Once upon a time there lived a boy more beautiful than the sun.
On thundery nights when he couldn't sleep, his mother told him how, heavy with child, she'd prayed to the gold-haired god and received an orange slice of the sun, redhot and glowing. When her son fell from the womb, mouth open in a scream, she fed it to him.
Her voice always dropped, turned shivery. "I was on my knees, begging for a gift. He appeared, a ball of fire in one hand, and carved a slice with a pearl-handled blade."
And the boy would dream of a fiery god's embrace.
But when he was still young, another god came to their cottage, leaving a different gift. And his mother forgot about the sun-swallower at her second child's birth. A bastard blessed with a guilty gift of strength, he consumed her, this ocean-eyed boy and his oxen-strong hands. "Sweeter than honey," she whispered, drawing the toddler to her white breast. "Drink, my little lover."
The other child stood in the doorway, head barely reaching the brass knob, wilted flowers clenched in his fist. "Mother..."
But the sucking infant had stolen her attention, and she watched, rapt, as the small pink mouth worked her nipple.
Nothing changed even when the boys grew older. The young one shone, as though he had swallowed the sun, and the older turned quiet, withdrawn as a monk. On a warm spring morning, while his mother and brother walked in the garden, the boy left home, wondering how many years would pass before they noticed.
Unsure where to go, he wandered into a green-black forest. Night came, blinking her starry eyes, and he fell asleep between the moss-covered roots of an oak. At midnight, he awoke, staring up into the silver eyes of a wolf. Neither moved, watching, smelling the other. Then the creature's jaws opened wide and sharp ivory teeth sank into the boy's neck.
‘I'm dying,' he thought, before the wolf howled and became a soft dead weight. The fur smelled of smoke and blood...
When he awoke again, this time on a pallet in a sunny room, a new set of eyes peered down at him, green like a river. Hair, pale as sand, brushed the boy's cheeks, and he reached up without thinking, touching a soft curl.
"I'm Hylas," the young man said. "The wolf is dead, and your wounds are almost healed. I don't have much, but I'm willing to share, if you'd like to stay with me."
"I'm Iphicles, and I have nothing."
Hylas smiled. "You have more than you know."
His new friend taught him the ways of the woods: hunting, hawking, tracking. Because Hylas' little thatched cottage was deep in the forest, hidden by a ring of pines, no one ever disturbed them, and they grew closer every day. The two shared secrets as they rustled through the reeds on the riverbank, looking for duck eggs, until nothing mattered to Iphicles but Hylas' smile.
One summery night, Hylas came to Iphicles' room, sitting on the bed at his side. Gently, he pulled the sheet from Iphicles' body, then unknotted the cloth modestly tied at his waist.
"Don't be afraid. I just want to taste you." And he bent down and took Iphicles in his mouth, sucking so sweetly it felt like butterflies, their wings silvered with rain.
A river of pleasure flowed over him, and Iphicles melted like honey under the sun. And every night after that, Iphicles would lie exposed and open for his friend's mouth, and from midnight until dawn, the butterflies danced.
A thousand times later, Iphicles opened his eyes and saw through a window the silver orb of the moon hanging in the sky, and he rolled like a wave to taste his lover, locking them together. They drank from each other, endless hours of rapture. Iphicles lived for those nights, dreamed of them. Food lost its appeal, and so days passed where he lived on nothing but Hylas' cream.
He cast his history into a pyre and fell into happiness' cloud-soft embrace.
One morning three sharp raps on the front door announced a messenger. Startled, birds flew from the trees, and Hylas sent Iphicles for water from the well. When he returned, balancing the pails from the yoke on his back, the stranger had gone.
"I have to leave," Hylas said. "But I'll be back before dark. I promise." He gave Iphicles a kiss that stung with its sweetness, then left.
Iphicles spent the day longing for the night, his gaze always turned upward to watch the sun's journey west. When it fell into the sea, he went upstars to lie naked on the bed. They'd never been apart for this long, and his heart began to crack. Although Hylas was a wolf-killer, Iphicles still couldn't sleep, and lay awake until dawn. The next morning, he walked under the tall trees, calling his lover's name, and searched the river's rocky shore looking for Hylas' body.
A week passed, and still no trace of his lover. Every day he searched, and every night he lay naked on his bed, waiting for him. And the cracks spread through his heart.
On the eighth night, a knock came at the door. Just a single one that rang like death through the small cottage. Iphicles, lying open and ready on the bed, wrapped a cloth around his hips and hurried to answer it. A handsome giant stood there, the top of his curly dark head reaching the lintel. He was dressed all in black, the leather stretched tight over muscle hard like stone.
"Who are you?" Iphicles asked.
"I'm Ares, and I own you."
Iphicles shook his head to clear the gathering clouds. "I belong to Hylas. Where is he?"
