Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Aldrich Ames: some of the most hated names in history. Of all the villainous types, traitors are the most universally despised. No one wants to see redemption for a traitor; they want to see them dead, ideally in the most cruelly ironic way possible. Traitors are the lowest of the low, the worst of the worst.
Trent Michael didn't think that was fair. They were just guys, trying to make their way through life like everyone else. Life was hard. Sometimes it forced you to make difficult choices. No one got a kick out of knifing their best bud in the back, but if it was him or you what else could you do?
People didn't understand that. Life wasn't a game. If you got dealt a shitty hand you couldn't just muck it and wait for the next one to come along. You only had that one hand and you had to play it the best you could.
Some people had it easy. They got the pocket rockets. Looks, money, brains, athleticism, connections--a pair of aces right from birth. It was easy for them to play it straight, to be the Golden Boy, the hero.
What about the guy with the deuces? What was he supposed to do--toss them in the gutter, push all his chips over to the Golden Boy and smile as the fucker walked off with the pot and a chick on each arm, because that's how it was supposed to be? Fuck that. The guys with the deuces, or the five-two-offs, weren't they allowed their own dreams and ambitions? Sure, they had to play differently--use a bit of graft, use a bit of grift--but they still had to play their hand.
One person's betrayal was another person's strategy for winning. It was all a matter of perspective as far as Trent was concerned.
People didn't see that. It was all those stupid Hollywood movies, brainwashing them with worlds painted in black and white. Where everything revolved around the Golden Boys and everyone in their way was a "bad" guy to be booed. And none were booed louder than the guys that switched over to Team Evil.
Why? They were just playing the hands they'd been dealt. Not everyone could play like the hero. Not everyone had the aces.
They were just guys making the best of what they had.
Trent had given the succubi Forward Operating Base Helmuth.
Succubi, that's what Private Mark Sherwood had called them.
Private Sherwood was a nerd. He was into Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, World of Warcraft and all that stupid shit. During lunch one time he'd told Trent a succubus was some kind of demon vampire. It took the form of a sexy chick to lure men into having sex with it and then drained their energy. All of it.
Trent thought Private Sherwood needed to get laid.
That was at the start, when no one was taking the rumors and stories all that seriously. It was soldiers messin' with each other, trying to gross each other out with campfire horror stories. But the stories kept coming. Men went missing. Bodies turned up shriveled and wrinkled like raisins left out in the sun. Jokes about sexy demon bitches fucking men to death lost their funny.
They were sexy. That was the freakiest thing. You wouldn't think something with horns, tail, leathery wings like a bat, and sometimes even hooves could be sexy. You'd think something like that existed in nightmares, not wet dreams. Yet here Trent was, surrounded by five of them and almost doubled up by the raging boner in his pants.
It was their human parts. Horns, wings and whatever didn't matter when the rest of the package came straight out of a Playboy centerfold. Slutty eyes, big tits and slinky hips: they looked like the girls teenage boys rubbed their first one out to after discovering their father's porn stash, and never forgot as they grew up. Recollected through a prism of wet dreams and nostalgic memories of furtive masturbation, those girl's bodies morphed into an impossible ideal of sexual perfection. Bodies like that didn't--couldn't--exist in the real world. At least Trent had thought so until he'd encountered the succubi in the flesh. When he looked at their bee-stung lips his first urge was to press his own against them in a kiss. When he looked at the perfect curves of their exposed titties his first urge was to grope those ripe hemispheres with his hands ... grope them, squeeze them, bury his face right between them like he was rooting for golden truffles. When he looked down at the moist, shadowy cleft between their legs he ached to place his hands on their slinky hips and piston his cock back and forth into that wet pussy until he exploded.
When you looked at them long enough, those freaky demon bits faded right away.
Trent had given them Forward Operating Base Helmuth. He had his reasons.
"Thank you for your help," one of the succubi said. "It was invaluable."
Silky hair the color of fire cascaded down onto her shoulders. When he looked at it Trent longed to run his hand though it and feel the silky smoothness slide over his fingers. She'd given her name as Lophi.
They were standing on a rocky outcrop overlooking the base. Plumes of smoke rose up behind him into a roiling purple and red sky. All the personnel--his bros, homies--were dead, captured or worse. Trent wasn't, and that was all that mattered.
"My pleasure," he smiled. "This is your world. We're the aggressors. We shouldn't be here."
He didn't look behind him.
