Warren Murphy: Prophet Of Doom

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    Prophet Of Doom
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Where There's Smoke... Everybody with a spare million  is lining up at the gates of Ranch Ragnarok, home to Esther Clear Seer's Church of the Absolute and Incontrovertible Truth. Here an evil yellow smoke shrouds an ancient oracle that offers glimpses into the future. But when young virgins start disappearing, CURE smells something more than a scam. Here in Wyoming, East and West are about to fulfill an ancient prophecy. For Apollo himself, Zeus's own wild boy, is set to unleash a power greater than any seen in two millenia. He's got a score to settle - and Remo is the lucky sacrificial vessel.

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First edition May 1998 ISBN 0-373-63226-6

Special thanks and acknowledgment to James Mullaney and Daisy Snaggers for their contribution to this work.

PROPHET OF DOOM

Copyright © 1998 by M. C. Murphy.

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Worldwide Library, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.

Printed in U.S.A.

To Father John Conneil. And the Glorious House of Sinanju.

PROLOGUE

She brought the goat as payment.

Some people brought jewels or perfume. Those who were poor brought food or even wine to Delphi. Gold was an offering worthy of a god. But without any of these things available to her, Nausicaa brought the goat that had been her responsibility ever since she had gone to live with her father's brother in Thebes.

Her uncle would be angry when he learned that the animal had been used in sacrifice at the temple in Delphi, but it was the only thing Nausicaa possessed that would be acceptable to the god of the smoke.

Not that the Pythia itself was a god. The Pythia of the Temple of Apollo was a servant. Within the vapor—the knisa—that flowed from the living rock inside the temple, there dwelled a spirit who infected any who sat above it. When the vapor was inhaled, the servant would become in its very essence the spirit of the Pythia. Whoever was fortunate enough to become Pythia was given the gift to prophesy.

As a result of its mysterious Oracle, Delphi attracted pilgrims from every corner of Greece who wished to see into the future. Because of this, the spirit of the Pythia was granted special status as a conduit to the gods.

8

But the Pythia served a greater master, the. sun god Apollo, who daily led his flaming chariot across the heavens.

It was the powerful Apollo, son of Zeus, to whom Nausicaa silently prayed as she made her way up the well-trampled road to the temple on the hill.

Her question for the Pythia would surely seem petty to some. Her uncle had arranged for her to marry the son of a prosperous neighboring farmer, but Nausicaa was opposed to the union. She would slaughter the goat before the Pythia and then ask the Oracle if the marriage was her true destiny. If the Pythia foretold this was her future, she would surrender herself to the will of her uncle and return with her slave, Tyrtaeus, to Thebes. Reluctantly.

When Nausicaa finally laid eyes on the magnificent Temple of Apollo, she was awed by the sight. The building was huge. Bigger than any other man-made structure Nausicaa had seen in all of her fifteen years.

The walls were towering vertical sheets of the smoothest quarry rock. Creamy white marble statuary dotted the landscape along the path up to the main entrance of the temple. Gleaming bronze likenesses of Apollo, carved with painstaking detail by the finest craftsmen in Greece, stood watch over the huge archway into the temple. Particular attention was paid in many of the statues to Apollo's defeat of the mighty scrpi-iit Python near Delphi, when the sun god was only an inlant. The Pythia was named thusly because of this event in the young god's life.

At the cntryway Nausicaa was confronted by one of the white-robed temple priests who demanded the customary fee before he would allow her entry. Meekly

9

Nausicaa offered him the cloth sack that she had brought. In the bag she had placed the pelanos, which was a type of cake, for payment to the lesser priests.

After inspecting it, the man seemed satisfied with the gift and he pulled the drawstring closed on the bag. Putting the sack aside, he led Nausicaa into the bowels of the temple.

Once inside, Nausicaa noticed the other priests, who stood in the darker recesses of the temple, motioning excitedly toward her. Some nodded and whispered among themselves as if some momentous decision had been made.

The hungry looks they gave her as she was led through the inner chambers made her uncomfortable. As they walked through chamber after massive chamber, the stares from Apollo's priests became more intense. She realized with growing concern as they negotiated the labyrinthine corridors that the world outside was getting farther and farther away.

Nausicaa began to feel uneasy. Her mouth felt dry.

When they at last reached the entryway to the Pythia Pit, the slave, Tyrtaeus, was made to remain behind. Alone and with a feeling of deep foreboding, Nausicaa followed the priest into the Pythia Pit.

Inside, the room was filled with a choking yellow smoke. Nausicaa knew that the Pythia divined the future by inhaling the noxious sulphur fumes, but she hadn't expected the smell to be so strong. A fine yellow film of sulphur powder coated the floor and walls of the inner chamber. Nausicaa began coughing uncontrollably as another priest came forward and led her goat up to the platform on which the Pythia sat.

The temple had been constructed around the rocky

10

fissure through which the breath of Apollo had first appeared, and so the floor of the Pythia Pit resembled the hillsides of the region.

The goat left tiny hoofprints in the yellow sulphur powder as the priest led the unwitting animal to the top of the hill. There, he held the creature firmly in place as he removed a ceremonial dagger from his belt. With a practiced motion the priest swiftly slit the animal's throat. The goat squirmed in pain and fright as a fountain of thick red blood erupted from its throat and poured out into the cleft in the mountainside.

As she watched the ritual from the floor of the chamber, Nausicaa grew more fearful. Perhaps she should have stayed at home and married the farmer's son. Since the death of her father, her life had been one of hardship, and the young farmer could offer her a warm home and freedom from want for the rest of her days.

There was something else that had troubled her since entering this inner chamber. If the Pythia was to predict Nausicaa's future—then where was the girl through which the Pythia spoke?

For the stool on which the young female servant of Apollo was meant to sit was vacant.

This, above all else, filled Nausicaa's heart with fright.

Nausicaa resolved to return to Thebes, to surrender It) the life her uncle had arranged for her. She would leave the oracles of the Pythia to generals and kings.

She turned to hurry from the temple—but a group of priests barred her way. She hadn't even heard them enter the room behind her. Now they blocked her path.

11

She pleaded with them to let her pass, but the priests didn't listen. They took up a low, lyrical chant.

Nausicaa tried to go around them, but they grabbed her arms and held her fast. As she screamed and struggled, they carried her slowly, almost reverentially up the incline to the rocky crevice. Nausicaa saw through frightened tears the yellow smoke pouring out of the mountainside in steadier bursts, keeping time with the chants of Apollo's priests.

For the first time she saw that the flat top of the tiny hill was moving in a strange, undulating pattern. She realized in horror that the entire upper platform was covered with squirming, wriggling snakes. The serpents slid atop one another, across the bare feet of Apollo's priests and in and out of the giant cleft in the earth through which the noxious smoke issued.

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