"Your friend sold you to me," he said, and a scroll appeared in one massive fist. It crackled noisily as he unrolled it. "Listen and learn. ‘I, Hylas, hereby give Iphicles to Ares for the price of ten gold pieces.' There's his mark. You're mine now."
From deep within him came a sound like glass shattering on a tiled floor. "Why doesn't Hylas tell me himself?"
Ares smiled, showing teeth pointed and sharp like a wolf's. "Why do you think? He's ashamed. But not so ashamed that he didn't come to my temple and offer you to me. He's told me all about you, my little slut, and what you do into the night. But you and I will play a different game." He wrapped a huge arm around Iphicles' waist, and the cottage vanished, replaced by a sumptuous bedroom draped with scarlet silk. The massive bed at its center was canopied with the same red fabric. "Lie on it," Ares said.
When he didn't move, the god placed a hand on the small of Iphicles' back, and pushed. Iphicles tripped and fell onto the silk-covered mattress. From habit, he moved onto his back and spread his legs.
With a laugh, Ares drew his great sword and sliced through the rough cloth tied at Iphicles' hips, tossing the ruined fabric to the floor. "You got it right the first time," he whispered. "Roll onto your stomach."
When Iphicles didn't obey, Ares struck him, and at last he moved, burying his face in a pillow.
Ares reached beneath Iphicles' hips and raised them. "Stay like this," he commanded. "If you move, I'll hurt you."
Iphicles remained still, but only because his will was gone. Even the first shattering pain of penetration didn't revive him.
"Tight as a virgin," Ares grunted. "That Hylas was a fool to ignore your sweet ass."
But when he pushed deeper, Iphicles started to struggle. He said nothing, only twisting his body to avoid the stabbing pain. He heard the whispery sound of leather sliding against leather, then cried out as the belt struck his back.
"This is my first lesson to you, Iphicles. Some things are inevitable and it's best to accept them. It'll only hurt more if you resist."
Iphicles kept fighting, but his frantic actions forced him deeper onto Ares' cock. "I hate you," he said, and wondered at the word's genesis. "I hate you, and I'll kill you someday."
"You can't kill me. And I'll keep fucking your tight ass until you die or I kill you. After me, you'll never want another lover, anyway." He thrust even deeper with deliberate force, and Iphicles moaned in pain.
It went on for hours, and by the end, when the god had shuddered out his pleasure, Iphicles' heart froze like a pond in winter.
"You need to learn obedience," Ares said, rising to his feet. "I'm going to lock you in here until you do." He vanished, and Iphicles wondered how anyone that handsome could be so evil.
A table laden with delicacies appeared in a corner, and delicious smells filled the room. Iphicles ignored it, turning on his side. Wetness ran from him, and his fingers came away crimson and cream. "I hate you, Ares."
For three days Iphicles didn't eat, although fresh food appeared whenever a clock struck twelve. On the fourth day, Ares came to him.
"You can't win." He used a silver chain to lock Iphicles' hands above his head, hanging them from a hook in the headboard. "My will is your will." Kneeling between the open thighs, he dropped a handful of gold rings onto Iphicles' chest. A silver needle appeared in one hand, and for a moment the tip glowed red. Grabbing the lobe of Iphicles' right ear, he plunged the needle through. Blood spurted, falling like red rain, blending into the red silk.
Iphicles' body jerked in response, but he gritted his teeth, staying quiet even when Ares inserted the gold hoop.
"This is the first reminder," Ares said. Taking a second ring, he held it up, exposing an inscription in the inner rim. "See? ‘I belong to Ares.'" He licked the needle clean before poising it above Iphicles' left nipple. "This will hurt." The smile was deadly.
More blood flowed as the brown skin was pierced and the hoop attached. Iphicles shuddered against the tendrils of pain.
"This is almost as good as fucking your ass." Another hole, another hoop--this time in the right nipple. One hoop remained. "This last one is a warning. Not just to you, but to anyone who tries to touch you. You're mine, although you mean nothing to me." And Ares squeezed the head of Iphicles' cock, below the slit, then rammed the needle through.
He cried out, body curving upward, and stayed that way until the final ring slipped in place. Pain sang through his body, over veins and along nerves, forcing his eyes closed.
"Don't hide from me, Iphicles," Ares said, grabbing his chin. "You've been hiding for too long."
At a clinking sound, like wind chimes, he opened them and saw two more linked chains, silver rings at the end, dangling from the high ceiling. Ares placed one around each of Iphicles' ankles before finding a bottle of wine on the table.
"Drink this," he said, "it will dull the pain," and poured the red liquid down Iphicles' throat.
Iphicles gasped and choked, wine splattering his cheeks and chest, mingling with the blood. "I hate you." It sounded like a prayer.
