“Put your hand through the panel in the wall and you’ll pull out the best prize ever, I promise.”
Looking down on the choking, coughing mess at his feet, the Batter silently wondered what exactly he did to merit such a stupid mistake. He shouldn’t have listened to whatever that sleazy frog-masked merchant told him. For once, he didn’t know what to say—he knew what to say all the time, in short, curt sentences—but now, the situation was far too ridiculous for him to actually manage to say something relevant.
He looked back at the blank panel on the wall he had stuck his hand into, and remembered how the surface of it rippled like water as his hand went straight through it and wound itself around a slim throat, squeezing (tightly) securely before pulling it back through the threshold.
“Excuse me; you just strangled me into my laptop. Mind giving me an explanation?”
And without much protest, the Batter’s attention was fully trained on the person he had just pulled out of the blank panel, who was now glaring at him, arms akimbo.
“Hello?” they said, “Batter, right? You just pulled me into the game.”
“… Game? What game?”
The person rolled their eyes, and shook their head. “I don’t think you even know who I am.” When the Batter shook his head, they sighed. “I’m your Player; y’know, the one who keeps telling you what to do?”
And suddenly, he realised, the strings all around his body didn’t pull up anymore; they were all pointed at the person, whose neck was now slowly blossoming with purple finger-like bruises on their neck. Beside him Alpha prodded his shoulder, and he nodded.
“I thank you for your tactics,” he simply said, and the Player sighed, shaking their head. “What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter? I’m trapped in a game,” the Player deadpanned, and the Batter fell silent; whether it was his own volition or the Player’s, he didn’t know. “Why’d you have to listen to what Zacharie said—oh, wait,” they sighed, “It was a cutscene.”
The Batter wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, but he approached them, and gestured at the panel on the wall. “If you’d like, I think I can take you back.”
“Take me back?” the Player laughed abruptly, “Are you kidding?” the Batter blinked at them, and they grinned, “I’m stuck in a game. Do you think I want to go back now?”
The Batter opened his mouth to reply, but it shut instead, as the Player laughed brightly. “Not a chance! Not until we finish this, I’m not getting out of here.”
The Batter nodded—and suddenly the cry of a spectre cut through the air. He lifted his head, alert, and suddenly he froze. His Player was in there with him—he needed to protect them!
But as much as he wanted to, he sprang into action, Alpha by his side, and together they fought the ghouls that had ambushed them. The Batter’s mind raced—what was he going to do without his Player? What the heck are they thinking, just launching him into battle like this?
When his bat drove into the last spectre, he immediately whirled around to see the Player laughing exuberantly, their hands once splayed out to the side now coming down to a rest beside them. Quickly, the Batter hurried to their side and grabbed their shoulders. “They didn’t get you, did they?” he almost growled out, but the Player laughed him off, prying his hands off their shoulders.
“Oh, my God, there was a menu flashing right before my eyes—all your moves, and that onion ring’s, they’re all there, HP count, CP count, status… this is so cool!” the laughed, and the Batter looked at them, at a loss on what to make of the situation.
“… I… don’t…”
“You don’t have to,” they grinned, “It’s the player’s job to be helpful, you know.”
He was still getting used to the now more abrupt movements he had to deal with, travelling with his Player through Zone 1. Now that they were participating directly in his purification, (not without some snide comments along the way that he couldn’t help but reiterate right back at them) he was now more doubly aware of his surroundings, keeping an eye out for Spectres that may ambush them, and duly notifying his Player so he could get them in a far place first before getting into a fight.
But, no matter hard he tries; some little mistakes still slip through.
“Spectre!” came the yell from his Player, and at once the Batter’s world screeched to a halt. Oh, God, he had actually let one of those impure things got so much as near his Player—
And the next thing he knew he was (towering) standing over them, crouching over in a ball, hands up defensively, but laughing weakly up at him. Blinking in wonder, the Batter stared at them, but then the Player’s eyes widened and the Batter felt himself wrenched to turn around and look behind him to see three more Spectres coming up to them. At once, he and Alpha got into action, making quick work of them.
