MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 26

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 26

Ding!

I squeezed my eyes tighter, waiting for Mercury to grab me, for the weight of my punishment.

“Eden!”

The voice wasn’t as deep and gravelly as Mercury’s, but still I shivered as I opened one eye, shoulders lifted in fear.

The temple had vanished; I was back in my room, arms sprawled across the books and art supplies on my bed, my cheek flattened against Notebook 19.

Again I heard, “Eden!”

“Wh-who’s here?” I bolted to my feet, adrenaline coursing through my body. I shuddered to think who else would be here… in my room…

A light flickered on my bed, drawing my eyes to my laptop. The monitor was open to a 45-degree angle.

“Firefly?” I asked, cautiously turning toward the light. I lifted the monitor, inch by inch, afraid of what I might find.

“Firefly? Must have been a pretty weird dream.” Bax peered at me through a small video chat window on the desktop. He glanced at his watch. “Tell me you weren’t asleep already. It’s not even 9.”

I clutched my chest and collapsed back onto my bed, heart racing. “How long have you been sitting there?”

Bax flipped the hair from his face. “’Bout a minute. You were mumbling, so I thought you knew I was here. Did I wake you?”

“Nah, of course not.” I blinked and widened my eyes to fake my alertness. “Just working on a drawing.” I held up the picture of Calliope in Notebook 19. A photo from the front of the book fell onto my lap.

“Cool. A self-portrait.” Bax nodded approvingly. Behind him were shelves jammed with books and trophies, maps plastered across his bedroom walls. Two large whiteboards flanked the door, each covered with several numbers and symbols. Geocaches, most likely.

I wasn’t in the mood to talk, exhausted by what I’d just seen of the Gods. It was clear that Apollo’s trip to Cuma was intended to keep Pluto from overstepping his Underworld boundaries, but after seeing his creatures take my mother and Troy, I now wondered if Apollo had failed.

Not only that, but if Calliope was pregnant with Apollo’s baby, was she the Muse who started the War of the Worlds?

“Eden?” Bax had a mischievous look in his eyes, just like when he’d shown me the underground tunnels at the amphitheater.

“Right, sorry.” I blinked a few times at the screen. “So, what’s up?”

Bax glanced over his shoulder at the closed door, as though someone could be watching or listening to him.

“I found something you need to read,” he said as he typed on his keyboard. “Click on this link.”

I stifled a yawn. “Sounds like an internet scam.”

Bax shook his head, “No, I’m serious. Check this out.”

My computer dinged and a message window popped up. The link led me to the website of an art magazine called Museums Today.

I shrugged and propped my cheek against one hand. “Okay, so?”

“See where it says ‘New Acquisitions’? Read the last paragraph.”

I scrolled to the bottom of the page and read:

The prestigious Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, announced the acquisition of a major collection of artifacts from the Roman Empire. Slated to open next year, the exhibit is rumored to be the largest display of Roman statuary and treasures ever presented outside of Italy. Although Getty officials are tight-lipped about the acquisition, Museums Today has learned that international antiquities specialists Kosmos+Day brokered the record-breaking deal.

I bent closer and squinted. “Kosmos? As in Nyx Kosmos?”

In the electric blue light of his computer screen, Bax smirked.

“Bax, how did you find this?”

“Just for kicks, I did a quick search of Nyx’s name and all this stuff about the artifact collection came up. Dated this week. It seemed kind of fishy, so I dug a little deeper and found this, too.”

A flush of heat rose to my cheeks. “You did this for me?”

Within the little window on my computer screen, Bax glanced up from his keyboard and gave me a shy smile, then resumed typing. The screen dinged and another web page popped up, this time for the Kosmos+Day website. A thick bald man with dark skin and a neck the same size as his round head glowered over the name Max Kosmos. I scrolled down to the picture of a woman named Arianna Day. A sheaf of shiny black hair tumbled over her shoulders. Her eyes were the same piercing yellow-green as Nyx’s.

“Are those her parents?”

“Yeah,” he said. “When she moved here a few years ago, all I heard was that her dad was some rich businessman. I didn’t know her mom was an art dealer, too.”

