Eliv Thade sat in his office, which was much more of a living room than an actual office, solving yet another puzzle that had been brought to him. His slowly dying fireplace crackled and cast an eerie glow around the room. Eliv held up the parchment in joy; he knew he'd found the answer. A Lupe sitting in front of him leaned toward Eliv and the paper he triumphantly held up. She nodded and harrumphed as she spilled 100 neopoints onto Eliv's desk. She snatched up her paper and, crossing her arms, walked out the door. Eliv, with a terribly greedy grin, scooped up the neopoints and stashed them in a bag stuffed beneath his desk.
Another puzzle well-solved, Thade, Eliv thought to himself, leaning backwards in his armchair. After a few quiet moments sitting by the fire in thought, basking in the joy of solving yet another puzzle without fail, Thade heard a faint knocking on his door. Without moving from his comfortable position, he called out.
"You may enter."
Spinning his chair around slightly, Eliv spotted a small Kacheek by the door. He was, in the back of his mind, a bit excited at seeing a Kacheek like him coming to visit. The Kacheek was a dull grey color with sagging eyes. Though the Kacheek was small, his flopping ears and battered fur looked like that of an old man. It wasn't until he spoke that Eliv knew the grey Kacheek was young.
"Mr. Eliv Thade, sir," he began quietly.
Eliv took pity on the Kacheek, perhaps only because he was a Kacheek himself. "You have a puzzle for me to solve, don't you?"
"No, Mr. Thade, sir. I... I just wanted to talk to you."
Thade was taken aback. Never in all his years of having Neopians visit his castle had any of them "just wanted to talk."
"Oh, boy, I'm sorry, it's just that--" Eliv grabbed some scrap papers off his desk and pretended to be working out a puzzle. "I'm too busy so I wouldn't be able to talk very much and--"
"Oh, okay. Then I won't talk to you at all, sir. I'll just sit... here." The young Kacheek pointed to a large armchair that faced the fireplace. Without waiting for an answer, he jumped up and snuggled into his new seat. "I'll be so quiet, Mr. Thade, that you won't even know I'm here," he whispered.
Eliv absentmindedly nodded, knowing that his little visitor couldn't see his bouncing head. "Y-you can call me Eliv."
"Okay... Eliv. You can call me Rannenz."
This is such an easy one, I've solved this exact puzzle dozens of times, Eliv thought boredly to himself, taking a quick glance at a puzzle brought to him that morning. The Kacheek sighed and looked back up at the Kougra facing him. He leaned back in his chair, like he always did when he sensed a victory, and recited the answer perfectly, word-for-word what the Kougra was thinking. The Kougra nodded dejectedly and plopped a bag of 100 neopoints onto the desk.
Eliv dumped the neopoints into his stashed bag. He then hastily dragged the bag from underneath his desk to the open floor. Eliv dropped himself to the ground, thrust open the gigantic bag, and shoved his greedy paws into it. He loved the feel of the smooth gold on his rough fur. Oh, how he loved to touch it.
A knock on the door startled Eliv, making him jump up and spill neopoints along the ground.
"Who is it?!" Eliv shouted toward the door, annoyed that he would have to pick up all the money he'd dropped. The door slid open silently, and there stood Rannenz, meekly looking up at Eliv, straight into his eyes. At the sight of the meager Kacheek, Eliv instantly regretted shouting. Using a quiet voice that was much unlike him, Eliv spoke to the Kacheek.
"Rannenz, you startled me. I'm sorry, I dropped everything." Rannenz merely nodded at Eliv and settled himself back into his spot. It had become a routine over the past days or so: Everyday, Rannenz would come into Eliv's castle shortly into the morning and stay for the day. Towards dinnertime, Rannenz would exit, returning to his neohome.
After picking up his mess, Eliv sat back at his desk and began working on a new problem. He decided this one would be easy, but still a bit challenging. As he wrote, he got lost in the puzzle and forgot completely about the small grey Kacheek sitting in a chair facing the fireplace.
