The sky was gray. The grass was gray. The rocks were gray. Strife sighed and sunk down into the gray grass, looking at the gray sky, while a gray rock dug into his ass cheek. Asphodel was really boring.

It was different when he first died. Strangely enough, he didn't even know he was dead at the time. There was a knife in his guts, and a sickening burning sensation, and then his buddy Thanatos was there giving him the most curious look. Strife had assumed that the Reaper was there to help him fight off that skanky blonde whore Callisto, give 'er the old one-two.

"Bitchin," he cried, giving the pale, winged god the thumbs-up signal.

Thanatos stared, his leathery wings swaying gently.

"Come on, Death, fuck 'er up! Hit her with one of your kick ass energy bolts, dude!"

"Eristikos," said the Reaper quietly.

It was Strife's turn, then, to stare. No one ever called him by his given name. "Thanatos," he said, his own voice shrill in his ear, "come on, help me. That bitch just stabbed me," he wailed, clutching his belly. "Do something, man." Then he realized that Death had never before spoken to him, except in his mind.

Then his uncle was talking, and something in his tone was off, way off. "He wasnít so bad.  He tried hard.  He -- he was just no good at his job.  You didnít have to do this!" Ares said, his voice thick. He was cradling someone on the floor, maybe Callisto. Maybe Ares and the mortal Iolaus had defeated her somehow while Strife was talking to Thanatos. And maybe that's why Thanatos was there, 'cos the bitch was dead. Yeah.

"How'd they do that?" Strife asked quietly. "How'd they kill her? Did you see it, Reaper?"

Thanatos extended a thin, pale hand toward the God of Strife. "Come, little god."

Iolaus spoke small words of comfort to the War God, but somehow his words were indistinct in Strife's ear. "Why ya so broken up about the bitch, unc? She tried ta kill me."

Ares ignored Strife. Well, that was nothing new.

Strong, slender hands on Strife's waist distracted him from his uncle. "Come, now."

"Okay, okay," he said, puzzled by Death's insistence. Ares and Iolaus were leaving (without inviting him, of course) and they were just going to leave Callisto's body there on the floor. If he was going to be left alone with her cooling corpse, certainly Thanatos could wait a few moments in the name of mischief. "Just a sec."

"Now," Thanatos whispered seductively in his ear, the Death God's breath rich with lilies and rain. He pulled Strife against him, clutching at the squeaking leather outfit and the metal grommets and rings.

"Why are you so touchy all of a sudden?" Strife giggled. He'd given a one-hand ed salute to Thanatos plenty of times, usually after he saw his delicately evil form flitting between the doomed mortals in a melee. The Reaper never seemed interested in actually touching him, though, and Strife had been too intimidated to make a pass at him. Besides, what would Ares say? Ares had left him behind to go and do something or other with Iolaus, though. "I never knew you felt that way."

Thanatos' eyes widened and, shock of all shocks, he blushed. "Come with me," he insisted, tugging on Strife's shoulders.

"Well," Strife said breathlessly, "if you're that hot on the idea I suppose I can steal away for an hour or two. Unc did leave me here without a second thought..."

"Please," Thanatos whispered urgently, and Strife made up his mind.

"Okay, okay. Just let me get a quick, gratuitous bit of payback in and we'll be off." He twirled suddenly out of Thanatos' grasp, moving fast because he was eager to join the Reaper and see what death gods did in bed. He considered a few quick mutilations he'd like to perform on the witch's corpse, sliding a sharp blade that would make short work of her from his wristlet. He twirled happily over to the fallen form.

It was his own body on the floor.

Strife stared, the shock and horror washing over him with the weight of the whole world behind it. He looked so thin, so still.

"You didn't need to see that," Thanatos said, taking Strife by the upper arms. "Come."

*****

Strife had always been fascinated by Asphodel. He went there occasionally to torment Hercules' children when he was alive and they were dead, though they rapidly forgot his harassment. There were bleak parts and weird parts and all kinds of dangerous things about, things of endless interest, except that they all lost their appeal the moment the place became his permanent home.

Thanatos didn't know what to make of him, for after all, gods weren't supposed to die. He regarded Strife with a combination of pity and fear that just made both of them uneasy. Strife decided he was better off not  pursuing a liaison with him; it would only make them feel awkward. Besides, all the gestures that he'd interpreted as sexual advances were merely actions of the Reaper doing his job.

The first span of time was somewhat of a blur. Strife was brought to a large edifice, though he could concentrate on little but the endless loop in his brain that was screaming, "This is NOT happening."

Hades arrived, a vision in his flowing black cloak, welcoming Strife with open arms and a feather-light kiss on each cheek. *Maybe he needs a second in command,* Strife thought with a faint glimmer of hope.

The Lord of the Underworld was quite firm when he told Strife where he could and could not go, and unfortunately the chambers where he spent all of his time were in the 'could not' category. The dead god tried to wander in armed with the excuse that he was lost, but his body would not physically obey his mind's commands. He'd stood sighing at the threshold of the gorgeously appointed suite for nearly a year before he gave up and wandered away, looking for someone else to look up to.

He'd made the rounds of Asphodel, then, for apparently he wasn't assigned to either the Elysian fields or Tartarus, the judges of the Underworld not knowing any more than Hades where to relegate a dead god. Elysium: boring. Tartarus: bleak. Asphodel: dull. Rivers: wet. There was simply nothing for Strife to do, nothing that meant anything.