“C’mere, guys,” the Player spoke up, and obedient as ever, the Batter came to their side, Alpha right at his shoulders. “We’ve got some Luck tickets here, right?” they asked, and the Batter nodded, pulling out two of them from his back pocket. “Ah, knew it.” they grinned, staring off into space for a moment. “Hm. Alpha needs one.” They said, tilting their head to the side, like they were reading something, and the Batter wanted to ask what, but decided not to—whatever his tactician decides to do will be good for the both of them, he supposed, as he got one of his Luck tickets and turned to address Alpha. He noticed the Player leaning up to look at what he was doing, their curious eyes trained on the Luck ticket.
“You must be wondering how to use this.” He said, and they jolted, before laughing weakly.
“Yup,” they replied, “It’s a ticket, how does it restore health?”
The Batter found himself grinning. “Watch this.”
He turned to Alpha, who was impatiently floating, as if it was waiting for him to administer the ticket already, and he did so, bringing the easy-tear edge of the ticket near the Alpha’s clear bruise on its pure white ring, before tearing it, green sparks flying from the paper and onto the white ring. The moment the sparks landed, the bruise faded and disappeared.
“Oh, that’s how you do it,” they breathed, clearly impressed, and the Batter’s grin widened. He turned around to address his Player, who cocked their head at him, as he held up the other Luck ticket. “What’s that all about? I didn’t get hurt.”
“Yes, but you have a bruise on your neck. Let’s get that sorted out.”
The Player grinned. “It’s just a bruise. In the shape of your fingers, but I’ll be fine. I’ll live; you’ll probably need that ticket more than I do.”
“No, I insist.” The Batter pressed, and he moved forward, the Player laughing.
“Don’t coddle me, I’ll be fine, big guy.”
“Just… just let me do this, okay?” the Batter sighed, exasperated, and the Player gave him a knowing smile.
“Is it because I’m the Player?” they asked, “You’re worried you’ll lose me?”
The Batter didn’t reply, and the Player chuckled, but bared their neck for the Batter to access. He brought the Luck ticket closer and tore it, the green sparks falling onto the Player’s skin—but the bruise did not disappear.
The Batter stood there, still staring at the bruise, as the Player touched the bruise still very much there on their neck. “… Didn’t work.” They breathed; “Well, it’s probably because I’m not even supposed to be here.”
“I don’t… understand.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” they smiled, “It’s just a bruise…” they fell silent when their eyes fell on the Batter’s bleeding left ring finger knuckle. “… Oh, God. I’m so sorry.”
The Batter raised an eyebrow, and looked down at his hand and at the bleeding knuckle.
“It must have split when I made you punch the spectre…” the Player sighed, taking hold of the Batter’s hand and inspecting it.
“You made me punch the spectre that attacked you?” the Batter asked, half amused, and the Player chuckled.
“Reflex reaction. Shut up.” they stuck their tongue out at the Batter before digging around in their pockets. “… Well, since we’re out of Luck tickets, you’re just going to have to do with this.” They took out a plain bandage and grinned sheepishly. “This is all I got. It’s not a Luck ticket, but it’ll have to do when we get Backarie to Zacharie.”
The Batter blinked a few times, processing what they just said, before a grin cracked his lips and he let out a dry laugh. “Did you just…?”
“Yeah, I just.” The Player laughed, and for a moment, that was all they did, until Alpha nudged at their shoulders, snapping them from their laughter. “Sorry, sorry,” the Player apologised, “We’ll get moving on now, Onion Ring A,” they grinned, gently applying the bandage to the Batter’s finger.
“Why do you call Alpha an onion ring?” the Batter asked, still grinning.
“Because they look like one!” the Player laughed, and Alpha shook in the air, annoyed. The Batter shook his head fondly, smiling, as his eyes trailed down at the bandage on his finger.
Five fights and a trip to Zacharie’s store later, the Batter, at full HP, was still wearing a plain plastic bandage on his left ring finger knuckle.
