The streets of Paris bustled with life. The majestic city of art and knowledge shared the passions of Human and Graeco alike. Even the suspected Xenoi walked amongst their estranged relations without discrimination. It was one of the few ancient cities to survive the turbulent war with much of its treasures intact. This made it a sacred city to the Catholic faithful, but in a city like Paris, it was difficult to close off the heart when so many shared so much.
In the heart of Paris, the bazaar was home to merchants, artists, musicians, and performers every hour of the day. Among them, a handsome, lyre player plucked his strings, raising his divine voice to please his fellow Parisians. When he was not playing, he would offer fortune-telling services. Many patrons were unaware of his name, but those that did were still ignorant of his identity. Under his loose-fitting shirt, on his right shoulder blade, a birthmark of great importance hid from view: a circle with a dot in its center, the mark of Apollo.
An afternoon in mid-Autumn found Apollo reading his cards for some young, Human ladies. As a Graeco, he had grasped Human desires from the questions they asked over the years. These youths in their prime were hardly any different from their peers. Who would be their greatest love and when would they be coming?! He always found it amusing to hear their reactions to his divinations.
“I do see love in your near future, miss,” Apollo purred with a smile. “The cards are quite generous, for it seems you have many suitors in your path. With such beauty, it’s hardly surprising though.”
“Oh, Apollo, do you mean it?” The young woman’s hazel eyes beamed with excitement as her friends nudged her, jealously.
“Don’t get too excited, Claire. It could just mean your end up in the cat house.”
“Enough out of you, Blanche!” The third youth spoke up as Claire gawked in dismay. “Apollo would warn her of something like that. Wouldn’t you, Apollo?”
“Warn?” The Graeco blinked, a bit confused. “Ah, well, I could read your vocation next if you would like to check on that.” He winked, coyly.
“You are always such a flirt, Apollo,” Claire said as she blushed. “I’m sure that’s why Alice spends so much money on you.” Alice folded her arms in a huff.
“If you can’t tell from this spread,” Blanche said, leaning closer with a silky voice, “can you at least tell what these lovers are like?”
Apollo matched the woman’s sly gaze with amusement. He held up a finger to hover at the tip of her nose, making Blanche catch her breath. After a beat, he pointed down at the cards on his scarf, drawing everyone’s attention with it. Holding his right hand over a specific card, the Graeco focused a little divine energy on it.
“I see a tall man,” he spoke softly, almost wearily. “He is not noble by blood, but his heart holds the passion of a dreamer. His hair is black. His skin baked by the sun. He will come across you by chance, but your affair will be fulfilling for you both.”
The young women stared at his face, gaping in awe at the prediction. Apollo rarely offered such detailed foresight, so the information left them feeling special. Claire, in particular, seemed stunned as she looked the fortune teller over. It took a bit for the Graeco to return to his usual personality, but his face was breathtaking no matter how one looked at it.
“Does that give you a better idea, ladies?” Apollo asked in his usual charismatic voice.
“Could it be you, Apollo?” Blanche and Alice spun their heads about to look at Claire.
The Graeco’s face fell at the question, feeling a sting of regret. His predictions were not something he could think over before saying, but he should have considered the youth’s aura when she looked at him. Picking up his cards, he racked his mind for an answer that would cause less grief than the honest one.
“The future is always unknown, and predictions can be tricky.” He paused when the human touched his hand, forcing him to meet her gaze. He took a breath. “I’m afraid an affair with me would hardly leave your heart fulfilled, Claire.”
Claire looked down with disappointment. She left the payment for the reading before standing. She ran off as tears fell from his eyes. Her friends stood to go after her, leaving Apollo alone to sulk.
“You know predictions take a great deal of your strength,” a strange, unnatural voice spoke from behind him.
“I know,” the Graeco sighed heavily as he reached for his lyre. Plucking aimlessly at his strings, the Dodekatheon stared at the wrapped cards in front of him. “She just seemed anxious about becoming a prostitute. I thought maybe having an idea of someone in her future might be comforting.”
“Was he Graeco or Human?”
