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Eliv Thade's Defeat


by sikki_lo

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Eliv Thade stared across the table at the old Korbat. "How original... no one ever tries insults." His voice was heavy with sarcasm. The Korbat ground his teeth.

      "Well, what does it say then?" he snarled. Thade snorted.

      "It says a great deal, but every tiresome letter is written down here." He handed over a long scroll, which the Korbat snatched and read quickly. He slammed it down on the table as Thade continued. "Really, Sir Burkley, you tried a number correspondence code last time. That was an insult too, if I recall. You may leave now." They both stood up. I collected their wine glasses and brought them into the kitchen. From the library came the sound of Sir Burkley's angry accusations of cheating and the Kacheek's scathing replies. I growled under my breath. It was always the same.

      For as long as I could remember, I had worked for Thade at his old castle in the Haunted Woods. I was a shadow Gelert - Thade simply called me Shadow when he called me anything. My mother died when I was born, and I never knew my father. The other servants raised me. As soon as I was old enough I was put to work in the kitchen. Soon I was settled as dishwasher. I also served Thade's meals, meaning I got to know my master quite well.

      Thade spent most of his days writing puzzles. He could spend a week on one, or crank out twenty a day when he was in top form. He would send them out to the rest of Neopia, and in return would come neopoints to keep the castle running. So during the day, he created. At night, he solved.

      Nearly every evening, at least one neopet would arrive with a puzzle for Thade and I would have to serve them wine in the library. Thade worked on the puzzles there, and the neopet, convinced that Thade would somehow cheat if left alone - for his skill was legendary, and to many, suspicious - always opted to stay close and watch him. Sometimes they would come in the morning, but Thade would make them wait until after supper. There had never yet been a puzzle that Thade did not complete before nightfall. Most of them were solved within seconds.

      As I grew older, I began to detest the ease with which the Kacheek came up with the answers. He was always so sure of himself. So smug. So disgustingly arrogant and superior. Sometimes, he was condescending - other times, he was cruel. I longed for someone to defeat him, just once. For the mighty Eliv Thade to be broken forever.

      On several occasions I thought he might be beaten. He would be searching through a book, which he regarded as a last resort, and sheets of scrap paper would litter the floor. The wine glasses would be long empty. The neopet would grow ever more hopeful, as would I, spying from the doorway. But always, in the end, Thade would look up triumphantly, knowing he had won, with the answer written on a sheet of parchment or on the tip of his tongue.

      One stormy evening this scene took place yet again. Thade's forehead was furrowed in thought. A hooded Usul sat silently across the table. It was a 3-D puzzle, something with a box and a series of odd shapes. Thade's specialty was the codes, the words. I thought if anything could stump him, this would.

      But no. A few seconds more and he looked up, smirking. He displayed a drawing to the Usul, who nodded, still silent, and left without a word. Thade motioned for me to collect the glasses. As I did so, my face carefully blank, he couldn't resist the chance to brag.

      "Looked like she had me there, didn't it?" he sneered. "I had it from the very beginning, as soon as I figured the base. It just took me time to work it out. Only a fool would think of giving me something so simple." He paused a moment, tapping the table. "I bet you couldn't make heads or tails of it, could you?" I didn't reply. "Answer me, Shadow!"

      "No, Master," I said quietly, though inside I was boiling with anger. Of course, I hadn't had the slightest inkling what it had meant. I never did.

      Thade laughed jeeringly. "No, I bet you couldn't. Well, maybe if you work for me long enough, some of my intelligence will wear off on you and you'll to be fit to lick my boots." He tossed a dirty dishtowel at me on his way out the door.

      I stared at the towel for long moments without moving. Then in a sudden burst of rage I ripped it in two with my sharp claws. I tore it again and again, and let the fragments fall to the floor.

      As I stood there, shaking, an idea flashed upon me. I stood perfectly still until it solidified, then I whirled and yanked open the door to the study, all my teeth showing in a grin. On the table still lay a quill, an inkwell, and blank sheets of paper, as well as those Thade had written on.

