Turning the doorknob, I tried to open the door leading into one of the rooms on the 2nd floor West wing. However, the door refused to budge with a simple nudge. I had to lean against it with my full body weight to inch it open ever so slightly at a time. Once I got the door opened just enough for my small body to slip through, I entered the room. It was an endeavour that would have normally force me to break into a sweat but due to the impossible properties of the mansion (I think), I was barely even tired physically, just irritated.
Yet, my annoyance was gone the moment I got a good look at the “room”. Replacing the wooden aesthetic of the mansion were stone bricks that made up every surface of the room, wall, ceiling and floor. Not unlike the Hub room, this room contained not five but one door. However, unlike the Grand door of the Hub room, capturing one’s attention with its intricacies and grandeur, the door here called for my absolute attention due to the danger it exuded.
Standing from the ceiling to the floor, the door that is completely made out of metal remained indomitable, as if it had stood there for a thousand years and will continue to stand there for another thousand years. It reminded me of a portcullis or those heavy-looking vertical-sliding medieval castle gates that you would normally see from fantasy games. This one, in particular, not only had metal spikes protruding out on the outside of its surfaces but also the inside, almost as if it was preventing things from going in and coming out at the same time.
Not giving me any more time to ponder, the floor began to rumble. I could hear some sort of machination running behind the stone walls and floor as the metal gate slowly slide up to allow for my passage.
Yang: [Yeah…Nah…I’m going to have to pass…I still want to explore…Huh!?]
Just when I was about to make my hasty way out of this terrifying atmosphere, the door whence I came from, the one which required me to push my entire body weight on it to open, is now shut close. I never once noticed any signs of the door closing and no matter how much I tried pulling at it, the door would never be opened again.
The mansion so far had been weird but this was the first time I felt its malicious intent.
Yang: [Whatever you got planning, just know that I won’t go along willingly.]
Leaving that behind, I ventured deeper into the room past the metal gate. Expectedly, the metal gate immediately slid down shut the moment my whole body is across.
Going deeper down the “room”, no, “hallway” better described what it was, I finally exited the hallway and into a large open space. Stone walls as tall as three-storey buildings surrounded the whole open space and above the walls were seats, rows and rows of seats with no signs of people seating on it.
Even though I may have seen a few images of it on the internet here and there, standing there on the arena ground myself is a whole another spectacle altogether:
The place I had just step foot in is a coliseum, not unlike the Colosseum of Rome.
And my opponent?
A lone figure standing in the dead centre of the dirt arena floor, unmoving and waiting. Upon closer examination, one would see that… there is nothing to be seen from it. With its body completely smooth and free from any defining human features or wear and tear, I could only conclude that it is a mannequin of sorts or a kind of base drawing that artists often start with before they add features to it to make it into art. Yet despite being merely a mannequin plain and simple, it gave off an overbearing aura that is larger than life and out of this world, well my world at least.
Yang: [A boss fight right at the beginning!?! I don’t even have any equipment!]
Thankfully, no matter how much I complained or talk bad about the mannequin, it showed exactly zero signs of fighting back. It became clear to me that this was the kind of boss fight that will not begin unless I provoke the boss, which gave me an abundance of time to look for other means of escape.
Let’s start from the results: There were no “other means of escape” in this coliseum.
The only other area I could access other than the hallway I came from was another hallway directly opposite of the one I came from and surprise surprise, not only were the two hallways identical, both also had the same giant metallic sliding gate blocking the way forward. Looking through the gaps of the metal gate, I could just about make out the faint outline of another door: most likely the way out. I did try to squeeze through the gaps in between or lift the metal gate but we both know that is asking the humanly impossible out of me.
I also attempted to climb my way up to the spectator seats but the stone walls were completely smooth with no protruding ledges for footholds or handholds.
Helpless, I looked up into the sky for any possible hints and that was when I realized that that was the first time I properly paid attention to the “sky”:
No white clouds,
No blue sky,
Just plain dark nothingness,
Still and devoid of any signs of life.
The sight of the false sky almost seemed familiar to me yet I could not pinpoint where or when I could have seen or felt it before.
Yang: [And also, how does A WHOLE COLISEUM AND THE SKY FIT INSIDE A SINGLE ROOM OF A MANSION!?]
I said once before that I am starting to get used to the absurdity of this mansion but now I regret that statement and wish to retract it. Permanently.
