“Do you, uh… do you know who I am?”
Your newest host is surprisingly somber, expression passive as he considers your question.
“You are my Puppeteer. My Player.”
You smile. “Yeah, I am. It’s nice to meet you, Batter.”
This world is a bit more violent than you expected, given the visual simplicity. You flinch a little when the Batter ‘purifies’ the final spectre. That’s giving you some aggravation, actually - he just won’t tell you what your mission even is. This might be the vaguest ‘game’ you’ve Played in a while.
You do the only thing you know how to - you Progress.
You sigh and finally relax your aching arms, allowing your controls to temporarily fall. You’re completely exhausted, and you weren’t even the one fighting!
The Batter puts an arm around you, a surprising gesture from your stoic Host. Then you jolt back into the Nothingness, and understand - he was just trying to stabilize you.
He nods to the newest Card in your inventory. “On to Zone 2.”
“Right.” God, you’re tired. You hope the next Zone has simpler puzzles. Or at least an inn or something.
The Nothingness dissolves into light around you, and you realize he hasn’t let go.
The exhilaration from defeating Dedan only lasts a few screens; when the adrenaline fades, so do you. The Batter seems concerned (for him), but says nothing as you approach the mall.
The empty room, featuring nothing more interesting than Zacharie, is a relief. Zacharie has yet to appear in an area with random encounters. You mention as much to your companion, who frowns for some reason.
Zacharie gives you a strange look when the Batter isn’t watching.
The mall is huge and you hate it.
You finally loop back to the entrance, triggering a pedalo as you do. Zacharie huffs his usual laugh when you limp back into the lobby.
“Have fun, did you?”
You groan and flop onto the counter - which is both shorter and narrower than you thought, meaning you almost shove your face straight into Zacharie’s chest. He seems surprised for a moment before laughing again. “My, my, it seems as if you’re falling for me.”
You groan louder, then yelp slightly as the Batter snags the back of your shirt and hauls you upright. “Okay, okay. I’m going.”
Zacharie gives you another weird look as you leave. He almost seems concerned.
There’s no way you’re going to the Park right now - you’re way too tired. The Library isn’t much better, though - way too tall and full of spectres. AND you had to backtrack back down to the lobby and then again back up to the top. By the time you ‘beat’ Japhet, you’re completely wiped. You’re actually kind of grateful that the rest of the library is still closed off - you can barely move a muscle. You say as much to the Batter.
“Then sit down.” You look at him. “You’ll be safe. I won’t let anything hurt you.” Aw, sweet.
Well… there’s no spectres here. You might as well-
You almost fall on your ass, your jelly legs finally giving up. The Batter scrambles to catch you, arms wrapping around you as his knees hit the floor. His left arm clutches you even closer to his body as his right hits the floor for balance. His face is inches away from yours.
“Ah… thanks, Batter.” Silence. ”...Batter?”
He gently lays you on the floor. arms slowly pulling away from you. You think about commenting on the near-intimacy of the situation when he presses his lips to yours.
You inhale sharply, and he deepens the kiss and deepens the kiss until it’s like you’re breathing him more than air (smoke? whatever ). Your fingers clutch at the floor for purchase, but find nothing. The Batter straddles you, arms framing your head as he kisses you and kisses you. You can barely breathe.
He finally pulls away. You manage to choke out half a syllable of his name before his mouth is on your throat, trailing down. His hands have slithered under your clothes and you shudder and moan at his touch.
He keeps coming back for kiss after kiss, barely pulling away to free you from your clothes. Only when you’re nude and breathless does he pull back, and for the first time, he opens his eyes to look at you. Your words die in your throat as you lock gazes with him.
Then he’s on you again, biting lightly at your collarbone, mouth trailing down your stomach as his hands get acquainted with your thighs, and then-!
His fingers and then tongue are far too clever inside you, leaving you gasping and reeling. You’re on the verge of coming when he pulls away sharply. Your moan of disappointment (?) turns into a garbled yowl as he’s suddenly inside you, deeper and thicker than you thought possible.
You finally manage words, for what feels like the first time in a decade. “B-Batter- Batter, too, too rough-!” You bite back a whimper when he moves, tears of pain pricking your eyes-
And then the pain is gone, completely. “...What?”
