-Yeah, I just bought the game.-she said, in a seemingly annoyed tone of voice.
-But why? you don't even know if you'll like it yet! You're only ten levels into the trial!
-Look, if you're going to be playing it again, I might as well play it with you.And so our 2 year long adventure began.
I had assumed she'd dislike it, really, but with a free trial available, there was no real reason to ignore giving it a shot.
We will call her Celephaïs, like the city by the selfsame title in H.P. Lovecraft's short story. In this story, Kuranes, our protagonist, searches endlessly for the city that he experiences in his dreams and can seemingly never reach for long, only to wind up deceased in the outskirts of a town as a drug addict nobody.
We started our characters from scratch. I decided to remake a fresh one to accompany her through all the steps, and to refresh my memory. Thus was Walabi Labi born too, at around the same time as Celephaïs, and we both dutifully slogged through A Realm Reborn.
The one story that struck for her and made her think that just maybe, there was some hope for this game, was the tragic efforts of Edda Pureheart to bring her lover back to life through necromancy. She quickly grew fond of the character arc, and we completed all of it together, agreeing it was a dissonant chord in what so far was a pretty generic fantasy adventure. I was glad it finally seemed she was enjoying something about her time in Eorzea besides my company.
Later on, we were finally sucked into the writing of Heavensward's more daring storytelling, with still vivid memories of standing before the imposing Nidhogg, both having gasped at the fall of Hraesvelgr from the skies. We were undeniably part of this world nowadays, with its ups and downs, story-wise and gameplay-wise, each of us with their particular interest in what FFXIV has to offer.
We talked for hours about The coils of Bahamut and the DRK quests fantastic writing, Ilberd's resentment, Nidhogg's suffering and Yotsuyu's pain, arguably our favourite "villains" in the story. Some time would also pass debating whether Zenos was a bland enemy or a rather quirky meta mirroring us players seeking the next thrill.
One of our bond's pillars was Eorzea. A small one compared for the love we shared for our cats, but one that was undeniably there nonetheless.
Last summer, we reached what is possibly the peak of FFXIV's lifespan so far. With the same writer as our favourite stories behind it, Shadowbringers blew everyone away, and we were no exception. Emet-Selch's sorrow and character development would steal the show every time he was on camera. A short yet sweet experience, with a man that did not overstay his welcome, leaving all of us touched by his attempt at restoring what he holds dear so much, showing us that "villain" is a frivolous word to use, when you don't know the reasons behind someone's intentions. I by no means imply that Emet-Selch's methods were acceptable nor do I condone them, but there was not the pure malice behind him that we always assumed from less developed characters like Lahabrea and Igeyorhm.
Our adventure continued after that. We saw Elidibus weave his plans, with her interest in the storyline waning once more, now that Ishikawa-san was not behind the full writing. And she finally started seriously tackling content that I was always exhausted from my work to tackle. Savage raiding, while I would love to sit down and try, can be a time sink that many days I can't afford to have.
However, she pushed through party finder after party finder, until she ran into a loyal gang of adventurers that, like her, had their sights locked on clearing the current raiding tier. Meanwhile, during my downtime from work, and while Celephaïs was leading, enjoying, and weekly clearing with her parties, Walabi dove into unlocking the rest of my jobs, curious to experience their side stories, and enjoying the new feeling of a different type of gameplay. Different strokes for different folks, as they say!
It did however greatly limit the time we spent together. And so it took its understandable toll, on top of a loss in the family we suffered not long before this.
Before I noticed, I was spending days without actually sitting down and speaking with Celephaïs one on one, about our day, about our struggles, about our joys, menial and not so menial things in life. But I could see her embraced by her new group of friends in the Discord server she had created some time ago, and Emet Selch's reassuring smile with the crown of flowers on his head always strangely made me feel at ease knowng that Celephaïs was enjoying what she was doing, and that I had shown her something that had flourished into a wholesome activity for her and for her newfound friends. She had been cutting so many contacts with so many people that I was genuinely worried we'd become stagnant, so seeing her socialize was a breath of fresh air and a relief.
