The votes are in, you chose K catching Juno!
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.
I’m not a philosophical person—though, heck, maybe I am. Who knows? I certainly don’t. My own identity is as foreign to me as this strange, vivid landscape I’ve found myself wandering.
An involuntary part of my brain can’t resist mulling over the thought that this could be some kind of karmic test. Or punishment. I must have been a terrible person to wind up here, with no clue as to the how or why.
A total bitch some part of me supplies, and I flinch. There it is again. This strange duality of consciousness that seems to exist in this body—the woman without a clue, and the dulled sense of whoever I used to be. Someone bitingly sarcastic with a black humor to match.
Count yourself lucky you don’t remember.
I cringe at the thought. Could I have really been so bad a person that this would be preferable? In some ways, the signature architecture and various details of my surroundings—like the stone walls and floors—seem more familiar to me than the thoughts drifting across my own mind, colored by a stranger’s distinct drawl.
My own? I’m not sure. It’s as if some fog has been drawn over every thought and memory, so dense only a few snippets at a time can escape. Like the pressing, overwhelming, crystal-clear knowledge that I don’t like being alone. Not the silence. Not the darkness of an empty room and the taunting melody of my own ragged breathing echoing back to me.
I hate it.
It’s the inverse of the suffocating drowning sensation I felt amid the crowd earlier. A startling, lethal overdose of silence.
How insane is it for one person to feel such conflicting emotions at once—claustrophobia when surrounded, but a phobia of loneliness?
Welcome to my world, cupcake, comes that voice again, but I get the sense that piece of advice isn’t directed at me per se. Something I heard once, maybe? A statement that resonated so deeply I internalized it. It all ain’t sunshine and roses outside of your pampered little estate, is it?
I think I responded to whoever that original speaker was. I can almost remember saying the words… The real world sucks, some internal part of me whispers, supplying the answer. Which is why you need to get out of here. Now.
Here being a marble room bathed in the golden glow of a fire set in a sunken pit in the center of the floor. The burning coals cast a heat that somehow doesn’t clash with the overall warmth drifting in through the open windows. Windows slatted with metal bars.
I’m wearing a frothy bit of ivory fabric different than the elaborate gown I wore earlier. Chillingly? I don’t even remember putting it on.
You keep checking out, that inner voice remarks, but it doesn’t feel like a foreign thought or long-lost bit of advice this time. Just a genuine thought from some sleepy part of my brain that’s been turned off. Until now.
You can’t get overwhelmed again. You need to focus…
Focus. I blink, turning my gaze outward to the room again. Overall, it’s a spacious, comfortable chamber with a large bed draped with white silken sheets and a bench strewn with luscious pillows. Everything is so pristine and perfectly staged that it almost reminds me of a movie set. Why that comparison? I don’t know. It feels natural, almost. Like a concept I’m innately familiar with, more than this place at least.
All that’s missing is the shitty buffet and the asshole director screeching time checks at everyone, that inner voice remarks.
It’s strange, but I can almost taste the remnants of stale donuts and bitter coffee on my tongue. Remarkably, I can’t recall anything more concrete than that. My mind goes blank, like I’ve hit a wall.
This place, however, is no movie set. I’m still gagged, and apart from the chains, the heavy wooden door, studded with ornate gold accents is bolted shut, courtesy of Minerva.
“Enjoy your first night, Juno darling,” she crooned before locking me in. On the surface of it, her actions—and those of everyone around here to be honest—could be explained as cruel. Captivity. But that nagging inner voice is warning me that there’s more to it. An act? Perhaps Minerva and Ceres put it best themselves in their whispered conversation when I first woke up.
“Okay, so what if she did hit her head or something? What do we do? Call in a moderator?”
“I thought that at first. But look. A square. A role player.”
“Ah, forgot about that designation…”
I eye the “square” in question, etched into the surface of the golden bracelet around my wrist. The other symbols are equally as perplexing. Square means role player, at least—which in this context doesn’t sound remotely comforting. A player in a game?
Or an actor. Like on the stage. The term fits with how this room feels like a set, and the clothes resemble pristine, expertly crafted costumes.
But the lock on the door is real, solid metal with immovable bolts. I grit my teeth in exasperation, catching the firm leather of the gag sealing my mouth shut—a strike against Minerva despite my overall feeling that she isn’t malicious. Dejected, I cross back to the bed, fingering the dark purple fabric thrown across it.
Put it on.
The thought rams itself to the forefront of my mind, impossible to ignore. I glance from the window, noting the darkness of the sky beyond. If I even did manage to get out, this dress is way too bright to mount an escape attempt in. Slowly, I draw the darker sheet around myself, eyeing the door again. This time, I try to shove the despair aside and open my brain to whatever thoughts come naturally.
More gruff snippets of conversation.
Don’t be fooled by the looks of it. Another memory? That familiar, disembodied baritone echoes, as real as if the speaker is in here with me, scoffing at the ornate barrier. The prop department is getting fucking good these days, but craftmanship doesn’t lie. There are always backdoors built into every set. Even as a hotshot stunt double you should learn the tricks. Get inside their head—because that’s all this really is, you know? A fucking glorified movie set.
I don’t think the man was referring to this room in particular. Still, I sink to my knees before the door, running my fingers along the edge of the wood. It feels solid enough to me, impossible to budge with the slightest bit of pressure. My heart pounds at the small promising clue, but I don’t know where to go from here.
This stuff looks like the real deal, but those occupational regulations are a bitch. There’s a safety feature built into everything, trust me. You see this wall? It’s as thin as tissue paper, and those doors all have emergency releases just in case something goes wrong…
An emergency release. It’s like my fingers are instinctively drawn to the edge of the door—not near where the deadbolt slides home, but where the apparently solid bolts are. I finger one before pressing down…
And it gives with a subtle click.
