There was a strange silence to the moment, although it matched this strange place entirely. Anne was shocked at it all, that she'd not only survived but had won against that childish Creator. With echoes of his incomprehensible breakdown in her mind, she wondered what would happen now. Nothing was happening with the loss of the Creator. The river under the bridge kept flowing and the few trees still gave an almost-pine scent to this place.
What did she do now? Anne had started climbing the Tower in search of a wish, although she hadn't know what exactly to wish for. Upon reaching this place and learning this was nothing but a game to a god that didn't care about what happened to anyone but the winners, she wouldn't accept any wish out of him. No one had the right to toy with people like that. But now that the Creator was gone, what did she do?
Ahead of her, she saw something beyond the odd living space here: a stairway leading to yet another door. There might be more to the Tower. This might not be the top and the Creator's offer was more of a test than it seemed. However, Anne didn't think even he could make up that fit of madness he showed in the battle. There might be a real Creator past that door, one who could truly grant wishes.
Anne walked up to the stairs, but her thoughts kept drifting. What was the point of continuing this climb anyhow? This could be nothing more than a game after all. The door would just lead to more stairs, more doors. There could be other worlds, but they'd have their problems too and there'd be other sealed doors. As before, she'd end up fixing messes other people had caused to get through the seal, and there'd be another seal beyond that... really, what was the point?
She could go back. The four major worlds she had visited were rebuilding and the tower was open. If she went back down, she could make sure the paths were safer for the peoples of the four worlds and the many sub-worlds. They could grow stronger together, as one part of the whole tower. Anne could make sure that no monsters like the Fiends and the Archfiend took over again. That could be much better for those who were left than to continue this silly game of climbing that might continue endlessly.
Having made her decision, she turned back to return to her hometown.
"Really, why is it that everyone turns away from the final door?" a familiar voice said.
"You?!" She looked aside and saw him there. He was the same as he'd always been: long silver hair, a black hat, and a suitcoat with tails that no one else in or around the Tower wore.
Despite having been torn to shreds in the battle, the Creator only looked mildly annoyed, like his toast had been made how he didn't like. "Okay, I admit it, you're not the first one who's gotten this far. There's been a fair number who have grown the right spirit to turn down Ashura and even defeat myself. But they always turn back at this door, always! I don't get it, I really don't."
"How are you still alive?" Anne asked. If he was undead like the resurrected Fiends had been, she knew exactly how to deal with him.
"That's an irrelevant question," he said, although he smiled at it. "I'm the Creator; did you think a thing like that will stop me?"
"So this whole thing was pointless?" She'd seen many good people die, many lands ruined by the actions of a few. And why did it all happen? This Creator saw the world as just a game, one in which he could reset the pieces however he wanted. However he wanted... "Is that why there's no records of anyone who made it this far, because you've erased them?"
The Creator shook his head. "Not exactly. I did reset the lives of those who made it this far only to turn away from the door, hoping that they'd try again and not repeat where they stopped. In fact, you've made it up here before, although this is the first time you've made it here alone. You've certainly proven that you have the courage I've been looking for many times over. So why is that you turn away from this door?"
"Why should I answer you?!" Anne asked, drawing out the glass sword again. If she could beat him once, she could beat him again.
This time, he sighed and tapped the brim of his hat. With nothing more, they were suddenly sitting at a nearby table. There were all kinds of fruits there, along with a tea set. Pears, peaches, apples, berries, bananas, cherries, pomegranates, some that Anne did not recognize at all... the Creator picked up a teapot and poured himself some. "Look, I'll fight you once per session as per the structure of the game. But let's be civil now, I don't wish to extinguish your soul entirely. Care for some tea?"
"I don't want to make deals with you," she said. Unfortunately, it seemed like he'd taken her equipment from her. She was defenseless and unable to fight back; she couldn't even leave her seat when she tried. That still didn't force her to cooperate.
