Authors: Carrie Harris
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Carrie Harris
Cover design by Heather Daugherty.
Photographs copyright © 2012 by Shutterstock
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Design by Heather Daugherty
A Delacorte Press eBook Edition
Bad Taste in Boys
Bad Hair Day
If I’d known that girls go crazy over zombie slayers, I would have gone medieval on some undead a long time ago.
Sure, I’m the smallest guy in the freshman class, smaller even than Kai Tipton, and his mom is a bona fide little person. And maybe I’m addicted to computer games, like
Dragons of Roargan Kross
, and yes, the jocks sometimes duct-tape me to toilets for fun. But once I’d kicked some zombie butt?
The ladies loved me.
Of course, going to homecoming with
Kiki Carlyle, our homecoming queen, hadn’t hurt either. And Kiki was definitely on my mind this morning. I slapped some gel on my hands and ran them through my do. I looked a whole inch taller. Now I’d come all the way up to Kiki’s
“You’re going to miss the bus, dorkwad.” Kate—my sister—stuck her head into the bathroom, ruining the nice Kiki-related daydreams I’d been entertaining, and ruffled my hair. I shrank about a quarter inch.
“Die, lich spawn!” I yelled, throwing the bottle of gel in her general direction.
She took off, and I tore down the stairs in hot pursuit. I would have caught her too, if I hadn’t turned the corner and nearly bulldozed Kiki herself. If Kate had wanted to motivate me, she should have known that the presence of a goddess in the house would have worked. I skidded to a stop and almost swallowed my tongue as I took in the view.
The girl of my dreams stood in our entryway. Her blond hair was pulled into a ponytail, exposing a slender neck. That neck killed me. I’d spent a whole night staring at it while we danced at homecoming. But her looks weren’t the best thing about her. What got me the most was that she smiled every time she saw me. Always had.
This time, she laughed outright. I grinned back. Kate kept on going toward the kitchen,
cackling madly like she’d won something. Maybe she’d won the battle, but no way would she take the war.
I knew a lot about battle tactics from playing
“Kiki!” I grinned up at her. “What’s the girl of my dreams doing in my house this fine morning?”
She blushed a little. “I thought you and Kate might like a ride. It’s better than the bus, right?”
“Thanks!” My voice squeaked, but I pretended not to notice, and so did she. “I’ll be sixteen next month, so maybe then I’ll drive
She might have been out of my league, but she didn’t scoff. She totally liked me; I could sense it.
“Maybe.” She jingled her keys, smiling. “So listen. I wanted to ask you something.”
“Anything.” I meant it too. At that moment, or any moment, really, I would have died for her.
“My cousin is going to be stuck here while her parents are in Fresno. I’d hang with her, but I’m going to be at the cheer tournament all weekend, and she’s not really into that stuff. But she’s really into
. Do you think she could come to your LARP?”
I swear the woman couldn’t have been more perfect. Most of the popular crowd wouldn’t have bothered to learn about live action role-playing, let alone use the acronym in conversation. But Kiki had actually gone to a LARP just to see what it was like. A bunch of geeks pretending to be warriors and wizards didn’t bother her at all. Like I said,
Gaming was one of my favorite activities, and the upcoming weekend of epic epicness would be the best LARP in the history of the universe.
Dragons of Roargan Kross
had started out as an MMO—it was only the most popular multiplayer video game on the market—and when they’d developed a live action system, I’d practically fainted from excitement. There’s nothing cooler than dressing up like your favorite character and acting out the fight scenes just like you would online.
And now the LARP club was sponsoring a weekend event at the Boy Scout camp outside of town. A whole weekend of waving swords around and flirting with girls in elf ears. The only way it could be better was if Kiki was wearing the elf ears, but I’d take what I could get. She’d eventually realize we were meant to be. I just knew it.
“Of course your cousin can come!” I said. “Girls attend free because we’re all horndogs.” She laughed, and I did too, even though it wasn’t exactly a joke. “But she’ll either have to drive or deal with the humiliation of being dropped off by my dad.”
“Oh, I don’t want to inconvenience you. I can drop her off on my way to the cheer tournament. I signed up for the LARP club mailing list, so I’ve got the address.”
I couldn’t help it. I dropped to one knee and clapped a fist to my chest. “Marry me.”
She giggled, then extended a hand and pulled me to my feet. “I’m too young to get married. Ask me again in about ten years.”
“I’ll set up an email reminder.”
Kiki threw her head back and laughed, full out this time. I wanted to kiss her so bad right then, but I restrained myself. Good thing too, because suddenly Kate came hustling down the hallway toward us. Her braid whacked me in the face as she shrugged on her coat.
“You guys ready to go?” she asked. “I don’t want to be late.”
I didn’t answer, just shouldered my backpack and opened the door for Kiki.
“My hero,” she said, and my knees went weak.
