The Last Page: Part Four
Note: Since this is an Eliv Thade story, there will, of course, be anagrams. If you’re lazy and don’t want to decode them yourself, you can refer to my userlookup for a translated version.
Three days later, I was starting on a book of Lenny Conundrum puzzles my master had written, the grey book was starting to overflow with words whenever I opened it, and Eliv was obsessing over anagrams. I couldn’t understand most of the sentences he was muttering now, and was spending my free thoughts on the spyderwebs that had formed in the corners of the ceilings instead. It was a relief to stop attempting to understand and to simply contemplate instead.
“Woh ymna spffu ni a hebrat fo wndi?” my master muttered, his forehead creased as he peered down at a worn slip of paper.
On paper, anagrams looked no different than normal words to me, for the letters still crawled around when I didn’t stare harshly at them. But out loud, anagrams made no sense. Eliv had tried to quiz me with them at first, but I had found that they had no effect on me at all. I simply couldn’t put sound to letter, and rearranging the sounds didn’t help in any way.
“But this doesn’t make sense,” he muttered, his words rational for once. “If this part is an anagram, why one normal sentence in the middle- unless...”
For the next day and a half, which I spent following the life of a Spyder which crept across the ceiling, the only sounds I heard from him were mutters and grumbles, and one barely understandable shout. For, as always, Jasar taunted my master as he delivered the breakfast tray- and Eliv yelled “Egt tou fo ym airbylr!” in response.
Jasar seemed thoughtful as well as smug as he made his retreat.
But that night, not long before I closed the book to go downstairs and let dreams take over my mind, Eliv let out a low chuckle and spoke normally again, half to me, half to himself, it would seem.
“This has to be it. If you take where they’re bunched together to be the anagrammed phrases- ‘More-than to-be-seen, through-eye-detached’ becomes ‘Roam-then beset-one, heed-grey-touch-Thade’.” He sat back, eyes closed. “An anagram within a sentence... how long would it take to find the right wording? And how many of the rest of the clues are hidden anagrams as well?”
His eyes opened again; they were weary, but determined. He took a piece of bread from the dinner tray and tore off a chunk, as if only just remembering that he had yet to eat that day. As he chewed, he looked over at me, undoubtedly because I was still watching him, trying to figure him out. He swallowed.
“Uoy tlils cnaotn rntsnaddeu tshi?”
I blinked, unable to comprehend.
“Well, I’ll do my best to keep it to a minimum, then. Oh, before you go- which two ten-digit numbers, each containing one of each number between zero and nine, have square roots where the digits are the reverse of each other?”
I put down my quill and closed my eyes, letting the numbers flow through my head. I had come to accept this strange behavior in my brain, and even enjoy the thrill of solving a puzzle. And while I knew, somewhere in the back of my head, that I had no control over myself at these times, I could still pretend that everything was alright.
Numbers were scrolling through my head, finding patterns and possible answers, but a question like this needed time. Eyes still closed, I listened- and I could hear my master chewing, and the fire quietly crackling in the background, and high above, a tiny skittering noise as a Spyder spun his web. Time passed, but time meant nothing to me while puzzles were being solved.
The numbers clicked in place, and my eyes opened. “3,015,986,724 and 6,714,983,025.”
Eliv looked up from the soup he was finishing off and half-smiled, shaking his head at me. “Correct. You can go.”
That was the last fully intelligible sentence I heard him say for quite a while.
The next morning, when I walked in, my master looked up briefly and said, “Eonc uyo rae fiihsend with the conundrum book, move on to the stack of sperpa txen ot eth lnaecd.” The sentence stopped making sense when he looked from me back down to the book he had been reading.
I paused in the doorway, confused, before moving to my usual place and starting to copy the letters into the book. There was a stack of papers next to the candle that hadn’t been there the night before, so I supposed that they were the next set of puzzles, but a section of my mind was still trying to figure out what my master had been trying to say. How was I supposed to follow a scrambled order?
Things only got more confusing when Jasar entered the room with the breakfast tray, because, for once, my master spoke first. “’Fi ont ttsihgar, tnha samdelbrc’? Rlylea, own, atth’s tusj bantatl.”