“It’s easy to be rich if you’re stealing artifacts,” I said, anger rising like puffs of steam. Nyx knew what she was doing all along. How long had she planned to frame me? “We have to tell your dad about this.”

Bax chewed a fingernail. “You know, if we had some evidence, it would be a slam-dunk.”

“Her shoes!” I scrambled to grab my gym bag. “Bax, I have her shoes!”

He squinted as though he didn’t want to tell me no, but said, “Um… yeah, but that doesn’t prove anything. You were wearing them today, remember? For all my dad knows, they’re yours.”

I slumped back. He was right.

I drew my laptop closer and scrolled through the website. “Hey, there’s an address for their warehouse. Do you know where this is?”

Bax scrunched his eyes at the screen and tapped on his keyboard. “Looks like it’s near the Egg Castle, downtown.”

“We’ve got to go. If the artifact’s there, we’ll have all the evidence we need.”

“Right, as if Nyx’s parents are gonna let us roam around their warehouse,” Bax said. “Look, Eden, all we have is this article and an assumption.”

“An assumption?” I squeaked. “But you showed this to me. You’ve gotta be thinking the same thing I am—”

There was a loud knock on the door behind Bax.

Captain Baxter’s voice boomed through the closed door. “Son, it’s gettin’ late. Who’re you talkin’ to?”

“Oh, crap, gotta go,” Bax whispered, rustling papers on his desk. “Uh, no one. It’s a history video. Just finishing up my homework.”

I leaned closer to the camera on my monitor and whispered, “Bax, just tell him about Nyx. Show him the website.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the closed door, and his eyes crinkled with worry.

 Why was he worried? It was my reputation – and my dad’s job, and my brother’s life –on the line. If he showed the article about Kosmos+Day to his dad, the NSA would have a good reason investigate Nyx and her family instead of me. Didn’t he want to help me?

 The photo that had fallen out of Notebook 19 flipped onto my keyboard. In it, Troy and I were running on the beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado, our tiny bodies bronzed to a burnt sienna in the midsummer sun. Troy, who had to be about seven years old, was wearing his favorite blue swim trunks and holding a heaping bundle of seaweed, a sideways smirk on his face. Next to him, I was a puny kindergartener with a missing front tooth and wild, saltwater-drenched hair. My dad snapped the picture seconds after Troy lashed me with a tentacle of kelp, and my mouth was wide open, about to scream. I remembered everything about that day as though it had just happened.

It was a silly picture, but my body ached with grief. Without Troy, nothing else mattered. Not my destiny or my mother’s death or Gods or Muses. Not school or volleyball or Jamboree. Not even the stupid NSA investigation getting stalled or Nyx’s plot to frame me or anything else.

I had to find him. If I didn’t, no one else would.

Bax was my only alibi. If he went to his dad and told him the truth now, Captain Baxter would have to believe him. Wouldn’t he?

“Please, Bax,” I whispered, peering directly at the camera, “you’ve got to tell your dad. If we find this artifact, then he’s gonna know I didn’t steal anything and the NSA’ll keep searching for Troy. Otherwise, it could be too late.”

 “I know, but…” He gestured to the closed door and I imagined his dad standing right outside, listening.

I wished I could send a Whim to him, anything to get him to help me.

“Come on, Bax,” I said. “It’s just the same as a geocache. Only it could save my brother.”

Bax looked over his shoulder again and I felt the wheels turning his head. When he returned to the screen, he whispered, “Listen, I’ll meet you after volleyball tomorrow. Eric said I can probably borrow his Vespa. We’ll go downtown, see if we can find anything.”

With an apologetic wave, he tapped the screen one more time. The video chat window went blank.

I shut my laptop and crawled under the covers. I understood Bax’s reluctance to tell his dad the truth about where we were during the field trip, but I’d already taken the blame for that. All he needed to do was help his dad make the connection between the stolen artifact and Nyx. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was too afraid of his dad to stick his neck out for me.

But then again, did I know better? What if I was wrong about Bax? Maybe he wasn’t the gung-ho adventurer I imagined he was.

And if he discovered my secret about being a Muse, what would he do?

Suddenly, a bigger question nagged at me until I couldn’t ignore it.

Could I really trust him?

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 27

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 27

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 25

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 25