Eventually Strife stumbled upon the gates that led to Greece, and he also found a very large, very mean three headed dog in front of it. A few dead mortals hovered nearby, also considering whether of not they should make a run for it. They tried and were inevitably snagged and brought back by Cerberus a bit gnawed around the edges for their trouble. The dead god made a thousand attempts before he admitted to himself that he wouldn't see the other side of that gate anytime soon.

Strife rolled in the gray grass, savoring the most monotonous site in the blandest place he'd ever known. He wondered later if the odd little spot that he found had drawn him there, or if the same dumb luck that got him, a god, killed was the same luck that led him to this tiny aberration. Face down in the grass, Strife spotted a glimmer of blue.

It looked like a gem at first, it shone so among the gray vegetation. It eluded Strife's grasp as he tried to pick it up, always seeming to be just beyond his questing fingertips. He supposed that it felt strange to be interested in something as he dug through the grass, searching for the jewel. He peered down between the lush, thick blades. The blue thing was still there, though it looked farther down, but somehow bigger. The strange trick of perspective made Strife's stomach clench.

Strife dug with a purpose, pulling out long hanks of grass and tossing them over his shoulders. He hadn't realized the grass was as dense as it was, for the blades were nearly the length of his arm from root to tip, but somehow it buoyed the residents of Asphodel atop it.

He thrust his face eagerly into the gap he'd made, looking for his gem, only to find that it wasn't a gem. It was a hole.

A hole?

But where could it lead, Strife wondered. Somewhere blue; the exact blue of the Grecian sky. He glanced furtively over one shoulder, then the other, but no one was there. Of course not. The Underworld gods and the dead alike avoided him. Fine. He'd have plenty of time to dig without being discovered.

Gray grass flew as Strife widened the hole, and soon he was below the level of the grass, a burrowing creature that tunneled his way into the unknown.

*****

The King of Corinth brooded in his private courtyard, the only place he felt he was truly alone, for his castle forever watched him. The eyes of his advisors were continually upon him as they fretted for his sanity and wondered how many stable years of rule were left to be had under him. The eyes of the sly courtesans that hoped to woo him into their beds with false words and hollow gestures raked him shamelessly. The eyes of Rena who died alone because he wasn't enough of a man to say no to the demands others made upon him lurked in every half-lit shadow.

He had no proof that his late wife was there, of course. He'd never discussed it with anyone. Certainly, all pious Greeks declared that they believed in the afterlife, but to have contact with such a place -- it was not spoken of.

The wisewomen would have given him sage advice, no doubt, or perhaps they would have glutted him with still more lies while they fattened the purses of their families for several generations to come with the gold Iphicles had paid for with Corinth's sweat and blood.

A friend, then? Mayhap a comrade would tell Iphicles if he, too, felt the chilling breezes where there were no chinks in the walls, or the disembodied laughter and sobs that sounded similar to the wind, yet raised the hackles on one's neck like no wind had the power to.

Iphicles thought he had friends, once. Three were killed, but that was the life of a soldier. Another married and sailed away across the sea, while two more spoke coolly to him because of some rash words they'd had over a bit of state policy that was meaningless now, its only legacy the gap in his life that the men he'd alienated used to fill.

All the others who called him "friend" were collected after Jason crowned him king. Those men couldn't be trusted, for who knew if they spoke the truth or simply uttered what they thought their monarch wished to hear?

And so Iphicles was alone with the lurking suspicion that Rena was watching him from beyond the grave, her eyes filled with the accusation that he hadn't been there for her in the only time that had ever mattered, that ever would matter. He spent what little free time he had outside, for he felt less haunted there, less oppressed. Being outdoors in the shelter of the courtyard also gave the illusion that he could escape his unseen predator if he wished. He wouldn't get very far, of course. The high walls that kept assassins out also sealed Iphicles in. Nonetheless, the blue sky above was so much less oppressive than the walls and ceilings of the palace which had become his prison.

The strange, lurking presence followed him, though, even to the courtyard. There was an incessant muttering quality to the strange phenomena today and it seemed louder, more insistent than usual.

Or maybe I'm just crazy, Iphicles thought, burying his face in his hands. Sometimes it felt like the grief was a living creature that was consuming him from the inside, the suffering and self loathing were so tangible. He wouldn't be surprised at all to discover that Rena was not actually haunting him, that he'd simply lost his hold on reality altogether.

All at once the faraway, half-perceived quality of the mutterings began to sharpen, and the mutterings turned into a howl, and there was definitely a real presence with Iphicles. Either it was real or he'd finally lost his mind altogether.

*****

Strife dug and dug and dug some more. After a huge chunk of time, though he couldn't quite say how long (the Underworld not being conducive to the cataloging of days) he'd widened the hole enough to stick his hand inside. His body was far, far below the surface of the plains of Asphodel, and his arm was elsewhere. Somewhere warm.

"Kick ass."

The dead god tunneled with renewed vigor, having made contact with something other than his cool, gray prison. He dug until his could fit his head through the hole, squeezed his narrow shoulders together and worked his body in. He hadn't given much thought to the fact that his shoulders were the broadest part of his body. Then he fell.

"Eeeeyaaahhh..."

