Aeden S. began their writing career as a journalist and now writes science fiction and fantasy in earnest. They are currently pursuing degrees in creative writing, classics and anthropology at the University of Arizona. Their interest in history and religion have inspired many of their works. The concept for The Game of Tongues was inspired by ancient Greek religion and classic works like Doctor Faustus, Paradise Lost and, of course, The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
The old man looked between his two competitors at the round table. The grey-eyed woman took off her gold-rimmed glasses and slid them into the betting pile. She discarded her chosen playing card. Across from her, the Devil tapped his fingers on the table.
“Interesting,” the Devil mused. “Is it your eyesight that you’re betting or are you trying to be clever?”
If the woman went blind after betting, she didn’t show it. She was stony faced as the Devil snapped his fingers to call over a black-suited demon. The Devil held out his hand to the demon. Like a grim children’s toy, the demon popped his ears off his head and plucked his eyes from their sockets and placed them in the Devil’s gloved hand. The Devil dropped the parts in the betting pile. So, the Devil met the woman’s bet and set aside a card of his own. The old man shivered.
The old man held a card that said “Love.” He thought he must wager romance and match the others’ gambles in severity. Tentatively, the old man slid a gold band off his finger and gingerly placed it in the pile. He went to discard, but a click of the Devil’s tongue stopped him.
“That’s against the rules,” the Devil sang.
The old man sputtered. “It is not! You sacrificed that demon’s eyes!”
“You may be married to her, but she doesn’t belong to you. The demons, however, do belong to me.” The card in the old man’s hand erupted into flames. “Mammon, he’s all yours.”
A demon with jewels for teeth hauled the old man away, screaming and crying, his ring left behind. The Devil went to pocket the old man’s ring.
“Not so fast, Lucifer,” the woman said, sickly sweet. “For which card did you rob the demon of his senses?”
The Devil only grinned. The rules of the game allowed questions, but not answers.
“I think you played the Oracle card,” the woman said, and the Devil’s smile waned. The woman revealed her hand to show the word for “Oracle” in the demon’s tongue on the face of one card. “Impossible, since I have that card.”
Lying was encouraged, but getting caught meant losing the game. The Devil’s deck burst into flames. He frowned and flipped the old man’s ring back into the betting pile, which the woman promptly began scooping into her purse.
“You play well,” the Devil conceded. He surveyed the pile. “What card did you play?”
The woman opened an empty vial from the pile and with a gust of wind, she was overcome with newfound youth — a sacrifice from the now old man. Her eyes remained grey, but she became a creature of light in that den of iniquity. She flipped over the top card in her deck. It said, “Pride.”
Like a cat, the Devil grew too curious about what egotism the woman wagered, and his ego would not stand a loss. He tapped his foot excitedly. “Girl, I’ll tell you what. One more game for anything you want.”
The woman tilted her head. “What did you have in mind?”
“The oldest game in the universe,” the Devil said. “The Game of Tongues.”
“What are the rules?”
An evil grin erupted across the Devil’s handsome face. The oldest game in the universe was the beginning of the end for Lucifer. Losing it sent him spiraling from the heavens. It was a measurement of pride and deception, and no being knew the concepts like the fallen angel.
“Usually, the game ends with the loser’s tongue severed for the lies they told.” Behind him, a demon conjured an obsidian knife and twirled it between his rotting fingers. “But a different bargain could be arranged.”
The woman stood to tower over the Devil himself. She did not look afraid. “How about a gambit of souls?”
For a moment, the hordes of Hell were silent. The flies around Beelzebub’s head stopped buzzing. The frogs in Belphegor’s throat were muffled. The succubi in Asmodeus’ entourage gasped and quieted.
“You win, you get the rest of the last game’s winnings and my soul,” the woman said. “I win, I take yours.”
From her purse, the woman pulled an empty jar and set it before the Devil. A cage awaiting a prisoner. After a moment of deliberation, the Devil snapped his fingers. The den went dark and the two competitors were illuminated with infernal light.
