Why have you sought me out?" Magax asked, looking puzzled.
"Because I am here to ask you something," Flint replied, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to go looking for a centuries-old Neopet who lived in seclusion. "I am here to ask you to join my army."
"And why should I?"
It was an expected answer, so it didn't put Flint off in the slightest. Of course, even if it hadn't been expected, it wouldn't have put him off. "Because I come with information that might interest you.
"You don't know of the Obelisk that has been dug up in Tyrannia, do you? I didn't think so, but the Obelisk itself won't concern you at all, I'm sure. What I'm here to tell you is this: your sworn enemy has joined the opposite side."
"I've heard about it." He was being evasive but he didn't look like he was about to bolt at a moment's notice; this increased Flint's already-strong confidence.
"Nox isn't alone anymore, Magax. He is now part of an army, the Awakened; going against him means going up against a whole army. What do you expect you can do? As powerful as you are, going up against a whole army will be tough. So why not join us? You can help us and get back at Nox at the same time!" Flint may not have sounded very convincing but politics was never really his thing. His true potential lie in the midst of battle surrounded by troops or winning the loyalty of thousands during practice. He was a likeable fellow who could put the need for justice into his army, and his best speeches were the ones explaining how best to kill your enemy with the supplies available, and inspirational, short, per-battle speeches.
"I created the Brute Squad to contend with exactly this kind of thing!" he bellowed. "There are dangerous things out there, things that we can't even hope to understand, about our world. I'm here to stop the trouble and keep the norm safe! The Obelisk reeks of dangerous power, and thus, trouble!
"And it's not like you are not going to have your benefits. How long have you stayed in the Haunted Woods, battling Nox? How long were you planning on it doing it? I don't just offer you a way to fight Nox but a way back into the world. And besides, you don't just have yourself to think about; you have a partner now, don't you? An Eyrie, I think?" Magax looked thoughtfully at the ground, which was as close to uncertainty as he would ever show. This satisfied Flint, who nodded. "You don't have to make any decisions yet. I will be in the village nearby, Wishah I think it's called, and I'm leaving for Tyrannia at the dawn. I hope to see you then." And with that, Flint turned and left, leaving Magax staring after him.
* * *
Magax put a hand to a tree and looked up into the branches. How long had it been since he left it? Not since he left Nox. Nox rarely left Haunted Woods ever since Magax turned against him, so he had never had any reason to. Yes, the last time he had left was before he left Nox, under his orders. To do his bidding. To destroy something or other. That's what it had always been, anyway.
That's why he had left.
Magax sighed. He put his back against the tree and slid down, looking up at the roof of leaves and branches that had sheltered him for so long. His mind turned back to the suggestion that - what was his name? He hadn't given any, had he? - the Skeith had made.
The suggestion seemed agreeable. Nox had found allies and was, undoubtedly, even stronger than before; so Magax, in turn, should find allies of his own in order to continue fighting the necromancer. This would help himself as well as the people he was allying with, plus bring Magax out and into the world.
The problem was, was Magax ready for that?
Had he done enough? This opportunity to get back into the world seemed... too good for him. After all he had done, all the damage that could never be undone, did he deserve going back into the world? Fighting Nox had a form of self-exile for Magax, protecting Neopets without dealing with them, giving aid without asking for anything in return. He had learned a lot and the exile was probably good for him, giving him a chance to learn just what it meant to be good, feeling the weight of his sins and turning them into his resolve instead of letting it weigh his down. He had always believed that the Faeries would never, could never, forgive him for what he had done all those years ago... so instead of seeking forgiveness, he at least wanted to make a difference. By taking away his most valuable soldier and becoming his biggest menace, Magax had effectively put to a halt Nox's advance on the world; that first time and all the times to follow. It didn't undo his previous, unpardonable actions, but he liked to think that he had done the world some good.
So now, decades after he had turned away from Nox, had he done enough? Was there even such a thing? Could he allow himself to step out into the world and embrace living? Did he deserve that?
And then, of course, this wasn't all about him. For the first time in his life, Magax had to make allowance for someone else.
Magax would never have allowed himself to take on a companion, no matter what. But that circumstance... Rosemary needed him. There was no one else to protect her; all logic and sense pointed out that the best thing was for Rosemary to join him, helping to protect the world from Nox and keeping the Eyrie safe at the same time. No other event would have made Magax accept her as a partner. And... he found he liked it. Having partner, a... friend. And, despite the piles of guilt it caused him, he couldn't help but be grateful of the events that lead to this. Some part of him had wondered - could this possibly be a sign that he was forgiven? Had fate decided he had proven himself and granted him a friend? It seemed fanciful and silly, but still...
And now this Skeith comes along with this suggestion. Was this, again, some sign that he was on the right path?
Footsteps sounded to his right. At the end of the day, as mentioned above, this wasn't all about him. A decision had to be made, and wouldn't be made by him and him alone. This was going to affect Rosemary as well, and she had as much a say in things as he did. She was innocent; she deserved to go back into the world.
"Magax?" Rosemary came into view, looking curious and slightly worried. Worried about him? He hadn't been gone for long... "What's wrong? You look troubled."
When had he become so transparent? Perhaps he always was; Magax had never had much reason to hide his emotions. "The informant who was supposed to meet me today didn't come; someone else came instead." Magax didn't even realize he was being very forward and abrupt; he had something that needed to be said and he said it. Easy.
"Didn't come?" she echoed, with a hint of apprehension. "Who came instead? Was it a trap?" This last came out sharply and Rosemary looked ready to bolt at a moment's notice.
Magax thought that that was a silly reaction; if he was getting ready to run, he himself would have been running, wouldn't he? Out loud, though, he simply said, "No, it was someone who had a suggestion for me. For both of us, actually.
"It seems there's a war going on in Tyrannia. The Awakened have joined the fight and Nox is officially with them. The 'Pet who came is the leader of a faction called the Brute Squad; he wants us to join him."
Magax paused to let the words sink in. Then Rosemary said, "So Nox has joined forces with the Awakened? No doubt about it?"
"Then... I guess this is the perfect chance, isn't it?" Rosemary looked at him. "That's what we were doing before: fighting Nox. I mean, if we don't like this Brute Squad (they sound a bit... um... violent) we can just leave and find another way to fight Nox. Right?"
A valid point. Nothing was set in stone; they could just test the waters and make their decision when they got to Tyrannia. Mind made up, Magax nodded. "The Skeith said he would be in the village near here. Let's go tell him our decision."
There was no point in wasting any time, so the two packed up their supplies and went in search of Flint. Finding out that his venture had been a success, Flint was overjoyed and nearly killed poor Rosemary in his very-physical show of gratitude. Rosemary smiled, though she seemed like she was about to pass out. As for Magax... Flint's huge presence somewhat discomfited him but he was learning. It wasn't horrible, in any case. Just strange.
And that's how, the next day, Magax found himself walking out of the woods, out of the protection of the trees and into the harsh sunlight. It was a comfort to see that Rosemary had similar feelings; already Magax missed the Woods. But he had a job to do, him and Rosemary, and they intended to see it through.