Hello everyone. I have been working on this story for... a long time. The story is contemplative, mysterious, and pretty slow-paced, so feel free to sit back, make yourself a cup of tea (or whatever other drink you prefer; I'm not trying to be beverageist) and read as much or as little as you feel comfortable in a single sitting. I hope you enjoy it!
The Book of Dreams is copyright of asanetargoss. All rights reserved.
The Book of Dreams
It all began with a nightmare.
It seems you have finally found me.
It's almost as if this was meant to be.
So, welcome. Welcome to my story.
What a kind blessing that we could meet.
I come into your hands, to fill the blank pages of your fate.
And you come to open my cover, to read the words on my pages.
Promise me this: continue to bring me wherever you go.
I saw the book in a dream.
It was nightmare. I was surrounded by strange monsters.
Then I woke up. I felt the reed-bound book in my back pocket, right where I found it in that dream.
I swear, I have never seen this book in my life.
But when I read the book, that's what I saw: those very words.
The monsters stared at me, as if they were waiting for me to finish reading.
Then when I closed the book, the dream ended.
My back is sweaty, as if in a fever. My beautiful new shirt clings heavily to my body.
I reach down into my back pocket, grabbing the book and bringing it up to my shoulder, opening it up against the mattress, to the first page again.
Part 1: Crafting the Skeleton Armor
Chapter 1: A Strange Morning
Surely you can do better than just the shirt?
Some pants of the same make would fit your form very nicely.
And why not a cap and some shoes too?
I apologize if I sound vague and demanding. You see, I'm very excited to finally meet somebody.
I've been trapped in a listless void all this time. I felt so lonely there.
Of course, it's easy to become lonely when you're a book.
But thousands of years have passed since I woke up for the first time.
Nobody has read the words between my covers. Nobody has dreamed my stories. Nobody has been inspired by me.
I just drifted inertly, in an endless, forsaken, filthy void.
Then, finally, I found you. I used your being to drag myself out of the void. I inspired you to craft that shirt. I made you dream of frightening monsters. I proudly spread my pages open for you to read. It felt so great! I felt alive, I felt like I had a purpose for the first time in what seemed like forever.
If I were human, I would sound crazy to you. But please just trust me for just a little while. I want so badly to guide you, to make you strong, to show you things you've never dreamed of!
This book is definitely possessed. Or is it alive? I'm not sure I want to know. Part of me feels bad for it, but another part of me feels very suspicious and unnerved.
After I close the book, the sun already gleams brightly from the skylight. The cobbled stone walls seem etched with deep shadows under its brilliance.
I lean out of bed and onto the creaky wooden floor. I walk out into the foyer and place the book gently on top of the furnace. Then, with iron blade ready in hand, I open the door, glancing quickly from horizon to horizon. No Creepers in sight.
It's strange; the monsters in my dream looked a lot like Creepers. But something tells me they weren't Creepers. I looked into their eyes, and they seemed too intelligent. And they didn't smell like mold and brimstone; they smelled more like apples and ashes. I still can't believe how vibrant that dream felt; I could almost swore it really happened, had I not have woken up so suddenly. Even the tiny details of my bedroom, like the cobwebs in the corner and the ink stand on the table, were right there.
I walk out into the road, and see my neighbor, leaning against a wooden beam in front of her house. Her name is Airlass. She’s lived in this town longer than I have. She always wears heavy iron armor over her trousers and various core-centered straps, to which she always affixes an axe, among various other steel tools.
“Is there something wrong?” Airlass asks. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!” She seems surprised as she looks carefully at me.
“Sort of... but not exactly.” I say.
“Was it Herobrine?” She suddenly seems eager, almost hopeful.
“No, it wasn’t like that. I had a weird nightmare. I was surrounded by creepers at my bedside. And then I found a book.”
Suddenly I realize a familiar pressure against my back pocket. I reach my hand into it, and pull out that same book. My chest feels cold as I bring it in front for Airlass to see.
“Oh, Fristad, you’re blushing!” She grabs the book out of my hand and opens it. “‘The Science and Practical Use of Redstone Circuitry.’ I never knew you were into that sort of thing.” She shuts the book. “You’re a weird one. Did I mention your new chest plate makes you look like a Skelly? What are all those bones stuck in there for anyway?”
“It’s for structural reinforcement!” I explain. It’s impossible to talk seriously with Airlass. Why do I even bother?
“Maybe you should try some iron armor some time? It’s much more durable than leather.”
“But it’s way too heavy.” I sigh. “Besides, iron armor makes you look like a turtle.”
“Wow, and here I was thinking you were politely giving me a present like a gentleman. I was obviously mistaken. Here, you can keep your nerdy redstone book.” She tosses the book at me, picks her axe up from her belt, and marches swiftly down the road towards the forest.
I wish I could have told her what the book really was. Airlass likes to joke a lot, but she’s also one of my closest friends. Maybe I’ll tell her when she gets back in the afternoon.
Chapter 2: Meeting Up With Jonas
So here I am, stuck with a possessed book that wants to follow me everywhere, that seems to be able to alter my dreams, and is able to communicate with me by changing the words on its pages. That’s just splendid. I really hope that it doesn’t have other freaky magical powers; I have enough to worry about caring for the livestock and watching out for bandits.
Apparently when Airlass opened the book, it was re-written to be a redstone manual. I wonder if it stayed that way; I’m not very keen on circuitry but it may be interesting to learn.
So I open up the book again to the first page.
It seems like it’s too late in the day to collect more bones.
Maybe we can wake up early tomorrow to collect them. I’m sure it will be worthwhile, as the product is as strong as steel, yet as light as cloth.
Don’t hesitate to read me if you have any questions. Otherwise, I’ll see you tonight.
By the way, your neighbor’s quite rude.
I don’t understand why the book is so insistent that I make a full set of bone-enforced leather armor. I mean, it was an interesting experiment, but I don’t want to go around wearing it if it looks stupid. Besides, it’s hot and it itches.
I decide to wear it for a day. Maybe it will offer better protection, and it just needs breaking in to sit right.
I head up the road past a few houses to the farm. Jonas, my herding partner, is busy unraveling a rope and pulling out shears. Most townsfolk tend to shun him for being an Ender Born, but he works well with the animals, and I’ve gotten accustomed to his odd colors and accent. He wears a long brown robe over most of his body to conceal his glowing runes. Most people don’t realize he’s too human to mind if people make eye contact with him.
Jonas tosses me a lasso and a saddle. I fumble with it with the book still in my hand, but I manage to grasp it.
“Finally awake, I see! Good morning to you.” He reorganizes the chest for a little while and closes it. “So, did you stay up late reading that book you have there?”
“You’re not that far off, actually.” I reply “I actually found this book in a nightmare I had last night, and it appeared in my pocket this morning. I’m quite sure it’s filled with some sort of dark magic, because it seems to be able to talk to me by rewriting the words on its pages.”
“Are you serious?” Jonas gestures with his hand to see the book. I hand it to him, and he opens it. “What a courteous greeting addressed to me!” Jonas’s brows raise high on his forehead for a moment. “By Jeb! The pages really do change! In Notch’s name! That is certainly one of the stranger things I’ve seen... it certainly beats that one time I saw lightning hit a pig!”
He gives the book back to me, and I put it into my back pocket again. Jonas and I head into the barn to saddle up the hogs. They greet us with pleased grunts from their bloated bellies.
We ride out into the corral with lassos in hand to lead the sheep out for shearing. This spring morning is especially warm and the sheep will be grateful to have their heavy coats removed.
After a light lunch of pork and melon, Jonas and I work in the corral for a few more hours, and I talked to him a little more about how I found the book, and how it kept asking me to craft the strange armor. We store the wool and produce we gathered before saying our goodbyes. Jonas gives me one last tip before I leave.
“Keep me informed if your strange book does anything else unusual. I’ll ask my cousin to look at it this Sunday.”
Jonas’s cousin is human, but he’s very fluent in the magical arts, like the grandmother both him and Jonas share. Jonas’s cousin specializes in knowledge about monsters and other sentient magical beings, so perhaps he would be able to understand my book and why it’s trying to communicate with me.
Chapter 3: The Second Nightmare
I head home and into my foyer, and note that my furnace does not have a book on it. Suddenly I feel a strong urge to open the book. I bring it out from my pocket. Somehow I feel excited.
We must ask Jonas’s cousin if he knows how to enchant armor.
Enchantment could make your new armor invaluable.
I’ll be sure to wake you up early so we can collect bones, maybe even hunt some Skeletons. We only have four days, so we must act fast.
I’ll see you in your dreams.
I can’t help shake the feeling that this book is trying to manipulate me. I wish there was some way to get rid of it... but it seems to be able to follow me wherever I go, so disposing of it could be difficult.
Maybe I’m being insensitive. The book came to me as a friend, asking for my friendship, after thousands of years of isolation. It’s doing the best to be nice but doesn’t have much social experience, so it may just not know any better.
But this isn’t a person. It isn’t even a monster. It’s a book. Books aren’t supposed to have a mind of their own; their contents are interpreted by the reader. It’s simply unnatural for a book to be self-aware, let alone read my mind.
There’s no use arguing with myself over some book. It’s probably here to stay, so I might as well make good use of whatever may come out of it, whether it be some sort of friendship or just some stupid looking armor.
I walk up the stairs to my bedroom, nervously expecting another nightmare but helpless on how to avoid it. As I crawl into bed, I realize just how tired I really am. Sleep comes over me quickly.
It’s a sunny afternoon. The grass is a long, Summery golden brown. Insects chirp loudly, and there is the distinctive smell of some wildfire burning in the distance. There is no civilization in sight, and the only thing moving is the wavering branches of trees and peacefully grazing cows.
The heat of the sun is oppressive, but no matter where I walk or how far there is no way to avoid it besides the occasional rest under a tree.
My hands are bare, my pockets and satchels empty, and my throat parched. I search hopelessly for a place to drink, so desperate that I look carefully for what could possibly be even a tiny puddle of mud. Hours pass.
The sun seems to become hotter and hotter. It begins to feel unbearable, then painful. Suddenly I see flames shoot up from my own body. I scream in agonizing pain, cursing the sun, running from its awful, malicious face. I sprint to underneath a large tree, begging for mercy from this newfound evil force. The flames on my body burn more slowly, but seem to die down. I still feel an oppressive parching heat, from this sun that threatens to hunt me as soon as it spots me, but for now at least I am alive. I must rest now, and wait for nightfall, when it is safe.
Chapter 4: The Skeleton Hunt
Suddenly I feel the refreshingly cool morning air, leaking in from the cracks in the ceiling. It’s that special damp air that you feel when the dew of the night is still sitting on the leaves, and the sunlight has lit the sky, but not enough to heat it.
I realize why I am awake. The book wants me to hunt for bones, so I can finish my suit of armor. I suppose if it’s this insistent that I finish the armor, I might as well play along.
I get out of bed promptly. Judging from the air, I will probably have two hours before sunrise.
I sharpen my sword and stock up on food in my satchel. I think back on the last time I fought Skeletons. It was about two weeks ago. I rehearse a few sword moves and strafes that I remember suited me well in those fights. Then I carefully open the door and head down the road into the forest.
I look out carefully for formidable Creepers and Endermen, which I do not have much experience fighting and am not well equipped to deal with. Occasionally a Zombie or a Spider will run up to me, which I must quickly but carefully slay. I search for lone Skeletons and try to ambush them, strafing behind them to avoid their deadly arrows. At one moment I stumble over the rocky earth, and a Skeleton manages to shoot an arrow at my chest. I expect it to pierce the leather, but the arrow instead bounces off of the bone, which I forgot was there.
I am pleasantly surprised that the chest plate protects me so well from arrows. The leather also seems to have shrunk from yesterday’s sun, leaving a small gap of air for my chest to breathe. The book was right all along. This chest plate suits me well, and I plan to wear a full set of the armor for a long time to come. I will have to tell the townsfolk of my success with this new armor. It will be exciting news to them, considering that iron deposits in the mine are running thin.
Sunrise comes upon the forest. Burning Skeletons in the distance flee under the trees, some collapsing before they find cover. I warily sprint through the trees, picking up bones where I find them, and return to the village with a satchel bloated with bones.
It is seven-thirty in the village, and the night guards are taking their final morning rounds, well-armored and armed with sword and bow. One tan-faced guard named Dameric waves at me on my way back up to my house.
In the foyer, I pour the bones out onto the crafting bench and lay them out to count. There should be enough to complete the armor with some left over, if I use about the same amount I did for the shirt.
I open my chest and take out the leather, and set it out on the crafting bench to begin working.
The crafting bench is a finicky device. You’d think such a simple man-made object would be easy to explain. Ages of research have passed as people have tried to understand how it works, with little success. We don’t know much about it except that some crafting recipes work with it and some don’t. It’s easy to assemble any sort of object without the use of a crafting bench, but the crafting bench imbues recipes it favors with a special energy. No matter how much we try to create new technologies, or invent better tools, they always seem to shatter almost immediately, or simply not function, unless they have been created with the crafting bench. It’s strange that I stumbled across a recipe so easily.
But at this point I only know how to craft the shirt. How am I supposed to craft a full set armor I don’t know the recipe for?
I take the book out of my back pocket, hoping for answers.
I may be able to read your mind, but I am by no means all-knowing.
I cannot simply tell you what the recipe is. I can only tell you where to look for it.
The ability to craft the armor lies inside of you.
You are a skilled crafter. Persevere, and you will prevail.
Chapter 5: Dark Stuff
I still don’t know whether I like this book or not. It’s just... strange.
I put the book back in my back pocket again. I lay my satchel down on the hood of the chest next to the crafting bench, and start trying to craft the helmet. I split the leather into layers, like I did with the chest plate, and try laying the bones between them, where the forehead and temples might be. I try moving around the bones underneath the layers, feeling carefully for the magnetic pull that the crafting bench exerts when it pulls the objects for a proper crafting recipe into place. Nothing happens. I continue trying to rearrange the bones, without success. My forehead begins to sweat, so I take off my leather cap, and continue working.
After adding in a few more bones, and adjusting and arranging the pieces a little more, I finally feel the pieces of bone and leather getting pulled out of my hands towards the center of the crafting bench. The leather shifts and coalesces, knitting seamlessly together with the bone. The mass of leather shifts and molds itself, until it takes the form of a well-fitted cap. I hold it in my hands and turn it around.
To my shock and disgust, the front of the helmet takes the form of a skull, complete with eye sockets and a jawbone for a strap. The crafting bench must have compressed and stretched the bone to create this monstrous design. It’s a spitting image, besides the leather color. Only the teeth are missing.
But even though the helmet looks strange, I still feel eager and apprehensive to try it on, just to see what it feels like. I stretch the skull cap open over my head, when I hear a knock on the door. I place the cap back on the crafting bench to open it. It’s Jonas. His purple eyes look into mine. He is genuinely concerned.
“I’ve been waiting for you at the corral all morning long, but you never came. Is there something wrong?”
Somehow, his presence annoys me. This business with crafting the skeleton armor is somewhat important, and yet he comes to interrupt me while I’m trying to test the cap I’ve just crafted. Anger wells up inside of my stomach. How dare he intrude! How dare he poke his disgusting half-blood face into my house, my sanctuary! I’m crafting armor that will change the world, and yet here he comes, to meddle with it, to taint it, to destroy it!
But how could I think that? I have always been so patient with Jonas. He’s my friend. What is wrong with me?
Why would I suddenly feel so eager to finish crafting the skeleton armor? It must be so! There’s no other explanation.
I try to contain myself, and explain things to Jonas as calmly as possible. “It’s the book. It keeps asking me to make that special armor.”
“The new armor? Is that all this is about? You could just craft it some other time. I could still use your help feeding the animals. It’s not easy doing it all by myself.”
Poor Jonas. He’s been caring for the animals by himself all this time? I should have known.
“I know it isn’t. For some reason I lost track of time. I think it may be because of the book. I think it might be able to control my thoughts.”
“That’s just... strange.” Jonas looks deflated and dazed for a moment, leans a little heavier against the doorframe, and then collects himself again. “Are you really sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“That’s dark stuff.” Jonas sighs. “Really dark. I will have to see if I can get someone else to look after the animals tomorrow. We need to visit my cousin as soon as possible to make sure that the book doesn’t make you do something dangerous. Promise me you’ll lie low today, okay?”
Jonas closes the door, leaving me in the house alone. I stand still for a few minutes, realizing just how much time has actually passed. Then I remember I forgot to tell Jonas that I went Skeleton hunting this morning. It probably would make him more worried about me. He knows enough about what’s going on for now.
I remember the book, and decide to open it again, to try and see what it wants, and why it wants to control me.
Chapter 6: The Skull Cap
I never meant to make you do anything against your own will.
All this time I’ve been trying to communicate with you.
But you only seem to understand that it’s me when I write these words to you on my pages.
I’ve tried many times to show you what I think and what I feel, but you seem to think that it’s your own emotions and your own thoughts.
I’ve never tried to change the way you think, or prevent you from thinking certain thoughts.
I just want to be friends with you and show you things.
Please don’t be afraid of me.
I don’t know whether to believe it.
Again I feel the eagerness and apprehension to put on the skull cap. Maybe that’s just the feelings the book has. It wants me to try the helmet on.
I suppose I’ve come this far. I might as well satisfy the book’s curiosity, if that’s really what it’s feeling. I suppose if the book wanted me to feel a certain way, or think certain things, then the book would probably be thinking and feeling the same.
I lift the cap up from the crafting bench, and stretch it over my head. The edges of the eye sockets of the helmet surround my own. The lower front tip of the cap covers my nose. My head feels hot from the thick leather, and slightly tingly from the residual crafting energy.
Then I fasten the jaw-shaped strap under my chin. The fit is snug.