“Honestly…” The musician stared at the sky as he reflected on his prediction. “‘Baked by the sun’ does make him sound either-or, doesn’t it? He was tall, but humans have caught up to some of us in height. He seemed physically strong, too. I couldn’t see his face though, and the eyes really are the tell-tale sign usually.”
“The patron of Delphi does not require such knowledge. You know this to be true, Master. The woman must discover the rest.”
Apollo fell silent as he began to play a nostalgic melody. His face was solemn as he meditated on the voice. He was right. He did not need to see the face. Closing his eyes, he let the vision return to his thoughts, like a lucid dream. Sighing heavily, he furrowed his brow.
“Well?” The guardian smirked down at his charge, knowing he would have looked anyway.
“He is a Graeco, and depending on if she can stand by his side or not, he will be her one and only or one of many.”
A sandaled foot stepped forward on Apollo’s right side from behind him, hovering above the ground. A second foot came forward, but a toga soon draped over them both. No one else seemed to notice the figure standing beside Apollo. As the male opened his eyes, he glanced up to look at his guardian with a sad expression, which was returned with a sympathetic gaze.
“I wish I couldn’t see some times, Apollo.”
“I know, Master,” the Roman deity said quietly. “You once told me it has plagued you since Atlantis, but you cannot ignore your gift of prophecy.”
“I must master it, I know… I know…”
The two remained in silence for a while after that. Apollo’s playing earned him plenty of coin, but many asked him why he was not singing today. All he could muster in reply was a resigned smile. Finally, the guardian spoke again with his displaced voice.
“Are you going to talk about what actually bothered you about her question? I know the prediction tired you, but her interested intimidated you, Master.”
“You know very well why it did.”
The deity looked down at the moody host. It was hardly unusual for Apollo to have his childish moments. It was part of his divine personality, seeping through his mortal one. The guardian had learned over the millennia that it took both patience and pressure to get his charge out of these runts. He had been patient, giving him time to process his emotions, but now, he was just sulking. It was time for the stick over the carrot.
“Master, assumptions are hardly a basis for counsel,” the invisible guardian said stoically. “If you do not voice your thoughts, you can never accept the advice you require. Also, you know you are too old to play the role of a child.”
Apollo ground his teeth as he kept up his playing. Normally, his low voice went unheard by bystanders when he spoke with his guardian. When he was in one of his moods though, the Roman deity always did this in public, so it prevented him from throwing a tantrum. Naturally, this made playing face a royal pain in the ass.
“Fine,” Apollo hissed under his breath, “if you must know, it was a reminder of my own vision that caught me off guard.”
The Roman Apollo sighed heavily. He had thought that had been the case, but he wanted to be sure. It was his current charge’s greatest stumbling block with his divine powers. If only there was some way to alleviate his anxiety about what he had seen, he might be able to move forward. Alas, his guilt of what was to come had led him to lead such a humble life, and the guardian feared it would become self-fulfilled.
“You know the future is never truly defined, Lord Apollo. That dream was decades ago, and it has never come to pass.”
“That is why I must continue on this way,” Apollo retorted quickly. “By not taking a lover, I repress my lustful desires and prevent it from ever happening.”
“Honestly, do you really think you can avoid it by abstinence? You are not the Lady Artemis. You never did have her level of self-control.”
“I’ve done well for more than a century.”
“True that may be,” the guardian groaned at the admittance, “you also forget that you do not know the full series of events up to the point of your vision. There could have been a purpose…”
“That is no purpose to rape a woman, Apollo.”
The tone was dark and angry. The guardian silenced, allowing the other to calm himself. The Dodekatheon stopped playing for a moment to hug his lyre. The emotions swelling in his chest had to be sorted before he could continue. A tear threatened to leave his eye as he recalled his first premonition.
It had been brief, but the emotion and action had been so intense he could never forget it. There was a woman before him, an innocent. They had looked at each other for a moment before he rushed her, pinning her to the ground. The event to follow haunted him still. It was too cruel to witness such an act, but when he realized it was him, he could not bear the guilt.