Yang: [Guess there is no other way…]
Standing before the mannequin, I readied myself. The mannequin remained in the same position and showed no signs of attacking. I gave it a gentle poke on the shoulder but sure enough, it wouldn’t budge.
Perhaps for it to be considered an “attack”, I need to hit it with the intent to hurt or even kill. That would not be easy for me since I never had a reason in my previous world to hate, let alone the desire to assault someone.
Yang: […Sorry, there. I absolutely have to go back.]
Clenching my fist as tight as possible, I drive it forward in the direction of the mannequin’s face.
As soon as my punch landed, wait, did it even land? I think I touched it for a single moment at the very least, but before the thought even reaches my brain, my legs were no longer in contact with the dirt floor.
The next moment, I felt a heavy thud on my back as my body fell back-first onto the dirt floor.
The “battle” was over as soon as it even began, I would even say that it did not happen at all as I turn my head and saw the mannequin back in its default position, almost as if it never left there in the first place nor will it ever leave.
Still lying on the floor, I began to run through in my head what just happen. It was no “battle”, more of a one-hit KO. I couldn’t even see what the mannequin did.
Slowly, I sat myself up and feel for my back. I know for sure that that was no simple fall. Pretty sure a fall like that back in my previous world would have broken a few bones, but once again, “thanks” to the impossibility of the mansion, not only do I not feel fatigued, I also suffered no injury or pain when being attacked. Which meant:
Yang: [God mode on, huh…]
Well, not just for me, I had unlimited HP, but the mannequin too, it had unlimited attack, or is it speed? That would allow me unlimited attempts to defeat the mannequin, supposing that defeating it is the clear condition for this coliseum.
I pushed myself up and faced the mannequin once again.
Round 2: Fight!
And Defeat. Again.
Changing up my tactic, I tried kicking it in the torso but was hit hard and flipped a round or two in the air before landing back-first yet again onto the hard dirt floor.
Looking at the false sky from the dirt floor, I suddenly remembered the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”.
The way I learnt about it is when fighting video game bosses. In my first attempts, somehow through sheer luck or reflex, I would seem to be able to progress considerably far into the battle only to be swiftly defeated closer to the end. More confident than ever, I tried the fight again only to find myself unable to even land a single hit. Only after hours or even days of trying could I find back the confidence I once lost and eventually defeat the boss after gathering much knowledge and experience.
This is not the case here.
There is no “I think I can do it” moments.
After the second attempt, I tried to attack the mannequin from different angles using different techniques, any techniques that I could think of from the top of my head. Yet time and time again, I find myself once again lying on the floor back-first, staring blankly at the false sky.
There is no “sheer luck or reflex” when standing in front of overwhelming strength.
At around the 20th attempt, I noticed our footprints on the dirt floor and discovered in the span of time less than a blink of an eye after I “touched” it, it somehow managed to make its way behind me, launched a strike or two, and returned to its original position. All before I even hit the floor.
That felt like a big leap to me, knowing where the enemy is coming from. However, no matter how quick I try to turn my head to catch a glimpse of its attack, I was always too slow.
After 20 attempts, you would think my plain clothes would be dirtied by the sheer number of times I spend lying down on the dirt floor with it, yet somehow due to the “blessings” of the mansion, they are as spotless as they will ever be.
For the first 200 or so attempts, I would go at it non-stop, experimenting with whatever ideas I thought of, only to be crushed by the undefeated mannequin time and time again.
After the first 200, I decided it would be much more productive if I rested every few battles to give myself more thinking room. Setting that number at 20 battles, I stop “fighting”, well more like “act as the punching bag” of the mannequin after every 20 battles and racked my brain over a possible solution, a way to defeat it.
Gradually, that number became ten battles, then five, then three, and before long…or is it “after long”, the weird properties of the mansion made it hard to describe the passage time, but after the attempts reached around 2,000, I stopped counting altogether since I had completely stopped challenging the mannequin.
There’s got to be another way! Or so I thought to myself while desperately trying to climb the walls of the coliseum; while desperately trying to lift the metal gates open; while desperately trying to…
Now, back on the dirt ground, I lay. I think I tried going at the mannequin a few more times after the alternatives proved to be non-existent, or did I?
If my every attempt lasted 30 seconds on average, that would mean that by the last time I was still counting, I would have spent at least 16 hours trying to even touch a mannequin.
