The votes are in, Juno chooses her punishment as her mouth!
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.
Damn Scotty—or Jax, whatever the hell he’s calling himself now. Barring his unsolicited pseudointellectual bullshit, the bastard couldn’t even give me a decent fucking starting point to go off on. Considering the fact that he’s currently sleeping with my lead game designer, I should have had the forethought to ask him for that much.
To hell with my intentions for starting fresh anyway. My tried and true method has always been to bullshit my way through any scenario, regardless of the planning or forethought required. That method eventually got me to academic acclaim and billions in the bank. Why not continue to act on ruthless impulse?
Like sailing a rowboat blind in the middle of only God knows where. At the back of my mind, I toy with the very real possibility that this mode of exploration may be entirely pointless.
Hours on the water, and it’s obvious that this arena isn’t set over one fucking island—it’s an archipelago of them. Given the sizeable budget set aside for this enterprise, the breadth and scale of the landscape isn’t much of a shock. And yet, as always, I’m impressed by the ingenuity of my team. The damn bastards went all out in designing this aspect of our little game.
So far, I’ve spotted at least four islands, each within swimming distance of the others, all off the west hand side of the isle I spawned in on. Most appear to be sparsely inhabited by a few scraggly plants and little else. Only one seems promising in terms of supporting actual civilization.
It lies due north, sporting mostly a tangle of emerald jungle with a hint of gleaming white structures towering above. A city? I feel my upper lip quirk. What the hell does my team have in store?
I can’t shake a shred of unease though. Those fuckers wouldn’t hesitate to slip in a poisoned pill just to keep me on my toes. By joining in on this round, I’ve upped the ante as far as performance reviews go.
It’s up to any one designer to either use this opportunity to impress me, or capitalize on the chance to humiliate me.
Not that doing so would require much effort on their part. Sure enough, my thoughts distract me long enough that I’m caught off guard when a sudden current tugs at the oars, nearly ripping them from my grasp. Fuck. What was that about a poisoned pill?
After a few seconds of struggling, I surrender to my base impulse. Fuck it.
With a hiss of irritation, I relinquish both oars to the ocean and lurch to my feet, disrupting the vessel’s precarious balance. One look at the churning turquoise waters below conjures a tendril of apprehension at what might lurk beneath. Swimming is a risky proposition, even in this carefully constructed environment. The whims of nature tend to excel at upsetting the best laid plans, and sharks aren’t known for obeying manmade barriers.
But what the hell? Turning my attention to the larger island, I dive in, powering myself forward with a vigor I haven’t experienced since my days in university.
Years of wealth and success have made me soft. Spoiled by luxury and a regiment of tailored workouts undertaken in a state-of-the-art gym at one of my various properties, or swims in a heated, climate-controlled pool.
And I had no clue what I was fucking missing. The seawater stings like a bitch and the current slams into me relentlessly. Keeping a steady pace is a struggle and it feels as though the water is deliberately trying to shove me back with every stroke. My limbs sear at the exertion and for the first time in months I sense a feeling settle over me that makes me shudder in relief. Some fragile semblance of…peace.
This is the kind of shit I’ve been looking for. Hoping for.
Mindless physical activity capable of wrestling my racing thoughts into submission—whether it’s fighting, or running or fucking. The latter of the three unnerves me the most. It excites me the most—perhaps because I’ve never let myself dwell on the need until this moment, up to my ass in the middle of a fucking sea.
I want to fuck. Need to.
And not for fun, or passion or simply to come. No. I want to pin someone down without giving a damn if I’m hurting them or not. Feel them squirm. Fuck them up the ass with no ounce of restraint to hold me back.
It’s about damn time I know what it feels like to do the brutal screwing for once. This whole goddamn year has been nothing but fucking taking it from every direction. Up the ass, no lube, no preparation, no dinner after.
Scotty, given his limited variety of dialogue, has a saying he likes to whine when shit doesn’t go his way. Fuck my life.
Been there. Done that. I’ve been fucked by my life. Over and over again.
