MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 25
In my room, I shoved my homework to the side and stared at the wall.
Calliope’s earrings twitched. Get Notebook 19.
My grandma’s “gift” was starting to feel like a curse. Why had I been condemned to obey the wishes of some ancient jewelry?
I laid my head on my forearms. My muscles ached from volleyball. My temples pounded with exhaustion and information overload.
With a jolt, the earrings demanded, Open your notebook.
My options were limited. I could ignore the earrings and go crazy with the voices in my head. But then again, if I took them off and missed something that could help me find Troy, I’d never forgive myself.
I groaned and sat up, wrestling Notebook 19 from a nest of gym clothes and folders in my backpack. Pens and glue sticks scattered across the floor.
I flipped to the picture of Calliope, which now appeared unfinished. In spite of my exhaustion, I grabbed some art supplies from my nightstand and went to work, first dabbing blue paint behind Calliope’s billowing dress to accent the sky. Next, I shredded a few empty pages from the back of Notebook 19 into long strips and glued them onto the background for texture. Using a white pen, I added diaphanous sleeves to Calliope’s dress, blowing gently to help it dry. Then I spread green glitter glue over the surface with my fingertips until my skin was as thick and pasty with sparkles as the paper.
As I worked, I caught glimpses of my mother in the shape of Calliope’s lips, her green almond-shaped eyes, the wild streak of violet at the nape of her neck.
A sad shame fell over me. What a waste. My mother died to save me, and now I didn’t know how to save Troy.
My father trudged heavily up the staircase and I braced for the sound of my door opening, for the lecture I was about to receive, for the grounding to end all groundings.
I waited, heart pounding.
The next sound I heard was… nothing. Just a soft thump as his door closed.
Huh. My Whim worked better than I expected.
Which was good and bad. Of course I didn’t want to be grounded, especially not for something I didn’t do; and until I figured out what Nyx’s deal was, I couldn’t even explain it to him. But I also felt like a total hypocrite. Here I was, crying that Grandma Cleo had kept such a big secret from me, and now I was doing exactly the same thing to my dad.
Guilt wrenched my stomach, but I returned to my drawing. The green glitter reflected the light of my desk lamp, luring me around the page, along the outline of Calliope’s dress and into the bumpy blue-green background. My eyelids fluttered, heavier each time I blinked.
The light from my desk lamp grew warmer. In my tired state, I imagined I was outside, sunlight on my face. Eyes squeezed shut, I reached for the lamp switch. Instead of the nightstand, my hands met the rough bark of a tree.
I forced my eyes open, surprised to be standing on a hilltop above a green countryside. Cypress trees towered above me, their thin trunks reaching toward the sky with thick tufts of emerald needles. The valley below was dotted with small stone buildings and a patchwork of bushy plants and trees. The valley floor was flat, with the exception of a lone mountain, from which a colossal white palace rose into the sky with magnificent columns of ivory stone. A curtain of white clouds obscured the very top.
Bushes rustled behind me. I slid behind a cluster of boulders and pressed my face against the cold stone to see who was coming.
A slender woman stepped into the clearing, obscured by folds of white fabric. “Apollo?”
I panicked and drew back, curling behind the rock. If this was a dream, how could I feel the chill of the stone on my cheek? And if it was a vision, why was it so clear? Most of the visions I’d seen were holograms, shadows of past events. Where was I?
Calliope hummed as she peered over the edge of the cliff, a streak of violet– which I now recognized as the Mark of the Muse – swirling beneath the chestnut hair at her neck. Digging into a purse that hung low at her hips, she produced the sharkskin jewelry box my grandmother had given to me. After she clasped the gold hoops of the magic earrings to her ears, she trained her eyes on the grand palace and listened.
I followed Calliope’s gaze to a majestic temple at the base of Mount Olympus. A half-dozen figures were gathered on the temple steps. A shimmering glow surrounded them like a golden cloud.
Calliope’s forehead wrinkled and she twisted the earrings anxiously.
My ear lobes buzzed with warmth. Come on, they said and I jumped, still surprised to hear my own voice take such a commanding tone. You need to hear this. Go closer.
The words hadn’t yet escaped my mind when my body began to shake and I lost contact with the gravel beneath my knees. An unseen force thrust me through the air like a marionette pulled by the wind.
