The First Day Is The Hardest: The Game
By James Walker
The demonling ran around the corner and ran straight into his quarry.
"Sorry Miss! Message for you from Ackachad! He wants to see you immediately!
He's in his office!"
'Who is Ackachad? And what does he want?'
"He's my boss! He handles security in the main room, and contracts with The
Game! Don't want to keep him waiting miss!"
"Yes miss! You can't afford to get a reputation as unreliable miss! Not with
potential employers miss!"
'[sigh] Lead me to him.'
Ackachad grunted to himself, noting that the debutante Tanstaafl was heading
to his office. What a good little girl.
He'd make her regret that. It wasn't as much fun as making her regret being
a bad little girl, but it'd do. He stretched in the squeaky chair, his back
trotters scraping across the desk, and then slumped down again; his snout
still buried in a copy of PlayDamned. He continued to flip through it as
that demonling lead in the Tanstaafl; heard the intake of breath as the
demonling started to speak; the rapid retreat of the demonling when he
recognised his bosses mood. Behind the magazine, Ackachad permitted himself
a smile. Nice to know that he was maintaining the appropriate discipline.
He continued flipping through the magazine.
'Well?' the Tanstaafl demanded.
Ackachad slowly put down the magazine, and picked up a file from on top of a
pizza box. " Free Lilim; Name Alya. Created this morning. Since then has
spent over an hour in the company of Satarma, one of the most boring Free
Lilim in existence; you has not yet left the Guildhall; you are already
riddled with Geas-hooks. Anything I've missed?"
'What is this all about?'
"Was my summary accurate and complete?"
'I demand to know..'
"Was my summary accurate and complete?"
'I am Alya, yes; and I've spent some time with Satarma, and I haven't left
the Guildhall. Now what is this all about?'
"And you claim to serve Freedom? To be a Free Lilim?"
'Of course, now what..'
"So, while supposedly serving Freedom, you've imprisoned yourself in this
building, stood around allowing Satarma to bore you to tears rather than
walking off - blazes, if you can't get out of a conversation I hate to think
how you'd react to a prison - in short, shown nothing even vaguely
resembling individuality, independence or free spirit since your birth?
'What do you mean?' Alya's voice had changed dramatically. The arrogance
which was all demons' birthright had dropped away, and was replaced by doubt
and fear. Ackachad's face remained deadpan, but his dark little heart was
burning with glee. He had never understood why his Dark Lord was hostile to
Freedom. Break all the rules? By all means. But remember that it's a rule,
to break all the rules; we can arrest you for abiding by the rules, because
you've broken Lilith's rule - and we can still arrest you for breaking
rules. Damned if you do, damned if you don't - but then, this is Hell!
"What I mean is this: You chose - if that's the right word - to be a Free.
You are breaking the spirit of Lilith's dissonance conditions. This is
treason - to Lilith; to your Sisterhood; to Lucifer; to Hell."
As always, his timing was perfect. Behind him, the TV set was on, even
though he had turned the sound down. A long boring series of ads had drawn
to a close, and the program was back on - a live execution of a traitor by
The Game. The victim, a incredibly Discordant Calabite looked arrogant and
unimpressed as he was marched to his death.
They all felt it; the evening rush of essence. Alya perked up - this was the
first time she had ever felt the effect, after all. Ackachad barely noticed.
All around Hell, demons would be spending the essence to power TV sets,
radios, pay to enter the movies - anywhere they could watch this execution.
The biggest effect was on the traitor. His head snapped up, and he turned to
face an Impudite guard; both were grinning. Ackachad smiled to himself; they
never learnt. Of course, they only got one chance. The traitors' smiles grew
more fixed; turned to fear, to horror. Sorry, traitor - your 'friend' the
Impudite didn't believe you; won't use your essence to teleport the two of
you to safety, so that you can prove your innocence.
The Calabite squirmed, his futile struggles delighting the viewers. His
guards dragged him forward, and began to heave, laughing at his struggles.
Ackachad found it a little boring, to tell the truth - after watching the
first dozen or so impalings it got a bit stale. Watching Alya's face was a
delight though, her face going pale, until she looked almost jaundiced. Her
terror was obvious. Yes, my dear, that could be you...
"Now, given that you clearly are too much off a stick-in-the-mud to be Free,
what are we going to do with you? Hmm?"
'I am a Free, I will show you, to judge me on one day, when I'm still
Ackachad laughed, a long mocking laugh.
"Girl, Ask your sisters what they did on their first day. I remember Illias
- now there was a Free! BY the end of her first day she'd crossed Shal-Mari
and gate-crashed one of Haagenti's favourite restaurants. How she could run!
But then she had great lungs, proved that when Haagenti bit her in half, in
fact - those where the days....." He sighed. "You're already in trouble with
The Game and you've been Free for less than a day. You need to survive
centuries! Now, you can keep going on about how you need to be a Free, and
I'll start doing the paperwork for executing you - which will cause me a lot
of work I might add - or we can find you somewhere you might actually
survive and do well."
Alya glared at him.
"So, have you spoken to any of the other booths? Seen a Word you think you
could actually chime with?" She hadn't, he knew. She'd been keeping quiet,
watching from a distance; but let's see what she'd overhead.
'Theft and Lust seemed like reasonable employers. I was thinking of a
contract with one of them.'
