[36] Sage

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We are ranked with myself in first place, Jake following in second...and Deirdre in last.

Deirdre can't help herself. She begins to cry quietly. I had known that I was going to be in first place, but I still feel my heart drop at the sight of the child's name in the third slot, Nicole's and Xavier's slots grayed beneath her. The two people within me, the one that cries for me to lose in order to save my friends and the one that begs me to win for my own ego, are growing larger and battling more ferociously. As of right now, however, I am definitely siding with the former approach to the Trials, especially as I watch Jake hug Deirdre with strange tenderness from someone so large and brute-like in appearance.

We can't all survive. We've known that from the beginning.

But we don't even die with our dignity. We don't even die with grace. We die in horrible, painful, brutal ways. Xavier's chest was ripped open before he even knew what was happening. Nicole's neck was eaten as she couldn't defend herself due to a wound.

Nicole's neck was eaten.

Some of the pieces begin to fall into place. Xavier would bash people to death with his legs, would sometimes drug them, and would sometimes use other weapons to finish the job, I remember. If one was to kill him like he had murdered others, you would be hard-pressed to find the method he had used the most. He was known for beating people with his metal legs just because of the inhumanity of it, but it wasn't the only way he did things. Therefore, the Albinos couldn't think of one murdering method that would truly capture the irony of the situation - so they simply let their worm monster rip through his torso.

Nicole, on the other hand, only ever killed people with her pointed teeth. That was her signature - and only - move. And in return, she had her own neck bitten wide open.

Sure, two people, one of whom doesn't even conform to the theory, aren't really enough to form a concrete pattern, but if I am correct, Deirdre could be shot to death and Jake will be brutally bludgeoned. And I? I could be killed a thousand different ways because I have murdered with so many different methods.

I imagine Deirdre's tiny body filled with bullet holes and truly understand, for the first time, just how utterly cruel these aliens are. How heartless their methods, how psychotic their "studies." We are well and truly dead, and there is nothing any of us could do to stop it, whether or not my pattern theory comes to fruition.

"Do you want to go to the rec room?" Maggie asks us, dragging me back to the situation at hand.

"Why the hell would we want to go to the rec room?" Jake snaps, and I can tell he's truly losing it. "A teenager like us just died, and she's the second one of us so far, and there are only a few Trials left before who knows what. What enjoyment could we possibly get out of the rec room?"

Before, I found Maggie's calmness tolerable, interesting, even - how did one creature stay so calm all the time, especially surrounded as she was by insane juvenile delinquents? Now, I find it unbearably infuriating. I fight the urge to wring her neck, knowing I am not strong enough, as she merely smiles and shrugs. "So, your rooms, then?"

"Fine. Whatever," Jake mutters.

Deirdre has stopped crying, instead staring into nothingness with a dull, numb expression. Tear tracks mar her blotchy cheeks and her eyes are bloodshot. Occasionally, tears still trickle out of their corners. She is obviously accepting her fate as the last-place competitor. The idea that a child would have to accept death is sickening.

Oh, that's rich. You've killed people younger than her that weren't even given time to prepare - only a few seconds to scream, if they were lucky.

The Voice is right, of course, but its input - on anything - is not welcome. I quickly change my mind on that as it slowly shuts down my emotions so I no longer feel confusion over my feelings towards Deirdre and Jake. I am no longer debating between masterfully winning or purposefully losing the Trials. I will win. If anyone deserves to be victorious, it's me.

The Voice cannot provide reasoning for this, but I take solace in it, and that's what matters right now.

*

Sleep comes easy and no dreams plague me, thankfully. 

As usual, Maggie shakes me awake. Dierdre is standing in front of Jake, leaning backward into him. He has an arm around her protectively, as if he can shield her from the impending horrors that loom before us. The sight is not a happy one to wake up to, although on the surface it is sweet.

"Come along," Maggie says, no impatience tinging her voice, and I debate punching her before remembering that Xavier, after attacking her on our first day here, said she felt like steel. I simply stand and obey.

There is just a skin suit to wear rather than the equipment we were given for the underwater challenge, the same sort of outfit and material that we have used for most of the Trials. As far as weapons go, I get my katana blades, but I cannot be sure we are fighting anything. I have been given weapons in Trials where I never have reason to touch them.

As per usual, the room that is beyond the weapons room door is cloaked in darkness. The lights quickly flick on to reveal a small room before me. Jake and Deirdre are not in the area, and I suppose they have each gotten their own, identical room.

There are five pedestals before me. Each one has a different sheet of paper on it rather than a holocomputer or floppy. "Playing it old school," I murmur, eyebrows raised.

An Albino's voice comes on over the loudspeakers and I sigh in relief. They seem to be explaining the Trials less and less and I was worried that we would be left clueless on this one, too.

"Whoever solves all the brain puzzles first wins," the Albino explains. "Go."

I rush to the first pedestal and pick up the offered pencil. I quickly read the paper and pick it up, flipping it over to see if it has a backside. It doesn't, thankfully, so I flip it back over and focus on the words written there.

It is a page of ancient riddles. I know they are not recent because when I was younger, I loved riddles, especially classic ones, and they all had roughly the same form.

There are three riddles. The first one reads, "Mr. and Mrs. Adam have six daughters. Each daughter has one brother. How many people are in the Adam family?" The second one reads, " A man rode out of town on Sunday. He stayed a whole night at an inn and then rode back to town the next day on Sunday. How is this possible?" The final riddle reads, "Three prisoners are forced to stand in a line, looking straight ahead. They cannot move their heads or they will be shot. They are told they can go free if they can guess the color of the hat placed on their head. There are five hats: three white, two black. You are standing at the back of the line and can see that the first two prisoners are wearing white hats. You soon realize that they are unable to deduce the color of their own hat or are unwilling to guess. The prison warden swears it is a fair test. What color is your hat?"

I grin, putting my pencil to the paper. Finally, a Trial that is fun. "I may suck at riddles, but I sure do love them," I mutter, beginning to write.

*

Wow, metamorphmagus98 , you voted so quickly!! :)

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