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"Don't even," I ground out through clenched teeth.
"I'm finished," Brite smiled, "I got it out of my system! It's been stuck in my head since I woke up this morning."
I didn't know what to think! What had the fog been about? Why had I been the only person to see it? What had happened to everyone else in the Castle? Was another rumble coming soon? Had I lost my mind? Was it playing tricks on me? Was the Elephant Brotherhood behind this? Why else would Brite's song mention Elephants!?! I shook my head and decided to play another game of dice with Salty. I ended up winning all three rolls, again! That was six in one day!
"Keep Rollin', Rollin'," I sang, "great now it is stuck in my head!"
"Sorry, not sorry," Brite smiled and flew off.
I sighed and started to hum the little tune out loud. It was catchy in a I want to bleach my ears my kind of way. There was something strange going on but once again I didn't know where to start for answers! I slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed home.
A Strange Invitation
I had a restless nights sleep. I tossed and turned, waking from nightmare after nightmare. I'm pretty sure it was the gooseberry pie Elle had made for dinner last night but I couldn't be sure. There were strange things happening in the Castle so it could very well be a sign. The fog that I had encountered yesterday was nothing more than a fading memory. There were birds singing and Brite was humming a tune. It sounded like an old sea shanty. Perhaps he had found Skull Pete and the pirate had taught him a new tune. The Ancient Protectors be praised because I was now horrified whenever I heard 'Rollin' or 'Spinnin'! I grabbed a banana but muffin from the table and ran out of the door. Brite followed dragging my backpack behind him. The day was starting off great!
"Rahia! Your backpack," he called, "Am I coming with or should I stay home today?"
"Come along," I grinned and hauled the backpack over my shoulder, "Just no singing today, okay?"
"Got it," he pouted before picking up his humming.
I made my way to the Tavern but stopped at the Airship Tower. It was waiting for me this morning and it was visible! I chatted with the gnome for a bit but he said he was running behind schedule so he took off as soon as I packed the last crate. He once again tossed an Exclusive Food and two Unique Stamps out for me. Well, he wasn't an evil gnome at least. Ha! Speaking of Evil Gnomes, the Trio was once again handing out Helping Hand. I had thought I had seen the last of that task but I guess my luck was off today. I stuffed it in my backpack and decided to burn the parchment later. I could always use kindling for my fireplace! I waved to Salty when I entered the Tavern. He grinned, set down the forever being polished mug and made his way over to the dice table. He leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek this time when I won the three dice rolls. He must be making a killing from other dicing customers if it didn't bother him that I was winning so much. Although, I guess, I would pay for it when it came time to move on to Lord Chamberlain or Henry.
I glanced at the Fortune Wheel on my was passed it and found nothing of interest. I took my free spin and moved along. It was becoming a very dull day. It wasn't until I was searching the Train Cabin in Metro Station for Anabel that I found something unusual. There on the ground was a note. It was an invitation but it didn't have a name attached to it.
You are invited to join the Elephant Brotherhood! You have gone above and beyond the call of duty. You will find in the accompanying package an Elephant Mask and a Black Robe. You must wear these in order to gain access to the meeting. The meeting will take place tomorrow at the Old Tree in the Cemetery. The Elephant Brotherhood needs people like you!
"Wonder if I can find an Elephant Mask," I mused. I admit to being curious but as I didn't know what the elephant mask looked like I was up a creek without a paddle. I could, of course, just crash the gathering. Well, I had until tomorrow to figure something out. I wonder who they sent the invitation too! What did it take to get an invitation anyway? What exactly does the Elephant Brotherhood do? I folded the invitation and placed it in my pocket. It was funny that it didn't state a time. I would have to stake out the old tree in the Cemetery tomorrow. Ah well, I bet I would get Helping Hand again anyway and the other tasks could wait a day or a week. Hopefully, I could get some answers! I skipped off and continued my rounds.
I found another note near the Dark Tower Gates. It was the same as the first. It seems they were recruiting but recruiting who? Why were they recruiting and for what purpose? Were they running out of people? Had the Elephant Statue talked some of their members to an early grave? Would this be another futile quest that left me with more questions than answers? Well, I was a curious sort! I walked back home whistling and carrying a sleeping Brite. He had brought back a lovely Crystal Chest filled with gold and diamonds! I wouldn't be able to use him tomorrow but perhaps Sulfur, my fire dragon would be just as lucky.
The Stake Out
I was still groggy and stifled a yawn as I made my way to the Tavern. I had went to bed late last night preparing for the stake out and found I couldn't sleep. I finally got to sleep close to 2am and was up at six. It wasn't nearly enough sleep to be alert! I tried to pump myself up but all I wanted was to crawl back in bed. I entered the Tavern, gave Salty a kiss on the cheek and sat down at the dice table. Salty came over and grinned. He patted me on the back and told me he was sorry. He didn't reply when I asked why but I figured it out moments later. He offered up a Shard of Soul as his wager and I only needed one more to get them up to 50. I licked my lips and agreed. I rolled two consecutive three's and I knew I wouldn't get that Shard of Soul. My last roll was snake eyes and I cursed. Salty offered up another apology and I waved him off. This is what I get for dicing without Brite! I could have really used that Shard of Soul. I ordered up a cup of Salty's strongest coffee and gulped it down. I didn't even care that the hot liquid scorched my throat! I felt the heat spread in my stomach and I grinned. I may not be completely alert but I was halfway there.
