The Enigma of Friendship: Part Three
Con held his breath, eyes wide and body quivering, as he waited in the darkness for the one gripping his shoulder to make the first move. That move was a quiet, yet harsh whisper, almost like a hiss. “Lamc nowd.” Despite the instruction to relax, the young red Lenny found himself tensing up more.
There was an aggravated sigh and the hand relinquished the hold it had on him. Con stayed still, not sure of what he should do while it was still too dark to feel safe. A soft clicking was heard before the room gained a source of light once more, from the reading lamp next to a ripped arm chair. The one who turned on the light was the ghost that had led Con to this room.
The Kacheek looked to the Lenny, seeming to judge him as he critically glanced over Con. Both Neopets stared at each other with silence only kept from settling by the sound of rain hitting the shingles on the roof and outside walls. Once again, the ghost spoke first. “Ohw rea uyo?”
“Who- Who am I?” The Lenny tapped his fingers together nervously as he attempted to force an answer out of his mouth. “We-well, I guess you can say I have a lot of names, but none are really preferred since most of them are insults, and I’m quite embarrassed about the name my parents gave me so I like to go by nicknames though everyone seems to have a different one for me, the oddest one being Trevor though I have no idea how that one arose since it is nowhere close to my actual name-.” He cut himself off by clamping his beak off with his hands. Now was not the time to blather about unimportant facts. “Just call me Con,” he added quickly and quietly.
“...” The Kacheek seemed to be unimpressed with his timidity and had his arms crossed as he watched with a small frown as Con rambled. “I ese. Hawt rae ouy gonid rhee? Od ont labbeb hist meit.”
Con winced as he understood that the ghost was not happy with his useless and endless speech from before. He attempted to keep his answer shorter this time. “I was being chased by some bullies... I wasn’t watching where I was going and ran into your door and fell inside.”
The ghost tilted his head up as he inspected the Lenny once more. Con shrunk away from his glance, unsure of what the strange Kacheek could possibly be thinking. “Od yuo nowk hwo I ma?”
“Not really...” Con frowned sheepishly. “Though, after looking at one of your books, I could guess. Eliv Thade?”
“...Yes.” Thade looked almost curious about the intruder of his mansion now. Con noticed how he was no longer speaking in anagrams as well. “I am. Tell me... Con... My book over there...” He motioned over to the first book the Lenny had looked through, the one filled with the strange puzzles. “My little Grimoire of Thade. Do you really think it’s, as you put it, ‘amazing’?”
He looked from the book to the ghost once more, relaxing slightly at the question. “Actually... Yes. I have a thing for puzzles, you see... And that was one of the most enigmatic things I have ever encountered, if not the most complicated and detailed riddle there is in existence. I can only assume so much about it, and beyond that I can tell by that one page I turned to that it would be way ahead of my current comprehension skills to solve.”
“Genius beyond your abilities,” Thade repeated the young Lenny’s words from before and started to smile a bit. “That’s good to hear. It was what I intended when I wrote it.” He chuckled softly and grinned darkly. “However, I find that most who actually dare to read it go mad from the attempt. You seemed to have been smart enough to avoid that fate by merely skimming through one page instead of really bothering to read through the details.”
“Um... Thanks?” Con smiled, though he was unsure if that was the proper response. His smile ceased as he rubbed his arm, feeling awkward. “Look, I am extremely sorry that I invaded your home. I would hate to have bothered anyone and I am perfectly willing to leave and never return if you would like that.”
“No, no, stay for a while. I insist.” Thade frowned as he noticed Con adopt a look of panic and shiver in fear. He glanced over his shoulder at the writing above the door and rolled his eyes before turning back to the Lenny. “Never mind what I wrote there. I play this game, allowing young and frightened pets to wander about my home until they gather all the necessary items to ‘banish’ me to a dank crypt, but I do not appreciate them bothering me more than is needed. I have no intention of keeping any annoying pests in my home and try to get them out as soon as possible. I just have that written so they will remember not to break in again once they do leave.”
Con looked unconvinced but tilted his head to the side in interest. “But why don’t you just make them leave right away and not bother with playing a game with them? There would be less time wasted in that case, right?”
Thade nodded and sighed. “True, and perhaps if I had done that from the start things would be different. However, when I first became a ghost I had a habit of talking in nothing but anagrams- I could speak normally, but I was out of practice- and I was quite angry with everything. Those who found themselves in my home took what I was telling them as a challenge as they figured out what to do to trap me and allow their escape. I very easily managed away from the crypt after they left, but I found what had happened to be a delightful break from things. I continued that pattern with others who came in until it became expected of me and now I find it is very bothersome and wish they could give me a break. That’s why I locked the door after you came in, since I didn’t want any extra annoyances.”
