Saturday, October 17, 2009

All About The Coins

Drawing my sword, I step into the building - the long hallways which mark this as a former college campus painfully familiar, the ruined walls and flickering lighting no different than the last time. Immediately, almost instinctively, I leap into the air to reach the three coins floating there, the large golden discs disappearing with a chime as my hands cross through them.

Landing, I recognize a block of ceiling tile above me - a brighter, browner gray than those around it, a familiar signal that it is about to fall. I jump out of its way, as I have hundreds of times before, careful to avoid the bottomless pit which has taken me by surprise on at least two occasions.

From a door on my left, a lizardman emerges, flanked by three slimes. Same combination as always, no new challenges, no surprises. With a single movement I leap over the creatures, turning to slice through two of the slimes and knock the barely wounded lizardman down into the pit, out of my way. I spin around to dispatch the third slime, weakly wobbling towards me like an aimless mound of gelatin, and come out with no less notches on the bright red belt buckle which represents my remaining life.

Around a corner comes Gediman, brandishing a sword of his own, his familiar face fixed on his vow to uncover every last corner of every last building. Seeing me, he waves me over, and gestures down his hallway to a large hole in the floor, where a moving platform slides over a bed of flowing lava.

"Pssst! Yo, man you should check out that platform pronto... there's a hidden room next to it with twenty, twenty-five coins..."

I start, but then stop, and turn. "I would... but really, what's the point?"

He stares back, eyebrows cocked. "The point? Point of what?"

"Exactly. I mean, we run around these buildings day in and day out, risking our lives to collect every last coin, and for what?"

Sheathing his sword, he pats me on the back, sitting me down against a crumbling wall. "Man, you must have hit your head or something. You sure you're all right?"

"Fine! I just don't see what good another twenty or so coins is going to do me."

Gediman sighs. "Twenty coins! In case you've forgotten - you get a hundred, you get an extra life. Twenty is like a fifth of the way there..."

I stand up vehemently, kicking a broken and rusted chair down the hall and into the pit. "An extra life! An extra life for WHAT? To collect more coins?"

"Hey, maybe you don't remember Reynolds..." he sighs, his hand on his temples, "...I mean, he had a pretty weak approach to coin collection. He'd just rush on through each building, from the start to the end, and not even bother with coins or free lives. And do you know what happened to him? He made it all the way to the Giant Mantis, which took all five lives away in just a few minutes. And then? Game over, man. Game over!"

I tremble with anger, ready to leave this nearsighted fool. "And so, he started over once again, from the beginning. And he fought his way through again, making the same mistake but losing his lives a little further in. And even now he's going for it once again. But how is that really any different from us? We run through these same buildings we've passed through hundreds of times before, just to collect the same coins? Or hoping to find a few hidden away? It's still the same thing, over and over, no deviation or variation or..."

"But hey, what about the secret zone? If we can get through every building, find every coin, and not get hit once, then they say we can unlock it..."

I shake my head, disappointed. "The secret zone is a rumor, made up to keep us searching. But even if it were real - and since there's not one witness to it, I'd say it's not - even if it were, it would just be one more place to explore. When you're done with it, then what? Back to here?"

He stares off into space, repeating his knowledge of the zone like a mantra. "They say that the secret zone is so beautiful, so perfect, that you'd never want to come back. They say that's why we never meet anyone who's been there - they've passed the challenge of the coins, and gone on to a better place, a perfect place."

"Man, you are warped," I shake my head at him. "You're so sold on this concept that you can't even ask why. Why would... whatever thing made this world want us to collect coins? Why would it reward us for that? We have minds, why shouldn't we use them for something... something productive? Why should we waste our lives hunting down coins - something that even a computer could do?"

Gediman trembles angrily, and stands, turning his back on me. "Look. If you want to spend your time on something 'productive,' well then go ahead, man. But don't judge me for my choices, or my beliefs. Whatever the reasons, we're meant to collect coins. Ask 'why' all you want, but you're not getting an answer - so, might as well accept it. Sorry, man, but I'm just being realistic."

"So am I," I reply after a pause. "I mean, there's no reason for me to keep going on these quests, if my heart's not in it."

As he walks away, Gediman looks back, with a cruel grin. "So do whatever you like, man. You don't have a choice, really - this is the world, these are the rules - but hell, go ahead and try if you want. But, if you pass me in the hall again, do me a favor - don't talk to me."

I nod, hurt but hiding it until he turns the corner. 

After a moment, I spin in a circle, weighing all of the paths ahead of me, and finally settling on the wall. Drawing my sword, I make a high horizontal slash, a gash appearing a few inches below the ceiling. Spinning the sword thrice, I make several more marks across it, a vague shape beginning to appear. I stare for a minute or so, weighing the potential impact of my next marks, then lift my sword up to carefully chisel bits of wallpaper around the edges of the shape, allowing it shades and textures. My lines become more curved and confident, as the undefined marks slowly change size to eventually reveal the shape of a strange quadrapedal animal - while it's not one I've ever seen in this world, it may be quite real in another.

After a half hour, I step back, and admire my work, fulfilled for the first time. "I have just invented art," I whisper to myself, boastfully.

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