"Nothing's poisoned or cursed, it's all natural," he said, trying to be reassuring. He even went ahead and poured a second cup of tea without waiting on her answer. "And I'm well aware of your dislike of me. You've never taken such deals even when others have; you would never accept a wish from me. Despite that, I love you for being so daring that you'll stand against me no matter how bad the odds seem. You're the heroine I dreamed of meeting when I came up with this. Yet you never take your earned rights to go through that door. Frankly, this is getting ridiculous and I want to know why." He then passed the tea cup over to her.
"How can you say things like that?" she asked, looking away because it felt like her face was burning. Anne had just killed him, and it might not be the first time if she let herself believe him. Why would he say that he loved her?
The Creator looked at her fondly for a moment. Maybe he really was childish and she happened to be his favorite toy... that was disgusting to think about. "It's not love as you would understand it, I can assure you of that. You have won yet again; I won't deny you that. But before you head back and I erase your memories of this, please tell me why you won't go through that door."
"I don't want my memories erased!"
He shook his head. "Oh no, we can't have that happening. That would completely break the game. But if you still have something to wish for, I really can give you anything. In fact, I might even be willing to slip in a second wish if you'd just tell me why."
Not wanting to give in, she countered with, "What if I wish to not lose my memories of this adventure?"
"That could be worked with. Is that your wish?" He took a sip of his tea.
"I'm not committing to it," Anne said. "You'd probably just find some way to get me out of your sadistic game anyhow."
The Creator shrugged. "Probably, or I could make it so no one ever believes you about what has happened here on this level. Or, you could always go through that door and solve this dilemma for both of us sanely."
"What's behind that door?"
"I don't know," he said.
"Are you serious?" It had to be more of his game; it was in his realm, after all.
But he nodded, a serious look on his face. "Of course. It's been sealed shut for as long as I've been aware. And it's always right there, taunting me with the knowledge that there's something beyond even me. I can create and destroy whatever I please within all floors of the Tower below it. Yet there's absolutely nothing I can do directly to undo that seal and open that door."
"Well then what makes you think I can open it?"
"Because of what's written upon the door," he said. "I doubt you'd be able to read it yourself. I can't even copy down those markings; everything about that door seems directed at driving me insane. Anyhow, the door itself says that it will open to a courageous soul who will let nothing stop them, one who has risen from nothing to become even greater than the gods."
It made a horrible kind of sense. And annoyingly to Anne, it was tugging at her curiosity now. "And that's why you set up your game?"
The Creator nodded. "Anyone who begins the climb will find their world to be the Tower's base, no matter where they begin. If they can adapt to the challenges of other worlds, if they can overcome the Fiends and Ashura, if they can overcome the vast Tower and even myself, I always felt like that person or persons would be more than enough to open up that one door. But every single time, they just look at the door and then leave. The game's technically over until I restart everything, so I had to come back this once and just ask outright why you all keep doing that."
Catching herself from answering right away, Anne realized that she could push him if that information was so important. "Well why did you make your game so screwed up? You said you made Ashura just to see what people would do and he caused everyone to suffer. Why would anyone go along with you when you do that?"
"It had to be a challenge or it wouldn't prove anyone's courage," he said. "Look, I know you saw the subworld where people lived without any cares at all. It's right past your home world. What did you think of them, and that place?"
"There was something weird about it that I didn't trust," Anne said. "The people moved around as if they were living a dream, and it was a dream world with wonderful things. But it didn't feel right. I don't know, that's as best as I can put it."
"They had no ambition," the Creator explained. "There are those who wished for Paradise, and that is where I sent them. But as their needs were taken care of and there was absolutely nothing to worry about, they lost all desire. They do absolutely nothing. But, it is what they wished for, so they stay there. Even though they made it to me, they can't be enough for the door."
"Well what about that one hellish subworld, with all those people living on beds of spikes?" That had been close to her home world as well.
"I'd like it if they left; I left the passage back to the Tower open for them, same with those of Paradise. But they don't leave no matter what they are tempted with. They can't even die there, so it's a mystery to me why they stay." He shrugged. "But if that's their choice, I'll leave it open for them."
"Why would anyone choose to live there? I don't get it." Besides the spikes, it had been dark and stifling too.
