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Welcome to the GAME: a playground for the rich and powerful, a hell for those ignorant of the rules. To play, you embody your true self. The vile you. The desperate you. The sexual, depraved, despicable you.
She doesn’t know her role, her location, or even her name. Trapped in a world designed for the devious to indulge, the tribute known only as Juno is the ultimate prize—whether she realizes it or not.
K, a game master with many secrets, is more than eager to take the spoils of this twisted fantasy landscape for himself. But when the consequences are laid bare, he has to give in to the very traits of humanity the GAME is designed to suppress, or play his role to its full extent.
No matter the cost.
Disclaimer: The following copyrighted content is unedited and subject to change.
Those of us born with a silver spoon earn our fair share of scorn right out of the gate—and for good reason. We have it easy, or so it appears from the outside looking in. The average person would never know that those polished, wealthy pieces of antique silverware shoved under an aristocratic baby’s tongue sport serrated edges. I was cut by my life of privilege before I ever drew my first breath, cursed to carry the last name Kendall.
Any tears I might have cried, were sobbed into pristine sheets with a thread count higher than the average salary, though. For that reason, no one gave a fuck, certainly not the people deemed my parents. In their eyes, wealth came with certain obligations—being a soulless, money driven robot paramount among them. Who needs feelings or emotional connections when you own the entire damn world?
I still remember one of the few things my father ever said to me, directly anyway and not via an army of lawyers. “Success is a cruel mistress, but the only one worth having. She’ll screw you good and hard one minute and then leave you high and dry the next. But damn, does she pay well.”
He had a point, if a crass one. For a man with a multi-million dollar fortune as a safety net, he knew how to at least pretend as though his wealth was a direct result of his own hard work and not nepotism.
So, once the bastard cut me off, I had those sage words of wisdom to live by, if nothing else. Success is the only mistress a man needs. True to that mindset, I’ve spent the better part of my life striving toward an ideal, fighting to turn my pain into something tangible. Some might say I succeeded, forging a company from nothing with my own two hands. For years, I slaved over the concept, dedicating myself to every aspect of my budding corporation. Fuck, I could cite the business plan from cover to cover in my sleep. Over a decade later, to protect the integrity of my design, I willingly signed up to submit to the whims of my own program.
It all has the makings of some shitty fairy tale—or a bad gothic horror in this instance. Go figure. When Frankenstein comes face to face with his monster, he barely recognizes the creation up close. Lo and behold, it’s taken on a life of its own.
I designed the Game, created the corporation that brought that concept to fruition from the ground up, and staked my life’s purpose on this pursuit. And yet, I never pictured it would be like this—a glorified hall of mirrors, distorted and convoluted like some twisted fucking funhouse. It’s here that I finally come face to face with the reality I’ve avoided acknowledging.
I may have designed this fake version of the world, but I don’t know shit about it anymore. My creation is corrupted beyond my control. And now?
I have to navigate it from the inside out without losing face before the very people responsible for what it’s become.
“What a fucking mess,” I hiss into the night air, though the statement can’t even begin to apply to my actual surroundings. The island is paradise—or as close to it as a team of engineers can come with millions at their disposal.
It’s warm out, even with the sun having set, and a symphony of chirping insects and murmuring voices create a soothing soundtrack. The crisp taste of sea salt tinges every breath. Any other man might deem my current view stellar—leaning over the ocean from a marble balcony fit for any emperor.
Or in this case, a cocky little bastard who’s already letting his renegade status go to his fucking head.
“Hey!” The bastard in question pokes his head through a nearby archway illuminated by candlelight. He’s changed into a ruby-red tunic that must have come with his welcome kit, along with a golden pendant in the shape of a feather pinned to his right shoulder, denoting his renegade status.
“Don’t insult my private villa complete with my very own serving staff.” He snaps his fingers, triggering a servant to appear beside him, holding a gold tray sporting two goblets of wine. The figure’s demure white tunic and black bracelet define her as an admin, off-limits from any in-game activities. In theory, her assignment as a servant could be seen as degrading or demeaning. In reality, she is a highly trained specialist, paid ten times the salary of any other mid-level corporate job.