The tiny blue gem that had turned into an enticing blue hole was now a wide blue abyss full of floating clouds toward which Strife hurtled. With a sickening wrench, a new set of physical laws from the world inside the hole interrupted his trajectory and drew him back toward the hole from which he'd tunneled. Seen now from the tumbling angle as he approached it, Strife was being sucked upward toward a ceiling of green grass and cobblestones.

"....aaaaahhhh...."

Strife twisted and contorted as he fell, landing with a solid thunk some distance away from the hole he'd dug, a hole which was already beginning to seal itself.

"Hoooly sheeyiitt," he declared, holding his head. He glanced around the courtyard he'd appeared in, where apparently up was down and down was up. A startled mortal seated on a marble bench nearby stared at him, shocked, while he clutched the edges of the bench until his knuckles turned white.

Strife did a double take. Even though he was dead, he still knew a mortal from a god when he saw one. This one was definitely a mortal, but he was Ares' spitting image. Maybe he was a descendent of one of the War God's by-blows. "Draw a picture, maybe it'll last longer," he sneered, hoping to downplay his anxiety.

The mortal gaped at him.

Strife cursed to himself as the tidal wave of his longing for Ares flooded over him. He'd ignored the feelings of loneliness and desire since he died because grieving over Ares' abandonment of him certainly wouldn't change things, but to see those eyes, those lips again brought everything back tenfold.

"Who are you?" the mortal stammered, reaching cautiously for the knife in his boot.

Strife got his feet under him uncertainly, for he still felt as if he was standing on the ceiling and he would fall any moment into the clouds. He flicked his wrists in a long-unused gesture and a pair of gleaming silver blades leapt into his hands. "I haven't rumbled in a long time, pretty boy, so believe me, I'm game. It'd be a shame to cut up that handsome face of yours, though, so you might wanna consider leavin' that knife just where it is."

The mortal's hand took back its position grasping the edge of the bench.

"Okay, much better," Strife said. With another flick, his knives resheathed themselves in his armlets. "You've got questions and I've got questions. You answer one from me, and I'll do the same for you. No tricks, no lies. Sound good?"

The mortal nodded, wide eyed.

"Good," Strife affirmed, pacing around the man. Damn, but he was hot. His shoulders were deliciously broad and his legs were muscular and tight. The dead god bet the man's abdomen had those little ripples that he so loved to work his tongue over. His tongue protruded ever so slightly from between his lips just at the thought of it. *Down, boy,* he chided. He needed to establish his dominance over the mortal and pull the necessary information from him, not lay down and spread his legs like a teenaged whore. After all, even though he was dead, he was still a god.

Strife took a deep breath. "Okay, then. We're not in the Elysian Fields, are we?"

The mortal shook his head.

"Good, 'cos that would suck big time. I mean, I would swear that this was Greece, if I didn't know better."

"Corinth," whispered the mortal. Gods, he sounded like Ares too.

"Corinth?" Strife echoed, surprised. He took in the elaborately manicured gardens that surrounded him, then scanned the thickness of the walls. "When did Corinth get so rich?"

"You're in the Royal household," supplied the mortal carefully.

Strife placed his hands on his hips and looked all around, his eyes finally settling on the hole in the grass. It was very small now, but he could still see it, and more importantly, feel it. He inched toward it, needing to reassure himself that it was still there, yet fearing that it might open back up and swallow him.

"And what the fuck is that?" Strife asked, pointing in the general direction of the tiny hole.

The mortal cleared his throat uneasily and clutched even harder at the marble bench. "Pardon me, but you haven't answered any of my questions yet, and I've answered several of yours."

Strife drew back an hand and waited for the energy bolt to fill it that he would use to blast the impertinent mortal. His hand remained empty. Shit. There was another one of those disadvantages to being dead.

The mortal stared at Strife's empty hand with curiosity, and the god twirled it around and scratched at his thigh as unobtrusively as he could. "Uh, right. Right. Well, go ahead then, ask."

"Who are you, and why are you haunting me?"

"That's two," Strife snapped.

The mortal's mouth worked for a moment before he drew up the courage to protest. "But I answered at least two of yours."

Strife crossed his arms over his chest, irritated. For some reason, he was reluctant to tell this mortal who he was and ashamed to admit that he was dead. "Eristikos," he said grudgingly. While that was his real name, it wasn't as if anyone but his immediate family knew it as such. "And I'm not haunting you. I'm an Underworld god."

The mortal rose from his seat, his limbs shaking with barely contained emotion. "But I've sensed you for months. Why me?"

Strife backed away from the huge mortal. Months? Surely he'd only been digging the hole for a few hours, or a few days at the most. The mortal with Ares' face was beginning to give him the creeps. "Okay, pretty boy, that's three. Now I'm pissed."

Anxious and confined, Strife spun on his heel and marched quickly through the thick stone wall. He heard the red haired mortal behind him pleading with him to stay, but he needed to get out of there, to be free. He also didn't want to be reminded that he was, indeed, a ghost.

Strife trod down the steep hill that the castle was built upon; a strategic design. Corinth's temples and dwellings and marketplaces sprawled before him like a patchwork blanket. The god took a deep breath, savoring the smell of cooking fires and human waste that accompanied every large city-state. It was good to be back.

He willed himself to appear among the merchants, eager to begin wreaking havoc. Nothing happened. "Oh, for the love of..." he cried, throwing his hands in the air. "I can't even blink in and out?"

