The screen before him quickly came alive as a plaque popped up, a shower of gold and silver briefly filling the screen.

: New Feat: Realms First! Level 90!

The game seemed to pause as the players around him registered what just happened. He'd done it, the seemingly impossible. Within seconds he watched as the comment box filled with the congratulations of random players. Over one thousand other people who were aiming for the title.

: New Feat: Realms First! Level 90 Warrior!

The second pop up was delayed by the five other players grouped with him, handing in the quest to get those last experience points to show their standing within the online game. The colourful graphics becoming lagged and blocky as the server tried to support so many computers at once.

: New Feat: Resurrection of the DeathBringer Complete!

Turning away from the screen he picked up his cold tea and looked outside, towards the fire burning away at the abandoned surgery. Over the speakers he heard the guild mates using the video conference offer their own congratulations.

"Wow dude, level ninety already; the expansion's only been out for four days. You been doing anything expect for playing or what?" The speakers made the voice sound tiny and even farther away than most people. The signs of a cheap microphone couldn't hide the fact the speaker was still going through the awkward stage of breaking his voice.

"Shut it douche," one of the girls ordered. He watched in the guild chat as they argued about the difference between hardcore players and no life players.

Emspe: Your just saying that coz you got first priest achive.

Michie: Just coz you meant to be at school, some of us adults get something called time off skiver.

Emspe: Oooh so scared of the now working adult.

"That's enough you two" he quickly interrupted, both in chat and over the microphone. He listened for the muttered sorry's before finishing his cold drink with two small pills. "Fire's finally out, damn skiving brats."

The thick black column of clouds was still filling the sky, leaving him unable to open his windows to remove the smell of smoke seeping into his flat. Beyond the black clouds the sky was a mix of red and gold, the sun trying to stay for longer with the quick onset of autumn. Looking at his clock he expected his neighbour to return soon with Whiskey, the Boarder-Collie he was unable to walk for the last six days.

"Yes damn those kiddies who hate the thought of working for an education and spend all their time causing fires or playing online games," Michie's voice rang out clearly, her Irish accent a sharp contrast to most of the speakers.

"Oh stop bitching Michie," Emspe replied, his voice suddenly muffled as he covered the microphone. The feedback remained until he moved his hand. "Right guys, that's me done for the day, mum got tomorrow off so I gotta go byebye so I wake up for school tomorrow."

"Oh my god, you're actually going tomorrow; must be the first time all week." The others laughed over the speakers, their good humour remaining after hours of digging at each other. Michie, always a mothering sort of person turned her attention onto some other guild mate. "Hey Gyps you've done quite, everything alright?"

"Huh? Oh yea, I'm fine; I dinged half an hour ago," Gyps replied.

He always though Gyps was a quite one; always playing a healer class but too shy to speak out over guild chat. Where no one could hear her lisp or stutter.

"Congrats Gyps, you'll be able to play Heroics soon," he said hearing the knock of the front door. Typing a short message into guild chat he grabbed the brake of the wheelchair, slowly moving towards the locked front door. The muscles in his shoulders pulled, still unused to having to push his weight around and the healing burns. Unlocking the door he rolled backwards to allow it to open and for two stone of mass to rush towards him.

"Heya Whiskey, you been a good girl?" the Collie place her front paws onto numb legs, dead nerves not even registering the added weight. Whiskey barked once, her tongue rolling out of her mouth and ears flipped backwards. "Someone had fun tonight." He smiled as he as placed a treat into a curled palm, a rough tongue picking it up.

"We had great fun, didn't we Whiskey," the elderly lady from next door said. He smiled up into the lined face, watched as silver hair escaped its wrap. After a few minutes of watching her sad eyes follow the scaring and new pink skin he turned away, hiding his face from view.

"How much do I owe you?"

"Owe? Silly man, I offered to walk Whiskey for free, you don't owe me anything. Anyway Jasper enjoyed the company." His eyes catch the sight of the old terrier sniffing around the front door. "Right then, we'll be off."