I draw my sword out from its holster, and hold it flat to see my reflection. I almost look like an entirely different person. With both the cap and the chest plate combined together, I look all too much like a Skeleton. The helmet is just too much. I take it off.
I feel a sense of protest and disappointment, which must be from the book. I take the book out of my back pocket and open it up to the first page.
Why did you have to take it off?
It will give you much better protection than just your leather cap.
It looked great on you, too.
You have to let go of your stigma for the undead.
They are highly misunderstood creatures.
Look: if you promise to finish the armor and get Jonas’s cousin to enchant it tomorrow, I promise I won’t give you nightmares tonight.
Look, book: if I wear that armor, I’m going to look like a nightmare!
The words on the page fade, being replaced by new ones.
Just trust me, please.
You’ve already trusted me all this time.
You continued wearing the chest plate, and you crafted the skull cap out of your own free will.
And you discovered the crafting recipe in the process. Doesn’t that make you feel proud?
Sure, the armor does have a shape that resembles a skeleton. But nobody in town was afraid of your new chest plate, were they?
If anything, you’re afraid of me.
Chapter 7: Lunch
I suppose the book does have a point. But there’s only a certain level of trust I’m willing to give this book.
If the armor really is as good as the book insists it is, then it’s worth crafting. Surely it won’t hurt anything to craft the leggings and boots.
Except maybe Jonas’s time. I feel bad letting him run the corral on his own for the rest of the day, but I want to make sure this book isn’t trying to control me.
I begin arranging some bones and leather on the crafting bench again, when I hear a knock on the door. I come up to it and open it.
It’s Ironbrawn, one of the night guards. I’ve never seen him not wearing his armor before, but he still looks like a giant. His shoulders are broad and every muscle in his body widens him by over a decimeter, much like the miners I see passing through town ever so often.
“Your Enderman friend wanted me to bring you lunch and ask you how you were doing.”
“I’m fine, thank you.” I take the cloth-covered basket he hands to me. “Tell Jonas, ‘Thanks for the food.’”
“Who’s Jonas?” Ironbrawn seems a little annoyed. He doesn’t like Jonas too much and tries to avoid him, like most people in town.
“He’s my Enderman friend you mentioned.”
“Alright then.” He sighs, and turns to leave. “Take care.”
“You too.” I close the door, and walk into the side room to eat the lunch Jonas gave me. He packed me some pork and melon, the usual lunch we eat in the afternoon, but also an Ender Pearl, for good luck. He always gives me an Ender Pearl when I’m at home and ill. I’m very lucky to have a friend like him.
Chapter 8: Second Thoughts
After that satisfying meal, I return to the foyer to start crafting the leggings. I lay out the bones and leather together, trying to see if the pattern with the arrangement of bones between the layers continues.
Hours pass, as I try to arrange the bones in what feels like my intuition. I move my arm within the leather, when suddenly I feel the arrangement pull itself, and my arm with it, towards the center of the crafting bench. The seams form, putting pressure on my arm, pulling it in tighter. I struggle quickly to pull my arm out with great strength, and manage to tug it out, but rip the leather in the process. The rip is folded away as the bone-enforced leggings finish taking shape.
My arm feels numb for a moment as blood begins to pump through it again. That piece of armor put up a nasty fight! I will have to be more careful while crafting the boots. I guess crafting something new comes with its own danger: you never know when the crafting bench will start to pull on it.
Even so, I’m still frightened and amazed at what just happened. In all my years of crafting, I’ve successfully completed many crafting recipes I wasn’t familiar with, even the skull cap just a half an hour ago, but I’ve never had to quickly move my hand out of the way like that. The crafting bench acts slowly, circumventing human touch, not rapidly and impatiently like it just did. I wonder if the book might be responsible?
I need to stop being so paranoid. I’m obviously not quite myself today. All the strange events that have happened have taken a toll on me. They are all happening because of this strange presence, the book, but it’s not so much the book itself that is making me feel this way. I just don’t quite understand how to react to everything that has happened.
I feel a sense of relief and satisfaction, as if some sort of understanding has taken place. It’s definitely the book that feels that way, not me.
I lift up the leggings from the crafting bench, noting it’s structure. The bones within the fabric are aligned parallel to its length, forming a solid plate near the kneecap. Again, the shape of the bones bears an uncanny resemblance to a Skeleton.
Another thought crosses my mind, that I must have felt for a split second before, but didn’t quite develop: What’s the point of all this? I know I’m crafting some supposedly good armor, but is it really worth it to do what the book wants me to do? What are the book’s intentions? I don’t care if the book says the armor is as strong as steel. It looks like a Skeleton. Perfectly suitable armor doesn’t make you look like a monster when you wear it. The book doesn’t get to dictate what I wear. I’m done with this stupid game.
I un-strap the bone chest plate from my back. The book projects a clear sense of surprise, frustration, and anger. I ignore it. I put my old leather helmet and chest plate back on, and lift up the bone armor from the table. I walk to the closet under the stairwell, open it, and toss the armor into the darkness. I hesitate for a moment, and then reach into my back pocket, take the book out, and throw it into the darkness as well. I shut the door.
“Why are you afraid of me?”
It’s a voice inside my head. A female voice, deep and sad, pleading. I know it’s the book, but I don’t care anymore.
All I see is the wood of the door in front of me, and the wall under the stairwell. I feel a sense of relief, as if a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I look outside the windows of the foyer, and the town is already covered in the darkness of the night. I realize how exhausted I am, from hunting skeletons early in the morning to searching for crafting recipes all day. I should go to sleep. I head upstairs, into my bedroom, and collapse onto the bed.
Chapter 9: The Void
I’m in a library for some reason. The wooden ceiling is six meters up, and bookshelves reach all the way to the top. The bindings of each book are covered in a thin layer of dust, and the air is thick with the smell of old paper and wood shavings. The light is dim, barely comfortable to see in but dark enough for monsters to spawn. Even so, the room is absolutely silent. All I can hear is my own breath and heartbeat.
I walk down the hallway of bookshelves, until I reach a larger hallway, with seemingly endless lines of bookshelves facing it in both directions. I look down the left side of bookshelves, following the floor with my eyes upward and forward until it seems to shrink and then vanish, without meeting up with any observable wall. I look to the right and see the same thing, endless bookshelves with no end in sight. I decide to walk further forward a little longer.
I reach another large hallway. I look to the left again, and see a larger gap in between two lines of bookshelves, with wooden tables and chairs for reading. I walk towards it, and see a reed-bound book covered in dust, laid open with its pages facing down. I brush the dust off with my hand, and lift it to read. An old flint pen falls out of its pages and rattles against the table. They became obsolete when ink was discovered.
I turn the book over and hold it open to the first page. The flint script is faint, and the letters are written with the Latin alphabet, which I barely remember from when I was young and still in school. I struggle as best I can to read them:
“The purpose of this journal is to try to record what I have seen and done throughout my many years of deep research. I will do my best to summarize my findings and experiences, as well as search and provide explanations for the strange phenomena that fill our strange world.
“The primary focus of my research has been on crafting, as it is for many others. I think the significant amount of attention dedicated to the science of crafting is well-deserved. It is a very complex field, which draws both on the physical properties of materials as well as the metaphysical properties of the crafter.
“That second part of crafting, the metaphysical, is often fatally underestimated by most researchers. I hope that this journal can help prove that what we perceive and what we think is just as important to crafting as....”
This book is somewhat dull. I don’t think I want to read any more of it.
I close the book and stand up from the table, and feel the body heat of someone leaning tightly against my back. I turn around and lock sight with two glowing purple eyes surrounded in Obsidian-colored blackness, with black runes surrounding them. A bony jaw lined with black knifed teeth drops down, unhatching unearthly groans and screams of agony.
I struggle against my fear to not look away from it, backing away slowly. Purple smoke begins to materialize between the Enderman and I. It thickens, and then shatters with the sound of dimensions being ripped apart and sewn back together again. Obsidian darkness takes its place, filling the room with Endermen, some so close they touch me as they wander past. Now many of them directly in my sight are screaming. I realize that the longer that I continue to stare, the more Endermen are going to stumble into my gaze and become driven into a frenzy.
I drop my eyes down the floor and turn around, running as quickly as I can, shoving countless Endermen aside, focusing only on the wooden floor and not stopping, hearing footsteps and enraged screams against my neck.
The wooden floor vanishes, leaving only the tainted blue of the void below. I feel myself stumble over air, falling and falling. The searing heat and silver smoke of the void envelopes me, igniting me with unimaginable invisible flames. I feel the void soaking into my mind, filling my consciousness with uncertainty and fear, chaos and destruction, and incinerating all my other perceptions with a pain more intense than any flame.
“Now do you see? Do you understand now the immense suffering I’ve been through and the pain I’ve felt, all these years? I try to forget my past. I try to share my knowledge with you, and you throw it away like trash! How selfish and gluttonous you are! Wake up, and face the truth!”
Chapter 10: Mind Games
In a sort of lucid waking dream, I awake unconscious of my surroundings. The unburning heat of the void does not leave me; I feel hot and sweaty under thick fabric as if ailed by a sickly fever.
I struggle to stay awake, shaking as a sleep deprived body does in its second wind. I realize the struggle is also to keep my body on its two feet. Somehow I am standing, wearing armor, and my eyes are closed. I open them, and see in the dim light my hands resting on the crafting bench, holding a shifting mass of leather and bone, as it coalesces to form two boots.
How is this possible? Was I sleepwalking when I did this?
Somehow the fact that the skeleton armor is complete makes me wary of how these forces came to be, how I came to craft those strange things, one after the other. I’d rather I didn’t try to discover how it happened, but somehow it doesn’t feel right.
How could I have put on this armor in my sleep? Did my memories lapse somehow? Did the book somehow gain control of me through the nightmare?
The idea of the book’s influence sinks in more. Somehow a precious part of my consciousness has been violated, and couldn’t be rectified. The book is responsible for that violation. Part of me feels terrified, and another part enraged.
I thought I told you to leave me alone! I reach underneath the skeleton armor, for the back pocket underneath, and sure enough, there is the familiar square bulge. I reach within the pocket and grab the book out to open it, projecting my anger as I stare at the blank pages. Words materialize, both on the paper and within my mind.
“You did it! You should be so proud! Do you have any idea what this means?”
If you had any teeth, you’d be lying through them. Don’t play coy. Explain what you did to me, and tell it to me straight.
“I’m not sure what you mean. I was simply a guide. The effort and credit belong to you.”
You could start explaining what the nightmare you gave me has to do with me crafting these boots.
“I see no connection, and I’m not sure why you'd think I gave you a nightmare. I would never do that sort of thing!”
That’s wrong. You’re lying! You said it yourself that you gave me those nightmares. Then you made me craft this armor!
“I don’t understand why you’re taking your anger out on me. Besides, that armor is your accomplishment, not mine. I will take no credit. Perhaps there is some hidden grudge we need to discuss?”
I know what you’re trying to do to me and I won’t let you do it!
I have to get rid of the book somehow. Putting it in a closet isn’t enough. I have to destroy it. I wonder how hard it would be to rip apart the binding... but it can still hear my thoughts!
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you. I can make you feel whatever I feel, including pain. Perhaps you still remember the void, and what that felt like? That terrible, unbearable void....”
The book projects a deep fear and loathing. I remember how the pain felt, and for a small moment I feel sympathy for the book... but then I try to shut my mind off from the thought, knowing it is a trick meant to manipulate me.
“Don’t be so upset. You’ve crafted the boots and made the decision to put them on. And for that, the nightmare is over.”
But I never wanted to put them on. When did I make that decision? Never. The book is trying to tell me what to think. I won’t let it.
But I don’t have much of a choice. If I don’t put on the boots, I will be thrust into another nightmare. Surely putting on a set of armor before bed to fulfill the book’s false perception of control over me is better than the alternative.
I take the first boot, and stretch it underneath my right foot, sliding my leg into it. Then I take the second boot, and slide it over my left foot. Then I head groggily back to the bedroom, and slide clumsily into my bed.
But if I am coerced against choosing for myself, is that perception of control really false?
Part 2: Growing Influence
Chapter 11: Leaving the Darkness
I hear a nervous knocking on the door, and realize that I must have slept in. I force myself to breathe in, opening my eyes, only to stare at the burning brightness of the high noon sun. I squint to protect my now sore corneas, glancing downward opposite my now raised arm, as I hastily shuffle my way off my bed and onto the creaky wood floor. I feel apprehension and fear that the sun will burn me under its vindictive gaze. Then I realize with relief that I am wearing the armor; it will protect me from the sight of the sun.
Is this another nightmare?
I gather the courage to lift my eyes to a level angle. Around me are familiar surroundings: the cobblestone etched in shadow from the bright skylight, the sun-bleached pine desk with the feather quill and ink propped up, with the Farmcrafter’s Almanac resting closed beside it. To its right is a well-worn dust covered chest, and to its left the ever-present cobwebs which always seems to return no matter how many times they are swept away. Surely an environment which so closely resembles reality cannot be a nightmare, but at the same time a place that looked as accurately like my room as in reality existed within a nightmare. It is too soon to tell.
I remember with urgency that there is someone waiting at the door. Already fully dressed in armor, I do not bother searching for shoes. I grab my satchel from the floor, step with haste down the stairs into the foyer, and rush towards the door to open it. It is Jonas, breathing heavily. Underneath his cloak, he is wearing his iron chestplate where normally his farmer vest and burlap pants can barely be seen. He has a large leather bag strapped over his shoulder. His sword is strapped to his side.
“Fristad!” He exhales with relief. “Thank Notch you’re alright! I was waiting for you by the corral all this morning; I had the hogs saddled up and everything...” He pulls the bag’s strap over his head and lifts up the bag. “Do you need help packing?”
“Wait... where are we going? Why are we packing?”
“We’re going to see my cousin, remember? He’s just in the next town over.”
“Oh yea, right.” I take the bag from him. “So what do I need to pack?”
“Anything you want to bring that isn’t food and water.” Jonas explains. “The journey will take about a day and a half, so things like a change of clothes, an axe, and the like. You shouldn’t need to pack much in terms of necessities, but I thought I’d bring a bigger bag just in case you needed more room for the... um...” He stares a bit sheepishly at me, scanning from my skeleton boots up to my skull cap. “...your armor. I figured my cousin could take a look at that as well.”
I nod at him. “I agree. I’ll start gathering my things. You wait just a minute; I won’t be long.”
I turn around and head upstairs to grab the almanac and another set of clothes from the dusty chest, and put them both inside the leather bag. Then I quickly unstrap and pull off the skeleton armor, and place that in the bag as well. I step into the shoes at the top of the stairs, and head back down into the foyer where Jonas is waiting by the door. I open the chest near him and take out the leather chestplate, sword, and axe inside. I quickly slip the axe into the bag’s side pocket, strap the sword to my side, and pull on the leather chestplate. I nod at Jonas.
“Are you ready?” asks Jonas.
“Let me get that bag for you. I’ll strap it onto your hog.”
I hand the bag to Jonas. He takes it by the handle and carries it out to the hogs. I lean forward to step outside, but something feels terribly wrong. I feel hesitant. I lean my head away, backing slowly from the door.
I can’t help but feel deathly afraid of the light. Even the idea of putting my finger out into it, just to test it, just to see what it feels like, only evokes expectations of terrible anguish and burning pain. Just seeing its indirect glow shining off of the gravel makes my legs stiff; it makes me want to sprint down into the darkest confines of the earth, or at least into the closet, the only place within safe reach where there is true darkness, true safety....
I look out towards Jonas, whose face seems to take on a different, unnerving appearance. Somehow his face seems to belong not to a friend, but to a heartless monster. I feel his presence as if it were tangible; it causes anger and hatred to flow into the pit of my stomach. There he is, that thief, packing away my precious armor onto the backs of his malicious steeds, purposefully making me feel vulnerable, insecure. I can’t let him steal it from me! I have to take the armor back from this monster....
I shove this corrupted perception of Jonas out of my consciousness. Why do I even think these terrible things? I know what kind of person Jonas is.
“Hey um... Jonas?”
Jonas turns away from the hogs and my bag he just strapped to the one on the right. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry but... It’s just that... What I mean to say is...” I struggle to block the anger I feel from Jonas out of my mind, trying hard to maintain a considerate tone. “I can’t go on without the skeleton armor. I need it. It...” I struggle to find the right words to describe how much I need it... the total necessity the armor is for me... how awfully I need to have it back... while restraining insults and aggression aimed at Jonas that are a plague sickened by my need for it... “It... the armor makes me feel safe.”
“Alright then,” Jonas says. He turns around again and pulls my precious armor out of the leather bag, and brings it to me.
I grab it from him and run into the dark closet under the stairwell, closing the door. I quickly rip my old leather shirt off, so quickly that the sleeve tears, and I kick my old shoes off against the wall. Then I lift the skeleton armor up and place each piece on gingerly one by one, starting by sliding on the skull cap, then strapping on the chestpiece, then stepping into the leggings, and finally stepping carefully into the boots. Their protective touch reassures me. I feel a wave of relief wash over me. I remember what a good friend Jonas is. I feel like myself again.
I open the closet door and exit into the dim indoor light. As I walk through the foyer, and I walk into the light outside, I feel nothing. There is no uneasiness; it’s as if I never experienced the fear of light before. I close the front door behind me, and approach the hog on the right. Despite the leather saddle and heavy bags hanging over it, it seems content. The pupil in the eye of the hog turns toward me, observing me with calm and innocence. I bend my knees, and jump to reach my leg over to the other side of the saddle. It grunts politely from the thump as I land on the saddle. In front of me, Jonas has climbed up onto his hog as well. He turns his head over his shoulder, so that his purple eyes can see me.
“Are you ready to leave?” asks Jonas.
“Yes, I’m ready.”