Sighing melodramatically, Strife ran his fingers through his wild black hair, squared his shoulders, and began his downhill trek toward the milling Corinthians.

*****

Iphicles stood in his courtyard with his face in his hands. 'I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy...'

His relief was palpable. He'd been looking over his shoulder for so long he was surprised he didn't have a permanent kink in his neck. But there it was, proof in the form of a strange, dark god; an Underworld god he'd never heard of, but a real being nonetheless, not a figment of his imagination.

He went to the spot where the god had disappeared and ran his fingertips along the cool, mossy wall. It felt the same as the rest of the stones. He'd offended Eristikos somehow, and now the deity was gone. Iphicles pressed his cheek against the hard stone as trepidation about the real events unfolding surged in to fill the space in his gut that his vague paranoid suspicions used to occupy. How had he managed to piss off a god?

"Should've answered him," Iphicles muttered to himself. He couldn't believe that he was so accustomed to having others comply with his wishes that he had the spleen to speak to a god in such a way. That was the legacy of the crown, he supposed. It'd made him an arrogant fool. If he'd simply answered Eristikos' questions, the god would likely still be there. Iphicles could have asked him about the Underworld, about Rena.

Iphicles growled and punched the wall, accomplishing nothing but the bloodying of his knuckles.

Strife stood among the throng of mortals in the Corinthian marketplace, his arms wrapped protectively around his chest. He'd tried to conjure his hooded cloak, the one he liked to wear when he was weaving in and out among the mortal crowd, but nothing happened. Apparently he only had access to the patent leather outfit he'd died in.

He had then tried to influence the minds of some bartering salesmen with his malignant caress. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

He shapeshifted, then, taking the form of a very average, nondescript mortal who could sow tiny seeds of dissent with his offhand remarks. No one could see him.

Screaming his frustration to the winds, Strife walked, albeit indignantly, until he came upon familiar architecture: the Temple of Ares.

Strife walked through the closed door, his insubstantial body coalescing inside the dim, somber temple. Ares wasn't there; Strife would have detected his presence immediately, dead or not. Leather squeaking, he sat cross legged on the floor beside the altar and watched the priests go about their ritual duties.

"I know you can hear people when they pray at your altar," Strife said quietly, "though whether you choose to listen or not is another story. I just need to know. Why didn't you protect me?"

All was quiet except for the scrape of the rushes against the floor as a priest swept the flagstones.

*****

"Leave it there," Iphicles barked at the frightened servant who dutifully deposited the huge tray of fruit inside the doorway to the courtyard. "What are you looking at? Go on, then, get the rest of it." The monarch crossed his bare, muscular arms and watched the train of servants that snaked through his room deposit the goods he'd requisitioned at his feet.

Several hours later he was alone again, shooing off the servants and blatantly ignoring the advisors who'd come calling, curious as to the Iphicles' sudden interest in fruit and wine, candles and flowers. He'd overheard one of them whispering that perhaps he was planning on wooing one of the courtesans. He let the advisor have that little fantasy. It would keep them happy and out of his hair, at least until they discovered that his project was something else entirely.

Iphicles dragged an elaborate table of wrought metal out of his suites, spreading a cloth of snowy linen atop it. As carefully as he could (for he was a warrior, and had no skill for making pleasing arrangements), he set out the candles, lit them, and heaped the fruit in the center of the makeshift altar. He unsealed the wine with his dagger, prying out the waxed cork and pouring the libation on the ground. As an afterthought, he lay his dagger on the altar, amidst the fruit.

Clearing his mind the best he could, Iphicles knelt before his altar and humbled himself. "Eristikos, please accept my unworthy apologies for having offended you in any way. I -- I don't know much about gods. They don't just appear to me like they do Hercules and Iolaus. I acted like an ass. Please, forgive me."

Though a divine reply wasn't formulated immediately, the king remained on his knees. Worry that he'd ruined his relationship with his divine visitor before it had even begun was far more novel to stew about than his customary free-floating guilt.

The sun set and an evening chill settled over the courtyard, but Iphicles remained where he was. What alternative did he have, really? To go inside and brood about how he'd failed the god because he'd gotten cold?

"What's all this?"

Iphicles jumped and teetered to the side, pins and needles crackling through his extremities. "Eristikos," he stammered, rolling onto his face in a posture of supplication. "You've returned. Please, accept my humble offerings."

"Humble?" the god snorted as his boots whispered against the grass. "Guys like you are about as humble as a rooster in a hen house."

"I'm so sorry. I meant no offense."

The grass near the altar sighed gently. "What's this? Fruit?"

"Does it not please you?"

There was a horrible pause. "I guess -- I mean, I don't really eat."

Iphicles pounded his fist into the grass. What did he know about pleasing a god? How stupid and presumptuous of him. "I'm so sorry..."

"Don't worry 'bout it," the god said, cutting him off. "It's cool."

There was another long pause in which Iphicles' mind raced uselessly. Why did he lure the god back? Constructing the altar had seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, but now, in the presence of the god, Iphicles was terrified.

"Turn over, pretty boy," the god said quietly. "I wanna see your face."

There was that phrase again. Pretty boy. The words didn't really fit anywhere in Iphicles' addled brain. First of all, he was in his fourth decade, certainly no boy, and secondly, the men he knew didn't call one another 'pretty.' He rolled onto his back, feeling vulnerable and stupid.