Why? That’s the world I wanted to create. A tailored safe space for anyone with the money to play in it—or that’s what it’s become.
When I first scribbled this idea on a sliver of notepaper, the concept had been a lot simpler to digest. Somewhere…freeing. Where a man or woman could embrace the darker, more base aspects of their humanity in relative safety. Where their money or status wouldn’t matter, and they could find their own place at the whims of a different system. Freedom, in essence, though carefully cultivated in nature.
Or at the bare minimum, a place someone could discover their true nature without suffering years of manipulation by a cunning bitch.
Instead, it seems I’ve created a glorified jungle gym no better than the brutal, stylized Roman arenas this round seems to be based on. In fact, the theme is so on the nose that I can’t help but suspect it might have been intentional on the part of the game creators, purely to rub it in.
I’m nothing more than a gladiator fighting in the colosseum of my own creation—and tomorrow that will become a literal cliché.
“You’re looking moody again,” Jax warns. “Worried about the gauntlet? Don’t be. If you do get killed, it will probably be from blunt-force trauma and you’ll die instantly. Though, here, have some liquid courage!”
He lifts the goblets of wine from the tray and offers one to me. “Cheer up. This is the first time in one of these fucking session’s that I’ve been ranked higher than a peon. I think that alone deserves a drink.” He shakes his extra goblet, but when I don’t take it, he shrugs and sips from the rim. “Suit yourself.”
Turning from him, I eye the ocean, watching the moonlight reflect off the water below. Moonlight, coincidentally in the same notorious hue as the hair of one figure I’ve been trying to forget. A positive about entering the game was the supposed assumption that her presence couldn’t reach me here. So much for that.
“Come on grumpy,” Jax prods, waving the full goblet beneath my nose. “Drink.”
“I’m not in the mood,” I admit. If I were, I’d be able to put myself in his mindset and pretend to be embarking on the thrilling path of self-discovery that I told myself this could be. Fuck that. This is war. A war I didn’t even realize the extent of until I arrived on the battlefield.
Looking past Jax, I eye the retreating servant. She’s young, probably low level as far as the hierarchy goes. Still, I could use her position as a shortcut to reach the admins on the outside. I could…
And in the process risk alerting the higher ups of the breach and proving their point. After all, if the lord and creator of this entire world can’t abide by the rules, what does that say about him?
It says he’s a blind prick.
Fuck. Shifting gears, I weigh my options, eyeing the landscape as I do. Jax has one thing right about the fancy private villa included with his renegade status—the location is perfect. Perfect enough to view the part of the island that I’m sure was the spawn-in point. From this height and angle, the layout of the island is far more apparent and what had originally seemed far more daunting is more obvious as a half-circle of two connected land masses.
From here, I can see the row of cliffs we entered near, a few miles away, I assume. The entry terminal would be the easiest mode of direct communication, if not blatantly obvious. A trip there and back is feasible, but not with the damn gauntlet starting at dawn. I miss that and risk tipping off Wilder that his miraculous reinstatement really did throw me off.
So in that case, discretion is better. I need time to truly take stock of the situation and who might be behind it. That being said, Wilder himself would be a good place to start. In theory, it wouldn’t take long to find his assigned lodgings, corner the bastard and beat an answer out of him.
But would he be stupid enough to return without some kind of leverage up his sleeve? As much as it stings to admit, I know the answer—no. He may be an ass, but he’s smart. The kind of sneaky motherfucker who holds onto a grudge from grade school like a dog with a bone, hellbent on achieving whatever twisted goal he has in mind. He most definitely made sure to have an exploit handy, not to mention some way of easily contacting whoever his co-conspirator on the outside is.
In this instance, that makes him smarter than me.
But if Wilder and his allies think that I’ll sit around and let them win this game, they have another damn thing coming.