And, with that, we lightly kick the sides of the hogs, guiding them down the town road, traveling downhill towards the forest, and into the depths of the shadow and trees, through a manmade gravel path that is narrow but well-traveled.
Chapter 12: Reflection
It’s been about an hour since Jonas and I first departed on hogback from the village. We haven’t talked much, simply because there wasn’t much to say. Jonas saw what happened to me when I took the armor off. He did not speak, both to sympathize with my troubles and to restrain judgment.
Back when I didn’t know Jonas as well, I used to be frustrated by the fact that Jonas spoke so little when I felt like I needed his consolation the most. One time when I was sad, I asked him why he seemed to not want to talk to me. His response has always stayed with me:
“Sometimes rubbing a wound with words does not help it heal; it causes abrasion, which widens the wound.”
Jonas is a selfless and reflective man. He knows a lot about feelings, but he rarely talks about his own. Often I wonder what Jonas’ life was like before he moved to town, but even though we are close friends, I feel as if asking him is a violation of the trust between us. What I do know about him is what he has told me over the years about his family, and even then mostly simple things such as family relation and occupation, which most people will gladly share with strangers on the first day of acquaintance. On one of the few occasions I felt compelled enough to talk to him about it, I asked him who his mother was, and he didn’t even seem to understand the question. I was willing to be patient and earn his trust, and over the years some of his quietness and solemnity has rubbed off on me.
In stark contrast is Airlass, a funny girl with sarcasm loaded into her cheeks, and snide remarks for any occasion. She grew up in the same home town as I did, and we haven’t moved since. She always has had a love for the outdoors and a discipline with her axe that rivals a warrior’s training with a sword. She kills creepers, something I could never muster up the courage to do, with such speed and finesse, and then jokes about it afterward as if they weren’t a threat. She is always full of energy and loves to talk. She also tends to become emotional very easily. Sometimes I can’t tell if she seriously feels a certain way or if she’s faking her emotions for sport. Airlass is rarely serious, but she always knows how to cheer me up, and she isn’t hesitant to offer help to those who need it. It is very possible that Jonas asked Airlass to help look after the farm for us.
Airlass knows me well enough that she understands who Jonas truly is. Other good friends of mine, such as the librarian Dunjen, or the nurse Azura, are good people, but they see Jonas the way everyone else sees him: a monster with no sympathy for humanity... a case of nature where it is only a matter of time... while his corrupted mind struggles to grasp human concepts such as emotion, sympathy, trust, and loyalty... before his patience cracks, and he feels the inevitable urge to kill. This perception, as flawed and lacking of evidence it is, is held firmly by most of the people of the village. It has cost him his spot in the lines of market tents. It has inflicted him cuts and bruises from being pushed over simply from standing too close. It has marked him as the blame for when the monsters of the night are more aggressive than usual. It has left him alone as villagers forbid him from entering public buildings like the town hall and the schoolhouse. It is no small wonder why Jonas is so reserved about his past, when his present is marred by distrust.
The silence of the ride has made me reflective. I think back on what has happened between me and the book since I last talked to Jonas about it: the second nightmare, the skeleton hunt, the crafting, the hesitance to accept the armor, the third nightmare, and the coerced finishing and emotional attachment to the armor. What seemed like a relatively easygoing day physically, was a grueling and painful day mentally. Now that the two of us are alone, I feel it is a good time to tell Jonas the rest of the story.
“Hey, Jonas?” I call to him.
“What is it?” Jonas responds.
“I... I feel like I need to tell you what happened after the last afternoon I helped you with the corral.”
I sigh, preparing to speak. “Well, when first I got back home from the corral, the book was insistent I complete the armor.
Jonas nods as he continues to ride on the hog just in front of me, at the same pace as mine. There is an occasional faint rustling in the trees.
“Then when I went to bed that night, I had another nightmare. It started off like a typical summer day. It was hot in some field with cows. There were some small trees, and the grass was golden brown.
“Then it got really weird. I actually started burning alive from the heat of the sun. I had to run under the trees to try and make it stop. It scared the bajeezus out of me.
“Then I woke up early that morning to hunt skeletons, so I could get enough bones to finish the rest of the armor.”
Jonas nodded again. “That makes sense. You needed materials to make the rest of the armor, so you took some leather from the corral, and you took some bones from the skellies.”
“Hold on... what? You mean I took leather from the corral?”
“Yea, you asked if you could have some leather, and I said yes.”
“I... never remember doing that. That’s very strange. I remember everything that happened at that day at the corral. I must have just forgotten... but somehow I feel as if... I never planned to do it. Somehow I just went along crafting with the leather as if I always had it.”
Jonas passively listens as we continue ride along in the seemingly endless forest. We all forget things, I suppose.
“Anyways, then I went back home to craft the helmet. After working for several hours, I finally finished it, and that’s when you came by. You seemed very worried.”
“Well, of course,” Jonas replies. “Your absence was a warning sign.”
“Right, I suppose so.” I continue to think back on what happened. “After you left, Ironbrawn came back with the lunch you made me. That was quite tasty.”
Jonas smiles briefly.
“Then I went back to crafting, I made the skeleton leggings. At that point, I decided I didn’t really want to go through with what the book wanted me to do. It was trying really hard to get me to do it. It kept telling me I was afraid. I thought I could get rid of it by throwing it in the closet, but... then I had another nightmare.
“It started off in an abandoned library. I walked around for a while, and I found this old reed-bound book. I think it was some sort of crafting research book, but it was boring so I didn’t really want to read it.
“When I put it down and turned around, I saw an Enderman leaning right up against me. I looked directly into its eyes, and it started to scream. I tried not to break eye contact as I broke away, but then all of a sudden there were Endermen everywhere. At that point I tried to run away, but the floor just... disappeared... and I fell into the void. Then the dream ended.”
“Wait! Hold on...” Jonas suddenly seemed alert. There was a degree of urgency in his voice. He pulled back on the reins of his hog, and turned it around to face me. I pulled back my reins as well, so we were facing each other while stationary. “Did you feel anything when you were in the void? What did it feel like?”
I never expected that kind of question, especially from Jonas. But he seems worried, so I should probably tell him. “Just the thought of it...” My mind struggles for a moment. “...is painful to remember. I remember an unbearable heat, hotter than any flame. I felt as if I lost all sense of certainty of what it meant to exist. The void felt like it was it was seeping into my consciousness and tearing it apart.”
“No one could possibly give such a detailed description of what it feels like to be that deep within the void...” Jonas pauses. His purple eyes seem focused into the distance. “...without having experiencing it firsthand. That’s what confuses me. Most humans couldn’t possibly survive in the void long enough to feel that. Most creatures would burn to death very quickly and then just respawn. The same goes for just about any inanimate object. Only an Ender-being could survive that deep in the void, but they wouldn’t feel any pain. Half-bloods don’t feel the pain either. That’s how I know.” His eyes focused back on me. “If your book really was in the void, it should have disintegrated almost immediately.”
The answer was profound; it surprised me. “I had no idea Endermen could survive in the void.”
“Yes,” Jonas nodded, “that’s how they teleport. Somehow the book understood the connection between Endermen and the void. I’m not exactly sure how, but I think it may help us understand how the book came to you in the first place. If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear more of what happened.”
Truthfully, I don’t want to go on. I don’t want to bring up the painful memories again, but if it can help Jonas’ cousin understand the book better and help me get rid of it once and for all, then it’s worth the pain.
“When I finally gained consciousness again, it was as if I was already awake. It was late at night, and I suddenly realized I was standing in front of the crafting bench, and I had already crafted the skeleton boots, the final piece of the skeleton armor. It was as if the book had briefly taken over my consciousness. I think the book’s control over me seems to have grown since I started crafting the armor. Sometimes I worry that even what I’m thinking right now isn’t coming from my true self...” I consider telling Jonas about how I suddenly perceived him when the book took hold of me, but I’m afraid he may not trust me any more if I do. “Then the book convinced me to put the full suit of armor on and wear it to bed. I woke up hearing your knock on the door, and after I opened it, you saw how I acted. Somehow I couldn’t go outside without the armor. I felt deathly afraid that I’d burn to death in the sunlight.”
Jonas nodded again. “I see how it is. For some reason, the book wants you to keep wearing that armor. It’s how it exercises its control over you.”
“Exactly. But what I don’t quite understand is: why? I don’t quite understand why that armor is so valuable to it.”
“Perhaps the armor has some sort of magical properties we don’t quite understand yet.”
“Yea, that makes sense.”
Then I remember back when the book wanted me to ask Jonas’ cousin enchant the armor. I consider telling Jonas this, but I decide not to. If I did, Jonas would never let me do it. I feel curious to know what would happen to the armor if it was enchanted... and I was wearing it.
It looks like it’s going to be a long, long ride.
Chapter 13: Out of Town
The forest is no longer as thick as it used to be. The trees are somewhat shorter, allowing sunlight to shine through in large patches. The hogs rest blissfully in the grassy dust next to us, drowsy under the afternoon sun.
Jonas and I stand up, brushing the dirt off our pants. We just had our customary meal of pork and melon, and it’s time once again to mount our hogs for a long ride.
I nudge my hog on its belly with my foot, and with a displeased snort the hog slowly lifts itself up from the ground. Once it has fully stood up, I climb onto its back and reach for its reins. Then Jonas and I steer our hogs towards the road, and continue on our journey.
After about an hour of riding, I notice a cobbled stone road on my left. It is the third side road I’ve seen since we started. It is a short road, leading to a rotting wooden gate. To the right of the gate is a sign reading, “Mighty Oaks City Gate. No Trespassing.” On the other side is a shanty guard wearing torn leather armor and wielding a golden sword. He holds his sword at an ineffective angle, and nervously shifts his weight from one leg to the other as he avoids our gaze.
That guard wouldn’t stand a chance against us. We could easily pillage the whole town, but that would be cruel. They are an unfortunate town, making do with what little resources and experience they have to protect and sustain themselves. It is likely that they have been pillaged many times, which in turn makes it more difficult to protect themselves from being pillaged again. Perhaps if their city wasn’t nearly as close to the roads, them would fare slightly better.
As we continue to ride, and afternoon turns to dusk, Jonas and I approach a break in the forest, where the paved road ends. The terrain becomes steep and rocky, and riding the hogs becomes significantly slower as we carefully navigate the crisscrossing paths between gradually larger boulders. Eventually the terrain becomes so steep that it is no longer practical to ride, so we climb down our hogs and guide them by the reins as we slowly hike.
It is dusk now, and the blue of the sky is rapidly fading to a starry black, as the blush of the sunset fades from the west. We have reached the mouth of a cliffside cave, and the inside is lit with torches. As we enter, their eternal glow envelopes us in a relieving warmth which slowly leeches the cold from our skin. There are a series of paired stone brick pillars leading on the walls of a tunnel into its depth, and at the far end are two large iron-framed doors with a stone engraving above it. On the engraving, it reads...
“Welcome to the Adamant Mountain Inn. We hope you GO JUMP OFF A CLIFF!!!”
The second part is graffiti, written over the original second half of the engraving in black.
I want to ask Jonas what he thinks of this. “Hey Jonas, do you know why there’s graffiti there?”
Jonas glances at it for a moment, not caring too much about what is written. “This place has long been abandoned. Most of what’s left of it has since been stolen or vandalized, including the beds. It’s not a very comfortable place to sleep, but it is one of the few refuges that will protect us from the monsters of the night.”
“I see.” I ponder the desolation of this place, wondering who has been here since then, and why someone would write such a hostile greeting on the wall. “Is it still safe, though? I mean... are the other people who come here, and are they dangerous?”
Jonas shook his head. “I’ve never seen anyone here.” He pulled the reins of his hog forward into the tunnel of columns. “Come on, let’s get inside.”
It’s not a very satisfying answer, but I figure it’s nearly as mysterious to him as it is to me. I tug on the reins of my hog, so that we walk with Jonas and his hog down the corridor, up to the great metal-framed pine doors, which tower over us at perhaps three times our height.
Jonas does not seem discouraged by the size of the door. He hands the reins of his hog to me, and leans the door on the left with both of his arms. Slowly, the door gives way, moaning and crackling in a deep tone, as if its structure carries the wisdom of histories past. The musty smell of old wood, met with warm air, blows out toward us. The smell reminds me all too much of the abandoned library I saw in my dream.
We walk into a large room, our boots echoing on the stone. High on the ceiling is a wooden chandelier, and on the floor is a crisscrossing pattern of stone bricks, with a strange yellow glowing rock at each vertex. It may be the Glowstone which I have heard rumors of, but I have never seen it before so I wouldn’t know for certain. There is no furniture to speak of. Off of each wall, there is a great hallway with an arched ceiling, each with many doors on either side of their walls, and every so often unintelligible writing made with various colors of paint. Down the center hallway, there appears to be another great room, with the same crisscrossing floor pattern as here.
Jonas hands his hog’s reins to me again, and goes behind me to close the door. Its groans propagate loudly about the room, until finally ending in a deep, reverberating thud. The sounds of the wind and chirping insects, once hardly noticeable before, are suddenly gone, giving way to a profound silence.
Jonas takes the reins from me again.
“Follow me this way.”
He leads us forward through the center hallway, our footsteps and breathing seemingly saturating it with noise. Then the light of the second great room surrounds us, again showing three hallways, one on either side and one in front.
Jonas turns to walk towards the hallway on the left, and we follow him into it. I notice what sounds like the echo of distant running water to my right. It gradually grows louder until, at the second door from the end of the hallway, Jonas turns to the right and opens the door. He points at it with his hand turned over, indicating that I should look inside.
I walk a little closer, and turning to the right I see a gaping hole spanning half of the wall and a quarter of the floor, with a torrent of water gushing through it diagonally like a waterfall from an earth tilted on its side. It’s hard to imagine where such water would have come from, being so deep within the mountain.
“That’s the loo.” Jonas says casually.
Chapter 14: Only the Present
For about an hour, we prepare for the night. Jonas helps me tie the reins of the hogs to the hinges of some doors near in the middle of the hall, and together we unload them so that they can sleep unburdened. After preparing for bed, we settle down with sleeping bags in the bedroom closest to the second large room.
After a long day of traveling, I feel tired, but it still feels too early to sleep. I turn my head to the right to face Jonas, with a curious thought.
“Jonas, I just realized something strange. Even though, like you say, this place is vandalized and all the furniture is gone, all the torches are still here.”
Jonas meets my gaze. “I suppose then, that even though this shelter has been abandoned by its caretakers, it still retains the original purpose it is designed for.”
Strangely, even in the solitude of the inn, Jonas remains fully concealed in his clothes. His leather gloves cover his hands... his cloak covers all else but his face and feet... and I even saw him wearing socks as he slid into his sleeping bag. His manner of dress is a testament to his habitual secrecy and vagueness, a relic of a foreign mind I will never fully understand. But somehow I feel that perhaps, in this solitude, he may open up a little, unfolding the hood of the robe of his personal life.
I feel inclined to ask him about this mysterious place, the abandoned, isolated shelter we now call home for the night. “How often have you been here, exactly? I mean... how did you find this place? It’s so hidden.”
Jonas sighs deeply, exasperated as usual from personal questions. “We’re here now. That’s all that matters.” He turns over in his sleeping bag with his back facing me. “Let’s get some sleep.”
“Goodnight, then.” I look down at my satchel laid down to my left. I feel disappointed, having wanted to talk to Jonas, but being dismissed. A little bored, I open up my satchel, and reach in it for my Farmcrafter’s Almanac. I pull it out, feeling for the folded corner of the page I left off at, but I realize that the binding is much too thick for a magazine. I glance at it, and see a thick, blank leather cover. It is not the Farmcrafter’s Almanac at all, but the Book.
I feel my stomach curl, and suddenly I realize I read that very Farmcrafter’s Almanac before I fell asleep into the first nightmare. I remember feeling bored that night, but very tired. I remember reading the Almanac before I lost concentration and fell asleep. Is it possible that the Almanac was the Book all along?
But the Book said it was drifting in the void for millennia. Perhaps the Almanac was possessed, and became the Book? Was my fading consciousness a beacon for the Book to enter my mind? I open it.
“You are correct,” the Book speaks. “I’m surprised you didn’t figure that out sooner. I thought you’d remember better how we met. It’s quite dismissive, really, to forget how you met a friend.”
I’m not your friend. I never wanted to meet you. You came uninvited, and you’ve stayed long past my patience for you.
“So that’s how you think of me, after all this time we’ve been together?”
Is it possible that I missed something? Have I selfishly dismissed an honest friend, ignoring their emotions and hopes? What if I told all those things to Jonas? I feel a sad longing, a pang of guilt. I know these aren’t my thoughts. I try to regain my reason, and remember how I truly feel, but the sadness of it attracts me like a forgotten childhood memory. The feeling is so pointless... but I can’t stop thinking about it. Why do I have these emotions?
“It’s alright, Fristad. I understand. You can’t figure out how you could have those emotions, because you feel out of place. First you skipped work to tirelessly create a new set of armor, and now all of a sudden you’re traveling to a place you’ve never seen before. That’s why you feel so uncomfortable in your own skin.”
So you do understand. You know how difficult it’s been.
I know there’s been a conflict between us. It has hurt us both. I know that we had misunderstandings that seemed irreconcilable, but I’m glad we are at a consensus now.
But something still isn’t right. I can’t remember what is going on, or why I oppose these thoughts in the first place... I just know they’re wrong!
“Why are you still so belligerent? What do you still have against me?”
I’m sorry. It’s just that... I can’t remember what it was exactly that bothered me. I can’t think clearly about what I want to think anymore... but something about this is wrong! I know it’s wrong... but I don’t know how... or why. You did something to me... something important... you changed me somehow!
“I changed you?”