The guardian had tried for years to help him understand what he had seen, but Apollo never wanted to. He knew in the days when the gods were free they had forced themselves on women and men the world over. Many had been his own god’s doing. The divine host did not want to be associated with such behavior. He wished to be different. Perhaps it was a desire to be free of the bad karma of past deeds, or the perspective of a mortal’s moral compass. Either way, this Apollo refused to give in and accept such a fate.
Sitting upright, the musician started playing again. This time though, his voice accompanied it. Without words, his voice rang with resistance and resilience. Those in the bazaar smiled to finally hear their favorite performer again. He even wore a smile. The guardian could not help but smile down at him. Childish he might be, the Dodekatheon had a way with his voice.
Suddenly, Apollo stopped singing. His voice was cut off sharply, suddenly stricken with pain. The guardian gaped with horror. Dropping the lyre, the male clutched his chest as he gaped at the ground.
“Lord Apollo!” The guardian knelt by his side, still unnoticed by the bystanders that were also gathering around his charge. “What is wrong?!”
“My energy… is being… drained…” Apollo tried to severe the connection with a shield as his guardian had taught him, but it was too deeply rooted. It was a powerful spell, to be sure. He ground his teeth in anger at the thought of who could make such a deep connection to him. “Damn…! It has… to be… Del...phi…”
“No, my lord…” The Roman gawked down at his charge in shock. While he knew Delphi was no ally of the Divine Twelve, it seemed almost taboo to try harvesting the life force of one of them, especially the patron of their own temple. As he attempted to shield as well, it became painfully obvious who they were facing. Without any preparation, there was not much they could do to stop them.
“Must… pass… ener…gy… some...how…!” Apollo grunted as he stumbled to his feet. His eyes raced around, searching for an exit or an answer. He fell deaf to the voices of the people. He could not let Delphi have his life force. Finally, he saw an alley that seemed to call to him. “There…!”
The Graeco ran as fast as he could with the sharp, stabbing in his core. He did not know where the alley led, but he was following instinct at this point. He did not wait for his counterpart to catch up. He was seeking an out. Even if he perished to stop the ritual, he could not let Delphi possess such dangerous energy. One alley led to another and another, and eventually, everything became a giant blur to him, until he froze in place.
Standing directly in front of him was a nun, carrying a basket of food. She paused at the sight of the haggard Graeco, gaping with concern. They stood in silence for a moment, making Apollo gape with anxiety. This was exactly the way he remembered his vision. He had never been able to see the woman’s features, but he had sensed she was innocent and pure. What was more blameless than a sister of the cloth? Clutching his chest, he gasped as he felt the drain increase.
“Are you hurt?” The nun asked in a genuine voice. She reached a hand out toward him. “I have some medical instruction. I could help you.”
The nun flinched at his tone of voice. He was holding up a hand toward her, as if that could bar her for coming closer. After the initial shock, the nun set her basket down.
“You need help. We could not have crossed paths by chance. Please, there is no need for you to suffer.”
“Please...! Don’t... come near... me...!” He grunted, but this time, his voice sounded like it was begging. “I… I don’t… want… to hurt… you…!”
“Why would you hurt me?” She asked with a sweet smile on her face. Holding her hands out to him, she looked like a mother calling to her child. “Unless you were afraid?”
“I am...! You… have to… run! Please...!”
“Why do you want me to run away?”
Apollo slumped against a wall as his chest stung. As he gasped for air, a thought came to him. His guardian had tried to tell him there might be circumstances he was unaware of that led to this moment. Was this it? Had he raped this woman to pass on his life force? It was still cruel, but logically, this was the safest and easiest way to secure his energy from Delphi’s grasp. Tears fell from his eyes as he struggled with doing what he had to.
“Because… I’ll do… something… unfor...givable… to you…”
“Forgiveness is mine to give,” she said with compassion. “I can see you are desperate, but if I can be of help to you, the Lord must have brought me to you. As Joseph once said, what man intended for evil, God intended for good.”