"Same time again tomorrow?" he asked, unwilling to look up as she turned towards the still open door. There was a large pause as before she quietly answered.

"If you carry on hiding away, they'll have won. I doubt your sister bought Whiskey just for you to hide away."

He buried his face within smoke smelling fur. He'd have to give her a bath soon to remove the smell and dirt from the white coat. The skin rubbing against the coarse fur cuffed, still sensitive to sudden changes. "I'll go out soon, once the skin's healed a bit more."

He paid no more attention to his elderly neighbour as she closed the door, her muttered words still echoing around his head.

"The doctors said they'll never disappear."

Turning the chair he headed once more towards the computer. Like the faithful dog she was Whiskey followed with a wag of the tail. Over the speakers he could hear the others speaking in Skype, their different accents mixing. He debated if there was any point trolling through the small trade chat box to see what was happening.

He quickly decided against it as he rolled into place, locking the chair and watching as Whiskey curled in her bed. The microphone was quickly turned back on, his on-screen avatar standing up to run towards one of many merchant characters selling armour. Hitting the cap meant it was time for an upgrade he decided.

The image on the screen briefly frozen, jumping from pixel to pixel as more and more people joined the server. As he waited for the small box to open displaying the newest armour he picked up a small half empty tube of cream. Squeezing a small line out onto an exposed leg he gently rubbed the cold cream over skin. He made sure not to look at the white disappearing over the mixture of hairless new skin, red and white blisters and bruises raging from a deep purple to a sickly green, almost yellow. The heat under his hand was unnerving.

"We should meet up again." Gyps' was using that tone of voice again. The one that told everyone she was thinking something over heavily, the halting speech that expected to be interrupted and put down any second.

"Gyps that's a brilliant idea; it's been years since we all had a guild get together and take an epic awesome guild photo." Michie was too excited in his opinion. Over the speakers he heard her pour another glass, most likely something alcoholic after a long day at work.

"Since you and TP finished med school and went on that volunteer program thingy over to Africa. Man that must have been two or three years ago."

"Four Emspe." His reply was more subdued compared to the others. His eyes focusing on the backs of his scared hands instead of the small box trying to get him to spend tokens.

"Four years? You serious man?"

He made a vague agreeing noise, watching as Whiskey trotted over to place her head in his lap. His sticky fingers ran over her thicken coat, another reason he should give her a nice long bath.

"I forget how long it's been since I've talked to TP; we used to talk for hours on end in private chat while he was meant to be doing uni stuff. Kind of hard to believe we've been playing this game for over five years now."

"And still one of the oldest, strongest Guilds, right Michie?"

"You know it Emspe."

The conversion drifted around him, his mind trying to forget the memories. The feeling of skin peeling away, the flames licking at his body, the screaming, the heat, the chaos. Bright lights. Pain. Indescribable. Too much. An overload. The smell of cooking pork. Inhuman sounds.

"Wonder why TP stopped playing." Michie was losing her concentration, quietly swearing as she battled against a dungeon boss.

"Michie said a bad word." He wondered if Emspe would ever stop teasing the older player, his mind concentrating on the here and now. Whiskey's dirty fur, a full blander, the stall smoke, the sounds of happy gamers, Whiskey's watery eyes staring up from his lap. Alive. Safe.

"Maybe he's playing at real life?"

This voice was a new one, someone he didn't know, who didn't understand the history of the guild, a newbie.

"Real life? How boring. Hey maybe he's busy earning lots and lots of money and has a hot chick to care for if you know what I mean?"

"Emspe you're disgusting. Don't wanna even think about it."

"Aw Michie don't be like that."

Everyone was laughing. They didn't know. How could they? He never told them. Not a thing about what happened. About how everything went wrong.

"Hey, why aren't you working and earning Doctor bucket loads of money? Thought TP said you did way better in your exams then him."

They didn't know about the injury, the pain, the surgery. He should tell them. They were his friends too. They deserved to know what happen to TP, to him.

"I watch TP step onto a mine."