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Pawns, Just Pawns

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Risotto couldn’t sleep out of a mix of excitement and anxiety. He had been informed that night that there was a possibility that his band, The Executioners, would be able to get a contract with a record label and make their first studio album. They had been trying to get this for a long time. After years of playing at clubs, The Executioners had gained some popularity. T-shirt sales were at an all time high. The band had recorded demo tracks and self-made albums by themselves, and they sold well, but a signing with a label was different. It would mean that the music could get to more people more quickly, and eventually they might be able to go on tours. 

The Executioners was a punk band, made up of 5 members. Risotto Nero, who played bass and sang for the band. Ghiaccio, the drummer. Illuso and Formaggio, the guitarists. And Pesci, the man on many talents. He played multiple instruments when they were needed, including percussion, keyboard, and synths. Prosciutto, Pesci’s brother, was the makeshift manager for the band. He handled some of the business of the band. Gelato and Sorbet were other important contributors to The Executioners. They helped with the mixing and recording of the self-made albums. The couple had a makeshift studio in their basement where the band would often practice and record.

Those names weren’t their real names; the band went by nicknames. They got to choose their nicknames, but they had a theme they stuck with: food. It was just for fun, but Risotto thought the nicknames made the band special. Like how Slash goes by Slash instead of his real name, except they all had stage names.

The record company they might finally sign with was called Passione. The Executioners had been trying to get a deal with Passione for a long time. Finally, the boss of Passione seemed to give in to the endless requests, and had sent a message to Prosciutto that there was a chance that he might sign for a label. Prosciutto had mentioned that they were going to talk details in the morning. 

One thing that was strange about Passione was that Risotto couldn’t recall ever seeing the boss face to face. He had only seen an employee by the name of Vinegar Doppio. Doppio seemed to be some sort of intern or secretary. He was constantly delivering messages for the boss, so that the boss never talked directly to anyone. At least, that’s what Risotto could tell. Perhaps the boss would talk to bands once they were signed to the label, but as far as the Executioners went, no one had ever seen him. They had just seen Doppio, the fidgety, teen aged messenger for the boss. 

Since Prosciutto had mentioned that they were going to have to discuss the signing further, Risotto had been wondering what that meant. What was the boss’s hesitation? It made Risotto nervous, because the need to discuss ‘details’ meant that there was a chance that they wouldn’t actually be able to sign with Passione. After all the time The Executioners spent trying, that was the last thing Risotto wanted to hear. 

Risotto stared around his room. He looked at all the Metallica posters that covered his walls. The Megadeth posters, the Iron Maiden posters, and many more joined the Metallica posters. They had been there so long, ever since he was a teenager. Risotto had forgotten what color the walls in his room were. Maybe blue?

He saw his bass in the corner of the room. It was shiny, and blacker than night. He had had the same bass for years. His older bass hung on the wall. It was also black, but was covered in stickers, and had worn down in areas due to picking and plucking the bass for years. 

Risotto got up and turned the light on. He couldn’t sleep, so he might as well work on some new material. 

He pulled his bass off the stand, pulled up a stool and a music stand, and finally pulled out a notebook. He began going through some scales and familiar riffs, just to get warmed up. 

The familiar metal strings and smooth sound of the bass comforted Risotto. It was like visiting an old friend. He began to pluck out some new lines, looking for inspiration, writing down anything that sounded good. 

Risotto played like that the rest of the night, until he was too tired to keep his eyes open. He crawled back into bed at 6 a.m. and slept until Prosciutto called him and woke him up. 

He picked up the phone and let out a grumbled “Hello?”

“We're about to meet Doppio in 15 minutes, are you up?”

“Yeah… Yeah, I’ll be there soon.”

“You sound like you just woke up! Doppio wants the whole band to be there, so that means you too! Please get ready and get over here ASAP.”

“Fine… I will…” Risotto mumbled as he blinked his eyes at the morning light coming through his window. He looked at the clock, it was almost noon. Shit.