“If we’re going in there, we’re going to need neckties.” The Player offhandedly commented as they stood next to the Batter, staring at the barred entrance to the residential area of the Elsens. “How on Earth are we going to get one of those?”
“We could try the park.” The Batter suggested, looking behind them at the lone island at the middle of the sea behind them. “Maybe we can buy something for you and me?”
The Player pulled a face, but relented. “I don’t like the pedalos though.”
The Batter smirked. “That’s just because you’re out of shape, you fatty.”
“Rude.” The Player replied curtly, but they were grinning as they spoke. “Well, we’re going to have to get a pedalo. I remember a recovery point at the shopping mall…”
“If we’re going to meet up with Zacharie, I swear, I’m going to wring my credits out of him.” The Batter frowned, and the Player laughed brightly.
“Our credit, you sourpuss. Now get movin’. I want to get into this village already.”
“Excuse me, I thought you wanted out of here as soon as possible?” the Batter smirked at his Player as they continued to stare starry-eyed at the humongous roller coaster in front of them. “I think there’s a game place where we could get prizes back there.”
“But that’s a freaking roller coaster. We gotta ride it.”
“We don’t have to.”
“But we should,” the Player whined, “C’mon, just one round?”
Three rounds later, and the two staggered out of the roller coaster, the Player laughing brightly as they held into the Batter’s arm to hold them up as they struggled to stay upright.
“Oh, my God, that was hilariously fun,” they slurred, still dizzy, and the Batter chuckled at their antics. “And you look like such a dork in the photos, have you seen them?”
“Not now,” the Batter found himself chuckling, as behind them Omega and Alpha bounced in the air, agitated, ready to continue with their quest. The two laughed it off and agreed, finally heading to the Balloon Game Room to continue what they were doing.
“So, we’re going to have to put these ties on.” The Batter stated, holding out two neckties (one they pilfered from an unconscious Elsen who had conked himself out running into a wall in panic) between him and the Player.
“Yep.” They replied brightly, taking one from the tall man and slipping it on, tying it easily and straightening it out smoothly. They smiled down at their handiwork, and then noticed that the Batter hand been staring at them the entire time. Grinning, they chuckled darkly and plucked the other necktie out of the Batter’s hand. “Don’t tell me; you don’t know how to tie a necktie?”
The Batter said nothing, but lowered his head further to cover his already half-covered face. The Player laughed brightly, and waved the tie in his face. “Aha. So you don’t know!” They winked at him. “I could help you… for a hundred credits!”
“Zacharie’s rubbing off on you,” the Batter commented dryly, snatching his tie back from the Player and slinging it over his neck—but then he just fiddled with the ends, frowning, clearly unsure on what to do. The Player laughed, shaking their head fondly, before taking the ends, smacking the Batter’s hands away from them and willing them to stay by his side.
“Hold still; I’ll tie it up for you, hopeless guy.”
The Batter shook his head, chuckling, and the Player laughed back as they quickly tied the necktie comfortably around the Batter’s neck, smoothing it down his torso.
“There.” They smiled, “Now you look all smart and stuff.”
The Batter found himself smiling widely; even as he fought away spectres (in the background his Player barking orders at him) with the silly-looking tie around his neck.
It was a shame he had to give it back to the Elsens. He was starting to enjoy it on.
“Don’t run so fast!” the Player gasped loudly as they half-tripped over their own feet, panting as they struggled to run after the Batter, who ran much faster than they did. Behind them, Enoch’s loud, booming footsteps echoed through the hallway behind them, the man yelling after them as they ran away from him as fast as they could.
“Come on! You’re smaller than him; we can outrun him!”
Behind them, the three Add-Ons were floating after them, flashing brightly in an attempt to temporary stun Enoch as best as they could as the Batter struggled to get his Player running along with him.
“Damn it, Batter!” the Player yelled, “I’m… I’m out… of shape!”
“So is that lardass, but do you see him complaining?!”
“Don’t compare me to him!” The Player yelled, just as Enoch boomed, “I’m not a lardass!”