      I sat in the chair and, snatching up a single sheet of blank paper, began to write. I forced myself to slow down enough so that the handwriting was legible. If no one else could bring down Thade, I would have to do it myself. This would be the greatest puzzle he had ever come up against, an unsolvable marvel, or so he and everyone else would think. Only I would see it differently.

      Nobody could stump Eliv Thade. He was too good. Anything that had a base in logic, no matter how distorted, he could unravel back to its source. But what if there was no source? What if there was nothing but distortion, and each path he found led him only in circles, with no end in sight?

      ~

     Two days later, on one of those rare nights when no neopet had appeared to test Thade's wit, I presented the puzzle to him in the library. He was reading one of his heavy books, as he usually did on his nights off. When I entered the room, he looked up, startled.

      "A puzzle for you, Master," I murmured, sliding it onto the table. The parchment was covered in writing - I had decided to defeat him at his strongest point. I held my breath as he took it.

      "Well, this is certainly a first," he said, too surprised to jeer. Then his cold look returned, and he added with a cruel smile, "I'll get back to you in a few seconds."

      I gave him a smile of my own. "Tell me when you've solved it, Master. I'll just continue with my work." I left the room to do so, with Thade scowling after me. Then he turned to the paper, but as I closed the door behind me, I could see that the scowl remained.

      In the morning I served him breakfast, as usual. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was poring over a thick book. He'd never read at table before.

      After he was done eating, I dared to ask, smiling sweetly, "Well, Master, have you solved it?"

      He glared at me. I could almost see his eyes glow red. Then he shoved himself up from the table, knocking his chair over, and stormed out of the dining room. The door slammed behind him.

      "Temper, temper," I chuckled as I cleared the dishes.

      ~

     And so it went. Thade worked on my puzzle whenever he had a chance. For about a month, he continued to write his own puzzles, and he solved others in the evenings for six months - with as much ease as before - until he devoted every moment to finding the answer to mine. My puzzle. It obsessed him. He took to spending all his time in the library, hunting through massive tomes for any hint as to the answer. He would be served his meals there, and fall asleep over a book. Each day, I would be sure to ask him if he had yet succeeded in solving it, and each day, he would storm off in a rage, only to a different part of the library and a different book.

      This continued for years. All the servants became used to the new routine. Thade grew ever more frustrated, ever more furious, with the puzzle, his books, and himself. But he would not give up.

      The puzzle began to literally drive him insane. I had seen it coming. When I asked him if he'd found the solution, he would howl or shout nonsense. The library was filled with his mutterings all day long, and only I dared to serve him meals.

      His madness progressed, and soon he came out of the library. He would roam the halls of the castle, always searching. He tore into the walls, dug into the floor, as if the answer was hiding somewhere inside his home. The other servants stayed out of his sight, patching his damage when he wasn't around. His meals were simply left where he would find them. I seldom dared to ask him if he'd solved it.

      Then the servants began moving away. One by one they left, no longer willing to risk themselves near the mad Kacheek. The castle slowly deteriorated. I was the last to remain.

      One day, more than five years after I'd first given Thade the puzzle, I came into the library where he was frenziedly staring at one of the books he still read. I carefully slid his plate of food onto the table next to him, then retreated to the doorway. I cleared my throat and asked one last time.

      "Well, Master, have you solved it?"

      Thade roared and lunged at me. I dodged back, slamming the door in his face and latching it. Safely back in the kitchen, I laughed with savage glee.

      ~

     I left that night, a lone shadow Gelert slipping out the back way, my few things in a bundle on my back. There was no reason to stay there any longer. I'd had my revenge, and it was better than I could have imagined. Thade had truly been beaten. He had worked for years on my puzzle, and never once did he suspect the truth. I knew he would live out the rest of his days always searching for the answer. I also knew that he would never find it. And all of Neopia, having no reason to think otherwise, would simply believe that a puzzle had finally come along that the mighty Eliv Thade could not solve. Only I would know the truth. Only I would know that the puzzle that had broken Eliv Thade was gibberish - pure gibberish.

The End

 
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