Risotto scrambled out of bed as he hung up the phone. He threw on some clothes, combed his hair, and rushed out the door. 

He met Prosciutto and the rest of the band at the record label. It had a studio in it and everything. Every time Risotto went in there, it made him excited and eager to make an album. He wanted the band to be ‘real’ musicians so bad. He was glad they were having success at bars and clubs, but he wanted to be able to go on tours. Touring felt so close when he was in the studio, but at the same time so far away. He could only imagine the crowds of people around a large stage, all waiting to hear his band play.

The band, Prosciutto, Sorbet and Gelato, and Doppio, all gathered into a room that appeared to be a meeting room. It had a large table in the middle with chairs all around it. Everyone took a seat, and Doppio started talking in place of the boss.

“So the boss told me that he would be interested in signing your band, but there’s an issue he wanted to address. See, there’s this other band, that he was also interested in, but he can only afford to sign one new band at the moment. He wants to know which one is more worth his time, so he needs one of you to prove yourselves more worthy than the other.”

“What is this, you want us to beg for you love? We’ve been asking for a deal for years!” Illuso interjected. 

“W-Well, the other band looks very promising,” Doppio stuttered, “At least, that’s what the boss told me.”

“What’s the name of the band?” Sorbet asked.

“Golden Wind. They’re a rock band that’s been pretty successful recently… a- according to my boss.”

None of them had heard of Golden Wind. They must have been playing at different clubs than them. 

“What do you need us to do to prove we’re the better investment?” Prosciutto asked calmly.

“Th-the boss wants to have a bit of a battle of the bands. He was thinking that you would both play in the same club, and that he would sit in and decide which would bring in more listeners.”

The boss was going to show his face to them? Seemed unlikely to say the least. But the contest idea seemed simple enough. It was silly though, like the boss was asking the two bands to fight for his attention. Nevertheless, Risotto wanted that album, and he was sure everyone else in The Executioners wanted it too. So, they were willing to do it, as diminishing as it was.

Doppio gave them the address to the club, and decided on a night for the two bands to play. After that, they were dismissed and began to head out the door of the studio.

“This is stupid,” Illuso huffed, “We gotta try to out-perform another band just because Mr. Important can’t make up his damn mind.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of humiliating, in a way,” Formaggio said, “‘ Put on a show for me! Then I'll decide who will make me more money! ’ What a bougie asshole.”

“But we need that fucking album,” Ghiaccio said.

“Right…” 

“I guess so, but it’s still stupid,” Formaggio said.

“You’re right, but this might be our only chance to get this record deal,” Risotto mentioned, “Let’s just… get it over with and get that album we deserve.”

“Shall we practice for it tonight, then?” Pesci asked. 

“Yeah, if we’re going to actually compete with a band for the attention of a rich fucker, then we need to play our best stuff, and we need to perfect it,” Risotto said.

“I can try to find things out about the other band that may be helpful, too,” Prosciutto said.

“Good idea.”

“See you all at our place soon then?” Gelato asked.

They all agreed. The band went its separate ways in the meantime, and Risotto went home and pulled out his bass again.

He made a list of some songs he could think of off the top of head that the crowds seemed to like, and ones that he personally thought were some of The Executioners’ better songs. He began to practice his parts for those songs. They sounded strange when it was just the bass and vocals, but Risotto could easily imagine the other parts in his head. 

After that bit of isolated practice, he met up at Sorbet and Gelato’s house with the other members of his band. 

“I wrote down some songs that I think are our best material, take a look and tell me if I should add or change anything.”

Illuso took the notebook, examined the page, and passed it to Pesci.

“Looks good to me,” he said. 

The other members agreed after a quick look over by each of them. 

“Alright, so I think we should focus on those songs then, and perfect them.”

The band agreed. And after some tuning of their instruments, The Executioners began to practice the songs off that list Risotto had made. 

