MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 29

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 29

That night, I tried not to overthink Bax’s reaction. On one hand, he was right. It was a lot to process. I couldn’t take it personally.

But I didn’t have the luxury of time. I couldn’t wait for Bax to decide whether or not he believed I was a Muse. I had no choice but to believe in the unbelievable, or risk losing Troy forever.

And if Bax didn’t believe me, I’d have to move forward alone.

Now, my only question was if I should follow Humpty Dumpty’s card and go to Solfatara, or go directly to Cuma without the Mark.

What even is the Mark? I wondered; I still didn’t know. But if Troy was in Cuma, I didn’t want to wait. Not for some weird Mark, or for anything else.

I unclasped Calliope’s earrings and set them in the gray sharkskin box on my nightstand. Then I settled into bed with the books from Troy’s room. I flipped through his notes until I stumbled onto a passage he’d written about Solfatara.

Solfatara, the lazy Vulcan, last erupted in the year 1198. A must-see stop on the Grand Tour of 19th century travelers… In 1900, it became a thermal bath to cure skin diseases, rheuma and fevers with the natural mud pit… Known as Forum Vulcani, the home of Vulcan… The ancient Romans believed Solfatara to be the entrance to Hades…

I sat back, stunned, my thoughts in rapid fire.

Cuma was an entrance to the Underworld. So was Lago D’Averno. So was Solfatara. And each of these “hot spots” in the Phlegrean Fields was connected by a web of secret tunnels.

If Troy’s kidnappers escaped with him through an underground tunnel, there would be no above-ground trace of them.

And, if I was right, if the all of the tunnels did connect to the Underworld, maybe I didn’t need to choose the right starting point. Maybe I could reach Cuma through Solfatara…assuming I could find the secret tunnels.

But if I was wrong, I’d just be wasting more time.

I set my laptop aside and turned off my lamp, then curled into a ball under my comforter. As I watched the blue light of my laptop power button blink on and off, all I could imagine was my brother crouching in the dark, his wrists and ankles shackled. I wished he could tell me where he was.

Then an idea struck me.

I reached for the snakeskin box and opened it. Calliope’s gold hoops shone in the blue light of my laptop. I clasped them on my ears with trembling fingers.

Please, Troy… I squeezed my eyes together and concentrated as hard as I could. If you can hear me, tell me where you are. Help me find you.

A warm vibration filled my body, from my ear lobes to my toes.

“Troy?” I whispered aloud. The anticipation of hearing his voice made my heart swell. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

The earrings hummed with a deep voice. He cannot hear you.

It wasn’t Troy. I collapsed into my pillows, crestfallen. Mercury?

Yes, he answered, his voice hurried. Can you draw a picture of Olympus? I must show something to you.

Do you know where my brother is?

Mercury hesitated, then instructed, Draw Olympus in your book and I will meet you in the forest beyond the temple steps.

My earrings went cold and again I was struck by the lonely emptiness of our house.

I was exhausted, tired of all the goose chases. The Gods had caused more problems than they had solved, but the image of Troy in chains compelled me to sit up.  I turned on my light and grabbed Notebook 19. On the first empty page, I sketched an outline of the temple where I’d seen the Gods. The milky white marble of the columns was cool under my fingertips as I drew the building from the center of the page to the top. I filled in the entrance with elegant stairs and a large statue of Jupiter. With a dark green pencil, I drew a forest thick with bushes and trees at the edge of the temple.

A rush of air whistled past me and I closed my eyes for scant moment as gravity fell away from me. In a half-second, I was at the base of the temple.

“Merc—” I began, but my mortal voice sounded out of place on Mount Olympus. Instead, I concentrated my thoughts into words and my earrings hummed. Mercury? Are you here?

At the edge of the forest, the leaves of a cypress parted and Mercury glided toward me, dressed in the dark blue uniform and hat of an airline pilot.

I suppressed a laugh. Should I even ask?

Mercury straightened his pinstriped tie and tapped the gold wings buttoned to his lapel. Not that it concerns you, he sniffed, but I was welcoming guests aboard an aircraft when I heard your plea. He waved his hand and the uniform vanished in a wisp of gold dust, replaced by a toga and his gold helmet. In his right hand, was a caduceus, which I recognized as the medical symbol. Better?

Much, I said.

The wings of Mercury’s sandals fluttered as he drifted through the forest, holding the caduceus like a sword. Every few trees, he swiped at tree branches.

It will be easier to meet once you learn to travel by thought, he said. For now, though, your skill of drawing your way into a vision is quite clever.

Above me, the trees extended their branches like the graceful arms of a ballerina. They were so pretty, I reached forward to touch one. With a loud crack, the branch lashed at me. I screamed, startled to see a woman’s face within the tree trunk, her body and limbs covered by whorled wood.

Mind the wood nymph, Mercury advised.

