Monday, December 8, 2014

Miner's Stories:The End of Enders

I smiled, polishing the brewing stand as I listened to the rain drum on my bar's leafy roof. It had taken months of scrimping, saving, and trading, but I'd finally finished construction. It had gone smoothly, even for building in the swamp. Two nights we'd been beset by zombies and a creeper had blown out the front door during a late night installation, but we'd easily repaired all of that and it had even encouraged me to go out and get a swank Spruce exterior door. The storm that had been threatening was coming down now, getting itself out of the way, clearing a path for next week's grand opening. My new bartender, a testificate named Barthold appreciatively rubbed the sprucewood bar, finished with brown wool to conceal the grain pattern, and nodded at me. "Hmmmm."

"Spruce." I said proudly, although I knew what he was really asking.

"Hmmm." Barthold folded his arms over his chest.

"I know it's unorthodox to build a building in the shape of a tree, but I think it looks handsome. We're easily twice as big as the next biggest tree in the swamp, and no other swamp-tree is festooned in jack-o-lanterns. What was I going to do, build it out of stone?"


"We're not having this conversation again. I did! I cut down every tree in every wood plank in this bar. Went through a dozen iron axes. Spent weeks with a shears collecting wool and leaves for the rooms. I... purchased blaze rods from the Nether Market when we opened the portal lock last Wednesday. I didn't get those original, that's true." Barthold looked at me impatiently. He had heard me describe the qualities of my bar a dozen times. Folding his arms into his sleeves, he tilted his head towards the brewing stand. "Hrmm."

"Oh, right. I s'pose I should show you how to use them."

I filled three bottles with water from the cauldron behind the bar and set them on the stand, opened a tin of extract of netherwart, and poured it into the brew basket. Heat flowed from the blaze rod at the center, condensing the netherwart extract into muddy sludge and distributing it to each brew. We watched for a moment as the liquid loop-de-looped in the condensers. When the first drop hit the potion, I drummed excitedly on the counter.

"What do you thirsty for, buddy? Immunity to fire? Healing? Pep? Pep I like, let's do pep." It seemed fitting that my first step in bar ownership should be a productivity-increasing potion of swiftness. A symbolic gesture to the universe, if you would. I grabbed a clay sugar jar from the pantry, spooned out a helping of the white powder, and stopped.
"Wait, no. This is bonemeal."
"We should probably label this. And store it somewhere else. " I doodled a picture of a skeleton in the dust on the tin and set it back in the pantry.
"Now, what was I looking for?"

"Hmm?" Barthold gently tapped me on the shoulder and nodded to the brewing stand, no longer glowing. The netherwart was fully rendered and the awkward potions were done.
"Oh, right. The, uh. The sugar. Got it!" I removed a porcelain sugar bowl from the top shelf and spooned sugar into the brewing stand's brewing basket. The machine bubbled and rattled, and we sat in contentment, enjoying the resonant scent of sugar brewing. The contents of the bottles turned a brilliant sky blue. Barthold offered up another clay jar, this one labelled redstone.
 "Speed Potion +, eh? Treat yo'self."
 He nodded and opened the jar, then began to tip it into the brew basket.

"Where's the scoop?"
"Well, I'm not just going to let you tip it in there. You'll make a mess. Find the scoop."

Barthold looked around, then picked up a pitch black jar. Brilliant light poured out as he unscrewed the lid, and fished around inside for the wooden scoop.
"Wait, wait, no no no. Get the redstone scoop."
"I don't want to cross-contaminate my scoops, Barthold. Plus, if you mix powders it gets all fizzy and flat." I snatched the glowstone jar out of his hands and cupped it protectively to my chest. Clutching the jar, I got impatient to brew the potion, and unscrewed the lid again.

"We'll make a Potion of Swiftness II. Twice the energy, but half the length." I tipped the glowing yellow powder into the brew basket, filling the room heady steam that made my skin feel warm. I silently tried to rescind the earlier offering to the universe; this first potion had suddenly become much less auspicious.

The universe didn't appreciate my rude gesture; the windows flashed as lightning struck outside, and my new door swung in violently, framing a towering figure standing in the rain. It would have been quite dramatic, until the pressure plate mechanism that operated the door released and swung it shut in the figure's mysterious face.The latch lifted and the door opened slowly. The mysterious figure entered mysteriously. Barthold rolled his eyes.

It was a woman, tall and gaunt, dressed in badly damaged iron armor with an iron helmet stylized with a jagged pumpkin smile. A long cloth sling hung cross her chest, and she rested a visibly bleeding arm on it. She surveyed the bar slowly. "I... nobody's here?"
"No ma'am."
"Nobody's going to look at me for a moment, then turn back to their interrupted conversations? No sleazy men in brown robes are sneaking out the back to deliver a message to my enemies?"

Barthold leaned close to me. "Hmmm."
I politely ignored him.

"Well, we're new, so.. no regulars yet." I paused. "However, we've got things around, you know. I couldn't just toss you back out into that dreck. Come on in, have a warm-up, at very least, come in out of the damp." The universe punctuated my sales pitch with another lightning strike.

