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The Vessel and the Visionary

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May Castellan always saw more than other people. She saw the dragon curled lazily around the pumps of a creepy old gas station. She saw the woman with the wild hair and the John Lennon glasses lounging on the arch of the rainbow. And with her lover's thighs between hers, his breath hot and ragged against the hollow of her throat, his child growing in her womb, she saw that she was losing him.

When her climax rippled through her, leaving her gasping, she saw that she would never want another man.

After a minute, he collapsed on top of her, spent and sweaty. So like a mortal man, and so unlike. "May," he murmured. "Oh, my love."

He meant it. He didn't see what she saw.

She stroked his salt-and-pepper curls. They straightened out for a bare moment in the wake of her fingers, then sprang back to their original shape. "Hermes," she said. "Tell me again about the Oracle."

#

It didn't work. The spirit of Delphi didn't find May a fitting receptacle. Maybe it was because she was no maiden—though she'd been sincere when she renounced love. She had no desire to replace Hermes, no wish to cling to what had been. But maybe it wasn't that simple to uproot the love from her heart.

Maybe it was some flaw in her.

Maybe it was the caprice of the divine.

Her offering had been refused. But it hadn't failed. Something else had been taken instead, something she'd never meant to offer. All her visions of her child had shown her a son, with blond hair and beautiful blue eyes. But when Luke gave a first thin, piercing wail after pushing out into the world, the eyes that blinked open in outraged confusion were green.

#

Luke Castellan should have been a boy, but they weren’t. The Oracle should have been a girl, but they weren’t. Their mother ruffled their hair and baked cookies and called them her precious child. Chiron watched them grow with kind but troubled eyes.

It made no difference to Apollo.

Luke first met their god in sunbaked strawberry fields, in the summer heat with sweetness on their tongue and the drone of insects in their ears. Green smoke settled around them in a haze, and Luke spoke prophecy to the spirits of the wind and the earth.

They spoke the words that sent the older campers on quests--to slay monsters, to discover treasures, to rescue souls in peril--and waited for the day when they would go on one themself. The day was long in coming.

Luke’s father was the messenger of the gods. He was at camp from time to time, but he never had a word for Luke.

#

Rachel Elizabeth Dare’s father was only interested in power, whatever form it took. She’d tried to warn him that he was in over his head this time. He hadn’t listened. He never did. For a while, in the past year, she’d thought he was starting to--that he was starting to take the things that she saw, the world she had access to, seriously--but he only saw it as yet another access to power. Her own thoughts and opinions, even when she saw clearly what he couldn’t, didn’t matter at all.

She was used to it. It hardly hurt anymore. Soon nothing would hurt her, ever again.

He stood nonchalantly, hands in his pockets, the first button of his shirt undone. Business casual. Her mother sat on a lawn chair, wearing a wide-brimmed hat that dipped stylishly over one eye, looking like she was at the beach. They ignored the armed mercenaries they could see as easily as the monsters they couldn’t--they were just the help.

Rachel didn’t know what her parents saw. But this was what was there: a pebbled bank leading down to a churning river. Overhead, the perpetual twilight of the underworld. Troops monstrous, mortal, and halfway between ringing a golden coffin. A voice speaking in her mind, cold and sharp.

Are you ready?

“Mom,” said Rachel, “can I have your blessing?”

Rachel’s mother licked her index finger, turned the page of her magazine, and answered without looking up, “Of course, honey.”

Rachel slipped her feet out of her flip-flops. The water swirled greedily around them.