The lissome god was perched on the altar amid the fruit and candles. Candlelight flickered wildly off his shiny leather costume as he juggled a half dozen green figs with one hand. "You look just like him," Eristikos whispered, more to himself than to Iphicles.

The king just lay there awkwardly, afraid that he'd do something dumb and drive the god away again.

Eristikos caught the figs one at a time with his long, white fingers, until his hand was brimming with fruit. "What do you want from me?" he asked gently.

"Nothing," Iphicles averred, shaking his head.

"Nothing," the god echoed, smiling sadly. "Right. Mortals always want something."

Iphicles wracked his brain. Was that true? Yes, he thought guiltily. He wanted to know about Rena, and this Underworld deity might be able to give him some answers, maybe give her a message. "My wife," he said in a hoarse whisper, "she's dead."

The god's eyebrows twisted together comically. "I hope you don't think that I can bring her back."

"Oh, no," Iphicles cried awkwardly from his prone position, for the god hadn't given him leave to sit up. "I just wanted to know if she was all right."

Eristikos fingered a cluster of plump, dark grapes. "Was she a murderer?"

Iphicles turned red. "Certainly not!"

"Well then," the god shrugged, "she's fine. She's probably on the Plains of Asphodel, if not the Elysian fields. The worst she'd be is a little bored."

While he'd been hoping for a response that was a little more specific to him and to Rena, the god's certainty was somehow comforting. He stared at the god mutely while the god stared back, his expression enigmatic. "You got a name?" the god asked, finally.

"Iphicles," he supplied.

"Hah," crowed Eristikos. "Iphicles, king of Corinth?"

"That's right," Iphicles replied as humbly as he could.

"Well, hot damn," said the god, rubbing palms together. "This just gets more and more interesting." He took a bunch of grapes from his altar and observed them briefly, then tapped on the side of the table, much as one would to call a dog. "Here, kingy kingy. Come over here a minute."

Iphicles rolled onto his knees and stood, walked the few steps to the altar, then knelt again. He was simply too proud to crawl.

His breath caught in his throat as he beheld the god up close. His pale eyes were wide and mad, and his waxen skin held a bluish tint in the moonlight.

"Just 'cos I don't eat doesn't mean the food's gonna go to waste," he said, an eerie singsong quality to his voice. He held up the cluster of grapes. "Let me watch you," he breathed.

Iphicles reached for the fruit, only to have it pulled out of his grasp. "Ah, ah. I didn't say you could use your hands."

Something twisted in Iphicles' stomach. It was too small to be called fear, for fear was something one felt on the battlefield when a huge battalion of enemies was closing in with their swords and axes raised above their heads. Unease, perhaps.

Eristikos lowered the grapes to Iphicles' mouth and he took one between his lips, twisting it off the stem. He chewed slowly, swallowing both flesh and seed. All the while the pale blue eyes bored into him.

Iphicles hadn't realized how hungry he was, but he hadn't eaten a thing since morning and now the moon was high. Before long the grapes were gone. "There," said the god silkily, "that wasn't so bad, was it? What else have we got here?" He selected a pomegranate and cracked it in half between his long, white fingers. Its seeds were black in the moonlight.

The fluttering sensation of -- unease -- resurged. While being fed grapes by a god was certainly bizarre, the tiny, juice filled seeds were somehow infinitely more intimate.

And then there was the legend of Persephone and the Underworld.

Iphicles shuddered. If he didn't know better, he would swear he was being seduced.

"Come on," the god cooed, "that's right, pretty. You want it." Iphicles wrapped his lips around the seed with utmost care, but still they brushed against the cool flesh of Eristikos' fingertips. They both shivered. "Oh, yes," sighed the god.

A tiny movement caught Iphicles' eye, something just to the side of his head. He recoiled in horror as he realized that what he'd seen was the candlelight reflecting off the shiny, growing bulge between the god's legs.

Eristikos simply stared at the mortal, the torn pomegranate poised in his elegant fingers. "What, kingy? Are you afraid of my cock?"

Iphicles drew his brows together angrily. His heart was pounding. "I'm not afraid."

The god pursed his lips and squeezed a pomegranate seed until it popped between his fingertips, spraying his white skin with a fine, red mist like blood. "Then why are you all the way back there?"

Iphicles steeled himself and inched forward on his knees. Great, he thought, just great. I've managed to dedicate my courtyard to a sexually deviant god from the Underworld. That's just perfect.

"Why's your face all scrunched up like that?" Eristikos asked as he pressed an other pomegranate seed between Iphicles' full lips. The king couldn't very well answer because Eristikos left his finger there, dragging it back and forth across Iphicles' lower lip. The god pushed his finger in farther, exploring the fronts of Iphicles' teeth. "Lick it," he whispered.

His stomach fluttered at the sound of those words, and Iphicles suddenly knew the emotion to be much more than unease. It was arousal.

'Only because Rena is dead, and I'm so damned lonely, and now I can believe that she's okay wherever she is,' he thought. His tongue swirled around the pale fingertip while the god's blue eyes blazed into Iphicles' brain. 'I'd never lay with a man, but this is different, this is a god. How can you place mortal standards on the affairs of a god?'

"Yeah," whispered the god as the pomegranate fell unheeded into the grass. "Damn, those lips. Uhn. Yeah."

Iphicles' eyes widened as the god's other hand squeaked up and down the great bulge in his crotch, while he added another finger and began to gently fuck Iphicles' mouth with two fingers that tasted of pomegranate juice and an indefinable god flavor.