Her sadness was still very present whenever we spoke, and she insisted she had no real strength to hang out due to some severe issues in her life that I would never dare go into detail. I could not provide her the emotional sanctum she needed. Yet another person seemed to be able to, or so I could surmise. I saw them speak for hours and hours in a private room, while I was left to my own devices, a comment here, a message there, nothing too deep.
I was understandably hurt, and mayhaps a bit jealous, I admit. I brought it up that very night, and I was promised we'd speak about what was happening. I trusted our bond to endure this, as it had endured other difficult situations in the past.
No such thing would come. A strange excuse out of left field rendered me completely in shock, and unable to come up with anything more to say other than thinking "I can't really do anything about this, nor can I tie her to my side. Nor would I ever dream of so. Celephaïs is a free bird to do as she pleases, and she should do just that." She said she'd move away from the internet altogether to clear her mind. I was denied any further contact with her in any network.
Yet something didn't feel right. And more so when I saw that her promise that she would take a break from the internet for some time was instantly shattered the next day I stepped into Walabi's shoes. The first friend I added, Celephaïs, was online. There she was, new FC, online and playing. Playing with her group that she said she'd take a break from, as she did on the daily. I reached out to her with kind words, and was asked to respect the space she needed.
But... was she not disrespecting the selfsame space she was asking me to respect by obviating her words, I thought?
I fearfully decided to dig a bit deeper into it, and it did not take me long to realize Celephaïs had crafted a quick lie to leave me behind. She had made her choice in her new group of friends, and more importantly, in her new, stronger bond she had found. I understood and respected it, but I could not tell her so. So I saw fit to speak with her new dear friend directly.
I appreciate that he listened to me, he took it to heart and did not reject my words from the get go, but it's of course hard to trust a complete stranger. He had heard few things about me, very few of them correlating with reality. And so he decided to speak with her. I never heard from him again either.
Fast forward a few weeks afterwards, I learned from a friend, that, not enough with that, a very twisted tale about deeds I've never done is being told about me. All my good will, all my care, was being transformed and turning me into a caricaturesque villain much like Lahabrea. I tried to speak my truth, to get my message out. I couldn't. No ears would hear me. And not long ago, the last bridge connecting me to who Celephaïs once was was burnt and cut before my very eyes. In their book, I am finally the villain that I was painted to be, and nothing wll change that. But my conscience is clear.And so our 2 year long adventure ended.
Despite all the pain and powerlessness, I found something stronger. I found support, compassion, care, courage. And this, I found on the selfsame world I shared with her for two years. I started reaching out to the people I have met, recovering or creating new bonds, with people that accept and care for my time, for my kindness and my appreciation towards them. Some big, some small, but each interaction with these people out there is a cherished moment from me, truly so.
I recovered bonds from outside this game too, people I had long thought lost, and even one of them has decided to dip their toes in this marvelous world that Eorzea is.
You can't erase your memories, you have to build something on top of them in order to heal. And that is exactly what I'm doing, as I slowly but surely walk forward towards a brighter future, where I no longer chase a dream that can't exist, unlike Kuranes with his Celephaïs.
To the devs, thank you for such a powerful tale.
To you that have been here for me in these bizarre moments, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope I can return the favour one day. You have a friend here.
To you that have listened to my tale when given the chance, thank you.
To those who have decided not to and dismiss me, thank you. You do well, and you're a good friend to Celephaïs. Seek mutual happiness with your friends.
To Celephaïs herself, I have nothing to say anymore. I said enough for a lifetime's worth, and she knows this well.
And for all of you that are part of my life, bringing a smile to my face be in person or online, thank you from the bottom of my heart.Ours is a long road, and there will come a time when we forget the voices and faces of those we have met along the way. But the joy we have known, the pain we have felt, the prayers that we whispered and answered, they will always be our strength and our comfort.