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I sat down hard on the wooden floor boards, so hard I think I heard something crack but I didn't care. I just felt hollow! Was I looking in the wrong places? Is someone trying to prevent me from finding all of the hidden passages? Is the answer really right in front of me?
I looked down, seeing a Runestone fading right in front of my eyes. That's it! The runes! If I could gather all of the runes in the Castle and put them together! Wait, this seems familiar! I had to gather together several runes in order to open up the Mystery Chamber when I first got here. It can't be another rune key, could it? Well it never hurt to try! It's with a new resolve that I pick myself up off the floor and quickly realize that I have bruised my backside. Well another mark won't hurt and I'll hunt down all of those rune stones, even if it kills me! Besides, how many runes could this place possibly hold? Is that Lord Chamberlain's laughter I hear again? Am I going insane? Is that what this Castle does? Does it drive you insane? Sane or insane, I will find the answers!
I had resolved to find all the Rune stones but tonight my heart wasn't in it. Maybe, it was my mind. I really can't be sure. I fumbled with my backpack and realized I was short 378 diamonds. Where did they go? I know I had 1600 something when I started the day, give or take 2 or 3. I was now down to 1200 something. Did the gnome in the Flying Boat nick a few when I wasn't looking? I tried to remember but all I could think was John, Just John! I had been conned when I wasn't looking he had plucked some from my backpack! I needed those diamonds! How else could I bribe Lord Chamberlain or even the Keeper of the Castle to look the other way while I poked about? I was starting to get a fierce headache, tiny little needles were drilling into my brain. My room felt small and the walls were closing in! I ran out into the cool night air, taking stinging gulps of the cold night air. It just wasn't helping. I ran and ran until I found myself in front of the Tavern. I knew I was about to make another mistake when I pushed open the door and saw the Iron Knight at the dice table!
"Shall we play, Rahia?"
"Sure," I sighed sinking down on the offered chair and waving to the Innkeeper. I knew he would bring over my Pear cider quickly. It's better than the Apple cider, really. I mean have you seen the Bar Counter?
We played three rolls and each time I knew he was cheating. I'd roll a 2, he'd get a three and so on. I just couldn't bring myself to care. I finished off nearly 6 ciders when I heard a voice yelling across the Taven.
"Rahia! Is that you? Imagine seeing you here! I thought you gave up Castle exploration ages ago!"
I looked up to see the last person I wanted to see tonight.., "Dal, how have you been?"
"Fantastic! This is Nimie," the tall auburn hair girl explained, pointing to a slim and rather short girl with black wavy hair.
"Hi," came a whispered response from Nimie. I think she felt as much as I did, that any where was better than here.
"So," Dal said, bouncing around, "What trouble can we get up to tonight?"
"I'd rather not get into any! I've had a really bad couple of days and.."
"Blah, blah, blah," Dal cut in to my explanation. What can you expect from Dal? She isn't shy, rather outgoing and one of the best traders I knew. "You have the look of someone who lost the world, Rahia."
"Only 378 diamonds."
"Ah, is that all? I lost 200,000 on the Wheel of Fortune the other day. I was chasing three beautiful pet eggs! Do you know what those go for on the Black Market now?"
I could tell she was laughing at me on the inside. This was the girl who gave diamonds out like candy. She never kept more than 3 on hand and I was bemoaning the fact I had lost over 378 when she had already spent 500 on the open Market.
"I've heard. It seems there was a rise after the egg crisis. Wait! Did you say 200k? I didn't know you had that much?"
"Eh, a girl greases a little palms here, catches several Blood Lotuses there and boom! I'm in the gold!"
I saw Nimie roll her eyes and I just had to smile. I may be meeting an old friend that I wish I could forget but the other looked like a promising new friend.
"Well, you always did have a way with gold and items."
"Yes, plus now I have Nimie to help me out. She is in and out in a flash. Just tell me who took the diamonds and we can have them back quick! Right, Nime?"
"Sure," Nimie sighed. Dal has such a strong personality that you just can't say no to, which is why I had to part ways with her all those years ago.
"Well, it was John. Just John!" I had never the Tavern so silent. you couldn't even hear the mouse that hides under the Bar Counter. "Did I say something wrong?"
"J..J...John," Nimie stuttered, "No, I can't help there. He sends me Snowflakes and Unique Stamps. I can't."
"It's the same with me, Nim but Rahia is a friend. I bet she is on to something major in the Castle or she'd still be tucked away over in.. where was it?"
"No where," I said, "Don't worry about it. It's just diamonds but why does that name have every one spooked."
"You don't mess with John," Dal said, flipping a coin between her fingers, "If he offers you a deal, you run the other way. Fast!"
I sat back in my chair, the air completely gone from my lungs. He said he helped but was he lying. I knew something was off about him but was he good or bad?
