Read an Excerpt
From the shadows beneath the almond tree, Phaedrus watched the muse and the immortal as they coupled. Euterpius--whom he recognized from various graved images as well as the aulos nearby--sang a tune likely meant for Tenthus's ears alone, but this close, Phaedrus couldn't help but feel some of its effects as well.
Tenthus's treatment of him had left Phaedrus dizzy and confused. Never once had Diomedes ever actually used his mouth anywhere below Phaedrus's waist. It was forbidden, considered an emasculating act for both of those involved. But Phaedrus had to admit, it had felt good. Amazingly good, so much so that Phaedrus had been too worn-out to speak or think clearly afterward. Just like he'd been after Pan.
He shoved that thought away.
Neither did the muse seem to have any shame about his own sexual inclinations. As their twisting bodies shone in the moonlight, Phaedrus felt the heat within his own phallos. He'd watched copulatory displays within the temple walls dozens of times, but none had aroused him so much as this, watching two immortals vie for each other's bodies in an eerie parody of the bronze statues in the records room, except that Tenthus was the submissive one.
And when the immortal allowed the muse to mount him, Tenthus's eyes had met Phaedrus's for one frightening moment, and Phaedrus knew. These two took pleasure in the forbidden, and they had not gone mad. He wanted desperately to be a part of that, to experience the freedom that Diomedes always curtailed. He'd been dreaming of it ever since he'd visited Pan and been party to the faun's orgiastic delights.
Except Phaedrus had gone mad afterward. Diomedes had been theone to bring him back from the brink. The priest had threatened, time and time again, that mating like a beast brought madness, and Phaedrus had been proof enough of that truth. These were god-touched, a muse and an immortal. He was only mortal, subject to weaknesses Tenthus and Euterpius did not have.
But he wanted it. Craved to be with the muse and the immortal, to touch their bodies and to be the one penetrated. To have Tenthus hold him almost too tight to breathe and to gasp as the immortal's phallos speared him to the core.
Phaedrus felt lost, drowning in a wash of emotions not his own. His erection made it plain that the scene was affecting him no matter his conflicted emotions. Diomedes's chiding echoed in his head. Only the lowest of prostitutes subjected themselves to intercourse like a pair of dogs. No one ever actually let this happen. No sane man wanted it.
Which meant that Phaedrus wasn't sane. Somehow, he found that thought comforting.
A part of him kept expecting Tenthus to be humiliated, but there were no signs of it, only a feral, satiated look like a cat in the midst of dining on a caught rat. His eyes glazed over. Phaedrus rolled onto his back, suddenly hot and confused. He couldn't take his eyes from the pair. Tenthus's wings stood half-erect, tension holding them in midair as the muse's body slammed into his. Phaedrus's hand drifted toward his own aching phallos.
Catching himself, he rolled on his side and lay curled with his arms around his belly. No wonder Diomedes considered him the only one able to fulfill his task. He was as depraved as Tenthus himself to be aroused by pain and such immoral acts. Only someone as twisted as he was could kill an immortal.
Tenthus let out a wail that merged perfectly with Euterpius's song. The effect made Phaedrus lose what little control he had. His own body clenched with an orgasm brought by sight and sound alone. Shameful. The priests would have been disappointed by his lack of control. This was the monstrosity suffered by the other offerings, the indignity of losing their manhood to the immortal's basest desires. No wonder the other offerings went mad.
Phaedrus briefly considered following their example, but after his earlier brush with madness, he had no intention of going there again. He would let Tenthus use him in whatever manner necessary, but Phaedrus would be the one to survive. Tenthus's obscene desires could be dealt with despite some dark part of his mind that wanted this, no matter how wrong it was. All he had to do was remember that he would still be alive at the end of all this. Tenthus would not.
When at last he could breathe again, he looked over to see the muse with Tenthus's body in his arms. "Take care of your master," Euterpius said as he eased the limp form to the ground. "He is special to me."
Lithe-winged Tenthus looked to be in a deep, postcoital slumber. The muse gave him one last kiss on the cheek before making his way over to Phaedrus's nest. Phaedrus trembled; the muse practically secreted an air of masculine sexuality that would have had every priest and hetairos in the temple fall at his feet and beg to be bedded by him. Fatigued and spent as he was, Phaedrus felt his phallos stir again just from the nearness of the muse and despised himself for his weakness. Another monster, if one dared to call a muse such a thing. A lovely monster.
Phaedrus tilted his head upward to kiss the muse, uncaring about the temple doctrines. But to his disappointment, Euterpius placed two fingers perpendicular to Phaedrus's lips. "Ah, no, I promised. Sweet and tempting as you are." Still, he stayed close, deep brown eyes taking Phaedrus's measure. "What are you thinking?"