Because of her, a part of me insinuates, sounding suspiciously like my nosy cunt of a brother. That bitch and what she’s done. She’s driven me to this—swimming against the current with all I fucking have, feeling like it’s never enough to propel me forward. I’m perpetually drifting, at the mercy of the ocean’s whims and whatever else the fucking universe deigns to throw my way.
Because of her. All of it is because of fucking her—literally and figuratively. That bitch. That whore. The beautiful, deceiving cunt. I can admit that even now I admire her vicious cunning. Hell, her charms beguiled me in the first place. That intellect. Her perception.
She always had a talent for seeing through someone, right down to the bone. What did she see in me? She never told me outright, but her actions since have made that mystery easier to decipher.
A gullible little boy.
The only problem? I’m no longer an eighteen-year-old cuck. She isn’t the center of my universe anymore. Ten years later, and the naïve, oldest Kendall has grown up—and these days, his jaded heart isn’t foolish enough to hope that salvation lies within a woman.
Been there. Done that.
And I’m over it. Gritting my teeth, I power forward, so fiercely my muscles throb. I feel the burn all the way down to my goddamn toes, and a pang in my chest triggers alarm in the part of my psyche still somewhat sane. I’m pushing myself to the brink, hovering on that dangerous edge of exhaustion when the potential of quitting is beyond your control—your limbs may just decide to fail, or heart may give out.
Regardless, I keep going, straining my body to its very limits.
Or, that Scotty-like voice taunts, in other words, you’re punishing yourself. Like that dirty word you pretend doesn’t apply to you anymore. Masochist. Haven’t you outgrown self-flagellation, K?
Far too soon, my kicking feet strike sand and I blink to find myself paces from shore, panting in the surf. My chest is on fire, knees wobbling, muscles cramping in fucking agony. And still, I keep going, wading through the tide until I’m collapsing onto dry sand, unable to go another step.
It’s as hot here as the other beach. The sun beats down relentlessly, and… Just as before, I’m not alone.
“It’s about time you got here,” a smug voice calls from further up the sand embankment.
I groan, wishing I’d drowned rather than made it this far if this is what awaits me—Scotty—Jax, whatever the fuck he’s called, skipping my way, looking as bright-eyed and bushy tailed as he did when we spawned in.
I inhale, bracing my torso with both hands flat against the burning sand. Regulating my breathing takes me a full damn minute. Even then, it’s a struggle to wrestle enough air into my lungs just to speak. “How…the fuck did you…get here?”
The bastard shrugs. “I walked. Over the bridge.” He points east toward a dense copse of trees.
Sure enough, I realize my folly the second I sense the wind change. I’d been so caught up in finding my own way, I never stopped to scan the horizon until now. That so-called “island” we started on was just a peninsula of this larger one, but the mass linking them is so damn small you can only glimpse it from the right angle.
“Son of a bitch,” I rasp, partly impressed, partly irritated. My team has earned a reputation as the best in the world for a reason—they simply are.
“Did you have a nice swim?” Jax asks and I don’t even have to look at his face to tell that he’s suppressing a grin, his eyes gleaming. “Worked out some of that aggression?”
The fucker knows me too damn well. Ignoring him outright, I lurch to my feet, disregarding the pang in my muscles demanding a longer rest.
“Where are we?” I ask, eyeing our surroundings with avid interest. This beach is longer. Dense forests loom in either direction, and up ahead is a seemingly desolate patch of rolling hills, coated in scraggly grasses. Though one detail I do remember from the boat is a glimpse of some kind of structure nearby.
And then it hits me.
“Perception,” I hiss out loud. “That must be one of the fucking themes. Things aren’t always what they seem from afar.”
“That’s very smarty pants-like,” Jax says, bounding to my side with all the enthusiasm as a hyper puppy. “It’s probably at least one concept we’re meant to ‘uncover on this adventure toward self-discovery.’” He makes finger quotes. “I still can’t believe you didn’t manage to peek at the game plan before you publicly announced your decision to join in.”
I say nothing. Even he doesn’t know the real truth behind my supposed volunteering. Like the fact that it’s more like an ultimatum. A challenge. A dare.