"Y..yes," Nimie nodded, "I've pulled a lot of jobs for him. He is someone you don't cross. I've seen..I, no. It's best no speak of it."
"Speak of what?"
"Things that go bump in the Castle, of course," Dal said, "I'm sure you've noticed the lights in shadows."
"Yes, I've actually been looking in to that."
"I wouldn't if I were you," Nimie said, moving her chair closer to mine, "People go missing here all the time. Do you ever wonder why?"
Nimie nodded at my question and my resolved weakened.
"He can't be that bad, can he?"
"Well," Dal whispered, "rumors are that he has even Lord Chamberlain under his thumb. You could ask the Keeper of Wishes but she hasn't been seen for awhile. Have you ever wondered what happened to her after she vanished behind the Source Gate?"
"Well, yes, of course I have wondered but surely he wouldn't."
"He might," Nimie muttered into her cup, "Just talking about him sometimes brings down his wrath. He's all cherubic smiles until you start poking around into his business."
"I think we should move this conversation away from listening ears," Dal said pushing her chair out, "I'll settle with the Innkeeper and meet you both outside."
I leaned against the building waiting for Dal, watching NImie pace. I wondered what I had gotten myself in to. I had kept my nose clean for almost a year and now I was giving shards to Trina for keys that may or may not work. I had done a request for John without hesitating. It figures! I could never go long before finding trouble. I always thought it was Dals influence but I guess it was just me.
"A Bloodred Moon for your thoughts," Dal said as she came out of the Tavern.
"I was just going over the past few days," I replied with a shrug.
"Hm, so know any where private we could talk," Dal asked looking quickly at Nimie.
"Sure, the Pond of Life should be empty this time of night."
"Lead the way," Dal said and with that I should have known what was coming.
I entered the Pond of Life at least two steps ahead of them but the blinding pain I felt on the back of my head still took me by surprise. I slumped to the ground with a meek little groan.
"Sorry, Rahia," I heard Dal say as if from a long distance, "You just can't ask all those questions!"
"Ow, my head! Dal! Nimie," I yelled into the morning air. I saw my backpack laying on the ground next to me and knew by the look of it every thing had been taken. I slowly sat up and touched the back of my head, feeling the nice fat bump that already formed. My day had gone from bad to worse. I reached for my backpack and realized they had missed a few Snowflakes. I had something cold for my head, at least.
"Rahia!" The scream nearly made me jump!
"Elle, what are you doing here?"
"Gnolio and I followed you when you left last night. We couldn't lift you so we got the whole gang together and followed the two women who did this to you. We have, I think, most of your things back at the house!"
"I'm giving you extra food, tonight!"
I beamed at the Snow Fairy. It seems she isn't as useless as I first thought she was. She only seems to bring back rusty chests but to recover my things from those two!
"Elle, what did you do with Dal and Nimie," I asked, slightly afraid.
"Oh, we locked them in the Warden's Hut," Elle said with a giggle, "That's where we caught up with them."
I looked around my menagerie of pets and smiled. Who needed old friends or new friends, when I have these guys looking out for me.
"Hoo, hooo," Owlsly had to put his two cents in.
"Indeed. Who, who. Let's go home, my head is really hurting!"
I was still determined to look into those Runestones. Why would John give me the answer only to send those two after me? It didn't make any sense! Was it all hot air from Dal and Nimie or was John just diverting my attention? Was I being sent on a wild goose chase? OUCH! All of these questions are really making this head pounding worse. I think I'll just go home, light a Ritual Candle and take a Vivacity Potion. I'll worry about the rest tomorrow.
The Runic Path
I woke the next morning to a very sore head and determined to find all the Runes I could gather together. I hid most of my belongs in an old chest in my room. I didn't want to lose my work again. After repacking my backpack with the essentials I head out to the Tavern. I need to get my game of dice in before I start poking around and I need to send the airship, I mean sleigh off before it decided to leave without giving me a bit of gold.
I hit the sleigh first and watch the lights spiral to the top of tree. I'll just never get used to that! My next stop was the Tavern and sure enough the Iron Knight was waiting. He grinned, rubbing his hands together. I knew I was going to lose the 450 gold coins I had just made off of the airship/sleigh. Sure enough, three rounds later the Iron Knight was grinning from ear to ear and jingling his pouch in face. I waved him off and started my search. The Innkeeper didn't pay me much mind as I said I'd clean up the Game Table and Bar Counter for him. I didn't turn up much at the Game Table but at the Bar Counter I found a Rune of Cruelty. I may not have much luck at dice but I can find almost any thing, except where I set my glasses. It's been a week and I still haven't found them. It's hard finding things when you can barely see and everything looks like a giant fuzz ball.