"I don't get why those of you who have the drive to walk up this challenging tower, especially you who seems to only do it out of curiosity, always stop at this one door instead of continuing your journey," the Creator said. "I made the game as it is precisely to be a challenge, to pick out the one best suited. Yet you turn down the greatest mystery of all because if I don't know what's past that door, nobody on this portion of the Tower can know what's up there."
"Isn't there just more tower to climb?" she asked.
He sighed, then picked up a cherry and began twirling it with the stem. "I don't know even that; I estimate that it is so because the structure and idea of the Tower have always been with me."
Seeing that he'd always bring this back to the issue of the door, Anne decided to go ahead and tell him even though she still didn't like him. "Well I don't see a point to continuing up. I still think even this conversation is a part of your game. That door will be just like that one pitfall, where I'll go through and end up back on my world. I'm sick of this game and I don't want to play along with a callous jerk like you."
"I'm not callous," he said, although he didn't seem that offended. "It's simply difficult for a mortal like you to put yourself in my shoes. Like I told you, I'd rather those people in the spike subworld leave and stop hurting themselves. But they won't listen. I don't even plan the vast majority of conflicts that occur in the game. Those are all people acting on their own free will. And I'm being honest with you because you've been so successful. That door is a mystery to me, I can't do anything about it, and the game was set up to find someone to open it. I even helped you and the others along because I didn't control everything."
She was about to argue that he certainly had the power to keep things peaceful; he made the paradise-like subworld. But then she realized, he had made it and was dissatisfied with how it made its inhabitants soft and lazy. "I still don't trust you. But that's the truth: I don't see a point to continuing upward. I could do better going back and helping everyone else find a better coexistence. And if you decide to bring back Ashura and the Fiends, I can just knock them back down again."
"But you can solve this mystery that has even me baffled," he said. "Aren't you curious to know what's behind that door? That's the question that led you through the Tower so far, and all the sub-worlds it contains."
"If this Tower keeps going like it has been, then I'll just end up caught up in more conflicts caused by others and have to fix their mistakes again," Anne said. "I realized that on looking at that door. That's when I most felt like it was pointless too. Approaching the other doors was exciting and I did want to know what was beyond them. But I don't feel the same way looking at that door. The situations in the major worlds got worse and worse as I went up. It's only going to continue on that way, and now you've proven that all my efforts in this world mean absolutely nothing because you're here talking to me and will erase my memory once I head back down. So what's the point of going past that door?"
"Is that so?" The Creator stared quietly at the cherry in his hands for a little while. Just when Anne was thinking of leaving, he laughed in a disturbing way. The other fruits on the table trembled. "Heh heh, is that it? Is the one past the door determined to torment me for eternity?" He struck the table and everything shuddered. Maybe even the worlds below too. "Let that be the one thing I can't do and then make it so no one else will even approach it? Yes, what is the point of any of this?! I might as well wipe out all that I have made and put myself to sleep forever because nothing I can do will ever amount to anything! They'll still choose to suffer in what feeble tiny worlds I can make and nothing will ever change!"
Alarmed at this, and that the table was vanishing, Anne frantically went over to him and tried to think of something that would stop the Creator from becoming a destroyer. "Wait, wait, don't be rash. It can't be worth destroying everything over."
"Everything?" He pulled his hat off; his eyes seeming crazed. "It's hardly anything! Worlds should be much bigger; they shouldn't end suddenly. I know this, but what you've seen is the extent of my capabilities. I can't make any more than five major worlds and I cut out so much of this one just to maintain the other four. On the scale of what should be, it won't matter to much of existence or even the Tower if these floors end."
"But you love what you made, don't you? I mean, I don't understand why you act like you do, but you do seem to love us somehow."
His shoulders sunk and he put his head in his hands. "Yes, I do love you all. But if we're all stuck here and nothing can change that no matter what I do, I'd rather my creations stop suffering with me. I don't even know if my powers will be worth anything past the door. Yet I can't just forget about it. Even if I change where I live, that door will follow me. It has before. If you had something around that constantly reminded you of your limits, wouldn't you want to be rid of it too?"
"Well you still shouldn't destroy everyone else over that thing," Anne said. "Especially since it's something you didn't make, but everything else is."
