The cobblestone blocks placed across the four hallways that crossed each other did exactly what Steve had intended. A withered skeleton, its bones blackened and twisted and barely held together, caught sight of Steve where he sat cross-legged in the middle of the four hallways, and rushed toward him. Its bones made a dull clatter against the stone as it ran straight into it, its eye sockets peering above the one-and-a-half-block high wall. Steve canted his head up, and the two stared at each other.
Steve grunted as he stood up, still gazing at the creature. He found it odd how passive the mobs would become once they realized they couldn't get to him––he would even say they looked peaceful, curious, examining him like he did with them. But he also knew the moment the wall was down, the mob wouldn't hesitate to kill him.
"You gonna stay there?" he asked.
Of course, just like every other mob, even with the intelligent testificates and piglins, the Wither skeleton didn't understand him. It simply watched him.
He raised his diamond sword, making it gleam in the light of the lava source in the middle of the room. "You know I've killed thousands of you, right?"
It mindlessly opened and closed its jaw, showing off its few remaining hole-ridden teeth.
He lowered the weapon, his faraway gaze dropping to the floor. "And you've killed thousands of me."
It clattered, and Steve took it as acknowledgment of his words.
"You don't know that, though," he continued. "As far as you know, this is the first time you've ever seen me."
He paused a beat, eyeing the creature. It was a miracle it could even stand, let alone walk and run. Its bones looked brittle enough that Steve could just reach over and snap any with ease. It would be a bad idea, however; instantly, whatever had overtaken the skeleton would seep into Steve's skin and make his muscles feel like they were being chewed into. He knew how painful it was to die that way.
A pang of guilt and pity hit Steve. "I know words don't really mean much to you anymore, but I'm sorry this is what you've become. I... I really am."
It said nothing in return.
"Maybe... Maybe I can make it up to you. One day." He let out a long sigh. "Another world. Not this one. The world, not just this one, it's still so... damaged. It's recovered so much, but it still needs to heal." Steve glanced to the right hallway, which opened up to reveal hundreds of blocks of Nether wastes. A distant grumble emanated from the red fields.
He then closed his eyes, took a breath and opened them again, raising his sword once more. "Well, I have a temporary solution for now, at least."
One sideways swing was all it took for its skull to fly off, its body crumbling and breaking off into soot and ash. Surprisingly, the skull didn't turn to ash, and instead clanked against the brick flooring and rolled, stopping next to the hallway wall. Steve raised a brow as he took down the wall and made his way to the skull, bending down to look at it. As the Wither skeleton was dead, its withering effect had died with it, letting Steve pick its skull up without any pain.
Steve stared into its sockets. "It has been a while since I've defeated the Wither," he mused. "I guess you could consider that another temporary solution."
Knowing that it truly wasn't a solution at all to the world's hurt, he tucked the skull underneath his arm and began his walk out of the fortress, thinking of the past the whole while.