They played for hours, and only stopped after their fingers and arms were sore from playing. They were sounding really good. They were coordinated and in perfect sync. Risotto was getting hopeful, and was already thinking about what songs to put on their first studio album.

After practicing, the band and Sorbet and Gelato decided to watch a few movies. Halfway into the first movie, Prosciutto showed up at the door. He came in and started to brief them on what he had discovered about the band they were going to compete against, Golden Wind.

“Golden Wind plays rock, but it’s more like the Queen side of rock rather than the ACDC side of rock. I found their website online, and it had a place to buy an album they had made themselves. I listened to some of the tracks and they’re pretty good, I have to say. This might be more competition than we were initially thinking.”

“What’s their lineup look like?” Formaggio asked.

“They’ve got 6 members, a singer, two guitarists, a bassist and drummer, and a keyboardist. They’re all really good.”

“Damn… We’ll have to practice extra hard then, and make sure our stuff sounds perfect,” Risotto spoke as he raised his hand to his chin, thinking hard.

“Yes, I am starting to see why the boss at Passione was hesitant to hire one of us over the other,” Prosciutto sighed. 

It was a bit of a damper on Risotto’s mood to hear that they might actually have some competition, and that meant they might not get the album deal after all. He realized the other band might be thinking the same thing. They were equally matched, and would have to duel it out on the stage. 

The day that the band and Doppio had agreed upon to play alongside Golden Wind was fast approaching. The two bands would have to show their skills to the boss in about a week. The Executioners practiced almost every day, perfecting their already near perfect songs. To take breaks, they wouldn’t stop playing, they would just play covers to break from the monotony of the same several songs they were going to play at the club. 

“Do you think the boss has heard all of our songs?” Ghiaccio asked.

“Maybe… he must be at least a bit familiar with our typical set lists.” 

“Maybe he’s sat in on our shows and we didn’t even know because we have no idea what he looks like,” Formaggio pointed out.

“It’s possible, why do you ask, Ghiaccio?” Risotto said.

“I’m saying we should surprise him.”

“What, with something new?” Illuso scoffed.

“Yeah.”

“Are you crazy? A new song in a week?!” Formaggio exclaimed.

“We can do it, I think. We just gotta practice it all the time.”

The band looked at Ghiaccio with scowls of disbelief. But they were also thinking, ‘could that work?’

“Let’s try it,” Risotto said finally, “If we don’t feel like it’s complete by the time we perform, then we just won’t play it. I think it’s a good idea if we can pull it off.”

“You make it sound like it’s easy, but what the hell, it might be worth it,” Illuso said.

“Let’s get started then, we don’t have time to waste if we want to get this done by Friday.”

The band had agreed on the idea of a new song, but they quickly ran into writer’s block. They decided to take a break, and let go of their instruments for a while. 

Risotto had gone to get snacks, when he overheard a group of people at the store talking about their own band. 

No, it couldn’t be, he thought.

“-and we all need to work on our parts. I think Trish and Leone have it down, but me and Bruno are having trouble keeping up with the faster pace. Could we possibly slow the song a bit? Do you think it would sound just as good? Because I think it would!” one in the group said.

“We can try it, Narancia, but I like the fast tempo.”

“But I can’t play that faaaaast!”

“Then get good,” another said, tossing a bag of chips to the one named Narancia.

“Hey, don’t throw things! We can play slower, I think it’d be good for both me and Narancia, but if I remember correctly, Doppio told us the boss likes faster songs, so we were trying to make it to impress him.”

Narancia sighed exaggeratedly and rolled his eyes.

“I hate this. Why couldn’t he have just chosen both of the bands to give an album?”

“Because he’s a dick,” a tall one with long hair said.

Holy shit, Risotto thought. They mentioned Doppio and another band, it really was them, Golden Wind. And it seemed like they had the same idea to make a new song.

Should Risotto do something? His rival band was right there. Should he say anything?

He approached the group of 6. He cleared his throat.

“Um, hello. Are you, by any chance, Golden Wind?”

