Hey all, just wanted to pop in and let everyone know that Revfitz was kind enough to review 30 serials on his blog this month, and Godpunk was one of the chosen serials! You can check out the review here. I’d also recommend checking out the rest of the reviews, they’re pretty good!
After the last couple years spent writing some 300,000 words, split between Kinda Super Gay, Godpunk, A Bad Idea, and Pixel Courage, it seems like I should have so much to say.
Sitting here, writing this, it’s hard to get past that simple word.
I posted the first chapter of Kinda Super Gay on November 5, 2014, my birthday. (It was on its own separate site, before I moved everything to Megapulp in May 2015. You wouldn’t know it, though, because WordPress won’t let me back-date the posts without messing up their urls. And yes, that’s been bothering me ever since, because I’m petty.)
If you’d told me everything that would happen after that: getting readers, commenters, over 100,000 views and some reviews that were kinder than anything I ever could’ve imagined…
I don’t know what my reaction would’ve been. A part of me would’ve been surprised and happy.
Honestly, at the very beginning I was a much less confident writer. I’d put in a lot of hard work and I’d been to workshops, but the question still remained. Would random strangers on the internet like my stuff?
The answer to that, I’m happy to say, has been yes.
At the same time, I would’ve been sad. Because I wanted more.
That’s a scary thing to admit, since most web serialists are so good at the humility thing.
“Oh, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was just doing this for fun, but then it grew into so much more.”
Or, “I just wanted to practice my writing. Why, I had no idea anyone would actually read my stuff!”
That was never me.
Haha, that was never, ever me!
Not only did I want people to read my stuff. I wanted to make a living as a web serialist.
That might not seem so crazy now, after Wildbow, Drew Hayes, and a few others have begun to money off their work.
But the truth is, I didn’t start wanting to be a professional web serialist in 2014.
It goes back further, to 2011, which was when I actually began posting my first web serial.
(Yes, it’s listed on Web Fiction Guide. No, it’s not worth finding.)
And the truth is, it goes back even further, to 2005.
I was in 6th grade, and I’d spent the summer at my brother’s house. He was older than me by a couple decades, so his place was pretty nice. And he’d started seeing some success in sales, which meant he’d started subscribing to business magazines.
There was one in particular that grabbed my eye: an issue of Entrepreneur. It had an article about people making money from their blogs.
Honestly? That was one of the biggest moments in my creative/intellectual life. Because it made me realize I wanted to make money writing a blog. But not just any blog, man, like, a blog where I wrote fiction and stuff.
It sounded crazy back then. Sounds pretty crazy today. But it’s what I wanted to do.
I wrote serialized stories that I never posted (thank god). Wrote a couple that I shouldn’t have posted but did (whoops). And eventually spent years writing the stories on this site.
They’re stories I’m very proud of, stories that found a readership. I never monetized, for a number of reasons (lack of confidence, lack of patience, etc.)
But at the end of the day, I’m really proud of what’s been posted her. And I’m thankful for the many, many people who gave me the time of day.
Thank you all for reading. I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do with this site, but in a way I’m glad.
If this is what failure looks like, well goddammit, I’d be happy to fail for the rest of my life.
I’m getting busy in my life, so you won’t see me here for awhile. Am I going to be gone for a couple months, a couple years, a decade?
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I just know that I need some time to work on whatever comes next.
In the meantime, you make sure to have some fun adventures, alright? I’ll make sure to have plenty, too. 😉
Thanks for everything. I’ll see you again sometime.
Alex grabbed my arm; her hand felt cold.
“Chris.” Her voice was weak. “I knew you’d come for me.”
She smelled like old age and machine oil. Her skin had wrinkled just a little bit.
“I wish you could’ve seen the things that I saw,” she said. “I… You were at the Beta, weren’t you? I think I remember you.”
“The things I saw, Chris. I… Everything. I was playing almost all of the NPCs in the game. I was everyone, all at once. And game time moved so much quicker than real-world time. Hundreds of years… I was Panopticon. I was The Rose Sage, and The Thorn Sage, and all the rest… It was… It was magical.”
“We were looking for you,” I said. “We were worried about you.”
“I’m fine.” She coughed. “I just… I’m so proud of everything that happened. AI was never the way forward. But amplifying human brains artificially was. Having proved that this technology works… There’s so much potential, so much ability to teach other people.”
