Short Story: Immortalized

She didn’t know how to say it. Writing it was easier, but speaking it was difficult. A few days ago, she couldn’t have even done that. Thinking of it was still painful, but before– in the first moments following it– even thoughts had failed her. Now, here she sat, staring at the log-in screen of her own computer, in her own gaming chair. Beside her, his empty chair and blank screen inflected a terrible grief on her heart. It choked her up, what needed to be done, but she had to do it.

It was like that old adage of “the show must go on.” Only it wasn’t a show. For her, it was life. Life had to go on. Most people found comfort in that, solace in the idea that it’d one day end. They held vain hopes of reunions. She didn’t. She had only the grim reality of the lonely present. They’d met through a screen, just like the one she watched now. The character had been different then; blue-gray skin in place of the pasty white. Black hair where it was now bright red. The bright palettes of high-level armor had adorned the elf-body though, as it did now. She remembered the first time she ever saw him, in-game. Love at first sight didn’t exist for her. It wasn’t going to either. Through avatars of druid bulls, archer-orks, or anything else the game manifested, it simply couldn’t.

His words, those were real. His actions, by proxy at first, were real too. The twelve years of love, happiness, and marriage since were even more real.

All of it had come from a raid night. she’d been invited to join his guild for the chance of epic loot and hordes of XP, in exchange for healing magic. No-one had any idea what they’d started. Before long, she was up all night with him, playing after the rest of the Guild had retired. She’d always been his support, his crutch. Even after things had gone from game-life to real-life. His upbringing had left him with more emotional baggage, but he managed it with a rogue-like agility that defied the tank-builds he played.

She understood that paradox better than anyone: He’d always thrown himself into the thick of things to save others. The scars on his face and back said so. They were small, subtle, but there. She remembered them as well as the earthen hair and eyes she’d caress and stare into. Most of all, she remembered how he’d gotten them, a story he’d only told once. It was all the times she’d needed.

He’d been quiet, voice softer than a mouse’s. He’d come home from work one night as a teen, later than usual. His father had decided to take out his pink-slip on his sister. He fought back for the first time that night. His sister cowered, bloody and bruised in a corner, as he was beaten almost to death that night. His parents told the paramedics he’d fallen down the stairs. They’d hid the little sister in her room. Everyone knew the lie, but Martin kept quiet for his mother’s sake. The belt marks were too distinct. The scars from the buckle obvious. It had gouged skin like a garden rake to chaff.

A friend of his informed the police soon after. They raced over and caught Martin’s father in the act. As far as she knew, he still hadn’t shown his face. More than two decades had passed. But Martin held no grudges, especially at the end. That he was gone now was unbearable.

She took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and keyed in her password. A prompt flashed for a secondary authentication, and she typed in a pass-code sent to her phone via text. The loading screen with its mini-game about cute elves went untouched. It dissolved to the field where she’d last logged out beside him. They’d played for hours and hours together, expecting an end. Yet somehow, they both knew when it was the last time. They’d returned to the field where they’d first met, where she’d first joined the guild to raid, and stood beside one another to watch the animated landscape.

There was a resignation in Martin then. He just held her hand, in game and out, and stared into the distance. It was as if things had come full circle. Only Martin could say what or how. Even now, her eyes leaked to think of that sad despair in his ailing grip.

She wiped an eye, keyed in a command to pull up the guild-chat menu. All but a couple of the regulars were on. It didn’t surprise her. It was prime farming time. After-work hours were guaranteed to find the full-Guild in voice chat. The couple that weren’t there were still friends. She had to wait. It was only a few minutes before they appeared, almost in tandem. She cleared her throat, wiped away a few more tears, and slipped on her headset. She sent invites to join a party, at her location, to everyone. Another few minutes passed before the twenty-odd people had assembled before her in-game.

Like Martin before, she felt something had come full-circle. She stood in the same field where she and Martin had first met. Where she and everyone had first met. The assembly armored creatures stood in two lines before her, sensing what was to be said. They felt no need to rush her, nor could have for anything in the world.

Her breath shook. Her voice warbled and wobbled. “You are mine and Martin’s best friends. He loved you. As I do. Like f-family.” She involuntarily sucked air through her teeth. It rip the hearts from every guild member. “That is why, I feel it my duty to…”

She sucked air again. No one moved. The avatars merely watched, awaiting the inevitable words. Not even they wished to sully the moment with idly animated movement. It was obvious the group was as heart-sick and grieving as she was.

“I feel it my duty to… tell you Martin’s battle with cancer ended this week.” A near-imperceptible slump of shoulders appeared from the assembled creatures– or the players’ grief was so thick in the air, it felt that way. “He w-wanted me to th-thank you for everything you’ve done. If it were not for your kindness, the last few months would’ve been unbearable. I f-feel the same. You’re the family neither of us has had but wished for. I can only thank you for that, for me and for Martin.”

The field sank once more into silence. It lasted a long moment before a character suddenly materialized from thin air. Judging by the rare, exclusive armor, and the lone markings of “GM” and a single name, it was one of the game’s admins– the big wigs that worked on it, and whose power in this place exceeded a God’s.

He looked to the assembled characters. “Forgive my interruption. I understand this is a time of great pain, but my presence was requested by Mr.Fluffers.” He said as a random guild-member bowed amid the assembly. “You’ve lost a member of your guild. I understand the depth of that bond. So in your friend’s honor, I give you this.”

With a flashing spell-cast, a statue in the place where Martin would have stood beside her– where he had stood, time and time again. Cast in bronze, and identical to his character, his name was inscribed on its base– the ultimate honor any player could ever hope for. The GM turned to eye Martin’s wife and friends.

“I didn’t know him, but seeing his friends– his family– here today, I know he was a good man that kept good company. I am truly sorry for your loss. I dedicate this field in his honor, to be known as Martin’s field. It cannot remove your loss, but it can assure you he will be forever remembered.”

With that, the GM knelt, and placed a glowing, golden flower at the base of Martin’s statue. The rest shuffled over to do the same. She cried openly on the voice chat, more from gratitude than grief. She knew some bonds could not be broken. Death only made them stronger. But so too, it seemed, some people transcended death itself. Their spirit was so powerful a force as to become immortalized in ways man could never have imagined. For her part, she was just glad to have known him. To have loved him. Even if their time together was shorter than she’d have liked.

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