The Last Page: Part Five
“Annelia? Ypa tetntonia, Ann- oh.” My master frowned, beckoning to me with a bandaged paw. “Next page, girl.”
Since his incident with the fire, Eliv had begun depending more heavily on me for simple things, actions he now had trouble performing, such as turning pages. With time, he was growing used to the bandages, and he had even managed to start using silverware in a clumsy fashion the day before. But books were more delicate, more fragile and exact.
I reached across the table and turned the page of the book he was currently re-reading with my left paw, not looking up. With every puzzle I inscribed into the book, I was growing closer to the end, closer to the last page. Lately, I had found myself unable to concentrate on the small, interesting pieces of life, for the book was taking up my entire conscious mind as I continuously attempted to figure out what hidden meaning it held. In a way, I was now living to see it completed, to see what amazing things could happen when every page was filled with words.
And yet... I didn’t want this routine to end.
I paused between entries in the worn notebook I was currently copying out of, observing my master across the table. His eyes were still shadowed, and almost tinted red from lack of sleep; with his black hair falling limply and a frown nearly constantly on his face, and especially now with his paws in bandages, he could almost be mistaken for a regular monster that one would find in the Haunted Woods. He had even started wrapping cloth around his feet, instead of wearing socks, for his shoes had worn out completely some number of weeks before, and ‘he didn’t have time to go and get new ones, wasn’t that obvious?’.
I knew him well enough now to know that his grimness hid a futile desperation, that his bluntness was only used because he constantly felt like he was on the verge of discovery, and was constantly pushed back again. How strange it was, that I could know him so much more thoroughly than I knew any of the other servants in the castle.
The servants... the servants had almost all left, leaving the castle barren and cold in their absence. Wentha, Jasar, the young Bruce, and I were the only ones remaining, but my master never seemed to notice that anyone had left. The others had given up on regularly cooking him meals long ago; Jasar would still bring up a tray in the morning, and he would pick at it throughout the day.
“Texn,” he said gruffly, eyes still focused on the words. I reached out to turn the page; he grabbed my paw before I could withdraw it.
“Ahwt fi rehet nts’i an wsraen?” he said, his voice shaking. I stared at him, uncomprehending. “It would be so easy to give up, make him solve it, see if he’s been lying the whole time...” his voice trailed off, and he stared in my direction without actually appearing to see me.
I carefully reclaimed my paw, shaking it in an attempt to make it stop tingling, and started copying in the next entry. Eliv began to talk again, his voice low. “But if there is an answer? If I merely haven’t found it yet... I ntc’a eivg pu. Otn ety. Tno hwne hreet’s tilsl epoh.”
It was snowing outside, in giant white flakes that danced outside the window. I knew that for a fact, and normally, I would have spent hours watching the snowflakes, wrapped up in their short and beautiful lives, entranced and, in every way possible, happy.
Now, I could only feel sorrow.
Time passed, and though time meant little to my mind, I could trace how it sped by as the stack of pages in the back of the book narrowed down. Eliv was saying less and less that I could understand each day, and spent more time in strange actions that didn’t seem to have a purpose at all. He regained complete use of his paws, though the bandages stayed on, and I caught myself wishing that he hadn’t, for the book was nearly complete, with so little left to write-
And then, one day, there was only one page left blank.
I had finished with the last stack of papers he had given me, and turned the page in preparation for the next riddle. The right side of the book showed a faded grey backing; the left, the only empty piece of paper left.
I didn’t understand. And when Eliv appeared behind me and picked up the book, leaning heavily on my shoulder to stay upright, I still didn’t understand. I held my quill tightly in my right paw, staring blankly at the table.
Eliv was silent as he flipped through the pages, and I dared to look up at him. He was smiling- he smiled so rarely these days, it seemed- his eyes far off and tired, remembering. The cover of the book had bright red lines on it, now, and a red stripe on the spine.
He paused, and looked more closely at something in the book. “Hmm. Ehre’s a zlpuez-” He looked down at me, and barked out a short laugh. He thought for a moment, then spoke slowly. “Sorry. Here’s a puzzle for you, Annelia; how can you throw a ball with as much strength as possible, and still have it come back to you, without it hitting or being attached to anything?”
He hadn’t given me a puzzle to solve in a long time. This one was easy; the answer clicked into place at once. “Up.”
Eliv barked out another laugh, and squeezed my shoulder before letting it go. He then ambled over to his chair, settling down to continue flipping through the book.