“Healing,” he grunts, and oh yeah. Right.
Any further discourse is lost in the heat of his mouth on yours, of him thrusting almost too powerfully into you as his strong arms grip and clasp you to him. You’ve never been touched like this; you start to understand what the stories mean about needing to come up for air, for being drunk on a kiss - your mind is barely working, full of the haze of heat and fireworks, and you cling to the Batter because you can’t get a grip on anything else. You could die like this. You might die like this.
He suddenly comes inside of you, stinging your slightly-sore insides as he floods you with heat. You gasp at the sensation, wanting to say something, but your consciousness finally fades.
The last thing you remember is his breath on your ear as he whispers the words, “ My Player ,” like sweet nothings.
Then you wake up.
The Batter is sitting beside you, completely motionless. He glances at you when you call his name, then stands up. “Rested?”
Was it… there’s no way that was a dream, right? You wouldn’t be surprised at dreaming about your rather handsome companion, but even your imagination isn’t that active, right?
But you’re fully clothed and not at all sore, and the Batter’s expression is the same as always when he pulls you to your feet. You’re not sure you want to ask about it. You’re not sure what you could ask about, what bits and pieces you can clearly remember.
You follow him down the stairs in silence.
You really wish you could avoid some of these fights, but you don’t - you’ve never had a choice. The Batter won’t run.
You try to say something about it, but give up when he just stares at you blankly.
You think of trying again when the poor Critic-Burnt finally dies, but when you see his face the words die in your throat. You trudge back to the monorail.
The journey finally ends, the doors slide open, the Batter steps out - and Zacharie grabs your hand. You nearly shriek - the atmosphere in this place is getting to you. Instead you whip around, intending to glare at him, but are stopped by the concerned expression visible under his mask.
“Be careful around your cute amigo, friend,” he says, voice as jovial as ever, “he’s as sweet as sugar, don’t you think?”
Sweet as sugar... You shudder. You really hate this Zone.
A slight crunching sound makes you jump back, freed from the merchant’s light touch. The Batter stands there, one hand crushing Zacharie’s wrist, his expression far fiercer than you’ve seen before. “Don’t touch. My Player.”
Zacharie, sweating and cringing, still laughs as lightheartedly as ever. “Wouldn’t think of it, my friend.” He wriggles out of the Batter’s grip, posture nonchalant despite the bruises already forming on his arm. “You won’t lose your precious Puppeteer to me.”
The Batter’s expression tightens, but the merchant has already wisely retreated. Your companion stands in silence a moment, slowly clenching and loosing his fists.
He glances at you, smooth and casual as if nothing had happened. To him, perhaps, that was true. “We should move on.”
Vader Eloha falls. The Batter makes to move forward, but can’t, arrested by your reluctance. It wasn’t the Queen’s death that got to you (which is kind of messed up, when you think about it) - it was her last words.
“Batter… what…. what was she...”
His eyes slit open to meet yours. You can’t bear to finish the sentence.
As you slowly head for the next room, his hand brushes across your shoulders in a reassuring gesture. “I won’t let anyone else hurt you.”
You stare at the newest target of purification. Then you look at the Batter.
In truth, you sort of expected something like this. You weren’t blind to all the foreshadowing and buildup to this point.
But you… you can’t do this.
You say as much. The Batter turns his head to look at you, though his eyes remain closed.
“Of course you can.” When you don’t respond, he continues. “You are my Player, and I the protagonist. If you do not act, you will not progress.”
God. How did he know how to get to you like that?
A Player has to Progress. It’s your reason to exist, isn’t it? Staying in this stalemate won’t get you anywhere - literally.
...there was no obvious branching point. There were no real choices. If you Reset, you’d just end up back here, wouldn’t you?
You can’t defy your fate, but that doesn’t stop you from choosing Auto.
The Judge is calling you out, and honestly, you deserve it. You should have tried to Reset anyways. You should have Quit, a long time ago.
The Batter is staring desperately at you, but he can’t change your mind. You walk to the Judge.
You meet the Batter’s eyes. “I’m not sorry,” you say, and you wish it were true.
