[37] Sage

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Spoilers for the riddles in the last chapter, if anyone was interested in solving them :)

The second riddle on the page is an overused one. I know the answer from past riddle-solving experience, so I quickly jot down, "The man's horse is named Sunday." Then, I turn my attention to the first riddle, mouthing it silently to myself.

To help me visualize what the riddle is asking of me, I draw a family tree on the back of the sheet of paper, linking each daughter to a single brother. "But then each sister would have six brothers, not one," I murmur, confused. Then the answer hits me and I laugh at my own stupidity as I write it down.

"There are nine people in the family because the sisters all have the same brother," I scrawl and begin working on the final riddle.

A few minutes later, and I am utterly confused. I have tried to look at the probability side of it, noting down messy fractions, but that didn't work out no matter which way I wrote it, and I find it unlikely that the answer to a riddle is guesswork. "If math doesn't hold the answer," I mutter, "the words must."

Yet a few more minutes later, I am still confused. I have dissected each word and still found nothing - no hidden messages or double meanings. The sentence about the test being fair is interesting because it had no other discernible purpose in the riddle, but outside of that, I am at a loss.

"I've tried math, I've tried reading," I murmur, finding it easier to keep track of my thoughts if I voice them aloud. Then, I read over the "fair test" sentence once more, still befuddled by it, and gasp with realization.

I turn to the rest of the empty room as if addressing a crowd, feeling a little of the Voice wriggle its way in. "According to the probability fractions, the test would be fairer if you were also wearing a white hat." I turn back to the paper, jot down my answer, and move to the next pedestal, grinning wildly.

This paper is a singular, simple logic grid puzzle. The back of the paper has the facts to help me solve the logic grid while the front is the puzzle itself. It is relatively easy and I solve it in a matter of minutes with few mistakes.

I wonder offhandedly if the others had received the same puzzles, or if theirs were more fitted to their individual abilities. For example, Deirdre would truly struggle with every aspect of the first page of riddles, while Jake, being a history buff who had likely read the riddles somewhere before, would breeze through them in a couple of minutes.

The third pedestal has a sheet of riddles of more abstract, poetic natures. The first reads, "What belongs to you but others use it more than you do?" The second is, "I don't have eyes but once I did see. Once I had thoughts but now I'm white and empty." The final one says, "I'm tall when I'm young and I'm short when I'm old. What am I?"

I have heard of the final one before, so I quickly write down, "Candle." The second one, I think with a laugh, is easy for someone like me. I scrawl, "Skull."

Then there is the first one.

"It can't be a physical thing," I muse softly. "Riddles very rarely talk about physical things. So it's something all humans have..."

I quickly run through the list. Fingers, toes, skin, eyes, hair, mouths, noses, organs, blood, bones, muscle...

"Still too literal," I mutter, frustrated , hitting my forehead lightly with my open palm. "Abstract, abstract! I have an age, I have a birthday, I have dreams, I have hopes, I have wants, I have needs, I am Sage Greene...Name! Oh! Name!" I write it down on the paper and, feeling incredibly satisfied at my own genius, I move on to pedestal number four.

I let out a cry of horrified disbelief at the math equations that greet me. "I was having fun with the riddles and stuff!" I yell angrily at the ceiling, then resign myself to solving the math problems.

Five minutes later, my confidence and self-esteem is shattered and the math problems are completed, albeit probably incorrectly.

The final pedestal's paper is just a blank piece of paper. Gripping the pencil in my hand, I raise my eyebrows at the blank sheet. "Now what?" I mutter, confused. Then, I shrug unconcernedly."I guess whatever I want."

I draw four neat stars at the very top of the paper. Then, I write in careful lettering, "Reason for your review." Much less carefully and in smaller letters, I follow this up with, "The brain teasers were fun. You would have gotten five stars if not for the math problems, so take that into consideration. Also, no one died. That was pretty cool." I sign my name with a flourish in the large space of paper remaining and set down the pencil.

The door behind me whirs open and I leave.

*

"Did you enjoy yourself?" Maggie asks politely as she leads me back to the cafeteria. It is the first time she has asked such a question after a Trial, and I wonder if it is yet another test.

"Sure," I say carefully. "I left you a review and everything."

"I am aware," Maggie says, smiling, and I fight the urge to ask why she would bother asking me such a question if she obviously doesn't care.

In the cafeteria, I treat myself to a veritable banquet. I pile two plates with macaroni, dinner rolls, crackers of various types, ribs, sesame chicken, chicken tikka masala, and a slice of cheesecake to top it all off.

When Jake and Deirdre walk in together, not looking particularly defeated, they gape at my plates. "How do you not gain two tons after every meal?" Deirdre demands, helping herself to a small bowl of chicken noodle soup.

"No clue," I reply cheerily around a mouthful of gooey macaroni. "I've decided that as long as I'm going to be imprisoned against my will on an alien spaceship, forced to partake in exhausting and life-threatening Trials, and generally treated like a two year old or a lab rat, I might as well be happy. Not that this Trial was especially exhausting or life-threatening," I correct myself as an afterthought.

"Yeah, it was okay," Deirdre agrees happily, and Jake shrugs, frowning.

"My riddles were really hard," he explains in answer to my confused glance. I nod in understanding.

"It's because you're really smart," Deirdre informs him matter-of-factly, and he smiles modestly.

"Thank you, Deirdre."

We eat in companionable silence and I realize that this is the first calm meal that we've been able to enjoy just the three of us. During our last mealtime, Nicole had just been killed and everyone except for me was in a generally bad mood. Before that, we either had Nicole or Xavier glowering at us from a few seats away. This is nice, being able to sit around a table with only my friends and eat all the food I want.

When we're finished, however, we automatically stand and follow Maggie out of the cafeteria.

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