In fact, the bastard probably expects that contacting the outside would be my first move—it’s the only route that would make sense, on paper at least. But Derek Wilder isn’t the only anomaly around here to content with, or the only mystery to prod…
It could be my dick talking, but I can’t get her face out of my mind. The tribute with the fearful brown eyes, body of a goddess and face like that of a deceitful bitch from hell. I stopped believing in coincidences years ago, but even as I start to fixate on her as a suspect, the logical part of my brain does everything it can to combat it.
Her resemblance to Diana for one. Sure, it could be explained as purely by chance, but I don’t buy that for a second. Her appearance, along with Wilder’s is triggering the one instinct I’ve learned to trust above all—self-preservation. Something isn’t right, but I think that given all options available to me, the one they’d last expect is to go after the least likely source. She’s not on the board, or—as far as I know—affiliated with the company other than landing the position of tribute. On its face, she’s nowhere near as big of a threat as Wilder, and given her status she’ll be the most protected.
But if she knows something, anything—assuming I can even get near enough to her to ask—it might be enough to score an edge on Wilder and his conspirators, one they won’t suspect.
On the other hand, it’s just plain fucking stupid.
“Uh-oh,” Jax declares, strolling up to stand beside me. He places the extra goblet on the top of the ornate railing and takes another sip from his own glass. “You’ve got that look again. That other look.”
“What look?” I respond to him purely as an attempt to distract myself from the prospect forming in my head—sneak into the amphitheater and find this tribute with the stolen face…
“The look you have when you’re about to do some really dumb shit,” Jax declares. “You last sported it the summer you told dear old dad to go to hell and disinherited yourself before he could do the honors. And again, when you made that one professor look like an ass by proving that he was wrong to fail you for your research paper on the human psyche and got him fired. Oh, and let’s not forget the time you broke into the science lab in senior year to score access to equipment you weren’t allowed to use merely to prove your thesis. Your eyes get all squinty and you bite your lip. You see? A dumb fucking look—hey! Where are you going?”
“Out,” I say—holding back the part that he just might have given me an idea. I’ve never been one to wait around for answers to present themselves. I fucking go after them.
“You know as my mercenary I could technically order you to stay,” he warns as I re-enter the main atrium of the villa, furnished to perfection.
I don’t even look back. “And technically, I could order you to go fuck yourself.”
I hear him make a kissing sound and laugh. “Love you too! That’s the K-K I know. Go blow off some steam and punch some walls. You’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”
He doesn’t even know the half of it.
Considering I had a hand in designing the concept of the Game from the ground up, one would think I’d have insight into the construction of the arena, but I’m just as blind as any player, forced to navigate the winding streets of Nika without any sense of direction. As annoying a thought it is to consider, maybe I should have brought Jax with me. Ironically, he has more experience in this instance than I do.
Luckily for me, all roads seem to lead to one place in this city—the hill of valor. At night, the amphitheater is illuminated by torchlight, the entrance patrolled by a set of guards dressed in black tunics—admins, I assume.
I stay close to the shadows cast by a nearby building, inching my way forward. As I do, my brain decides to take a midnight stroll of its own, flashing back to the past. Back then, creeping in the shadows was a literal nightly event, slinking along cold walls in silence, trying to dodge any wayward servants or security cameras. I told myself it was fun at the time, slinking through another man’s domain.
Even now, I can’t deny the thrill. The twinge of excitement that tempted a teenage boy to dance with the literal devil in spite of the risks. She had been worth it. Even while crawling through the shadows, he felt seen for once, if only by one person. Fuck, maybe it’s the environment or the lack of my daily structure, but I revisit those memories in more detail than I have in years. I let myself see her—body made from sin, hair like moonlight, face so beautiful she almost didn’t seem real.
But she was, perfectly real. For just snatches of minutes at a time, she was mine and that was all that mattered.
But the sex was secondary. Her real allure, her real power was in that enigmatic draw she could wield over someone. The sense that with one look she knew exactly who you were.
I see your potential when no one else does…
Though in her case, that potential didn’t extend to a future where I owned my own company and possessed my own influence. No. She merely saw me as her puppet, a means to an end.
As her errand boy.
Her fuck doll.