Jasar actually smiled as he set the tray down- a real smile, not a smug one- but the letters were being particularly stubborn with me today and I couldn’t pay much attention to him, or the concentrated look on his face. “Show-off. And it took you long enough to find it.”
“I ma tno nhswoig ffo, Asrja Obro- m’I nhngiitk ni aagamsnr.”
“If you say so- still, I take it this means you haven’t solved it yet?”
I glared fiercely at the letters on the page, and was pleased indeed when they straightened out into the word ‘another’.
It was not many days after that morning when I began to understand my master, bit by bit, as I had never been able to understand a Neopet before. It began simply enough- it began with the first snow of the year.
I always anticipated the first snowfall, watched the clouds in the sky for the telltale signs, for snow was something magical that never lost its wonder, and the first snowfall of the winter was a sign of hope. But this year, I was finding more and more enjoyment in learning to read, in solving puzzles, so that my eyes were more often turned inward, introspective, than they were to the sky.
“st’I nwgnsoi,” he murmured that morning.
I put the quill down at his words, turning to look through the window. The tiny white flakes were drifting down from the sky, and the brown ground outside was starting to take on a speckled appearance. Eliv was standing directly in front of the window, a paw on the pane. His breath fogged up a patch of the glass every time he exhaled, and his eyes were focused on something in the distance. He seemed... lost.
“They say that snowflakes are merely drops of water, frozen to the point of taking on a different shape, btu wnhe osed the cdol gorneucea gnaehc? Cold slows, cold kills. And yet, rof dcol to litsl eb leba ot eetcra a ghtni of utabey... there is truly no sense in science.” He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the glass, and I could almost hear the thoughts racing through his head, even if I couldn’t decipher them precisely in their scrambled forms. Could almost hear them, for I had thought the same thing many times.
I hesitated, considered mentioning my view that cold was merely a sort of sleep, in which wondrous changes could occur, and caught myself in time. There was still work to be done. And my thoughts, they were mine. I didn’t want to let them out into spoken words, since they formed my own world, my mental haven.
I continued copying letters, and my master seemed to shake himself awake, resuming his frown as he went back to his books.
This new behavior of his manifested itself at different times, through different means. He would be writing down ideas on a slip of parchment, and would suddenly switch to drawing complex patterns; later, he would accuse me of sketching them. He would abruptly turn from muttering strings of anagrams to holding lengthy, one-sided conversations with the authors of the old books he had memorized, Neopets who had died many years ago. I would watch him during these outbursts, trying to understand why he made so much sense to me at those times.
Then, during a bad blizzard one day, he discovered how to talk to fire.
The day was special because I had finished three quarters of the book, which had begun to seem more like an item of magic than a paper tomb for words. The red lines on its cover were clearly defined, now, despite the fact that red ink had never been painted on.
My master was standing in front of the fire, warming his paws and staring into the flames. When he started talking in the oscillating manner he had taken to recently, I looked up, my mind still caught up in the question of what the red lines on the cover meant to mean, if they could possibly have minds of their own.
“Warmth is good, warmth is light,” he murmured in a strangely sing-song tone, “ubt ehrte’s a edne to tge slrceo...” Without warning, he knelt down and stuck his paws into the flames.
Instinct and the sense of emergency made me drop the quill and spring to my feet, running for the bell as he screamed and thrust himself backwards, and a helpless sort of responsibility made me pull the bell’s cord relentlessly until a servant showed up, a servant who nearly fainted at the sight of the burns on Eliv’s hands. But it was that raging curiosity that kept me in the room, to see how he reacted, to see if he would explain, to find out what his impression of the fire was. I had been burned before; I knew how angry the fire could be. I huddled into a small ball between his chair and the bookshelf, and watched as Wentha was brought in, as she scolded him soundly while wrapping cloth around his paws.
“You need to take a break from this, master, you’re putting yourself into danger from overwork.” Her steely gaze told the story of her real line of thought; he was a danger to her, to all of the servants. “I think you should just give up on the-“
“No!” His voice was suddenly firm, unwavering. He stood up, the bandages starting to unravel on his paws; Wentha shook her head and tied them more tightly. “lsayuobtel tno. I don’t want to hear anything about that, do you understand?”
She didn’t respond.
To be continued...