Promo for The Game Begins by Victoria Danann

THE GAME BEGINS
R. Caine High School
by Victoria Danann

Genre: YA Sci-Fi Fantasy Myths


When it came to the attention of the old ones that their creations, the Earth gods, had been playing games at the expense of humankind for millennia, they put a stop to it. But the rebellious gods were far too addicted to their games to give them up. After several summit meetings, they voted to use their own children as players and locate the playing field in the most treacherous environment in the known universe. High school.

To make it even more interesting, they would strip their children of their memories and withhold the rules of the game. The players believed they were ordinary kids until they were transferred to R. Caine High School. When odd things begin to happen, the players gradually realize they have special gifts or attributes. But that doesn’t mean they can’t die.


My name is Ever Moore.

I know. It makes me wince every time I say it. When I’m eighteen, I plan to have it legally changed to something that doesn’t make people laugh. But right now I’m stuck.

My dad thinks puns are the highest form of humor. He calls it ‘word play’. That’s right. I’m the spawn of nerds. My dad creates video games. My mother is an ethics professor at UCLA who thinks the battle between good and evil begins at home.

If you want to know just how weird it can get at the Thanksgiving table, I can go one better. My grandfather was a big deal rock star in the seventies. You wouldn’t know the name of the band. So there’s no point in name dropping. After a visit, he exits with a two-finger peace salute like all the other well-adjusted hippie grandparents, but he doesn’t say, “Peace.”

He says, “Rock steady.”

Ugh!

My family is big on manners. They’re too strict to let me say what I think, especially about Buzz’s love life. My grandfather doesn’t want to be called Grandpa or Grandad or Gramps or anything close to normal. Oh no. He wants to be called ‘Buzz’. I have no idea why. That is not his name.

Anyway, the best protest I can mount is rolling my eyes. I keep trying to get his attention and roll my eyes back further into my head when he does the ‘rock steady’ thing, but he will not be deterred.

Anyway I was leading a completely typical and deliciously angsty teenage life in Austin, Texas when my parents were suddenly offered jobs in the LA area at the same time. It was weird, but weird is part of my normal. Always has been.

Since my grandad, the rocker, still lives in LA with the latest girlfriend who’s barely legal - she’s two years older than I am and her name is Charmin, yes, like the toilet paper. If that was my name, I’d have the decency to go by something like Charm, which would really be making lemonade from lemmons. But not Charmin. I don’t think she’s bright enough to understand what people are thinking whenever they say her name. Anyway, with the jobs and the fact that ‘Buzz’ lives there, moving seemed like a good idea.