"Keep saying it. Maybe it'll make you stronger. Maybe it'll make you forget. I don't care. All I care about now is fucking you." The leather vanished, and the god stood between Iphicles' parted thighs. The room heated with his lust, and sweat ran like water over the strong curves of Ares' body.
He watched Ares' fingers close around the thick base of his own cock, then felt the pressure as it pushed into him. This time, he couldn't fight, couldn't move, while Ares brutally took his pleasure. The sight of his bloody, pierced flesh seemed to excite the god, and Iphicles lost count of the times Ares came inside him, knew only that it hurt like nothing ever had. He was barely conscious when Ares pulled away.
"I'll send my servants by to clean you up," he said, now dressed, a ringed hand resting on his sword's pommel.
"What about the chains?" The words came out in a rusty croak. You can't leave me like this."
"I can do whatever I want. And I like how you look: so ready for me."
Then the air ate him whole.
Iphicles learned about shame when the trio of blue-robed men came to his room and saw him displayed, the signs of Ares' passion still leaking from him. They refused to speak when he addressed them, when he begged to be freed, only wiped his body with warm, lemon-scented cloths.
The rhythmic strokes lulled him to sleep. When he awoke, Ares was there, naked and hard. He placed his hand over Iphicles' shattered heart, and a blue light passed into him. Suddenly, the pain was gone.
Ares strode to a window, threw open the shutters, flooding the room with the amber light of late afternoon. He didn't climb onto the bed at once, instead stood staring down at him. "It'll be different this time," he said, lightly tugging the rings in Iphicles' nipples.
He expected more pain, not the ripple of pleasure that shot between his legs. The betrayal of his body infuriated him. "Don't touch me."
"It's even worse now that it feels good, isn't it? Because you know you're that much closer to being mine completely." Ares used his tongue this time, teasing the left ring, his curls, sleek and smoky as fur, brushing against Iphicles' chest.
A moan rose, and Iphicles closed his mouth to stop it. His cock hardened, though, and the ring stretched deliciously against the swollen head. "Take it off," he said. "Take them all off."
"I can't. They're in place forever. But look how hard you are now. You must hate that." He ran his tongue around the second nipple ring. "Yes, you like it, don't you? I know something you'll like it even better." Bending between Iphicles' taut thighs, he sucked the hoop into his mouth, his tongue slipping back and forth.
Nothing could stop the whimper. ‘It will change,' Iphicles told himself. ‘When he fucks me, the pain will come rushing back.'
"I can see why Hylas sucked you so often. You taste like honey." And more of Iphicles' cock slid into his hot mouth.
"You can both die," he said, back arched. "Rot in Tartarus for eternity. Burn there." The next curse died on his lips as Ares penetrated him.
"But not before you come, right?" Ares took Iphicles' cock in his hand and began to stroke it in tandem with his thrusting hips.
And he was right: it was different. Each thrust hit something far inside Iphicles' body, starting a blaze of pleasure. "What's happening?" Iphicles gasped. "Take off the spell."
"There's no spell."
"But...oh god...there has to be," he said, beginning to tremble.
Ares slowed his pace, moving with a languid ease that had Iphicles gritting his teeth. "I can do this for hours," the god said, "and you won't come. You'll have to beg me."
"I'd rather die."
"Are you sure?" He rubbed his thumb over the wet head of Iphicles' cock, smearing the liquid that leaked there, then pulled lightly on the ring.
Iphicles bit down on his lower lip and tasted blood. If he opened his mouth, he'd do it. He'd beg Ares to fuck him harder, to do anything he wanted.
"I wonder how long it will take before you break," Ares said, as he slid deep inside Iphicles, striking that spot, then pulling back. "Not long, I think. Look at you: you're already quivering and shaking. So close..."
And he was close. So close it almost hurt. So close he couldn't see anything but Ares' green- ringed eyes. So close that when the chains vanished, Iphicles wrapped his arms and legs around the sweat-slick body above him, and whispered, "Yes. Do it. Now." He barely noticed Ares' triumphant laugh, just clung to the broad back and came harder than ever before.
"You don't even know that you called my name," Ares said mockingly, stepping back. "What a slut you are, Iphicles. It's a good thing that Hylas kept you hidden away in the forest, so no other man could find you. You're almost too easy."
And he disappeared, leaving Iphicles alone.
In the following days, no one but the servants entered his cell. They only cleaned him, and refused to give him any clothes, or speak to him. Once, though, when he'd pretended to be asleep, he heard two whispering about a secret room in the castle, a place that held the source of the god's power. They had to pass it each morning to reach Iphicles' chamber, and swore that since Iphicles had been here, it reeked of blood.