I can still hear that cunt’s voice, soft like a cat’s purr, as deadly as the hiss of a snake. Do you even have it in you? She’d wondered. To undertake the challenges you charge those rich bastards by the thousands just to undertake? Can you even face your true self?
She’d laughed then and uttered the answer she came up with. No. You never could, could you? Not even now. You’re still hiding. Still suppressing. All these years and nothing has changed…
“Earth to K!” I flinch as a pair of manicured fingers snap together beneath my nose.
“What?” I snarl, whirling on Jax.
He raises his hands in surrender. “Jesus. Easy there, Kujo. While your theory on ‘perception’ is nice and all, I think some concepts may be a bit simpler than that.”
“Like what?” I demand, my eyes narrowing.
He shrugs and once again points to a detail in the landscape I’ve overlooked.
“Like the fact that there’s a sign,” he says simply, indicating the narrow structure made of wood paces away. “Leading to a path. I’ve already followed it partway and it doesn’t seem to be a trap.”
A sigh rips through me, robbing my shoulders of tension. “Fine,” I concede. “Lead the fucking way.”
“As you wish, master,” Jax says with a bow. “Rest that big, bad brain of yours and let an idiot take charge for once. I think you’ll find it stimulating—” he chuckles. “You should have applied to have a coil on your bracelet. Some submission would definitely teach you to loosen up.”
I scoff. “I guess that explains why you opted out, then. You’re already accustomed to being used as a punching bag in your daily life.”
“Ouch.” His expression falls as he slaps his hand over his chest. “That hurts. I’ll have you know that only my Dom is allowed to call out my meek, docile qualities.” He winks and for the life of me I have no idea if he’s joking or not.
He wouldn’t be the first person in my inner circle supporting a double life. Or the last to betray me if the urge struck him.
Suspicion permeates my every thought lately. It’s this goddamn mood I’m in—fucking with my senses and making me second guess every interaction. Every mind state.
I’ve tried reflection. Therapy. Meditation. Nothing seems to hone in on the exact cause of it. This crippling, niggling emotion I haven’t faced in…
Well, over a fucking decade.
“This way, Mr. Brooding Warrior,” Jax calls from paces ahead. He’s already starting down the stone path. “Let’s follow the yellow brick road,” he suggests with a grin. “Hopefully to where the fun begins.”
“Or not,” I gruffly reply, shouldering past him. “I’m not here for fun.”
“Yeah yeah,” he replies. “You’re here to find some unlucky woman who happens to be into some hardcore kink and work out all that sexual frustration in ways that can’t be accomplished by swimming across the goddamn ocean like some kind of he-man. Right?”
I don’t dignify that with a response.
Mainly because there isn’t any point in denying it.
Not when it’s the truth.
Damn this place already. Not only is it hotter than sin, but it’s laid bare a stark reality I don’t think my brother and I have experienced since the days we used to play card games while hiding in the servant’s wing. Gleefully, the asshole has to declare as much out loud.
“Jax two, K nill. How does it feel to be inferior to my gaming prowess, big brother?”
I roll my eyes, glowering up ahead where, sure enough, a stone wall looms. Tall, imposing and formed of square masonry, it perfectly encapsulates the period of history the game makers took inspiration from when designing this arena.
“Score!” Jax brandishes a fist in triumph. “I was right! This is so ancient Rome. Could you see me as a gladiator? I wonder when we’ll get our assignments.”
“Assignments?” I question out of habit. My attention is fixated on the gate—and the ornate wooden gate serving as its entrance. Suspiciously. Jax and I are the only two in sight, a fact that has me so on edge I barely notice his amused glance.
“We get assigned our roles, master player,” he snipes. “God, I hope I get something good. Last time I was theme was ancient Mongolia, and I was a pony boy. I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what duties that entailed.”