"It's not my regular sort of bar. Mine are normally squat rectangles run by thick-necked men named Dagger. Not froufrou treehouses."
I bravely weathered the insult and pressed the advantage.
"Well, at least let me offer you a nice watermelon spritz for your arm there, I charge very reasonable prices. Full stack of carrots will get you a room for the night and a drink, miss."
"End of Enders." she set her helmet down and gingerly lowered herself into the chair she was much too tall for. I nodded to Barthold, who had been nodding his head back and forth curiously.  He hustled away to make the potions and I sat across from my first customer.

"I haven't got a stack of carrots."
"I'd accept a stack of potatoes, or even a halfstack of watermelon."
"I haven't got any vegetables. I've been hunting."
"Well, I could use leath--"
"No leather. Or meats, either." I swallowed a barb about her hunting skills.
"I accept craftables. I'll take a bit of iron." She reached into her sling, and removed a byte token with an ingot on it.
"Seven more of those and we have a deal."
 She weaved the token through her fingers, flipped it into the air with her thumb and snatched it again, tucking it into her inventory. I smiled indulgently as Barthold walked up, carrying a bucket with a bottle of Healing cooling in it.

"What would I get for this?" She turned over another byte coin, this one with a circle drawn on it. She flexed her fingers and with a puff of smoke the coin transformed into a smooth, fist-sized orb. It lifted gently out of her outstretched palm and hovered there. It was an enderpearl.

"Hmm!" Barthold had splashed himself with the bucket. He feigned supreme interest in dabbing at the water and refused to make eye contact with our guest as he hustled away to refill his bucket and reclaim his dignity.
"What... did you say your name was?" I was starting to put things together as she said what I thought she'd said.

"End of Enders. I'm an Ender hunter." She looked at me and thrust out her chin, eyes blazing defiantly. I looked back at the grinning jack-o-lantern helmet. At the ragged slash mark on her arm, raked by vicious claws. I stared into her eyes for a moment, sweating, then averted my gaze, calculating what an enderpearl was worth.

"You killed an ender for this? That's crazy."
The Endermen were eight-foot-tall monsters with skin the color of a moonless midnight and purple eyes that glowed in the dark. Harmless so long as you left them alone, but bothered and they'd hunt you across time and space.
"I've heard all kinds of rumors but I don't think I've ever seen one. It's Hard out there." I paused a moment, thinking. "Is it true? You can teleport with them?" Without responding, she cocked her arm back and sent the pearl sailing across the bar. There was a flash of purple motes as she was gone. Barthold squeaked from the kitchen, and there she was, leaning through the serving window the separated the kitchen from the bar, smiling widely. Barthold was visible behind her, pressed into a corner, eyes wide, clouds of steam pouring off his head in terror.

She crawled through the kitchen window, and raised the sling. "They break after one use, but they're handy in a pinch." She held up a one-stack bill. 64 enderpearls! It was like stumbling on an unexpected diamond vein inside of an unexpected diamond vein. I played it cool.

"One use, eh? I don't know what I'd ever use it for. I can give you a potion for it."  The End of Enders scowled at my airy disdain.

"I had to kill an Enderman for that. You ever fought an Enderman?" She tilted her head as she spoke, revealing a long pale scar under her jawbone. Wrong move. I held my hands out, palms up in a supplicating motion; I'd pushed too hard.

"I'm just negotiating, madame. But I've forgotten my manners." I really had. Even more embarrassed, I waved her to the bar, and cancelled every excuse that rose to mind why I had. No use excusing bad manners.

"You can have the Upper Boughs for the evening. One potion (your pick), one meal (delicious), and a place to stay out of the rain." Her scowl twitched, then she folded the bill in half and shook it, dropping a byte token with a pearl engraved on it. With a gesture it returned to its physical pearl state, where she held it up in the light. I nodded, and she flipped the coin to me. I tucked it into my inventory.  I didn't have a lot of use for it right now, but I'd think of something. And if I didn't, well, I could put it on display. Maybe somebody would offer a meritorious trade.

She settled into a chair, loosening the straps on her iron chestplate so she could de-equip it. "What have you got that's vegetarian?"
The night progressed pleasantly. Since the bar was empty and it was really just myself, Barthold, and the End of Enders, I'd offered to join her for dinner and she'd graciously accepted. She enjoyed a mushroom stew and baked potato dinner, but I, who hadn't just spent a month in the bush living off of hunted meat, was inclined towards more robust fare: charcoal-broiled chicken over bread.

I regaled her with the story of the bar's construction and our trial with the zombie. She replied with her adventures camping in the deserts to the South and hunting Enders. I must confess she won pretty handily.

"So he's got a flower, right? And I think, aw, that's sweet, this big purple eyed monster is going to give me flowers. I go to say thank you, and he locks eyes with me. I freeze, and I can't look away from this guy's stare. These huge eyes, just staring into me, and he's shaking. His jaw opens up and he lets out this horrible scream. Next thing I know, he's behind me, trying to rip my kidneys out. I spin around and just go crazy swinging my sword at him, until he makes this sort of sniffing sound and vanishes. So now I'm standing there, panting, thinking I won, but BOOM he's behind me again! I'm hurting bad and every swing he takes is like a stone knife in the guts, and every time I turn to face him he vanishes and turns up behind me.

