Strife just couldn't understand it. Ares was never around when he needed him. Oh sure, he knew that the god of war had a secret little hideaway. All the gods did. But he usually used it for the occasional weekend away from the others, not for weeks on end. He only came to Olympus when he had to, now. And he actually smiled at the last meeting. A real honest to goodness grin at Aphrodite. . .
... Who had disproven her reputation as a loose-lipped goddess who couldn't keep a secret. So, it had to be a woman. Aphrodite was a sucker for that true love nonsense. Probably one of the Muses or maybe one of the Furies, somebody who had to keep a real low profile. Strife sighed. He hated being out of the loop. But all his ferreting around had produced nothing ... nada ... zip ... zilch. He was beginning to fear for his reputation.
Strife sat on the steps of Ares' temple on Olympus and hugged his knees. Where was the chance to make mischief when you really needed one? He brightened when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
"Strife!" Ares called impatiently from the temple arch. "Get in here."
He bounced to his feet and dashed up the steps. Things were looking up. Ares sounded irritated. That always meant trouble for somebody.
"Ares, long time no see." Strife waited with bated breath.
"I've been busy." And for no apparent reason, he smiled. Not his usual sardonic smirk but an honest to goodness smile. The same one he'd had the last meeting. It made Strife's skin crawl.
"Are you paying attention, Strife? Or am I going to have to look elsewhere for a little help?" Those were the sarcastic tones that Strife knew and loved.
"Nope, Boss. Right here and ready to cause some trouble." Strife looked attentive as Ares outlined the plan. Some family that Ares had a real down on. He wanted everything from pestilence to plain bad luck visited on them
"I can do that." Strife nodded.
"Be creative. I want them on their knees at every altar between here and Delphi." Ares spoke through gritted teeth. "But nothing that will permanently damage any of them. I want them alive and miserable."
"You got it, Boss. Where can I get a hold of you if I need any more info?"
Ares smirked and shook his head. "You don't, Strife. I'll call you if I need you. Get going. I want to know that they are regretting life before the sun goes down."
Oh, well. It was worth a try. Strife winked out and began to invisibly study the target family. Party going mama, warlike dad, three sons. The eldest lived for hunting and fucking, not necessarily in that order. The middle son was an assassin, a good one but currently in jail. The youngest was a loser, according to the family gossip, out roaming the world somewhere.
Ah, yes. The family that fights together stays together. He'd met their kind before. Their reputation meant everything to them, but especially to mama who prided herself on her bloodline. This was going to be fun. Strife decided to take his time and do the job right. Not a flurry of misfortune but a steady stream of annoyances that would culminate in something really spectacular.
The next three weeks passed pleasantly enough. Looking back over his handiwork, he had good reason to think Ares would be pleased with him. He'd started with impersonating the eldest son, who had trouble getting it up with the current girlfriend. A real shame, too. She was a tasty little morsel. He promised himself another trip over to her place once he was done. Soothe her disappointment, as it were. Getting caught with the sheep hadn't helped, either.
Then he knocked a few arrows off target and the elder son was well on his way to alcoholic oblivion, which didn't help the next time he tried to disprove the first rumor about his sexual prowess. Strife decided to move on to his next target. Good old Mom.
First, an infestation of moths in the closets right before an important weekend at a neighboring castle. She'd had to wear last season's styles and was extremely put out. But not as put out as she was the morning after she'd fucked her way through the castle guards. He really liked that love potion. While she was dealing with damage control there, he hit her with an accident before the Queen of the province involving mud, a pig and an amorous farmer. That one was really delicious and Strife had watched her take to her bed in mortification.
Dear old Dad had proven a tougher nut to crack. But any man involved in politics was bound to have a few guilty secrets and all it took was a few well placed bribes and listening in on some really boring conversations with his political cronies before Strife could begin his campaign.
First a rumor about number two son, currently in jail for failing to kill the Queen of Egypt. Gossip had it that said son had failed 'on purpose' to get a better price from another interested party, thus striking at the heart of his integrity. Dad blustered but secretly wondered if the rumor was true. Strife shook his head and wondered if either parent had ever known anything important about their own sons. This was just too easy.
The second blow to fall was a letter from him to an enemy requesting a peace conference. 'Let bygones be bygones,' Strife had written. The letter sent in return was so scathing that Strife memorized parts of it for use later. Dad had a real hard time denying that one. Especially when the letter proved to be in his illiterate scrawl. Strife prided himself on his attention to detail. He lost a couple of so-called friends then but others actually believed his protests and supported him.
Then he was seen entering the local temple of Aphrodite, compliments of Strife, and making a large offering. Pretty soon after that, he gave golden alms to the poor of a nearby village. Then he helped a young couple elope thus precipitating a feud destined to last a long time. That really put the fat in the fire. His reputation as a greedy, warlike bastard was quickly disappearing under a layer of positive do-goodism. The final blow came when he publicly defended the right of his youngest son to wear dresses and love any man he wanted to, while wearing what looked suspiciously like rouge and lipstick.
He quickly joined his wife in seclusion, a broken man while Strife looked around with a contented sigh and headed home. Checking in at Olympus, he discovered that Ares was expected in Thessilonika for a festival in his honor the next day. Taking a break, he prepared his report in detail, knowing how much Ares loved the small stuff.
Popping down to the temple, he settled down in the hidden room where Ares always came first to prepare for his grand entrance. Sitting in a corner, he wondered if he kept quiet, might he see the new flame. The rumor mill on Olympus was still going strong. In the three weeks he'd been gone, Ares had only made one short appearance.
Strife ruminated on who it could be before sitting up straighter and remembering the most important thing he needed to tell Ares about a village he'd come through on the journey home. He'd smelled the festering hate that oozed from the place. That usually meant a war. Ares would be pleased. Just then, Ares flashed into view with his arms around a tall, dark haired man.
They were laughing and Ares kissed him thoroughly before giving him a swat on the ass and letting him out the secret entrance. "And this time, stay away from the blacksmith's shop." The young warrior just laughed and trailed a hand down the war god's cheek before striding away.
Strife sat in shock. The family resemblance was unmistakable. All the time he was tormenting the clan, Ares was boffing the youngest son. Strife shook his head. Even his last rumor was going to fall right into line with Ares' plotting. He must really hate these people to go to all this trouble. That poor shmuck. He'd never know what hit him when Ares lowered the boom.
You had to hand it to him, Strife decided. He was the master of mayhem. The devotee of deceit. I could learn from this god. No detail is too small when you're causing discord. That's why I'm just the god of mischief and he's the god of war.
Devious. That's what he was. Devious. Strife sighed, would he ever be that good?
Ares turned and raised an eyebrow at the sight of Strife in the corner. "So, you're back. How did it go? Give me all the details."
End part five