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He paused in his tale to take a sip of Blood Lotus Tea and I admit this was the most talkative he has ever been. I was literally on the edge of my seat.
"She was removed from the Castle , of course you couldn't have such a reminder hanging around the Castle. The wife then sent her brother after my mother but he was taken with her beauty. He decided to bite her instead, claiming me as his own. So I grew up in Town but I longed for the Castle. I met Rowena one night at the Chapel. We became friends and things quickly progressed from there. She was there when my mother passed ans she heard the words my mother whispered. You see, the bite didn't turn my mother and it didn't turn me. It just made me stronger, faster and wiser. She told me to actually reach my full power I would have to take the Blood Flow Potion which would unlock the Vampire part of me. I decided not to, for Rowena. Oh, the draw was there but I loved Rowena that much. When the manservant had spiked my tea with it, the choice was taken from me and I turned. It was quick and violent. My heart went to ashes when I learned what had happened to Rowena."
"I'm sorry to interrupt but how did you come to work at the Castle." I asked, praying he wouldn't yell.
"My biological father's wife never had any children so his sister inherited the Castle upon his death. She took pity on me and gave me the job," he said the ghost of a smile back on his lips, " Aunt Ashildr was sweet and loving. When she passed and her son took over, that's when thoughts of taking the Castle entered my mind. Satisfied?"
"Good," he said and waved to Professor Pinfeathers who rustled his wings, "Years started to fade and blend in to one another until I noticed someone leaving flowers on Rowena's grave. I knew all of her family had long since passed. So I became curious as to who it could be. One night I waited and met Discordia Scales..."
Lord Chamberlain's voice faded and for the seconded time today I was whisked into the past. I knew what to expect this time as I watched everything fade.
I took Arabella to the Underground Grotto and spent years with her. I realized that the Lord Chamberlain was right, she was all her mother. She didn't need potions and herbs as her mother before her, all she had to do was command and you would do her bidding. She was powerful. The day she turned sixteen I explained what had happened. She didn't thank me, no she turned me to stone and made me guardian of the Stone Bowl. I watched her grow more powerful and more like her mother. I cried tears of ash but no one paid me any attention. I tried to warn the men that came to court her but I must have been talking to the deaf. She did stay far away from the Blood Flow Potion, she was already immortal in her own right. She didn't need to become a vampire. I watched her trick Anabel into taking it one night but that is another story.
I blinked my eyes as I refocused on the present and Lord Chamberlains voice.
"..I'll never be able to forgive myself. I failed Rowena but I also failed Arabella," the Lord Chamberlain was in tears. I was shocked. No, I was beyond shocked!
"There, there. We can't change the past, old friend only try to repair the damages here and now," Professor Pinfeathers consoled.
"If I had only been there for her when she was younger, maybe she wouldn't persist in changing me into a bat at the drop of a hat!"
I giggled at this because he really did turn into a bat quite often and he was pink when he did so. So much for the fear I always felt when I saw him. He did glare at me at my giggle but I just kept on.
"I guess it is a tad funny. She's only tried to kill me once or has it been twice."
"It is nine times by my tally," Pinfeathers stated.
"That many," Lord Chamberlain smiled, "Well she is still young. Perhaps one day she shall succeed."
"I have a question."
"Yes, go ahead, Rahia."
"The runes in the Castle, what do they mean?"
"The Castle reveals its secrets over time. The more you try to uncover, the more that pop up. The Castle is one glorious mystery and there are always people lurking in the shadows," he said getting up to leave, "It is best to leave them alone until one is ready to reveal itself."
I nodded and watched to the two friends leave. I saw Lord Chamberlain in a different light. Sure, he had done some truly rotten stuff but he wasn't all bad.
I made my way downstairs were Hamish, the Drunken Skeleton sat. This time he grabbed my ankle as I passed.
"Spare a pint of cider for old Hamish," he asked.
"Sure," I replied and signaled the Innkeeper.
"Stay out of Arabella's way," Hamish said, "She'll have your skin if you don't."
"What do you mean," I asked but the cloaked figure was done talking as he focused on his cider.
I shook my head and made my way home. I learned more than I wanted today and my head was spinning. Unfortunately, none of it helped me with the runes but it did help me understand some of the inhabitants of the Castle just a little more. I settled on to my cot once I got home and stared up at the ceiling. Did Anabel's mother pass during childbirth? Was Lethe really the statue in the Stone Bowl? Is Arabella truly evil or more like Lord Chamberlain than either care to admit? Why do I always have more questions than answers when I come out of the Castle?
