Dell Valley’s long season of bad karma and general misfortune ended with a barely perceptible turn of the wheel of fate. Northeast of the popular city of Meridell, the valley was now the center of bustling attention. Repairs were underway to restore the broken and cracked cobblestone roads, new shops and houses could be seen in various stages of construction, and even the persistent gloomy drought relented under a blanket of gentle and serendipitous rain.
This newborn confidence had been sparked by rumors of precious codestones in the rough slopes above the valley, followed by the inevitable appearance of hard-eyed Neopets looking to profit from gleaming opportunity. When the truth was discovered – the mystical rocks were in fact merely colored stones – the hollow-faced pets silently withdrew in search of more favorable prospects, most likely in the generally unexplored sands of the Lost Desert.
A lesser place might have then succumbed to the cold grasp of entropy, but Dell Valley’s strength was based on more than the mere possibility of riches. The siren call of wealth, once exposed, allowed the residents of Dell Valley to recognize their home as an unusual and spectacular setting and simply a fine place to live.
Yet, not everyone is equally able to catch the rising tide. Consider Suller. One could search the world over and over again and never gaze upon a more somber and cheerless visage. The grim, blue Aisha occupied a small earthen-colored home along an unremarkable stretch of cobblestone road near the edge of town, not unlike Illusen’s modest hut. If anything, he was meticulous about his daily chores, fixated on the myriad of minor acts that form the incidentals of life. Utterly opposed to disorder, he maintained his bungalow in a state of such brutal cleanliness that even the sterile rooms on the Virtupets Space Station would be put to shame. Suller would spend hours organizing his meager possessions into an uninspired Cartesian array of straight lines and right angles.
Suller’s one saving grace, the thing that kept him from dropping entirely off the visible social spectrum, was his ability to create small but finely detailed models from the dried stems of berries he would collect from the neighboring Meridell Acres. He was exceedingly clever with his hands and could render minute recreations of almost any object. His neighbors would often remark upon the precision of these tiny forms and the patience required to make them. Perhaps motivated by such praise, Suller was known to suddenly and awkwardly reward the surprised admirer with the model in question. Whenever he shared his creations in this way, he felt oddly invigorated; a connection with things and people external to his limited existence.
But for reasons known only to Suller himself, even these nascent social efforts were becoming increasingly rare, like the flickering scenes from another life. More often Suller would sit stiffly on his hard Blue Techo Sofa and stare longingly outside, wishing for something to do – something manifest and grand. The days stretched into weeks and the weeks to months and still Suller would sit and measure his fate, occupying the space behind his window; lifeless as the cobblestones littering in the street. The little berry stem figures grew faded with age and welcomed no new members to their world.
Suller would have been surprised to know that his neighbors actually liked him and found his odd mannerisms endearing. It hurt them to see him imprisoned in his austere sanctuary, so they set about thinking of ways to reverse his decline.
Caught up in the new confidence sweeping Dell Valley, the self-appointed leader of the other neighbors, a stout Electric Grarrl, approached Suller one day and said, “Why don’t we build a castle on the highest hill in the village? Dell Valley is now growing and we need such a symbol. It would be the first to catch the dawn and the last to see the sunset, rivaling the heights of the castles of Brightvale and Meridell. Your ability to make such wonderful small things will surely scale to the large and prominent.”
Suller’s first thought was to reject this outrageous and risky venture out of hand. But the more he considered it, the more tempted he was, remembering the toy blocks from his childhood and the play fortresses he made. When he built things others could envy, it mattered not that the blocks were too large or his hands too small.
Afraid to expose these fragile hopes, he said, “I would like to do this thing, but I’m afraid I don’t have enough stones – and I would need a lot of stones.”
Collectively they agreed that, if they could find the needed stones, they would all work together and help create the first Castle Dell. They talked into the night and hit upon a plan, a solution that was literally right in front of them. As Dell Valley’s roads were replaced there would be no shortage of worn and broken cobblestones there for the taking. The valley’s recent dismal past would itself provide the source material for this new symbol of strength and rebirth.
Suller was ecstatic. He saw this castle as a way to enliven his dreary life and finally build his dream. He told his neighbors that in return for their help and kindness they could come to his castle freely and make use of all the wonderful facilities. At this time his neighbors thought nothing of this strange statement; they assumed that Suller was just vocalizing the enthusiasm they all felt. It was only later that they realized he had meant exactly what he said, but by then it was too late to alter the fateful path. Suller, you see, had begun to imagine the as yet unborn castle as his own future home, unique and beautiful with gleaming ramparts and soaring turrets.
