The Monster Inside
"I have a riddle for you, Master.
Do you think that you can solve it?”
No, the answer sought could not be found in books—
His wits strewn—he threw them from the shelf,
While the mirror asked a question dared by none.
“Riddle me this, Thade: What have you become?”
Rage exploding, glass shattering—he looked,
And saw a reflection of himself.
Broken, twisted, ugly . . . but not quite dead;
Only darkness left inside his head.
Darkness was everywhere.
Thade took comfort from the darkness. It had consumed him. Numbed his pain. Negated poisonous thoughts like: accepting defeat and making amends. It had brought him solace when nothing else could—when he had even failed himself. And the darkness had made his choking insanity seem less . . . insane.
His life was darkness now, and it was just fine. Most of the time.
Thade left his library and roamed the house. The nice thing about being dead was that he no longer had to walk through each room to get places. He WAS the house. Well, to be more technical (and less cool-sounding), his undeparted spirit inhabited and controlled the house. Either way, it definitely came in handy when scaring the wits out of foolhardy adventurers who entered. He took joy in frightening them to the point of crippling terror. And he never failed to cackle with glee each time their speech crumbled to incoherent babble. For some reason, entertainment like that never got boring.
Thade’s musings were interrupted by a clear knock at the door. He sensed a steadily calm presence on the other side. This one wasn’t here by accident. Thade allowed the door to creak open, and as his newest victim—a Gelert—stepped through, he slammed the door and locked the bolt behind them.
The malevolent ghost chuckled to himself.
“It’s about time someone came to play my game with me again . . .”
Thade was subdued and impressed as he watched the young Gelert. It was rare that even the riskiest adventurers were brave (or stupid) enough to enter his deteriorating domain. It was rarer still that those Neopets made it back out in one piece . . . and yet this one had proficiently solved every riddle and was now making his way down to the Crypt. Thade assumed this young Gelert had developed some riddles of his own. He would have enjoyed solving them back in the day . . .
Thade quickly dismissed his drifting thoughts from a painful subject. This one had not survived his game yet. One final puzzle was yet ahead of him.
Thade’s presence filled the Crypt and he waited for the young one to enter. Curiosity stirred within him as the Gelert descended the stairs and then hesitated at the Crypt’s entrance. He had felt no fear from the boy at all yet, so why hesitation? Thade could see him on the other side of the door. An average physical frame, silver fur, grey eyes. Those eyes were familiar . . .
It felt strange to be studying the boy like this. Thade never took interest in the victims that foolishly stepped into his house. What made this one any different? Was it the adept skill with which the Gelert solved his riddles? The lack of fear? Or those grey eyes? The question tugged at Thade’s mind with something long lost and forgotten.
The young Gelert pushed past a door of rotting wood and entered. It groaned in agonized protest. He ignored the sound and stopped to examine the Crypt. Almost no one ever made it this far. The room was cold, wet, and smelled strongly of mildew and rot. It had stone walls, a dirt floor, and some old stone caskets—cobwebs being the most prevalent decoration. In the middle of the room rested a decaying wooden table with worn leather straps and rusted buckles. Several seconds passed before the Gelert noticed the ghost.
In encounters with foolhardy explorers, Thade usually kept his appearance eerie and spectral in order to scare and unsettle his prey. He realized that it would not work with this one, however, and changed himself to be seen as he had looked while alive. It took a little effort, as he could no longer remember exactly how he had looked. The last image he had ever seen was of himself in that blasted broken mirror. Was his right eye supposed to feel that small? . . . Well, who cared anyway? He was no artist. He was a puzzle-maker.
The Gelert’s eyes widened marginally as Thade’s features suddenly became more clear and distinct. The two stood studying each other—one still at the doorway and the other standing by the wooden table.
Naturally, Thade spoke first. “You will not leave this house alive.”
The Gelert shifted his weight—holding the Shield of Pion Troect and Sword of Skardsen—and waited.
Thade offered up one last puzzle.
The Gelert’s eyebrows furrowed as he pondered it. The answer took a little longer in coming than previously . . . but not much.
Thade released a long, spectral howl of anguish and vanished. By now this was somewhat of an act, but he still did feel a twinge of loathing when that rare Neopet managed to solve all of his riddles and leave the house alive. He must have been getting simple-minded and weak as his life in death dragged on . . .
