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"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.
The Beginning of a Ruse
I tried to make Professor Pinfeathers as comforted as possible once I realized he had fallen asleep. He kept mumbling something in a language I didn't understand. It sounded close to what Trinity, my pet Raven sometimes spoke. I didn't want to call her back to the house nor any of my pets. It seemed I had a long night ahead. I made a cup of tea and headed back to the chair I had pulled close to the makeshift cot I used as a bed. I sat in the chair for hours just watching and hoping he would soon wake up. It got me to thinking of the first time we had met. It's funny really, as the roles were reversed.
Almost a year ago
It was cold out but luckily the snow had stopped falling. I was cold, wet and still bleeding from the last fight I had gotten into while helping Dal gather some exotic pets for a collector. It wasn't her fault that she ran after the snake we were sent to collect turned on us. How were we supposed to know it was poisonous? Hm, I guess I should ask how I should have known! Dal knew, she ran. The original owner came and ordered it to attack and out the door Dal flew. I was left behind with the snake and 20 very angry men. Ah well, I got out that was all that mattered. I wandered around for a few days before I stumbled upon a Castle.
"Are you the niece," the question came out of the darkness.
"No, all my family is gone," I replied with what sounded like something caught between a cough and a groan.
"That will do," came the response and before I could make another sound I felt talons clutching my shoulder. I promptly passed out.
When I came to I was leaning against a Broken Carriage and there was a crow looking at me expectantly. His head twitched from side to side and he was wearing a monocle of all things. His beak opened and the caw I expected to hear were replaced by these words.
"I've tended your wounds and you'll be fine. I have just one request. The previous owner's niece was meant to come and collect her inheritance a fortnight ago but she never showed. You have to pretend to be the niece for a little while."
"Uh, talking bird.. Right," I slowly stood up and backed away.
"Look, they don't know what the niece looks like. I just need a replacement! You can do this to repay me for what I did for you. I saved your life!"
"Sure.. Mr. Birdie. I'm just going to walk down this road now. I must have bumped my head."
"You didn't bump your head! I can talk, it's a long story that I'd rather not go into right now. There are more pressing matters!"
"Okay, let's say no one knows what the niece looks like. Why would I do this? It's a dangerous web we weave when at first we try to deceive!"
"Yes, yes! I'm a spider, you're a fly come in to my web," the crow sighed, "but you see if the niece doesn't show up then the Lord Chamberlain inherits the Castle and we can't have that!"
"Uh huh," I nodded and turned back down the road.
"There's gold, diamonds and lots of quests!"
I pulled up short, "Quests, you say?"
"Yes, lots of them! The inhabitants of the Castle will ask for things. You'll be able to explore where ever you like, well within reason."
"Okay but how long do I have to pretend?"
"Just until the real niece shows up. I promise!"
"I'll do it. I love to explore! Rahia is the name," I said and without thinking stuck out my hand. He glared at me and I realized my mistake, "I'm sorry! I'm so so sorry."
Thus began my ruse. It did work for a time and I had the run of the Castle until dear old "Uncle Henry" actually showed up. He forgave my ruse after I reunited him with his family but the rest of the Castle knew and their tasks became increasingly harder. It still wasn't so bad I could explore until feet were sore! Eventually Professor Pinfeathers just decided to hire me on to keep all the inhabitants in the Castle safe and well not fighting with each other. They just did all their bickering through me. He was the only friend I had for the longest time, until I got my Snow Griffin. Of course soon after that Just John started sending me things. He never talked, just sent. I'm guessing all those gifts were from him. I only made actual friends with other residents in the Castle after I hit the Mystery Chamber. It was a lonely month of wandering around by myself.
Well, not completely by myself. In the early days Professor Pinfeathers would accompany me every where. However, crows, even a speaking one, age differently then we do. He needed more and more time to rest in between quests while I wanted to keep going. I'll be honest, he was my first friend in the Castle even if our friendship did start out wrongly. We didn't hurt anyone and every thing turned out well in the end.
I shook myself from the memories, a tiny smile playing on my lips. I have a hard time believing it's been nearly a year. I get up to look out my window at the imposing Castle just up the hill. The grounds lit up but darkness still clinging to the worn grey stones. It hasn't changed a bit. Oh well some things have but the outside is still as imposing.
"Ow, you wrapped the bandages too tight," Professor Pinfeathers cried.
"I'm sorry! I'll loosen them up a bit," I said coming back to the bedside.
"It's okay. I can't believe I did this. I must really be getting old," he joked.
"I didn't see any one, Rahia," he said looking down at his wing, "There was no one there, I swear!"
"Did you find out any thing of importance?"
"Nothing you haven't figured out, except John didn't send Dal and Nimie."
"Do you know who did," I asked, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice.
"No, unfortunately not."
"Well, I guess Just John is still in my good graces then."
"You should watch your back. This," he said, flexing his wing with a grimace, "will have me hold up in my bed for awhile."
"No worries. I have my pets and possibly a few friends I can call on if needed."
"I made the right choice with you. I knew you wouldn't care about the gold or the diamonds," he smirked.
"They are a nice perk," I smiled, looking over at chests over flowing with both gold and diamonds, "They buy a lot of quiet."
"Yes, they do," he agreed.
"Should I help you back to the Castle?"
"No. I'm sure Lord Chamberlain will be around soon. He worries when I'm gone for too long."
"You must be the only thing that old vamp cares about!"
"Rightly so," Lord Chamberlain sneered as he entered my home.
"You know, you could knock!"
"I could but I don't have time for this! The silver needs polishing, the cobwebs needs dusting and I have a Castle to run!"
"Right, you are important and all."
"Do you always sate the obvious," he asked looking down his nose at me.
"Enough," Pinfeathers yelled, "What is it with you two? You bicker worse than an old married couple." I grimaced at that remark and shooed them both out of my house.