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ODE TO THE PAST (with the occasional nod to the present)

Behind THE ORACLE cover: smoke in the temple

The sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi has been decimated for centuries, today appearing as a ruin on the slopes of Mount Parnassus (see right). The history of this sacred temple is a long and bloody one, and its ultimate demise is captured on the cover of THE ORACLE.

In addition to the modern-day thriller plot, in which Sarah and Daniel are hunted by a ruthless psychopath reconstructing the ancient oracle, THE ORACLE features a historical subplot that tells the story of the fall of Delphi and the persecution of pagans during the reign of Emperor Theodosius.

One of those historical scenes describes the siege of the sanctuary by the emperor's mercenaries. Defended by the last priestess and priests, the sanctuary falls spectacularly to the enemy's catapults and torches. The smoke on the cover, and the hands of the priestess reaching out for help, is indicative of that fateful moment.

Here is an excerpt from that scene:

Aristea stood on shaky legs and gazed into the courtyard. A wheeled cart with a ballista attached was pointed toward the temple. Behind the contraption was a gathering of men. In the torchlight, their faces were like brazen statues—hard, vacant, incapable of feeling.

Her lip trembled as she spoke. “We are people of peace. We are not breaking any laws of the empire.” She swallowed hard. “Our treasuries have gold. Take all you want. Just leave our sanctuary standing.”

One man stepped out in front. He wore chain mail across his chest and a bronze helmet, as if Apollo’s priests were going to engage him in battle. “We need no permission to take your gold. That is the currency of the devil, and we have every intention of confiscating it for the work of God.” He pointed toward the temple. “The fire of hell burns within that house. Under order of Theodosius the Great, rituals of the profane shall not be tolerated.”

“But no one comes here anymore.” Despite attempts to keep emotion at bay, Aristea’s voice was shaky. “In accordance to with the emperor’s decrees, there are no rituals.”

“And what are you doing here, then?”

“This is my home. I mean to protect it.”

The soldier pointed to her. “If this is your home, then you answer to the devil.” He glanced over his shoulder and barked a command to his men. He raised a gladius and released a cry.

“Please,” Aristea pleaded. “We mean no harm—”

The man grabbed her by the elbow and dragged her inside. She glanced back and saw a legion of men enter the temple after their leader. It was an all-out siege.

He pushed Aristea to her knees in front of the tripod in which the eternal flame burned. Cleon and the others were seized by the other men and brought to kneel beside her. She glanced at Cleon. The serenity on his face gave her courage.

The soldier pointed to the flame and turned to Aristea. “Do you deny that this is the fire of hell?”

“I do not know what the fire of hell looks like,” she said calmly. “I know only light.”

He signaled to his men. With a war cry that echoed off the marble, they toppled the tripod and beat the flames with their capes until all that remained of the light of Apollo was the faint scent of burnt oil.

Leaving the prisoners unattended, they ran like rabid animals to the altar and down to the adyton. They would leave nothing standing.

Aristea turned to her brothers. “Remember our promise. We shall meet again. Now leave this place.”

Ignoring Cleon’s pleas, the priestess picked up the tripod and swung it with all her strength at one of the men. He fell unconscious. She did the same to another, and another, until the leader noticed and lunged at her.

She fought him with the tripod, but he quickly overpowered her and sent the brass vessel clattering across the hall.

He grabbed her by the hair. “You think you are a match for me, witch?” He pulled her head back. “Answer me!”

“What one man has built, another has no right to destroy.” She spat on the floor. “You disgust me.”

He struck her across the face with the back of his hand. The force made her fall to her side. As she raised her head, blood dripped onto the marble. Through blurred vision, she watched the emperor’s men swing heavy iron axes at the columns, cracking them. Her face hot with anger, she swung a fist at her captor’s groin and watched him dive, howling, to his knees.

She felt arms hoist her upright. She turned to face Cleon.

“Don’t be a martyr,” he said. “Save yourself.”

She shook her head. “I will sooner go down in flames than abandon Apollo.” Python-like arms gripped her from behind and squeezed the breath out of her lungs. “Run,” she mouthed.

A cloud of white linen trailed Cleon as he ran toward the doorway. It was the last image she registered before she succumbed to darkness.

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