Phosimo stood at the temple’s inner chamber staring into empty space, his tattered robes hanging loosely around his skeletal frame. Through the large hole within the stone wall a stream of red haze bathed the disheveled sanctuary. Countless days passed since the sun stopped at the horizon, smothering the land in its red hue. Phosimo couldn’t be sure how much time passed. The sundial did not work anymore, each minute seemed to endlessly blend into the next. He had seen and heard enough panic and horror to fill a lifetime, and there seemed to be no end in sight. An emptiness burned at his heart as he stood staring at the ruins. In a half awake state that was more reminiscent of a shade than a man, Phosimo collapsed to the floor and wept until his eyes ran dry.
The temple had been ransacked shortly after Mt. Olympus erupted into a ball of flames, spewing out ash and debris across the lands for miles. Houses exploded as rubble fell, the city bathed in shadows as the smoke filled the sky. The Gods were dead. Without their guidance the world quickly descended into chaos, and man tore each other apart as the their lives unraveled.
The columns withstood the attack and kept the roof of the temple intact, cracks lining the length of the stone like the rough bark of a tree. Offerings in the temple from days past were taken back when people realized that they were of no use to the dead. When the horrors crept out from their dark depths, so too did man’s worst qualities. Men sruck each other down in the streets, stealing and burning everything within sight. The screams that filled the air in those first days chilled Phosimo to the bone. He lay on the stone ground, his face cold from the tears and the floor. Through his foggy vision Phosimo could see a statue, and his empitness soon turned to a fiery hatred. He mustered the energy to stand, drew near the stone figure and spat upon its base.
What did it mean to be an Oracle with no God?
The statue of Apollo stood at the center of the temple, its head missing and his bow destroyed as it stood silently in the red twilight of his now dormant domain. With no one to helm Apollo’s chariot, the sun would remain still for an eternity. Phosimo desperately needed sleep but the ceaseless daytime kept him awake, among other things that echoed up the hillside from the city below. He looked to his worn hands, caked in dirt and blood from his past crusades into the city. He found that he was of no use amongst the chaos. His gift of healing taken away in Apollo’s absence.
What good are these hands now?
Phosimo stood up straight and sighed heavily. The temple air began to take on a chill as Phosimo brought in his robes more closely to his emaciated frame. He strolled through the intact archway to the temple center and out into the peristyle. As he made his way outside, he beset by half intact columns and the shriveled remains of the garden. Without Demeter’s touch, plants of the temple grew dry and brittle, snapping and falling like leaves in Autumn. The cries of farmers had been the first to come, their toils of labor wilting and dying before their eyes as Mt. Olympus burned. With their livelihood stolen they stormed the city and began to plunder.
His temple stood high above the city atop a hill, a once proud beacon to its citizens but now a lonely relic. Phosimo needed to escape the destruction of the temple, but the ghastly sight of burnt animal sacrifices were piled next to the alter near the holy shrine.
Would have been more prudent to have saved the animals from slaughter? The city needed food after the fields had shriveled much like his garden. The animals would have done more good for the people who moaned of hunger in the streets, their reserves likely dwindled or completely gone. He stared out across the city as it lay still, a small number of fires burned from within. In the far off distance dark storm clouds loomed above the sea, punctuated by sporadic bolts of lightning.
Phosimo took a step closer to the edge of the stone walkway leading from the temple, and looked out over the edge. A deep, intense howl began to reverberate from the city below. One howl grew into three, shifting their pitch in unison. Phosimo shivered at the sound and returned his gaze to the precipice. The drop would be far enough to damage him severely, he would tumble down the jagged cliff face that began half way down.
Will it kill me outright or will the beast below have time to feast?
Or will I just suffer for an untold amount of time, waiting to be brought to The Boatman?