Calliope didn’t flinch and when I looked down at my body, I understood. I was transparent, made of gold dust.
The wind carried me swiftly over the gods’ gathering and released me in the cool shadows of the temple. Gold dust or not, it was probably best for me to stay hidden from view. I pressed my body against the smooth marble of the column and carefully angled myself to get a better look. Three Gods and two Goddesses huddled together in an opaque cloud of glittery gold dust, voices low and serious.
At the center of the assemblage, Apollo shone like the sun, light hair brushing his muscular shoulders. Beside him was Mercury, looking far more natural in a toga than in mortal clothes. A third God with unruly dark hair and bulging muscles glowered at the edge of the group, arms crossed over his chest and a sword sheathed to a belt around his hips.
I recognized Diana from my school corridor as she stood between Apollo and the dark-haired God like a beacon in her sunny yellow tunic. She was the female version of her brother, with the same confident pose, classical nose and deep-set, caramel eyes. A silver bow perched on her shoulder.
Next to her was a Goddess with curious gray eyes, wearing a peacock blue toga cinched at the waist with a braided belt. On her arm, she carried a great golden shield embossed with the frightening image of Medusa, snakes coiling viciously away from her head.
“I hear the maiden Sibyl is quite fair to regard,” said the muscular God in a voice so deep the ground rumbled. He smiled broadly, thick lips curling upward. “Shall I accompany you to Cuma to confirm this rumor?”
Diana lifted a hand over her head as if to grab an arrow. “Mars, you cur. You’re hardly more than a common, vulgar mortal.”
Of course, I thought. Mars, the God of War.
With an arrogant grin, he barked, “Such threats, Diana. Apollo, will you call off your annoying sister?”
Apollo shot a look at Mars, but said, “Diana, please, hold your fire. We have important matters to discuss.”
“I will do as you ask, brother, though it is not as I wish.” Diana glared at Mars, whipping her braid over her shoulder. She relaxed her grip on the bow, turning to Apollo with steely eyes. “While you are away, know that my maids and I will be ready to fight if you need us.”
“As am I,” Mars said, flexing his muscles. When he drew himself up his full height, he was as broad as an army tank. “Surely Pluto doesn’t expect Olympus to wait idly as he amasses an army of followers for the Underworld.”
Apollo shifted his weight. “For now, this is hearsay. I shall soon learn if the Sibyl is a true Seer or if she is merely an unwitting instrument of the Underworld.”
“But her impetuousness!” Diana said, the distaste of the conversation evident in her tone. “To exalt Pluto as the giver of life and death, as the creator of her powers!” She turned to the other Goddess. “Minerva, I beseech your opinion.”
Of course it was Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy.
My stomach flipped a little, awestruck. This was the Big Five of Olympus, Jupiter’s most powerful children. No wonder Calliope was anxious to listen in. Apollo’s journey to Cuma wasn’t a simple jaunt to the mortal world. Olympus was preparing for war.
I remembered the gypsy’s warning. Was this the War of the Worlds?
Minerva nodded to Apollo, her gray eyes solemn. “I am in agreement with Diana,” she said. “It is troubling that Pluto has shown such an interest in a mortal girl.”
“My point exactly.” Mars clapped his meaty hands together, a bloodthirsty smile on his lips.
“I will not go into battle merely to savor the spoils of war,” Diana scowled at Mars. “But I will fight to protect what is sacred to us.”
“War is sacred to me,” Mars growled.
“Please,” Apollo said, holding up a hand to make them stop. “We have no time to bicker. Mercury, have you any insight from your trip to the Third Realm?”
The wings on his golden sandals fluttered as Mercury considered Apollo’s question for a long moment. “The Sibyl’s powers are sharp, I assure you, like no other being I have encountered in the mortal world. If Jupiter were to witness—”
At this, a thunderbolt struck the base of the mountain and Jupiter appeared at the top of the stairs, only ten steps from me. Panicked, I flattened my chest to the cool stone of the column and held my breath until he spoke.
“My children,” he boomed. “Holding court without me?”
As he stomped down the stairs, the temple quaked with each thunderous step and I let out a quick breath of relief. Then I crept around the column for a better view.
Jupiter’s children bowed their heads as he joined their circle.