“Come on, you can’t just spend all your time just stagnant in front of your computer,” the Batter reasoned, and the Player laughed darkly.
“Oh, try me,” they growled, and the Batter groaned, shaking his head—
And suddenly their hands let go of each other as the Player tripped over the gap in the floor the Batter easily leapt over, sending them crashing to the ground. “Batter!” they gasped, and immediately he responded, driven both by his Player’s command and by the wild instinct to protect his Player. He turned on his heel and made a move forward—
Only to have Enoch’s hand wrap around his entire body, easily lifting it off the ground, and squeezing him so tightly all the wind rushed out of his body. His hat fell off his head and his hand loosened around his baseball bat, the metal bat falling to the ground with a loud clatter.
“Now I’ve got you!” Enoch crowed, and the Batter struggled in the large man’s grip, but he couldn’t move a muscle. He could see out of the corner of his eye the two Add-Ons flying around, trying to get Enoch to let him go—wait, where’d the other Add-On go?
Beneath him, Epsilon helped the Player to their feet, shaking in the air nervously, before attempting to fly away to help its other Add-Ons, when the Player held it back.
“Wait a sec, Onion Ring E, I’ve got an idea.” They grinned, their eyes staring into space as their mind quickly raked through menus imprinted in their brain, before they grinned. “Listen to me very, very carefully…”
The Batter wasn’t having an easy time; Enoch was squeezing the life out of him, and he had no idea what was going on beneath him; was his Player alright? What was going on? He can’t do anything like this—
Suddenly Enoch let out a yell of pain, and immediately let him go. He fell to the ground rapidly—only to be caught by Alpha and Omega. He nodded at them as they let him to the ground, and smiled slowly to see that Epsilon had attacked all of Enoch’s limbs to get him to let go. A tap on his shoulder made his smile widen when he turned to see his Player, unharmed (save for a little sore knee) and wearing his cap, his bat slung over their shoulder as they grinned crookedly at him.
“Well, go on.” They prompted, handing him his bat. “Attack, so we have time to skedaddle.”
The Batter nodded, and leapt up high—before hitting Enoch with all his might between his eyes. The large man yelled and fell back, stunned, and quickly, the party left the hallway.
As they exited, the Player slapped the Batter’s hat back on him, grinning lopsidedly. “You owe me,” they snickered, as they slowed down as they neared the monorail station exit. “I made Epsilon attack his limbs.”
“I owe you many things.” The Batter simply replied, fixing his hat.
“Yeah, well… four eyes, huh?”
The Batter looked down at the Player, and fought to keep his second pair closed. “Yes. Does it… bother you?”
“No.” the Player shrugged. “It’s pretty cool, actually.” They grinned, and patted his back. The Batter winced, and they jolted. “Oh, man, he did a number on you, huh? Wait a sec, we’ve got plenty of Fortune tickets here, wait…”
The Player rummaged through their pockets (for that was where they had agreed to put bought goods, save, of course, for the silver and gold meats—those went in a bag the Player rented from Zacharie) as the Batter shook his head fondly at them, smiling. They let out a triumphant yell as they pulled a ticket out with a flourish. “Right, stay still, I’ll do this…”
They brought the ticket close to the Batter’s chest, and tore it, yellow sparks seeping into the Batter’s body, healing the bruises he got from Enoch’s iron grip.
“Thank you.” The Batter nodded at them, and they grinned. “Nurse,” he added, smirking, and the Player rolled their eyes.
“Whatever, lardass. The Onion Rings said you were heavy.”
The Batter let out a chuckle, shaking his head and ruffling the Player’s head, before gesturing for the Add-Ons to follow him into the monorail station, the Player in tow, who, smiling, tucked the torn Fortune ticket back into their pocket—for good luck, they thought, as they pressed forward to finally purify the Zone.
“This’ll be the last time you’ll be able to speak to me, dear Player. I suggest you reap the spoils of your efforts with the Batter well.”
