The Last Page: Part Three
I was quick to find the kitchen and grab a bowl of soup in exchange for helping Jasar with the dishes again. He was in a gloating mood, but at least he was doing a better job of rinsing the dishes properly this day. Still, he talked at a nearly continuous pace, and his words seemed to make more sense this night (to the small portion of my mind which listened to others’ words) than they had the many nights before, when he had talked of many similar things.
“I knew he’d never get it, especially now that he’s resorting to his past puzzles. Oh, sure, I bet he’s figured out some of the steps, but he’ll never get how to tie it all together. Neopia’s never seen anything like it before.” He ran the sponge vigorously over the pot’s inside, and the smug smirk didn’t fit with his droopy gray face. “And when he gives in, It’ll get everyone on Neopia realize that I’m the best puzzle-maker, and I’ll be twice as successful as him. It’s all going to work out, Anny.”
I ran the towel over the fork, and it was strange that the bubbles didn’t seem as entrancing today as they usually did. At least the water, flowing gracefully around everything it touched, changing shape yet remaining the same, was still fascinating in its own right.
That night, clouds covered the sky, hiding the stars, and I fell asleep when I couldn’t hear them singing.
The following morning dawned with clouds still covering the sky, and I crept up to the kitchen, playing hide-and-seek with shadows, to eat a piece of bread before heading up to the library. The spirits in the portraits were sleepy at dawn, and only murmured vaguely at me when I passed them.
When I opened the door, my master was asleep, leaning against a bookshelf, a piece of paper still clutched in his paw. I tried to back out quietly- maybe I could go outside and watch the dew slide down blades of grass, maybe I could watch the sun rise until it was burned into the back of my eyes- but he jerked awake as the door creaked. He looked at the piece of paper, looked at me, framed in the door, and stumbled up on his feet.
“I was sleeping,” he grumbled, angry, and I started to back away more quickly- then he flicked a glance at me. “No, Annelia, don’t leave, I’m mad at myself, I don’t have time to sleep-“ He paused very briefly, and the light in his eyes changed from infuriated to desperate. “Fyora curse it, what had I thought of?” He slid back to the floor, rubbing his forehead and closing his eyes, and I didn’t understand him at all. “I saw it, saw the answer in a dream, but I- Slorg’s slime, I can’t remember!”
He was silent for a moment, and I stood in the doorway, not sure what to do. When was the last time a Neopet had confused me? Even new people only took an hour or two to figure out, and then they were obvious, their actions predetermined in my mind. Why was this Kacheek breaking out of the safe little box I had put him in?
The he looked back at me, and it didn’t make any sense that his mouth had twisted up into a half-smile. “Looks like sleep might be the answer after all, eh? And it’s not like my thoughts make any sense when it’s four in the morning and I haven’t slept in over a day.” He stared at me a moment longer, then frowned. “Well, don’t just stand there, girl. There’s still plenty of puzzles for you to go through, and hopefully looking back through my own riddles will help me figure out this one.”
I hesitated for a split second, then walked over to the table and sat down, picking up the quill. Eliv continued to watch me, frowning slightly, as I opened the book and started inking in the letters on the next paper. The fur on the back of my neck stood on end until he looked away.
He had fallen back into his habits of the previous day by the time that the rest of the servants were up and about, and had his face about an inch away from a book’s fine print when Jasar opened the door, carrying the master’s breakfast tray. For some reason, my master froze, and as I glanced at him, still trying to understand his actions, it became apparent that his eyes were narrowed.
“Your breakfast, sir,” Jasar said humbly. I looked back at him; there was an odd quirk to his smile as he looked at my master. “Out of pure curiosity, have you solved my little puzzle yet?”
I didn’t see how it happened, but a book flew an inch past Jasar’s face, blowing his ear back a bit, and my master screamed “Get out!” in a scratchy voice different from his usual tone. As Jasar set the tray down on the ground and walked sedately out, his smugness fell into place. I looked at the book lying open on the ground, wondering if the letters would bleed out of the pages into the stone floor. When I turned back, my master was bookless and breathing raggedly, a grim look on his face.
I went back to copying as I wondered if it was possible to make stones into words.
Time passed on, and the stack of papers shrank until I had only one left. The last letter had been copied into the book, but only a small portion of the pages had been filled, and my task didn’t feel finished. My master looked up at the disappearance of the soft sound of my quill scratching, and raised his eyebrows.