“Your game is… something.” How else could I describe it?
“You like the hacks I put in it?” she asked. “For you, because I knew you’d save me.”
A long silence filled the room. Despite everything, it was just so nice to be in her physical presence. I didn’t care about how she looked or how she smelled. We had a history together, and I didn’t want to let it go. I shouldn’t have to let it go.
Finally, she said, “I need you to save me, one last time.”
“Anything.” I’d proven my love before. Why not prove it again?
“There’s a table… should be on your left.”
I reached my hand out and felt the wood table.
“Yeah.” My hands explored the table’s surface.
“I did so much work for AI Corps. I really thought we were going to change the world with virtual reality and augmented reality…”
My hand felt something cold, glass. A glass phone screen. I grabbed the cellphone.
“But they betrayed me. They haven’t given me the money they owed… Trying to force me out. Guess that’s why I thought I should… should try to live in Throne Quest. I wanted escape, you know? Do you see?”
My hand had landed on another object — cold metal. Made my pulse pound. It was a gun. Felt small. Probably a pocket pistol.
“Without the money… The money they owe me, Chris…”
The words had trouble coming out. Somehow, they made it. “What’s the gun for?”
“For your protection. The phone will explain. I just need you to complete the quest, Alex. Complete the quest and… and… We’ll finally be together.”
I sat there for long moments, not saying anything. The rat wheel spun and my eyes still hadn’t gotten used to the dimness of the room, which was only ameliorated by the not-so-helpful red light.
“I…” I’d felt a hole in my chest for so many years. I’d felt it when I told my mother I was trans, and she’d disowned me. I felt it whenever I walked somewhere and saw the way people stared at me.
So many people were against me. But when I was with Alex, things felt… right. I needed something to believe in, so I believed in her.
She needed money to finance her goals, to finance her creations of the future? She’d been wronged, and she needed me to right those wrongs?
I grabbed the gun. “I’ll complete the quest. I’ll… it’ll all be over soon.”
Back at the parking lot, I looked at the phone and saw that an app was already open. Blood Reign: Mobile Apocalypse was the title, as I saw in the upper left hand corner. It had a GPS Map.
I made my way to the car, going through the usual struggle to get in. Without a second’s hesitation, the car’s GPS picked up the app’s GPS map. The car door closed, I buckled in, and the car began to move.
Whereas before the drive had seemed incredibly slow, here it flashed by in almost an instant. I felt like I should have questions, and my emotions did feel jumbled. But ultimately, I knew the truth: All you have to do is finish the mission.
On the bottom of the phone screen, the small text box said: Follow the line. That’s just what my car did.
It dropped me off at the front of a huge skyscraper in the middle of downtown. I got out, phone in one hand cane in the other. The gun felt heavy in my pocket.
As soon as I walked through the door, the phone said, “Downloading Currency…”
Currency at 15%
I held my breath. Was that all it took? Was that all I needed to do in order to complete the mission?
“Hey, you!” the guard at the front desk yelled. There was no one else in the lobby. “What are you doing here?”
My phone buzzed. A text screen popped up, saying: Kill the Troll.
I raised the phone so that it’s camera pointed at the guard. The image on the phone looked almost exactly like the area I’d been looking at. But instead of showing a guard seated at the front desk, it showed a troll: an ugly green brute, with his lower jaw sticking out too much, exposing his ugly teeth.
I took the gun out of my pocket. On the phone screen, it looked like the tip of arrow.
I shot the gun; the arrow flew towards the guard.
The arrow pierced through his neck. I put the phone down, and saw that he was dead.
Currency at 30%
My heart was racing, but I told myself that I was calm. All you have to do is complete the mission.
I smiled. That made things simple.
Another text box opened up.
Get into the elevator.
I walked towards the elevator and pressed the button. I got in.
Go the top floor.
I pressed the button to the 50th floor. The elevator closed. It began ascending.
Currency at 45%
My mind felt empty.
We hit the 50th floor, and the elevator door opened. I got out.
Currency at 60%
Another text box opened up, Walk down the hallway and open the last door on the left.
I walked down the hallway. Most of the offices were empty, and it was only then that I realized it was night outside.
One of the offices wasn’t empty though. I could see inside before I got to the door, because of the glass window that looked out into the hall. None of them noticed me.
I opened the door.
The text box said: Kill The Kings.