"I want that," Eristikos said, more a plea than a command.

Iphicles nodded, for who was he to deny a god?

Eristikos leapt from the tiny altar, scattering figs and olives and persimmons. "Unlace me," he said, turning his back toward Iphicles while he fumbled with a buckle on the front of his costume.

Iphicles flexed his legs, stiff from kneeling all day, and rose behind the god. Strange, how the deity was smaller than he. The king's hands were surprisingly steady as he unlaced the back of the god's outfit. It looked complicated, but it wasn't much worse than armor, really, or the formalwear that required two valets to assemble it properly.

'A god,' Iphicles thought as he eased open the two halves of Eristikos' snug tunic, exposing the vee of flawless, white skin. 'I'm going to lay with a god.' He probably would have been nervous if he'd had any warning, Iphicles mused, but now it was happening and he was powerless against it. His heart lightened as he forgave Alcmene, suddenly comprehending the helplessness of a mere mortal against the consuming wave of a god's desire.

"Touch me," begged the god, and Iphicles slid his hands inside the shiny leather. His white skin was burning hot where it had been sealed within the outfit, smooth and fine and perfect beneath Iphicles' fingertips. "Uhn, yeah, fuck," Eristikos groaned, arching into the king's broad chest. "Touch my nipples," he groaned hoarsely, and Iphicles slid his fingers around the slender torso and under the god's arms, pulling the lean form easily against his chest.

The god raised his hands above his head and grabbed on to Iphicles' hair, grinding their bodies together, working his ass into the king's stirring groin. "Yes," he hissed as Iphicles' huge warrior's hands met, fingers spreading across his smooth, hot chest, locating his nipples and rubbing them firmly beneath his callused fingers.

Iphicles' face was pulled over the slender god's shoulder, and he caught his breath as Eristikos twisted his head and began to nip and tongue his jaw eagerly. Before him sprawled the altar he'd assembled, the candles flickering in the light breeze, the fruit and flowers tumbled from the artless arrangement in which he'd placed them. His eyes roamed down as he allowed the god access to his neck -- he'd always been fond of kisses on his neck -- and he stopped breathing as he gazed down at the front of Eristikos' costume. Diagonal slashes of pearly skin showed through where he'd unhooked some of the metal rings and grommets, and below it all protruded the head of his cock.

'I'm looking at a god's cock,' Iphicles thought, though it was all too surreal to be genuinely happening.

Iphicles closed his eyes as the god sunk his teeth into his neck, tonguing and sucking, causing indescribable sensations to race down to his cock. He had to force his eyes open then, needing to assure himself that it was actually occurring, that he hadn't simply fallen asleep in his courtyard and had a bizarre wet dream.

Emboldened by the heady sensations of the god marking his throat, Iphicles allowed his hands to roam downward. He thrilled as a low moan vibrated against the raw love bite, his fingers playing over the bony protrusions of the god's hips, through his wiry pubic hair, and finally over his rock hard cock.

"Oh, fuck!" the god screamed, spinning out of Iphicles' grasp, taking a few strands of auburn hair with him. He faced the king, disheveled and panting, leathers gaping open, his cock pointing at Iphicles accusingly. Eristikos' eyes blazed poignantly with need. "Please," he said, dropping his voice, "please suck me. Suck my cock."

It had been years since any woman had performed that act on Iphicles, for certainly it could not be expected from such a well-bred lady as Rena, but as a soldier he bought oral favors from the girls that followed the camp whenever he had three dinars to spare. He knelt before the god, his throat tightening, and yes, he would admit, now he was afraid. The deity gazed down at him with such raw emotion that Iphicles knew he had to at least try, though.

Eristikos sighed happily as the king's tongue lapped out at the head of his aching cock. "You can use your hands, now," he giggled.

His cheeks burning, Iphicles grasped the god's erection around the base, finding it much easier to lick once it had stopped bobbing around his lips. Eristikos moaned, plunging his fingers into Iphicles' hair, his head thrown back in ecstasy. His obvious pleasure made it easier for the king to forget that he was sucking another man's cock, to rationalize that he was appeasing a god, instead. Iphicles wrapped his lips carefully around his teeth and allowed the god to pump into his mouth, sucking when he could, trying not to gag when his throat was breached, marveling at how incredibly sore his jaw was getting.

"So beautiful," panted the god. With a deep sigh, he pulled out of Iphicles' mouth, his cock gleaming with saliva in the moonlight.

Iphicles sat back on his heels and allowed the god to gaze at him.

Eristikos shook his head. His pupils were so dilated that his pale eyes seemed black. "What do you want, baby?"

Iphicles had no idea. "Whatever pleases you," he said diplomatically.

The god grinned, wild eyed. "Good. Take off your clothes."

Iphicles' fingers dropped to the closure of his sleeveless leather vest, stripping the garment away quickly, then moved to the lacings of his trousers. The god stroked his chin thoughtfully as Iphicles disrobed, a small smile curving his lips. "You got some bod on you," he said.

"Um, thank you," Iphicles replied awkwardly.

"Lay back," said the god as he began to shuck his own clothing off. He seemed frustrated to Iphicles as he worked at the twisted leather and metal. Certainly the garment was quite a production, but couldn't he just will the clothing to come off? Iphicles would never claim to understand the workings of gods.