Gritting my teeth, I shake my head in a vain attempt to clear it. Damn… I’ve gone so damn long without letting the past resurface. I blame her—not Diana, but her lookalike. If I believed in God, her appearance would decisively shatter that faith once and for all. No benevolent presence would ever create two women from the same cloth as Diana Sampson. Except, perhaps, for the devil.
If Wilder is behind her casting as the tribute then fucking hats off to him. He did it, the bastard really did. He found the one sore spot capable of getting a rise out of me.
But I fully intend to make them both regret going there at all.
Shaking my head, I refocus on my surroundings. Up ahead is the main entrance to the amphitheater and two men stand guard. It isn’t every day that I wish I could pull rank and flash my shiny CEO credentials, but fuck I wish I could. There’s this edgy itch gnawing away at my resolve, urging me to move. Hurry up. Get in there and corner my target. Find answers.
Instead, I draw on the one good thing Diana taught me—patience. She had it in spades and relished in taunting me at every opportunity about my lack of it.
So impatient, she’d scold in that sly fucking purr. You can be so much like a puppy, sometimes. So eager for affection and a simple treat, when the best rewards are for good dogs who know how to wait.
I cringe to hear that shit now, but back then I’d so greedily lapped it up. She knew that, so she kept at it, feeding me the same old lies until my thoughts didn’t even sound like me anymore. Just her. Always her…
Snap out of it. I blink and eye the building again. Past the guards on the left-hand side of the structure is a narrow balcony, leading to an upper level, supported by a series of columns. Impending corporate coup aside, I have to admire the skill of my team. The detail even in the architecture is impeccable, no doubt a credit to Miranda and her research. Despite her poor taste in men, she displays nothing but quality when it comes to her job.
Though hell, her supposed attraction to Scotty could be a ruse engineered to get her closer to me and ensure that she has day by day info to feed to any contacts on the board looking to push me out. Paranoid? To be sure. On the other hand, I’ve learned to never put anything past anyone.
If a woman with the face of an angel can be capable of pure, fucking evil, everyone else is fair game.
Even a seemingly innocent tribute who in reality is probably some repressed heiress looking to get her kicks in a carefully tailored and structured paradise. More power to her. I hope whatever money Wilder and his associates offered her was worth it. Hell, did she even get plastic surgery to enhance her natural resemblance to that bitch from hell? Probably.
She has to be in on the plan. Confronting her may turn out to be not nearly as stupid as it seems on its face. So why the hell am I stalling?
I’ve been staring up at this balcony for only God knows how long, crouching in the dark. Some things you never outgrow—I’m that scared fucking prick again, sneaking through a mansion in his underwear, trying to tell himself that he isn’t a dumb, stupid patsy.
Goddamn it, what am I doing here? Here in the game like some fucking show pony, attempting to scale a wall and break into the equivalent of an attraction at a carnival show on a stupid hunch. The smart thing to do would be to tap out immediately. Confer with my team and try to mitigate the damage before Wilder can contact his cohort.
I turn, aiming toward the alleyway I came through, and it’s like a moment manufactured by a script writer who relies heavily on cliches. The same color as the moonlight, a streak of pale hair catches the glow of the nearby torches before it’s quickly stuffed beneath a swath of dark material. A cloak? It shrouds the slight figure quickly moving across the balcony I was considering climbing seconds ago. They pause just above the last supporting arch and in a flurry of fabric, a pale leg extends over the edge of the railing as two small hands grip the marble, giving the figure enough leverage to propel themselves over it.
But they miscalculated. All they’ll wind up doing is throwing themselves directly into the path of the patrolling guard.
If they don’t bash their brains out on the marble building first.
What to do, what to do?
I don’t know. It isn’t every day that a fly flings itself directly into the spider’s web.
What happens next?
- K catches Juno as she falls
- Juno notices K and stops her descent
- K joins Juno on the balcony
- K lets Juno go and follows her
Disclaimer: While an undetermined amount of chapters will be available to read in the NL, the entire story will not be shared in the newsletter, but will be published after completion. All copyrighted material shared is unedited and subject to change.