The Killer in Me - Sample
Spring, 393 AD
"Know thyself," the strange runes over the temple archway proclaim.
If any in the party I travel with are curious as to their meaning, they do not ask. Romans are, if nothing else, arrogant. To all but one of us, the carvings are nothing more than superstitious markings put there by locals.
The priests do little more than collect our coin and point the way. They are mute, moonlit statues flanking the archway leading into the darkness of the temple.
I wear the armor of a Centurion in the service to Emperor Theodosius I. I am but one in a company of ten. A military escort to Lucius Schipius, Consul of Rome. Theodosius has declared that all pagan temples throughout the Empire cease operations at once. Against the Emperor's orders, Lucius has brought us all this way to see Prophecy done one last time.
I have come for something else.
The Oracle sits on a wooden stool, delirious. The stool is placed over a series of round steel grates in the ground. Beneath the grates yawns a crack in the bones of the Earth; a great tunneling wound leading all the way down to Hell itself if the stories ring true.
The chamber smells of incense and the air is thick with its smoke, but it is the vapors that rise from beneath the grates that the Oracle inhales. They are said to give her the Sight. She looks up at us as we enter the temple, her eyes barely slits as she writhes atop her stool; moving to a rhythm only she can hear.
One of the men announces Lucius, but the Oracle interrupts before his full roll of titles are read.
Her head lolls to one side and she moans as if in pleasure. "Tell the King; the fair wrought house has fallen. No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves. The fountains are now silent; the voice is stilled. It is finished."
The Oracle's prophecies are always cryptic, legends say. Scholars and Priests debate the oracular prophecies for weeks after hearing them. To me her meaning cannot be plainer. The Emperor will die, and soon. Perhaps a year; perhaps two. The truth of her words matter little to me.
I draw my short sword, and with two quick steps, drive it into the back of Lucius Schipius. Shouts of anger and surprise go up from the other soldiers, but I am already turning to face their steel.
Fellow Centurions move to strike me down, but I am like Death made flesh and their blades cannot touch me. Soon, I stand alone in the temple with the Oracle, bloody sword in hand, panting from the exertion. She and I are the only things in the temple alive.
I pull off my helmet and drop it to the floor, sheathing my weapon. I kneel before her. The scent of blood is thick in the air, and my head swims. I'm dizzy and a bit disoriented from the exertion of the fight.
The priests burst into the room, strange curved blades that look more like iron hooks than proper weapons. The Oracle holds up a hand, and they stop their charge.
I force myself to focus. I was so young then, and full of questions. Lucius was not the only one who came seeking answers. "No doubt you know why I am here."
"I know what you are," she whispers, her eyes lucid for the first time as they meet mine. Disappointment wells inside me. "You desecrate Apollo's house with your very presence and dare to beg illumination?" The Oracle spits on the floor before me.
I stand, my eyes never leaving hers. The priests begin to fan out, slowly circling me. I will find no answers here. Another dead end. How many years have been wasted getting this close? Climbing the ranks in service to that bloated old politician? All to get here. All wasted.
I glare at the old woman, a threat plain in my eyes.
The Oracle smiles bitterly. "Know thyself."
I bend and pickup my helmet, and draw my sword. "Would that it were that simple."
Two quick steps forward and I strike off her head with a single stroke. I let the sword slip from my hand and turn to face the rushing priests.
As their hooks bite into my flesh, I do not resist. I let my sword clatter to the floor as their weapons rise and fall, and I welcome the pain. Soon, the blackness of oblivion will claim me, and I will forget...again.
Perhaps next time, I will find the answers I seek.