Eristikos lifted one foot, cranelike, and began to unbuckle a rather numerous series of buckles on his boot. "Do you want me to help?" Iphicles offered.

The god sighed and sank down into the grass. "Naw. Why don't you touch yourself? I want to see you touch your cock."

Iphicles flushed, grateful for the lack of lighting now that he was surely blushing like a maiden on her wedding night. "You want me to, um..."

Eristikos paused in his unbucklings, bemused. "Was I not clear?"

"You were clear," Iphicles whispered, straining to compel his hand to perform that shameful act.

Eristikos stared at him, grinning, until he forced his hand down, painfully down, slow as if underwater, and wrapped it around the base of his cock. "Why is that so difficult for you?" the god asked.

Iphicles shook his head, his cheeks blazing.

The god's grin broadened. "Fuck. That makes it twice as hot for me to watch." Abandoning the quest to remove his boots, Eristikos crawled in the grass, grinding his cock into the turf as he wiggled forward. He approached the king, stopping with his face a mere handsbreadth from Iphicles' cock. "Go on," he ordered.

Clenching his jaw tight, Iphicles ran his thumb down the stiff length of his cock, rubbing the juncture of the shaft and head with small, sure strokes. He was so ashamed that he wanted to close his eyes, yet he couldn't tear his gaze from the fascinated god. "Oh, fuck, yeah," whispered Eristikos, and then his wet tongue was upon Iphicles' fingers, causing the king to cry out in surprise and arousal. The tongue slid over his knuckles and poked at the sensitive juncture between each finger, infinitely more intimate than just the caress of his own hand.

"Don't come," the god whispered impishly, and Iphicles ceased his stroking, staring at Eristikos. "Well, not yet, at least."

Iphicles hissed as the god wrapped his cool, slender fingers around Iphicles' fist. "Spread your legs for me," crooned Eristikos, and Iphicles complied, his mind reeling. The god made a show of wetting his index finger with his tongue, then eased it between Iphicles legs.

The king's thighs slammed shut.

Eristikos' eyes went round. "No way."

"What?" Iphicles whimpered.

"You're a virgin, aren't you?"

Iphicles shut his eyes, utterly humiliated.

"Piss in the Styx," muttered the god, giggling.

"I'm sorry," whispered the king as Eristikos left his side. He forced his eyes open and beheld the strange god. He was on his feet, hovering around the altar with his trousers around his knees and his shirt hanging open both front and back.

"Nothin' to be sorry about," he replied, loading his arms full of fruit and flowers. "Nothin' at all. I think it's hot."

Iphicles stared, wide eyed, as the god allowed a heap of fruit to tumble from his hands into the grass beside them.

"Here's what we're gonna do," said the god as he knelt in the grass, grasping Iphicles by the knees and spreading his legs wide. "We're gonna start small."

Iphicles caught his lower lip between his teeth. He was terrified, but something in the manner of the god was comforting. After all, if he had wanted to he could have raped Iphicles and wiped off his cock in the king's long hair by now.

Eristikos crushed a strawberry between his thumb and forefinger and rubbed its wet, red juices onto Iphicles' nipple. "It feels good, being filled," whispered the god. "You believe me, don't you?"

Iphicles nodded vigorously. He felt like he could come just from the strawberry alone.

"Good, good," Eristikos murmured as he crushed a persimmon in his fist, squeezing its meager lifeblood onto Iphicles' straining cock. "Now, here's how we're gonna do it. Ya see this?"

Iphicles focused his giddy attention on the small, black olive the god was holding before his eyes. "Yes," he said hoarsely.

"We're gonna start with this. I mean, surely a little old thing like this can't hurt a big, strong man like you."

Iphicles eyed the olive dubiously. "How will it, um, come back out?"

The god grinned. "It'll come out, over the natural course of things. Don't be such a worrywort."

Iphicles gnawed his lip.

"What could be safer to put into your body than food?" the god urged, his mad eyes twinkling. When Iphicles didn't deny him, the god took his silence as consent. "Okay, then," he said cheerfully, rolling between Iphicles' legs. "Just a little olive, no big deal." Iphicles felt the pressure at his sphincter, but before he could squeeze his thighs shut, the tiny object slid inside. "There. Now, that wasn't bad, was it?"

Iphicles shook his head. Actually, he couldn't even feel it.

"There's my good king," said Eristikos, sending a shockwave of arousal though Iphicles by kissing him on the balls. "Oho, you like that, do you? A scrotum man, I see. I can give your crown jewels a little attention, sweetie." Iphicles arched off the grass as the god slathered a long lick across his sac.

"Oh, yeah," purred Eristikos, sliding in a second olive. "See how easy it is when you're relaxed?"

"I'd hardly call myself relaxed," gasped the king.

The god took the flesh of Iphicles' scrotum gently between his teeth and tugged, drawing a long, undulating moan from the king. He slid another olive in, then another and another.

Iphicles was incoherent with lust, the hot, wild, wet mouth on his testicles driving him mad, the fruits filling his body making him feel dirty and degenerate. And it was a god between his spread legs, a god! If anything were to touch his cock, Iphicles thought, it would surely explode.

And still the god slid olives into Iphicles' ass, for the king had spared no expense when he laid out his offering at the makeshift courtyard shrine. There were lots of olives. "N-n-no," he gasped as the fruit began to make him feel heavy and bloated. "No more."

