MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 24
I don’t remember how long I stood in front of the faded vision, grasping for my mother’s soul, or how I stopped crying. Eventually, Mercury landed the bus with a bump in front of Franco’s produce stand and reversed the calming spell with a wave of his hand. The other students woke as though from a long nap and lazily gathered their things.
As I stumbled off the bus behind Alessi, my earrings vibrated and I looked back at the messenger of the Gods. With a humble tip of his driver’s cap, Mercury said, It is your destiny, Eden, not your burden.
I shook my head, unable to respond. Then the bus disappeared into the twilight with a rumble.
I followed Alessi down the short dusty lane to our parco. Rowing crews chanted on the lake and lights flickered outside our neighbors’ villas.
Franco’s wife stood on her back porch, hands on her ample hips and an old floral apron tied around her waist. She squinted toward the orchard across the lane.
“Venite qui, ragazzi!” she called in her craggy, almost masculine voice. Her grandchildren skittered down from fruit trees like mice and scampered past Alessi and me, filing into the tiny house behind the store.
My heart ached.
Now that I knew the truth about my mother’s death, I wondered what other secrets my grandmother was keeping from me. Why had she waited so long to tell me I was a Muse? I could have prevented Troy’s kidnapping, but now it was too late…
“Eden…. Eden?” Alessi tugged on my arm, her brown eyes full of concern. “You okay?”
I blinked and found myself staring over the fence at Franco’s empty doorstep. “Uh, yeah, I’m good.”
“Really? ‘Coz you haven’t said a word since we got off the bus,” she said. “Not that you have to, but I’m surprised you didn’t notice how fast we got home. That driver was really good, huh? I mean, it’s like we flew home.”
“Yeah, he was okay,” I said.
Ahead, I could see my dad’s silhouette in the dining room window and my heart filled with empathy. Poor guy, he didn’t know the truth either.
We reached Alessi’s gate.
“Hey, you wanna come up for dinner?” she asked. “My mom made lasagna. I’d bet my left arm Georgio and Niko already finished the garlic bread, but I can always make more.”
The aroma of cooked tomatoes and oregano wafted above us and I was tempted to ignore the crazy stuff in my life. It would be nice to follow Alessi upstairs and pretend I didn’t have to talk to my grandmother about how my mother died or find a way to save my brother from whoever kidnapped him.
But the idea of sitting through dinner with a real-life mother who cooked and loved her kids – who was alive – was more than I could handle. I gulped down sadness. Alessi didn’t know what she had, but I knew what I’d lost.
“Thanks, Alessi, it’s really sweet of you, but I have, you know, a lot of homework.” I patted my backpack and took a step backward, toward my own gate across the street. “Maybe another time.”
“My mom said you might say that,” she said, pulling her lips inside her mouth like a shy toddler. “Listen, I can tell you’re really sad about your brother. I know I would be – well, if Niko was missing, probably not Giorgio ‘coz he drives me crazy – but if you need someone to talk to, I’m right here.” She pointed to the frilly curtains of her room on the second floor of her house. “Even if it’s late at night, I can sneak out and meet you in the orchard. My dad snores so loud, no one would hear me leave.”
“Thanks, Alessi. I appreciate it.” I mustered a smile and keyed in my gate code. “I think I hear my dad, so I better go.”
“Just text me,” she said, eyes wide with the excitement of a secret rendezvous. “I’ll sleep with my phone under my pillow, just in case.”
We waved and I stalked up the steps. As I unlatched the front door, I heard forks scraping across plates and my grandmother’s soothing voice, asking about the investigation, about my dad’s work day. By contrast, my dad sounded more tense than usual, answering her questions with a series of grunts.
No doubt he’d talked to Captain Baxter. He knew about the matching shoe prints, and he’d never believe that Nyx had framed me.
“Eden, is that you?” he called gruffly from the dining room. “Can I, uh…” he paused, “see you for a moment?”
The cough was a discipline technique my dad had mastered at the firehouse. Instead of blowing up when he was angry, my dad forced himself to pause while the other person sweated and anticipated punishment. Previously, I’d only heard him use it on Troy.
I was in big trouble.
As I rounded the doorway, my dad adjusted his posture, sitting up taller at the head of the dining table. He was still in his uniform and had the familiar air of military efficiency that seemed to stick around him for at least an hour after he got home from work. My grandmother averted her eyes and busied herself with a plate of insalate Caprese.
“I’m glad you’re home—” pause “—because I received a call from–“ pause “–Captain Baxter today.” Dad removed his glasses to clean them on his shirt and gestured to the seat across the table.