Y*ng: [That number is… rather unimpressive, actually.]
I got up from the place I lay and resumed my attempts at challenging the mannequin, starting the counter at 2.000.
My aim for each attempt had been the same for quite a while: to try to see where it is attacking from and hence devise a way to block or deflect it. They said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results” but I had been thinking as hard as I can, trying everything that I could, that I can no longer tell whether I had repeated any tactics at all.
I did do up a checklist of things I had tried on the dirt floor at the far corners of the arena using my fingers but the scale of the list became too big that it became too much trouble to even get a full view of the whole thing, let alone keeping track of it in my mind.
Just when I was about to quit at around the 190,022nd time, I started to see a flicker of a shadow at the corner of my eye right before I was about to be floored for the same 190,022nd time.
It’s wasn’t a dream.
I don’t think it was a dream.
In the first place, can you even dream in the mansion?
That got to be the shadow of the mannequin!
I comforted myself just so I don’t have to acknowledge the reality of what I saw.
By the millionth time, even I am surprised I could even keep track to the 6th digit, I found myself once again lying on the floor staring at the false sky.
The place where I laid down is now becoming more like a small “crater”, just about a few centimetres into the ground.
Y**g: [Why do I call it the “false” sky, again?]
That would mean there is a “real” sky, wouldn’t it?
What does a “real” sky look like, then?
Then it happened.
I saw it, the attack.
It came behind me, swept up both of my legs using its right leg and caused me to fall back-first, then moved back to its original position, almost as if satisfied that it defeated me for the how-many-th time.
A simple attack so basic that I could not help but laugh for a good moment for its simplicity. I had been defeated by this move, a simple leg sweep for times too many for me to count and it no doubt made me felt embarrassed to no end, yet the more I thought about it, the more I laughed.
A simple move executed with the utmost speed but just enough force to unbalance me without letting me even feel where I had been attacked. Without a doubt, quite an impressive, yet simultaneously dull move.
Now that I know where the mannequin would attack, I could defend it, or so I thought. It changed its attack just as it saw that I was anticipating it. I was once again swept off my feet and this time landed head-first in the dirt ground.
However, this defeat tasted much less bitter than the heaps of defeat that came before. That is because I now know that the mannequin is not infallible.
All I need is time and time seemed to be all I have in this place.
Eventually, I learnt to read its moves not by observing but through instincts honed through time and time and time again been defeated by it.
And just as soon came the ability to block and defend against its attacks. I vividly recalled when I first blocked its leg sweep coming to my calves by grabbing hold of its leg just as it was about to hit me. I would refrain from elaborating on how it later turned its whole body using the leg caught as a pivot and drove its other leg to the back of my head, thereby kicking my entire body into the ground head first and thus swiftly ending the battle.
Lying head-first on the dirt floor is in no way a good feeling yet I could not contain the rising excitement in me that had been growing ever since. Progress had been made and I had been able to steadily inch myself closer to one day doing the same things the mannequin had done to me.
Of course, learning how to block and deflect and defend would never place me any closer on that path and so, I had to learn to attack too. It was hard at first when I had to balance defending myself from its malicious attacks while trying to attack it at the same time but if seeing how it moved and reacted for so long taught me anything, it was that I had to be constantly moving to the blind spots of my opponents, places where they can’t attack me but I can easily strike them, especially at their weak spots too. As such, our playing field finally expanded out from the dead centre of the arena ground to its entirety as we moved again and again to one another’s blind spots just to gain an advantage over the other.
The more I moved my body, the more I felt restricted. I began to realize that the clothing I was wearing, the T-shirt and jeans are not suitable for combat. Without hesitation, I ripped the restricting parts out and left only what is need intact. I would need all the mobility I can.
I had long since stopped counting my attempts, but unlike in the beginning when I stopped because knowing about the ever-growing numbers only brought me despair, now I had decided to stop as there’s no longer a need for me to even remember them.
All I need to know is to continue forward.
It did not felt real at first, but there came a single moment in time for who-knows-how-long that I landed a hit: A single simple leg sweep that finally knocked it fully off-balance as I simultaneously release its hands and right leg that were trapped by my left hand and right armpit respectively. I could see a small but visible dent on the left shin that I kicked with my full force.
Awestruck, I could hardly register what had just happened.