"Oh, come on," chided the god. "Wait till you're really full. It feels so good. I swear."

Iphicles sighed. If the god wanted to shove an eggplant up his ass he'd simply have to lay there and take it, so what were a few more olives?

"Let's just settle 'em a little," Eristikos said, grasping Iphicles firmly by the ass cheeks and kneading them together. Iphicles panted as the strange fullness aroused him more. "They press against something inside you, behind your balls. Concentrate on what you're feeling there."

Iphicles concentrated his attentions on that mysterious place and his cock leapt, leaking a fat drop of pre come onto his stomach.

"Yeah," whispered the god. "See? You like it." He slid another olive inside, but this time, followed it with his finger. "There," he soothed. "That's not bad, is it? My finger in your body. Inside you. Touching you inside."

Iphicles' breath was coming in short gasps. He was going to come, just from the god's words, from the finger stroking him inside, from the olives, the filthy, perverted olives...

"No, no," murmured the god, taking back his divine finger. "Not yet."

"Please," Iphicles begged.

The god smiled. "Soon. Just one more thing, pretty, one more thing I wanna do." He clambered out from between Iphicles' legs, surprising him with a sharp smack on the rump. "And don't lose any olives. Not one. Ya hear?"

Iphicles nodded sheepishly and pressed his thighs together, marveling at the strange fullness in his ass.

"Man, you're ready to spurt," the god remarked, running his palm along the hills and valleys of Iphicles' muscular abdomen. Iphicles writhed beneath his touch. "Make me that hard. Make me so hard that I'm gonna come any second." He crawled over Iphicles' prone torso, arranging himself over Iphicles' face, their bodies forming a "T". He dangled his cock over the king's lips. "Suck me, lover," he hissed.

Iphicles bucked and tore up the grass at the sound of that word. He forced himself down with great care, imploring his body to wait until the god said he could come.

"You lost some olives, there," said the god in a chilling voice. "I may have to beat you."

Iphicles howled, clamping his thighs together as tightly as he could while his cock strained at the empty air.

"Oh, you'd like that too, would you? Fuck, you're so naughty. Such a naughty boy."

The king drank air, wondering if it was possible to come from a handful of suggestive words and an ass full of olives.

"Enough," snapped the god. "Open your mouth." Iphicles did so, and was filled with the Deity's cock. It plunged into his mouth, threatening to choke him, and it was different from before. Before he had control of he movement of his head. Now his face was trapped between the slender, thrusting hips and the unforgiving ground.

Iphicles was gagging, and he could feel the grapes he'd eaten working their way up his esophagus. He desperately clutched at the grass while he tried to beg the god to stop, to let him breathe, but nothing came from his throat except a garbled moan.

"Yeah, baby," sneered the god. "I'm fucking your face."

Iphicles screamed around the hard flesh in his mouth while his balls tightened and exploded, his cock shooting hot ropes of semen across his chest. Olives spilled, unheeded, onto the grass as a bitter sweetness filled Iphicles' throat.

"Oh yeah," gasped Eristikos as he rolled off of Iphicles' head, leaning up on his elbow in the grass. He brushed the drenched strands of hair off of Iphicles' forehead. "So fucking sweet."

The king simply gazed at the stars, dazed.

Eristikos smoothed his fingertip along the lush, swollen lips that seemed to fascinate him so. "It feels so good to corrupt you."

Iphicles moaned.

"Are you quite through?"

Both god and mortal jumped at the sound of the third voice. A tall figure stepped from the shadows, his cloak a piece of night that was wrapped around his shoulders. His handsome features were carefully neutral. "Come along, Strife. Playtime's over."

Iphicles looked desperately from the new arrival to 'his' god, Strife. It was painfully obvious that the other god was farther up in the hierarchy of things. Eristikos -- Strife -- tucked his spent cock away and hastily relaced his outfit, though slices of white skin peeked though here and there where he hadn't done up the fastenings properly.

"Wait," Iphicles whispered, shocked at the sound of his own voice. "Don't go."

Strife ceased the nervous refastening of his clothes and crawled protectively in front of the naked monarch. "Hades, don't punish the man. This was all my idea. He didn't have anything to do with me coming here."

Hades? The tall, proud god was Hades? Iphicles felt like he was going to throw up.

"But of course he did," purred Hades, his voice silken. "Iphicles' perpetual grief created the pinhole that allowed you to access the mortal world."

"No," insisted Strife. "I dug the hole. Me."

The King of the Underworld sighed and rolled his eyes. "Home. Now."

Strife stood, staring forlornly at Iphicles. His wide blue eyes looked so terribly lonely. He slunk to Hades' side in silence.

Hades gripped Iphicles with his steely gaze. The king reminded himself to breathe. "Stop your incessant mourning. It only upsets your loved ones."

"But Rena..." he whispered.

"Would you rather she had outlived you?" Hades snapped. "Would you rather it was she who had received that news, perhaps a herald from the battlefield?"

Iphicles shook his head morosely. He hadn't thought about it that way.

Hades turned his terrible gaze to Strife. "Obviously, you'll need more supervision," he muttered to the chastised god. Blood roared in Iphicles' ears as the gods became a column of black smoke that funneled down through an invisible spot in the ground, and was gone.

Naked and shivering, Iphicles crawled on his hands and knees searching among the blades of grass for the pinhole, but all he found were a few figs and an olive.

 End