It was the truth. This wasn't Earth. The scientists had managed to open a gateway to another dimension and then the men-in-charge had done what men-in-charge always do--slammed down greedy fingers and tried to grab what they could.
The locals had other ideas on that...
Trent wasn't down with it. He was just an Average Joe--okay at sports, but not good enough to make it as a pro; not a dummy, but not super-smart either; decent enough in the mirror, but no heartthrob. He hadn't been gifted a winning ticket in the uterine lottery either--no money, influence or flash contacts for ordinary ole Trent. He was an Average Joe and he'd signed up because Uncle Sam would see he'd got fed and pay his bills, and that was about as much as an Average Joe could hope for.
That hadn't given Uncle Sam the right to post him off to another freaking dimension. Or hell. That's what the other guys called it: hell-space. The name fit. Where else would you find girls with horns, wings and tails? No, sending Trent to hell was not part of the deal. He wasn't down with that at all.
He gave the devil girls his most ingratiating smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, ladies, I must be getting--"
Lophi wrapped a steely hand around Trent's upper arm. "You can't leave," she said. Her eyes were wide--like big shiny black pebbles. "We haven't given you your reward yet."
"What kind of reward?" Trent asked.
Another succubus crowded in behind him. He felt her naked breasts rub against his back. They were as big as basketballs and soft like marshmallow. Her hands slid down his front, seeking out his groin.
"Something nice," she whispered in his ear.
Trent's stubby erection grew larger as she rubbed it through the fabric of his combat pants. He shivered as her other hand reached down and cupped his balls. She blew into his ear.
"Patience, Chauli," Lophi said. "We mustn't spoil our hero's appetite before the rewards awaiting him back at the palace."
"Palace? You want to take me back to your palace?" Trent said.
"It is a place of wondrous pleasures," Chauli whispered in his ear. Her palm continued to rub up and down his erection.
"Really?" Trent said with a broad smile. "That sounds good," he said.
The gate back to Earth was a click away. He doubted he'd be able to get ten meters before they fell upon him.
"How are we going to get there?" he asked.
The succubi tittered. Chauli's hands left his junk and gripped the underside of his armpits. He felt a whoosh of air as her powerful wings swept downwards. His feet left the ground. He watched the rocky outcrop recede below him as she took him up into the sky.
"You're heavy," the succubus whispered in his ear. "We'll burn some of that fat off you tonight."
The moist tip of her tongue dabbed at Trent's earhole.
"Sounds like fun, baby," Trent said.
Flaps of her great black bat wings took them higher into the roiling purple sky. In hell-space the sky always had the color of a lurid bruise, as if continually on the verge of a storm that never materialized. The other succubi wheeled around them in formation as they circled the smashed base and then swooped over rolling red hills dotted with bright green boulders.
Lophi and a raven-haired demoness flew out ahead. They met, flew apart in a downward curve and cut open the sky in an arch of sparking pink light. Chauli flew right through with Trent carried beneath her.
They were somewhere else. Same raging purple sky, but the ground was rocky and sparse. A castle squatted on the skyline like a predatory black toad. Demons swooped and whirled around it like parasitic midnight bats. Fires burned within the walls like angry boils.
"A little creepy for a pleasure palace," Trent said.
"That's not our palace," Chauli said.
She carried him up over the ridge and down into the valley beyond it, and down further still as a great chasm tore open the valley floor like an ugly scar. Down into--
Trent's mouth fell open.
Oh sweet fucking Mary, mother of God.
They descended into the ruptured earth. He saw a byzantine jumble of walls and walkways, and minarets that erupted from the rocky cliffs like uneven rows of needle-sharp fangs. Everywhere he looked was a heaving mass of fervent, perverse activity. He saw lines and lines of people, naked and ragged, crawling along the twisted stone pathways like ants. Beneath them raged a livid orange river of lava. He saw demons everywhere and of all shapes and sizes. They abused and molested the helpless souls while cackling with joyous abandon. It was like looking upon one of those medieval paintings of hell come to life.
Trent thought of the scientists in white coats bustling around the research facility on the other side of the gate. Those morons. What had they done?
"There's no need to be frightened," Chauli said to him. "You're a hero to us."
"I always said it was relative," Trent said. "Someone's villain is someone else's hero."
"They're the evil ones," Chauli said. "They invaded here."
And boy were they going to regret it, Trent thought, looking around at the seething activity on the canyon walls. There were armies here. Thousands and thousands of armies.