But as Phosimo stared out over the edge, a raven flew within his sight and up towards the top of the hill. The bird was the first living creature he had seen since he stopped venturing into the city, and the sight of the another living thing calmed his nerves and thoughts of jumping. The raven circled over the burnt corpses and down to an empty planter filled with dry, dead vines. Phosimo stared into the creature’s eyes and felt something stir within him. Something he had not felt since before that awful day.
“Lord Apollo, Silver Bow,” whispered Phosimo as he extended a hand toward the raven. The bird stared at Phisomo with inky black eyes, cawed once, and flew away towards the city. Phosimo ran after the bird but stopped quickly as he nearly tumbled over the edge.
“A sign… It must be,” said Phosimo to himself, “It is not my time. My journey with The Boatman will not be this day.” His chest tightened and his heart pounded. Filled with a renewed purpose Phosimo rushed to the temple to grab a walking stick. His last remaining possession was made of silver birch and had a small golden sun inlaid in the top of the staff. Seeing the symbol of Apollo invigorated him, giving him strength that had laid dormant within him. Perhaps this raven was a sign from Apollo himself that he had not abandoned his Oracle, that hope remained of a return.
Phosimo rushed past the temple ruins, wary to look at any rubble, lest it sap his newfound vitality. He turned towards the hillside and began his journey down the six thousands steps towards the heart of the city. As he traversed the hill his pace quickened but slowed as his breathing became heavy. He had not eaten for many days, and his head began to feel dizzy from the rush of activity. His energy reserves would need to be safeguarded. Phosimo’s breath came slow and roughly, the steady heat of the red twilight bearing down upon him. His breath formed into fog before his eyes, but sweat clung to him as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He bent over to catch his breath when he saw the bloodied bodies of men and woman.
Phosimo wretched at the sight, quickly averting his gaze. Strewn with slashes and cuts, their bloody robes hung from their skeletal remains. He ran into the city and hid within a side alley, gasping for air and shaking his head while he tried to expel the memory from his mind. Shadows danced in front of him as if they were alive, and with a few shakes Phosimo’s head ceased to spin. He couldn’t tell from his brief glimpse if the wounds on their bodies were from a blade or an animal. With either scenario he would need to remain vigilant.
The city stood silent, not even the sound of a soft breeze to fill the void. The air thick around Phosimo with the smell of decay; No breeze would come to wash the stench away and so the city festered in itself. Without Hermes’s messages, the keeper of the four winds would no longer release them. Phosimo counted that a blessing as the horrid stench didn’t waft up to his hilltop, but here in the heart of the chaos the smell was as nauseating as the sight of the bodies.
Phosimo traversed through the alleyways, past the empty homes which stood open. The previous owners either fled the city or never made it back home. Every building he passed was picked clean by scavengers. Wild dogs and birds roamed throughout the derelict buildings, hoping to find scraps that remained. Without Artemis to keep order, the smaller predators had grown the courage to come within the city. Phosimo prayed that he did not run into the larger beasts of the forest that would have been struck down by Artemis’s bow.
When he arrived to the market square, Phosimo heard the soft sobs of a woman. He flexed his fingers and balled them into a fist as he warily made his way towards the sound. He crept into the open expanse, and noticed a young woman huddled over the body of a man of roughly the same age. Resting on a nearby building a raven stared directly at Phosimo as he approached.
“Excuse me,” said Phosimo.
The woman jerked at the sound of his voice and drew a rusted dagger. The edged were worn and gagged from heavy use. “What do you want? Come no closer,” shouted the woman, tears rolling down her face.
“I am Phosimo, Oracle of Apollo. I am here to help you.”
The woman eyed him, keeping the dagger out in front of her. The unconcious man hung loosely in her arms. He appeared to be breathing, but a large spot of blood had formed all across his belly.
“Apollo? There are no Gods anymore.”
“I am his Oracle and I can help. Please let me, I am well versed in healing... What is your name?”
The woman stared at Phosimo with cold eyes, but the man stir in her arms as he let out a moan. Her gaze shifted back towards the man, and in a soft voice said, “Thypsa. My name is Thypsa... Can you really help him?”