I exit the Tavern after having a Pear Cider, those things are addictive, and head for the Castle Vicinity. I rummage around the Crypt but only find a Harpy Feather and an uneaten apple. The Broken Carriage grants me a Rune Stone while the mouse tries to take a bite out of my wheel of cheese. They really should do something about this rodent problem. Perhaps invest in a few cats?!?! I stop by the Gnome Road Sign and find a Stone of Peace along with some Runes etched into the sign itself. I jot those down in my notebook and head off to the Castle Gates. I come up empty in the Belfry but I do find some Rune etchings at the Broken Well. They are carved into the stones and barely recognizable but I jot them down. The Rock Garden yields a Grave Blade and if it wasn't for the Rune etchings I would craft it into a Knife of Peril. The Keeper of the Castle stops me in the Castle Entry but I just tell him I'm helping with some cleaning and he lets me pass quickly. I do take a small moment to pretend like I'm dusting the Stone Gargoyle to jot the down the Rune etchings around the inset.
"Hi, Henry," I called as I stepped out in to Ice Rock. He just grunted and motioned me along. He doesn't really talk much or well at all. He just glances at my backpack with curiosity lurking behind his eyes. I climb up to the Ice Monster and a find a Rune of Purity but that's all I found. I was beginning to think that this really was a wild goose chase but backwards and forwards into the Throne Hall I walk. I noticed the Door Cache had two Rune marking etched into it so I wrote it down. It seems my notes were increasing more than my backpack. I stopped by the Mirror Nave twice and picked up a Smashing Rune and a Wise Sayings. There was also a pyramid with some markings on it so I grabbed that as well. You can never be to sure in the Castle. If anything the pyramid could be a nice paper weight for all the notes I was taking. The Book of Evil in the Forbidden Tower had some odd Runes on it so I wrote those down and backed away after I heard footsteps coming from the top of the tower.
I made way quickly through the Dungeon of the Cursed, only finding a small Rune Stone in one of the Skulls there. The Underground Grotto only yielded some Rune etchings on the Rune Altar. Yup, you guessed it, I wrote it all down. I dropped in to check on the Kraken and let Owlsly do his thing in Mirror Lake. While he was flapping around avoiding the Kraken's fiery breath, I searched the Pirate Ship and the Bag. I only found a Rune Stone hiding behind a crab and a Rune of Ignition, respectively. After, Owlsly had his fun he came back with a Golden Chest which was filled with gold, I headed into the Mystery Chamber. There I found a treasure trove of Runes. The Tree of Knowledge had etching in its bark and on the poor turtle trying to climb the tree. The Shining Split had etchings on the Griffin Tablet and the base for the crystals. Also there were rune stones scattered on the floor. The Secret Slab also had runes etched into it. It was the motherlode of Runes! I quickly wrote everything down and took a break to eat the apple I had found earlier before heading over to the Town.
Cloud Pier was once again bustling as I approached and the Gnomes once again looked overjoyed to see me. I quickly made my way round searching all I could but came up empty handed so to the Commercial District which also gave me empty hands. I was fearing the worst as two spots didn't have a single Rune. I headed towards the Rune Garden and glared at that Rune Portal. I know there is something there! I stepped on a Hairpin at Mountain Heart and noticed a Rune glowing on the stone while I was tending to the rip in my leather shoes. I patched up my shoes using some thread I had found earlier at the Mirror Nave and continued on to the Source Gates. The Mosaic there yielded some Tomb Bricks and the Source Torch gave me an Incarnation Sign. It was something! Maybe I was back on track, however I had to backtrack to get to the Craftsman District.
I noticed the Blacksmith still sleeping so I inspected his forge and noticed the Runes carved into it. I quickly wrote it down and headed over to the Gnome Kitchen for some lunch. I was served a delicious roast ham with a side of sliced carrots with berry sauce. Well, I think it was berry sauce! I also found a Rune of Law laying on the floor. I quickly dropped my napkin and grabbed the Rune. I got a Poisonous Breath out of the Brewing Machine and headed towards the Dream Palace. Once there I searched the Stone Sarcophagus and found some Runes etched into the stones. The Rune Chest also had Runes etched into the wood. The Guards' Room in Could City Prison turned up a typewriter with runic keys. I can't really say what I expected when I clicked each key but it didn't type Runes. I just wrote them all down in my notebook, I figured the Guards would notice if that went missing.
The Elvyn Forest didn't yield all that much. I found another black Rune Stone in the Arbor in Forest Palace. There some Runic Carvings in the Wooden Panel in the Tree Top along with the same Rune from the Doll Showcase painted on the Cluttered Shelves. So I took off towards the Dark Tower! At the Dark Tower Gates Anabel was sobbing but I didn't have time for her woe is me plight. I searched the Broken Mail Box finding an Encrypted Page and the Sepulcher had 4 or 5 Rune Stones in it. There were a few markings on the fount itself but they looked more like water symbols than runes.