MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 21
Right before school let out, I stood beside my school locker, still shaking. I had five minutes to get to volleyball practice, but I felt paralyzed. The only thing I should have been worrying about was finding my brother, and even I knew it would be a longshot using coordinates scratched onto a leaf. But instead, I was wondering how to tell my dad I was the number one suspect for stealing an ancient artifact.
I pounded my fist on the locker.
What good was it to be a Muse? My life hadn’t gotten any better or more inspired. Somehow, it had actually gotten worse.
Where were my supposed “powers”?
Where was Mercury?
The bell rang and students flooded the hallway. A few girls from volleyball pushed past me, gym bags slung over their shoulders. As I watched them hustle toward the stairwell, I remembered what Dona said: if I missed three practices, I couldn’t play at Jamboree.
I threw my gym bag into the locker and leaned my weight against it. How could I even think of going to volleyball? If my dad talked to Captain Baxter before I got home, I was toast. I had to get to him first, to try and explain.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. What was I thinking? I was toast, no matter what.
Every time I thought of Nyx’s smug face, my blood boiled. I didn’t even care whether she stole the artifact. She needed to be stopped. She deserved to be punished for manipulating me into trading my shoes and derailing the search for my brother. I wouldn’t let her get away with it.
I pivoted on the floor and Nyx’s red shoes squeaked.
Who was I kidding? She was getting away with it.
I’ll just go home. It was stupid to think I could function in volleyball today. I just had to accept that I’d miss Jamboree, and I’d concentrate on finding Troy. That was the only thing that made sense.
I crammed a few textbooks and Notebook 19 into my backpack. It was hard not to replay the conversation with Nyx in my head. Oh, I think you’ll know when the time comes. I could picture her narrowed citrine-green eyes, the swish of her black ponytail, the sneer on her lips.
My ears felt hot and I shook my head to make it stop. I was about to shut my locker when my earrings vibrated.
You can’t go home. The voice was firm and resolute, not at all what I was feeling.
What am I supposed do? I thought. Nyx has ruined my life.
A sudden gust of air nicked the side of my face.
At the end of the hallway stood a girl in a saffron-yellow tunic, her golden hair woven into a long braid over one shoulder. She was about my age, with a fierce determination in her steely eyes. She wore a quiver of arrows slung across her body and held a crossbow in her arms. With her bow and the fierceness in her eyes, the girl resembled Apollo’s sister, the Goddess of the Hunt. But that was impossible.
She looked as real as everyone else, but as students slammed their lockers and rushed through the hallway, they passed right through her transparent body, scattering gold dust.
The girl fixed her eyes on me, her dusty image wavering in the sunlight.
The matter is out of your hands, she said.
Diana? I asked.
The archer grinned and pulled an arrow from her quiver. With lightning speed, she positioned the arrow on her bow and released it. Another whoosh of air zinged past me, though the actual arrow was nowhere in sight.
This is your first battle, the Goddess said.
But if I get in any more trouble, what will happen to my brother?
You must go where your path leads and fight through each challenge as it arises. She aimed another arrow, its silver tip directed at me. He needs you to fight.
Diana released the arrow into the hallway. I jumped out of the way as it careened toward my locker. With a tiny explosion of gold dust, the arrow pierced a hole in my gym bag. Hands shaking, I dislodged it from the fabric, the silver shaft of the arrow still warm. Immediately, the hole in the bag sewed itself back together with a silver thread.
Volleyball? I looked curiously over my shoulder at the Goddess of the Hunt. Am I supposed to fight Nyx?
Diana nodded, the gold dust already fading at the edges of her vision. As she turned and disappeared, the silver arrow dissipated into a shimmer of gold dust in my palm. All that remained were Diana’s words.
It’s out of your hands. You must go where your path leads and fight through each challenge as it arises.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As far as the Nyx drama was concerned – as far as anything was concerned, really – it was out of my hands. Until I knew my destiny, I couldn’t do much about it. For now, the only place where I had a fighting chance, especially against Nyx, was volleyball. I grabbed my gym bag and sprinted toward the gym.
When I reached the locker room, half the team had already changed. I guessed Daria and Donatella were on the track, running laps. I kicked Nyx’s squeaky red shoes off and stopped myself from tossing them in the trash. Not that anyone believed me, but they were the only evidence I had.
At the second row of lockers, I sat on the bench and heard Candace’s horsey laugh echo through the locker room.
“Bet she won’t show up,” she said. “She’s afraid of Nyx.”
I froze. She was talking about me. I set my jaw and leaned forward to listen.
“I can’t believe she’s a thief,” Heather mumbled.
“I know, right?” Candace snorted.
“Just goes to show, you can’t tell a book by its boring cover,” Nyx said.
The main door to the locker room squeaked open. “Ladies! Let’s do some laps!” Coach Dino yelled from the entrance. “On the field now! I’m talking to you, Candace. You too, Heather.”
More lockers slammed shut and players raced out the door. I pulled my hoodie over my head and leaned into the lockers so no one would see me.
In the last row, Candace asked, “Ready?”
“No, my feet hurt from these cheap shoes,” Nyx said. “Go ahead. I’ll catch up.”
I raced in my sock feet to the other end of the row and hid around the corner while Candace and Heather straggled out the door. The door wheezed shut and I waited until I couldn’t hear anyone else but Nyx in the locker room. Then I tiptoed to the last row.