Five kings sat at the boardroom. I made sure to look at them through the screen of my phone and only through the screen of my phone. It was easier that way.
I raised my gun/arrow and shot.
“Wh–” an arrow ripped through one of the king’s skulls, knocking his crown off.
Currency at 75%
I let loose more arrows, each releasing with a loud bang.
The kings didn’t have much time to do anything. One of them began standing up before I shot two arrows in his chest.
The third king got an arrow in his neck.
The fourth king got two in the back.
The fifth king, though… I couldn’t find him.
Currency at 90%
I looked away from my phone. The scene looked much bloodier than it had through the screen of my phone. I turned my gaze back towards the screen.
I heard a whimper from underneath the board room table. I looked down and saw the last king, his crown barely still set on his head.
I shot my last arrow.
All Kings Killed.
I held my breath, waiting for the phone to say it. The elevator opened up; cops, I’m assuming.
Currency at 100%
Boots stomped down the hallway.
You completed the mission, Chris! You’re my hero. ❤
Cops were pointing their guns at me, and I smiled. I’d completed the mission.
The cops were yelling at me, but that didn’t matter.
I was Alex’s hero.
The City of Charon seemed like little more than a blur. It was weird, after having gotten so immersed in this reality, but I realized it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter as much as Alex. A part of me even convinced myself that maybe I didn’t need to say goodbye to Raine. What was the point in saying goodbye to a computer program?
I got attached too easily. And even when I tried to push people away, somehow, they always ended up back in my life.
I walked straight into The Thorny Sword, not paying attention to the surroundings.
As I entered The Thorny Sword, I couldn’t help but noticed my surroundings.
Something had changed.
There was still the bartender who hated me, of course. There were Raine and the kid, sitting by the bar.
But there was something in the air here — two guards stood at the other end of The Thorn Sword. I couldn’t see who they were protecting, presumably because the person was sitting down, and my view was blocked by the bar itself. Still, I had a pretty good guess.
Raine smiled when she saw me. I couldn’t smile back. I knew what had to be done.
“Hey, Hero,” Raine said as I approached the bar. “You what what you had to do?”
“Not quite,” I said.
Couldn’t look at her, couldn’t look at the kid. Couldn’t bear the thought of what a life with them might’ve been like.
I walked past the bar. Feasted my eyes on The Thorn Sage, who sat there flanked by two guards.
“Well, well,” The Thorn Sage said, leaning back in his chair and smiling, his plate of chicken only half-eaten. “The Hero with the Lightning Eyes returns.”
I didn’t feel the need to talk to him. Instead I unsheathed my sword, striking one of the Thorn Guards.
1,000 / 1,000 HP. The green letters floated above his head.
“You can’t hurt them,” The Thorn Sage smirked. “They can, however, hurt you.”
One of the guards unsheathed his sword and thrust it in my direction.
I lost 10% of my HP and stumbled backwards.
“I almost can’t believe such impudence. Impotence, too,” The Thorn Sage said. His guard took a step forward.
I looked up at where the wine glasses were hanging. A sword hung there, too.
“We can’t really kill you, of course,” The Thorn Sage said. The guard, sensing his liege’s desire to monologue, stayed back. “But we can’t have Heroes thinking they can attack me. When you respawn, Hero, I’ll make sure one of my guards kill you. Every time you respawn, he’ll kill you. He’ll kill you again and again, until you’re well and truly dead!” The Thorn Sage cackled. “You can kill him, now.”
As the guard approached, I sheathed my sword. Grabbed the sword hanging from the wine rack. Knicked my hand on the blade, losing 2% HP.
But I also took the sword off the hook. Grabbed the pommel of it with my other hand and pointed it at the guard.
“Doesn’t matter what sword you use, Hero. You can’t hurt my guard!”
The Thorn Sage might’ve been right, but the sword was there for a reason. I believed in Alex.
The guard swung his sword at me. I held my sword in place to block it.
His sword broke; I smiled.
In the brief moment that he stood there dumbfounded, I swung my sword at his neck. It cleaved through the metal armor, lobbing his head off.
The other guard went down even more quickly, meaning it was just me and The Thorn Sage.
His eyes had widened in surprise. But in a showy display, he went back to eating his chicken.
He wasn’t afraid? Fine, I didn’t need him to be.