"Eliv?" It was a distant whisper that Eliv almost ignored, but looked up despite it. He could see the back of the huge armchair, with a small, grey head with floppy ears poking out the side. "Eliv, you're concentrating really hard."
"Oh, well, yes, I suppose I am, you see I'm working out a new puzzle and I guess I-"
"You look like you're concentrating so hard, that it looks like steam's about to come out your ears!" The small Kacheek looked into Eliv's mismatched eyes for a moment, then smiled triumphantly at his small joke. Then, just as quickly as he had appeared, Rannenz snapped back around to face the fire again. Eliv stared at the space where he had just seen Rannenz grinning, thinking about what he had just said. Yes, it was a comical image, to think of himself poring over pieces of parchment with steam blowing out of his ears. Eliv chuckled, and his chuckling turned into a full laughter. It had been a while since he'd truly laughed like that. Footsteps came running down the halls of Eliv's castle to his office and the door burst open. There, was a yellow Ixi, one of Eliv's servants, looking as if Eliv had just been screaming bloody murder.
"What is it, sir?" she asked worriedly.
"What? No, nothing's the matter, Mrs. Ellen!" Eliv angrily grabbed up his papers and tapped them on his desk forcefully, trying to put them back into neatness.
"Oh. Oh, I'm so sorry, sir! I'll just be going then," and with that, Mrs. Ellen ran out the door. Eliv glanced back towards Rannenz, who was looking at him again. He smiled oddly at the grey Kacheek, then returned back to his latest puzzle. He mumbled to himself, "...but if I make the answer too easy, then I..." It seemed like only minutes, but hours must've passed by because Rannenz got up from his giant chair that made him look smaller.
"Where are you going, Rannenz?" Eliv said, almost sadly at seeing the Kacheek leaving. Don't go yet, Eliv's mind thought for him.
"It's late, Mr. Eliv. I have to go home. Robin will miss me." Rannenz scooted out the threshold and reached up to the doorknob, sliding it closed. Robin was Rannenz's loving owner.
His fingers tapping on his desk, Eliv glanced at the clock, waiting for Rannenz to arrive. He watched the fire glow brightly, rising and falling in a pattern. Eliv stood and strode over to the chair usually occupied. He sat down, his eyes never leaving the bright yellow of the fire. The gentle, continuous movement of it made Eliv tired, relaxed. Finally, he simply closed his eyes and was out like a light.
"Eliv," his mother said. Her voice was kind, but firm and slightly worried. "Eliv, get down from that tree this instant. What if you fa--" She interrupted herself with a scream, as her worst case scenario came true right before her eyes.
He could feel himself lose balance on a branch that he thought was strong enough to hold him. As he fell, Eliv's mouth was open in a wide gap, but nothing was coming out. He could feel his diaphragm working to push out a scream or a yell, but he was utterly silent. The ground was coming up quickly now, and Eliv was terrified. What would it feel like when he finally hit? Suddenly, all Eliv felt was hardness. Hardness, pain. The entire left side of his face was aching, throbbing with pain.
There was suddenly panic all around him. His mother was yelling and running.
"Where's the doctor? Oh, Eliv! Help! My son, he fell! Will he be okay? Please! Eliv, Eliv, Eliv. It's going to be okay, Eliv. I promise you that you're going to be okay."
Eliv's head snapped up from his dream. Almost instinctively, his bandaged hand flew to his face. Yes, it was there. The stitches. The mismatched white fur. It no longer hurt to the touch, like it had for years after the accident. But his eye. He remembered the pain in his eye. It was as if someone had tried clawing his eye out. He remembered the doctors.
"You'll never be able to see out of this eye again," they'd told him. They were wrong, of course. His vision was a bit hazy and blurry in his left eye, but he could see.
And just to think, if it had never happened... Eliv couldn't finish his statement. Would he be sitting here, in a mansion alone, watching a dying fire while a stack of finished puzzles sat on his desk? Would he have servants? Friends? Would he have met Rannenz? It's shocking how one small event can change everything, Eliv thought, almost bitterly.
"Mr. Thade?" It was that timid, little voice again. Rannenz.