When they left, Iphicles scoured every inch of his prison, trying to find a way out, but the door was locked fast, and the walls beneath the silk solid marble. He shouted until his throat ached, but no one came. The food still magically appeared, and he began to eat it. After all, what did he have to lose any more? He resented the tender flesh of the roasted chicken, the sweet butter on the bread. It should taste like dust, but his body betrayed him once again.
Eventually Iphicles grew bored, and to amuse himself spent hours looking out the window into the walled garden far below. Lush flowers bloomed under cypresses, and to one side stood a marble fountain. Its wild beauty reminded him of Hylas, of the time they spent together before Ares destroyed everything.
One day, as he stared out, reaching through the bars to catch a ray of sun, a young man walked into the garden. From behind, it looked like Hylas, with his fawn-colored hair and lean, hard body. Stunned, Iphicles watched him pause, as though he heard a sound. Then Ares appeared, leaning against the trunk of a tree. He must've called to Hylas, who turned, his face transformed with joy as he hurried toward him. It was a stranger, which should've relieved him, but didn't.
Iphicles knew what would happen when they met, but the sight still killed him: the long embrace, the roving hands, then the beautiful bodies exposed and thrusting together in the green grass under the sun. He could almost hear the cries of delight, and felt sick. That soon turned to fury and a dark jealousy, unlike anything he'd ever known. Turning away in fury, he began destroying the chamber, clawing at the silk, smashing plates, breaking sculptures.
When Ares appeared, Iphicles attacked him, too, punching and biting. He managed to knock the god to the floor, and they rolled across the tiles until something shifted, and Ares' tongue was in Iphicles' mouth, and the god was naked.
At first, he gave in, too weak to fight his senses. Then he shoved Ares away. "Go fuck your other lover," he said, panting. "Leave me alone."
Ares looked down at him. "Who're you jealous of, Iphicles, me or him?"
"You're crazy. You both disgust me."
"Then why is your cock so hard?" Ares' fingers closed around him.
"It means nothing. You mean nothing."
"You lie," Ares said, and kissed him again. "I'm going to fuck you now."
And he did.
Iphicles fought at first, fought hard, but finally gave in, as they both knew he would. Ares left him in a crumpled heap on the floor, bruised, with semen trickling from his ass and between his thighs.
Months passed after that. Long, terrible months where Iphicles dreamed of a dark god every night, of fire, death and chaos. He continued to wreck the chamber, and the servants stopped fixing it, leaving him to live in the shambles.
One night, he awoke, heart pounding, staring into the dark. "Are you there, Ares?" But he was alone. Kicking off the sheets, Iphicles paced back and forth, more and more angry. "You're obviously finished with me, so let me go. I'm sick of this prison. I want a life. There's nothing for me here."
But no answer came.
He sank to the floor beside the bed, cradling his head in his arms, and something caught his eye. Reaching under the frame, Iphicles pulled out a shiny brass key. A servant must've dropped it.
It unlocked his door with a soft click, and he slipped out into a corridor dark as night. With a backward glance at the room, he turned right, feeling along the walls. He'd progressed a few yards when his fingers found a knob that resisted his efforts. The key, though, slid easily into the lock, and he stepped into the room. This had to be it, the secret place, the source of Ares' power. He could smell the blood.
Hands outstretched, Iphicles moved forward, then recoiled when he touched something cold and clammy. Iphicles kept searching until he felt the waxy surface of a candle, and the taper beside it. He used the first candle to light another in a sconce on the wall, then turned back to face the room...
And found himself face to face with the flayed skin of his beloved Hylas. Horrified, he stared into the empty eye sockets, frozen to the spot.
"You seem to have uncovered my little secret," Ares said from behind him.
The words cut. "You killed him. He's been dead all along."
"Stop talking in riddles, Ares, and admit that he never betrayed me. That you killed him to get to me."
"Hylas never betrayed you, Iphicles, because he never existed." Ares walked to the skin and put it on, like a monstrous coat. Instantly, Hylas stood before him. "Don't be afraid. I just want to taste you."
Confused, his mind reeling, Iphicles stepped back and struck something hanging from the ceiling. Whirling around, he saw another skin, this time of a beautiful man with gold hair. "It looks like Apollo," he said uncertainly, remembering his mother's stories of the god who'd given her a slice of the sun.
Ares removed the first skin and put on the second. "As a reward for your prayers, Alcmene, I give you this." A ball of fire appeared in one hand, and a pearl-handled knife in the other.
"You," Iphicles breathed. "It's always been you."
"Yes," Ares said, dropping the skins in a heap on the floor. "I told you that you were mine, and you are. But I needed someone strong, a fighter. Now, at last, I have that."
The truth sent a warm shiver through Iphicles, and he moved closer. "You were the one who gave my mother the piece of the sun."
"That wasn't the sun, Iphicles," Ares said, folding him into his arms. "It was ambrosia."