Chapter 1: The Oracle
I woke long before the sun rose that morning, as I often did in those days. My mother had long ceased attempting to keep me from leaving in the early hours of the morn. I slid out of my bed, pulling the sheet back gently and padding across the floor to slide on my chitonisko, which was meant for men, but I wore it so as not to hinder my legs as I ran. It was frowned upon, but seeing as everything I did at the time was frowned upon, I did not worry about such a small detail.
I quickly fastened each shoulder with my silver brooches, my fingers moving quickly, despite the early morning chill. I clasped a leather strap tightly around my thin waist and pulled my long brown hair into a set of metal combs my half brother had made for me. He was quite skilled at metalwork for a young boy and he had given them to me years ago to keep my hair up and out of my face as I worked. The two of us were close, even though we did not share the same father, and he secretly supported my decision to continue with my work.
I slipped my feet into leather boots that I had made by myself and strapped them in place with more leather bands to tighten them around my strong calf muscles. Finally, I pulled my quiver and bow onto my back. They were gifts from my father. My real father, not the man my mother had married after my birth. When I was a small child, of no more than five or six years of age, my mother introduced me to my true father for the first time: Apollo, god of the sun, medicine, and the bow and arrow.
"Chrysanthe," she had proclaimed to me. "This is your father."
The words rang in my ears even now. As a god, he had not been able to stay in my life much at all, other than to send me on quests to do his bidding. I did not, however, resent him, in spite of the fact that I had not seen him much in the ten long years since my mother had introduced me to him, except for the few times he had issued me a quest in person. He was a god, with many other children, and much more immense affairs to attend to. I felt honored, in fact, to be able to work for the gods as a hero, a demigod, in fact, even though I was and am a woman.
I took a deep breath and began to pad softly towards the door of the bedroom my sisters and I shared. They cared not for me and I reciprocated the sentiment… or lack thereof. I always believed they were also a little jealous of my bronze complexion, courtesy of the god of the sun, but they would never admit that to anyone. None of them woke as I worked the door open and slipped out. They slept soundly, ignorant of the reality of the world of Greece; filled with monsters and death and, of course, demigods. It was our job to protect the normal citizens of Greece.
I managed to shut the door almost silently behind me. From here to the front door was an easier trek, regardless of the fact that the women's bedrooms were always tucked away the furthest from prying male eyes. I moved more quickly now, surefooted and brave. Getting caught here would be much more terrible than anything I would encounter out in the real world, or so I thought at the time. I snuck, half-crouched with light steps, across the floor past the kitchen and the andron, both empty at this early hour. As I passed the hearth, our own small altar to Hestia, I heard movement and was forced to pause, but only momentarily. I decided I had best hurry now, as the morning progressed, for fear someone would notice me as I took my leave.
I slowed my breathing and half-ran to the door, pulling it shut quietly behind me as I slipped through. It felt good to be free.
I did not yet know where to go, so I started at the best possible place: the nearby temple to Apollo. My family and I lived near Delphi in those days, which contained a temple to each Apollo and his twin, Artemis, as well as my father's oracle.
I took off at a run, which always felt better than walking. At a dead sprint, I did not run out of breath until I had reached the outer homes that signaled I had arrived at the outskirts of Delphi. I slowed from my run, not tired yet, but definitely winded. The sun had not yet begun to rise, but I could feel it coming, a sense that I had always felt I had gained from being a daughter of the sun god.
I walked through the alleyways of Delphi, so as not to disturb any citizens in this early hour. The slaves had already begun to leave their master's homes, some gravitating toward the community water well, others lighting torches to the entrances of homes that belonged to the rich. I avoided most of them as best I could, not wanting to disturb even them as I hurried to my father's temple. He and the other gods avoided appearing in front of mortals, and although they often did not show themselves at all, it always felt best to stay away from prying eyes, even before sunrise.
After a while of walking, I reached Apollo's temple and gazed in awe at the columned entrance. It would never cease to seem surreal to be the daughter of a mortal and a god. I stepped between the pillars and was greeted by the sight of the oracle of Delphi, aptly named Delphinia, the elderly woman who spoke the words of my father. We had come to know each other well in the several months that I had been visiting since I had decided to embrace my demigod heritage.
I returned her kindly smile and approached her in the open room, filled with no more than two altars dedicated to Apollo, and several different statues depicting him with various visages. None were correct portrayals of him as I had seen him in the past ten years. One sported a rather large and unflattering nose. Another seemed to hold a bit too much girth. The mortals seemed to have some sort of idea what he looked like, but none of them were completely sure. I laughed to myself and moved on, close to the oracle.