Phosimo smiled warily and knelt down to the man, rubbing his hands together to warm them from the chilly air. “I will do my best. Aphrodite blessed you with a love of your own, it would be ill of me to not save the last remaining beauty in this world.”
Phosimo began to channel his energy as he had countless times before, but remembered that Apollo’s healing hand was missing. He had been accustomed to using Apollo’s divine grace as if it was second nature. Phosimo stifled his embarrassment and examined the wound.
“Aphrodite has cursed us. They all have, when Mt Olympus erupted in flame,” said Thypsa, “She cursed me with this beauty that made me stand out.” She looked to Phosimo and growled, “Mens’ hearts have tunred evil. But Etiolus was not swayed by the chaos. He loved me and protected me. I just wish that he does not pass on because of that...”
Phosimo nodded and drew a heavy brow, the wound was deep and the flesh torn. He could stop the bleeding momentarily, but without Apollo’s grace the lad would likely pass on. He could not fail, not with Apollo’s eyes resting above him. The raven cawed and flapped its wings, but remained atop its perch. Phosimo tore a piece of his robes off and balled them into a wad large enough to fill the wound.
“Take this and apply pressure to the wound,” said Phosimo, “I have an idea.” He left Thypsa to stop the bleeding and broke apart the nearby stands into small pieces. As he gathered the bits of wood, Phosimo saw brittle, dried branches of the nearby bushes. He took the smaller twigs and needles of the bush and packed them into a small bundle. Placing them together in a bunch near the couple, he arranged them into a small pile.
“I will be back as soon as I can, keep applying the pressure,” said Phosimo.
“Where are you going?,” asked Thypsa, “I thought you were helping us?”
“I am, but there is something I need.”
With that last word he rushed through the city, passing shells of former homes and empty shops. He knew where he needed to go, his feet carrying him up the steps to the upper tier of the city where the noblemen had resided. Phosimo didn’t need their money, their wealth, or jewels. He needed something no man could live without, and the noblemen were sure to have.
As his feet sprinted across the broken stone steps, Phosimo came upon the magnificent homes of the city’s elite. For all their power, not even they could prevent the damages the Gods wrought with merely their absence. He drew closer to the city gardens, breathing in something besides the rot and decay: smoke and burning wood.
Phosimo grew excited when he drew near, but his stomach dropped as he came across a grizzly scene. The largest tree at the center of the garden laid barren, but a different kind of fruit hung from its branches. Strewn across every branch, bodies of the noblemen and women hung from nooses. Blood had flowed through these streets mixing with broken caches of wine from the nobleman's stores, creating a dried pool of deep brown and reds underneath the tree and between the stones. Madness had flowed like wine with Dionysus’s passing. There would be no celebrating or festivities from that day forward, cruelty and disdain played across life’s stage. The poor had been hit first by the chaos. They had grown bitter at those that had more than them, the elites that flaunted their wealth every day of their lives while under the protection of the Gods. But once that was gone, anger and madness consumed them.
The grotesque tree burned, likely lit by bandits attempting to pick away any remaining morsel left in the city. Phosimo braced himself and ran toward the blazing tree, grasping a fallen branch and thrusting it into the flames. Once it was lit he turned and ran from whence he came. Passing over broken stone and through barren gardens, Phosimo held the flames aloft while gripping his walking stick tightly in the other. Upon his return Phosimo sprinted to the couple, and thrust the flames into the small pile of kindling he had prepared. The flames quickly lit the dried kindling and the broken wood erupted in flames.
“Quickly, hand me your dagger,” said Phosimo as he held out his hand. Thypsa obliged, using her now free hand to apply more pressure to the wound. Phosimo placed the blade within the flames and then tore more from his robes. After several minutes the blade turned red and glowed as the flames licked its edges. Phosimo wrapped his hand with the rag and looked to the couple. The boy was pale and fading fast but he was still breathing.
“Thypsa, you are going to need to place a hand upon his mouth, lest we attract more bandits. This will be painful and loud.”