The Evil Gnome Trio greeted me at the Airship Tower. I glared, they smiled. They even skipped away as I yelled that I wouldn't do Helping Hand ever again! The gnome that drove the airship tsked me under his breath and tossed out an Exclusive Food and two Unique Stamps when I finished packing the crates. I glanced up at the rising sun and shielded my eyes. It was going to be a very bright day. I had to hurry if I was going to hide myself at the Cemetery in Town. I snapped up the food and stamps and dashed off. I hope the meeting hadn't already happened!
I watched as Just John and Nimie made their way in to the City Cemetery. They placed their Elephant Masks on their faces and Just John took Dal's hand.
"It's great that you are joining us," I heard the smile that was surely on his lips.
"I was honored to get the invitation," Dal said, "but why me?"
"Why else, dearest," John patted her shoulder, "You like your eggs and we need a supplier."
"Ah, I see," Dal nodded, "Why is she here?"
"Ah, Nimie is joining because she has been a tremendous help to me!"
"The Elephants go marching and we remember," Nimie said. Her voice sounded far away as if she was being controlled.
"What about Rahia," Dall asked. I blinked in confusion. Why would Dal ask about me?
"In due time. She isn't ready, yet. She is fighting the changes in Midnight Castle," John explained, "Plus, she stole the sacred Elephant!"
"Ah! Let's go," Dal said and the Trio walked off towards the tree.
I watched as they vanished as well. How was this possible? I finally stepped out from behind the Tomb and ran over the rope bridge before it could fade. I touched the old tree but nothing happened. I called the little bit of power I still held as a Protector but that did nothing more than whip my hair into tangles. I sighed and backed away. If only I had had a better vantage point. I sighed and climbed on to the roof of the Warden's Hut. I couldn't see anything special about the tree from here. I grimaced and sat down hard. Would I want to join the Elephant Brotherhood? I didn't really know. If they were behind the horrid things that had happened to the Castle in the last rumble, the answer was no! If they helped people, the answer was yes. I didn't have a clue what they did or what they stood for. I knew Just John wasn't all bad but he wasn't all good either. He hung somewhere in the grey. I couldn't follow them but I could watch them. The stake out hadn't given me many answers but I did know who the invitations belonged to and that was a start. I would somehow have to keep an eye on Nimie and Dal! How I was going to manage this, I didn't know. I couldn't be in two places at once but perhaps I could. I smiled and a plan started to form in my head.
I sent Bolly to watch Dal and Wat to watch Nimie. I figured those were my two best bets. I couldn't stand to let my lucky charm, Brite, out of my sight. They reported in daily for the a week and a half. They were detailed but something felt off. Bolly reported Dal just went round to select places. She cleaned and reported back to one of the inhabitants in the Castle. She also visited several zoom zones and crafted a lot. She seemed determined from what Bolly reported. Perhaps, she had finally gotten tired of just doing rounds to wait for an egg to pop up on her wheel. She was moving along fairly well with her quests in the Castle but nothing was out of the ordinary. Bolly told me that she had camped out near the Mosaic Panel and the Castle Armory several times. She had cursed the Binding Egg endlessly. I thought that being in the Elephant Brotherhood would help move along faster but she seemed to be moving at the normal pace. Well, the new current normal pace for the Castle.
Wat reported that Nimie only came out of her house occasionally. He said she seemed paler and more drawn. She didn't look like the Nimie he had seen before. She would mumble to herself and swat things away that weren't there. Wat's reports left me more and more alarmed as the days turned into a week. Nimie was growing thinner and he couldn't explain why. She didn't go anywhere unusual nor did she seem to have the focus that she used to have. I had to wonder what was causing this change in Nimie.
A new day arrived announcing a tournament and I made it to the first one with ten minutes left. I scored enough to make it in to the top 100 but noticed that Dal and Nimie were both absent from the action! I decided to bide time and hope they would enter the next one. So off I went to waste time. I played Salty, who had started to cheat. I was barely winning there. The Fortune Wheel was being stingy and the Evil Gnome Trio was still giving me Helping Hand. So, I chased flowers while waiting. It is a really good way to waste time!
The tournament hall was packed when I showed up for the next one. I saw most of the usual entries. I waved to a few of my friends that corresponded with me and even a few I knew from the message boards around Midnight Castle. I searched for Dal and Nimie but couldn't find them. The whistle blew and I set off. I waited impatiently as the doors opened to the rooms. I searched and made a right mess of all five rooms. I had to find those tournament tokens. I glared at the time the first run through. I was rusty, I knew it. I was pleased with my second run through that gave me a score a little above 197k. I thought that would work and went back to the main to search once again for Nimie and Dal. I smiled as I saw the leader boards. Yes, I thought 197k would do just fine for now.