I took my sword and placed the flat of its blade under his chin. A bit of grease got onto it. He swallowed the bit of chicken.
I tried pushing the tip of the blade into his Adam’s Apple, but it wouldn’t go in.
Alex, give me strength. The thought gave me hope. No way Alex would give me an impossible task.
“I’ll confess, I’m a bit surprised you managed to do away with my guards. They’ll respawn soon enough, of course, but it is surprising!” With his pale white thumb and pointer finger, he grabbed my blade. He moved it away from his neck. “That said, you certainly don’t expect to be able to kill me, do you?”
As The Thorn Sage spoke, I felt an energy well up in my eyes.
“Why are you smiling?” The Thorn Sage asked. “It’s like I was trying to tell you, Hero. You can’t kill me. I don’t even have HP. This world wasn’t made for my death! A part of me wishes it were! Ha, I wish I’d never met the Rose Sage. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gotten so attached. Sometimes–”
“Thorn Sage?” I said. “You talk too much.”
My eyes crackled with power. The lightning ripped through them, and I was blinded.
Screaming. Darkness. I felt drained.
Was he dead? No clue.
I stumbled. Tripped over something. Hit my head.
Everything hurt, but eve in the pitch black darkness, a message box appeared.
“THANK YOU, CHRIS. YOU COMPLETED THE MISSION. IN THE NEXT MESSAGE YOU’LL FIND MY ADDRESS. GO THERE, AND WE CAN BE TOGETHER AGAIN.”
Once I’d read that message, a new one popped up, telling me where Alex was located.
I smiled. She and I would be together again.
Alex was holed up in some warehouse roughly three hours away from me. My smart car took me all the way there, and a part of me wished I could drive myself.
It made me feel lonely, sitting in the car with nothing to do. No hands on the wheels — nothing tactile, nothing physical. Just a long, lonely drive.
And yet for all the tedium, my heart wouldn’t stop racing.
Alex. I remember the way her hair smelled after long showers. I remember her nails, always with the black paint at least a little chipped. I remembered all the good times we had together. I tried to forget the bad.
It felt like forever, but remembering her made the eternity bearable.
The car too me through an empty-looking area I’d never been to before. Some industrial park with a lot of buildings but little movement. In fact, I didn’t see a single human being in the area.
The car parked itself, so I got out. There was one other car in the parking lot.
It was slow-going with the cane, but I made it to the nearest warehouse soon enough. I entered through the old, rusty door, which creaked as I opened it.
There weren’t any fluorescent lights on when I entered. Instead the light was a dark red. It wasn’t coming from the ceiling, and its purpose couldn’t have been for illumination since it didn’t help me see anything. Instead it was more like a glow.
I heard the human of the datapulse, which sounded like a hundred fans whirring simultaneously.
The warehouse was artificially cold, much colder than it’d been outside in the sun.
I squinted, trying to see into the red light. All I saw were shadows, darkness, and the red.
The sound of a wheel spinning. I moved towards it. Step by step, carefully as my heart stormed in my chest.
I looked directly at the source of the wheel-spinning noise. It was hard to see, but I could just barely make out the rat spinning in its cage, electrodes attached to its head. I made my way forward, clutching things in the nearly-blinding red light.
More cages surrounded me, each filled with weird critters: iguanas, spiders, cockroaches. They all had the telltale nodes strapped to their heads.
I made my way forward, until I bumped into something.
Felt clammy, like human skin. A wrist.
I began feeling around. Found wires, which led up to a VR headset.
I took it off.
The human figure coughed in the darkness, mumbling.
I recognized her voice. It was Alex.
I sat in my bedroom, having logged off the game.
Had to find Alex. Help her. Do what I could. At the same time, my body was killing me.
A faint light poured through my window. Bird by the window squaked loudly.
Couldn’t remember when I’d even logged on. The skin around my eyes felt sore. Touching it with my hand, I felt the indent where the VR goggles had been.
“Goddamn,” I muttered. Grabbed my cane, put on my smartwatch, and hobbled into the kitchen.
Stomach killed me. Felt like it was tightened in a knot. I took some mac ‘n’ cheese from the fridge and fired up the microwave. While the carton spun around on the microwave’s turntable, my smartwatch rang.
I pressed a button, picking up the call.
“Paul,” I said.
“Your mom called me. She’s been looking for you.”
“Yeah, I’ve been busy.”