“And I’m sure you learned plenty on that path to self-discovery.” I can’t resist aiming for an open target. “Like how many different ways you can take it up the—”
“Look!” Jax points to the gate. It’s opening, revealing a glimpse of paved streets beyond, as well as tall, square-shaped buildings composed of the same light-colored stone as the wall. Even from here, the scope of the design is astounding—a literal fucking city crafted by a team of engineers on a whim.
Baring our path, however, stands a woman, her dark hair coiled onto her head. A tight-fitting dress clings to her frame, but her bracelet designates her as a moderator, apart from the rest of the game—black rather than gold. I don’t recognize her outside of corporate attire, and her eyes flit over me without a shred of acknowledgment.
“Halt,” she calls, her voice lilting. Golden skin enhances her brown eyes, lending them a glinting quality that makes every searching glance she tosses our way land with an unmistakable sense of judgment.
“Nice casting,” Jax stage whispers to me. “Pity she isn’t part of the rotation.”
“Looks like your avatar self is no different from the fucker you are in the real world,” I bite back. “Always thinking with your head in the gutter.”
To my utter shock, he doesn’t seem to have a comeback. His face takes on an uncharacteristically serious nature as we approach the woman, coming close enough to realize that she stands precisely on the opposite side of the gate. Beside her rests a closed wooden chest, adorned with golden filigree.
Turning to Jax, she extends a slim hand. “Welcome to the city of Nika. Step forward and see for yourself, the path that awaits you within these walls. May you rise to the challenge, or fall at the mercy of your worst whims and inclinations.”
Jax sneers and smooths a hand down his tunic. “What are the odds on me being another pony boy?”
He steps forward before I can reply, boldly crossing the threshold to meet the woman on the other side. At first, it seems nothing changes—despite a rather fucking anticlimactic buildup.
But then he jumps and raises his arm, watching in shock as a glowing, silver insignia appears on the face of his bracelet as if stamped there by an invisible force. A symbol in the shape of the letter R.
“Holy fuck!” he exclaims.
“A renegade,” the woman says. She stoops to open the chest and from it withdraws a sack made of scarlet cloth that she hands to him. “Take these tools and wear your title with pride, for you are one of the vaulted elite of this city, capable of commanding those lesser to do your bidding.”
Jax, the fucking idiot, looks like he might piss himself.
“You hear that, K?” he says incredulously. “A fucking master. Though with your luck, watch you be the king or some shit—”
I step forward, cutting him off midsentence. Again, crossing the threshold feels an overly dramatic act at best. At least until I look down and find that my bracelet has also transformed. Only the silver insignia forms the shape of an M.
“A mercenary,” the woman declares. “A servant, whose only aim is to fight and serve at the command of his master. May you find a lord worthy of your exploits.”
She hands me a sack as well, but mine is made of an unbleached linen, twice as large as Jax’s.
Who looks like he really has pissed himself this time.
“A servant,” he mouths with utter glee written across his face. “Damn, K. I’m starting to see what you mean about how seriously you’re taking this arduous journey of self-reflection—”
“Fuck off.” Shouldering the sack, I push past him, eyeing what appears to be an intersection. The roads to the left and right follow the length of the wall, encircling the city proper while the one straight ahead leads into the heart of the development. The sprawling mecca itself seems to be built on a sloping hill, with a complex of square, towering buildings at the center, rising above everything else.
“I wonder if that’s my pad,” Jax says from my side, keeping pace as I advance. “Since I’m a master and all.”
“I’m guessing, seeing as how it’s a focal point, that it serves as a gathering point,” I say dryly.
“Gathering point. Castle. Tomato, tomahto. It looks fucking sick. Though shouldn’t we change, first?”
He glances around at the slowly increasing foot traffic. Other players are already trickling through the backdrop of what appears to be a busy hub in the style of ancient Roman architecture. I don’t study the buildings we pass in full, but they seem to span the gamut of everything from taverns, to pubs, to various markets.
Of the random players nearby, very few seem to be sporting the rough, plain clothing similar to what Jax and I spawned in wearing. Most have already changed into a colorful array of togas that signify varying social statuses
“My stuff looks sick,” Jax remarks and I look over to find him rummaging through his sack. “I’m gonna look so hot in this shit.”