I turned and looked everywhere for any signs of confirmation that I had succeeded. But when I looked up to the spectator seats, not a fraction of a soul was there to cheer for me.
Were the spectator seats always so far away?
However, at the very next moment, I found myself once again on the floor staring forlornly into the sky.
Though I had landed a hit on the mannequin and unbalanced it, it got up almost immediately and returned the favour. Unlike the previous times, now, an extra tool appeared before it which allowed it to defeat me even more easily: A simple sword.
The sword materialized just within its reach and it grabbed it before it even reached the floor. It mercilessly used it cut at me while I'm still awestruck with no means of defending myself in time.
I would have died if it wasn’t for the powers of the mansion.
The fear of the thought did shake me for a while, now made all the more clear with the introduction of weapons. Yet, the powers of the mansion had become an assurance that allowed me to go all out without fear or hesitation.
I stood up once again. A sword identical to the one the mannequin was holding lay beside the place I just got up from. At least the duel is fair.
I picked up the sword and charged at the mannequin.
Y***: [Bring it.]
After the sword came the spear, then a halberd then back to another kind of sword that is shorter than the one before. Every time I managed to land a hit on the mannequin with the weapon in my hand, two new but identical weapons would spawn just within our reach. When it did happen, the mannequin would always plant the weapon on its hand firmly to the dirt ground before catching the new weapon as it is freefalling, signalling the next stage of the fight.
There was a time I tried to stick to using the sword that I mastered to defeat the mannequin who was wielding the spear. However, it became clear to me that no matter how many more times I struck it with the sword, it would not receive any more damage other than the first slash on its forearm unless the weapon I attacked it with is the spear.
And just when I thought I could cheat the system, even just a little…
Trying to land a hit on the mannequin with every weapon was by no means easy. Every weapon that spawned were different in terms of their weight and handling and it was only by gradual trial and error and applying what I had collated over the past attempts was I able to finally strike at it.
Of course, I also had more than my fair share of defeat. It wasn’t pleasant thinking back on them. That one time when the mannequin managed to spear my left eye was but one drop of water in a sea of possible deaths I could have died. Yet, the powers of the mansion had kept my body completely intact and free from fatigue.
The number of weapons spawned in did reach a point where almost every surface of the arena floor was planted with a weapon, yet our battle was hardly impeded. In fact, they provided interesting forms of cover that we both used to our advantage.
Just when I thought I was beginning to get used to this rhythm of things and that I may be fine with this continuing on, the unthinkable occurred.
We were both using labrys, a form of double-edged axe.
I managed to plunge the axe right into its neck, leaving a huge mark. By then, the mannequin had already collected innumerable scars such as this that almost every surface of it was covered. But compared to it, I was completely unharmed.
Instinctively, I planted the labrys in my hand into the ground and reached out to grasp the new weapon that would be appearing within my reach any moment now. This had become a little ceremony of ours before we proceed with the next stage of the fight.
But the new weapon never came.
Not once had I let my eyes slide from the mannequin. There was no new weapon materializing beside it too.
It positioned itself to directly face me, which got me to brace for a possible attack with every fibre of my being.
Then it simply, bowed.
Or at least I think that was what it did or was trying to do, bending its body ever so slightly forward.
A part of me still expected a surprise attack but that too never came.
The mannequin, my nemesis, merely turned around and started to walk away.
Every step it took, part of its body faded away. First, it was its fingers, then its arms and legs, then the abdomen and the torso and lastly its head.
What was left behind was its face, now wearable like a mask, rested on the dirt ground of the coliseum.
I think I spent a second, or a period of time too long to count, just standing there, unable to move.
Then my body started moving forward without my deliberate control. There I walked, following the steps of the mannequin that is now long gone. I stoop down to pick up the mannequin mask without any features.
For so long, I have fought you.
The mannequin mask was smooth, yet it would not reflect my face.
Fighting you became everything.
My vision became blurred. I tried to rub my eyes but it would not clear. There was something wet rolling down my cheeks but it could not be sweat.
You cannot sweat in the mansion.
****: [Wh..Who… Am I?]
Looking around, the walls of the coliseum were no longer visible, let alone the spectator seats. That would be because of all our movements around the arena floor which left behind footprints had eroded the dirt floor over an impossibly long period of time.
The sky is now just a dot above the arena as I stared up to see where should I proceed next. A part of me knew that there is a hallway up there that I would need to get to in order to complete this once and for all.