The woman in the tree scowled and swatted at him, showering us with leaves. Mercury laughed and whirred ahead.

I jogged lightly beside him to keep up. You know, I’d travel by thought if you just told me how to do it.

Eden, it may be difficult to understand, but there is an order to the world and often you cannot get where you want to be simply because you want to be there. There are steps to be taken, knowledge to be gained. Mercury followed a path along a riverbank.

But it’s all a waste of time, I said, ducking under a low-hanging branch. I need to find Troy.

Which is why you are here.

Adrenaline rushed through me. I turned in a circle, scanning the dense forest for a sign of my brother. Is he here?

Mercury hovered in place and tightened his grip on the caduceus. Before you can find Troy, you must go where your journey leads you.

You mean Solfatara? Or Cuma? I studied his honey colored eyes, waiting for him to give me a clue. Where do I go first?

Light glinted off the golden helmet as he shook his head. It is forbidden to offer a… He tilted his chin, thinking, then tapped his helmet. Shortcut is the word, is it not?

I guess, but—

Yes, well, I cannot offer a shortcut to your Destiny. Nor would you want it, Eden. You would miss valuable lessons.

I stamped the grass under my feet, impatient. So why am I here?

Mercury lifted a finger and nodded his handsome face toward the palace. In the distance, I heard a melody and the sound of laughter and clinking glass.

What’s that? I asked.

A celebration for Apollo. With a heavy sigh, he added, It is not my favorite memory, but it may offer insight for your current dilemma.

He crooked his finger, beckoning me to follow him along a river path as we traveled toward the music. Next to us, the surface of the river gurgled and a silver-haired water nymph poked her head out of the water. She folded her shimmering blue arms over the riverbank, watching us the way a girl might ogle at a lifeguard from the edge of a swimming pool. Her green eyes glowed in the dim forest.

It seems the number of forest nymphs increases every time I leave, Mercury said, bowing to the river nymph. She stared as we strolled past and then swam alongside for a few yards, until Mercury directed me toward a small meadow.

My jaw dropped and I came to a full stop.

Mercury tipped his head. Welcome to Olympus. Magnificent towers of luminescent marble loomed over us, their polished surfaces gleaming like gemstones. The façade appeared to stretch for miles, meticulously engraved with gold-leafed words and symbols. Tremendous statues of lions and serpents rose up like sentinels around us. The air was thick with the perfume of tea roses.

The Messenger of the Gods sailed through a formal garden toward the lofty entrance, indifferent to the opulence of his home.

If you are summoned into a memory, you can only be seen by the summoner, he said. To everyone else, you will merely be ether. A wisp of air.

I thought about the vision I’d had of the Gods on the temple steps. So you did see me at the temple?

He nodded. Yes, but I could not speak to you with my brother nearby. Memories are not meant to be altered. They are merely a tool. There is another restriction—

Mercury fell silent, his warm honey eyes focused on the edge of the forest as a slight breeze ruffled through the clearing.

A moment later, Diana appeared in a cloud of gold dust. Luminous and strong, her golden hair braided down her back, the Goddess of the Hunt strode purposefully through the garden. Mere steps behind her, a bevy of forest nymphs emerged from the gold dust. Diana’s maids were a dazzling parade of forest nymphs: trees, flower stalks and rivers in human form, their hair flecked with flowers and leaves, their skin reminiscent of warm wood, grassy meadows and sunlit water. In contrast to their iridescent flowing gowns of green, blue and bronze, Diana was a brilliant spark of light in her yellow tunic, a quiver of arrows on her back.

As she led her maids toward the palace steps, I slid behind a lavender bush.

Mercury laughed. Remember, they cannot see you, Eden. But I must warn you, although you cannot be seen in a memory, your presence can be felt.

Diana and her maids passed us, oblivious to me. I relaxed and stood back up. What do you mean, my presence can be felt?

You must be careful with your emotions. No matter what you hear or see, you must remain neutral and calm.

I had a flurry of questions. How could I remain calm if Mercury was bringing me into an unpleasant memory? What would happen if I got emotional?

But Diana and her maids were already halfway up the palace steps. I swallowed my questions and fell in line behind a sinewy tree nymph wearing a delicate bird nest on her head like a tiara. We followed Diana’s entourage through the gilded palace doors and down a pearlescent hallway.

When we reached the banquet hall, I stopped again to catch my breath.

An intricate mosaic of Jupiter lay at our feet, his muscled body shaded in bronze and gold. Portraits of Olympians lined the palace ceilings in stucco relief. Sculptures cast in bronze and chiseled in marble perched on wide ledges along the perimeter of the hall.

It was unlike any party I had ever seen. Acrobats twirled across the hall, winding through the feast. Dancing girls sashayed beside exotic zebras and monkeys. A cadre of servants zigzagged through the room, carefully avoiding the mean-faced satyrs who pranced between guests on their goat legs, pouring wine into every empty goblet.