"Oh, hello, Rannenz. Oh! Sorry, I'm in your seat!" Eliv said, jumping up. Rannenz sat down, looking up at Eliv with a grin that could melt a criminal's heart.
"Oh, Mr. Thade! Mr. Tha-a-ade!" Mrs. Ellen had come bustling into the room, her face stretched into a grin. It was much unlike Mrs. Ellen to be so chipper. She was normally cowering away from Thade, as if he'd hurt her.
"Yes... Mrs. Ellen?" Eliv said haltingly. He was suspicious.
"Mr. Thade, I have a puzzle for you!" she said, in a light, sing-songy voice. She whipped a packet of paper from her apron pocket and shoved it in Thade's face. Eliv snatched from her hands, snorting. "Good luck, it might be hard!"
"What could possibly be hard about a puzzle you came up with?"
"Oh, I don't know. Good luck anyway, Mr. Thade! I must really get back to work." With that, Mrs. Ellen turned from Eliv's face and headed out the door. Eliv walked toward his desk and sat down without glancing up from the paper.
"I've read this over a hundred times, Rannenz. It's still not making an ounce of sense." Eliv was absolutely exasperated. He'd tried numerous times to come up with an answer for the silly puzzle Mrs. Ellen had given him. "But there has to be an answer."
"I think you can do it, Eliv. I know you can do it." Rannenz was poking his head out from the back of the chair, watching as Eliv paced back and forth, focusing on the puzzle. When he glanced at Rannenz, Eliv's worries about the puzzle flew out the window. Rannenz's words were of the truest sincerity. He looked so sure of him, like he truly believed Eliv could solve the wretched puzzle. Suddenly, Eliv felt it was his duty to complete the puzzle. For Rannenz.
Maybe you're right, Rannenz, Eliv thought, glancing back at the puzzle.
Somewhere. The answer has to be in here somewhere! Eliv could feel the puzzle begin taking over his life. He stopped receiving calls from Neopians, no longer allowing them to test him with puzzles. Everything has an answer! Everything begins with something! A soft knock on the door almost made Eliv jump ten feet in the air in terror.
Rannenz stood at the door, smiling at Eliv as he entered. He greeted Eliv, but Thade only grunted in return. He was absorbing himself in the puzzle now, rereading it for what seemed like the millionth time.
It goes in circles. Doesn't it? If only I knew the basis, I could figure it all out. It was like digging for treasure. You aren't quite sure what you are going to find, or where or when, but when you do the reward is worth every drop of energy. Thade stood up vigorously, knocking down his chair along the way. Is there something, anything, in these books? He walked to his large library across the hall and grabbed the first books he saw. He pored through them, throwing them across the room if they didn't hold what he wanted.
"Eliv?" It was a whisper. A whisper sounding so familiar, Thade looked up, intrigued. It was Rannenz, standing at the door of the library, wonder filling his small eyes. "Are you okay?"
A world of realization crashed down on Eliv. He knew what he had to do, even though it would pain him to do it. He dropped the book he was holding clean on the floor and rushed to Rannenz. He seemed like he was miles away.
"Rannenz. Leave. I want you to leave here and never come back. Do you understand?"
Rannenz shook his head, his eyes filling with shock. He didn't understand at all.
"No! I won't leave!"
"You must! I'm urging you to go, Rannenz! You can't stay!"
"This puzzle's taking over, Rann. But I have to finish it. I just have to." Eliv's voice was now nothing but a pained whisper. "Go."
Rannenz looked up at Eliv, a look of anger flitting over his face for a moment. He then abruptly turned around and stomped out of the library.
With a heavy heart, Eliv Thade watched as the only person he had ever considered like a friend, like a son, walk out of his house, never to return.
Eventually, Thade's obsession with solving the puzzle overwhelmed him, causing the troubled Kacheek's spiraling descent into madness. It wasn't long before Thade's castle began falling into disrepair as his servants, who were scared for their own safety, moved as far away as they could. Many years later, Thade died alone, without ever finding the answer to his servant's puzzle.
-"Eliv Thade", Neopets Neopedia