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NPC

For the right fee a player can enter the virtual MMO, Castles, Wights and Heroes, permanently. So my girlfriend and I did. We left mundane lives, let the technicians wire us into the game.
"There is no coming back," the company rep told us.
She became a warrior queen. Silver hair cascaded down her back, and her dark eyes flashed with joy in battle. She laughed and laughed as we slew trolls and ghouls and gaunts. We leveled up and grew in hit points, strengthened armor and traded weak weapons for legendary ones. I gathered healing potions and learned elemental spells, commanding earth, air, water and fire, darkness and light, gravity and ice. Once I put an entire army to sleep. Then we walked through the slumbering horde, past unconscious war elephants, around trebuchets and catapults armed with flaming meteors of tar to fling at the city only we could defend, until we reached the demon king, stripped of his followers but powerful and vicious. We barely prevailed.
Oh, the experience points and loot we earned for that one! More gold than we could spend. And still we quested. We faced the Empress Witch. We drained the Laggin Sea to defeat the Leviathan of Souls.
My warrior queen and I sang in taverns, and ate and drank and collapsed in each other's arms on wild animal fur beds, satiated and flushed with lust, melee joy coursing through our veins.
We defeated the world, her and I, the greatest hero and greatest enchanter the game had ever seen.
At last, we stood together, the minions of undead scattered on the hills around us, as far as we could see. We fought for days, but even the undead can be stilled by an unstoppable swordswoman, by clever incantations. Together we crushed them, and we held hands in triumph.
But we grew tired. Was it years we strode from quest to quest? How many dungeons can one crawl? How many enemy bosses, overpowered and arrogant, can be faced before they blend one into the other? What can one do when every challenge has been met and every obstacle has fallen?
So we retired. We built a small house outside the entry gates of the golden city, near the king's road. Which golden city you ask? Which king's road? It doesn't matter. In the game fresh landscapes populate at the edges faster than anyone can ride. New gamers find a unique world awaiting them, large and growing larger.
I tended the garden. My warrior queen stood at the doorway, smiling, a basket filled with flowers in one hand.
We thought we were happy. In the game, though, one must quest. I didn't know.
I didn't know.
Now I hold a hoe in hand, weeding the same patch of ground. Occasionally a traveler stops at my gate, a young hero, equipped with low level weapons and filled with terrible purpose. There are dragons to slay, kingdoms to be won, adventures a little farther on.
Somewhere beyond our perpetually blue skies, beyond the cursed forests and haunted swamps and abandoned fortifications. Beyond the statuary of the great, knocked to the ground and covered in vines. Beyond the massive seaports and pirate ships and gayly flying flags snapping in the wind on the ramparts. Behind all that, my girlfriend and I are tied to beds with wires and tubes that keep us alive and in the game, growing old. They told me we couldn't come back.
The newly minted hero approaches me. I look up. "Greetings, stranger," I say. "You may find what you need at the inn, The Darkling Thrush, just down the road."
I can't say anything else. The next hero will hear the same from me. I can't step from my garden. We stayed still too long, my warrior queen and I. She looks at me from the door, smiling always but in her eyes she's desperate or insane.
I can't tell. I can't ask her.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 6th, 2022
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