He knew that voice, somehow, but couldn't fathom from where. Phaedrus looked away, confused at the surge of emotions within him. He longed to have Euterpius touch him as he had Tenthus, to ride him as if he were nothing more than a dog in the street. But that was forbidden. Damn both Euterpius and Tenthus for causing such confusion within him.
Phaedrus took a deep, shuddering breath. "Monster. Both of you."
Euterpius laughed softly. "Are we such monsters for giving in to our own desires? Is it not more monstrous to be bound by rules that your priests claim lead to a fulfilling life?" The muse was so close now that his words warmed Phaedrus's ear. "You have your own desires, kindled early and wrongly by those who took advantage of an innocent raised in the temple. But fear has made you bury them deep, though not so deep as to be unreachable. Do not be afraid of them. I would love to help," Euterpius said, running a tickling finger across Phaedrus's cheek, "but Tenthus has forbidden me."
The light touch set Phaedrus's entire body on fire. Heat blossomed in his groin that made his phallos painfully stiff. All it would take was just one more little touch from Euterpius and Phaedrus would explode right there.
The touch never came. Instead, Euterpius carefully prodded the bronze cicada. "I know what this is and what you mean to do with it. I know why. And I ask that you don't."
All pleasure faded at that.
"Please," Euterpius said.
The single word carried with it such emotion that Phaedrus hardly knew how to react. No one had ever cared for him that much, not even Diomedes. Any deep relationships among those at the temple were discouraged, as most of them would not be together for long. Phaedrus had always felt apart from his peers anyway, and none had offered to tryst with him. It made Phaedrus hate Tenthus even more, because someone cared for him so deeply.
"I do not wish for him to die, although I know, if you are determined, that I will not be able to sway your mind." Euterpius cocked his head.
His expression was such that it made Phaedrus want to tell the muse everything, Diomedes's hatred, the pact he'd made to spare his life, the time with Pan in which he'd felt no shame until he returned to the temple. Euterpius was the son of Zeus. If anything might be done to spare Tenthus, surely he would know.
Instead, fear made Phaedrus hold his tongue. If Zeus knew he meant to kill an immortal, a god's wrath would certainly be worse than anything Diomedes could dream up. "I don't have a choice."
"There is always a choice. I pray you make the right one." He paused, thinking. "You're different than the rest. I've seen them. I watched Tenthus with them, saw his heart broken time and time again. They were all hollow, soulless, for all that they were raised in the temple. But you ... you have a chance. See that you take it." He inclined his head and gave Phaedrus a smile that made the younger man's heart pound. "Please. This need not end in death for either of you."
Before Phaedrus could ask anything further, the muse had backed away and vanished into the darkness. Phaedrus blinked back tears of dismay and fatigue and struggled to still the mixed emotions that the muse had stirred up. Longing, for one. Lust and disgust, for others. All of them forbidden. Muses were tricksters like the rest of the gods. No doubt he'd only spoken to Phaedrus to get him to put aside his years of learning inside the temple for some grand amusement.
But Euterpius had said, "Please." A single word said in a voice that cut straight to Phaedrus's soul.
"Damn you," he muttered, annoyed by the muse's request. He fingered the pendant. Keeping Tenthus alive wasn't possible. It just wasn't.
And neither could he let his emotions get the better of him. He choked them down, remembering where his real duty lay for the next month. With Tenthus, tending Tenthus. Seeing to the god's every need so that he suspected nothing.
The immortal still lay where Euterpius had placed him, wings glinting in the moonlight. The remains of the cocoon were no more than a silhouette, a reminder that both life and death lay ahead of them. Sleeping naked, Tenthus looked innocent and vulnerable. His skin wore a blanket of goose pimples, and he shivered a little. Phaedrus could see just how young he looked, as if he had not passed his twenty-fifth year, although he'd lived for centuries, if the tales were correct. Curls of hair drooped over his face. Phaedrus pushed them away, gazing on the face so peaceful at rest.
"Who do I believe?" Phaedrus asked quietly. "The one who cares for you, or the one who hates you?"
Tired of thinking, of worrying, of being confused, Phaedrus snuggled up to Tenthus, willing the heat of his body to leach into the immortal's. His warmth calmed Tenthus, but Phaedrus could not sleep. It felt ... nice to be here like this, under the stars, arms wrapped around a lover. Far better than any of the nights he'd spent with Diomedes, who'd was old, bony, and snored in his sleep. Tenthus was none of those things, only a worn-out soul in a forever-young body.
And a monster, Phaedrus thought, recalling what he'd seen. He couldn't be thinking this way about Tenthus; if he cared for the immortal at all, he'd never be able to do what was needed. He spent the rest of the night quashing the unwanted emotions, pushing them away until only his purpose and training remained. Tenthus would die. Phaedrus would see to it.