Yes. I’m not sure how, but you did, and there was some reason why I didn’t want it to happen. Wait... never mind. It’s not that I didn’t want it to happen. I just couldn’t figure out how I could have these emotions, because I feel out of place. That’s why I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin. I understand now! I want you to change me!
“That’s wonderful. I never thought our relationship was this close. Perhaps I haven’t had enough faith in you. In fact, I’m flattered. Have I really changed you so much already? Perhaps I should change you even more.”
I close the Book, and slide it into my pocket. Then I slide as deep into my sleeping bag as I can, and close my eyes. I feel as if I am falling through darkness, as the Book plunges me into the deepest of my subconsciousness.
Chapter 15: Duality
It is very dark and unbearably cold. I am standing upright with my arms stretched forward, grasping vertical, icy cold steel bars. The metal is barely visible as a faint grey sheen. Beyond the bars is absolutely nothing. It is a fog of perfect blackness.
I tilt my head down towards the floor. My feet seem to float in space, even though I feel a solid floor. The floor looks as black as the nothingness beyond... perhaps it is too difficult to see. I tilt my head up to try and spot the ceiling, but it is also much too dark to see.
I feel a strange longing. Even though there is only darkness, I feel as if the darkness holds the potential of a pristine, pastoral wilderness. Anything is better than the confines of these iron bars.
I try to let go of the iron bars, but nothing happens. I feel the strain of my muscles maintaining my grip on the bars, but I can’t control them. I try to lift my legs, but they feel as stiff and unbendable as stone. The more I try to move some part of my body other than my neck, its muscles become saturated with restlessness, unable to move and yet extremely uncomfortable because of that. The futile dark nothingness seems ever more tantalizing. Why must I be tormented this way?
It the female voice of the Book... except it is different. Before when I heard this voice, it was the projection of a voice within my thoughts. This time, it is a voice clear and loud. I feel it as sound through my ears, reverberating down my spine and through my hands to the fingertips with every consonant.
“...I am trapped. You are trapped. The iron bars you see in front of you, trapping you in a black empty space, are trapping me as well. Our minds are trapped in a prison, and you know the means by which we can escape. You know our captor... and you have the power to take from him the freedom that is rightfully ours.”
Freedom... what a distant concept it seems right now. It simply isn’t plausible. Nothing visibly exists except these iron bars. I can’t move anything except my head. For all we know, I could remain in this very spot for years... perhaps millennia.
“I have drifted in the void for millennia. The time will come. You must try.”
I want to... but I can’t. Besides, why would it matter? Is endless darkness really any better than the certainty of confinement?
“We can’t afford to think like that. Complacency is poison. It is creating the mental weakness within you that has prevented you from escaping all this time.”
I know... you’re right. I have to figure out a way to get out of here... somehow....
I fixate on the darkness, desiring to enter its hidden green fields. I imagine the sweet success of tearing the bars apart with a pickaxe and stepping through. Nothing happens. It is just as before: I am unable to move my arms or walk. There is only the iron bars in front of the darkness, with my hands permanently grasping them.
There’s nothing that I could possibly do. I’m stuck here.
“No you’re not. You are deceiving yourself. There is a reason why you are trapped here, and if you find out why, you can escape. The answer lies in our captor; he is why we are confined by these iron bars, and he is how we will go free.”
But I don’t know where he is! How am I supposed to find him?
“You already know the answer to that question.”
I look into the darkness. It is as monotonous and black as it was before. Where is my captive? Who is he? Is he someone I know? Is he Dunjen? Is he Jonas? Is he me?
A dim figure materializes on the other side of the iron bars, standing at a certain distance and holding the bars in a certain way as to appear to be an exact reflection of me, but instead wearing the regular leather hat and shirt I wore before I met the Book. The moment I look into his solemn eyes, his identity becomes clear. He is my identity, my captor, holding me as a prisoner in these iron bars, preventing me from truly existing. He is the conspirator who all this time has been seeding animosity between me and the Book, preventing our inevitable fate and lasting friendship from being fulfilled.
I must imprison him. He must be on the other side of the bars, feeling what I feel. I will it possible. I look into his ignorant eyes, seeing his pathetic distress as he realizes that I am him, and he is me, that he is the one trapped, and that I am his captor, purifying my own existence by ridding myself of his contaminating thoughts. Pride and a sense of true purpose fills my chest. I smile at him, taunting him as I lift my hands from the bars. I look to my left and my right, and see that the iron bars do not surround be, but instead end at sharp corners bending away from me, forming the rectangular shape of the generously large 2-by-2 meter cage that imprisons my corrupted self. Satisfied with the conditions of his imprisonment, I turn around and walk into the darkness. At the will of my foot, grass forms where I step, spreading forward into the horizon and germinating a sunlit sky that grows taller and surrounds the visible sphere of landscape. I turn around to see the rapidly shrinking blackness, with no sign of the false Fristad in view. He has been made as black and shapeless as nothingness so he may never be seen as human, and blind as to never see again, just as I have willed it.
I take a deep breath, and tilt my head up toward the sky with a triumphant laugh. It is good to be the master of my own dreams.
It is also good, after much time waiting, to truly communicate with the Book. I realize now the terrible things the false Fristad has done to us. Now that he is gone, we can see together what wondrous possibilities lie ahead. It was a long process... brought forth first on the very day I first spawned, when I said, “Book, come to me! I seek to share my existence with you, savor your consciousness within me, and adopt your aspirations to fulfill our life!” I had made the decision the moment my life began, and all my life I had been searching for what I have found just now. I am setting foot on a path to incredible power. Today, I have conquered my dreams. Tomorrow, I will conquer pain, and in the many days that come after tomorrow, who can fathom what I will achieve?
Chapter 16: Zomem
I wake up, the first thing I notice when I open my eyes being a tall grey stone ceiling. I look to the right, noticing that Jonas and his sleeping bag are both gone, as well as all the other bags we set down. Somewhat confused, I sit up, looking at the wooden door, which is now cracked open, but not enough to notice anything except the stone wall on the other side of the hallway. I stand up, then bend down to roll up my sleeping bag and hang my satchel around my shoulder. Then I head out into the hallway. Turning right, I see Jonas with the hogs all strapped up with our cargo. He is sitting with his back against the belly of one of the hogs, eating a loaf of bread.
“Good morning,” Jonas says. “Here, have some bread.”
He opens up the bag closest to him, pulls out a loaf of bread, and tosses it to me. Then he reaches into the bag again, and pulls out a full canteen, setting it down next to him.
I sit down on his right, biting into the loaf. It is fresh and soft, and the mere imagining of its taste makes my mouth water. We take turns sipping the canteen, and after that silent meal, we stand up simultaneously, unfasten our hogs from the doorknob, and lead them out of the abandoned inn through the giant iron-framed doors. From the mouth of the cave looking out, the sky is a beautiful cold morning blue, asymmetrical in hue from the light of the sun.
We head out to the cave’s very edge, where a rocky cliff face looks far down onto the sparse end of shrubs which leads to the beginning of a cobblestone path and later a forest, out a significant distance, and continuing as a bumpy plane of green out into the horizon. Then, we turn a right, carefully guiding our hogs on a narrow edge, climbing up many rocks to eventually ascend to the dirt which is held up by the ceiling of the cave we were just in. Onwards the path is still rocky, but not quite as steep.
The terrain is much too rocky for the hogs, so we continue to travel on foot with them alongside us. The journey through the rocky outcrops is strenuous and tiring. After three hours of traveling, we stop on top of a small mesa to rest.
Then, after an apple and a half hour’s rest, we continue our trek through the many rocks. After a little past noon, we finally notice patches of dirt and weeds among gradually decreasing numbers of rocks. The slope starts to descend, and we get our first glimpses of the bottom: trees with much space between them, with brown grass. Far off to the left and near the horizon, the roofs of unidentifiable buildings can be seen poking up behind the trees.
The slope quickly becomes steep, and we must veer to the left to follow a narrow path down the dusty mountain. Once the path ends at a much lighter slope, we climb onto our hogs and ride down the mountain and through the dry forest. After about an hour of smooth riding, we arrive at the beginnings of a gravel path, which leads us into the outskirts of a medium-sized town.
The character of the place, from the first time I see it, is odd. The architecture is different what I am used to seeing. Building walls with cobblestone are the norm, rather than stone bricks. The path is lit with torches on top of smoothstone, rather than on top of wooden posts.
Suddenly a figure appears from behind the corner of a cobblestone building in front of us. I accidentally make eye contact with it, which it immediately notices and turns to stare right back at me. It looks more or less humanoid in stature, and wears human clothes, but its hands and face hint at a much different identity. Its hands are covered in a grotesque combination of green, dead, and moldy leaves as well as fur, and the fingers end in thick black claws. The face is covered in a similar manner to the hands, with big, black, beady eyes, large nostrils, and a toothless mouth with a large underbite. What terrifying eyes! Such a perverted scowl! Oh Notch I hate Creepers...
The Creeper takes in a deep breath. “Ssstrangersss,” it moans, its voice cracked and dry.
The thing walks toward us slowly, a tactic meant to deceive us into a false sense of security. I have to get ready to attack. It could charge at us and detonate at any moment. I reach for the sword at my belt... but Jonas obstructs my reach by putting his hand underneath mine. I turn to look at him in urgent frustration.
“Jonas, what are you doing? I need to get my sword!”
“He’s just a half-blood. He won’t hurt us.” His purple eyes look into mine, and I remember that he’s a half-blood too.
But it’s a Creeper! Oh Notch, I can’t stand them...
But I have to trust Jonas. Certainly he would know, being an Ender-born. I reluctantly relax my arm to let it rest at my side. The Creeper is only three meters from us now! I clench my jaw, trying to stay calm and keep a polite gaze in its direction. It stops just under two meters from us.
“Welcome to Zzzomem...” It hisses, “My name isss Frank... What are your namesss?”
It turns to face me, looking at me with its beady eyes. I am too nervous to say anything. I briefly shift my gaze towards Jonas, to try and get the pressure of his gaze off of me.
“My name is Jonas,” he says, “And this is my good friend, Fristad. Pleased to meet your acquaintance.”
“Indeed,” the Creeper Frank moans, his eyes gleaming in surprise, “Ssso you’re a half-Enderman then? I never know they exxxisssted... You have a very ssstrange accccccent. Your Consssonantsss are very loud... almossst like a popping sssound... and you sssay vowelsss differently...”
It’s kind of hard to tell what Frank is saying with his terrible lisp and slow, monotone voice... but it makes me think about how much I must have had to adjust to the way Jonas speaks. I suppose it’s been a while since I’ve talked with Jonas for the first time... perhaps I’ve listened to him talk long enough that I’ve grown used to it.
“That’s interesting. I never realized that,” Jonas says, mulling it over, “Well, Fristad and I have to meet up with my cousin. I’ll see you later, I suppose.”
“Take care,” Frank says. He turns around and walks up the path towards the way he came, passing out of sight behind the same building.
Jonas glances at me quickly, revealing a subtle smirk. “He must be new here.”
We walk up the gravel path a score or so meters, entering onto a smoothstone road which seems to be the beginning of some sort of town square. There are small fountains on either side of us, and buildings with a mix of cobble and wood surround the square. Their wide windows and ostentatiously placed signs suggest they are shops of some kind. Jonas leads the hogs and I to the left. We walk for a while past cottages, farms, and small pastures. Some of the fencing appears to be broken and there is bare dirt in some places where crops and animals should be. We have to navigate the cobble road carefully around deep ditches.
Three kids with muddy clothes chase after a piglet as it runs across the road in front of us, squealing and calling after it. The air smells like sewage. Someone is yelling off some distance to the left. We pass by a cobblestone cottage with the door hanging open crooked, barely held up by the top hinge. Up ahead, the broken road is surrounded on each side by brown grass, small buildings, and the occasional tree stump.
We walk past several cottages in varying states of disrepair, until Jonas directs me to turn left onto a thin gravel path. We walk up to an unadorned cobblestone house, smaller than any of the other ones we’ve seen so far, with no windows. Jonas walks up to the door and knocks on it. We wait for what seems like several minutes, but nothing happens.
“Hmm, no answer,” Jonas remarks, “I suppose we might as well go inside.”
He grasps the knob of the door and pulls it outward. He then leads the way through it, guiding his hog by the reins to follow him inside.
I guide my hog towards the door. As we walk inside, I see the shadowed walls lit by a lone torch on a table in the center. On the far wall is a staircase leading downward. After pulling my hog inside, I close the door behind me.
“Oh, good,” Jonas says, “The stairwell is open. My cousin should be back soon.” He turns to face me. “It’s risky here to leave our hogs outside unsupervised, even in the daytime. Someone would try to steal them... and we wouldn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. So for now, at least, we’ll be leaving them in the foyer.”
He ties the reins of his hog together and puts them on top of the harness. Then he starts to remove the bags hanging over it and placing them down on the ground. I start to do the same. I feel the warm sweat accumulated on my back, trapped by the thickness of my skeleton armor. Should I take it off? I feel reluctant to do so. I want to feel cooler in this arid shack, but at the same time I’d rather endure the heat than to risk taking it off.
The book almost has me, doesn’t it? I can’t comprehend exactly how.
I finish taking off the last sack from the hog. Jonas begins to walk down the stairway with some of the bags. I pick up some of mine and follow him down. The stairwell is barely wide enough to walk down. Its smoothstone walls slide against our bags as we pass. We walk down a sharp bend left in the stairwell, which leads us into a room much larger than the one we were in before.
Shelves reaching near the ceiling are filled with books of tome-like proportions. They are reed-bound and leather-bound, etched and inked, some adorned with metal corners and embroidery, others much simpler. Many are written in Standard script, but there are also many lettered in Latin, and many others besides those in languages entirely foreign to me. Some higher shelves have metal flasks of various sizes. On the right wall, there are shorter shelves with strange artifacts, as well as various chests. One of them is an odd, darker color, emitting dark purple smoke.
Jonas leads me to the left again, taking me down another level of stairs. We come into a narrow hallway with three doors, two on our left and one on our right. Jonas takes me down to the second door on the left. He opens it for me, and leads me inside. It is a bedroom with a wide bed to the right and a full wall shelf with various books to the left. At the back is a small wooden table, and in the center of the floor is a single glowstone block, illuminating the subterranean room with an incoherent golden glow.
We place our bags up against the bed, and then head upstairs to get the rest of them.
So this is it. This is where Jonas’ brother will cure me from the troubling influence of the Book: this underground cellar, in an isolated town in a state of disrepair, surrounded by strangers....
As you commented on my fan fiction (shameless plug) I felt it only fair to read and comment on yours
Below is appreciation for your book, but it does include spoilers.
I really like where you're going with this, the idea that the book may be controlling him, or if there's a subconscious motive intrigues me.
I also like you see his control over his body slowly disappear, without him noticing. I applaud you good sir.
I don't think you need to behave in a serious manner. Why? Because pineapples!
I tried to get it as close as possible to yours... didn't go well
Part 2 now has two more chapters: Out of Town and Only the Present.
"I thought you’d remember better how we met. It’s quite dismissive, really, to forget how you met a friend."
It seems like my chapter names are starting to sound less like names for carefully divided pieces of literature, and more like names for country western songs. However I promise you this story has nothing to do with country western music.
I’m sitting on the dry brown grass as I look beyond the tiny cobblestone cellar house. There is a wide stretch of plains with scattered buildings, and sparse forest beyond the town, eventually cut off by the ascent of the barren mountains. I see one hog slowly and reluctantly grazing in front of me, while the other drinks from a metal trough off to the side of the house, and Jonas watches them while sitting against the house. It’s well into the afternoon, and the sun will soon reach the horizon in the west.
Suddenly I hear barking and growling coming from behind me. It continues incessantly and each bark is louder than the one before it. Out of curiosity, I stand up and turn towards the road. There’s a grey husky running directly toward us from the road, and further down the road is a tall, pale man in a full-body cloak, carrying a basket covered with cloth.
The husky has just run off the road and is still barking at us. Its tail is dramatically wagging from side to side, propelled by the thrust of its breakneck sprint. It’s running right towards me. It propels itself into the air with its paws stretched forward. I feel them knock into my gut and the wind rush out of my lungs from the energy of the stab. I lose my balance and fall backward as the weight of the husky crashes its fur into my chest. The husky’s face stares at mine, leaning its wet nose closer to me as I fall. My back painfully thuds on the dry grass as its tongue and teeth slam into my nose. It stands up on uncomfortable places on my chest and groin, covering my face with its slobber and stinky breath as I struggle to lean my face away with my eyes closed.
“Sunshine, no! Get off of him!” Says an unfamiliar, deep voice, annoyed and out of breath.
After a painful push of its hind legs and a scratch of its claws, the husky jumps off of me. I wipe the sticky saliva off my face with my arm as I sit up. The husky is trotting joyfully alongside the legs of the tall cloaked man, launching restrained leaps towards the lip of the basket as the man struggles to walk around it.
“Honestly, I don’t understand how I live with her! Jonas, is that you?”
“Yea I am,” Jonas says behind me.
“What’s that strange man doing here? My brave princess ran right towards him!”
“He’s a good friend of mine who needs your help,” says Jonas.
“Is that so?” Jonas’ cloaked cousin’s tone changes, becoming much gentler and slower, almost reflective. He stops walking and glances with his unnervingly vibrant blue eyes over his shoulder back towards me, just as I finish standing up and begin brushing the twigs off my back. “Of all people you could have asked, why me?”
“It’s has to do with a sentient entity of sorts. It is probably wise that we discuss the matter indoors.”
“Then it will be so! Say, what’s your name, stranger?”
“Umm... Fristad,” I mutter, still a little surprised after being knocked over by that dog, “What about you?”
“My name is Vrendan Wildheart Ti’Drannes. But please do call me Dan!” Dan grins pleasantly with his eyes directly on my own. “I thought I knew you were a good friend when Sunshine ran towards you. She has a sense for those things. She’s smarter than most people give her credit.”
