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.'

"Yes miss!'

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? Correct?"

'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 learning..'

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 suppose.."

'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 no.."

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 incredibly vile.'

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.


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