A gigantic gothic edifice emerged ahead of them out of the ruptured earth. Twisted spires rose up into the murky sky like barbed spears. It was vaster and more impressive than the ancient cathedrals found at the heart of the old cities of Europe. Trent didn't consider himself an especially religious man, but even he could see this was the antithesis of a cathedral--a building used for the worship of vileness and depravity rather than obeisance to any kind of noble god. It hurt his eyes to look at it. The edges kept blurring and twisting like a mirage, almost as though his eyes were desperately trying to reject what they were seeing.
The entrance looked like a cross between a gigantic vagina and a fanged, many-toothed maw. Trent and his succubi escort landed on a grim stone platform and walked between the enormous gates. A cacophonous din assailed Trent's ear drums. It felt like he was trapped in a corridor between two unsociable neighbors--one watching a violent horror, the other a porn film, and both trying to outdo each other in volume. Demons cavorted wildly through the corridors, displaying neither shame nor decency.
And the people, where did all these people come from? Trent saw all types--old, young, men, women--not just soldiers. How had they passed through the gate? Were there other routes to hell-space? Or maybe even other worlds like his adjacent to this dimension.
"Who are these people?" Trent asked.
Lophi shrugged. "Cattle," she said. "Playthings."
"Are you concerned for them?" Chauli asked.
Trent quickly shook his head. "No," he said. "Losers," he added contemptuously.
People let themselves get blinded by honor and all that shit. It conditioned them to bend over and take it up the ass from the Golden Boys. Not Trent. He played for himself. That was what it was about. Play your game. Win. Claim the prize.
He didn't look behind him.
Trent saw a commotion up ahead as a big man struggled with his captors. Trent recognized him as Hugh Osbourne, one of the Special Forces guys from FOB Helmuth. Tough fucker. Built like a Mach truck.
Osbourne looked at Trent.
"Hang in there," he bellowed. "Don't let them break you. The marines will come. They'll bust us all out of this hellhole. Pray to Jesus. Keep your faith in..."
Osbourne noticed Trent didn't have any chains around his arms and ankles. He noticed the casual way Trent stood amongst the succubi. He saw how Trent didn't appear to be beaten down, or stripped naked.
He stopped. His nostrils flared. His eyes bulged.
"You sold us out."
The succubi had swooped out of the sky on Trent and Ade Ellis while they'd been patrolling about a click out from FOB Helmuth. Trent had thought he was dreaming. He'd watched Penthouse Pets drop out of the sky and wondered when the wah-chikka-wah-wah music was going to kick in, and how much action he'd get before his alarm clock woke him up.
He'd have said the succubi overpowered them, but it would have been an exaggeration. The demons had batted elegant eyelids and Trent and Ade had handed over their guns like kids giving up candy. Then the lead succubus--a gorgeous pin-up with black horns and flowing red hair--had fucked Ade to death.
Trent knew no one would take his story seriously if he'd told it. Laugh and accuse him of making it up, probably. Snigger, almost certainly. Maybe even believe him if he was lucky. But take his story seriously, nope, never. No one could do that.
Unless they'd witnessed it firsthand.
The flame-haired demoness walked up to Ade, kissed him lightly on the cheek and whispered in his ear. That's all she'd needed to do to turn him into putty in her hands.
Ade started to undress, but Trent could see he wasn't totally with it. A healthy male given the go-ahead from a chick as hot as that would normally be dropping his trousers faster than a gambler shoving his chips in after filling a boat. Ade was slow and clumsy about it. Unfocused, like he was hypnotized.
Ade dropped his pants to his ankles. With a smile that was half triumph and half wanton desire the flame-haired succubus stood next to Ade and stroked a hand up and down the growing pink rod emerging from his groin. She whispered again and Ade obediently lay down and let her straddle him.
Trent watched as the demon inserted Ade's cock into her vagina and began to ride him with lithe bounces. Her full lips were still turned up in that triumphant little sneer. Like Ade was her little toy and she could do anything she liked with him. Up, down, she went. Her swollen breasts jiggled with every bounce, pulling the gaze away from her black bat wings, her horns, her tail, her burning red eyes. Up, down, while Ade moaned and shuddered beneath her.
Trent felt his own woody strain against the front of his pants. One of the devil girls stroked a lascivious hand against his groin and--just like that, just like a teen with raging hormones--he jizzed in his pants.