The next few days dragged, but finally I found myself dressed in full
Dragons of Roargan Kross
gear—dark orange tunic with the Nightdark Clan crest on the sleeves, green hosen, pointed ears spirit-gummed to the sides of my head, and a leather bandolier wrapped around my torso—walking down the path that led to Kiawaukee Boy Scout camp.
The camp wasn’t particularly huge. There was a main lodge with a cafeteria, ten or so
cabins, a couple of bathhouses with running water, a campsite, and a pond. About a bajillion acres of local wildlife preserve dwarfed the camp. A few paths snaked through the preserve, but at least once a year, some idiot left the designated path and got lost. The camp would have been the perfect place for a real-life adventure if only I’d known how to do half the things my character did.
I dropped my gear off on an empty bunk at the White Arrow cabin and headed toward the clearing where we’d be playing. The sun was shining, and I didn’t even need a jacket over my tunic. We’d had a warm spell over the past couple of days, which was lucky timing on our part. At last year’s LARP, we’d had to wear winter coats.
When I reached the path to Nightdark Camp, the sentry intercepted me before I’d taken more than two steps. I didn’t panic when a shadowy figure swung out of a tree on a rope we’d strung up out of sight, a sword held at the ready. And when I say “sword,” I mean PVC pipe wrapped in foam and secured with duct tape. But it was so much more than that.
The sentry on duty was a goblin fighter-thief named Goldnar. He wasn’t very smart IRL, and putting on a costume didn’t help.
“Password,” he barked, his beaked latex nose quivering. He didn’t even seem to have noticed that he was accosting the lord of Nightdark Clan, but that didn’t surprise me. You’d think I would have chosen a more capable sentry, but I’d picked him on purpose. Our enemies would be so busy scoffing at him that they wouldn’t notice the archers I’d stationed in the trees.
“Death to noobs,” I whispered, using the elaborate hand signals that would identify me as a member of Nightdark Clan. You know, just in case our mortal enemies, the Clan of Apples, had learned how to clone people in the last couple of weeks.
“Oh.” Goldnar looked at me finally and dropped into a hasty bow. “I didn’t recognize you, sir. Right this way.” He bowed again and gestured for me to follow him down the path into the camp. I stayed close on his heels, scanning the trees for my sniper nests. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there, and I felt a surge of pride. If the Apples came looking for trouble, they’d get some.
When we stepped out into the clearing, I couldn’t keep from bouncing. It was so cool to see the camp laid out. The canvas lean-to representing the armory stood in the middle. A big open flap in the roof served as a watchtower. Flags on either side of the doorway flapped in the steady breeze, and the black crow painted on them seemed to take flight. A row of tents along one edge of the camp represented our “homes,” although we weren’t allowed to sleep there because the chaperones were worried about “inappropriate intergender events.” (Rightfully so, because I hadn’t been kidding about the horndog thing.) The clanmeet, where we’d all gather to socialize and plan our assault on the enemy, was designated by a cluster of picnic tables marked off with stakes and string to represent the walls. A ring of stones delineated the central fire pit, where a nice-sized blaze crackled and spit ash into the air.
It was the exact layout of our online domain. I dreamt about this place sometimes. Heck, I spent so much time there, waking
sleeping, that I could have closed my eyes and automatically walked to any location in the camp without even peeking.
The clearing backed up against a small rock face, where my clanlord’s tent was located. It was just a big green tarp held up by a few poles, and it slanted slightly to one side no matter how many times I’d tried to fix it, but it was all mine. The rest of the gamers had to share tents, some of which were bought at the local sporting goods store. At least mine was semiauthentic.
I was one of the first of our clan to arrive. An adult supervisor was organizing the food and spared me a nod between counting packets of ramen. Calamity and Europa smiled and waved at me from over near the cook tent. Calamity was a barbarian, and she looked really good in fur and braids. She could role-play a frenzy better than anybody I’d ever met; her eyes actually rolled back into her head. And Europa was the best healer in the whole region, not to mention a good hand with a staff. Her robes made me want to snuggle up against them and purr, but I’d noticed that girls tended to take that kind of thing and blow it all out of proportion even if you just meant to be friendly.
“Ladies,” I said. I threw myself into a sweeping bow, and the girls giggled. At school, I was just another freshman geek, easy fodder for slamming into lockers or tripping in the
cafeteria. But here I morphed into something bigger than Jonah Grable. Here, I was Sir Talatien Maguirier, Nightdark Clanlord. And I was a hero.
Europa blew me a kiss, and I wanted to go over and see if I could charm her and Calamity into a game of chance, with
kisses for prizes, but there would be plenty of time for that later. Part of the reason Sir Talatien was so successful, both on the battlefield and with the ladies, was because he never did anything halfway and never, ever shirked his duties. He was a man of honor, and I had to uphold that.
So I reluctantly but firmly turned my back on the girls and surveyed the camp. This weekend’s game would be a struggle for power between our clan and the Clan of Apples. The Apples were more than a little weird. At the last LARP, they’d captured Goldnar and made him lick a frog. They’d actually brought one expressly for that purpose.