I found Dal in the 200 ranks. She was smiling and chatting with a girl next to her but when she saw me, she took off. The girl she was chatting to told me that it was Dal's turn. I nodded and gave her my thanks. I would have to catch her after the tournaments. I passed the time cleaning up scenes and was surprised at the item drops. I was getting Polestars, Murder's Eye and Banner of Loyalties! Well, this is different, I thought to myself with a chuckle. After twenty minutes had passed I made my way back to the tournament hall and my heart sank. I was moving lower and lower in the ranks. I didn't have a choice, I headed back in the rooms. My next score was horrible getting all 10% on the spins. I wanted to hurry and get that orange cat. I only needed two more placements in the top 100. I paid in to play again and managed to get just above 202k. I hoped that would keep in the top 100. I set off once again to find Dal, however, I was informed that she had just entered the rooms. My timing was off today!
I made my way back to where I had left in my rounds of the Castle and counted my lucky stars when I got an Immortal Treasure and a Wreath of Justice. I continued on until I heard the whistle blow once again announcing I could play in the tournament again. I headed towards the tournament hall and patiently waited for the doors to open.
I scanned the leader board and realized once again that I was dropping in rank. I set off but I was doomed to spin three zero's. I shrugged and decided to buy in once again. If I couldn't get a better score this time, I would have to hope for the best. I cleared the rooms and found enough tokens for 4 spins, finally! I spun the dreaded wheel and closed my eyes. This time I did fantastic! It wasn't epic 50% spins but it was good enough to give me a score of 240,150. I was happy with that. I skipped off in search of Dal. I found her near Armours and Banners but she refused to talk. She completely blew me off and when I asked about Nimie, she looked nervous.
"What is going on, Dal." I asked for third time. That's the lucky number right? Wrong! She just looked around and went back to cleaning Armours and Banners. I sighed and knew I wouldn't get anyway. I would have to go find Nimie and see for myself. I left as she cried out in triumph and pulled out a Mask of Virtue. I made my way back to the tournament hall and watched the leader boards for the last two minutes of the tournament. I noticed Dal couldn't quite make it in to the top 100. I didn't feel great about that because I remember the quests she was soon to dive in to. There were so many doubles that I screamed. I hope she would fair better in the next one. I gathered up my 36 diamonds from the mailman and decided to head home. I would make some chicken broth for Nimie. I didn't know if she was sick or what was going on but I felt I should do something for her. She usually never misses a tournament. I waved goodbye to all my friends still milling about the tournament hall and headed home. It had been a good day and all I needed was one more placement in the top 100 for that orange kitty. It had been a decent day in Midnight Castle. The tournaments were back and I got a few needed inventory items while waiting. The only thing missing had been Nimie's smiling face in the tournaments. What was going on with her? Had something happened to her after she joined the Elephant Brotherhood? She had seemed a little off the day I spied on their entry. I had no choice but to find out. She may not be a close friend but I was worried.
The Missing Shadow Thief
I arrived home and started working quickly on the chicken broth. It was late in the night when it was completed but I decided to head over to Nimie's anyway. I let Brite tag along with me as he was worried about me going alone. He thought it could be a trap set by the Elephant Brotherhood. The thought had crossed my mind but if Nimie was sick or worse well, I had to find out! I made my way over to Nimie's house but the house was dark. There wasn't even a whisper of candle glow in any of the windows. I knocked on the door and the door swung open. I glimpsed the living area by moonlight. It had been ransacked. I adjusted the pot in my hands and stepped inside. The stench knocked me over. It smelled of unwashed bodies, sickness and something metallic. I set the pot down quickly and grabbed a handkerchief out of my backpack. I covered my nose and mouth to block out the horrid smell. Brite sneezed and the room lit up like a firework display. I gasped to see the true state of the room. The furniture (what little there was) was broken beyond repair and there were red droplets on the floor and back wall. I backed up a step but narrowed my eyes and continued forward.
"Nimie! Are you here," I called out, sending out a thousand prayers a second. It wasn't looking good. I heard a whimper from the bed chamber and made my way over. I opened the door to find much of the same destruction. There was blood upon the mattress and a large gash with feathers spilling out. I shook my head in disbelief. Was Nimie dead? What had happened in this house? I followed the sounds of the whimpering and found Nimie's Snow Griffin shivering under her bed. He backed up towards the wall when he saw me. I had no choice but to remove the handkerchief. I pulled out a bag of simple food and slowly coaxed the frightened animal from under the bed. I told Brite to run back to our house and find Gryff. I only hoped the two Snow Griffin's could communicate enough to let me know what happened. It didn't take long for my two pets to return. Gryff squawked at the unfamiliar Snow Griffin and soon the two were chattering away.
"They came last night. They were looking for something but Nimie wouldn't tell them what they wanted to know," Gryff explained, "She's gone, Rahia!"
"Gone? As in," I ran my finger across my throat.
"He doesn't know. She's just gone."
"Oh no. Does he know where?"
"No," Gryff said after a few short squawks.