I opened my eyes the next morning to a sun already high in the sky. It was blazing down and I knew it was going to be another hot day. The weather in and near the Castle never made any sense so I shrugged it off and got ready for my day. I knew the Iron Knight would be waiting for our game at the dice table so I made my way towards the Tavern. I entered, signaled to the Innkeeper and glared at Canta.
"I can't wait for the hooded figure to be back," I said in way of greeting. He just laughed and handed me the cup of dice. The Iron Knight was relaxed as I rolled. I knew it was going to be a good day when I rolled my lucky 7. He left the Tavern muttering about loaded dice and how Canta had mixed them up. I just smiled and went to settle my bar tab.
"How much today." I asked the Innkeeper.
"On the house, if you listen to my story," he said leaning in close over the Bar Counter.
"Sure thing," I replied. It was the first time the Innkeeper had offered his story actually it was the first time he said anything more than 100 gold.
"Great. I heard you've been asking questions, trying to find a pattern in the Runes. I can't say I can help with the runes but the more you learn about the Castle and the people in it, the friendlier we will be," he smiled, sitting down the cup he was forever wiping down.
"I can see that but why now? I've been here for nearly a year and now everyone wants to play show and tell."
"You have to earn our trust," he said and leaned back against the counter, "You know my name is Jeronimo. I was born over in Rocksville. I was happy there. Oh this was before all the stores moved in back when it was still more of a farming village than a Town. I didn't mind farming but I always wanted more out of life and I fast learned that I was good with secrets. You have to be in this line of work."
He said all this with a smile and a distant look in his eyes. I knew he was reliving the past.
"I was delivering secrets to Count Vesnik, the old one not the current one when I spotted Arabella one day. She was out collecting mushrooms and herbs, not that she has any need of them but she loves the earthy smell they give off. I fell in love with her. I followed her every where and helped when I could. She, however didn't return my affections. I was fine with that, believe it or not. She helped me get the job here when the old Innkeeper decided to retire. I knew nothing of running a Tavern but it mattered not."
"You took on a huge project," I said.
"Then, yes. Now, no," he glanced around, "Back then all sorts of people visited and business boomed. Now we get the odd stray traveler but that's it. Now where was I?"
"Taking over the Tavern."
"Ah, yes. The Tavern was basically built for secret meetings, hence why it did so good. I know every one's secrets, the good and the bad but I'll never tell them. I just continue watching and running the Tavern. The dice table helps with most of the revenue now. I get half when you loose," he laughed.
"What about when you win," I asked.
"I get it all," he laughed again, a great booming laughter that caused the Monkey to start talking in monkey talk, "Shush! I ran the Tavern for several years before she stepped in the door. I'll never forget her red dress and long curling black hair. I thought I had loved Arabella but she realized what I did not, that back then I was in love with love. Valeria was different, however. I gave her every bit of information I knew concerning the Mystery Chamber. I helped her on her search as much as I could. I even gave her access to the few artifacts I had hidden around the area. I quickly realized she was using me. That she didn't love me, she just loved the hunt. I was okay with loving her from afar until I saw her flirting with Lord Chamberlain. I think something snapped inside me. I killed her in a fit of rage."
He stopped his tale with a sigh and looked at me with guilt stricken eyes. I nodded for him to continue as I knew most of this.
The Shadow Thief
I caught up to the figure in the black hood in the Dungeon of the Cursed. I thought about calling out but I didn't want to spook them. I watched as they reached up and pulled the arm of the statue behind the Stone Chaps. A door swung open and I rushed the person in the black hood. I grabbed their arm and twisted it behind their back, pushing them into the stone wall.
"Arg, that hurts," a feminine voice cried, one that I recognized.
"What are you doing here, Nimie," I asked, shoving her once again into the stone wall.
"I'm doing a job," she said, "If you let go I'll tell you."
"No, I don't trust you."
"Fine! I'm going down into the underground market. I'm on a mission for Just John. He sent me."
"I should let you go because of that?"
"Yes, I can give you access to the underground market here in the Castle and tell you where to find the other underground markets in the other parts of the area."
I admit to being curious so I let you go with the warning that if she tried anything I had a pair of Good Intentions on me. They were handcuffs and once placed on someone that someone could only speak the truth. She nodded her agreement of this plan and turned around when I let go.
"I have business to attend to first. You can either wait here or follow me," she said, pulling another black hooded cloak out of her backpack, "Put that on. We aren't meant to be down here. It's mostly for the criminal types."
"Aren't you the criminal type," I asked putting the cloak on.