To them.

~~~

Now here we are in beautiful Oxnard. Yeah. I know. It sounds like somebody was in the middle of a sneeze when a cough barked out. I try looking it up to see what an oxnard is. Of course that was a circular exercise; ‘see city in California’. So I try ‘nard’. Closest thing is spikenard which is an herb. At that point I lose interest.

I’m stuck with Oxnard and, at least for the time being, Oxnard is stuck with me. So here’s a rundown of the good, the bad, and the boring.

The good news is that we managed to get a boat dock house. It’s on the water, but not on the beach. No extra space. There are three bedrooms. Guess who gets the ‘master’? That left two little rooms for my brother and me to fight over. I pulled rank - I’m four years older - and got the one facing the front. That means the water view.

Among other noteworthy travel facts, Oxnard is in a valley between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Los Padres, which is a cluster of mountain ranges. I’m told that you could be surfing at the beach while looking at snow-covered mountains. Put that in the kind of cool column.

Now for the bad. The house is tiny compared to where we lived in Austin. It’s going to be an adjustment.

As far as boring, I know no one here. As in NO ONE!

The only thing that could be worse than that is the fact that on Monday I’m going to have to walk into a new high school. Did I mention that I know NO ONE? Not even my brother will be in my school, which, okay, I admit I’m thankful for that because, if things could be worse, that would be it.

I’ve seen it. The school, I mean.

When nobody was there, I walked around the grounds with my dog, Elke. She’s a Norwegian Elkhound, really smart, really pretty, and really sure she doesn’t have to do what I say.

The school is kind of a gothic monstrosity that couldn’t be more out of place in SoCal. It looks like a Wizard of Oz tornado picked it up in Crumbling, Maine and dropped it in Oxnard.

I imagine the ground shaking when it hit. Boom.

How do I feel about starting a new school in two days?

As a sophomore?

Let me put it this way. Last summer my parents decided we were going to take a family trip to England. They said the educational value was astronomical. It would be like a field trip on steroids. Their words. Not mine.

So we went. But we didn’t go like normal families and stay in hotels. Of course not.

We stayed in family hostels. What’s that, you ask? Imagine going to camp with other families and sleeping in big bunk rooms with people of all ages, both sexes, some of whom make noises in their sleep that you wouldn’t think were possible for humans.

Don’t even ask about the shared bath.

Anyway, we went on one of those Bloody Tower tours in London where they trot you past all the torture tools and devices. Our guide tried to give cryptic descriptions about how they were used, because of his perception that my brother is of a tender and sensitive young age. The guide kept glancing at my brother nervously like he was afraid the information would scar the boy’s precious psyche, imprinting evil on the tabula rosa. On the contrary my brother probably invented some of those devices himself in past lifetimes.

The point I’m getting to is this. Given the choice, I’d gladly choose the rack over having to walk into a new high school as a sophomore where I know NOBODY! But this is the real world and I don’t have a choice.

I’m feeling sorry enough for myself to consider curling up into a ball when my brother barges into my room without knocking. “What the…? We moved here three weeks ago, Never. You’ve had time to unpack. You’re supposed to be the neat one. Miss Smart Perfect Suck up.” He punctuates that with a perfectly disgusting sucking noise.

Following his line of sight to the bed, the chair, the desk, I’m forced to agree that clothes draped everywhere looks like a breakdown straight ahead. Naturally I counter by going on the offensive.
“Nobody invited you in. Try knocking! I could have been getting dressed.”

“So what? You’ve got nothing that interests me.”

“Idiot. It’s called privacy. I deserve to have some in my OWN ROOM!”

“What’s this about?” He waves his arm to indicate the trunk show.

“I’m deciding what to wear the first day.”

He laughs that unbelievably aggravating laugh that never fails to make me want to pitch him out a second story window. By the way, there is one close by. It draws my gaze and gives life to my fantasy of hearing him scream on the way down.

“You’re worried, aren’t you?” he asks, wearing his smarmiest smuggest sneer face. “Well, sit at the feet of the master, little girl, and I’ll tell you how to conquer first day fever and win.” He sounds like an infomercial for a self-help guru. Maybe he’ll do okay in SoCal. “When you walk in, look for the biggest toughest-looking girl around. Then you walk straight up to her and punch her in the mouth.”

No. He’s not going to do okay in SoCal.

“Levi. This is California. They have zero tolerance for that kind of thing.” He shrugs, completely unconcerned. I put my hand to my head. “Wait. Wait. I’m getting a premonition. Yes. Yes. I can see it now. Mom and Dad are going to get a call from your vice principal within ten minutes of dropping you off at school. He’s going to tell them that they’re raising a barbarian who’s prison bound.”

“Just telling you. It sets the tone for the entire year. Your life can be bumpy or smooth. Take it from me. Your barbarian is my bad ass.” He holds a finger up. “Oh. Did I mention the part about run like hell after you punch Alice Assault in the mouth?”

I blink at him, wondering for the multi-thousandth time which one of us was adopted. It was probably me. “Say your name slowly.”

He rolls his eyes, but gets the message and leaves.

My brother’s name is Levi. We’re not Hebrew. My parents just liked the jeans which, I guess, must have been cool at one time. If he says his name slowly, it sounds like, “Leave. I.”

If you’re thinking that’s mean, don’t even go there. He gets back at me by calling me Never and cawing like Edgar Allen Poe’s raven, especially if I have friends around.

Naturally he leaves the bedroom door standing open just to irritate me. I slam it, hear my mother’s faint shout saying don’t slam the door, lock it, and turn back to the impossible task of figuring out what people at this alien outpost consider first day of school clothes. If only I could…

That’s when I realize I might get a preview into life at R. Caine High School. I open the laptop and pull up images.

Why didn’t I think of this before?

Track and field. Lots of running and jumping enthusiasm then.

Football. Concussion anyone?

Basketball. No comment.

A CPR dummy. How many times has that thing been kissed?

Softball. Hmmm. Maybe.

Graduation. Gold robes. Ew.

And finally, a photo of kids swarming a large paved area, not wearing athletic gear or some kind of club tee shirt. Whether they were coming or going I can’t tell. The main thing is I can see the clothes and they aren’t all that different from what I’m used to. In fact, the picture could have been taken at my old school. Sigh.

So alright. I can do this. All I have to do is pick out something that makes me feel reasonably attractive. It’s the first day of school. Not the end of the world.

Right?

Right?

Lots of people have been through this and survived.

Yes.

I know I’m taking that on faith, but since I haven’t heard urban myths about kids going to new schools and never being heard from again, I’m going with that assumption. Or trying to.

~~~

Who am I kidding?

Doomsday looms.

I mean you wouldn’t think a person could actually fear lunch. Not the food, of course. Although some might say fearing the food made in the cafeteria is a test of Darwin’s theory. I don’t think Darwin’s theory applies to humans anymore. Modern medicine is pretty good at interfering with the impending doom and saving the day no matter how badly we botch genetics.

It probably seems like I’m obsessing over the word ‘doom’, but it’s just that kind of weekend. The kind that will live in infamy forever.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. I was talking about the rites of lunch. The quest for that magical place where you can be part of a herd of the like-minded; meaning people who understand you well enough that you can talk to each other, eat together, gossip about whatever, and kid yourself into thinking they don’t gossip about you when you’re not there.

I look at the clock. Again.

The first day of my sophomore year should be a celebration of not being a freshman anymore. But that’s for kids who get to stay put. Not for people like myself who’ve been forcibly relocated, that means moved against my will, to the other side of the country.

By this same time tomorrow I’ll know if my quest was successful.

Will I be able to locate the magical lunch herd on the first day?

Have I been a good person?

Do I deserve that fate?

Why yes. Yes, I do.




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New York Times bestselling author of eighteen romances including paranormal, scifi, fantasy, contemporary, and teen. Victoria's Knights of Black Swan series won BEST PARANORMAL ROMANCE SERIES and PARANORMAL ROMANCE NOVEL OF THE YEAR the past FOUR YEARS IN A ROW. This past year two of her series took the top two places and two of her books took first and second place Paranormal Romance of the Year category. - Reviewers Choice Awards, The Paranormal Romance Guild.

Her paranormal romances come with uniquely fresh perspectives on "imaginary" creatures, characters, and themes. She adds a dash of scifi, a flourish of fantasy, enough humor to make you laugh out loud, and, occasionally, enough steam to make you squirm in your chair. Her heroines are independent femmes with flaws and minds of their own whether they are aliens, witches, demonologists, werewolves, hybrids, psychics, or past life therapists. Her heroes are hot and hunky, but they also have brains, character, and good manners... usually.

The rich characterizations come from being a lifelong student of behavior, casually, and a serious student of behavior academically. She also studied comparative religion, myths, and Dark Ages history.

Victoria lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband and a very smart, mostly black German Shepherd dog.

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