I looked up at the gross yellow sky. Sighed.
A Zebda respawned right above me. I stabbed the jaw of its underside, then slashed its two eyes out.
Four down. Six to go.
Got the Zebda’s eyes first. Crushed its claws, then smacked my sword against its shell.
Five down. Five to go.
This time the Zebda got a shot at me with one of its claws. I crushed the claws, then grabbed the Zebda, flipping it on its side.
The Dragon Gauntlet definitely helped. My Level Four Strength wasn’t incredibly weak, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to flip the Zebda without some sort of help.
With its pathetic little legs skittering in the air, I chopped them off one by one. Then stabbed the jaw.
When that Zebda died, it left a coin behind. That seemed like a very odd event — didn’t remember anything like it from the Alpha or Beta tests, and it hadn’t happened the other times I’d killed Zebdas.
I put it in my inventory, and continued to kill this Zebda.
It respawned four more times. Four more times I killed it.
After all the slaughter, I walked away from the Zebda’s radius of operation, carefully avoiding all the other NPCs.
It occurred to me that the Zebda was bound to respawn. After all the times I’d killed it, its destiny and purpose was to come back, good as new.
What was the point?
I took the coin out of my inventory, feeling it with my hands, wondering if the answer lie in the nature of its existence.
The Thorn Sage was lazing on his throne when I entered. His glance was cast to the side, his chin cupped in the palm of his hand. The Guards on his left and right looked uncomfortable. What did these guys do when no one else was around?
The Thorn Sage’s countenance brightened when he saw me.
“Hello hello!” he said. “The mysterious hero comes back victorious!”
Didn’t really know how to react to that, so I just said, “Yeah.”
“Did you find anything in your travels?” The Thorn Sage’s eyes were opened wide, as if my presence was a shot of caffeine fired right into his veins.
I was conscious of the fact that I wasn’t really talking to The Thorn Sage. The NPC was just a program — the writings of whoever it was that had created him.
In a sense, talking to him was like talking to Alex — a strange revelation.
“I did.” I took the coin out of my inventory. Took it in my hand, positioning it between my thumb and pointer fingers. Raised it up so the Thorn Sage could see.
Honestly, I hadn’t looked at the coin too closely. It seemed like just a random collection of lines. But in that moment, watching The Thorn Sage’s visage turn sour, my state of mind while looking at the coin changed.
I knew he was very upset about what’d happened with him and the Rose Sage.
Looking at both him and the coin, the lines began to form a meaning. They weren’t just a random collection of squiggles, forming some indeterminate circle. No, it came to my attention that the myriad grooves on the coin actually came together to look like a rose.
“Dropped by one of the Zebda?” The Thorn Sage asked.
“Yeah,” I said. Was this weird? Had he been expecting something different? The look on his face certainly made it seem like the coin had surprised him, but he’d expected the Zebda to drop something.
“You’re supposed to take it to the merchant,” The Thorn Sage said.
“Is this… weird?” I asked. “What–”
“Go,” The Thorn Sage said, no longer looking at me. He waved me off with his hand, as if I was just too much to deal with.
I stood there for a second, a mix of confusion and surprise keeping my feet planted near the Thorn Sage.
“Go!” The Thorn Sage said, louder this time. The playfulness on his face had already morphed into something else entirely.
I left the palace.