Could it really be that easy?
Of course, most of this shit has alarms tethered to it, so don’t get too handy with what you aren’t willing to pay for if you break it…
I lurch upright, pressing on the door itself. It swings open in the direction opposite the bolt and I don’t question it. I push through the gap, entering the wide, looming hallway I vaguely remember being led through after the public display.
It’s dark with pools of torchlight illuminating puddles of stone walls and flooring. One wall is solid, the other opened by a series of archways revealing a view of a courtyard below. In the dark, several shadows flicker, betraying movement. People.
I dart behind a wide pillar, pressing myself against the smooth surface to hide out of sight. My heart pounds, the taste of copper flooding my mouth, I get that chilling sense that I’ve done this before or something like it—tried to stay out of sight knowing that something was on the line? My life? Instinct is warning me that might be the case, contrasting with the overall rehearsed, theatrical vibe. I don’t sense that the danger could come from Minerva or her companions, though.
Another face comes to mind, triggering an involuntary pang through my chest, urging me to run. Green eyes and short dark hair, stern lips set in a line that rendered his overall expression unreadable. The man I saw earlier in the crowd. He is dangerous some internal voice warns me.
He can’t be trusted…
Advancing footsteps draw my attention, snapping me back to the present. I barely manage to squeeze myself around the opposite side of the pillar before another figure rounds the corner. A man I suspect, his steps heavy and resounding, each one followed by an oddly metallic clang. As he marches past my hiding spot, I get a glimpse of dark leather material and a round, long stick of metal hanging from his waist. The source of the metallic noise, I suspect.
I can’t get a good enough look before he disappears from sight. When I finally wrestle my heart into submission enough to creep forward, I see that the hallway branches in two directions with one end continuing around the top of the courtyard, forming a square overall. The other path seems to head deeper into the building itself with a shadowed staircase leading below. Given the direction of the guard, that way isn’t an option.
Keeping close to the wall, I start moving, inching as far from any hint of noise or footsteps. I can’t tell how late it might be by just looking at the sky. It’s dark at least, the moon swollen and full, coating the world in a silvery glow beyond the orange barrier of the torchlight.
The paved stone surface below looks rippled in the grim mixture of light and shadow. I’m at least a full story up, but for whatever reason some part of my brain calculates that it’s not high enough for a fall to be lethal. As long as I land on my feet, crouch to distribute the weight properly. Keep silent so as to not raise alarm…
It’s like a checklist that I feel I’m used to weighing—risk vs. reward. How dangerous might a potential stunt be in relation to the benefits of performing it accurately. In this instance, I reach a conclusion within seconds—I can do this.
Even if I’m not exactly sure how. I can ignore this part of me urging me to forget how it sounds. I need to move. Run. Get out of here and come up with a game plan on my own.
So, I reach for the railing, curling my fingers around it. The dark silk slides over my shoulders, throwing off my balance. My first impulse is to shrug it off, but that knowing inner voice warns me not to.
In the sheer, ivory dress beneath I’ll be too visible and too much of a target. Keeping the shroud on is my best option—but in that case, there isn’t any room for error.
Warily, I spot the nearest strip of pavement below and fixate on it.
It’s just like practicing in the gym, that inner voice explains. Spot your landing and trust your muscle memory. It’s all reflex…
I nearly laugh at the idea that my body remembers what my brain can’t, how to move. How to climb over a thin, marble banister without hesitating and jump.
The wind whistles past my ears as my pulse swells to a deafening hum. The descent feels exaggeratedly slow as if time turned to the consistency of pudding. It takes forever to hit the ground, but even as something solid breaks my fall I know I never do.
At least not on my own.
Even if I am in some weird, parallel universe to the one I vaguely remember, I know enough to realize that the ground isn’t warm. It can’t conform to my body, both alarmingly soft and startlingly firm.
Stone can’t breathe in quick, controlled pants that scrape at my eardrums as my entire body goes limp. From loneliness to up close and personal with a stranger—the whiplash is paralyzing. Thankfully for me, this body isn’t.
It lurches into motion while my thoughts stall. Whoever broke my fall is tall—and a man judging from the muscular structure. One of his arms is curled around my thighs, his heat stifling and he grunts in alarm as I lunge from his grasp.
For some reason, a cat comes to mind as I land on my feet and spin on my heel with a grace that definitely must be due to muscle memory. Reflex. That same drive must be responsible for the stance I fall into naturally—legs parted, slightly bent, weight balanced near my toes, gaze riveted to my opponent.
Keep them in sight at all times and use your height disadvantage to your advantage, that cool, inner voice warns.
But no height disadvantage in the world could ever bridge the obvious gap between myself and the man standing before me. His height alone is impressive—forcing me to crane my neck to see his face. As I take in the sculpted features bathed in the glow of torchlight I lose track of everything but his expression.
Kendall. I hear that voice clearer than ever, so loud I flinch as if someone shouted it near my ear. But that would be impossible, because the voice I’m hearing is mine. My own, thickened and guttural with raw hatred.
I remember saying it out loud to someone. Shouting it.
And at the time, his face had come to mind. Those same piercing green eyes, but blazing in an entirely different setting. From afar, a million different versions of him, but always the same smirk. Pictures?
I can see them so clearly—a wall of them some neatly cut, others torn as if ripped directly from a magazine or newspaper. All starring him.
A face so handsome no woman could resist. I even recall one of the headlines emblazoned beneath his image proclaiming something about “Sexiest Billionaire Bachelor.”
Sexy isn’t the only adjective that comes to mind when I look at him, though.
Whose POV is next?
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