The Player stared down at the ever-smiling frog mask Zacharie wore and frowned. “Hey, I have a question.” They murmured so as the Batter could not hear them (currently he was talking to the Add-Ons on plan strategies for plan Auto) talking. “… How am I going to get home?”
Zacharie seemed to smile behind his mask, and he crossed his arms.
The Player’s world froze.
“That’ll be 6345 credits,” Zacharie spoke up cheerfully, and the Player stared at him, their eyes wide and their hands shaking, just as a hand came to heavily rest on the Player’s shoulder.
“Hey, pay up the man, we have to go.” The Batter spoke to the Player, who snapped out of their trance and stared at Zacharie, mouth agape. “… Hey?”
“… Oh, right.” The Player nodded, hastily pulling the credits out of their pockets, as the Batter glared suspiciously at the merchant.
“What did you tell them?” he mouthed at Zacharie, who only cocked his head, shrugging innocently.
“Here,” the Player hastily said, shoving the credits into Zacharie’s hands before pulling the Batter to the side.
“What’s the matter? Did Zacharie say something to spook you out?”
“I… I got you a new bat,” the Player replied instead, and the Batter creased his brow, shaking his head, unbelieving. “… It’s just that… it’s nearing the end, we’re about to finish this… and…”
The Batter nodded.
“I…” the Player bit their lip. “I just wanted to tell you…”
I can’t go home anymore.
“I… I think that you’re the best friend I’ve ever had in a long while, and it’s been fun while I was with you.”
The Batter looked down at the Player, before eventually smiling, patting their head.
“And I, with you. You’ve been the best, most helpful friend I’ve had.”
With that, he gave the Player a kind smile, his four eyes all open, as he gently grasped their wrist, and together they walked into the next hallway.
The Player closed their eyes. Yes, I’ve been the best help, haven’t I?
But now, who’s going to help me?
It amazed the Batter to no end to see that the Player did not so much as scream in horror as his “true” self came out, a twisted monster with four eyes and a long snout and sharp, sharp teeth. They had merely sighed, shook their head in fondness as they came up to him, smiling sadly, walking past the dead body of the Judge, to take hold of his now-huge hands in theirs.
“So, this is who you truly are.” They murmured, running their fingers over his, and smiling softly at the sight of the tattered bandage on the left ring finger knuckle. “It’s… not you, but I know it’s really you.”
He mumbled back an apology, a sorry message of sorts for keeping this from his Player, but the Player shook their head, sighing.
“Well, if that’s the case, I’ve got to come clean to you. Batter, I… I can’t go home anymore. I’m trapped in here, permanently.”
His four eyes widened and his monstrous hands came up to hold his loyal Player’s sides (so, so loyal; so caring, just as loyal and caring as he was to them) and squeezed softly to comfort them, as slowly, he saw their calm composure crumble, large droplets of tears running down their warm, human cheeks as their shoulders shook, the gravity of their entire situation sinking in like impurity staining white heavily.
“And I… I don’t know what to do anymore, and, and…” they leant forward, pulling the creature that was the Batter and burying their face into the tattered uniform. “I’m scared.”
His Player needed his help. After all the times they had helped him, it now only suited that he helped them back.
Sighing (only it came out as a growl), the Batter pulled away to look at his Player.
There’s still hope for you, you pure one, he wanted to tell them, but he had his voice no longer. His Player laughed sadly, self-depreciatingly, and pressed their forehead against his snout.
“What hope is it, then?” they asked, and the Batter was silently glad for the Player’s Omnipresence ability, allowing them to see everything as the grand puppeteer previously behind a screen.
Start over again, when this game ends. And find the exit—the way you came here.
“How sure are you that this will work?”
I am not sure. But I will move mountains if I have to.
The Player laughed, sadly, and they choked a bit on their tears. “Overdramatic lardass-crocodile thingy.”
Call me as you wish.
The Player hugged the monster—their friend—close to their body, and buried their face in his shoulder.
“Then don’t make it hurt.” They whispered, and the Batter stood up, carrying his Player with him with ease in his monstrous arms, and approached the switch. “Do it.”
As you wish.
The switch is now on OFF.