I was toast.
Shaking, I sank into the chair as my dad placed his glasses back on his nose. “Can you, uh—” he paused “—please explain ex-actly what happened?”
Before I could think of a good explanation, as if there was one, he leaned forward. “And could you please explain why your shoes—” pause “—match the prints found under the amphitheater if you—” pause “—weren’t there.” He inhaled for several seconds, eyes closed, pinching the bridge of his nose. After he exhaled, he said, “I told Captain Baxter that my kids never lie to me. Please tell me I’m not wrong.”
Tears rose from my throat to my eyes. “I… I’m sorry, but it’s not what you think. I didn’t steal anything. It’s a mistake—”
“So the prints aren’t yours?”
I didn’t want to lie again, but how would he believe that Nyx forced me to wear her shoes? “Well, not exactly…” A tiny electric shock stirred within my body. I ignored it. “Dad, there are a lot of things I wish I could tell you—”
“Enough!” Dad cut me off. “How ‘bout the truth?”
My words trembled when I spoke. “It’s not that easy.”
Raising his voice, Dad said, “But it’s easy to let my boss think I’m an idiot whose kids are out of control? I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation.”
My forehead throbbed like I was getting a headache and I began to cry. “I didn’t do it, I promise…”
“How can you expect me to believe you?” he shouted. I flinched, unaccustomed to my father’s anger. I’d never seen him this upset, not at me. “This isn’t some game, Eden. Now that Captain Baxter has sufficient evidence to believe you’ve stolen this artifact, not only will he call off the search for your brother, but I could lose my job. We could be sent back to the States, with or without Troy!”
With excruciating pain, a Whim escaped from my forehead. A burst of gold dust announced, There’s a game on TV tonight.
I waved my hand at the gold words to get rid of them. I didn’t need my stupid Muse “powers” to play tricks on me now.
But still the Whim twinkled in the air, waiting for me to read it. I swallowed and spoke in a wavering voice. “There’s a game on TV tonight?”
The gold dust swirled around my hands and then shimmered across the table, past my grandmother, who watched in disbelief but didn’t move to stop it.
“What?” my dad blurted. “A game? I could care less about a game right now—” The Whim floated over my father’s head and he tried to shake it off. “What the heck? Where’s this dust coming from?”
The gold dust encircled Dad’s head and he sneezed.
Grandma Cleo glanced in my direction. “The Whim’s not quite strong enough, Eden,” she said. “Give it another go.”
My dad whipped his head to her. “Cleo, if you don’t mind, I’ll handle this myself.”
I sucked in a deep breath. When I exhaled, the Whim grew brighter, showering my father in gold dust. He wrinkled his nose as though he was about to sneeze, then his shoulders relaxed. He slumped backward, a vacant smile on his face.
“There’s a game on TV tonight,” he said in a flat tone. “I should watch it.” Scooting his chair back, he rose from the table.
“Nicely done,” Grandma Cleo beamed. “Now tell him you’ll talk later. Always end a Whim on a positive note.”
“Dad?” I said and he stopped at the dining room door, blankly turning toward me. “We’ll talk about Captain Baxter later.”
With a dull look, he repeated, “We’ll talk about Captain Baxter later,” and lumbered out of the dining room. Seconds later, the familiar noise of a basketball game blared through the house.
Grandma Cleo smiled, the tips of her silver bob swaying as she nodded. “You’re a quick learner.”
“Maybe.” I shrugged. “But if I’d learned it before, I could have helped Troy.” I tossed my backpack into the corner and sat across the table from her, sliding the platter of milky mozzarella and rich red tomatoes aside.
Looking over my shoulder at my dad as he settled into the couch, I said, “I hate lying to him, but why doesn’t he know anything? Didn’t my mom tell him she was a Muse?”
“It was your mother’s choice to have as normal a life as possible, until…”
“Until she gave her life for me?”
My grandmother winced, pain in her honey-colored eyes. “Eden, I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you anything before now, but it wasn’t time—”
“When was it going to be the right time?” I stopped to steady my voice. I didn’t want to be angry. I just wanted information. “Mercury showed me the vision of my birth.”
“You met Mercury?” Grandma Cleo looked both confused and relieved, her silver-gray eyebrows knitted together. She folded her hands together on top of the table. “I didn’t expect him to intervene so soon—”
“So soon?” I asked. “When were you planning to tell me that my mother was murdered? You were there… you could have saved her…” My voice cracked with emotion. I took a moment to regain my composure, sitting up straighter. “And I know my destiny now, too. Why didn’t you tell me?”
