At times it was difficult for Eli to be sure that he wasn’t just a flicker of thought in the Batter’s head.
He saw the world through the Batter’s eyes; heard it through the Batter’s ears. Outside of combat, he could exert near total control of the Batter’s limbs. The only noticeable exception to this control was the Batter’s voice; from the very beginning it had remained wholly unaffected by his Puppeteer abilities.
It was all right; Eli was content communicating his wishes by pushing them vaguely in Batter’s direction. Even so, this disparity should have been proof of Their separation, if only They hadn’t been the most taciturn pair in all the Zones. Whatever the Batter’s thoughts were, He chose not to verbalise them, and Eli was inclined to follow His example.
During those contemplative hours of exploration through the technicolour zones, with his consciousness contentedly tethered alongside, there was naught but the whispering of the Add-Ons to break the silence. In such moments, it seemed ever more plausible that “Eli” had never been separate at all; that he was a mere extension of the Batter’s will, a disassociation of intention from action that served some obscure purpose on His quest.
Now and again, rarely enough to forget the pattern and make each instance a surprise anew, the Batter would choose a course of action that jarred. Something completely unanticipated, that Eli would have never taken or even contemplated. Of this he was sure.
"It was asking for help, why didn’t we help?"
He was, of course, fully supportive of Batter’s methods towards the completion of His goal. On such a sacred mission as His, trust between partners was crucial. Eli believed wholeheartedly in the Batter, and he was certain that his loyalty was reciprocated. He had no one else, after all. Any fleeting sensation of dissonance was due to how little he knew of the world and would pass as he learned and grew. It was just a weird feeling; nothing more than an unpleasantly odd hallucination, where the unyielding strings tying Puppet to Puppeteer abruptly vanished.
In those impossible moments when They split apart and he was suddenly alone, Eli experienced darkness. It wasn’t a dark colour like the calm, deep purples of the smoke mines or the smothering blues of the library. The closest comparison he had, of all places, was the brief nothingness They traversed between Zones. Except even in that place the Batter had been there with him and knew the way.
In this new darkness, there was no such stern pillar to lean on like a scared child. Instead, a rumbling sigh would echo out and around him, expressing words distorted and stretched out to incomprehensibility.
s̖̞̩͚͎̪̆̈͑̉ͥ̈̌̇̃͊̆̈̔̎̂t̟̬̦̤̞͉̬̘ͯͪͮͮͯͅẹ̭͕̪̘̻̯̄ͭ̃ͪ̈́̔͗͌͌͗͛ͫ̄̏̇ͨ̔̊ɪ͖͈̤̫̪̾ͪ̓̓̀̊̉ͥͦͤ̂ ͎̦͙̉ͧ͐ͥ̆̽̇̔͌̇ͨ̓ͭɪ̣̙͓͍͉̳̪̘̦͖͖̟̫̙̽͌̍̽͐ͩ̂́̆ͅͅn̻̬̫̬͇̬̦̱͉̱̩̻̼̺̙̺͑͂̾̀ͨ̇ͅ ̟̗̝̮̞̭ͯͯͤ̓͆̒͛ͦͧ͋ͫ̚j̣̻͈̪̼̇̽̑͐ͭ͊̽̏͊ͅɔ͓̖̮͇̰̹̗͓͔̻̹͖̟̞̗̘̠̂̏̊ͬː̖̺͉͖̝̼̻̦͇̜͉͉̰̫̱̪̳̣̹̓̎̄̂̿ͪ̔̄̋̉͐ ̱͓̰̪͔̗̑̎̐ͣͫͭͯ̾̾͌ˈ̤̰̞̙̱̗̫͔̱̱̭̯͓̥͖̪̯̬̑̂̂ͧ̈́̏ͦ̍k͖̹̤̘̝̟̪̖͍̹̞̬̰̺̙̟̥̉́ͭ̒́̈́̎ͤ̚ə͎͍̘̮͓͈͓̙̼̝̞ͩ̾̈́ͣ̔ͣͮͤ̅ͭ̿͒̿̋ͅʊ̼͇̗̼̟̫̣̝̪̞̖͇͍͚͙̆ͨ͊̇͛ͦ͛̒̊ͦ̊̾̈͊ͣ̀̀̆̿m͚̠̙͎̥͎̩̱̩̼͉̯̜̭̭̰̼͕͇̉̿̏̎ͮ͑̽̐ͦ̀̓̑̓ə͉̟̞̮̗̪̖̣̦͈̞̺͍͔͛̄ͣͩͬͮ͆
Deep inside, Eli knew that he’d heard them somewhere before. Had he? His mind was blank as the void around him.
Nothing there could exist except the pervasive and off-putting wail. Only Eli himself, if he truly existed at all. This place felt, in some way, like the moments of awareness before he’d been assigned to the Batter. Eli couldn’t remember: who had been giving those instructions? Why him? Had he existed somewhere else before the dark?
Without prompting, Eli would grasp at a sudden awareness of his true self, held immobile in the void. He had no head, or he had no body; it was impossible to tell which. Had he no eyes in this form? That would explain the darkness at the very least, though it almost seemed too simplistic an answer. He might even have been a stray wisp of consciousness; floating in the void much as he floated behind the Batter.
Did he have limbs? The slightest of twitches activated nerves and brought into focus one, two, three, four, five thin extensions of himself hanging loosely from his central mass. Something cold – metal? chains? technology? restricted any further movement or discovery. A straining sensation could be felt from yet more odd appendages, curled and bound in a tight pattern around and against something solid and burning and decidedly not him.
It was with that final, awful, observation that the moment would end. He would return to the Batter, the Puppet giving no indication of having noticed His Puppeteer’s temporary absence. That was reasonable; the Batter was skilled enough that He always seemed to cope fine without Eli, anyway. And the sensation of a body bound in the dark would be quietly forgotten.
Once, mere moments after an episode within Zacharie’s store, the masked merchant had paused in his chatter and stared, unmoving. Eli had paused too, and the Batter had tensed at the unexpected change in behaviour. Eli could feel Their fingers twitching for the bat hanging from His belt. Was this the first sign of the merchant’s treachery?
Was that his thought or His? Did it matter?
At last, the merchant had blinked, breathed, and continued his sales pitch for whatever item They’d been eyeing off before the interruption. The Batter had relaxed in turn, and, in his relief, Eli had purchased three jokers and a luck ticket without pausing for thought. He could feel Zacharie’s eyes follow Them out the door.
Eli had never gained anything from the visions. In fact, though they faded into fog mere minutes after waking, he’d grown to resent their sudden intrusion into the structure of his life. He relied on the Batter in more ways than he could describe, and to be thrust into bodily solitude was horrifying. He knew he would never do so by choice. The Batter had experience, had a weapon and the skill to use it. Eli, at the heart of it, had only ever been a thought, capable of directing His movements but just as happy to observe His curious world. If Their thoughts overlapped at times, if Eli was pulled steadily further from having to experience that strange non-place of doubt and unease, then it was all for the better. The Batter knew Their mission better than anyone. It had never been an option for Eli to doubt Him; only to be sure that it was accomplished.