“Father,” Apollo and Diana said in unison.
“Almighty Jupiter,” Mars said with a nod of his thick neck.
“Mercury,” Jupiter crossed his arms, “so nice of you to return from Earth.”
Mercury bowed low, his sandals hovering over the ground.
“Speaking of that,” Minerva said with a sweet smile, “Father, we are discussing the dread Sibyl and her ties to the Underworld.”
“Ties to the Underworld?” Jupiter laughed and the sound ricocheted off the walls of the valley like falling boulders. “For centuries, my brother Pluto has threatened to take my throne, but he is ill-equipped to manage the world above the surface. He will not disrupt our kingdom, and certainly not with a gypsy girl!”
“Perhaps,” Mercury said. “But the Sibyl seems to be gathering quite a following on his behalf.”
“Of gypsies!” Jupiter bellowed. “Pluto can have all the gypsies he wants! There is more than enough room for them in Hell!”
Mercury waited a beat and said, “With respect, Father, her reach seems to extend farther than mere gypsies.”
“Nonsense!” Jupiter’s words boomed like fireworks, his eyebrows thick with anger.
I gripped the column, rigid with fear.
“There is only one God of Prophecy,” he pointed a thick finger at Apollo, “and any mortal who claims to be as powerful—” Jupiter fired sizzling sparks into the air “—shall be subject to the fiercest punishment Mount Olympus can unleash!”
“Hear, hear!” Mars raised his sword into the air.
Minerva touched her hands together and stirred gold dust into a calming spell. She opened her hands and cast the spell over their heads as though casting a large net. The Gods settled into a comfortable silence.
“Father, I understand your concern and I will abide by your wishes if Apollo does indeed find the Sibyl to be leading a mutinous plan against Mount Olympus.” Minerva paused while her father and siblings considered her words. In the legends I’d read as a child, Minerva was always described as the favorite of her father’s numerous progeny. Listening to her quiet, well-chosen words, I understood why.
“However,” she added, “as of this moment, may I remind us all: there is no battle to be waged, no war to speak of.”
“And for that, I’m glad,” Diana said, inspecting her bow. She plucked at the string like a guitar. “I’ve grown attached to living a quiet life on Mount Olympus.”
Mars snorted. “Getting too old to fight, are you, Diana?”
In a split-second, an arrow sliced the air toward Mars. Diana pulled several more arrows to her silver bow and fired them in rapid succession, each of them aimed expertly at his chest, neck and head.
With a reckless howl of laughter, Mars drew his sword across his body and swiped at the arrows, slicing each shaft in half like a twig. When Diana had used all her arrows, he collected the splintered pieces into a single bundle and harpooned them toward the countryside.
Diana roared and stormed off, her heavy footfalls replaced by a shimmer of gold dust.
The God of War doubled over with laughter that echoed through the marble breezeways of the temple.
“There’s no need to exacerbate her anger, Mars,” Apollo said. “It’s in her best interest to look out for me. For all of us, really. For our world.”
Mars chortled again. Noticing Jupiter’s furrowed brow, he straightened up.
“Right. I agree with Minerva.” Mars winked in her direction, but she dismissed his attention with a flick of her head. Then, lowering his voice to a gravelly tone, he said, “I shall wait for a war, and then I will fight Pluto and his minions to the—”
“To the death?” Mercury asked, shaking his head. “Have you forgotten Pluto is immortal? That his followers are the undead?”
“I will fight them…” Mars leaned toward Mercury, gritting his teeth, “…until they’re dust!” He slid the sword back into its sheath and extended his hand to Minerva. “Care to find Bacchus and drink ambrosia with me?”
Minerva ignored his hand, pulling her shield close to her body, but nodded. “Perhaps I can persuade Diana to set aside her differences and join us in a drink, too.”
The God of War grunted. He and Minerva bowed to the other Gods. In a flash of gold dust, they were gone.
“If there is no other business…” Jupiter turned to leave.
“Father?” Apollo said, his voice tentative. “Have you reconsidered my proposition?”
Jupiter tilted his head to the Sun God. “Apollo, the idea of granting immortality to a Muse is ludicrous, no matter your emotional attachment to her.”