I'm staggering and all of the sudden I feel this sharp prickle in my back. It hurts, but compared to the Enderman's claws it's like a hug from a freshly shorn sheep. I've backed into a cactus. The Enderman howls again, and vanishes, and I spin around, hoping to beat him out before he can slice a fresh line across my back. And there he is, trying to step through the cactus, needles in his belly and his legs, and finally he rips the cactus out of the ground and comes at me, holding it over his head. But he leaves an opening."

The End of Enders was standing on her chair, empty bowl held over her head with both hands, smiling broadly with a row of teeth like snowy mountain peaks, eyes wide with excitement for her harrowing tale. Slowly, she tapped herself gently on the sternum.

"I leap up as quick as a flash and stab him with all my strength. The sword isn't much, just ordinary iron. No enchantments, nothing. But I've finally got him! He makes this weird, warbly noise, like a scream, and topples over next to me, wrenching my sword out of my hand. And I howl, this awful, wonderful death howl, because I'm alive and he's not. I go to get my sword back, but its stuck in him. I tug, and I pull, and I can't quite--- you know, so I lever it out."

She's standing on the table now, sawing the air with her bowl. Barthold has retreated to the kitchen--I can only imagine to cower in the pantry--and she laughs triumphantly.

"Finally, a bone gives way and I pull free my sword, when I see it. There, nestled just next to his heart, is this." She holds up the enderpearl.

"It didn't look like this when I killed that Enderman. It was still a little soft, and it was warm. It.. it grows in them, but not like it's an organ or something." Her triumphant grin had dimmed slightly.

"It's almost like... there's something in them. A hole. Or a tear to another reality or something. And their body coats it in this stuff, to protect them. But they can use it to teleport freely, constantly. When they die, it crystallizes, and then you can only use that once." The End of Enders lowered herself from the table, gnawing pensively on her spoon as she sat in the chair.

"They're building something, out in that desert, you know." The energy seems almost gone from her now.

"You'll see them, with handfuls of dirt, or a pumpkin, or some flowers. They're trying to build something, but I don't know if they know how. Or even what it is. They'll go out into that desert and arrange things out there."

"Arrange things? Like, how? Are they trying to build a portal, like the way we can build Nether portals?" I thought of the obsidian column in the center of the old township, before we'd installed the Gate Lock.

"That's my thought. We all knew the Endermen aren't from here. They just showed up one night. They seem like they just wander around, but I think they're scouting. Prepping for an invasion." She leaned back in her chair as she finished the rest of her Potion of Healing, then slammed it down on the table, this gesture apparently the coda to our conversation.

Barthold, lured back out into the dining room by the diminishing volume, tilted his head. "Hmmmm." He yawned. I nodded and stood. "Well, Ms. End of Enders, It's late and I would enjoy some sleep. Barthold and I can carry any excess inventory to your room in the Upper Boughs." Barthold hefted her chestplate and helmet, and I guided both into the back and up the spiral staircase.

The Lower Boughs were made from leaves and wool. The main room had a row of beds, each with a bookcase, flower pot, and chest. There were rumors that the town was seeking to install a 500km railroad to a dirt mine in the hinterlands. If they built it past my home, I'd be ready. The Middle Boughs had three private rooms and a shower. Nothing fancy but more private and comfortable.

The Upper Boughs featured two private rooms, an art gallery, and two private balconies replete with deck chairs. Huge double beds provided comfortable sleep, and I suspected the tall End of Enders could use a little extra room.

"Wow. Quite the view." The End of Enders said. I smiled; this spot had been chosen for its scenic view of an adjacent jungle biome a few chunks away to the west, and the Palm Forest to the east. "If you squint you can see Amin-Ra's Great Palm."

"And good news! The rain has stopped! Ah, I get so worried about lightning when I--"
"What did you say?"
"The lightning. Flammable houses have that problem, you know, they burn so easily and of course so many stacks of jungle leaves, you can imagine, they're quite expensive."
"No, the rain! When did the rain stop?"
"Well, just now."
"This place! How secure is your bar?" She grabbed a handful of my shirt, eyes wide. I gently pushed her hand off of me and Barthold rolled his eyes. He'd heard the security lecture four times, partially because he spent most of his first day jumping up and down on the pressure plate, opening and closing the door in an angry zombie's face.

"There's a pressure-plate driven gate/door to discourage zombies knocking on the door--a necessity when employing testificates. The oak walls are vulnerable to creepers, but there's a cat sleeping in the kitchen and another by the main door to discourage them. The canopy-like body of the hotel discourages spiders.

She looked at me, then looked at the wall, counting the number of blocks, and I put together what her fear was. "My counter is not looking at them! I just don't provoke them and we don't have any... any problems." I trailed off as I followed her eyes, and looked out into the swamp. A pair of purple eyes stared up at us. Then another. And another. And another.