A heaviness settled over Grandma Cleo and she looked down, clasping and unclasping her hands. “My position as Record Keeper prevents me from revealing one’s destiny, even that of my own grandchild. It is up to the discretion of the Gods whether or not to disclose one’s fate. If you have seen your destiny, it means you are ready to embark on your journey.”
Tears pooled in the corners of my eyes. “You used to be the most dependable, honest person in my life.”
She placed her hand on mine. “Eden, please trust that if I could have told you anything, I would have. My hands were tied.”
I shook off her hand and glanced out the front window. Across the street, Alessi’s family sat at the dinner table together, laughing and eating. I had to look away.
“I didn’t ask for any of this,” I said. “I wouldn’t have wanted her to die for me.”
“Your mother was following her destiny, Eden.” Grandma Cleo’s honey eyes glistened with tears. “Her destiny was to save you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I wiped my eyes.
“There are things we cannot know until we are ready to hear them,” she said. It was the same thing she’d said in my room on the day she told me I was a Muse. “Besides, would the truth have made your life any easier? Would you have done anything differently?”
“I would have begged my dad to stay in San Diego,” I said. “I would have prepared Troy and they wouldn’t have kidnapped him.”
“Some events, such as Troy’s disappearance, are not foretold in the Scroll.” She shook her head. “And your location wouldn’t matter. You cannot outrun your destiny, Eden.”
“But that’s the whole point! This is my destiny, not Troy’s, not my mother’s…” The thought of my mother’s soul splitting into a thousand sparkling versions and then disappearing into the Underworld made my voice catch again.
“Like your mother, Troy is fulfilling his destiny. In order to help him, you must follow your own path. You must concentrate on your destiny.”
I nodded absently and conjured the golden words of my destiny in the air between us.
When the leaves of the realm of the dead emerge from the dark,
The Muse Warrior, last child born to the House of the Unconquered Sun,
Shall journey to the cave of the Sibyl.
She alone can use what the Darkness seeks
And determine the fate of Olympus.
A smile caught on my grandmother’s lips. “Your powers are already improving.”
“If you can’t beat it, join it.” I jabbed at the gold dust and the words of my destiny rippled like rings in a puddle. “Do you remember when you wrote me the email asking if I’d seen anything unusual in Naples?”
Grandma Cleo nodded and I began to tell her everything I’d meant to tell Troy, about the gypsy and the firefly in my dreams and the visions I saw in my artwork. I explained how the old gypsy Humpty Dumpty spoke in an ancient tongue I could understand, how she knew about my mother’s death and Apollo’s debts. I described my dreams about the firefly and how I’d gotten a Whim at the amphitheater, its golden words curling away from my forehead before Bax and I went underground, before Troy was taken.
“The Whim said, The Muse Warrior has come. The prophecy is in place.” I stared into Grandma Cleo’s eyes, unsure of whether I wanted to know the answer to my next question. “Does that mean I’m the Muse Warrior?”
“It’s written in the Scroll, and so that is what Olympus believes.” My grandmother offered me an enigmatic smile. “And it is what your mother saw before you were born.”
I studied my grandmother’s face, noticing how the lines around her eyes and mouth crinkled as she held her tongue. “But you don’t believe it?”
She hesitated. “It is not for the Record Keeper to decide, Eden, but the Gods are not known for their errors,” she said. “Now, look at me.”
Across the table, Grandma Cleo’s honey eyes glowed like melted caramel. A soothing warmth filled me, more powerfully than a calming spell. I sat up straighter and listened closely.
“You do not have to save anything but yourself,” she said firmly.
Even as the words rang through my ears, twinges of doubt and fear nipped at me. “But in the vision, Jupiter said I’m supposed to find something called the Oracles and save Olympus…”
Grandma Cleo shook her silver hair. “You’re not expected to know everything now, Eden. Start with the first step and go from there.”
“So you’re saying I should follow the leaf and go to Cuma, to the Sibyl’s cave, like my destiny says?”
Wearily, my grandmother inhaled as though she were about to speak, but when she opened her mouth, her voice was mute.
“You can’t tell me that, either, can you?”
She lowered her eyes and took a bite of her dinner.
My earrings buzzed. Go to your room, they advised. Write in Notebook 19.
And though I had more questions in my mind than answers, I got up and collected my backpack. My grandmother silently scooped some pasta into a bowl and slid it across the table to me.
“Will this get easier?” I asked, taking the pasta from her.
She nodded. When I was little, I would have trusted her, but now I wasn’t so sure.