The neighbors cleaned off their old carts and wheelbarrows and set about the grueling work of collecting cobblestones near their homes and moving them to the hilltop, trading one form of dust for another. Once the work began, each became immersed with the project and began to offer ideas on the basic design, the size of the courtyard, the height of the windows, and the color of the walls. They would meet and argue and meet some more. Though not a single one of them had built an actual castle before, the undertaking became a common and shared goal, a goal that consisted of more than just stone and wood and glass.
But it quickly became apparent that real castles require stone and wood and glass and are wholly different from tiny castles made of dried berry stems. Hearing this, Suller began reminding them that they were merely the helpers, not the builders, and that they were merely assisting him in building his castle. Suller was insistent on this and became quite angry when neighbors failed to understand these simple and obvious facts. With each such argument his neighbors began to see him more clearly and understood that perhaps Suller had not come upon his lonely life by accident. Perhaps lonely lives seek out their predestined vessels.
As is often the case in the world that men and women have made, the most terrible disputes occurred over the smallest of decisions. Like vile spores these arguments grew and flourished in the fertile soil of suspicion and doubt. Questions of leadership and authority were raised along with their cousins, power and influence. Ownership and credit were asserted, blame cast, and the whole construction effort seemed weighted down by the monstrous anchor of self-indulgence.
Nearly a year after beginning and despite the inherent hostility and growing acrimony, the day came in late autumn that Castle Dell was done and a grand opening planned. Although barely on speaking terms, the sullen Blue Aisha and his neighbors put aside their differences and prepared a feast fit for even King Skarl himself. As the last rays of the sun angled against the polished leaded windows, the great oaken doors swung open and all of Dell Valley walked slowly between the carved Kougras. Once inside they marveled at the great hall, gazed up at the soaring arches, and touched the ancient stone made new.
One by one they approached Suller and his neighbors and said, “You and your friends have created a wonderful gathering place. The sturdy walls are fit, the roof does not leak, and all within are warm and dry and safe.”
In the spring when the Faeriewing Plants bloomed word continued to spread about the amazing place high in the hills above the valley. Even the hard-eyed Neopets came again to set their blank gaze upon the castle – an opportunity lost – but soon departed when they were told that such symbols would never be traded for Neopoints.
Yet, in what should have been his moment of triumph, Suller could not stop the growing resentment within. He saw his neighbors as mere accessories to his goals, and he utterly lacked the capacity to forgive. As he watched the popularity of the castle grow, he became increasingly angry and introverted. He refused to come to the castle, preferring instead his gloomy little house with its four drab walls. Day by depressing day he would turn away from the town and toward the gathering darkness within.
“This was my idea,” he thought. “All should know my and envy my castle in the sky.”
Instead, his neighbors, his former friends, had conspired to ruin his vision and take away what was rightfully his. They had taken it from him and twisted it into something he was loath to contemplate. Whenever Suller glanced at the castle, instead of seeing the soaring arches and leaded glass windows, he saw a monument to a stolen dream. Suller's bitterness grew until hatred, suspicion and jealousy overwhelmed his mind. He began to plot revenge against those he believed had wronged him. He would crush all of them, all the blackguards and thieves that were at this moment (he knew) plotting to humiliate him further.
He began to travel about the valley and whisper to all who would listen that his neighbors were insidious and evil and had planned all along to steal his ideas.
“The castle,” he would say, “is cursed with the bad luck of thieves. Take care should you choose to visit.”
He invented fantastic schemes and weird tales which he pawned off to the townspeople as actual events. He planted the twin seeds of fear and doubt which would sometimes take root and grow into monstrous deceptions, infecting the unwary. Suller eventually became unable to recognize real events from those he had fabricated. His utter and complete conviction in his fantasies made him seem, for a time, quite believable.
When the real castle on the hill became, to him, compromised beyond repair, Suller built in his mind the perfect substitute – a house of lies. This house did not keep off the rain or warm the body or revitalize the spirit. Living in such a monument of deception fit only for the soul of a Darkness Faerie brought him no inner happiness. Requiring no stones, he had constructed this bleak house lie by crafty lie, a sham structure empty save the indistinct and counterfeit shadows of myth.
Inevitably, as the truths emerged to cancel each lie one by one, the house of lies collapsed in upon itself like the frail thing it was, leaving no mark on the barren ground.
Someday you will pass a small earthen-colored home on an unremarkable stretch of road. You might wonder at the shrunken figure crouched within, staring out his small window at dreams unknown. Around his feet will lay small objects, twisted and misshapen, grotesque soliloquies to deception. Dried berry stems without form or function, cast aside in a whispered cry of regret and madness by the last resident of the house of lies.