“With Throne Quest?”
“Alex is in trouble,” I said. “The NPCs in the game are talking to me. Trying to explain how I can help her, but it’s all so…” I stopped. “You think I sound crazy.”
A long pause. Finally, she said, “It sounds like Alex is manipulating you. Making you jump through hoops to see her. Dragging you into her drama.”
“It’s not like that. I think the game’s got a life of its own. The NPCs are so self-aware.”
“Do you remember telling Alex you were trans?” Paula’s voice was soft. “How she reacted? You, coming into my dorm room? You cried. You called her such ugly names.”
“Alex was just scared. She’s not… I want to be with her. We belong to each other.”
“I’m sorry this world can be rough. But Alex isn’t good for you. You can’t get back what you two had. And what you had… You’ve gotta find something better than that, Chris. You deserve better.”
The microwave beeped. My mac ‘n’ cheese was done.
“Alex deserves something good, too. Gotta go.” I hung up.
Scarfed down the mac ’n’ cheese, hobbled back to my bedroom, and put the VR headset back on.
The datapulse whirred, as the world of Throne Quest booted back up again.
I’d logged off while standing at the base of the volcano, so that’s where I ended up when I logged back on. I stared up at the towering gray mass. The purple smoke billowed in the air, massive clouds of it getting spat out.
I began to climb.
Something in the climb felt oddly routine. It was no more exciting than cooking the mac ‘n’ cheese had been. I made sure to avoid the monsters I could avoid. The ones who weren’t easily avoidable were easily killable.
The Volcano of Dreams was spitting purple fumes again, so that when I got to its top, I once again couldn’t see anything.
I got to my feet. Saw a dark shape flying in the fog: Jhaness.
“Greetings, Hero,” she said.
“I’ve come with another coin.”
“Another? I don’t remember you.”
She didn’t remember me. Was that because I’d killed her? Did the respawn reset her memory? Was she a whole new NPC?
The why of it didn’t matter, I decided with some level of unease. Her not remembering would mean less trouble for me.
Of course, she could be lying.
“I’ve brought a coin. Can I throw it into the volcano?”
“Yes,” she said. “Make a wish — a good wish, a wish for the one thing you truly desire. If it’s the right wish, it’ll come true.”
I took a deep breath of the sulfurous purple air. Made my way to the edge of the volcano. Put the coin in my hand, slid my thumb across the grooves of its surface.
I wish I was close to you, Alex, I thought. I wish I could help you, make you happy.
I pulled my arm back, then snapped it forward.
Long seconds of waiting.
Figured Jhaness was going to tell me I’d fucked up again. That a video game couldn’t fulfill my emotional needs, or whatever.
To my surprise, a chat box opened up. It was bright white, easily readable and completely unobstructed by the smoke.
“ONLY YOU CAN KILL THE THORN SAGE, ALEX,” it read. “DO SO AND SAVE ME. THEN WE CAN BE TOGETHER AGAIN.”
Kill the Thorn Sage…
I couldn’t, could I? I wasn’t strong enough. He had guards, and I had power, but that much?
No way I could do it without my Lightning Eyes, and I still couldn’t figure out how to use them.
“Was your wish granted?” Jhaness asked.
“I have to complete a mission before it’s granted,” I said, “but yes.”
“What was your wish?” Jhaness asked.
“I want to meet…” I stopped myself from saying ‘Alex’. “I wanted to meet your God.”
“Why?” Jhaness asked.
“I knew her before, and we had a good thing. I’d like to see her again.”
“You sound troubled.”
“Why?” that was the trouble with Jhaness. In the few times I’d spoken to her, she’d shown such depth, such humanity. That scared me.
Still, it wasn’t really why I was troubled.
“Your God and I… things weren’t always perfect. Sometimes I felt like I was walking on eggshells. Like if I said one bad thing she’d be gone forever.”
“That does sound like a problem.”
“But you’re supposed to fight for the good things in life,” I said. “And God made me feel so, so good.”
“God has the power to do that.”
“There was a little piece of me, though. A little piece of me that thought I might be happy here, in your world.”
“And why is that?”
“I… Because your God created it, maybe. Because it made me feel closer to her.” I didn’t want to explain Raine and her kid. There wasn’t anything real there.
But what if there could be?
“Sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind,” Jhaness said.