Thypsa nodded with puffy red eyes, releasing her hands from the bloody rag and placing them upon Etiolus’s mouth. Phosimo took away the rag and wiped away as much blood as he could. He took one hand and pressed from underneath the wound, keeping the cut closed. With his other hand wrapped in rag, he grabbed the dagger from the flames. Holding the blade flat, Phosimo pressed it firmly against the wound. The sound of searing flesh bellowed forth, dampened by the muffled screams of the boy. His eyes wide and glaring towards the sky, the boy cursed and cried behind his lover’s hand. After several seconds Etiolus passed out and went limp in Thypsa’s arms.
Phosimo removed the dagger and placed it to the side. The wound had closed and a large scar had replaced the opening, its edges still red from the heat. Phosimo sighed and a wave of relief swelled from within him. His hands trembled as he tried to wipe away the blood, but his skin had been stained with crimson. He felt content with what he had done.
These hands could still do good in this world.
“He’s still breathing,” said Thypsa, “I will count that as a blessing.” She raised her eyes to Phosimo and then to the raven, “I thank you Oracle, Etiolus would not have lived without you.”
“I’m glad that I could still be of some service to my city,” said Phosimo as he stood. His tattered robes were now completely covered in blood, but he wore them with pride. “You should find shelter for him while he rests, lest you be sighted.”
“Where will you go?”
“Where Apollo wills me.”
Phosimo turned and looked to the raven that loomed above them all. The creature cawed and flew away toward another part of the city. Phosimo smiled to Thypsa, then walked away into the city’s ruins.
Phosimo felt invigorated as he strolled through the city. He had followed the guidance of Apollo and saved a life. Had he stayed atop the hill, he likely would have jumped and the world would be two souls short. Perhaps this is what the Gods tried to teach him. Megic still magic in the world even without them. Men would have to go it alone without their guidance.
Brought back to reality from his musings, he heard the crash of waves upon the shore. The ocean sprawled out before him as his wandering feet brought him to the docks of the city. But the once thriving district was now torn to shreds by the raging sea, the waves eating the buildings bit by bit with each crash. Phosimo stared out in horror at the raging swells, in awe of its immense power. Whirlpools roared in the open sea, dragging anything and everything down into its murky depths. Waves swelled and slapped the shore with the broken boards of boats and buildings.
Above the torrent of chaotic waters the sky raged on in its own fashion. Clouds loomed dark and heavy over the sea, pouring rain down and joining its forces. From the storm clouds lightning bolts hurtled towards the sea, crashing into the water time and time again. The sky flashed and lit up as if the sun was at high noon. The domains of Zeus and Poseidon fought each other as if the Gods themselves were still behind them. Each element of nature struggled to reclaim its glory and power without the deity's firm grasp upon them.
Seeing this, Phosimo watched in horror as forces of nature attempted to tear itself apart. His hands trembled once again and he turned away from the sea, back at the derelict city of men. With all of their intelligence and wealth, this was the greatest feat that man could accomplish, a shell of homes and shambles of civilization. Phosimo wandered back through the city, hoping to find the raven that would lead him to where he was needed. Some sign of hope that would lead him out of the rush of despair that followed his every step.
As he passed through a square of homes, he could hear the sound of people talking. Phosimo approached quietly, hiding in a nearby alley.
“Did you see the way that tree lit up? It ignited in just a few seconds. Tree must have been dry as a bone,” said one voice.
“Yeah, it was a sight to see. Too bad the noblemen didn’t have no food left,” said another.
“Lucky for us we ran across this sad lot.”
“Lucky for us, shame for them. Torn apart by wolves. Guess Artemis wasn’t there to thin their pack, am I right?”
The both of them laughed loudly and slapped each others backs, as the sound of wet crunches echoed down the stone alley. The sound of peeling and tearing of flesh churned Phosimo’s stomach. He had to look, to know that the pair was eating wild beast.