They looked at him in surprise, the one named Narancia looked excited. Seems like they weren't recognized often.

“Yes, we are! Have you been to one of our shows?” a short, black haired one responded.

“No, but- this might sound weird- I’m in the band that you’re going to have to play against this Friday. I heard you mention Doppio and I figured it was you.”

“O-oh! You’re one of The Executioners? Nice to meet you! Uh, how much did you hear? We’re trying to keep our plan of attack a bit of a secret, heheh”

“Oh, no, I didn’t hear anything important, don’t worry. I just wanted to introduce myself, and wish you luck. Crazy that we happened to meet by chance like this before the actual gig, huh?”

“Yeah! Let me introduce myself, my name is Bruno, and this is Narancia, Fugo, Giorno, Trish, and Leone,” Bruno went down the line of their band mates and pointed to each one as they introduced them.

“I’m Risotto, nice to meet you.”

Risotto looked at the odd group of people. They didn’t really look like a coherent rock band, but rather they each looked like they belonged to their own separate bands of different genres. And most of them looked like teenagers, which made Risotto feel guilty. Were they really going to battle a band made of kids for an album? For a second Risotto debated letting Golden Wind win. The kids would probably be stoked to make an album. Then Risotto thought about how he didn’t really choose to be set up to play against some kids, and how his band had been asking for a label from Passione for years now. This group of teens were newcomers, they could use time to master their skills before an album. 

“So you got dragged into this stupid ordeal as well, huh?” Leone asked.

“Yeah, regretfully. We’ve been asking for a deal with Passione for a long time, and now they finally decide to maybe give us one, but only if we ‘prove ourselves’.”

“Yeah, it’s like we’re gladiators in the Colosseum, shoved in there to fight to the death for the tyrannous emperors entertainment,” Leone said while staring intently at Risotto, her face emotionless.

“Yeah… exactly.” 

Risotto was beginning to like Leone. Something about her gothic fashion and bitter attitude made Risotto think they would get along well. It was a shame they were supposed to be rivals.

Risotto wished them luck again, then let them go on their way. He couldn’t help but wonder if, in another life, they could have been friends. The band seemed nice enough, especially Bruno. And Leone was really cool.

Risotto returned with the snacks, and told his band mates what had happened at the grocery store.

“No way, you met them? Just by chance?” Illuso said excitedly. 

“Yeah, they were really nice. And a lot of them were teenagers. I kind of feel guilty about this whole thing now.”

“Oh, shoot, they’re kids? I don’t wanna fight kids for an album deal!” Pesci said.

“I know, right? But dammit, I want that fucking album.”

“Don’t we all,” Formaggio sighed.


 

The day of the battle of the bands was approaching very quickly. It was only 2 days away now, and The executioners were starting to feel the pressure. They had practiced so much that their music had begun to sound sloppy, and they had agreed to take a break for a day. On their off day, Risotto decided to get some chores done around the house. Anything to keep his mind off of the upcoming show. 

He was worried to say the least, and he knew his band mates were too. This was their chance to finally make a studio album, and if they blew it, they would likely not get the opportunity from Passione again. They would have to look for another record label. No others were in town to speak of, though. It would mean that they might have to move in order to actually get signed to a label.  It was a sticky situation. 

And to top it off they were going up against kids. Risotto never really liked kids, but he still felt that they needed a fair chance at life, and the boss of Passione was not offering it to them. 

Along with that, Risotto felt that they could have been friends, and even collaborated in a different situation. Risotto had taken it upon himself to listen to some of Golden Wind’s music, just to see what he was up against. They were good. Leone was the singer, and she was great. Her voice complimented the guitar and keyboard melodies so well. Their drummer was great as well. Risotto wasn’t sure who was on which instrument, but each of them were great at their respective instruments. They offered great competition for The Executioners, but Risotto still couldn’t help but feel guilty. 

Risotto thought about losing on purpose, or resigning from the challenge. Would his band mates be upset? Probably. They all wanted this album just as much as Risotto, and some of them might want it even more. 