“I want to go on this adventure — to save a person I had some very good times with. But then I wonder if…” Wonder if what? Wonder if I should fall in love with an NPC?
Damn, I could be stupid sometimes.
“Forget it,” I said.
Watching the flying figure, her big bird-like wings and small fly-like body hovering in the purple smoke, it felt like I was talking to a ghost.
There was something calming about seeing her silhouette, as opposed to her true, monstrous form.
I left The Volcano of Dreams. Figured I’d go back to The Thorny Sword and talk to Raine one last time.
The priestesses sat with me in a circle in the temple.
“It started with an idea,” the priestess explained. “A creative being from the Hero’s world.”
“I thought NPCs didn’t believe in the Hero’s world.”
“We’re not all the same,” she said.
“The Thorn Sage told me,” I said.
“The Thorn Sage is… a complicated case.”
I nodded my head, letting it go at that. If it didn’t bring me closer to Alex, I didn’t need to know.
Honesty, I didn’t give a shit.
“It all started in the world where Heroes come from. A world without magic, without dragons. Where the world constantly threatens apocalypse but never quite gets there.”
Sounded true enough.
“In that world there was a creative individual, our Creator. A being who floated through the world, always a bit above it. Never connecting, always a drifting, looking for a purpose.”
Never connecting to anyone.
Never connecting to me, apparently.
“And what happened to her, once she’d created the world?”
“She found purpose.”
I tried not to get frustrated. “I mean, how does she interact with the world? Does she live here?”
After a pause, the priestess said, “Nobody knows, exactly. Some say she resides solely in the world where Heroes come from, keeping a watchful eye over the game but never actually entering it. That she watches over us by watching the ones and zeroes — understanding our source in a manner no one else can.”
Seeing as how she’d gone missing in the real world, I doubted that she wouldn’t be in this world too. Alex wasn’t the passive voyeuristic type. She liked control.
“Is that what you think?” I asked.
“I think we don’t really know. There are many possibilities. What do you know of Panopticon?”
The name rang a bell, but I didn’t really remember anything about Panopticon, so I said, “Not much.”
“Panopticon ruled this world before The Four Sages. He was omniscient: someone who saw everything and knew everything. No one quite understands where he came from or how he got his power. This makes some wonder if he was our creator.”
The timeline for that didn’t match. This game had been out for a week at most. How could all that have happened?
“How long has this world existed?”
“You had a mother?”
“Yes. And on and on. This world has existed for a long, long time.”
I had to file that information away for later. There were so many things it could mean.
“Panopticon was destroyed,” the priestess said, “but if Panopticon was our creator, he was merely a character our creator played. Our creator would still be around, perhaps in another skin.”
“If I wanted to find the creator, how could I?”
The priestess shook her sun-like head. “Nobody knows.”
“Why do you wish to see the creator?” the second priestess said, speaking for the first time.
“I think she’s in trouble.”
“We don’t know where the creator is,” the second priestess explained, “but there is a way you can understand her wishes.”
“How?” I asked.
“The Volcano of Dreams,” the second priestess explained. “It happens very rarely, but the game sometimes gives to people via the volcano. Usually it’s in the form of improvements, but it could also theoretically be information. If a Hero wants to interact with the volcano, they need to find a coin, which is dropped–”
“–when you kill certain enemies. I threw a coin in the volcano.”
For a moment, all the priestesses sat there, silent.
“It’s very rare for someone to throw a coin into the volcano,” one of the priestesses explained. “What did it tell you? What was it so important?”
I sat there, wishing I had a good answer. Wishing I could put any of this together.
“Nothing,” I said. “It didn’t tell me anything. Jhaness told me to make a wish, and…”
“You didn’t make the right wish?” the priestess asked.
“The Volcano didn’t give me anything. Didn’t tell me anything, either.”
“You have to go back,” one of the priestesses said.
“You have to go back.” A second.
“You have to go back.” A third.
“I have to go back,” I said, nodding my head.
“Find a coin. If the game wants you to interact with the volcano, it’ll make sure you get a coin from a dropped monster. Then throw it in the volcano. Make the right wish, ask the right question. Do whatever you have to. Your destiny is to be found there.”
I thought back on the coin I’d picked up — the one with Jhaness’s image scrawled on it. The one I’d earned only after killing Jhaness. Sent a shiver down my spine. Gave me the creeps just thinking about it.