Ade gave out with a loud moan. The succubus sat right down, drawing the whole of Ade's length up inside her. As Trent watched she seemed to inhale. Ade shuddered beneath her. It was like watching a speeded-up video of a corpse drying out in the desert, or time-lapse photography of someone aging a century in a few minutes. Ade hollowed out and shriveled up right before Trent's eyes.
Worse. Throughout it all, even as he was shrinking down to nothing more than leathery skin over dry bones, Ade never stopped smiling in empty-headed bliss.
Right at the end Trent thought he witnessed some kind of wisp or essence--a ghost image--detach from Ade's body and stream up into the vagina of the devil girl sitting on top of him. The succubus closed her eyes and sighed in contentment. She stood up. Ade looked like he'd aged two centuries. His body was dried up like a raisin. Apart from his cock. That was still standing up from his groin like a livid red pole.
Trent lost his boner.
That's when he switched sides. There wasn't any malicious intent about it. He wasn't discontent with his lot in the army and harbored no grudges against his commanding officers. Neither was he seeking rewards he thought unfairly denied to him.
He wanted to live. They wanted FOB Helmuth. It was pretty simple really.
"You sold us out."
Osbourne's voice was quiet at first. Shocked.
"You motherfucker. You sold us out. That's how they got in so easy. You sold us out for a piece of ass. You traitorous fucker. I'll tear your fucking lungs out."
Osbourne's cheeks flared red. His eyes bulged so much they looked on the verge of popping from his skull. A vein throbbed on his forehead. He tensed like a rattlesnake about to spring forward and strike. Trent felt a brief moment of alarm. Osbourne was a very big man and the guards around him looked little more than slips of girls.
They weren't girls, they were succubi--demons--and Osbourne's imminent explosion caused them only amusement. One of the girls opened a door behind the furious soldier. A thick tentacle, dripping with ooze and bright pink in color, coiled around Osbourne's waist and languidly lifted him up off the floor. It drew him through the portal and down into an unseen darkness. Giggling, a succubus closed the door. Bizarre squishy squelching sounds emanated from the other side of the door followed by moans. The sounds unnerved Trent less than the realization he couldn't tell if they reminded him more of a horror or porn movie.
"So much rage," Lophi said. "He'll make a fine bull stud."
With what? No, don't fucking go there. He realized the succubi were looking at him, gauging his reaction.
"What he deserves," he said with a shrug. "He picked the wrong side."
"No sympathy?" Lophi asked.
"Nah," Trent laughed.
He swaggered on down the corridor while his stomach lurched and flipped inside him.
That face, flared red in accusation, would haunt him until the day he died. He knew that. And those sounds...
He didn't look behind him.
They walked deeper into the palace and entered a massive chamber with a roof so far above them it might as well have been the sky. The chamber was riotous with a wild orgy. Trent repressed a shudder. It was like looking on a ballroom dance from the most nightmarish depths of hell. Demons of all shapes and sizes cavorted with each other with no care or heed as to who was watching. The animal and the alien fused with the recognizably human to form shapes that caused Trent's eyes to shudder in their sockets. The creatures both copulated and tore at each other as if pain and pleasure were equally sought and prized.
And not only with each other: Trent saw humans caught up in the bacchanalian frenzy. The demons used them like toys made of flesh. He watched as a plump demon with the glistening black skin of a leech embrace a muscular man. The over-cushioned lips of her vagina sucked in the man's penis, sucked, and the man's skin was torn away like pink tissue sliding over a raw hunk of meat. A fiend with the head of a fish rammed a cock the length and girth of a moray eel into the vagina of a petite little blonde girl doubled over in front of it. It pushed hips forward and the belly, then whole body of the girl swelled up like a water-filled balloon, swelled up until her eyes bulged, swelled up until something ruptured and white froth tinged with pink poured from her mouth and she deflated like a punctured blow-up doll. A skinny man struggled in the midst of a group of twisted little goblins. They drove penises hard like pointed horns into his anus, his mouth, his ears, even his eye sockets. They tore flesh from the man in ragged strips and wrapped the glistening red bundles of muscle around their cocks and masturbated with them. A slack-faced woman lay wrapped in the tentacles of some kind of abomination with the upper body of a woman and lower body of a deep-sea nightmare aberration. The demon's sinuous arms terminated not in hands but in obscene appendages that resembled the mouths of lampreys. She fastened them to the woman's tits and mewled in delight as more of her tentacles slithered up between her captive's bleeding labia.
