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.