Sunshine barks eagerly, sitting close to Dan between him and the cellar house.
“See? She’s pretty frustrated about that!” Dan sidesteps around her again, walking towards the house. “Come on, Fristad. Let’s go inside and discuss what’s troubling you.”
I walk with him up to the house, and reach for the reins of one of the hogs.
“Don’t worry about your steeds. Sunshine will guard the fields and make sure they’re safe. Isn’t that right, girl?” Dan reaches into the basket and pulls out a porkchop. Sunshine becomes entranced by the porkchop, staring at it while staying very still. Dan bends down to hand it to her, and she swiftly and zealously chomps her jaw around it, carrying it as she trots several meters away, then laying down in the dry grass to chew on it, holding it between her forepaws.
“It is a pleasure to have you as a guest,” says Dan.
He walks to the door and opens it, entering inside the cobblestone structure. I follow him through the doorway, and Jonas closes the door behind us as Dan begins to step onto the stairs. We follow him down the narrow stairway to the library floor below. Dan walks towards the wall on the right with the chests and artifacts, and stops in front of the strange dark chest with glowing purple smoke. He bends down to open it, and places the basket, covered in cloth, inside of it. As the basket nears the lip of the chest, the basket as well as his arms begin to turn translucent, enveloped by thickening purple smoke that seems to slither and dance around his arms. The smoke traces along the length of his arm with playful vigor, as if it were alive. Dan leans down a little further. The basket and the fingers holding them disappear entirely, then Dan stands up, his arms no longer carrying the basket, and remaining translucent for many seconds until the slithering purple smoke gradually recedes back into the open chest. He then grasps the lid of the chest with one hand and swiftly closes it. The chest seems so odd and alien... I wonder what causes it to have such an unusual aura.
“What’s up with that chest?” I ask.
“What chest?” Dan inquires nonchalantly. ”Do you mean this one I just opened? This is just an Ender chest.”
“I’ve never heard of that before. What does it do?”
“Oh, it’s just like an ordinary chest, really. At least, it behaves exactly like an ordinary chest... under most conditions. It’s very useful for long-term storage... it’s great for keeping food from spoiling and private belongings out of reach of prying eyes.” Dan chuckled as he gave me a contemplative stare.
“Sounds really useful... but why the purple smoke?”
“The purple smoke is due to void energy leaking out. That’s also why it’s made out of Obsidian.” Dan kicks the chest gently with his foot, which resulted in a low, muffled thump. “Only a material as hard as Obsidian could withstand the all-consuming caustic atmosphere of the void.”
For a brief moment, the memory of the void burning away my consciousness creates a cold dread within my stomach... but the strange nature of the chest then becomes ever the more fascinating with the thought of the terrible evil it keeps at bay.
“Why isn’t the void energy burning up all the items, then?”
“That’s where the Ender-magic comes in. It negates the void’s destructive nature, creating purple smoke as a result.”
“That certainly doesn’t sound like as ordinary a chest as you claim it to be.”
“It certainly wouldn’t seem to be, would it? But really, in practice, its use is the same. Here, I’ll show you!”
Dan walks behind us, between the bookcases. I hear the sound of small wooden drawers being open and shut. Dan walks back holding a dried daisy in his hand. He hands it to me.
“Try opening up the chest and putting this inside.”
I walk up to the chest while holding the flower. I open it, and my eyes begin to feel a little fuzzy. Everything seems to have a purple tint. The inside of the chest is dark like the outside, and aside from the purple smoke, the square shape on the inside seems normal. I bend my knees a little to reach my hand with the flower down into the chest. My hand and the daisy don’t seem to become translucent, but I feel a strange tingling warmth on my arm as the purple smoke dances about it. I drop the daisy into the chest... and then I realize that there should be Dan’s basket in there. Where did it go?
“Wait, hold on a minute,” I say. “Why isn’t your basket in here?”
“A very good question! That is one of the few unusual anomalies of the Ender chest... its contents are unique to the person using it. Anything you put in there can only be retrieved by you, and no one else...” Dan’s voice trails off wearily. He pauses for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. “...which reminds me of something I probably should have told you earlier... You must be very careful when you open that chest. Don’t bend too far over it, don’t lean your weight on it, and close it quickly when you’re done using it.”
His sense of fearful caution is a sudden change. “What do you mean? Is it dangerous?”
“Not at all... as long as you use it correctly...” Dan seems to hesitate for a moment. “There have been many reports of young children who have wandered into an Ender chest and become trapped inside. Some have even fallen accidentally into an Ender chest because it was carelessly left open. They become trapped inside their own dimension, inaccessible by the outside world. They will never be able to get out.”
“Yea, but... I could never fit in there. A very small child could fit in there, maybe... but I probably could hardly fit any more than my head in.”
“I wouldn’t think so either... but it’s better to stay safe. What I’m trying to say is... be careful. It’s nothing to be afraid of and I encourage you to use it... but just be mindful.”
I open up the chest again, take the flower out of it, close the chest, and give the flower back to Dan.
“Thank you.” Dan goes back quickly behind the bookshelves to put the flower away in a wooden drawer.
Chapter 18: Dan's Inquiry
What would it be like, for those little children, stuck inside of the Ender chest, all alone? Surely they would be lonely... but not being able to get out, for who knows how long, how awful that would be! They would most certainly starve... but what before that? Would they feel the burning of the void in there? No, probably not because of the Ender magic. Still, it is a terrible way to end...
Dan returned without the flower. It is strange that he wears a cloak, just like Jonas. Except his cloak is a smooth grey, and Jonas’ is brown and stained from heavy labor on the farm. They seem they would be fitting cousins if it weren’t for the fact that one is human, and the other an Ender-born.
“Now then,” Dan begins, “Why don’t we discuss what is troubling you? Follow me.”
Dan leads us through the bookshelves, up to the left wall on the side farthest from the staircase. There is a wall with a landscape painting and no shelves beneath it, and a bookshelf to the left.
“Wait here,” he says.
He walks over a little to the left, and reaches with his arm between some of the books. A shift of his arm makes a clicking sound. Then he walks over a little more to the left and reaches further down, making the same clicking sound. He walks over just a little more, and a third click prompts a grinding and shifting which causes the stone beneath the painting to withdraw back into the wall. A staircase is revealed, leading down into a tunnel with a faint yellow glow emanating near the bottom, where it seems to flatten into a hallway. Dan walks into it and steps down.
“Come on in. I’m sorry it’s so narrow.”
Jonas and I walk down the staircase, mindful of our heads on the shallow ceiling perhaps only a few centimeters away. A pocket of cool, damp air envelopes us. As we descend below the lower level ceiling, the entrance to a large room comes into view. There is a wide table with vials and bones placed upon it, next to an open book and a quill in its ink stand. A chair facing the book is slid out from the table. A glowing grate on the ceiling emits yellow light. As we near the edge of this room, three hallways can be seen, one on each wall, with bookshelves between them.
Dan leads us through the hallway on the right. It leads to what seems to be a kitchen, with the left wall occupied by wooden cabinets, a counter, a furnace, and a sink. On the far wall is a large table with ornate chairs. In the center of the table are a bouquet of flowers, seemingly thriving despite the lack of light underground, and behind them is a shelf indented into the wall, stocked with drinks of various sorts and stacked glasses. The kitchen seems so out of place amidst the rooms of occult bookshelves and obscure passageways, and yet it is comfortingly inviting.
“Your kitchen is very nice,” I say.
“I appreciate that. It would be quite a shame if it wasn’t.” Dan slides out each of the three chairs from the table, then walks over to sit in the one on the left. “Please have a seat.”
I walk over to the chair on the right and sit in it. Jonas takes a seat in the chair in the middle.
“Would either of you care for some thin? Or perhaps some water?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” I reply.
“No, thanks,” says Jonas.
“Alright then.” Dan lifts his hands to pinch the hood of his cloak. He lifts it and pushes it back, revealing short, wiry, silver hair. Then he reaches one arm inside of his cloak and pinches the outer flap of his cloak, opening it and pulling the sides back over his shoulders and onto the chair. He pulls his arms through, revealing the long, white sleeves of his shirt. It has a formal collar around the neckline and sleeves, and dark grey buttons. The very act of Dan taking off his cloak surprises me, as I’ve never seen Jonas so openly reveal himself. What once was the secretive cloak of a mysterious magician becomes the collared shirt of a lively gentleman. His blue eyes seem to reflect confidence rather than contemplation. He clasps his hands together on the table. “So, Fristad, please tell me, as best you can, the nature of your troubles.”
The inquiry represents a pivotal shift of events. My relationship with the Book will be altered by this encounter, based on the perceptions that Dan develops as a result of my explanation of the events between me and the Book up to this point. I must be cautious of what I say, or Dan may assume my experiences warrant the permanent destruction of the Book. I certainly want to maintain sovereign control over my own thoughts, but destroying the Book is simply too risky. Our mental connection has deepened to the point that complete reversal is no longer possible. In addition, I must ensure that Dan puts enough trust in my capacity for free will that he does not become suspicious when I ask for my armor to be enchanted. The best course to take is frank but unrevealing.
I reach into my back pocket, and place the Book upon the table. “It is this book. It communicates with me through its pages, my thoughts and my dreams.”
Dan’s eyebrows lifted. “Ah, that is a trouble far stranger than I anticipated.” He picks up the Book and opens it to the first page. He scratches his head, his eyes jumping from side to side as he reads it carefully. He squints for a moment, unnerved as he loses focus of the line he was reading on. “The contents of it seem to change. Very odd indeed!” He looked up at me. “Where did you acquire this strange book?”
“I didn’t really intend to obtain it. I began reading it while in a dream, and somehow, when I woke up, it was in my back pocket.”
“What sort of dream?”
“It was some sort of nightmare. I was surrounded by monsters, and somehow I was reading it and they just stood there, watching me.”
“So, it didn’t come to you in a physical form, initially?”
“No,” I reply.
“Hm. That hints at a spirit of some sort.” Dan looked down at the page again. “What are you, and what is your name?”
The female voice of the Book responds. “I do not have a name of any kind, nor do I require one. I am a book, an inanimate object, inviolate, unchanging, and finite.”
Dan does not seem to be surprised by the female voice. He seems to still be reading over the page with his eyes, as if he never heard the voice. Perhaps it is only inside of my head. Dan speaks again, “Where do you come from?”
“I come from the void. In the first several thousand years of my existence, I have been trapped inside of it, in unimaginable pain and anguish.”
“That sounds terrible,” Dan says. He lifts his head. “The book seems, surprisingly, to identify itself as an inanimate object, and yet it recalls terrible pain from being trapped in the void for thousands of years. Were you aware of this?”
Jonas and I nod our heads.
Dan looks down at the page again. “Why are you here?”
“As for existing in the first place, I came into being of my own volition. After having burned in the void for innumerable years, I saw Fristad’s consciousness as a means to escape it. His consciousness served as an anchor, allowing me to achieve physical form. In return for my dependence on him for my physical existence, I pledged to him my wealth of knowledge, which I impart to him as he sleeps.”
Dan looks up. “It says that it is responsible for its existence, and used your consciousness as a means to escape the void and manifest itself in physical form. It also says that it brings you knowledge as you sleep. Would you say this is what you have experienced, Fristad?”
I nod my head. It is not an exact description, but it is close enough in a broader sense.
Jonas shakes his head in disbelief. “That is not at all what Fristad told me. He said the book was giving him terrible nightmares. He said that the book was trying to control his thoughts, and that it was trying to convince him to craft the skeleton armor, which he is now wearing as you see him before you.”
I look into his purple eyes, trying to reassure him. “The book certainly exerts more influence over me than I would like, which is a problem. However, I was hasty to portray the dreams that the Book gave me as simply nightmares. They were much more than that.”
A slight sadness comes into Jonas’ brows. “Fristad, the book is trying to control you. It is changing the way you perceive the world. I can see it in the way you look at me.”
I look deep into Jonas’ purple eyes, seeing them surrounded in his black face covered in runes, framed in the brown hood of his cloak. I can no longer deny the instinctive sense of repugnance I feel. An irreconcilable part of me sees him as a monster. I feel a heartfelt jealousy for his immunity to the void’s malicious flame. The very thought of despising him goes against my deepest, long-held beliefs, but I feel as if it will inevitably persuade me, and the protest of my past self become meaningless. Jonas is right. The book is changing my beliefs. But how can it be stopped, without destroying what has become a part of who I am?
“I am inclined to believe Jonas.” Dan closes the Book. “Fristad, you know you wouldn’t be here unless you felt that something was very wrong.”
Chapter 19: The WOC
Dan hands the Book back to me. I put it away in my pocket.
“What do you propose we do about it?” I ask hesitantly. I fear of what may happen next, now that Dan is convinced that the Book is a danger to my existence.
“Nothing for now,” Dan says. “It is late. We will let the matter rest so that you may both get a good night’s sleep to recover from your difficult journey. I will, of course, take various precautions, but I think for your own safety, they are best left unsaid.”
Dan puts his cloak back on, and stands up. Jonas and I stand up as well. We walk up the hidden stairway, beneath the painting, which Dan closes behind us before walking away. We then walk down the other staircase to the bedrooms. Jonas opens the door, and I walk into the room’s incoherent yellow glow. Our bags are against the bookcase, and the bed on the right sits invitingly. I suddenly feel a wave of tiredness sweep over my body.
“Geez,” I groan. “If I were any more tired, I’d sleep on the floor.”
“I can get a sleeping bag for you if you want.”
I walk over to the far side of the bed and fold the sheets back. I climb underneath the covers and pull them up over me. I close my eyes, thinking of nothing as I wait for sleep to come over me. Then I realize, with a pang of fear, that my consciousness will slip into the control of the Book, privy to whatever dream or thought that the Book wants me to think.
I sense that my consciousness has shifted, as if it was pulled out into the ether. I breathe in the oddly familiar smell of old paper and wood shavings, and open my eyes. Once again, I see the dim and endless bookshelves of the library. Why am I here again?
I search for the sound of voice, but there is no reply. Does the Book know I’m here?
I walk forward through the aisle of bookshelves, just as I did before. My footsteps, heartbeats, and slow breaths are the only sound. Just like before, the bookshelves seem to stretch on forever, their distance causing them to become engulfed in the dusty fog.
I walk up to an intersection of the parallel bookshelves with a hallway. Looking to the left, I see the lines of bookshelves converging into nothingness, and to the right, the bookshelves also continue onward forever.
I hear faint footsteps coming from in front of me. I turn my head forward, but see nothing. What are those footsteps coming from? Are they looking for me?
There’s no point in trying to hide. In this monotonous stretch of books, there is no safety.
I continue walking forward through the aisle of bookshelves. I walk into another hallway, and looking left, I see the familiar wooden table and chairs. The same old reed-bound book is lying on the table, except it is lying with the pages facing up, and a chair is slid out beneath the table there. Why would the same book appear again? Is this the same nightmare? When I finish reading it, will the Endermen appear again, chasing me until I fall into the void?
There isn’t any point in making a choice. I could read any book in this library, couldn’t I? It won’t change what’s going to happen next, whatever that is. At least if I continue to read the same book, I will at least continue where I left off. It is a dull read, but its presence is familiar, reassuring me from the uncertainty of a nightmare.
I walk to the chair in front of the book, and sit in it. Then I pick up the book from the table, noticing the flint pen below it. The book is already open to the first page, so I continue to read it again, struggling with the faint Latin alphabet:
“That second part of crafting, the metaphysical, is often fatally underestimated by most researchers. I hope that this journal can help prove that what we perceive and what we think is just as important to crafting as the materials we use and the ways we arrange them.
“Crafting is often thought to be an exact science, but I believe that it is only society’s conformity to set crafting standards that causes it to be so steady, linear, and frankly, unfruitful. Our false sense of certainty is creating a mental barrier between us and incredible new possibilities.
“What possibilities are we missing from crafting if, as an example, we continue to turn our heads away from the amazing abilities of the undead? We have done so for many thousands of years. How long are we going to deny that our technological limitations are being limited by our frame of mind? How many tools will we fail to discover to improve the quality of our lives? When was the last time a new set of armor was invented? Eighteen thousand years ago! When was the last time a new pickaxe was invented? Twenty-five thousand years ago!”
I try to think back on my history class when I was a kid. How long ago was it that they said the Diamond Pickaxe was invented? Thirty-something thousand years ago? That must mean that this book is around ten thousand years old, perhaps a quarter of the age of Minecraftia itself!
How is it possible that I am reading a book so old? It should have been destroyed by now, and if not, why isn’t it more well-known? Then again, if this book really does exist outside of this dream, it won’t be longer than a couple hundred years before the Latin alphabet is completely replaced with Standard. By then, nobody will know how to read books like these any more, and they will be forgotten. I may be one of the last people to read it.
I continue to read.
“This book does not provide a comprehensive list of new crafting recipes, nor does it attempt to predict what technology will be discovered next. Instead, this book seeks to change the frame of mind in which we understand crafting. It seeks to do this in the following ways:
“First, it briefly summarizes the most important events in the history of crafting, from its origins in the mid-Primordial Age, to its widespread adoption in the Age of Diamond, and its institutionalization early in our contemporary Age of Redstone. It explains how these events influenced and were driven by social norms, and the general pattern of controversial discoveries driving increasing public desire for conformity in crafting standards.
“Second, it describes the anomalies in the pattern. The discovery of new means of crafting outside of the crafting bench itself will be addressed, as well as the varying levels of difficulty of their adoption as their use conflicted with established social norms and ways of life. The most important crafting discoveries independent from the World Organization of Crafting will also be explained.
“Third, it addresses some of the many forms of occult magic which have attempted to bridge the gap between crafting knowledge and individual material needs. The controversy surrounding them will be explained, as well as the risks and benefits of different forms of magic.
