Welcome to Gameworld, Chapter Two

(If you didn't read last week's installment you'll want to start here.)

“And I still say that expecting us to fight without armor is a sack of rotten donkey balls!” Danny hissed at Bobby and Pete. He hitched his thumb under one of his grenade bandoliers and shifted his weight. “These grenades chafe without some serious armor. We’re the Grim Reaperzzzz - we’ve earned the Wakasashi XII stealth impact armor and you know it!”

The three boys crouched beside a closed and imposing door. The door was a round hatchway capable of holding against twenty atmospheres of pressure. Worse, it appeared to have been cast in a single piece from solid iridium. Pete had accidentally shot his light across the door and vibrant purple spots still danced in the edges of all three boys’ vision. No fewer than five chains locked the door closed, the links as big around as Bobby’s wrist.

“Shut it Danny. You heard Puck - this is a new leaderboard. The Reaperzzzz don’t have any credit here.”

“I don’t care. We should at least get the Noobie XLS protectors then. Charging into battle with our PJ’s? That’s crap.” Danny muttered sullenly before falling silent and cradling his rifle close to his chest.

 Puck had left them here, saying that “the others” would handle base defense. What they needed was for the Reaperzzzz to perform their signature move - the Grim Violent Rush. The three boys specialized in breaking into the opposing base and capturing the enemy flag insanely quickly. The secret of accomplishing it was the boys’ most prized possession and they had never shared the trick with anyone. In the few moments of briefing Puck had said that “the Forces of Light” were far behind in points and were counting on the Reaperzzzz to get them enough score to avoid elimination.

CLUNK! the chains withdrew from the massive portal as the locks evaporated into whiffs of sparkly smoke. A trumpet sounded somewhere above, indicating the round had begun. Finally the round blast door rolled left into the wall, revealing a dark corridor with a thin trickle of greenish sludge in the middle.

Despite his carping, Danny was a Grim Reaperzzzz and he knew his role well. He rolled through the doorway as soon as it cracked enough to admit his form, flicking on his light as he moved into the dank sewer corridor.

“MARK!” said Bobby, clicking a button on his watch and then smoothly slipping forward. He withdrew a wicked-looking syringe from his doctor’s bag. The syringe body pulsed with an unusual ruby glow. As the door thudded into the full open position Pete waddled forward, weighed down to almost immobile by all the explosives he carried.

“One minute until tide reversal. We have to reach Access Alpha in sixty seconds” Bobby recited. The trio headed off down the pipe.

It took Danny and Bobby only thirty seconds to reach the ladder up to the small room the Reaperzzzz called Access Alpha. A lone Fallen wretch stood below the ladder, but Bobby smoothly returned the syringe to his bag and drew his comically long sniper rifle. He accidentally scraped the barrel along the roof of the the pipe, wincing as the sound echoed and the wretch turned, sniffing at the humid sewer air.

Bobby! Don’t be a noob!” Danny muttered urgently.

Bobby shrugged as he put his eye to the oversize scope. He exhaled carefully and lined his sights on the top of the wretch’s skull. A careful squeeze and his target exploded in a gory mass of gibs. The now-headless body hit the pipe floor with a sodden thump.

“Noob that, Danny. One shot one kill, y’know. Sniper medics for the win. Always.” Bobby held out a fist with an air of nonchalance. The effect was ruined when his hand shook slightly but Danny tapped knuckles with a fist of his own and overlooked the shaking.

Pete lumbered up, sweating fiercely under all his gear. He peeked around the bend and then grinned. He reached over his shoulder and pounded his fist against Bobby’s without looking back. “Prime work Bobby. My turn!” He scuttled forward, tugging a gray rectangle from his bandolier. He reached up on tiptoes and carefully adhered it to the trapdoor blocking the ladder. He hurried back around the bend as Bobby checked his watch worriedly.

“Ten seconds guys.” Bobby nodded tensely at Peter and reached up to plug his ears with both hands. Pete flipped a pair of ear protectors down from his hat and looked over at Danny. Danny nodded and jammed his finger in his own ears, hunching down to get away from the bend. Pete grinned and made a thumbs-up gesture as he pushed the red button on a remote he carried in his other hand.

BOOM! The sound reverberated in the narrow pipe. Just as it started to fade an echo rolled back from the far end. Pete dashed for the ladder, leaving his ear protectors down in his haste. Bobby and Danny hastened down the tube after him, and all three swarmed up the ladder as fast as Pete’s gear let him travel.

Pete was only halfway up the ladder when a rumbling began to grow in the air. Bobby glanced at his watch and shoved at Danny above him. “That’s time! The tide will be here almost any second. Go!”

Pete made it up the ladder and sprawled on the floor above panting as a rushing wall of water rounded the bend. Danny swung over the lip onto the floor as the water nibbled at Bobby’s heels. By the time Bobby made in through the blown-open hatch the water had filled the pipe over two-thirds full. Bobby looked down at the wet knee-high stain on his pants and shook his head. “That was slow Pete. Time is marked at now! Mark!” Bobby punched a button on his watch just as water filled to the top of the sewer and lapped at the edges of the trapdoor.

Bobby glanced at his two friends. “OK then, We’ve got a minute and a half before the sewer drains enough to move. Time to catch our breath. Any idea what’s going on? Is any of this real?”