The Judge falls.
You feel sick and shocked. You shouldn’t have gone back to the Purified Zones. You shouldn’t have equipped him so well.
You shouldn’t have killed Sugar.
What the Batter’s become lumbers towards you, eyes blazing. You stare up at it, feeling unreal. “H-Hey, hey, Batter-” He steps more decisively, and damn he’s quick! “Batter-!”
He swings one massive arm at you and you flinch back, unable to dodge. He doesn’t hit you, though - just nicks you enough to knock you down, knock the wind out of you.
Then he’s on you.
You choke on a scream when one hand slams your arms above your head. You think you hear something crack. He puts his weight on it, careless or intentionally, and leans down and down to you.
“My Player,” he rasps, and the sound is horrible. You shudder.
His free claws hook into your clothes and tear them free, heedless of the scratches he deals to you in the same motion. You stare wordlessly at him before the panic sets in.
“Oh, God, no- Batter, please, please don’t do this! Please! ” You shriek when he grabs you- and then he slams inside of you, and you can’t even think for a second. The pain is unbearable! “Batter!” You’re crying, eyes shut tight so you can’t see what’s happening to you. “Batter, please- you’ll kill me, stop, please! Please, I’m sorry-”
“You’re not,” he growls, halting the horrible motion to the point that you pry your eyes open. He meets your gaze for a moment - and then his head moves closer, mouth open around you, and you realize he could bite your head straight off with no effort at all. His breath encompasses you (he smells like burning buildings). “Mine,” he hisses, voice a muted howl, mouth just barely open enough to let you live, “Mine, mine, mine, you’re my Player! You’re mine! ”
His tongue slithers around your body before reaching your head and pushing to your mouth, and you realize he’s trying to kiss you. You try to turn away, but to no avail - the slimy organ forces itself inside your mouth and down your throat. You can’t even cry for mercy any more.
Not that you’d get any - The Batter never stops fighting until he’s won.
He starts moving again. You can see him moving in you - the flesh of your stomach warping around the intrusion until you force your eyes shut again.
It hurts less when you stop resisting.
Much like the last time he invaded your body, you feel light-headed and dazed. Again, the intensity overwhelms you, this time pain mixed into the pleasure he inflicts on you. You’re surprised he bothers.
He comes in you again, this time far more. You feel like you’re going to burst. The thought that you’d repressed the last time he’d done so finally makes its way to the surface: he’s marking his territory.
The thought somehow clears your head, and you Reload.
You see it through.
The Batter’s true form is no longer hidden from you, and you can barely keep from flinching away from him. The close, dark walls of the Room are oppressive, and you feel like you’re drowning.
You’re so glad you were at the end when you found Sugar. It means you don’t have to spend any more time with the Batter than necessary to spare her.
Before you step through the door, you glance at Zacharie. His eyes are too knowing, and despite yourself, you ask: “What did that mean?”
His expressions are obscure through the mask, but he seems to be smiling gently. “To prevail over oneself is to be the victorious twice over.”*
Vader Eloha falls.
You unequip everything off the Batter, and, as an afterthought, off the Add-Ons. The Eye saw them, even if you didn’t - better safe than sorry.
(You are neither.)
The Batter gives you a look. You ignore him.
You hit Auto. Hugo falls.
You choose the Judge, again. He repeats his lines, word for word. The Batter looks at you, despairing. You are silent.
“Player.” You try not to flinch. You wished hatred was all you had for him. “ Player. ” You meet his eyes despite yourself. He’s pleading with you. “Don’t do this. I need you.”
You can’t say anything. He persists. “I love you. Please.”
“...you loved her too, didn’t you?” Now he’s the silent one. “But you killed her. And you made me… I helped you kill her.” Tears blur your vision, but you don’t turn away. Zacharie’s words ring in your mind, and you take a deep breath and continue. “You’ll kill me, too.” You turn back to the Judge, who watches you thoughtfully.
The Batter tries, one last time, desperation tearing at his voice, “You can’t- you’re my Player! Mine!”
You whip around, words catching in your throat before you force them out. “I belong to me.”
The battle begins.
The Batter falls.
Hence nothing remains, save for our regrets.