He chuckled and smiled at the Lenny. “Of course, you proved to be more interesting than most others I have dealt with. I don’t mind you staying, for at least until it stops raining.”
“Oh... Uh... Thanks?” Con smiled a little, though it was hesitant and gone after only a few seconds. “I’m sorry that I don’t know how to respond; I’ve never been very sociable. In fact, Lit was just...” He trailed off as he remembered his younger brother, still outside in the rain and probably wondering where he was. “Oh, shoot, I forgot about Lit... Oh dear, I hope my poor brother is fine out in the rain, though he is with his friends. Hmm.”
“You are babbling again,” Thade said with a sigh. “If your brother is with others, then he should be fine. If you don’t know your way around here, it is safer in a group. Also, even if it’s raining, it’s still during daytime and the more dangerous nocturnal creatures don’t change their sleep patterns just for dark skies and water.”
“I suppose,” Con replied as he frowned at the thought of all the things that could prove the ghost’s statement wrong and end up harming his younger brother. Of course, Lit could outrun almost anything and his friends were quite the oddball group when it came to their strengths. Lit joked before about them starting a superhero group when they were older... Perhaps they could handle it on their own, even if Con obviously couldn’t.
The Kacheek watched the distant look his guest was adopting and raised his brow at the sight. “Speaking of groups,” he said to draw the Lenny’s attention. “Why were you alone when you were chased here? Wasn’t your brother with you?”
Sighing, the young Lenny shook his head at the latter question. “No, Lit saw his friends and decided to hang out with them. He was planning on spending time with me, since I stay at home too often, but his friends showed up and I could tell he didn’t want to be seen with me then.”
“Mm.” He nodded a bit, seeming to understand what Con was going through. “I see. That wasn’t very nice of him, was it? Avoiding your presence so callously after promising the day with you. It’s nice to know that he’s the one out in the rain, isn’t it?”
Con frowned at the ghost. “No. It isn’t. I don’t blame him for not wanting to be around me; I’m one of the least entertaining people out there. If I actually had friends, I’d prefer to go off with them than spend the day with someone like me. I don’t retain any ill will towards him and it was my suggestion that he leave me behind anyway. I’d hate for him to be uncomfortable...”
“Oh? My apologies then.” Thade chuckled and shot a crooked smile at the other Neopet. “I just had pinned you for the type to become jealous and malicious in the case of being wronged.”
“What? No!” The young Lenny shook his head and waved his hands. “Nonono, not me. That would be really bad. Genius is not put to good use when it is applied for malevolent intentions.” He sighed a little before rubbing the back of his neck nervously. “Besides, I’m not jealous of him... I just would like to have friends like he does.”
Thade gave him a questioning glance. “Am I to assume that you have none? Besides your aforementioned brother, though I do not think he should be associated as such based on what you have revealed about him.” When the other was silent in response, he turned to one of the doorways out of the library and motioned for him to follow. “Come along. Would you like some tea? I don’t have much in the way of refreshments sans my small supply for other Haunted Woods denizens that I tolerate the company of...”
Con looked up at Thade and hesitated as he decided on the best course of action. Despite previous events, the ghost seemed safe enough. He obeyed the instruction to follow and nodded, though the latter action was more to himself. “Tea would be nice, thank you.”
The ghost smiled to himself as he walked out of the room and led the Lenny down a winding corridor. “Contrary to what you may believe, I think you are one of the most entertaining Neopets who has ever invaded my home, how ever unwittingly that invasion was. Decoding words is one thing, but full sentences? And so quickly. True, you don’t seem to be on par with my Grimoire just yet, but if you ever decide to focus a good portion of your time solving puzzles, after increasing your knowledge you may be able to make it through my book without becoming too insane.”
He laughed quietly at that, resting his feathered hand around his beak to stifle it. “You think that my intelligence is amusing? Strange, Lit was just telling me earlier how other Neopets don’t like that about me. Of course, all those people can’t get through some of the simpler riddles I find.” He paused for a moment and looked at Thade as the Kacheek glanced back at him. “You are one of the few I have met who is smarter than me. That is a very respectable quality in my mind.”
“I thank you for that,” Thade responded with a nod as he opened the door to the kitchen. “You are quite clever yourself. And courteous, I might add. You considered the fact that you broke into my home before considering that I might be an evil ghost who would exact a diabolical revenge in response. I'm both impressed and disappointed that you did not think of the threat of being trapped here forever until you read it on my wall.” The Kacheek turned to Con after walking into the kitchen, frowning at him. “After all, this is the Haunted Woods. Just because I was bluffing doesn’t mean some other residents would be. If you run into Count Von Roo, for instance? Or the Spider Grundo?”