I don’t bother doing the same. Driven by an impulse I can’t shake, I keep moving, wading through increasing foot traffic toward the heart of the city.
I wasn’t wrong at least.
Soon, it’s apparent that this section of the city serves as the main destination to many of the inhabitants already here. A tall, sprawling array of buildings, adorned with scarlet, shingled roofs and marble pillars. We’re herded into an open courtyard before the tallest building which resembles a temple, with a series of broad steps leading to an entrance.
And at the top of the steps stand three women.
“Sexy,” Jax mutters as we jostle through the thickening crowd for a better position. Even from here, their attractiveness is apparent. In the center is a redhead clothed in a tight semblance of a toga—historical accuracy all but damned in the sake of sex appeal—designed to reveal her curves. The two women flanking her are equally striking and I sense that inner discontent I’ve struggled with growl in satisfaction. Finally.
Something to take my mind off her.
Another woman appears to join the others—seemingly dragged from the temple by a shapely brunette.
Her mouth draws my attention first—mainly what’s covering it. A strip of dark leather shrouds her lips, rendering her silent. A gag.
Odd, but given the circumstances, not completely unexpected. I can’t make out the symbols on her bracelet, though I can hazard a guess as to what some might entail.
But her eyes… They’re so fucking dark their murky color is apparent from here. A soulless shade of brown damn near black. In sharp contrast, her hair is practically white. Platinum, but in a soft, subtle way that doesn’t seem like it’s been bleached to hell and back.
In fact, everything about her holds that raw, untampered quality. She’s small, barely coming to the shoulders of the women around her, all of average height. The breasts visible through the gaping neckline of her sheer turquoise gown aren’t remarkable, definitely not surgically enhanced.
And her face…
“Holy fuck,” Jax whispers, seemingly coming to the same grim realization I already have. “You know, if you squint, she kinda looks like—”
“Don’t say her fucking name,” I hiss.
But he’s right.
She looks like her.
Younger, of course, with suppler skin. Her tits aren’t enhanced with implants, her body lacking the general poise that years of studying the art of manipulation can embolden a woman with. She’s too thin. Too short. Too scrawny.
Too fucking different.
But it doesn’t matter. A wave of emotion ignites within me regardless, like a fire. One fed by emotional gasoline with every passing second. Lust. Hate. Rage. Most of all, a searing, brutal need for revenge.
And maybe a little pity underneath.
She’s everything I never fucking wanted, and everything a part of me grudgingly realizes I might need. To get herout of my system once and for all. To make her pay in the only way I can.
To shake this fucking mood.
It’s with an almost pathetic sense of relief that I spy the gold bracelet on her wrist and know for sure that she’s fair game. Mine to exploit. Mine to conquer. Mine to use.
I barely hear the voice of one of the women ring out, seemingly aided by unseen equipment.
“Welcome, travelers,” she says. “I am Minerva and welcome to the Hill of Valor. Here you can relish in the darkest impulses of your nature and claim that what you wish with skill and blood. Before you, await our lovely prizes—including the loveliest of all.”
She approaches the blond and runs her fingers through the smaller woman’s hair.
“Our Tribute of Juno. A prize to the winner of the Gauntlet, the deadliest challenge that lies within this arena. Whether you undertake the challenge yourself, or employ a vassal to fight for you, know that only the mightiest of players have a chance of claiming this prize.”
Prize. That word echoes in my head as I watch the blond squirm, her gaze wide. Despite the muzzle, I swear I can hear her whimpering from here. Screaming.
Fuck, I almost don’t want to suspect that she might embody that most elusive of fucking kinks. Role play. Submission. Someone ready to break and eager to be broken.
“Damn,” Jax murmurs, sounding miles away. “I think someone has a hard-on.”
Again, the bastard is right. But the tension building below my abdomen isn’t one I relish anymore. Fuck, I hate myself for the reaction.
I think I hate her.
Or pity her.
Or I know better than to even entertain this sick, twisted impulse buzzing through my skull. What I should do?
Is walk away.
What reaction will K act on?
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