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Rules of the Game

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Elyan awoke, naked and disoriented. He was sore. All over. His thighs hurt the worst, but even his shoulders had an ache. He scrubbed his fingers through short, wiry hair, trying to soothe the discomfort in his head. Bringing cool hands down over his eyes provided only an instant of relief.

He opened his eyes to an empty room and smooth walls that gave no clue. It was as if someone had rubbed his mind blank to match the walls.

And then a disembodied voice rang out, "You must play the game."

Without volition, Elyan sprang to his feet, wincing as sore muscles pushed against the forces of gravity, and was in position, ready to run. A quick knock on a wall caught his attention and he spun in time to catch a previously unnoticed door open. Someone with a blank face was holding out clothing. He took the clothes and was about to say "Thank you," but never got the chance. The person had disappeared the moment he'd touched the fabric.

Elyan's heart sank. What was this crazy void he'd sunk in to? Sighing, but without resistance, he pulled on the clothes. The trousers were skin tight, made out of some material that was smooth and slick, and they even covered his feet. He noticed cushioning on the soles of his feet.

The shirt seemed to be made out of the same fabric, but fit a little looser. He couldn't shrug into it, the way he he'd been used to doing with his normal clothes. He wondered how he knew what normal clothes felt like, or even were, given that he couldn't seem to remember anything.

Another door opened in a different wall and Elyan was compelled forward by bright flashing lights and odd noises beyond the opening. His room was a solid contrast to what lay beyond. As he stepped through the doorway, his heart sped up and he sucked in shallow breaths.

Motion. The space embodied activity. This room was enormous and everything in it was in traveling -- and then Elyan realized that he was moving too. He was running, flat out, as fast as he could. His arms pumped in synchrony with his legs. He realized as he ran that those flashing lights came from people not things.

People were running, skating, biking, flying, skiing, flitting, hovering, shifting, sliding, gliding, rolling, flowing, streaming, and even drifting by him. Every mode of transportation was in use in a variety of speeds. As his body moved mechanically, Elyan tried to get his empty mind to work.

People were traveling in all directions, but they only looked straight ahead. Elyan tried to turn his head sideways, or even his body, but it was as though he were in a vice grip. He could only look forward, as did everyone else. He caught flashes of eyes wide with terror and knew his own face mirrored theirs. They were all captives in this game, compelled to play it, with no way out.

Time stretched out in front of Elyan and sped away behind him. He was aching, but not tiring. He marvelled at that, some part of him remembering work that had seemed endless, but hadn't been. He remembered thirst and hunger and wondered at that as well. Why wasn't he hungry or thirsty? He sped on, one foot in front of the other, endlessly running.

Elyan tried to follow the lights and lost them quickly. He was unable to do it. There were too many. He decided to focus on one and see if he could track it. There! There was one, directly in front of him, that seemed to be on a similar trajectory.

For many strides, he followed that special light, the one he'd been able to hang on to. But nothing changed. Until it did.

Elyan noticed that the light was changing color. It was subtle at first, but he realized that over time, the red had changed to orange and then green and then blue. He marvelled over that. He knew that the lights stayed with a person, just as speed and trajectory remained constant. Then he realized that the person he'd been tracking for all these footsteps was looking at him. He'd turned around.

A shock ran through Elyan, as though a personal earthquake had struck. The game had changed. Elyan thought he’d been here forever and would be here forever, but something had changed.

He looked into those eyes in front of him and nearly gasped out loud when they flared gold.

That’s when things began to change. Lights that had been traveling in straight lines started wiggling, or veering off course. Some sped up; others slowed down. Through it all, those blue eyes that had flared gold were focused on him. Then Elyan wondered if he could change. Could he slow down or change course? It had not occurred to him at first because he’d always been in motion just like this.

One foot down, then he hesitated just a fraction before putting the other foot down and he did it repeatedly until he gradually came to a stop. People still zoomed past, or walked, or buzzed by, but Elyan stood facing the boy with the magical eyes.

When the boy turned around and started walking, Elyan followed. The rules had changed and he was getting the hell out.