“I can’t see how it could be. I mean, it’s a game right? We’ve played hours of it before.” Danny said.

“Besides,” huffed Pete. “I can run faster that this in real life. I’m not really carrying that much more than you, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it at the ladder. That’s the game talking, not me.”

Bobby stared off into the distance before he responded. When he did speak his words came slowly as he continued to think. “On the other hand, does it really matter. I mean . . . I shot that wretch. And it wasn’t like the game, it seemed much more real. Maybe it’s a game, maybe it’s a dream, but I think I’m going to act as if the bullets are all too real.”

Danny drew a deep breath but before he could speak Bobby’s watch beeped. Bobby shook his head as his eyes returned to focus on the hatchway. “That’s our mark. Time to head out. We should be able to reach the base before the next tide cycle.” The water visible in the hatch began to churn and seethe as the level dropped. Danny extended a hand and pulled Pete to his feet as Bobby descended the ladder.

It was an uneventful slog for the boys to reach their destination, although Danny did slip and fall, coating his pajamas in a pungent glowing green goop from head to foot. Their final goal was a forbidding heavy oaken door. This door dropped from the ceiling like a portcullis and was banded with chunky black iron straps. This was their secret - the location for the Grim Violent Rush. This door was considered impregnable by most Stigmata players. In the last three minutes of the match the door would open as an identical door opened in the human’s home base. But after much experimentation the boys had determined that the door was actually destructible, it just took an im
mense amount of firepower.

Bobby looked at Peter and gulped, his eyes opening wide. “Are . . . are you ready Pete? I think this may hurt a bit.”

Peter laughed harshly. “I gotta. There’s just no other way through that door. And yeah, I bet it does hurt. You just do your part, I’m counting on you.”

Bases in Stigmata could heal. Pete could set an explosive block on the door, just as he did for the hatch at Access Alpha. But in the game the door would visibly repair and fill in the small crater. This door healed so fast that if somebody ran to a safe distance and detonated a charge the door would be restored before they returned.

Pete nodded at his friends. “OK, you know what to do. Danny, you get back to where you’re safe. Get ready with the grenades.” Danny ran down the pipe a bit while Bobby stayed closer, just a few steps away from Pete.

Go!” Pete yelled. He ripped a block of explosive from his bandolier and set it near the top of the door. Working quickly he grabbed a second block and set it at the midpoint. As he grasped the third block Danny gently lobbed a grenade underhand to clink at Pete’s feet. Bobby turned his face away and hunched into a small ball as Pete affixed the third block, ignoring the grenade at his feet.


Danny’s grenade detonated and all three blocks exploded in reaction. Several of the bulky iron bands burst and the explosion reverberated up and down the pipe.

“Holy CHRIST!” Pete screamed as he fell to one knee. He blinked away tears as he reached for another brick. Bobby lunged forward, his glowing red syringe jabbing into Pete’s back. He pressed the plunger, pulsing red goo pushing into his friend. Pete visibly healed and stood back up, attaching another brick to an unbroken metal band. He worked quickly, slapping at the questing tip of a band attempting to reknit together. Bobby tossed the empty syringe aside and uncapped a second. Pete continued to apply more explosives as Bobby worked on his back. Pete’s face flushed and began to pulse a dull red as the healing serum suffused his body. “I’m good. Get back, Bobby.”

Bobby took a quick couple of steps back and resumed his huddled posture. Even as he stepped back Danny’s second grenade rolled into position. Pete winced away from the projectile and screwed his eyes shut.


FUCK!” Pete slumped against the tube wall as Bobby sprang towards him. Pete looked terrible, streaked with soot and smeared with blood everywhere. For a couple of heartbeats after the explosion the red glow continued but his hue soon faded to an ashen pallor. Bobby pumped more healing serum into his friend as Danny came forward to rejoin his friends.

“You did it Pete!” Danny pointed at the door, where a large hole punched completely through the wood. A stout bar could be seen on the other side. Oaken splinters danced around the edge of the hole, slowly drawing together and smoothing out. Danny looked at Pete with concern. “Can you make it?”

Pete nodded and drew in a ragged breath as Bobby continued to feverishly inject him with mystery medicine. “I’ll live. Next time you can be demolitions though.” Even as he spoke his sallow complexion grew ruddier and his voice steadied. Pete reached up and grabbed yet more explosives, but this time he reached through the hole to place them on the far side of the door. He swiftly placed three bricks inside, completely emptying his bandoliers. He stepped back and drew a shiny pistol from his holster.

“That should do it. Drop a grenade in and back up.” Pete suited his actions to his words and withdrew down the pipe. Danny pulled the pin on another grenade and dropped it through the shrinking aperture as the door still struggled to heal.

All three boys hunched over as yet another KABLAM! rolled down the pipe. A brief second later there was the loud THUD! they had hoped for. They looked down the pipe to where the door had finally given up and hit the floor. Thick splintered planks littered the pipe between them and the now-open entrance to the Fallen base.

“Nice work Pete! Now we just grab the flag and we’re home-free!” Danny pulled his assault rifle off his back. “I’ll take point from here.”

The three boys walked through the exploded ruins of the door and entered the Fallen base.

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