I felt... empty. I had grown accustomed to having a purpose, having a constant, consistent duty, and it was suddenly gone. I touched my shoulder absent-mindedly, then stared at my paws, examining them closely; they had become smudged with ink over time, no longer clean and completely yellow as they had previously been. Life had been simple, before.
There was a soft, sighing sound, and I looked up. Eliv was asleep.
Maybe the problem was that the book wasn’t finished, that I hadn’t truly completed my task. There was still that last page, waiting to be filled; the book wouldn’t be complete without it. But what puzzle could I include? If my master had written any others, he hadn’t shown them to me.
Then, a very ragged piece of paper fluttered down from the armrest of the chair, floating down to the floor. Of course- the puzzle, the one that had started it all. The most difficult puzzle of all time, if the master of puzzles himself couldn’t solve it.
I stood up, walked to it, picked it up, all seemingly without thought. The words on the paper were dark and worn, slightly difficult to take in, due to Jasar’s striking handwriting. I found myself wondering if I could fix everything; if I could read the words, solve the puzzle, would it set things back the way they originally were? For that matter, was I willing to give up the last month or more of my life?
It wasn’t a question worth answering, anyway; the words did not make sense.
It was strange, how easy it was to ease the book out of Eliv’s bandaged paws, to bring it back to the table, open it to the back. My quill moved across the page quietly, copying in each letter precisely. These letters were unusual in the fact that they stayed still; they seemed engraved in the page, more like concepts than words.
My quill stopped moving. I had reached the bottom of the page, and the book was done. Before I even had a chance to put the quill back in place, the pages flashed brightly, making me blink several times. When I could see again, I noticed that the letters on the pages had gone from black to red. I wasn’t too surprised.
I put a paw on the book, smiled down at it. It was warm and, I was certain now, it possessed a certain kind of magic. But it wouldn’t hurt me; I had, in part, created it. I had given the book life, and was tied to it forevermore.
“Annelia, uyo- tawh idd uoy do?” Eliv had woken as abruptly as he’d fallen asleep, perhaps due to the book’s flash of light. He reached across the table and grabbed it, examining the cover closely. I let him do so without regret; I could feel that my task was finished, now, and was satisfied with the result. The lines on the cover of the book were slightly engraved, and were red without taking on the appearance of being inked at all.
“Ihst stn’i na niraoryd zzlepu okob oameyrn,” he murmured, flipping through the pages at an abnormal rate. “Stih si, ti’s a- a ogmrreii. The Grimoire of Thade.” He cracked a smile, but it was a smile without humor. “Annelia, owh ddi oyu od hsti?”
Eliv turned to the door to see who’d spoken; I didn’t need to. I could recognize Jasar’s voice in the background, but it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered anymore was the book.
“St’i enno of oruy sbseusin,” Eliv snapped, quickly turning back to his examination.
Jasar came into the room, trying to get a closer look at the book. Eliv snatched it out of his sight, growling under his breath. “What, is it that project you had Anny slaving away at, your- memoir? Sheesh, you don’t need to be so twitchy.”
“I’ev dmae it ryve alrce nyma stmie htat I ndo’t nwta ouy ni rhee, os tge uto!”
I sat still, not quite sure what to do in this situation. I was more... more invested in the present, more interested in what was happening to other living beings, than I had ever been before. A small part of my mind wondered why that was.
Jasar hesitated, then strode forward, a frown appearing on his face. “What are you hiding, Thade?”
I needed... I needed to act. I needed to protect- protect the Grimoire. Barely thinking, I scrambled up to my feet and grabbed the book before Jasar could reach it, and ran around the table, clutching it in both arms. It was warm, very warm, and the red lines burnt hot against my arms. When I looked back, Jasar was staring at me, bewildered.
“Anny? What are you doing?” He shook his head, and tried to reach across the table to take the book. Eliv was suddenly in front of me, blocking Jasar’s reach. “What, so she’s allowed to touch the book, and I’m not?”
“Ywh otn?” Eliv’s glanced back at me, and his grin stretched a bit too far across his face, enough to almost make him look... malicious. “Hse’s rettbe at ngovils zezsupl nhta yuo era.”
At first, Jasar was confused. And then he was understanding, far too understanding.
“Annelia’s insane,” Jasar said softly, looking at my master with pity in his eyes. “And with how you’ve been acting lately, it seems like you’re heading in that direction, too.”
To be continued...