The new song the executioners were working on had started coming together, and all that was left to do was practice it and add any finishing touches. They had called it ‘Gladiators’. Risotto had drawn inspiration from what Leone had said when they had met. He decided to write the lyrics about gladiators being sent to die for a merciless king’s entertainment. It was pretty metal to say the least. Risotto liked it a lot. If they got this album, the song would definitely make it on. 

They last couple of days flew by. The band practiced almost all day the day before the show. Risotto still felt like they could improve some things, but it was too late. The gig was tomorrow, and the band needed to rest. 

Friday. The band met at the club Doppio had specified. 

The Executioners were now face to face with Golden Wind. The two bands wished each other good luck, but all the members of both bands were visibly nervous. Golden Wind’s stage outfits looked very eclectic, each member having their own style. Leone wore a black V-neck dress and black lipstick. Fugo looked like he came out of a 2000’s emo band, and Giorno, Trish and Bruno were wearing sparkly costume. Narancia looked the most normal in ripped jeans and Aerosmith T-shirt. Risotto’s band always dressed extra punk for shows. Tonight Risotto was wearing a mesh shirt and black, ripped jeans, and a chain on his belt loops. Formaggio had a spiked jacket on, Illuso wore a thin, ripped black shirt, and Ghiaccio wore a striped shirt under a short-sleeved black shirt. Pesci wore a jean vest that he had sewed patches onto himself. 

Risotto peaked into the crowd. He didn’t see anyone that looked like the boss of a large label company. It just looked like a bunch of greasy rock ’n’ rollers out there. There were ones with wild hair colors, leather jackets, jean vests with band patches, and many people with hair to their shoulders at least. 

Golden Wind was first up. The Executioners went out into the crowd to watch. 

They got up on stage and Leone took the mic. It was now that Risotto could see who played what instrument. Bruno and Giorno had guitars in hand. Bruno’s guitar was decorated with stickers that looked like zippers, and Giorno’s was shaped and painted like a ladybug. Narancia had a black and white bass guitar. Fugo stood at a purple keyboard, and Trish sat behind a pink drum kit. 

“Hello, what the FUCK is up ladies and gays, we’re Golden Wind.”

The crowd cheered. Risotto couldn’t help but giggle. Leone was… something.

“We’re gonna start with a new song. It’s about a motherfucker who views people as sources of income, to be used up and abandoned, rather than, y’know, humans. It’s called Chessboard”

Risotto smiled.

They began playing. It was slow at first, a simple melody on guitars and keyboard, but then the drums and bass came in, and it exploded. It was a fast song, full of energy. After the powerful intro, it hit the verse, and Leone began to sing. 

“You’re the puppet master,

People, at your disposal

In your world, no humans exist

Just toys, for your perusal

To be used, then thrown away

If they make you no money, what worth are they?

Nothing! Fucking nothing!

 

It's all cash and games to you

Nothing else matters at all

People are dollar bills

‘Will my profits rise or fall?’

We’re used then thrown away

Just like the fucking ashes in your ashtray

Nothing! We’re nothing!”

Her voice was slow and smooth, even though the lyrics were angry. She didn’t match the energy of the lyrics at all with her singing, but it somehow made them more impactful. The melody she sung matched the song perfectly.

Once they hit the chorus, Bruno walked up to a mic and joined Leone in singing:

“Pawns

Just pawns

To fight for money, your entertainment

To beg for your praise, your entertainment

Not individual people, but pawns

Pawns”

They harmonized together, and sung with a similar slow and smooth melody to the one before. It was almost haunting.

The song continued and the rest of it was just as good as the beginning. Each verse was clearly thought out, and the melody was catchy.

After the song ended, the audience applauded. Risotto looked around for any sign of who might be the boss of Passione. He figured since the song was targeting him, he might feel uncomfortable. No one looked noticeably distressed. The boss had to be someone in this crowd, and that made Risotto uneasy. He was looking at the boss he had never seen before and he didn’t even know it. 