"Theft? Not you, girl. Have to keep moving to serve Theft, and you don't.
Lust is an option, if you hurry; still, I can buy you a little time, I
'What do you mean?'
"I am going to have to put in a report stating that you will clearly rack up
huge amounts of dissonance if you remain Free. If, however, you have a
contract with a different Word I can say that you're checking to see if you
suit that Word, so action by The Game will be delayed pending the results of
that contract. If it's worth my while, of course.." He rose, and stalked out
from behind the desk, towering over the young Lilim. Alya sidled away from
the towering boar, fond herself being backed into a corner, flinched as the
Djinn's trotter grabbed her arm - and felt more terrified than she had in
her short life.
Ackachad snorted and then returned to behind his desk. His eyes unfocused
for a minute, ad he chanted something softly. The Symphony rang with
something - he was spending essence on - what? Something that also made
noise - a Song? And then he spoke.
"I don't know why I waste my time with you. You claim that you're going to
get a contract with Lust - maybe become a Servitor; and what is the first
question they're going to ask you when you see them? ~How did you deal with
Ackachad? Flirt a little? Seduce him? Play coy and get him to seduce you?~"
"What will you say then? That you curled up in a corner when I suggested a
little something?" He snorted. "Girl, I was trying to make it easy for you
to make a name for yourself. If you'd gone up to the Lusties and said you'd
got me off your back by getting on your own, you'd have had it made. But
The Song was taking effect, he could see. He loved the Songs of Attraction.
There! The golden blush as she went all blotchy around the collar bones was
very becoming. He thought about giving in, letting her 'seduce' him.
Patience, patience; time enough for that later. He had the girl hooked;
let's see if he could snag The Game another Lilim.
"You have to blow it. Isn't there any emotion in you at all? Any desire for
anything? Come with me." He walked out of his office into the central 'den'
the Gamesters operated from; her green skin now totally golden with her
blush, Alya followed him.
Pasted to the walls were 'Wanted!' posters for every band of demon
(excepting the Lilim themselves, of course). The same 'accident' that meant
that posters for Lilim never made it here also meant that Shedim were over
represented. Ackachad waved his arms at the posters. "Here we have the
scummiest demons in existence - some of whom have murdered Lilim, I might
add. That batch [he indicated a group of four Shedim] are some of the most
twisted Corruptors in existence. The Game is all about stamping out this
problem - and I'm..."
'Shedim are scum.'
"Wasting my time with you - what was that?" Ackachad's face broke into a
smile for the first time.
Alya swallowed. She'd never met a Shedite, but the handful of Lilim she'd
spoken with had all despised them. She'd called them scum because it had
seemed to be the safe thing to say. Apparently, her remark was being taken
seriously. Still, he was smiling, and for reasons she didn't really
understand that was wonderful...
'I said Shedim are scum.' She racked her mind for the other things her
Sisters had said about them. 'They give demons a bad name; they're
Ackachad nodded happily. "You said it, girl." He slung a muscular forelimb
around her shoulders, causing her to gasp. "That's why I joined The Game in
the first place - whenever a Shedite gets out of line - whamo! - we fix him.
'Course, we can't do it all ourselves - we have bounty hunters who help.
Have to pay them a fortune, but I guess it's worth it. Say..." He pretended
that the thought was only just coming to him "Suppose you give bounty
hunting a shot? It's a chance to play in the Corporeal, pays a mint, you
seem to have the mindset."
'Yes, I could!' She said without thinking. Then her brain kicked in: 'But I
don't know how to fight - I'd be no match for a Shedite!'
"No problem. I'll just fix you up with a team, and they can teach you the
ropes." He wandered over to a 'phone, and started dialling. "Oh, make sure
they teach you how to clean and maintain equipment. The stuff's expensive;
you don't want to buy your own later and then have to replace it 'cause you
can't care for it."
She nodded eagerly.
"Hey Fred. You still going after Alastor's gang? Yeah, code 997; I've got a
little lady who I think would strengthen your group. Untrained, but I reckon
she's got potential. Where are you? Excellent - send the courtesy cab 'round
to pick her up; she should see The Game Centre anyway. When are you leaving?
That soon? No matter, she doesn't need to pack. And look after her - cause I
said so, that's why! Or have you forgotten who decides whether you've earned
the bounty! Good."
He hung up the 'phone, and opened a safe in the wall. "Right little lady,
the cab's on it's way. Fred is a real professional. Keep your eyes and ears
open and you'll learn a lot. You'll mostly be reading Needs for the group;
that's important when you're in hot pursuit of a Corruptor. In the meantime,
these" he handed her some flat disks "are complimentary tokens for the games
at the Games Centre. It's a good way to get a feel for things they use on
Earth. You can also pay using essence, or Geases if you really want to
master something. Now.." He turned her around 'accidentally' brushing
himself against her. She was shaking slightly from the close contact.
"remember that I've gone out on a limb for you here, so don't let me down.
The cab will pick you up outside the main entrance. Good luck!"
He slapped her on the rump to propel her towards the door. She jumped from
the contact, and the blush returned. Not trusting herself to speak she
hurried out the door, wondering why she was dreaming of coming back to boast
to Ackachad of how well she'd done.
And that's how she ended up working for The Game.
Back to the INC Mainpage.
Back to the Fiction page.
Send mail to the Curator