My earrings shuddered. I scanned the hilltop and saw Calliope standing where I left her, watching. She could hear every word, and I could feel her sadness as though it had been locked within the earrings’ precious metal for all these generations.
“But Father, imagine how powerful the child of a God and a Muse might be—”
“Might be. There is no precedence, is there, Mercury?” Jupiter turned to the messenger.
Mercury lowered his honey-colored eyes to avoid Apollo’s forlorn expression. “No.”
“And what if the child has no power to speak of?” Jupiter asked, a look of disgust passing through his dark gray eyes. “The child would have no place among us on Mount Olympus.”
“What if I could see it?” Apollo countered. “What if I see this child’s powers?”
Jupiter stood up straighter. “Tell me, Apollo, have you seen it?”
“Not yet,” he lifted his chin, a spark of hope in his eyes, “but I have not concentrated with my full power—”
Jupiter laid a giant hand on his son’s shoulder. “Apollo, my answer remains the same. Calliope shall live her days gloriously, a valuable bridge between our world and the mortals in the Third Realm. And when her powers begin to fade, her function shall pass to the next Muse.” Quietly, he added, “And she shall die.”
Apollo shrugged Jupiter’s hand from his shoulder and turned away, nostrils flared.
Mercury grimaced, his eyes softening at the sight of his brother’s discomfort. “Perhaps the Sibyl can...” he began, glancing from Apollo to Jupiter. “Perhaps she can see the future of the Gods as well? Perhaps she can shed light?”
“Nonsense!” Jupiter punched his fists in the air, puncturing the blue skies with lightning bolts. “She may have won over my simple-minded brother Pluto but I am confident Apollo will reveal her so-called prophesies as hoaxes. The gypsy girl is merely looking for a God to be charmed by her beauty and grant her immortality.”
The God of Gods rose to his full height, casting a shadow over the temple steps. He fixed his cloudy gray eyes on Apollo. “Perhaps the Muse Calliope has considered the same plan?”
Apollo’s eyes flashed with rage. He waved a hand above his head, stretching his fingers wide before curling them into a tight fist. Clouds blocked the sun and a cold wind blew through the temple.
My earrings twitched again. How could Jupiter say something so cruel about Calliope? It was Apollo who pursued Calliope, and she’d tried to reject him but fell in love…
“May I interject?” Mercury hovered between Apollo and Jupiter. “Father, my position requires me to be well acquainted with all of the Muses and, in my humble estimation, Calliope is the kindest of the lot. She is enchanting to behold and generous in spirit.” His eyes warmed to a deep caramel color. “She would be a great asset to our immortal world.”
“Perhaps.” Jupiter scanned the horizon and settled his eyes on the hilltop where Calliope stood sadly, shoulders hunched, hands cradling her belly. “Apollo, complete your journey to Cuma and upon your return we will speak again.”
Apollo gave Mercury a grateful nod and dropped to one knee. “Thank you, almighty Jupiter.”
With a clap of thunder, Jupiter was gone.
As the gold dust dissipated, the golden wings on Mercury’s sandals whirred to life and he floated toward Apollo. “Are the rumors true, brother? Is Calliope having a child?”
Apollo’s angry gaze remained on the spot where Jupiter had been standing. “It should be the happiest event on Mount Olympus, the union of Gods and Muses,” he said, words strained, jaw set. “But without Father’s blessing, I am doomed to live merely a mortal lifetime with my beloved. It is not enough time.”
Say something, Mercury, I thought, heart pounding.
The messenger looked over his shoulder, golden eyes squinted suspiciously in my direction.
Could he see me?
I curled my body carefully behind the column, hiding my face, trying not to breathe.
The sound of swiftly flapping wings drew close. Mercury’s sandals.
Hands clammy, I braced myself against the marble and scanned the green expanse beyond the temple, beyond Olympus. I’d made it here with a simple thought, but could I get out of here the same way?
“Brother?” Apollo called. “What do you see?”
As Mercury’s winged sandals grew closer, I clenched my teeth and heard another sound, this one a tinny, electronic ding.
I hesitated while the dinging sound grew louder, more insistent, matching my heartbeats thump for agonizing thump. How badly would I be punished for spying on the Gods? Was this real or a dream?
Until I knew for sure, all I could do was clamp my eyes shut and pray my punishment would be quick.