That finally got through to him. "Oh, right, yes. I'm sorry." The table and its fruits rematerialized, even her untouched cup of tea. He let out a sob, but quickly got himself back together. "Sorry. I should be stronger; I am your Creator."
"But don't you mean to leave once someone opens the door?" she asked.
Fortunately, he'd calmed down. He even put his hat back on. "Yes, even that's true. If I don't revive Ashura, then the humans, mutants, and monsters should be able to care for themselves. They'd probably be better at it without me messing around anyhow. I could get rid of some other things, like the spike subworld and the wilder monsters, so that things get easier while I'm gone. I might even get rid of that little paradise I made, or just change its rules, so that those people stop being lazy. I'm just as curious about that door as you were about the door to the Tower back in your world."
"Or maybe even more than me," Anne said. "If you do all that, then that solves what I was going back for. I'd be willing to try out your mystery door then."
"Really?" He smiled at that. It was childish of him, but it was almost endearing. Even so, Anne half-expected him to reveal that the next door was part of his awful game after all. "Wonderful, I'll get right on it! And I'll go with you. As I said, I don't know what my powers will be worth higher up, but I'll do what I can."
Perhaps because he knew she didn't trust him, the Creator then dragged her around to all parts of his creation to show that he was addressing the problems she had. He did everything he promised and more: he fixed up the city Su-zaku destroyed, he made it easier for the people of the worlds of clouds and waters to get around, he sealed the Hero's gear to the statue so they couldn't be fought over, and he fixed up the tower stairways to be far safer to travel. He even got rid of the more problematic subworlds in order to make the others better. With that, the people should be able to make better lives for themselves.
Seeing all that, she felt like she could trust him again. Anne then found herself back at that final door. The truly unknown began past there. As she approached it, she started to have her doubts again. Why did she have to listen to a childish deity who'd nearly destroyed everything he'd made out of selfish angst? This could be just another stage of his game; he could end up laughing at her and remake everything back to horrible designs.
But what if it was this door? Whatever magic it had could be subconsciously pushing her away. Anne realized that these doubts weren't like herself. All the other doors had made her curious to know what was beyond them; she should feel the same way about this one. Not only that, but the Creator was being an eager child right now, swinging his arms and watching her every move around that door.
Anne took hold of the knob. Something clicked and the feelings of doubt began to escape her. As her curiosity had to know, she turned the knob and opened up the door that the Creator could not touch.
There was something about the area past that which was familiar and alien. The layout was similar to spaces within the Creator's part of the tower: a wide staircase with an open room sitting beside it. However, the quality of it was unlike anything that Anne had ever seen. It was like even their most advanced city was nothing but rough hewn stones lesser than what her home world could accomplish.
"Wow, this place is more than two-dimensional," the Creator said in wonder. But something made him turn to her. "Are you okay? It's far more than the eight bit existence you're used to, in color even."
"It's strange, but I think I could get used to it." Anne tried to move onto the next step, but there was something different to it that made her stub her toe. "Ow..."
"Lift your legs more, you can do this," he said, offering a hand. "And don't forget, I'm here helping you."
As she tried to work out how these stairs were, a flickering image of a beautiful girl appeared in front of them. "You have finally come, hero of the Tower's base," she said, holding her hands near her chest. "Please help us; the gods have gone mad and we can do nothing about them. But if you escaped their seal, you have a chance to do what we cannot."
"Just like I thought," Anne said. Maybe it wasn't the Creator who was truly behind how messed up everything was.
"Do those gods include whoever took my memory and sealed me down there?" the Creator asked.
"It may be so," the girl said. "But if you don't remember, we cannot be sure. Come to the next world and we can speak directly. I can't do this any longer or we'll be caught." She then vanished.
"This could be difficult, but I'm not going to give up any time soon," the Creator said.
"You're just eager to see what's beyond here," Anne said, but she smiled this time. "I am too. Let's go! I just have to figure out how to move around here."
He laughed lightly, happy for her agreement. "You got past the door; I don't think anything could stop you as long as you don't give up."