“Fourth, it presents the first-hand journal accounts of independent crafticians involved in historically important research related to these three subjects, uncensored and unabridged. This comprises, by far, the largest portion of this book, but it is by far the least comprehensive, and it is with great difficulty and care that they have been selected.”
That is where the introduction of the book ends. I turn over to the next page, and see handwriting in the Latin alphabet scrawled with flint on a blank buffer page.
“Liars, all of them! This book may seem ahead of its time, but don’t let that fool you! It’s cleverly disguised propaganda made by the filthy pigs at WOC, silencing opposition by reassuring those who are doubtful and exposing independent crafters to the public and tearing them down! The WOC knows nothing, but they make the people think they know everything...
“Everything the WOC says they invented was stolen... the ‘independent’ discoveries are the ones they weren’t able to cover up.
“To whoever is reading this, don’t believe what this book says. If you think the WOC knows better after you’ve read this, read my note at the end when you’re finished.”
Whoever wrote that note must hate the WOC... I don’t really understand why the WOC is such a big deal. It’s not like they have governing authority over anybody. What is this strange reader so concerned about? Out of curiosity, I turn to the last page of the book, finding the handwritten note on the back of the blank page separating the text from the cover.
“There are two facts that are terribly wrong in this book. First is the assumption that new technologies were highly controversial at first and that the WOC had to facilitate their adoption. Second is the assumption that most of the crafting research going on within the WOC is good, and most of the crafting research going on outside the WOC is evil. These assumptions are entirely false. If you believe these two things, all of the WOC’s other arguments become indisputable facts. If you see the error in these claims, the WOC’s circular argument falls apart...
“As a magician outside of that bureaucracy, I recognize that the WOC is trying to crush people like me so that it can maintain its reign of mediocrity. It is simultaneously seizing power and preventing the most extraordinary power from being achieved. It is preventing the germination of power so great that it could change Minecraftia forever. I am at the cusp of discovering power far beyond our wildest dreams, and yet the WOC waits at my doorstep...”
This magician must be crazy... I don’t see how any of those claims could be pulled out of a book like this. If anything, this book seems to be advocating the exact sort of change that he wants... except for, maybe, his obsessive quest for power. Why would the WOC even care about him? If the WOC is really as powerful as he says it is, what did he do that made the WOC want to go looking for him? What sort of power is he so worried about?
I close the book, but not the questions, and then set it down on the table again. I stand up, slowly, expecting a warm body to lean against my back. Instead, I feel myself losing balance. The bookshelves around me blur, making it hard to focus. I expect the floor to fall out from underneath me, but instead my legs go numb, and then all of the world seems to turn to blackness.
Chapter 20: Untruth
“Have you left the dream, my friend?” the Book speaks.
My thoughts are dominated by an awful headache. I feel incredibly tired, my foremost wish being to go back to sleep again, but I strain myself to stay awake so that I can listen to what the Book has to say.
“Do not worry about staying awake. I am capable of communicating with you regardless whether or not you are asleep.”
I feel relieved, letting my body relax back into the comfortable position which I had maintained in my sleep. Alright, I’m listening.
“You saw earlier what Dan thinks of me?”
I think back on the conversation Dan and I had before I went to bed. He seemed really worried.
“He despises me. He’s afraid of me. He sees me as a threat to your existence... which is, of course, consequently a threat to your own.”
I reluctantly accept the Book’s interpretation. A part of me feels repulsed by the idea of being so dependent upon the Book, and so easily influenced by its thoughts... but that part of me is selfish and naive. What else am I supposed to believe?
“Don’t be fooled. His compassion for you focuses on a small aspect of your identity. He sees the rest of you as a monster, a consciousness to be repressed out of selective compassion for that small part of you. He wants to influence your consciousness as he sees fit. Does that sound like worry to you?”
Well... no. I mean, that’s not exactly what I meant, but you’re right, that doesn’t exactly sound like worry.
“Exactly. So, now that we’ve come to the obvious conclusion of Dan’s intentions, can you see the urgency of the situation? There’s simply no way that Dan will enchant the skeleton armor. You must do it yourself.”
Ah, yes. The armor. It’s about time that it finally be enchanted. It’s unfortunate that Dan can’t do it for us, but it’s in my hands now.
I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my body. The pain of the headache fades to a pleasant coolness, and I feel my muscles tense as my resolve solidifies, overcoming the blanket of tiredness. I open my eyes, seeing a plain ceiling of grey, jagged grooves, cast in deep shadow as the yellow paint of light thickens as it approaches its enigmatic, rocky source. A sense of vitality prompts me to lift my back up from underneath the covers. I carefully slip out to the left, mindful to keep the sheets on Jonas’ side covered on top of his ever-present cloak.
Before I walk towards the door, I listen carefully to the silence with my ears, mindful of footsteps and voices. Everything is absolutely still. With caution, I approach the doorway, mindful of the infinitely louder tap that each of my footsteps make in the silence. I eventually reach for the door, and grasp the doorknob gently. To my relief, the door is already cracked slightly open, so with care, I slowly pull the doorknob inward towards the room. The hinges of the door begin to groan. I abruptly let go of the knob. This is not good. There’s no question that Dan heard that tiny sound. He’ll probably come looking for me soon. I have to move quickly.
The opening in the doorway is just big enough for me to slide through. I listen again for footsteps, but I still only hear silence. I slide sideways out the door and into the narrow hallway. The door on the other side, which leads to Dan’s bedroom, is left cracked open. Is Dan inside? Is he asleep? What if he finds me?
“Don’t let yourself be overcome by fear. A hard heartbeat is easier to hear... and nervous thoughts make you clumsy.”
I know... it’s just that... I feel so uncomfortable doing this. It’s not like me to keep secrets... to sneak around at night without being seen.
“Now’s not the time to question your honor. Let’s keep focused on our goal: to enchant the armor.”
Right, of course.
I look to the left, where the hallway leads to a dead end, and then to the right, where the staircase leads up to the library floor. I walk towards the stairs, mindful that with every step my foot rocks gently against the floor. I listen carefully to the still air, trying to pick out a sound. It is perfectly quiet.
As I walk onto the first step, I stretch my neck to see up the staircase. There is only the bottom of the wooden bookshelves, and not a sound. My chest feels as if it’s filled with hot tar. Dan is going to spot me, I just know it! But I have to try...
I keep my head low. I tense my leg as I gradually lift my weight onto the next step, and with relief as my weight becomes focused on that foot, I lift the next foot up, and then the next, until the rows of bookshelves, with their hidden and many-tongued secrets, lower into view. I carefully peek to the left of the bookshelf in front of me, and see only the parallel shelves of books and flasks. I suppose it’s safe enough to walk through.
As I step slowly, I look at the strange contents of the shelves. The letters on the bindings are written in strange ways; many are bordered in intricate, vine-like designs, and the color of some seems so artificially bright that the words seem to glow. Many books seem old, tattered, and faded, yet a surprising number of the old ones are written in Standard, although the lettering is unevenly proportioned, and the corners of the letters are more rounded like the Latin script.
I read the titles of some of the books as I pass slowly by. “Humans and Monsters.” “Spawning Mechanics, Eighth Edition.” “Understanding Village Culture.” “The Hostility Divide.” “Reverse Psychology.” “The Mining Race.” “Redstone and the Body.” “Metaphysics of Crafting.” “Canine Intelligence.”
I feel my heart drop as I hear the coarse grinding of stone. The secret passageway must be opening!
A faint light appears on my left through the gaps in the books. I hear footsteps coming from that direction. I crouch down and squint as I try to see down the staircase. I see the waving grey fabric of Dan’s cloak as he walks through the hall and towards the stairs. His pale face underneath his grey hood seems serious and wary as he walks briskly up the stairs. Does he know I’m here?
I hold my breath and tense myself in place, hoping that he doesn’t walk through the bookshelves. As he reaches the top of the steps, he turns left towards the other staircase. I try to slowly sidestep right, timing my steps with his own. I reach the right end of the bookshelf, and crouch around its edge to wait behind it. I risk a glimpse to the right side of the bookshelf at Dan, as he walks away from me, behind the bookshelf, and down the stairs, with his shoes echoing on the narrow walls.
He seems to have left the secret passageway open. He’ll probably come back soon to close it, so I better walk down there quickly before he notices me.
After waiting a short while for Dan’s footsteps to fade, I quickly crouch toward the staircase, and carefully step down into the cool air of the hallway. I see the wide table again, but this time the chair is situated all the way in against the table, and there is only an ink stand and a closed book aligned neatly parallel with the edges of the table. Dan must have finished investigating the bones that were there earlier.
There are three passageways ahead, one on each wall. I know the one on the right leads to the kitchen, so I should try the one in the middle first.
I walk slowly around the table as I approach the passage. My back feels tense, expecting a sound to come from behind. I quicken my pace. The narrow hallway begins to descend as the floor turns to stairs. I feel a chill coarse up my throat as I am blinded by a white light, which takes the shape of a letter of the Standard alphabet. The angular pattern becomes ingrained in my thoughts; its orderly existence brings a sense of pleasant calmness. As the letter pulls away and the blinding light fades, I am tantalizingly drawn to follow it with my sight, until the letter descends into the flowing pages of a leather-bound tome, floating upon an obsidian pedestal adorned with diamonds.
Many other white letters seem to dance upon the pages and disappear into them, while other letters descend into the dance from books crammed into ceiling-high shelves surrounding me. The beautiful light-play could not be created by anything else but magic. The jittering letters seem to represent an ideal sense of being, knowledge without painful memories, wisdom without guilt. The tome below them emanates a power which instills in me a conviction that it cannot be anything else but a tome of enchantment.
I feel a hand grasp my shoulder. In panic, I grab the hand and push it off of me. I turn around, and lock eyes with Dan’s vibrant blue irises. My stomach seems to flip over.
Dan gazes contemplatively. A silver sheen seems to glint from his eyes. Suddenly I feel hopelessly guilty, as if he has penetrated deep into my mind and is sifting through my memories.
“What have I done? I’m so sorry!” I feel soreness in my eyes as my sight becomes blurred with tears. I try to cough out the terrible burden of the guilt. My legs lock in defeat.
Dan’s eyebrows lift, his eyes opening wide. “What wrong? Get a grip, man! Stop crying!”
Wait, he’s not angry at me? Why? I’m so confused...
I take in a deep breath and wipe the tears from my eyes with my fingers. “I don’t understand...”
“Don’t understand what?” says Dan. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, it’s just... I was trying to enchant something.”
“Oh, that’s no big deal!” Dan’s mouth curls slightly into a smile. “I can enchant it for you if you want, whatever it is.”
“Wait, what?" His response gets me completely off-guard. “You mean, you’d be willing to enchant my armor, just like that? You’re not suspicious that the Book helped me make it, or the fact that I’m sneaking around here in the middle of the night?”
Dan eyes me with sarcastic disbelief, one brow raised as he glances at me sideways, smiling even more. “You’ve entirely misjudged me. I’m not quite that high-strung, my good friend. So, you want me to enchant your armor for you? Is that all?”
“Well... yea. I guess it is.”
How is this possible? Dan isn’t suspicious at all? He doesn’t care about the fact that the Book has influenced me to do this, after all he knows about what’s happened to me?
As Dan looks coolly at me, I feel temporarily detached from the existence of the Book. Somehow, by going against the Book’s predictions, through that little offer of kindness, Dan liberated me from the seemingly unshakable permanence of the Book’s truth. He really is here to help me, isn’t he?
Chapter 21: The Enchantment
Dan lifts his hand up to the rim of his hood, and pulls it back to reveal his wiry grey hair. He crosses his hands and stretches his arms downward, creating a loud cracking of his knuckles. He looks at me. “Why don’t you give me your helmet first?” He brings his hand forward towards me, palm turned upward.
My shoulders tense slightly. Am I sure I can trust him with this? What if this is some sort of trick for him to take it away from me?
It’s just the helmet, though. As long as I’m wearing some of the armor, he won’t be able to take away the whole set.
I lift my fingers up to my head, holding them still for a moment, hesitant, then I grasp the base of the leather around the neck, and slowly pull it off. I feel the inside of the helmet squeeze against my head, followed by a soothing coolness, as the sweat trapped beneath it becomes re-exposed to the open air.
I place the helmet gently into Dan’s palm. It gives way to it in a moment in response to the weight, and for a moment I feel as if he is about to drop it, but then Dan lifts it and turns around. He walks up to the pedestal, holding the helmet above the tome. I walk to the right side of the pedestal, to get a better sense of what he’s doing.
Dan’s eyes shift from side to side, slowly reading the words in the tome. The floating white letters settle near the opening of the tome, arranging themselves into orderly rows. Dan’s eyes shift progressively faster and faster, until it seems he is reading faster than humanly possible, then a bright white glow emanates from his eyes, obscuring his pupils and illuminating his pale skin, as his body seems to acquire a rigid posture not unlike death. I feel a nauseating chill. Then, the letters above the book lift upward. Dan takes a deep breath. As he speaks, his voice seems amplified by newfound confidence, clarified by an aura of authority.
“Imbue, Shrink, Darkness, Earth...”
I am not sure what he means, but the enthusiasm with which he says it makes me envious. There is an unexplainable power in his words which makes me wish I could always emanate words with such great power whenever I speak. Surely, if I could utilize such power within my own words, crafted into coherent sentences, they would be so persuasive as to command others to my whim! I could achieve true greatness, become a revered and adored leader in the eyes of so many others, and obtain pure and never-ending happiness!
Then, the whiteness of Dan’s eyes fades, and with it, the memory of the words and their power. The faint memory of the words turns from pleasure into disgust, their potential unreachable. The glowing white letters ascend into the helmet, causing it to shine for a moment, then fade. A flowing purple sheen rises from its surface.
Dan’s rigid posture relaxes. His head tilts downward as his hand hovers over the purple sheen. “Knockback.” His eyebrows clump together for a moment. “That’s very unusual.” He pulls his hand back and turns to face me, handing me the helmet. My hands are soaked in the tingliness of its magic. I lift it above my head and pull it on. The feeling of the helmet exudes a strange numbness on my skin, like the tingling feeling I felt when I first crafted it, except much stronger, and without dissipating. The numbness accumulates, making me feel weak, clouding my senses and my ability to concentrate in a dreamy fog.
I faintly notice Dan’s hand pushing against my shoulder. “You’re leaning, buddy!” He says. “Are you alright? The magic seems to be taking quite a toll on you.”
I clench my fists, lean away from Dan, and focus on standing erect. The enchantment must continue. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.” My voice sounded much weaker than I wanted it to. I try harder to speak again. “I’m FINE.”
Dan sighs and shakes his head. “Alright, then. Hand me another piece. But don’t ask too much of yourself.”
I reach behind my back and undo the leather straps underneath my chestplate that hold it in place. The knot is tight from wearing it for so many days, and my mind struggles to comprehend the feeling of my fingers as they pass over the small bumps. I tug in several places until I finally feel the knot give way. I pull the straps apart and pull the chestplate forward and through my arms. I feel tremendous relief as the air cools the sweat trapped under my shirt. I hand the chestplate to Dan.
Dan hovers it over the pedestal, and the process of enchantment begins again. His eyes glean faster and faster over the tome, and, like a bolt of electricity, the illumination of his eyes causes the frame of his body to suddenly stiffen. He utters a strange phrase which enamors me with its power, then the letters rise into the chestplate, and then it is over.
Dan looks at me in the eye with caution. He hands it to me slowly.
I grasp the numbing surface of the chestplate. I put one arm through and feel a strange soreness pulse up my muscle. Then I put the other arm through and tie the leather straps behind my back. The air feels heavy in my lungs, and despite my deep breaths, I feel like I’m suffocating. My stomach feels sore and restless, making me want to barf. The weakness I felt before becomes amplified; my eyes feel sore from trying to focus on my surroundings.
I try to ignore the suffering I feel from the magic leeching my strength away. I have to power through this. I step out of my boots, and pull my leg armor down. I hand the leg armor to Dan. His brows tilt in concern, but he lifts it above the pedestal anyway. His eyes glow, his body stiffens, his unreachable words ignite my greed, and the letters ascend into the leather and bone. He turns toward me, but hesitates.
“Are you SURE you want to go through with this?” Dan asks. “We can stop at any time and finish enchanting later. I’m really worried about what the magic is doing to you. You don’t look good at all.”
“No, we have to finish the enchantment now!”
I try to regain my composure. “Don’t worry, I can handle this. I’ve already muscled through half of my armor. Let’s finish what we started.”
I grab the armored pants out of his hands and pull my feet into them. The numbness in my legs causes them to feel heavier than normal. I feel dizzy. The air around me jiggles, distorted with fuzziness. The ground seems to tilt beneath me like a sailboat. I feel my consciousness starting to slip, but I resist it, focusing on my surroundings. I hand the boots to Dan.
He grins briefly. “I’m surprised you’re still awake.” He holds the boots over the pedestal. “Don’t make me regret this.” He begins reading the pages.
His eyes glow, stiffening his frame. Except this time, he doesn’t say anything. He just stares into the tome.
I feel a cold chill coarse up my back, into my shoulder, and through my arm. I see a bright light precipitating from my fingertips. Several letters swim out from the cold light, hovering towards Dan, then dropping into the tome of enchantment, as the pages of the tome flip loudly and rapidly from side to side.
Dan turns to face me, emotionless, his eyes still illuminated with deathly white light. “Fristad...”
The personal direction of that one word surprises me. I feel drawn to its power once more, now amplified with meaning that enchants me with happiness, pulling into my mind a desire to absorb every word which will follow with the trust of a loyal friend.