Nyx sat on the center bench, lacing her volleyball shoes, her back to me. She hummed the latest boy band hit, taking her time with the laces. Her locker door was ajar, her school clothes spilling over the side. When she stood, I imagined her as a wolf, licking her chops after a kill.
Anger bubbled up from my core. I had never picked a fight in my life – not even with my brother – but now I struggled to stay calm and choose my moment.
My earrings vibrated warmly and Diana’s voice echoed through them: Fight through each challenge as it arises.
So this was my first challenge.
I imagined myself as Diana, crouched behind a tree, one hand holding a crossbow, the other poised to grab a silver arrow as I watched my prey. Gold dust rose from my hands and formed the shape of the crossbow. It quickly solidified under my grasp.
I stared at the bow in my hands, now as heavy as solid oak.
Did I make that? I wondered.
My earrings shuddered more urgently now. There is no room for doubt! Concentrate on what you want.
What did I want? Gripping the weight of the bow, there was only one thing I could ask for. I focused all my attention and the answer arrived instantly.
My shoulders dipped and I wobbled under the weight of a generous quiver of arrows strapped across my back. A thin strip of leather held it tightly to my body.
Before I could second guess myself, I stretched an arm behind my neck and grabbed a cold metal shaft. The blade was so sharp, a slight tap of my fingertip to the arrow’s point sliced the surface of my skin. A miniscule drop of blood fell to the floor, and the chill of the tiny cut left me feeling light-headed and giddy.
So that was my power: turning my thoughts into real, tangible things.
I turned back to Nyx. She hummed to herself, utterly unaware that I was watching her, stalking her like prey. The arrow coursed with electricity, goading me on, fueling my vengeance with power.
I could end this all, right now, with one shot.
Lips closed, barely breathing, I placed the arrow on the bow and drew the string back to my cheek. Once my aim was steady, I closed one eye. The arrow glistened, its sharp golden tip directed at the back of Nyx’s heart.
Nyx flinched, as though she felt something. As though she knew I was there.
With a soft exhale, I released the arrow.
A small gasp escaped from Nyx’s mouth. She whipped her head toward me. In the instant before the arrow made contact with her skin, her citrine eyes locked with mine. She didn’t scream or protest, but I saw something in her face that I’d never seen before.
The arrow was an inch away from Nyx when she lost her footing. She fell, banging her elbows into the locker doors before landing on the concrete floor. The arrow hit a locker with a ding, then dissipated, leaving only a scatter of gold dust.
I didn’t wait for her to react. In a blink, I was on top of her, my knees on her ribs, my forearm across her throat. The crossbow and quiver were gone, faded into the air.
Nyx squirmed under the pressure, struggling to push me off. I leaned my head as close to her as I could tolerate, the heat of fury flushing my cheeks.
“Did you think you could ruin my life and get away with it?” I hissed. “Because of you, the whole school thinks I’m a liar and a thief.”
Nyx closed her yellow-green eyes, wincing in pain, her breathing strained.
“Look, you deranged psycho,” I continued, “I don’t know who you thought you were dealing with, but unlike your stupid little friends, I’m not afraid of you.” I lowered my voice and growled through gritted teeth, “I don’t know what you did with that artifact, but trust me, I’ll find out.”
The locker room door screeched open. I flew to my feet and stood by the lockers on the end of the row. Nyx slowly pulled herself up, rubbing her throat.
For a long second, we both hesitated, eyes fixed on each other. I wondered if she’d tell on me or say I’d tried to strangle her. But this was Nyx. She would rather keep my attack a secret than seem weak.
Nyx blinked and shook her long black hair into a ponytail. Lips tight together, she whispered hoarsely, “You can’t prove anything.”
“Who’s still in here?” Coach barked.
Nyx slammed her locker and bolted toward the exit, where Coach Dino peered in from hallway, his forearm on the door. “Just me and the New Girl,” she called out, her voice strained.
“New girl?” he asked.
I peered around the lockers. “She means me, Coach.”
Coach Dino removed his cap and scratched his head. He tilted his head and eyed me curiously. “DellaLuna? I didn’t think you’d be here.”
“Oh, I’m not going anywhere, Coach,” I said, squinting my eyes at Nyx.
He turned to Nyx. “Kosmos, you’re late. Two extra laps.”
“But she’s—” Nyx protested.
Coach Dino blew his whistle and aimed his thumb out the door. Nyx gave me a final side eye and sprinted away, covertly rubbing her neck.
“Something going on here?” he asked me.
I shook my head.
“Va bene. I’m no good with girl drama,” he said, adjusting his cap to sit higher up on his balding head. He sighed heavily, thick eyebrows wrinkling with concern. “Look, Eden, Jamboree’s coming up in a few weeks and, if you’re not up for it, there’s always next year—”
Next year? My heart sank. Was he telling me to quit?
I couldn’t. If I forfeited my place on the team, it would be like handing my last shred of dignity to Nyx on a silver platter. I shook my head. “No way, Coach. I’ll be ready, no matter what. I promise”
He pursed his lips and nodded. “Don’t expect me to go easy on you.”
I broke into a relieved smile. “Ditto.”
“Va bene.” He stepped into the hallway and shouted, “Take off those earrings and suit up. See you on the court.”