"Sometimes," she quipped and headed down the dark passage. We walked for a bit until we came upon a brightly lit area. It was filled with people from all over, some I had never seen. There were items for sale that made my knees go weak. I saw a Folio and stopped to ask how much. I recoiled in horror when the asking price was 250k gold. The merchant told me it was different from the normal Folio we could craft and far more powerful. I remember my grandmother telling me a fool and his gold were soon parted so I backed away. I did think of the Consortium a few times when I passed by stalls selling elusive Christmas Eggs. I always wondered why I never found that many around the Castle or well any and now I knew why. They were being sold for an arm and two legs in the black market.
I kept a close eye on Nimie and made sure to stay as close as possible. I didn't want to the thief to rabbit before I got some answers. She made her way past a waterfall which I assume comes from Mirror Lake. It seemed we were heading further underground. She finally stopped when she came to a wooden door with the same rune pattern as was on the Rune Stone from the Broken Carriage. She knocked three times with a very nice beat and door swung open. She nodded at the person at the door, he wore something that reminded me of middle eastern attire and he motioned her towards the back. He only gave me a quick glance before fingering the sword at his side.
"Nimie, dear! It has been ages since you've come down. Tell me, what does Johnny boy want now," a woman with long black hair in a neat braid down her back asked.
"He's looking for the Drop of Time," Nimie replied, giving the woman a hug.
"Ah, I see. I just so happen to have one but..," the woman's words cut off as she looked to me, "Are you new? I've never seen you before."
"I..I..," I stuttered. I didn't know what to say.
"This is Rahia, Bella. I'm just showing her the ropes," Nimie explained.
"I see, I see," Bella said, "I do have this Drop of Time, like I said but it is going to cost you. I need a Phoenix Egg for as the last one I had was stolen by Dal. If I ever catch her, I'll kill her."
"She does leave a trail of enemies," I said.
"That she does! So do you have an egg Nimie?"
"No, Just John said you'd be willing to cooperate without anything extra."
"Johnny boy owes me much and he has yet to pay up. I give and give to his cause and he never returns the favor. It is time he returns the favor," Bella explained.
"I have one," I spoke up, "I was going to trade it eventually but if you need one I'll gladly give it you."
"You see, this is how it is meant to work. I give something, you give something and we both walk away happy," Bella smiled at me, "I'll just get that Drop of Time."
Bella departed behind a curtain while I fished through my backpack and into the egg cask the Blacksmith had made for me on one of the few times I caught him awake. The eggs fit nicely in the cask as it shrunk them or some such magic who ha. I found the one I was searching for and quickly shut the lid before any one else could see just how many eggs I had stored in there.
"Here we go," Bella said, coming back through the curtains, "One Drop of Time."
Bella motioned to the table in front of her where she placed the Drop of Time so I followed suit and set down the Phoenix Egg. She gave me a brilliant smile and snatched the egg up. Nimie grabbed the Drop of Time and our business with Bella was concluded.
"You come back again, yes," Bella asked, looking at me, "I think I prefer dealing with you over that one."
"I'll be back," I smiled and followed Nimie out of the door. We weaved back through the market taking the same path as we came. Once we reached the closed off door, Nimie pulled a lever and the door slide open. We were once again in the Dungeon of the Cursed, "Okay, explain everything. Why did you and Dal come after me? Who were you working for then? Where is Dal? What exactly do you do for Just John?"
"So many questions," she sighed, "I don't know who hired Dal to come after you but I was hired by Just John to look after you. Well not only you, also Dal. He got a tip she was going to harm someone in the Castle. I don't know where Dal is, I swear."
"Okay but what do you do for Just John."
"I take care of things he can't. If something is stolen or if he needs a rare item," she said, waving the Drop of Time, "I steal it back or find it. It's what I do for him. I also follow people when required. I don't kill people that is not what Shadow Thieves do. I leave that to the Assassins Guild."
"What's the difference," I asked. My only response was a raised eyebrow, "Okay, stupid question."
"Yeah. Look, I'm not the enemy, neither is Just John."
"Then why did you and Dal lead me to believe that?"
"Part of the job," Nimie explained, "I had to make sure Dal believed I was on her side. You know I still have bruises from all those creatures you sent after us."
"I'm so not sorry," I said, sticking out my tongue, "I have to protect what is mine. I've spent nearly a year collecting all of the things in my backpack. Plus, close to six months getting the Gnomes to make me things that would make it all fit in this tiny backpack. I won't have it stolen."
Nimie nodded in agreement, "Any more questions?"
"Yes, where are the other markets?"