"Chrysanthe," she said with the kind of warmth I had never received from any person other than her. We were never quite close, but we held a sort of bond through Apollo that kept us amiable always. "I am very pleased to see you. Seeing as you have grown quite well and completed many quests, and also in light of the fact that today is your fifteenth name day, Apollo has left this for you."
She held out something wrapped in a large piece of leather. My heart leapt and it took all of my strength to keep from ripping the parcel out of Delphinia's graceful, aged arms. I moved towards her, arms extended and eyes full of wonder. A smile crept across my lips and I gently pulled the object away from her.
As I began to unfasten the leather straps holding the packaging in place, Delphinia lamented aloud, "He wanted to present it to you in person, dear. However, he had other matters to attend to. He hoped you would understand."
I paused momentarily, and answered reassuringly "I know, Delphinia. I do not place any blame on him. I should say I am lucky he left something for me. I never expected this." I grinned fully, and then proceeded to pull the rest of the leather away.
My heart soared at the sight of my gift.
The bow was made of gleaming gold, solid gold I was sure. It seemed to me that it should have been heavier than it was, but I assumed it was enchanted to be just the right weight for its wielder. My hands shook as I lifted it and I said a silent prayer to Apollo, thanking him for such a beautiful gift, perfect for me.
"He wanted me to tell you that it was his favorite bow for many decades. He received a new one about a hundred years ago from Artemis and has not used this one since. Apollo waited for just the right child to pass it on to. He has chosen you, Chrysanthe. He felt it was fitting, seeing that you are the strongest of his female demigod children, possibly even of all of his children. And, your name meaning "golden flower" seemed almost funny, he said." She smiled kindly as she announced all of this; for I am sure I looked a fool standing there with my mouth wide open and my eyes the size of dinner plates.
I stood there for a long while, long enough that light began to filter in. I forgot all else but this bow. I began to picture myself running through the wilderness, knocking arrows against this beautiful bowstring and shooting with impeccable aim at my enemies. My musings were finally interrupted by Delphinia's voice.
"Chrysanthe, did you want a prophecy? Is that the reason you can to me this morning?"
"Oh yes," I said with a shake of my head, an attempt to clear my mind. I had forgotten my reasons for leaving home in the first place at the sight of this present. "I came for a prophecy. I wish to prove myself. Good oracle, please tell me of the quest I shall begin today."
For a moment, the room was silent. Suddenly, a quiet hissing began to echo around the room and Delphinia's eyes glazed over, then promptly began to glow a ghostly white. It always scared me to watch her in this state. I held my breath. Slowly, mist began to creep out, seemingly from nowhere and Delphinia began to speak in a voice that sounded as if three of her spoke in unison.
A savior, the child of Python's bane,
Children of gods, alone in pain,
A meeting with the death god's wife,
Allows the child to raze their strife,
Son of fire shall light the trail,
And child of sun alone shall fail.
Each time I received a prophecy, I was left breathless, for each major quest sounded doomed to fail, in spite of the fact that most did not. I felt terrified and excited, ready to prove myself once more with a brand new weapon at my side. I watched intently as Delphinia's eyes lost their ghostly glow and the mist disappeared once again. Fear bubbled in my stomach as I approached her once more.
"Child, be careful. I cannot tell you just what my words mean, but hear me now. Be strong and fearless as I have always known you to be. This journey shall be tough, but will save many. Take care and be wary of children of gods. They will not always work alongside you. Also, take this with you," Delphinia urged. She held out what looked like a bronze dagger. The hilt seemed to be made of ivory, wrapped in leather and the guard was inlaid with golden designs that seemed to be small lightning bolts overlapping to create several Xs, as well as one word: Lightning. "That is its name, child," Delphinia explained, noticing where my eyes lay. "A dagger made of celestial bronze, similar to your celestial iron arrowheads. It was left here for emergencies. I believe this to be one. Please, take it and learn to wield it well. Only the most clever of fighters are able to use the dagger well. It is a short weapon, made for close battle. Be careful with it. Use it well."
I was at a loss for words, but Delphinia seemed to understand. My eyes burned with tears I would never allow to fall. Finally, after a long silence I choked out a "Thank you" and she rushed to hug me. I returned her embrace and we pulled back. After one last reassuring smile, Delphinia sent me on my way.
"Do well, my little hero," she whispered as I left the protection of my father's temple and began the quest I was destined to fail alone.