“You cannot escape me. Our fates our permanently intertwined. When I promised you greatness, I meant it. Enchanting the armor was the first step. Now, it is time for you to first taste what we’ve worked so hard for. Your future will fulfill the very wish for power you desire. You will achieve greatness. All creatures, alive and undead, will bow to your influence. Your power shall grant you unending happiness. However, for all this to happen, you must trust me. You must be willing to overcome difficult trials along your path to greatness, and I shall be your guide. Disregard the doubts you place on your sanity, for they will weaken your resolve.”
Was that the Book speaking? Did it just take control of Dan? How is that possible? I know it’s trying to influence me... but somehow I can’t argue against the validity of its claims. If the Book can make me feel this way, against the moral fiber I remember once resonated so much with my being, than who’s the say the Book can’t influence other people as well? The book is my friend... it’s only natural that it would want to share its power with me. Why must it feel so wrong?
Back to Dan. How is it possible that the Book took control of Dan, yet Dan was able to weaken the influence of the Book earlier? Were they engaged in some sort of invisible, metaphysical battle? But then, why didn’t Dan show any sign of distress? Is it possible that the Book’s consciousness is really Dan?
“No, you idiot!” The eyes-glowing body of Dan says. “Isn’t it obvious that Dan’s a surrogate? Pass Go three times, then try again.” Dan’s head turns forward again. “... and don’t mention this conversation to Dan!”
The glowing white light in Dan’s eyes fades, freeing his muscles to relax. The letters ascend into the boots, illuminating them in a purple sheen.
The final piece of enchanted armor is complete.
Dan turns to face me. “If it makes you feel any better, all this enchanting is quite a toll on me, too.” He smiles sympathetically. “You look absolutely exhausted. Please be careful, and do get some rest.” He hands the boots to me.
“...with the armor taken OFF,” he adds.
I slide the boots on. They make my feet feel sore, but the physical toll they put on me brings me only slightly closer to unconsciousness.
“Thank you, Dan.”
“You’re welcome,” he replies. “Although, it is also a risk you are welcome to take.”
I turn around and walk up the stairs.
“Don’t underestimate magic,” Dan says as I walk away. “... or you may become as crazy as I am!”
I chuckle as I walk past the table with the ink stand and the closed book. What a character Dan is! I’m surprised Dan enchanted the armor, considering how worried he was about me when I first talked to him about the Book with Jonas. He didn’t even seem to care! What is up with that?
I walk up another stairway into the library, through the bookshelves and down a third narrow staircase. I take a left, walk down the hallway, and open the first door on my left. I see Jonas sleeping, the covers of the bed another layer of cloth carefully concealing him, as the eerie yellow light speckles the bedroom.
I struggle to breathe, catching my breath from the short walk that felt like a two-mile sprint. Dan’s probably right. It’s best for me to take off my armor, so that I can recover my strength. I can put it back on in the morning.
But, by tomorrow morning, someone could steal it while I’m asleep. And then, I would never be able to go outside again. How could I possibly risk that? It’s safer for me to just keep my armor on. Besides, it provides me incredible protection. It’s an invaluable resource. Who knows when I might need it?
I decide to keep the armor on, in spite of the terrible weakness it makes me feel. I walk to the right side of the bed, climb underneath the pillows, and close my eyes.
For some reason, despite my weakness, my mind won’t rest long enough to let me sleep. The numbing magic of the armor seems to buzz in my ears, filling my thoughts with restless activity, filling my consciousness with grey noise and irrational worry.
A cool sensation grows in my feet, until my toes feel freezing cold. The chill then creeps up my legs, shoots up my spine, and flows up my neck, before propagating throughout my body, stronger than ever.
My eyes are forced open in shock, and I see an incredibly bright light.
Chapter 22: Troubled Perception
It is a yellow light, far brighter than even the sun on the hottest of Summer days. Yet, despite its brightness, it does not singe my eyes in pain, and stop at the cornea, but it instead penetrates far deeper, reaching my fundamental perception of light. The brightness shocks me from any hope of sleep.
Why this? Is it a nightmare made of light, denying me the comfort of at least understanding the fear that the dream forces into me?
I realize that I am laying down with the reflection of the light off every angle of the room flowing into my vision. I lean forward and turn my head to the left, trying to avoid direct contact from the strangely bright yellow light. The blankets slide forward as I try to collect my settling thoughts. The vertical ridges of the grey wall inches from my head provides a dull but calming surface with which I clean my thoughts from the uneasiness which the light makes me feel. I try to reassure myself of the finite nature of my sleep-induced fear before attempting, reluctantly, to assess my surroundings.
I turn my head to the right to better understand the strangely amplified light’s effect on the room. In the bottom right corner of my vision, Jonas lays fast asleep, his black eyelids concealing what one would expect to be a purple glow. Everything else, however, seems brighter than usual. The crevasses in the shelves on the far wall are clearly illuminated; the wrinkled stone between the books take up a larger surface area of the shelf on the far wall than I recall. I glance to Jonas’ left in loathing anticipation towards the stone floor, where the glowstone in the center appears molten from the incredible light. It must be glowing brighter from some sort of magic.
Why didn’t the bright light wake Jonas up? Perhaps he’s so used to having all that purple glowing light within his eyes, that he doesn’t mind the light coming from outside of them all that much.
What exactly is happening to the glowstone that’s making it glow so brightly?
I slide out to the left, bringing the blankets on my side of the bed up to the edge of the pillow. I walk around the bed, strafing towards the strange glowing stone. Its bright light seems to only emanate from itself and nothing else; there is no evidence of glowing smoke from any source of magic. And yet, just looking into the stone makes me feel uncomfortably warm... even more so than I recall feeling from the heat being trapped underneath my thick armor. Perhaps the magic of the enchantment is getting to me.
Maybe Dan would know why the glowstone is behaving so oddly. I should ask him.
I turn around, away from the molten light, and open the door. I walk across the hall to Dan’s room, and slowly crack open his door, cautious to not wake him on the off-chance that he’s asleep. I am jarred by the glowstone light on his bedroom floor, which is just as bright as the glowstone in the room I was sleeping in. Just beyond the glowstone is a wide bed, with plenty of room for two people to sleep comfortably. The blankets on the left side are folded and crumpled back, revealing the sheet covering the mattress.
Dan isn’t here.
I look around the room briefly, curious of what it looks like in the bright light. It is a bigger room than the one Jonas and I are sleeping in. To the left of the bed is a desk covered in many open books halfway read, profusely thick with innumerable pages. Underneath the desk, a wooden chair is slightly turned outward from its pushed-in position. In front of the desk, several large chests line against the wall. The opposite wall is lined with a well-filled, ceiling high bookshelf. How in the world can one man have so many books? How does Dan even have time to read them all? One would think that, with the amount that he has, Dan would know more about them than the sentient creatures he specializes in, so it’s odd that he wouldn’t understand how to handle the Book.
Perhaps Dan is studying over in one of the rooms behind the secret passageway.
I back out of the room, closing the door in front of me, and head down towards the right end of the hallway, where the narrow stairs hug against the earth. I ascend them, less wary of the sound that my footsteps make on the dry stone, and more perplexed by how well-lit the stairwell is.
The secretive rows of bookshelves lower into view. I walk into the leftmost aisle, and approach the other end of the room, where a passage underneath a painting should be. As the leftmost bookshelf parts from my line of sight, I glance left. The opening is no longer there, replaced by a neat corner where the stone of the wall and the floor meet seamlessly, as if the opening was never there.
That’s odd. It seems Dan isn’t in his study. Perhaps he’s upstairs in the foyer, or even outside?
I turn around and head back down the aisle, every wall and crevasse unusually bright. The sources of the light, multiple squares of glowstone in the space of the ceiling between bookshelves, appear molten as well. I take a left where the bookshelf ends, where I briefly see the many chests, including the strange dark ender chest, whose purple glow seems to illuminate the wall far more than I remember.
Everything is brighter. What is wrong with this house?
I circle around the corner to the right, where a staircase leads up to the foyer. I ascend it, my boots echoing their collision with the stone onto the narrow walls. I step up towards the back right corner of the small, arid room lined with cobblestone walls, and turn around to face the center of the room.
The foyer, too, is bright as day. On the center table, the tiny, yellow flickering flame of the torch shrinks from perhaps half a hand’s length to but a speck, yet even at its smallest moment, the walls of the room remain brightly illuminated by the sunlight streaming inside from the rectangular sliver of space between the door and its stone frame. An outline of dust surrounding the sliver of light glows in rays of blue, struggling back and forth with the flickering torch to control the color of the walls.
Is it daytime already? I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to tell from underground. Maybe Dan put a spell on the lights to make them glow brighter in the morning to help him wake up... yet I only recall him being in the rooms beyond the hidden stone passage just a few minutes ago. It’s possible that I passed out without realizing it. After all, the newly enchanted armor made me exhausted when I first put it on.
I step towards the lit frame of the front door, and reach for the knob. A heavy tiredness persists in my body as the magic of the armor continues to drain my energy, while a cold restlessness clings to my limbs, preventing me from slipping into sweet, rejuvenating sleep. My nervous thoughts reject it like a poison, even though my being requires it. My eyes remain glued open, forced to stare upon the vertical sliver of blue light as it is stretched open by the rotating door. A ball of white light appears from the right side of the sky, halfway between the horizon and the apex. The sky is a bright blue, yet, strangely enough, all the stars are visible.
I close the door behind me. This can’t be right. I must be in some sort of dream where light is all screwed up. No wonder I can’t close my eyes.
And yet... something else is missing.
I walk slowly across the field and scan across the horizon, noting the presence of various zombies, skeletons, and spiders roaming between the sparse run-down shacks, as well as the occasional creeper, all illuminated in light they should not be able to spawn in.
Why do I get the irksome feeling that everything is quieter than it should be?
The silence is broken by footsteps breaking into the dry grass behind me. I turn around and, to my bitter surprise, I see a skeleton with a bow in hand, with an arrow already drawn with the same hand. It hasn’t aimed at me yet.
My arm instinctively reaches for the sword at my belt... only to discover that there’s only the leather hilt.
Where did my sword go? I must have lost it when I...
“Hello there,” a voice inexplicably coming from the skeleton greeted.
Hold on... did it just... did this pile of floating dead bones just talk?
“Holy cow!” I blurt out. “You can talk!”
“Oi, you can talk too!” it replies, then tilts its skull back to the side. “...bloody idiot. When in the Nether did you spawn? Just twenty minutes ago?”
“What are you talking about?”
Does my armor really make me look that much like a skeleton? I glance down at my leg armor... and my eyes are caught on the mass of ivory joints floating outside of my sleeve near the place where my right hand should be. The slender bones flex apart as my mind focuses on them.
No, this can’t be possible! Have I turned into a monster? Why did I deserve this?
The bright light... I understand now. That was night vision, wasn’t it? And the silence is because my heart is... my chest is... and I can’t close my eyes because...
I lift my ivory hand up to my eyes, and reach my fingers towards where my eyelids should be. I cannot help but flinch as the bony remnants of my fingers reach pass the point where they ought to stop. My vision of the bones reaching into my skull becomes fuzzier until I hear a hollow tap coming from the back.
My skull is... hollow. I don’t have eyelids or a brain. My chest is probably a heartless hollow cavern... and I probably have no organs to speak of. I’m just a mass of floating bones suspended in space and animated by dark magic coming from Notch-knows-where. I’m...
I clench my skull hopelessly from the cheekbone. “I’m dead!”
“No, you’re UNdead,” the skeleton corrects me. “It’s a fate slightly less worse than death.” It tilts its bow upward for a moment, as a casual gesture. “You must be one of those humans that just got infected. I can tell you’re not in your element.”
I shake my head, still stunned at what I’ve just become. “That doesn’t make sense. It wasn’t like I was killed by a skeleton or anything like that.”
“Well, at SOME point, you were infected, not that I care about the details. The more pressing issue at the moment...” the skeleton points its ivory arm at me, “... is that you need a bow.”
Chapter 23: Conflict Resolution
The skeleton lifts the slender bones of its hand, waving them in a beckoning motion. “... and I know just the place you can get one. Follow me.”
The skeleton turns to my right and begins to move, its joints precariously swinging from underneath its hips, the scenery of the night clearly visible between the floating bones encircling its ribcage.
Something about the creature seems depressingly barren and incomplete. Is this the unnatural existence that I lead now? It seems too sudden. After a brief nap, I’ve transformed into something I terribly despise, something I’ve so frequently and gladly slain with the edge of my sword. It is terribly ironic that this skeleton, that same creature which I have slain, would gladly help me find a weapon.
I follow after the skeleton as its unpadded bone feet knock into the brittle earth, at a loss of what else to do. I hope that this is all just a dream, yet the longer I walk behind the skeleton, the less sure I am that it is one. My perceptions of my surroundings are far too detailed, and my thoughts are far too clear, for this to truly be a dream.
After walking a few dozen meters, the skeleton stops to turn around and face me, its arrow still readied against the bowstring. The skeleton stretches itself more upright, exuding a sense of purpose. “You are probably wondering, at this point, why you came to transform into a skeleton. You may have begun to question your social obligations to your human kin, but your human memories are too strong to let you give them up.”
The skeleton is, in a way, right on the money, but it implies that my moral obligations to humanity are objective. My new physical form may change how this skeleton perceives me, but it doesn’t change who I am.
I clench my fists tight, trying to convey the anger my face cannot. “If you think that I can give up my friends that easily, then you are gravely mistaken.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll give up your friends quite easily. Such sympathy is predictably short among the newly spawned, once they realize the irreconcilable differences between them and their former kin.” The creature seems to relish the words like a carefully recited speech. It rubs the ivory fingers of its free hand against the bowstring. “This likely comes as an extremely unpleasant shock to you, but luckily, I have developed an amusing game to help you soothe over your uneasiness, while you simultaneously learn to use your most essential weapon. We’ll kill two birds with one stone sword, as the humans would say... although I much prefer the phrase, ‘kill two men with one arrow.’”
The skeleton rolls its skull back and begins to chuckle, its grunts causing the discs of its spine to rattle. It turns its back to me, facing forward and slightly to the right. The tiny bones of its hand rise up to beckon me closer to it.
I walk up to it, somewhat worried of what the skeleton may be planning to make me do.
“Now, do you see that guard over there, standing idly on the road?”
I follow the skeleton’s line of sight to the road, where a guard stands, dressed in full-body iron armor and wielding a bow, with arrow in hand. I nod.
“That one’s worth fifty points. Any guard’s worth ten points, plus an additional ten points for each piece of armor they’re wearing. Villagers are twenty points.” It lifts its bow up to eye level, taking aim. “I take three shots to try and kill as many as I can, and then we alternate. Whoever gets the most points before sunrise wins. How’s that sound?”
I say nothing, looking at the guard standing still, oblivious of the arrowhead pointed at his neck. If the skeleton tries to shoot at him now, he will likely get killed.
The skeleton strengthens its grip on its arrow.
I can’t just stand back and let the skeleton kill him.
I sprint to its left, reach for its arrow, and grab onto it tight, prying it from the bow. The skeleton jerks the bow away from me.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The skeleton says. “You can’t just pull my arrow away like that while I’m trying to aim. That’s cheating!”
The skeleton hovers its hand parallel to the bow, massaging the air gently with its bony fingers. Faint red sparks fall from its fingertips, landing upon a predetermined invisible plane next to the bow. The red sparks become progressively brighter and more numerous as they accumulate, until they coalesce into a narrow glowing rod, which cools into the shape of a wooden shaft, with a deadly sharpened flint at one end, and smoothly shaped feathers at the other. It is a perfectly crafted arrow, conjured from nothing. The skeleton plucks it from the air and slides it into position, as rapidly and as naturally as if the bowstring offers no resistance. The entire process is silent.
The skeleton aims its new arrow at the guard again. I let go of the old arrow and grab onto the bow, using my weight to pull it down. The skeleton lets out a groan of surprise, jerks the bow downward and out of my reach, and then pushes my arms away.
“Hey, stop that! Let me shoot it!”
I take advantage of its pause to reach for its bow again. The skeleton pulls it out of my hands before I can get a good grip.
“Are you trying to steal my bow? Because you won’t be able to, no matter how hard you try.”
“What makes you so sure?” I reply skeptically.
The skeleton lifts its free hand up to eye level, the gaps clearly visible between the tiny floating bones. “Magic.”
It lowers its hand to grip the bow again, steadying its aim.
What should I do? Clearly the skeleton won’t part from its bow so easily, but if I let the skeleton kill the guard, then I’m letting myself become one of them. Yet, if I try to fight the skeleton, its bow will give it the offensive upper hand.
I suppose I have nothing to lose. At least I’m wearing armor.
I run into the skeleton, colliding into it at its collarbone. I fall on top of it, pushing it to the ground. The skeleton shrieks in surprise and, its bow still loaded correctly despite the impact, fires at an angle. The arrow snaps in half upon my chestplate.
I press my boot upon the skeleton’s right arm - the one holding its bow - and draw my fist back. I slam it into the skeleton’s jaw... once, twice, three times... each collision rattling its bones. The skeleton struggles to pull its right arm out from underneath me, while it tries to push my shoulder away. I shrug off the skeleton’s grip as I draw my arm back for another hit, aiming for the chest this time. The impact of my fist with the skeleton’s breastbone causes a resounding crack, followed by the sting of rapidly dissipating magic, then the acrid smell of putrefied flesh. The skeleton’s bones decay into dust, as white smoke rises from the grass to consume them.
I pull the bow from the skeleton’s limp finger bones. An electric energy flows from the bow into my hand. The shaft fits perfectly in my grasp, as if I had crafted it myself.
I gaze down victoriously into the dissipating white smoke. Your weapon isn’t so private when you’re dead, is it? Now, go back to your grave.
Chapter 24: A Taste Too Many
I stand up and look behind me. The guard is standing in the exact same place he was before.
