The end of a season is always bittersweet… instead of my usual score-focused run, I find myself hanging out with denizens of the IDUniverse who have become friends (no matter how many hours we have spent shooting at each other). This evening, in the Gazebo of Gathering, a strange sense of camaraderie came over us and we all laid down our weapons. An ominous chuckle echoed through the castle as everybody was momentarily tempted by opportunity, but the informal cease-fire held… despite a couple of aggressive abominations, Mort and Phobus, who had to be put down (with much laughter and applause on both sides). That broke the ice, and it was party time!

A recurring subject of the evening’s conversation was the weird intersection between civilizations that has brought us into this ongoing struggle. They don’t understand our VR technology at all, and thus have difficulty grasping the idea that they may not be real. “That’s a cartload of gorgon dung,” scoffed Salvo the Unmerciful, interrupting my explanation of Unreal Engine to a couple of eager brown-robed neophytes. “If I am not real, how do you explain the time I killed YOU under the new moon? You fell with an arrow to the heart, then disappeared. And yet you say I am the one made of vapor?”

I didn’t know how to reply in a way that would make sense in his medieval worldview, so I toasted his archery prowess and changed the subject.

Somebody put Ichor’s poignant “The Way You Run” on the jukebox, and the mysterious banshee known as The Nurse broke out a batch of Witches Brew. That stuff goes to your head like getting hit by Gabe’s plasma, and before long we were all loudly complaining about orphans and telling stories of epic battles. The Librarian dragged out a box of portraits, and I saw many familiar human faces including a picture somebody took of me last December when I paid 50 pieces of gold for a memento of glory to send home to Earth (turns out they are all archived, and are posted as warnings when leaderboard superstars start a new run).

Taking a break from the battle was sweet. I had some old friends there already because of the publishing project, but tonight I made a lot of new contacts that should lead to interesting developments in the months ahead. There’s talk of making IDUES (End of Season) an official holiday every time it comes around, with reflection about those on the Sanctuary Wall of Victims, discussion of future battle strategies, and perhaps some thoughtful time looking past our differences to see if someday we might put an end to this brutal conflict… no matter who is “real.”

This is part of the In Death: Unchained literature collection by Steven K. Roberts.