As he peered around the corner of his alley, Phosimo saw two men huddle over a group of men and women, slowly chomping away at something within their hands. Both men were extremely thin, even more so than Phosimo. Their robes in tatters, hiding nothing upon their meager frames. As one turned his head to rip off a large piece of meat from the mass in his hands, Phosimo could see their blood stained faces. Their eyes wild and sporadic as they searched every corner of their feasting hall. Small twitches of their heads and hands reverberated throughout their bodies as they slowly chewed at the meat, fresh giblets hanging from their semi-open maws. Their chewing was punctuated by random bits of of hysterical laughter that only proved to worsen the shaking.
The sounds of chewing grew louder the longer he stood still. Petrified with fear, Phosimo could not hold back his revulsion any more. He turned and vomited upon the stone road, the sounds amplified by the echo chamber.
“Wassat? You hear that?!”
“I did. Someone’s lurking about.”
The pair of men cackled and their footsteps pounded against the stone. Phosimo sprinted away from the scene, the sounds of laughter echoing behind him. Phosimo poured his last bits of energy into his sprint.
Phosimo ran and ran until he came to the edge of the city and into the countryside, the sounds of the bandits’ footsteps drawing closer. The fields of wheat at the edge of the city stood like skeletons. Phosimo rushed into the fields and hid himself from his pursuers. After several minutes of wading through the barren stalks, Phosimo stopped to catch his breath. As he looked about he heard the distinct caw of the raven. He spotted the bird circling overhead, drifting inwards towards the center of the field. Phosimo was drawn to the raven and worked his way towards it.
At the center of the field was a crater with a large stone within. The red haze of the twilight sun loomed over the field, the hollow stalks of wheat lining the expanse. Phosimo could hear the stalks rustling further around the edges of the opening, the air around him standing still. The raven appeared from behind him, flying overhead and landing upon the stone. Phosimo stared at the boulder, contempt swelling within him. He wanted to see the source of his pain, the physical manifestation of his desperate existence in the rubble of Mt. Olympus.
As Phosimo waded through the stalks. His breath formed into fog, growing thicker the closer he got toward the stone. A chill that had followed him throughout the city grew even more intense and tore through his robes. When he emerged from the dead wheat into the clearing, he was instantly frozen to the bone.
Hitting him like a wall, Phosimo struggled to catch his breath. He stumbled into the clearing and fell to the dirt. Phosimo looked up and saw the hazy outlines of a person standing before him. The features on its face were missing, but the shape was distinctly human. The figure was not alone as there were countless others that were spread out across the field. He could see their outlines against the sky’s red glow. Phosimo realized in dismay that the spirits of this world had nowhere else to go. Hades's realm was now closed to the rest of the world, The Boatman would not take travelers without a final destination. He had nearly joined them in their terrifying fate, wandering the world as a shade unable to move on. Were they drawn to the stone as he was, staring for an eternity at their own demise?
From the edge of the fields Phosimo could hear the fierce, bellowing tri-howl that had echoed out from the city as he had stood atop the hill. The stalks of dead wheat blew inward toward Phosimo, the sheer magnitude of the howl pushing them away from the beast. The fields hid the creature but soon a shadowy mound began to lift above the field’s remains. The mound grew into three and the thump of heavy steps crushed the dead wheat as the creature drew near.
Cerberus had been drawn to this place by all of the spirits, a Hades on earth for the displaced creature. Each of the three heads stared down to Phosimo, its bony ribs grazing the last of the husks of wheat as it walked into the clearing. Three tongues licked their lips in unison as Cerberus drew near. Phosimo turned his head towards the stone, averting his gaze from his creeping destruction. Atop the stone sat the raven as it stared on at him with empty eyes, silhouetted by the twilight. Phosimo took the walking stick in his hand, gripped it with all of his remaining strength until his knuckles were white, and tossed it as hard as he could at the bird. The raven cawed once and flew away, leaving Phosimo alone in the field as is soared upward and onward.