The Soft Side of Eliv
Hello, Neopia. My name is Claire, and today I’ve ventured into the Haunted Woods to have a chat with everyone’s favorite Kacheek: Eliv Thade! He’s been nice enough to lead me safely through his castle (so far) to the library, where I now sit by a warm fire on a very dusty couch—but I’ll write that off for his lack of servants. While Thade prepares himself for my questions (he mentioned something about tidying his bandages), I try to make myself at home. The library is filled with many books, and I stand to get a closer look. I’ll bet it comes as no surprise that almost all of them are about solving different types of puzzles! I wonder if he would notice if the Crossword Puzzle Almanac went missing…
Oh, here he comes now. He’s dressed a bit differently than any other Ghost Kacheek you may have seen before: his long purple trench coat brushes a path of dust wherever he walks (or is he floating? I can’t be sure…). He must have taught himself to sew once his seamstress left, as the majority of his coat is haphazardly patched with mismatched threads. His bandages look tidy, as far as bandages go. He’s sneering at me, and I don’t know if it’s because he knows what I’m scribbling or if he has a facial cramp. Anyway, he just sat down in the chair opposite of me, and this is where our interview begins.
“Hi, Eliv. Thank you for having me on this lovely da—“
“It’s quite a nasty day, but you’re welcome to be here anyway.” Thade crosses his arms and maintains a steady sneer. I’m not sure if he was sincere about his welcome.
“…thanks. So, my fellow Neopians have shown an interest to learn more about what goes on in the Haunted Woods—in your castle, to be precise.” I shoot the Kacheek a smile, but his stink-eye seems to pierce my soul, so I look away. I fiddle a bit with my pen before he replies.
“Why on Neopia do they care? Nobody but that pesky Usul visits me anymore… and you. What did you say your name was, again?” He looks at me suspiciously.
“Claire. Didn’t you receive my Neomail? How else did you know about the interview?” I check my bag, making sure that the letter was not in my file folder. I often forget where I put things, so it wouldn’t surprise me if—yep. I guess I never mailed the letter. I slowly look up at Thade, and he’s… smiling? I think he’s trying to smile.
“I know your name is Claire, and I knew you were coming. I am a professional puzzle creator, solver, and borderline genius. I planted the letter in your bag when I let you in. I thought we could shake things up a bit. It is ever so boring being all alone in the castle.”
“I see. Well, that was a fun little game,” I lie, and then pause. What did I come here for again? Oh, that’s right, “Since we’re on the topic of games, how about you tell me what inspired you to create puzzles?”
He sighs. “That goes back to when I was school-aged—alive, I might add, and with very few friends…” Thade looks into the distance (technically, he looks over the fireplace) as if reminiscing. “But that is too boring of a story, so let me tell you--”
This time I interrupt him, “No, how about you tell our readers of your youth? Perhaps then you may get more visitors, if they see that there’s a soft side to you.” I think I may have pushed the line on that one, and the grimace returns to his face as if he ate something rotten.
“There is no soft side to me. I am dead, and worse, I am alone.”
“…soft side…” I whisper. He doesn’t seem to notice.
“If you can believe it, the Haunted Woods was not always my home. I was abandoned in the Pound as a young Kacheek…” Thade spins his bandages around his arms. “Eventually, I asked the Techo if I could leave. Nobody wanted me, but why should I let that determine my life’s worth? I decided I wanted to make a name for myself. I chose the Haunted Woods because I heard of a castle that had also been abandoned, and I wanted to bring it to life with me.”
“Wow,” I say, enthused, “so what happened once you moved to the Haunted Woods? You mentioned being a schoolboy?”
“Incorrect. I mentioned I was school-aged.” He takes a deep breath and starts again, “I taught myself all that I know, and that is why I am, or was, so proud of my puzzles. Since I chose the Haunted Woods, there weren’t many other Neopets around to become friends with. I frequently visited the Brain Tree and Esophagor for companionship, but I found their combined puzzles were too simple. I wanted something more challenging. So I began doing different puzzles.” He stands up from his chair and paces towards the bookshelves and back. “Even then, I was mentally stimulated, but I wasn’t CHALLENGED.” His paces increase. “I did more research, finding books, however old, that would help me build my own puzzles and riddles. I strived for harder, smarter, better… After all, the biggest competition you have is yourself.”
Finally, something I agree with. He returns to the bookshelves and pulls a dusty one from the shelf. It looks like a journal. “What is that?” I inquire.
“This,” he says, brushing the dust from the cover, “is my pride and joy. Some Neopets have Petpets, but I have my thoughts.” He opens the book, and the binding cracks, which is a sure sign of age. “With this book, I was able to collect my thoughts, day by day, and piece them together. My whole life has been dedicated to creating and solving only the best puzzles… until…” He throws the book down, and it lands so close to the fire that I gasp.
“Eliv! You’re not thinking straight! Surely your life’s work was not in vain!” I can’t believe I’m actually feeling sorry for him. After all of the stories of him tormenting his visitors, especially poor Gilly, and refusing to let them out unless they solve his mastermind puzzles and riddles… I try to think positively. “You’re just… lonely.” His anger fades from his face and is replaced with—could it be? Could Eliv Thade be feeling sad?
The Kacheek brushes soot from the hem of his coat and looks down at the book. “All I ever wanted was to be loved,” he says. “At first, I gave my servants puzzles and riddles to brighten up their tasks around the castle. An anagram here, a riddle there… They didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I thought they enjoyed it,” he sighs. He reaches his bandaged hands up to wipe his face. “I guess I took my love for winning too far. I always wanted to be better than THEM, when I really should have wanted to be better than myself.”
Wow, I never thought I’d be learning life lessons from a ghost Kacheek in the middle of the Haunted Woods. This is not what I was expecting while talking myself into knocking on the castle’s doors earlier. “But surely you told them this?”
“No. In my pride, I did not. Then one day, one of my servants gave me a puzzle that I could not solve. My frien—I mean, servants—left me alone. Not being able to solve it drove me insane. I couldn’t think straight. I grew old, constantly thinking of what could be the answer, and… It literally was the death of me.” He picks up his book and sits back in the chair across from me. His red eyes don’t look so full of doom when he’s speaking in such an apologetic tone. After a few minutes in silence, he says quietly, “I know the answer now.”
I pick up my pen in haste and prepare to write some more, “What?”
“Friendship,” he says. “If I had the humility to be able to ask them for help, we could have solved it together. So, I sacrificed any friendships for the sake of my pride. I don’t torment my guests, as you should now know,” he gestures to me sitting on his (still dusty) sofa. I nod in agreement. “I just try to have a good time and lighten the mood. Maybe I come on too strong, but I promise I don’t always have to win.”
I realize my mouth is hanging open, so I shut it. The fire crackles, and the floorboards creak where I stand. “Well, Eliv, I don’t think we can end this interview any better way.” He smiles (I think?) and stands as well.
“I do,” he says.
He brings me to the hallway and pushes me out of the library door. I hear the doors lock, and suddenly the castle seems dark and empty… Are those spider webs? Oh no, cracked floor tiles?! A cold wind rushes by me and blows a paper in my face. A line of jumbled letters is written on the parchment, and all around me, a voice booms, “I bet you can’t work this one out!” Typical Eliv.