“Um... I’ll remember to be more concerned for my own safety the next time I intrude on someone’s private abode?” He grinned sheepishly at the ghost’s flat glare, immediately frowning once Thade looked away. He watched as the ghost made his way through the dirt and cobwebs to a cabinet that was surprisingly clean on the inside. The Kacheek used the supplies inside to start making tea for the two of them to share. Con watched him for a moment before something in the corner caught his eye. The red Lenny carefully stepped over to it and noticed that it was a shield, blue as its base color and with a gold design and letter “P” on its front. He examined what he could of the shield without touching it. “Hmm.”
“That’s the Shield of Pion Troect,” Thade told him as he worked on the tea. When Con glanced at him, he continued. “As I told you, that book was my Grimoire of Thade. In the bedroom was the Amulet of Thilg, and though you haven’t been there yet, the dining room houses the Sword of Skardsen.”
“Protection, light, darkness,” Con said, laughing softly in amusement. “If you don’t have a fondness for anagrams, then it would be because you use them so often.”
The ghost glanced over at the Lenny in query before gracing him with a response. “You have conveniently skipped over the anagram for Thade. You are obviously smart, so what do you get when you rearrange the letters of my name?”
“Have tiled?” the young Neopet offered prior to shrinking back from the glare he received. “Eliv becomes live, veil, vile, or evil. Thade becomes hated or death. It’s rather grim, but what is in a name? I go by so many, myself...”
Thade gave him a blank look before rolling his eyes and smiling. “Is Con one of the better ones? You are putting the concept rather simply, I must say. When I was born, I was named Eliv Thade, and when I died I was Eliv Thade, and ages later, right here and now, I still go by Eliv Thade. There is plenty to be found in a single name, when it is the only one a person goes by. Saying my name is grim would be putting it lightly to some people.”
Con shrugged, unsure of what else he was supposed to say. “I rather like it.” Thunder boomed once more, and the Lenny glanced up towards the sound. He became silent and moved his fingers to count off something to himself, suddenly compelled to figure out a puzzle provided by the noise. The Kacheek watched him, but said nothing. Soon the tea was done and Thade set the teapot and cups on a tray. The younger Neopet looked up at that movement and let the ghost hand him the tray.
“This way,” Thade said, leading Con down another hallway and into the dining room. Rain was falling in through the broken window panels and the clock’s hands were slowly ticking until they both landed on 12. The grandfather chimed that mark and Con set the tray on the dust covered table.
“Noon already?” he asked aloud. Thade nodded and moved the chairs away from the window. The ghost took one and poured the tea as he motioned for the Lenny to take another chair. Con was handed one of the teacups which he took with a nod of thanks.
The Kacheek sipped at his and looked at the younger Neopet across from him. “You know... Normally the Neopets who wander into here and make it through the four main rooms of my castle would gather the correct items along the way and then banish me to the crypt.”
Raising his brow Con set down his teacup and thought for a moment before speaking. “I... I think that would be a very good way to make someone mad... And I didn’t realize that it was part of a routine...”
“And I’m glad for that.” Thade nodded once and then continued. “It saves me from the hassle of leaving my crypt once I’m stuck in there. It is none of a challenge for me, especially since I have done it so many times before. It would be a very lackluster puzzle now.”
Con nodded as well. “I know what you mean. ...About so-called challenges being boring, that is. I don’t like it once puzzles become easily solved. That’s why I like to make my own, since it is tricky enough to a riddle that is simultaneously difficult, solvable, and captivating.” He frowned once he realized what he said, shrinking back a bit. “I... I mean...”
The ghost tilted his head up in curiosity. “You make your own puzzles? That is good to know. But why do you seem embarrassed by that?”
“Be-because Lit- and others- they don’t like...” The red Lenny stopped once Thade raised his hand in a signal to quit talking.
Thade sipped his tea once more before setting it down and looking at Con sternly. “And why should it matter what they think if you like creating them? People do not like to be outsmarted, even if it is in just in a game, but you obviously have no malice behind what you do. I can’t imagine that you’d make riddles to con people, unlike your name implies. In this matter, they are probably just jealous of your intelligence.”
“Jealous...?” Con repeated. No, that couldn’t be it. Why would anyone be jealous of him...? Lit would tell him not tell “assert his intelligence,” but that was just so he wouldn’t... make others mad... Perhaps the ghost was right. “I... They- They probably would be jealous...” He frowned at this realization. “You’re right about that.”
Smiling, the Kacheek chuckled and nodded. “I often am right.” He looked at the Lenny and grinned. “Go on. Tell me one of your puzzles. I want to see your current level of intelligence and creativity in making them.”
Con was silent for a few seconds before nodding. “Alright... I will.”
To be continued...