The Gelert walked to the wooden table and laid each collected artifact on it. The Shield of Pion Troect, the Sword of Skardsen, the Amulet of Thilg from around his neck, and the Grimoire of Thade from in his backpack. But he didn’t leave like the rest. Not yet.
“I have a riddle for you, Eliv Thade. Do you think that you can solve it?” His voice was clear and confident as he reached for something else within his backpack.
The grey eyes.
And then he understood. The pieces snapped into place and the puzzle finally came together. Thade’s irritation erupted into fury. The long, spectral howls were very real now.
A month later, Thade whipped his head toward the door at the sound of a knock. The first one in weeks. When he thought about it . . . the last victim had been that evil and insolent Gelert. Had it been real? Or was Thade’s insanity now offering up vivid conjuring of painful memories with added mental anguish as well? The torment felt real.
Thade allowed the door to glide open and watched from the rafters. Various parts of the house groaned as his vengeful spirit warmed up for the task ahead. But he was surprised to see a familiar face.
A little side-note: The experience of seeing a familiar face was almost nonexistent for Thade. Once frightened by his malevolence, no “brave” explorer had ever dared to return again. And it’s likely that none ever will.
Edna hobbled into the room. She leaned slightly on the cane that she grasped. It was as weathered and as crooked as her humor.
“Come down out of that rafter, you old crock, and speak with me.”
Thade hissed in fury. A resounding BOOM filled the house and, for a moment, everything shook—down to the decaying foundation. “OUY BPISEDEACL TFLHI—Don’t you dare speak to me like that, hag!”
Edna sighed and brushed a cobweb from her sleeve.
“As much as I’d love to sit here and hurl insults like a Mirgle hurls dung until the break of morning—I can’t. I just don’t have the time. My spells are waiting you see . . .”
Thade grasped the rotting, wooden rafter on which he sat. He felt his fury build and fill the house like smoke, although he managed to keep his voice level. “Then why come here, you irritating parasite? I NNTOCA TNDAS UYO. Are you here to torment me further?”
“No, no, of course not. I see you’ve done a fine job of that yourself. I’m here to ask you about my little friend. I know you met him. “
“I had no idea that you had any friends, Edna.” Eliv Thade jumped from the rafters and appeared in front of her. “Now, here’s a little riddle for you. LEAVE. NOW. I’m sick of seeing you.”
Edna’s smirk turned sour as she replied in a menacing tone, “You try my patience very much, Thade. But we’re not through yet.” She used her cane to slam the door behind her shut.
“The boy, Thade. He showed up a few weeks ago here, did he not? A young Gelert . . . with grey eyes?”
Thade’s face darkened as recognition set in. He thought about the original haughty gray eyes that had haunted him for who knows how long. It was an old nightmare, resurrected. “What about that sniffling weakling? He was no better than the rest of them. RUODP DAN ROGRTANA. I ran him out.”
“Well, O Great Eliv Thade, did he ask you the riddle?” Edna’s eyes sparkled, strangely enough, with curiosity as she offered this question up to the Kacheek.
The now-furious spirit snarled and disappeared. His voice boomed from every part of the house.
“Of course not. No one dictates riddles but me! I destroyed his silly book and taught him a lesson for his insolence. Now, goodbye, Edna.” The confident and terrifying voice steeped in rage dwindled to a pained whisper.
“Leave me to this solitary and tormented existence.” The house grew as still as death, save for a lone, muffled wail and the sound of wind whistling through catacombs below.
Edna spoke into the emptiness.
“You didn’t even hear him out. Why am I not surprised?” She shook her head and opened the door to leave, “You always were a fool, Thade.”
Thade answered her with silence. The insanity was choking him again . . . and growing—much too fast for him to stop. The darkness couldn’t save him anymore.
“If you had listened, you would have realized that this is no new riddle, but one you’ve heard before. I believe you refer to it as . . . your desolation? That young boy is the ancestor of the servant who tricked you so long ago. I’m sure you guessed all of that. But, what you did not guess, is that he had your servant’s original journal which contained both the riddle and its answer. And he was going to offer it to you. A thoughtful reconciliation from someone who has never had any stake in the situation.”
She paused to let that sink in, and then spoke one final truth into the black waste of Thade’s ruined soul.
“But that doesn’t matter anymore. You decided the outcome for yourself a long time ago. Your ego blinds you, Thade, and you will never find peace.”
With that, Edna was gone and the door groaned as it shut behind her.
And Eliv Thade?
Destined to live on—in death—forevermore.