To my relief, Clare had seemed to stop coming to Owl Eye events after our little encounter, which further made me feel comfortable to keep playing. I thought for awhile that perhaps she had quit the game, but eventually I saw her at one of the big events chatting with Sarah and some other players I had to assume were Red Rippers. I wondered briefly how she had become a part of the faction so many treated with such awe and prestige but I didn’t give it much thought and I didn’t really see her or notice her again at any events.
Because my main focus wasn’t often on the game itself, I continued to do poorly at large events, and still had not been to one of the “reward” events at Bethany’s house by the end of four weeks of playing. However, at Owl Eye gatherings I was regarded as a rather good player, and Victoria (who was apparently Owl Eye’s headmaster or whatever) was giving me one or sometimes even two power cards at every event. Eventually I helped our faction get the fabled Whisper Stone (some fancy pebble from a rock shop) from Wolf Paw, who had foolishly hidden it on school grounds. I was beginning to feel like Owl Eye’s champion and couldn’t believe I had almost left the Blood Game which was now all I could think about during the hours in which I wasn’t actively playing.
One thing that left me feeling curious though were the Red Rippers. There were a fair number of factions that I had interacted with in various events, but the Red Rippers never seemed to be involved in the storylines the rest of the players were working on. Members of their faction would usually turn up for big events, but even in these instances they didn’t seem to be particularly involved. I questioned several people about the Rippers and the answers I got were always strange, like the one Adelaide had given me the first time she told me about them. The Red Rippers were “creepy,” “spooky,” and “not playing the same game as the rest of us.”
After six weeks in the Blood Game, I got a text message from Garrett one Saturday when there seemed to be no events scheduled. It was a simple message asking if I wanted to come over. I asked if he was hosting some kind of event.
His response sort of startled me:
“FUCK the blood game dude just come fucking play halo with me okay?”
It wasn’t like Garrett to be this hostile, especially on the subject of the Blood Game, but I figured he was just irritated about school or something. Besides, it wasn’t unusual for us to get together and for us to stay up most of the night at his place binging on video games. It was over just such a pretext that he originally invited me to play the Blood Game. In fact, I realized, we hadn’t had one of these once common evenings since I had started playing, so maybe he was just agitated because we’d been neglecting our friendship for this long. I brushed off the seemingly angry text and headed over there without worry.
When I arrived at his house, however, I did feel worried. Garrett looked pale and weary. He didn’t say much as he fired up a round of Halo 2 and passed me a controller. He had an open beer sitting out and after a few minutes he offered me one. I raised an eyebrow at him, wondering if his parents would notice what we were up to but he seemed unconcerned so I opened the beer and drank greedily without questioning it any further. We played in near total silence for awhile, and I couldn’t help but notice Garrett wasn’t playing well. Garrett usually beat me four out of five games easy, but I was taking him to school that night.
Finally, I couldn’t take it, I paused the game and turned to face him.