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The Sword Always Breaks

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In the sunlight, the tiles provide material. Wood, ore, clay, and cloth, with which to build. Food, to sustain her. At night they turn treacherous. They give her sword and shield, but also they send creatures that would tear her limb from limb. It wasnʼt so bad at first. Rats, and the unquiet dead. Fighting makes her stronger.

But the sword always breaks, and the tiles might not offer another. Then she has to put the creatures down with her bare fists. The sun does not rise until enough of them have died.

They leave behind treasure: potions of healing, additional swords, and precious, precious hand grenades. But she can only carry so many.

(Once she had a knapsack. Where did she leave it? How long has she been in this place?)

The sun doesnʼt move if she doesnʼt touch the tiles, and she doesnʼt grow hungry if she doesnʼt build. She could stand still forever and night would never come. She would be safe.

She keeps building anyway.

The tiles change as she improves the workshops. Ore becomes ingots, becomes star-steel. She doesnʼt have to use the workshops; it is enough, it seems, for them to exist. The sword is keener, the shield tougher, but both still break after only a few blows. And the creatures are worse. Walking stone hulks and wisps of living fire, and monstrous tentacled things that collapse into a puddle of water when they die. Yet she can kill them with her bare fists, too. Only when the tiles cascade and a half-dozen come at her at once is she ever in danger.

And death is not the end; she has been overcome, collapsed under a rain of fireballs and blows, expecting never to rise again … and awoken to sunrise, hale and sound, only the past dayʼs building undone. Once, the tiles reverted, and that was how she learned: the creatures draw strength from the workshops. Better brick, or cloth, or food, means harsher nights.

She keeps building anyway.

There is a shrine now, a source of magic. She can turn night to day, freeze the sun in the sky, or slow the creatures down. (Or is it she who speeds up?) But those tiles, too, are treacherous: match them at night and a revenant rises to challenge her, a lord of the unquiet dead, a sorcerer mightier than any other creature she has faced—

And the sword still breaks. It is blue crystal now, its edge serrated razors that nothing can withstand; but still, a few blows and it breaks. It is infuriating. She is stronger than she can quite believe; but she does not want to face the revenant with her fists alone.

There is no more building to be done. The warehouse is full to the rafters. The tiles have not changed in seven days and nights.

She has slain the revenant. The tiles were generous with replacement swords. It left behind a medallion, a symbol—it served another, still mightier beast. A dragon, from the look of it. The shrine tells her: if she smashes the medallion, the dragon will appear.

If it defeats her, will that be the end? Or will she awaken at the dawn of the day before, as always?

If she defeats it, will she gain a way out of this place?