As the challenger, the Devil made his move first. “I am the morning star, and even now, cast from Heaven, I pull the dawn. What have you accomplished?”
Unmoved, the woman said, “I watched you create it.”
It was impossible, the Devil thought. She was just an old woman. He continued.
“I am the most beautiful of all creations. When Icarus flew toward the fiery sun, it was me he lusted for.”
“I embraced him when he fell,” the woman said. “Just as I embraced you.”
A shocked murmur erupted from the hordes of Hell. The woman and the Devil stalked around each other.
“I have built a kingdom greater and more vast than the endless scores of Heaven! I am the king of Pandemonium!”
“I gave you the souls you built it with, for I am the temptress that leaves war even in the wake of gods and angels as they bicker over who is greatest.”
The Devil swallowed thickly. “I was the first to play the Game of Tongues.”
“I’m sorry, dear boy, but you’re lying,” said the grey-eyed woman. “It was I who designed it.”
So, Hubris retired with the Devil in a jar as the hordes of Hell warred over the throne. When they were ripe for picking, she would pluck another prideful demon from the line of Lucifer. And in the darkest depths of the Underworld, she will add the rest of her fallen progeny to her collection. For like poor Icarus, even devils can still fall.
Although Ezikiel H. was born in Tucson, AZ, he has moved around various places and has experienced a wide array of cultures and people during his short 23 years on this earth. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2020 with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. As of October 2021, Ezikiel considers himself to be firstly and foremostly a writer, freelance and in his free time, while also regularly volunteering and spending time with his loved ones.
In the age of the star-cluttered nights
There was a boy who knew no fright.
He was strongly-built and bold,
Even just at 12-years-old.
The small village he called his home
Was protected by a magic dome
That had always kept at bay
Evils and sinister ways.
Though well-guarded these people were
Some could not resist the beyond’s allure
And so, every now and then, the sunrise
Would reveal an unpleasant surprise.
One of these times was when a young girl
Eager to experience an unknown thrill,
Opened the village’s mystic door
And was gone forevermore.
The boy protested his village’s inaction
As he sought to rescue his friend from wicked factions
Who bewitched her into breaking their borders
And disobeying the village’s sacred orders.
The villagers told the boy however,
That he too would be lost forever
Because if he were to go and find his friend,
It would surely be his untimely end.
Despite their warnings, the boy could not be dissuade
From embarking on such a noble crusade
And so, at dawn’s waking cry
He left, never saying goodbye.
The Sun burned violently
As the boy traveled silently
Across the densely forested terrain
Advancing in his tireless campaign.
But soon, the Sun did weaken
No longer being a directional beacon.
Forcing the boy to make his camp
Protected only by a feeble lamp.
The boy awoke after soundless sleep,
And prepared to continue into the deep
When he noticed in the reflection of a creek,
He had aged 10 years and had a new physique.
Awed by his realization, he ran that day through the trees,
Bound by nothing, feeling truly free.
It was only when he could see no more
That he finally rested with a gaudy snore.
Several hours past dawn he arose,
At the loud cawing of circling crows
But when he saw himself this day
He had aged 20 more years and grayed.
Unconvinced by this sight,
He tried to lift a log with all his might
But to his shock, his muscular power
Had began to prematurely sour.
Though taken aback by this change
He still set across the foreign range,
But grew tired quicker than before
And by dusk, swiftly slept from being sore.
As the sun ascended hours later,
He awoke but his pain was greater
40 years gained and shivering from the cold,
The once young boy was now a frail and old.
He tried to stand, but could not
For all his strength was spent and fraught,
But as he began to mourn and chide
The girl appeared and kneeled by his side.
He looked at her with victorious eyes,
But she looked back with a ravenous guise
And put her hands over his ancient heart
Before his body completely crumbled apart.
This is why the Village’s dome was erected
To ensure time itself was protected.
So, no matter how brave you may be,
Render what you may become when escaping reality.