Andrew F. Sullivan
There is a tower in the east, beyond the reach of ships or planes. A tower in a town built on dust and the bones of mothers long laid to rest. You will journey there as a child with no father, cast out into a world of unknown monsters hiding in the grasses, hiding in the still waters and dark tunnels burrowed throughout this pixelated land. Beasts of stone and steel waiting in the dark, lurking underneath the waves and in the forests no one has tried to clear.
You will journey from one town to another with only these creatures to protect you, the ones you have wounded, poisoned, paralyzed, and captured. You will always be pursued by men and women all dressed in black, pursued by those who wish to end your quest. You will always have a rival with the upper hand, the scissor to your paper, the boot to your neck, breathing down on you no matter how far you run or cycle from his grasp. You are always his latest prey.
You first must make a choice. You must find which element will protect you, which living totem will lay itself down as a repeated sacrifice to your whims, your endless battles in these grainy fields. Grass, fire, water—all three wait for you in stasis, wait to be reborn again and again, tossed from your feeble hand into the maelstrom. Darwin has blessed this place and all things grow here, or almost all things grow. Each of these beasts will change before your eyes, but you will forever remain the same, your clothes never growing old, your hat permanently affixed to your sprite in this alternate domain. Watch the world evolve, but you must stay fixed. You are ten forever, a child full of secrets, a prodigy in its first and final form.
Nothing seems to die here. Everyone faints, everyone’s monsters faint and you take their money regardless of this failure. You take their gold to feed your own needs. Potions and antidotes do not pay for themselves, but you may find them scattered in the grass, hidden in the corners, buried in someone’s backyard. This world will make you a teacher—to swim, to fly, to remove the scrubby little trees that impede your path. You hold these keys to knowledge, to muscle memory and endless renewal. You will grant them like wishes to your creatures, the six heaving bodies under your command. They will guide you through the gyms of this world, known more or less as dungeons in other realms. You will gather up gym emblems as new trophies, won by your fire lizards, your tailed turtles, your mossy dinosaurs in battle after battle.
Everything can be healed here if you have enough time, if you can take enough steps to right your path. Every town is underpopulated, every city one long avenue of vice. Every building holds a secret—there are legends hidden in the power plants, sea caves, and the endless tunnels of this other earth. No one seems to die, not when every wound is fixed, each mistake recalibrated on the next attempt. You can revive and restore your own, but still there is a tower in the east to remind you all things end, to remind you this is a journey. They built it as one large grave, a spire dedicated to the losses of those who came before you. You will face its ghosts and defeat them again and again. You will learn about a mother’s loss and you will bury it again.
Every battle will begin the same. Even as you struggle through the last road, the one named Victory, you will be found wanting by other champions along the way. Your badges will unlock pathways through these mountains, through the creatures lurking in the dark. Your totems will learn to finish them in one quick strike, lest you are confused in the dark again, bumping into walls and great stones you can barely move. This world feeds its children to the dark, throws them onto a road few can finish. The monsters are always waiting, always ready in the grass. They know what it means to feel like forever; they have made a pact with the data they conceal.
Even after the final four have fallen before you, even after your name has been inscribed as champion to erase your bitter rival, this world will refuse to end. There are still monsters out there, hiding in their caves, lurking, waiting, knowing you. You may grow them, name them, but they are the endless. There will always be more, swelling the ranks you keep filed away on a hard-drive. They are the swirling total, an infinite string of numbers attached to the same strand of DNA, the same patterns, the same evolutionary cycles. You will lose track of them eventually. You will lose interest, lose patience, lose meaning for these creatures. You will forget their names. Throw your forgotten beasts against the rocks, against the ghosts and jellyfish and psychic creatures in the dark. Watch them crumble and revive again. Forget their names. Their faces never change. They know no death, only release—only fainting to wake once again.
There is a tower in the east, in a town built to manage all this loss. Visit it once more. Lay yourself upon its cold altar and remember this was a journey. This was just another doomed start.
This was always meant to end.
ANDREW F. SULLIVAN is from Oshawa, Ontario. He is the author of All We Want is Everything (ARP 2013), a short story collection about sinkholes, mutated children and lost farm animals. Sullivan no longer works in a warehouse.