Getting up was easy by comparison.
I simply kicked the myriad of weapons laying around into the dirt walls around to form makeshift footholds for me to step on and ascend.
Just when the makeshift staircase is completed and I was making my way over to climb it, my feet struck something solid and metallic amidst pieces of ripped cloth. It wasn’t any of the weapons as I had used almost all of them as footholds. Picking it up, a small pocket watch stared back at me.
Instincts long-forgotten screamed at me to keep it with me and thinking it might be important, I complied.
With the mannequin mask and the pocket watch in hand, I made my way out of the coliseum, ragged and empty on the inside.
At the end of the hallway, the metal gate that was once firmly shut is now completely lifted, seemingly welcoming to any passage. The wooden door on the other side is now in full view.
Pulling the wooden door open revealed a room never seen before. Two neat rows of mannequins, each row facing the other. They stood shoulder to shoulder to each other, with every one of them dressed in metallic armour and was resting their hands on the hilt of their broad swords.
As if guarding the place, these mannequin knights stood tall and proud. But if their job is to protect the place, they would have already failed as I had made my way in.
A part of me half expected another battle with all the mannequin knights present but somehow I could tell they were different from the one I fought. Unlike it, they would not move, nor would they ever will.
Just like mannequins in a showroom.
Walking down the path guarded by the two rows of mannequin knights, I find myself feeling a little bit comforted by their inorganic presence.
At the end of the path was a throne, one that was in no way fancy or would stand out. In fact, I would have liked it more if I call it a big chair instead.
Sitting on the big chair was a single mannequin with no telling features other than the fact that it was stretching both its hand forward to present a certain item on its hand: A simple black coat.
I opened up the black coat and there it was, a black coat, nothing more, nothing less. Yet it had a mysterious allure to it that would not allow me to take my eyes off it.
Upon closer inspection, on the right side of the inner collar was a cloth embroidery of three letters: Y.I.N.
****: [Is…this..who I am?]
The question slipped out of my mouth but no one would respond.
No one ever will.
Donning the black coat, I began to take my leave.
The mannequins in the room disappeared without a trace.
A new wooden door came into existence behind the throne/ big chair, denoting the way out.
One final door left until I am back.
What do I need to be “back” to anyways?
Bugged by the irrepressible need to return to something, I opened the last door.
And there it was, a room. A simple room with only a small bed and desk with one compartment in sight.
Coming out of the “door” revealed that the place I walked out from is a wardrobe.
Any way you look at it, I am back in the bedroom. A room that I had only stayed in for a short period of time, yet it was the most familiar sight that could ever come before my eyes in this mansion.
Instincts were calling out to me to venture out and explore the rest of the mansion yet my body was inching itself to the soft bed. Lying on the soft bed instead of the dirt floor of the coliseum, I closed my eyes for the first time in what felt like an eternity
One cannot sleep in the mansion, yet just lying there alone was bliss.
***: [Alright, time to go.]
Couldn’t know how much time had passed, I pushed myself and exited the bedroom.
Although I could not remember much, the images and my experiences in the mansion stood out vividly.
I made a beeline to the nearest area, the Hub room and greeted me were the presence of the five doors.
Instinctively, I opened the wooden door that seemed to be made out of a higher quality of wood.
Those very same instincts then started to tell me to go back and explore the 2nd floor West wing and 1st floor East Wing, but by then, I was already through the door.
The scenery in front of my eyes drastically changed. No longer was there a room in a mansion, I found myself stepping foot in a place bustling with nature: It is a forest.
The chirping of the birds,
The rustling of the leaves and
The sound of a small stream rushing by.
This might be the first time I heard sounds like these in a long time
Yet these sounds would not register in my mind.
Occupying my mind the very second I stepped foot in the forest was pain.
Pain and agony.
The pain of a few broken ribs.
The pain of torn calves and shins.
The pain of my throat slashed up millions upon millions of times.
The pain of a crushed left eye.
The pain would not stop.
I was not sure when but at a certain point in time, I was writhing in pain on the dirt floor, mud all over my body as blood began to pool around me.
I think there were crows or some birds circling overhead but by then, I could already feel my consciousness was about to be robbed away from me.
The last thing I heard before fully collapsing:
The rhythmic sounds of ticks and tocks coming from my coat pocket.