Still, of this I was certain: I had to go back to the volcano.
I had to understand what Alex was up to.
I’d completed the mission. Standing back at The Thorny Sword, it felt like there was so much to do. Had to find Alex, find out what her problem was, and try to help her.
But there was some comfort in the fact that I had done things: gaining new skills, Attribution Points, and so on.
The bartender glanced at me as I entered. “Mission completed,” she said. Then she went under the counter, grabbing a glass that she then used to pour beer for another customer.
“Good to see you again,” Raine said.
“Yeah,” I said. “You too.”
Joey sat next to her, looking up at the ceiling, mesmerized. My gaze followed his, and so I saw it: a sword hanging from the ceiling.
That confused me, but before I got a chance to speak, Raine said, “I have another mission for you.”
“That’s great,” I said, maybe a little too loudly — maybe a little too eagerly. “I’d like that, but I’ve got a, uh, thing to take care of.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said. Didn’t sound particularly okay, but I…
I had to get out of there. Had to figure out where Alex was, where I could even begin to look for her.
I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts, I forgot to say goodbye to everyone.
The temple seemed like a pretty good place to figure things out at.
I mean, I really didn’t know where I could find Alex. And there was no guarantee that any of the NPCs in this world would know.
But if the priestesses had absorbed all that knowledge in an attempt to become Sages, they were bound to know something. Of course, I also could’ve gone straight to the Thorn Sage, but something in my gut told me not to.
For one thing, he gave me the creeps. But more than that, I wasn’t sure he’d be honest with me. He had this smarmy air about him, like a moldy aristocrat.
And so I walked through Charon. While walking, I opened up my Skills Tree. I had a Skills Point I hadn’t placed yet. An Attribution Point, too, but that I was waiting to get two more of, so that I could use three Attribute Points to level up my Durability.
The two Skills I was really struggling to decide between were Thorn Protect and Vine Grab.
The former was nice, because I didn’t have much in the way of defensive capabilities, and my armor was still shit. The latter was nice because Vine Grab would let me pull things closer. In sword duels, the distance between you and your opponent can shape the whole nature of the fight, so that wasn’t an insignificant thing.
Still I decided on Thorn Protect. It’d be nice to be able to defend myself, even if it had to be in a pretty meek fashion.
Having bought the Skill and exited out of the Skill Tree, I saw that there weren’t too many identifiable PCs in the streets. Odd.
It was even odder still when I entered the temple. For the first time, they didn’t seem to be busy. Instead, they were sitting in a circle in the middle of the stone temple.
There weren’t any accoutrements — no chairs, not much of anything — and so they merely sat on the floor.
The three of them wore long purple robes, which contrasted oddly with their star-like heads.
Two of them had their backs to me, while one was facing towards me. The one facing towards me said, “We have no adventures for you at this time, storied Hero. You must ind–”
“I’m not here for a mission.” I imagine my statement surprised her, but since I couldn’t see her face, the surprise didn’t show. The glow of their heads gave the priestesses such a mysterious quality.
“Then why have you come?”
“For wisdom,” I said.
“You cannot become a Sage,” the Priestess said. “The Rose Sage was a woman. So too will the future Rose Sage be a woman.”
The topic made me uncomfortable. So quickly, I said, “I don’t want to be a Sage.”
“Do you desire wisdom for wisdom’s sake?”
“No,” I said. It was hard. There was no point in plainly asking them where Alex Solonik was. They wouldn’t know her by that name. She could be anyone in here. Given her admin abilities, she wouldn’t even need to be a PC.
She could be anything.
“I want to know your God.” The words tumbled out of my lips.
“A true God is a being of belief. To know him would not necessitate belief, and thus he would not be a god,” she said. “You can know powerful beings, but God? Impossible.”
“Your creator,” I said. “What of her?”
The priestess nodded her starry head. “You want to know of big things. Sit with us. At this hour, few Heroes are active. And so we have time to teach you many things.”
I sat down, excited to learn more about the world, and Alex’s relationship with it.
Still, there was one question I couldn’t quite escape from, one that I couldn’t help but ask, no matter how much I knew I wouldn’t like the answer. Why is this game so weird? And why are so many of the NPCs this self-aware?
The truth is that Alex had always been a weird, weird woman.
The truth is, as much as I loved her, Alex also scared me.