Apollo gaped at her for a moment. She was too kind. Could she really forgive him for this? There was no time to explain himself, so that left him to just act. Gripping the corner of the wall, his hand cracked the surface just before he rushed her to the ground.
The moments to follow came in flashes to him. Perhaps it was the pain. Maybe it was his mind trying to protect him from what he was doing to this woman. All he knew was that he kept saying the same thing over and over: I’m so sorry. He could not hear her voice. Whether that was because she was silent or his ears were ringing was unclear. He just knew he had to go as long as his body would hold out. It was too late to survive, but he could stop those damned priests from getting what they wanted.
When Apollo finally reached his charge through the alleys, he found him on top of a woman in nun’s robes. He was at a loss for what to say. He could hear his young master’s voice, apologizing profusely. The woman was crying silently, but she was not resisting. The Roman waited until he watched the Dodekatheon’s body tremble and slump against the nun. He could not hold back his grief any further.
“Lord Apollo!” The guardian materialized to pull his charge close to him and off the poor woman. “Can you hear me, Master?!”
The male’s eyes were dilated, but he was breathing. This was sometimes the case when he received a vision. Now of all times was a cruel moment to give him a final premonition.
“Yes, Master, I am here.”
“The… con...nec...tion… is… bro...ken…”
“Wait, Master,” the guardian hushed him as he channeled some power to allow him to speak clearly. “What have you seen, my lord?”
“Delphi has lost the energy they stole… and it has been passed safely within the woman… However…” A fresh tear rolled down from his eye at the news to follow. “... the curse has befallen my child… Not only have I burdened her… but I have burdened my… son…”
Apollo froze as he felt the Graeco slump in his embrace. Gawking in shock, the Roman shed tears of his own. He had failed in the worst possible way to protect his fated charge. Never had he allowed Apollo to come to harm on this level. How could he hope to protect him after this? Would Delphi try this again? What was going on? He had never felt so lost.
“Did he…?” The nun had rolled onto her side to crawl next to Apollo. Her green eyes welled with tears as she stroked his sweat-slick hair. “I had hoped he would be saved. I thought if I could help, his pain would stop…”
“No,” Apollo replied softly, “you did save him.”
“I don’t understand," the nun cried hopelessly up at the deity. "What happened to him?”
“He was born, burdened with a powerful life force. It was my responsibility to protect his soul from harm, but an arcane sorcerer cast a spell to steal it from him. It would have killed him and possibly destroyed his soul. He needed his life force to be passed on to another host body the sorcerer did not know. That was why he had to impregnate you.”
“Yes, you have successfully conceived a child, a boy by his prediction. Unfortunately, due to his soul’s karma, there is a curse upon some of his descendants, and it seems your child will face great hardships. Should you choose to keep the child, being the son of someone of my master’s power, he will undoubtedly shoulder a great destiny.”
The nun glanced down from the deity to her belly. Touching it, she thought about what she had told this Graeco just before he attacked her. Had the Lord a greater purpose in store? The child would be half Graeco though, and she knew that would be a cruel life for the child of a nun. Still, she saw the suffering face of the now dead man before her. Looking back up at Apollo, she swallowed a lump in her throat before asking a question.
“Was he a good man?”
“The most selfless I have ever known.”
“Then I cannot allow this life to be in vain. That will be my forgiveness.”
“Tell me your name.”
“Marie,” she replied with a sad smile, “Marie Berger.”
“How fitting,” he said, “that he found a shepherdess.”
Marie gave a confused face at the comment. The deity reached up to touch her face. Instinctually, she reached to hold his hand in place. For comfort or blessing, she was unsure. Gradually, she felt warmth fill her body, and her pain faded into nothing. She gaped back at him as he withdrew his hand.
“My master would have wished this blessing upon you. He had foreseen this day years ago, living in fear of when he would commit it. I cannot remain, but I can do this much. Live your life as you will, Marie Berger.”
He rose with Apollo in his arms, walking toward the edge of town. He would not have much time, and he had already tarried too long. The next Apollo would be conceived now that his host had perished, but when this host had nothing, he knew someone had to bury him. Someone had to grieve over his grave. He deserved that much.