Golden Wind began playing another song. This song was much slower, a ballad, about a rose garden, and escaping with the person you love. 

After a few more songs, Risotto weaved through the crowd and headed back to the back room to start getting ready for The Executioners’ turn on stage. 

He found a pair of people backstage, one taller and scruffy looking man and another shorter, very short, young man. 

“Enjoying the show?” the smaller one asked Risotto. 

“Yeah, they’re really good! Who are you two?”

“Oh! We’re the mixers for Golden Wind. We helped make some of the non-studio albums, have you heard them?”

“Yes, I have, actually.”

“Great! You must be Risotto. Leone told me about you and your band. My name is Koichi and this is my boyfriend Mista.”

Risotto waved.

“I’ll give you a bit of advice,” Koichi said, “Leone told me they don’t care if they win or not, so if I were you, I wouldn’t worry about much competition, and just enjoy yourselves.”

“That was the plan, actually. I don’t care if we win or lose either. We may have accidentally thought of the same idea, to make a song about the boss of Passione.”

Koichi laughed.

“Well that’s funny! Both band’s hate him! How’s that for unfortunate?”

Risotto smiled. It was looking like neither of them were going to get the record deal after all. Might as well take Koichi’s advice and just have fun.

And that’s exactly what Risotto did.

After Golden Wind had wrapped up their show, The Executioners went on stage and got familiar with their instruments. 

Risotto looked over the crowd. He could several Golden Wind members. They looked like they had had fun playing, and now that they were off the stage they looked just as eager to see someone else play. 

Risotto introduced the band to the crowd, and jumped right into Gladiators. Gladiators was a fast paced song with a heavy bass line. Risotto really enjoyed playing it. The notes rolled off his fingers, and he could feel the vibrations from the bass rattle through him. He began singing, and the words just flew out of his mouth without him even thinking about it. They had practiced so much, that now that they were on stage it was second nature. 

Risotto could see the members of Golden Wind cheering from the crowd. That’s when he spotted him, the person he could only assume was the boss. He was the only person in the crowd that didn’t look entertained. He had long pink hair and was wearing typical rock fan attire. He wouldn’t look out of place of he wasn’t scowling and crossing his arms. 

Risotto almost stuttered, but caught himself and continued singing. He felt flooded with confidence. The boss was here, and Risotto could laugh in his face all he wanted. The loser could only sit and watch. 

After going through their set list, The Executioners exited the stage to cheers, and Risotto made his way to the group of musicians that was Golden Wind.

“Hey!” 

“Oh, hiya Risotto. What’s up?” Bruno said.

“I wanted to know if you were interested in a collaboration.”

The other band looked at him in surprise.

“Really?” Bruno asked.

“Yeah! You guys were great out there, and since we both made songs making fun of the boss, I figured neither of us would get the album he promised. Therefore, we don’t need to act like enemies anymore.”

Bruno blinked, then smiled.

“Sure! A collaboration sounds great! Let’s do it,” they stuck out their hand for a handshake.

Risotto took it, and smiled too.

 

The next day Prosciutto had gotten a call from Doppio saying that they didn’t get the record deal, but neither did golden Wind. The boss had decided to go with a different band, a duo by the name of Clashing Heads. The rest of The Executioners and Risotto decided that was perfectly fine. They would get their album eventually. They would also make sure to get it from a better record label next time they tried. 

 

Risotto couldn’t sleep again. It seemed everything turned out OK, but he was still itching for some progression in his band’s career. He stared at his posters. How long had it taken for those great bands to get studio albums, to be discovered? Risotto knew patience was key in the music business. No one just got big overnight. It took years. Risotto just wondered how many more years it would take.

He got up to play his bass again. His fingers were still sore from playing for nearly a week straight. He brushed his fingers over the strings, feeling the rough texture. He tried plucking out the notes to a song, a song he had only heard once, but he remembered it so well. 

“Pawns, 

Just Pawns…”