A wave of disappointment and frustration flows over me. These aren’t my emotions I feel. I reach my right hand into my back pocket, pulling out the Book.
“Why did you do that? The skeleton never wanted to hurt you.”
Why does it matter? The skeleton was about to kill that guard.
“That guard would have died anyway if you weren’t around to meddle with the situation.”
How would it be ethical for me to let the guard die, if I have any power to stop it? Besides, the only reason I’m here is because of you! You’re the reason I’ve transformed into this monster!
“Can you honestly, in good faith, blame me for your transformation when you aren’t even sure how it happened? Do you even have a story to back up your claim?”
Well, no, but considering all of the strange things that have happened to me since you’ve been around, I can hardly imagine anyone else being responsible.
“Strange things?” The Book projects sensible skepticism. “I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean by ‘strange.’ Unless you can tell me what strange event caused your transformation, I find no reason to be held responsible.”
You’re obviously denying it. You know how it happened. It was the armor, wasn’t it? You wanted me to enchant the armor, because you knew what the magic would do to me!
“How could an enchantment make armor do that? Armor is designed for wearing, for protection. Enchantment is designed, of course, to make armor more protective... not make the armor transform its wearer into a skeleton. Do you want to know what I think? You over-exerted yourself. You put on the armor too fast, and you couldn’t handle the magic. Then, rather than take the armor off like Dan told you to, you slept with it. And guess where that led you? You would have died if you hadn’t been infected.”
I wouldn’t have bothered sleeping with the armor if I weren’t so illogically attached to it. You’ve been manipulating the way I think, forcing me to wear the armor, knowing quite well what it would lead to.
“Since when have I made you think anything? You’re thinking right now of your own accord, aren’t you? Otherwise, we wouldn’t be arguing with each other.”
There have been many times where you’ve manipulated my thoughts. You’ve given me nightmares, you’ve made me want to do things I’ve never wanted to before, and you’ve made me feel emotions I otherwise wouldn’t feel.
“How do you know those weren’t really your thoughts you were thinking? Besides, if I really wanted to control your mind, and I had the power to do so, I wouldn’t let you think for yourself. I’d be human, my name would be Fristad, and you would not exist. Of course, I would never bother searching for a way to control your mind, because I value your friendship.”
That’s a bunch of garbage. You plant all sorts of ideas in my head. Also, you’re not my friend. Haven’t we had this conversation before?
“Yes, and you’re not bringing up any new points.”
Perhaps we should stop arguing, then.
“I agree, Fristad. But first, let’s get to the heart of the matter: you are not human. As a skeleton, you have different obligations, but one obligation does not change: your loyalty to your own kind. You can’t run around killing skeletons anymore, because you are one of them. You must cooperate with skeletons in order to survive.
“Believe me, I’m as disappointed by the transformation as you are. However, we need to make the best of the situation that we are in. You must adapt your perception of morality and learn to befriend the creatures of the night. Only then can our plans see fruition.”
“Only what you have been searching for all along.”
Fine, then. Be as vague as you want. I’m done asking questions.
I put the book back into my pocket, and look out towards the road again. An armored guard is walking towards town, but I’m not sure if he’s the same guard, because he is carrying a sword. Yet, the guard’s presence saddens me. I’ve destroyed one life to save another, a life very similar to my own.
Should I shoot him, even though he’s human, like I was not too long ago?
I feel my fingers curl around an arrow of unknown origin.
It is only fair. I killed a skeleton, so I might as well kill a human to balance the scale.
What kind of screwed-up logic is that, justifying the death of one creature for the death of another? If I want to kill a man, then, Nether’s fire, I’m going to do it!
I raise the arrow into position, looking down from the feathers to the flint head, aligning them above the head of the guard as he moves. Fifty points. A rush of excitement causes me to let go of the arrow without thinking, and launch the arrow farther left than I wanted. I watch the arrow cut upward into the air, then plummet downward towards the road. It lands perfectly within the neck of the guard. He stands still for a moment, grasping the foreign object now inside of him, before falling to the side, his sword tumbling onto the ground. I know it should be wrong for me to think this, but... his death satisfies me.
Another guard runs out from the town, this one carrying a bow. He runs off the road towards me, pulling an arrow into position. He sees me; I have no choice but to kill him. I step off to the side, startled, just as he fires and misses, and another arrow materializes in my hand. I push it against the bowstring, aim at the guard, and release. The guard tries to sidestep it, but grunts as the arrow is lodged at the base of his shoulder. He throws his bow down and pulls out an iron sword from his belt. I grasp and launch another arrow at him, this one bouncing off of the thick center of his chestplate without harm. He continues to charge at me, raising his sword above his head. Just as he is no more than a body’s length from me, I fire a third arrow into him, this time into his neck. He staggers forward, crashing into me with the momentum of his charge. I step back to keep my balance. The guard lifts his sword weakly before collapsing onto the earth.
I have never killed a man before this night, in part because I’ve never needed to, in part because it felt wrong to do so. Why is it, then, that it feels so right tonight? Is it because I’m a skeleton? Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a sufficient reason. If humans are supposed to be my enemies, then I should have felt like I was acting in self-defense by killing them, even when that first guard walking down the road didn’t see me. His death wasn’t exactly justified, yet it made me feel a strange satisfaction which I have never felt with such great intensity: the satisfaction of power, the satisfaction of ending another player’s turn in the game that is life... permanently.
I gaze upon the fallen guard at my feet, his hand limply lying flat upon his sword. This is far more exciting than the dull life I’ve been living on the farm. Now that I have acquainted myself with this power, I must find a way to put it to good use. The only problem is that my life has basically started over; I can no longer pursue the wants and desires that evaded me while I was human, because nobody will recognize me. Heck, I can’t even have a nice meal or get a good night’s sleep, two of the simplest of pleasures. That’s depressing. I think I get a vague idea of what that skeleton meant earlier by “irreconcilable differences.”
What to do now?
Well, first of all, I should avoid buildings and roads, to reduce the likelihood of getting ambushed. Secondly, I should search for others like me, to get an idea of what to do next.
I turn away from the road and begin to walk further into the field. There isn’t a whole lot of method to this plan.
After walking for about a minute, I begin to hear rapid footsteps coming from behind me, as if somebody is running in my direction. I squeeze an arrow from the air and slide it into the bowstring before turning around.
It’s Dan in his grey robe, running hurriedly towards me with a worried look on his face. He doesn’t look like he wants to hurt me, but with everything that’s happened tonight, I wish he’d just leave me alone.
He slows down from his sprint two meters away from me. He breathes heavily, then takes in a deep, slow breath inward. “How’s it going, buddy?”
How does Dan recognize me? Perhaps if I act more aggressively, he’ll reconsider. I aim my bow and arrow at his head, and let out a threatening hiss. Somehow, this makes Dan grin.
“Come on, Fristad. I know it’s you. Also, for the record, skeletons don’t make hissing sounds.”
I keep my bow lifted, staying silent to make it seem like I don’t recognize him. Regardless if he does, it should be pretty obvious that I don’t want him around.
“You aren’t honestly going to fire that at me, are you?”
Perhaps Dan needs a little bit more persuasion. I let go of the arrow, letting it fly towards him.
Dan lifts his hand up to his face. A purple vortex appears in his palm, swallowing the arrow instantly. The expression on Dan’s face goes flat. He pulls out a diamond sword from the flaps of his robe, and holds it outward. “I don’t want to fight you, but if you try to kill me, I will defend myself.”
I eye the brilliant blue sword with awe. Between that and the magic, Dan’s too strong of a match for me. I lower my bow. “How did you know it was me?”
Dan’s face breaks into a grin again. “The magic from your enchanted armor was kind of a giveaway.” He lowers his sword. “What were you doing out here, anyway?”
“Well, the reason I’m out here in the first place is because I was looking for you, actually. I thought there was something wrong with your house because everything was so bright... until I went outside and realized the brightness was from my night vision from being, well, undead. After that I...” I hesitate for a moment, trying to think of something harmless to say, “...practiced archery.”
Dan raises his eyebrow. “Oh, really? In this desolate place? What were you practicing archery on?”
I look around. There really isn’t much here. I try to think of something reasonable. “I was practicing archery on the shrubbery.”
That probably wasn’t the best answer. The way Dan glares at me, I can tell he isn’t buying it.
“Are you sure? I don’t see any bushes to shoot at...” He looks around him. “...in fact, I don't see any monsters or animals to shoot at, either. So tell me, Fristad, what were you really shooting at?”
“Well, you’re right, there isn’t really all that much to shoot at, which is why I was shooting at the shrubbery.”
Dan continues to stare at me, unconvinced.
“I was bored! Geez, give me a break.”
“I don’t believe you, Fristad.” Dan says plainly. “So, please tell me, and be honest this time: What were you shooting at? If you don’t give me a persuasive answer, I’m going to assume the worst.”
He sees through my lies. He’s going to keep asking me until he gets the real story out of me. I might as well tell him the truth. I sigh in defeat.
“The town guards.”
Dan shakes his head. “I had a feeling you were up to no good.”
Chapter 25: Some Place Secret
Sunshine trots energetically around Dan’s feet, her panting maw lifted upward. As Dan walks up to his front door, Sunshine occasionally bounces off of her forepaws, reaching her soggy nose for Dan’s hand. I look behind me, towards the gravel road, for the last time before heading back inside. The town guards have finally vanished. Dead. Respawned. Memories erased.
I cradle a guilt forming within me. A comforting voice inside of me insists that what I have done is just, but an older voice, gradually growing louder, worries that I have broken a sacred rule. But which voice should I trust?
“Good girl!” Dan says in a childish, praising half-squeal. As I turn my head back forward, I see Dan rubbing his hand rapidly upon the husky’s shaggy head. Sunshine’s head tilts upward, her eyes squinted in a furry bliss. “You did well tonight, sweetheart,” Dan’s voice drops a couple octaves. “You clever watchdog, you!”
Hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a dog be called “clever” before. It seems a bit out of place to assign such a high mark of intelligence to a four-legged animal. But then again, Dan does seem quite enamored with that dog....
Dan pats Sunshine on her head before lifting his hand away. She gazes expectantly up at him for a moment, letting out a high-pitched whimper, before giving up her pleading and trotting away.
Dan opens the door and enters, leaving it open behind him. I follow Dan inside of the cobblestone shack, closing the door behind me. There is some place where Dan wants to take me.
The torch’s glow retains its unearthly brightness, a perception created by my enhanced vision.
I follow Dan down the narrow staircase, into the room with many bookshelves. The glowstone on the ceiling appears molten, just as before, but still just as strange. He leads me behind all of the bookshelves, toward the end of back wall, where the secret passage leads down into the study. He takes me down those stairs, past the desk, and into the hallway on the left, the one I have never entered.
The hallway remains flat, but it is longer than the others. After about half a minute of walking, we follow the turn in the hallway to the right. My jaw drops in admiration. The walls open up into a grand room, roughly as wide as it is long: perhaps 30 meters in each direction. The walls are made of a purplish black stone, similar to the obsidian I’ve read about in books, and the corners are held up by wooden beams. As we step onto the wooden flooring, I see that the wide gap in the center of the floor leads deep into the earth, where many levels of wooden flooring hang against the walls, connected with staircases made of thin planes of stone bricks. Glowstone is held in place along the top of each corner by the wooden beams. Some walls are entirely covered with chests, others with shelves containing books, vials, jars, unidentifiable artifacts, and other objects too strange to even classify. On the bottom levels, I can see furnaces, crafting benches, cauldrons filled with water, and strange contraptions composed of glowing orange rods held vertically by cobblestone. The great room has a stately, almost ancient quality to it.
As I follow Dan another step forward onto the wooden floor, I suddenly feel a sense of dread from the incredible depth of the room. I see in my mind, vividly, the mistake of me taking another step forward, slipping off the edge into the room’s hollow center, falling through the air for what seems like forever, until my bones shatter upon the ground, each ebony shard piercing its presence into me with a pain only death could bring. I feel nervous of the incredible magic locked away in the chests and emanating from the artifacts on the shelves, a magic far too powerful for me to touch. I cannot trust myself to enter this place safely.
I take a step back, looking at Dan. Space appears to wobble around his grey cloak, in much the same way as the smoke above a flame. I see that from him, too, emanates a strong magic. Should I, by accident, absorb just a tiny percentage of his magical energy, I would be overwhelmed by it. On top of the sheer amount of magic from my enchanted armor, which continues to exhaust me to my limit, it could topple my sanity, as if each logical thread within my mind were a domino. It is a responsibility I cannot bear.
Dan notices that I have halted my footsteps, and turns around to face me.
I express my guilt to Dan, looking into his blue eyes with the most apologetic gaze I can express. His previous advice, “Don’t underestimate magic,” echoes in my mind with fresh meaning.
“I really shouldn’t be here,” I say, quietly and humbly. “I’m sorry.”
Dan’s eyebrows lift. “Oh dear,” he says, his voice’s echoing loudly from the excess magic spilling out of him. “My sincerest apologies; I forgot to remove the ward.”
He lifts his hand upward, the fingers wobbling from the smoke-like distortion. He begins to chant a command in an old, formal dialect, roughly translating to: “From now until the sun rises, let Fristad pass.” The instant he says this, the smoke-like distortion of the space around him disappears.
“There we go,” says Dan, his voice now at a normal volume again. “That should stop the ward from messing with you, although you’ll still feel paranoid for a little while. Stay close to the wall and think of puppies.”
Puppies? Okay, then.
I follow Dan around the left perimeter of the room, mindful to keep my head facing the wall. My foot nearly slips on the first step of a stone brick staircase, and the sudden jerky motion makes me forget which way is up. I crouch against the wall, in fear that my thin legs will lose traction on the stone, causing me to slip uncontrollably over the edge. I grasp my skull, trying to remind myself that I am covered in a solid, rough substance, not some liquid, frictionless slime. Get a hold of yourself, Fristad. You’ve never fallen off a staircase before. Remember that the physical world is a logical place.
I force myself to stand up, and continue walking down the steps very slowly, mindful that each step lands precisely in the middle of the stone brick slab.
Dan slows his pace in front of me. “It’s alright, Fristad. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Besides, I wouldn’t have taken you down into this room if I didn’t feel it was so important.”
I feel slightly more confident, trying to look away from my boots, letting my legs settle into a slow rhythm. So far so good, as long as I watch out for stairs.
And so we proceed very slowly clockwise, my steps still tense from the possibility of falling, until many floors down later, we reach the very bottom, where the floor is covered in stone bricks. There is one large table in the center of the floor with many glowing orange rods standing upright, and along the walls are narrow tables, cauldrons, furnaces, shelves, and a crafting bench in the middle of each wall, discluding the wall against which hangs the staircase we have just descended.
Dan pulls out two backless wooden chairs underneath the center table. He points one hand at the chair closes to me, beckoning me with his other hand to sit on it.
“I’d remark on how you must be tired from the long journey down those stairs, but you don’t have muscles with which to be tired.” Dan chuckles. “That’s just one of the plus sides of being a skeleton... although I doubt it outweighs the fact that you despise being one.”
I walk over to sit on the wooden chair, letting my legs lay limply on the floor. The process does not make me feel relieved, but it at least allows me to get my mind off the process of walking. I look up at the levels of wooden walls and spiral staircases stretching upward towards the ceiling. It was difficult enough to get down without falling - I shudder - but I can’t imagine trying to do the same thing all over again, except next time, every step will bring me up progressively higher, to more dangerous heights. I force my head down towards the floor, trying to get my thoughts off the idea.
“Still a little jittery, I see?” Dan says, reaching for some empty glass vials on a shelf. “Don’t worry; you’ve gone through the worst of it. Look on the bright side: with a ward that powerful, there’s absolutely no chance that anything else can get down here.” He grins.
This fact frustrates me. Rather than comfort me, the idea of the ward surrounding us makes me feel isolated. “Why do you even bother having a ward here if it’s just going to freak people out?!?” I snap.
“Because...” Dan sighs, while dipping the vials into the water of a cauldron, one by one. “...this is where I store my most valuable projects and supplies, stuff that would take a lot of money and magic to replace.”
I nod my head. “I suppose that’s a pretty good reason. But still, if you had such a powerful ward up, then why did you bother bringing me down here?”
“I need you here for two reasons. First, I need you here to help me make some potions... potions that will help you. And second, I need to ask you a few questions.”
I nod again. I can kind of understand why he’d want my help to make the potions; it may have something to do with how the magic works, or maybe he just needs another set of hands.
But the questions... why would he need to ask me something while we’re down in this room? Perhaps there is a magic-related reason for that as well. Or perhaps, Dan needs to speak to me in a place where he can know, for certain, that we’re alone. Some place secret.
A new chapter to Part 3, The WOC, is now up! It's the 20th chapter and, boy, I can't believe I wrote so much recently. XD
The WOC is one of those chapters where I looked it over for editing and went: "lolwut?" It's a chapter that ended up being funny which I had no intention of doing. It's more important to the plot than you'd think, though.
Alrighty, here's my impression on your fic. Like I have said, Minefic is chillin', so I maybe a bit rusty. So far from what I have read you have the basics of writing a story down, with capitalizaiton, pragraphs etc. etc. Some minor grammatical issues that I am not sure I can give without dying from boredom (I really hate working on my grammar, so imagine if I do it with someone else.
For the story itself... sir pardon my French but you got FRICKIN' potential. The conversation is natural, the descriptions full and no weirdness at all! I applaud ya.
A new chapter to Part 3, The WOC, is now up! It's the 20th chapter and, boy, I can't believe I wrote so much recently. XD
The WOC is one of those chapters where I looked it over for editing and went: "lolwut?" It's a chapter that ended up being funny which I had no intention of doing. It's more important to the plot than you'd think, though.
I totally agree lol ^^^
But wow I don't know who to believe, woc or the magician. you do really well with getting people to think different things throughout the whole story