“Through all of my copies already, eh? Well, there’s still plenty more to do.” He smirked as he sat down in the green chair on the other side of the table, grabbing a worn green journal from the bookshelf. “I’ll underline the puzzles amidst my other entries here; just copy those once I’m done.” He started underlining while I sat back, rubbing my wrist to ease its ache and watching the wind make the trees sway outside, and would it be possible for the wind to creep through cracks in the walls and chase after the spare bits of paper in the castle to make them sway like the trees?
“Oh, I’d forgotten about this one,” my master murmured, smiling proudly down at his journal. “While playing Double or Nothing, there’s a 1/2 chance the coin will be heads, 1/2 it will be tails. You flip two coins at once, and one of them gives you heads. What’s the probability that the other flip was heads as well?”
He was sitting back and smiling and remembering, but my head was spinning and the obvious answer was being beaten down by some tricky part of my mind and the options were in front of my eyes instead of the table, and the real answer was bouncing around in my skull. I wanted to clamp my mouth shut because that’s what I always did, but I couldn’t keep it in-
“One third,” we said at the same time.
The tumult in my head quieted, but now my master was looking at me, surprised, and all of my thoughts were squashing together in a mad panic and wasn’t it strange how the light played in rays through the window with more colors than any eye could possibly see and why wouldn’t he stop staring strangely at me? That rhymed, but I wondered if it still did in Tyrannian.
“I heard that,” Eliv said quietly, his voice odd. I didn’t want to look at him. “I’m- I’m not crazy, you just solved that puzzle, too. But in seconds? No one’s that fast, no one but-“ he laughed hollowly- “me.”
He was quiet, then, and I kept my eyes on the wood grains of the table, and those grains curved in infinite fractals that would eventually go past even the keenest eye’s ability to discern and maybe if I could keep my mouth shut he would go back to his musings and forget I had ever said a word.
“But I never sent this one to the Lenny Conundrum,” he muttered. “There’s no way- Annelia, answer me, I know you can talk. How’d you solve that?”
Some orders I wouldn’t, couldn’t take. But I could still feel him staring at me.
“I wonder...” There was a soft sound of pages flipping, and he spoke again. “What disappears, yet stays forever?”
There were memories of crawling words and puffs of smoke, and my jaw seemed to move of its own accord even as I tried to think of the snowflakes that would arrive in only weeks and the many beautiful shapes they’d come in. “Books. Knowledge.”
Pages flipped again. “If I buy two items at the Spooky Food shop for 1,100 Neopoints, and one costs 1000 NP more than the other, how much did the cheaper item cost?”
Numbers never lied to me, they were more factual than nature itself, and I didn’t feel in control of my mind anymore. “Fifty Neopoints.”
“How many months have twenty-eight days?”
“All of them.”
There was silence. I kept my eyes down for what felt like hours but was probably only a minute, feeling myself slowly relax as I carefully traced the lines on the wood with my eyes. I then looked up at my master, helplessly curious about what his reaction would be. He was staring at me, a strange light that I didn’t understand in his eyes, the journal still open in his paw. I looked back down hurriedly, sure that he was mad, and anger at my mistakes led to harsh yelled words which were hard to block from my ears.
“I’d like an explanation, of course.”
My mind was slowly drifting to its usual state, and I selected one train of thought out of the myriad of others which had besieged me earlier. Could there be colors in the light that my eyes were incapable of seeing, or would they only exist upon being sighted? And what was vision, for that matter?
“And it seems you can’t give me one.” He chuckled, and wasn’t vision only a single way to perceive the world? “Maybe it’s better that way. You’re another puzzle for me to solve.”
Silence again. When my mind had relaxed enough, I looked at him, still vaguely curious as to where the anger had gone- into air, or a soul, or the fire in his eyes? He was underlining in the journal, a small smile on his face now. I went back to my thoughts, and in the fifteen minutes or so it took him to get through the entire journal, he threw ten different puzzles at me, each of which I answered in under a minute. It was almost like a game. And maybe I was still tense and uncertain under my semblance of calm, but though my mind was preoccupied with other things, I couldn’t stop glancing at Eliv, trying to figure out why he had reacted the way he had. Why was I having more trouble understanding this Kacheek than I had ever had with bubbles, or dust?
Eventually he finished with the journal, and I returned to copying letters into the book. Things went back to the way they had been before- except now, when my master seemed particularly frustrated, he would stop what he was doing, think for a moment, and quiz me with another puzzle. Some were harder than others, some took me what seemed to be hours before the answer spilled out of my mouth, but they all were solved with time. No puzzle could trick me, I was coming to realize with strange delight- but there was one puzzle he refused to tell me.
To be continued...