Trent wanted to be sick, but knew if he was the succubi would cast him into the vile orgy without a moment's hesitation.
"There," Lophi said, pointing ahead. "The Sarus Tower."
An enormous gray stone column, as thick across as a house, thrust upwards out of the writhing mass of flesh and up towards the unseen ceiling far above. Seams of void-black obsidian ran through the stonework like bulging veins. A spiral staircase coiled around it like a filigree serpent.
"What's up there?" Trent asked.
"The higher echelons," Lophi answered.
"Sounds fancy," Trent said.
"It's a place reserved for those of the highest honor," Lophi said.
"And that's me?"
"You're a hero to us," Chauli said. She gave him a hug that pressed a soft breast against his side. "Without you many of us might have died."
It was true.
"I'm just an Average Joe that happened to be in the right place at the right time."
"We're going to take you up to receive your reward." Lophi turned back to smile at him.
Her eyes looked like orbs of polished jet. Trent couldn't read them and was afraid to stare at them for too long in case he found himself sucked through into a place light never visited.
They picked their way through the cavorting throng and reached the foot of the staircase. It looked like a fire escape made out of gold. Trent placed his foot on the bottom step and a cold shiver ran through him.
Like someone stepped on your grave.
He had the disturbing premonition he was climbing the steps that led to his own gallows.
No. Push it aside. Any sign he was anything less than a hundred percent with them and they'd tear him apart just like those poor slobs all around him. He had no option but to keep playing his hand. Keep playing it like it was a winner. Keep playing like the river was going to come up and make his hand. He had to stay in right to the end, right until the last card was flipped over.
They followed the spiral stair up and rose above the debauched pandemonium of the great hall below. After one complete circuit of the column Lophi took them out onto a platform that looked like something a royal or head of state would use when addressing the masses. Off in the distance Trent saw other massive columns. The hall was vaster than an aircraft hangar and the floor was carpeted with cavorting demons as far as the eye could see.
Lophi shouted out to gain the attention of the crowd below. Her voice had a strange sing-song quality that might have been beautiful had it not also possessed cadences that sounded like iron nails scraping across a blackboard. She held up his arm like a fight referee. He didn't understand what she said, but the demons below looked up and roared.
"Enjoy it, hero," Chauli said from behind him. Her hands roamed over his ass.
A bubble of pride and elation welled up inside him. He waved. They were cheering ... for him. Was this how it felt for the Golden Boys when they picked up their trophies and medals? Trent didn't know. He was an Average Joe. No one ever cheered for an Average Joe.
That's because they were too busy bowing and scraping to the Golden Boys, stepping aside so the guys who already had everything could take even more. Not Trent. He was going to play his crummy little hand however it took to win. Traitor, hero: two sides of the same coin. All that mattered was being on the face-up side when it flipped.
Trent saw a face he recognized in the crowd. She was a pretty young orderly from one of the medical teams. He couldn't remember her name, but he liked her. They'd spoken a couple of times in the mess hall. She had a spunky sense of humor.
She wasn't looking up and cheering. She was being raped--spit-roast between two barrel-chested monsters with wild manes and savage features. Her eyes were flat and empty, the lights switched off and no one home.
Trent still thought her eyes were accusing him, even though they were as empty as a doll's. That's what she was now, a broken doll of flesh and bone.
And he'd made her like that.
No, put it aside. Don't dwell on it. He'd done what he'd had to do. If he hadn't it would have been him down there.
"What's this about?" he whispered to Lophi.
"You're the guest of honor," Lophi replied, and didn't elaborate further.
So was the sacrifice in every one of those devil-worshipper films.
"I like the sound of that," Trent said. He smiled and waved like royalty and tried to ignore what his eyes saw.
It was as every good gambler knew. If you played as if you expected to lose, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trent was playing to win. He was a winner. He was a hero, their hero. Because of him the enemy stronghold (his base) had been smashed and its soldiers (his friends) all captured or killed. He was going to carry on up these stairs and collect the reward they were going to give him, because that's what winners did and he was a winner.
Shauna Jay's--that was her name, he remembered now--dead eyes stared back at him accusingly from the inside of his eyelids. They were marked there forever, like an indelible tattoo.
He turned and followed the succubi up the winding stair.
He didn't look behind him.
"So this reward, any chance of a hint?" Trent asked after they'd completed another revolution of the great column. "The anticipation's killing me."
Lophi and Chauli shared a glance.