At the center of the hall, the Olympians and their guests reclined on large bed-like couches arranged around massive tables, laughing as they picked at the enormous trays of meat and shellfish before them. A roasted pig stuffed with sausages was placed in the middle of each table and surrounded by overflowing bowls of berries and fruit. Miniature fruit trees dotted the feast tables, overflowing with ripe apples, tangerines, pomegranates, and peaches. A cherub darted in front of us and plucked a glossy red apple from a tree; seconds later, a new fruit grew in its place.

Mercury tapped my arm, motioning toward Diana. Clutching her bow, she stalked to the far corner of the room, where she joined Minerva on a gilded bench. The nymphs fluttered around them, whispering.

Try to move by thought, Mercury instructed. Imagine you are standing beside Diana. Concentrate, and then make it so.

Right now? I asked.

With a slight smile, the Messenger nodded.

Eyes trained on Diana, I imagined I was walking with her, closer than the smooth-skinned river nymph at her right arm. I sensed the flutter in the fabric of her tunic as she strode toward Minerva and the subtle shift of emotion caused by her brother’s return to Olympus.

My body quivered and shook. An unseen force lifted me off the ground, speeding me toward Diana. At once, I was no longer in my physical form; instead, I was a ball of energy hurtling through the room. It was exhilarating, moving through space with no limits. Without a body, I was simply a cluster of thoughts and I sailed through bodies and sculptures with equal ease. Nothing slowed me down, not even the robust satyrs.

But my glee was short-lived. When I was close enough to the Goddess of the Hunt to see the shimmer of her hair, I noticed it was the same gold-flecked blonde as Apollo’s.

Apollo, who had given the Sibyl a thousand years and who had promised my soul to the King of the Underworld.

Apollo, whose mess I was somehow expected to clean up.

As soon as my attention wavered, the free-flowing energy of my body came to a full stop. My clumsy physical body returned, and I tumbled onto the ground in a heap.

Mercury appeared next to me and offered a hand to help me up. It will take some practice.

And knee pads, I muttered, dusting off my arms.

Promise me you will control your emotions, he admonished. Or this memory will be for naught.

I promise. I took a deep breath, clearing my mind of all thoughts of Apollo and we moved closer to the gathering as Diana settled onto the cushion next to the Goddess of Wisdom.

“Has my brother arrived?” she asked.

“Not yet.” Minerva sipped from a jeweled goblet, her golden shield resting lightly beside her. As she surveyed the party, she said, “As much as I enjoy ambrosia and dancing, I’m confused by all the fuss, actually.”

“Apollo thwarted Pluto’s mutiny,” Diana huffed, handing her bow to a green-haired wood nymph with tiny leaves growing from her fingers. “We should be grateful. No war.”

“A postponed battle is hardly cause for celebration.” Mars appeared at the Goddess’ couch, shouldering his muscled body between Diana’s nymphs. He lifted a goblet to his lips, flexing his biceps. The nymphs giggled to each other, their leaves and watery limbs rippling in the candlelight.

Diana blanched. “No one asked your opinion. But since you mentioned it, what do you mean by ‘postponed’?”

“Do you believe the King of the Underworld would consent to waiting a thousand years for a soul?” he asked. “Our Uncle Pluto is notorious, but not for his patience.”

Diana opened her mouth to answer, but Minerva spoke first. “Mars is correct.”

The God of War smiled smugly at Diana, who reached into a fruit bowl and hurled a handful of grapes at him.

Servants scurried to pick up the fruit. Minerva continued, “Rumors of Pluto’s anger have already surfaced from the Underworld. He is furious.”

“Apollo merely gave the Sibyl a thousand years, not immortality.” Diana gestured for a silver-skinned river nymph to fetch a drink for her. “He saved us from ruin and has allowed us a thousand years to negotiate with our Uncle.”

“Negotiate!” Mars snorted.

Minerva nodded, her gray eyes fixed on Diana. “You must remember, when Apollo granted the Sibyl a longer life, Pluto was cheated out of a soul.”

“I agree with Minerva,” Mars said. “By the time the Sibyl enters Pluto’s kingdom, she will be a shriveled crone and Pluto will have nothing to do with her.” He took Minerva’s hand and leaned down to brush his lips against her skin. “Thank Jupiter you’ll never lose your beauty.”

“Oh, for Olympus’ sake!” Diana spat.

Oblivious to Mars’ affection, Minerva let her hand drop. “If Pluto was unhappy before Apollo cast his spell, I fear his wrath is now a thousand times magnified. Unless Jupiter can quell his anger, I believe Pluto may spend the next thousand years plotting the destruction of Olympus.”

I turned to Mercury. Is that true?

Mercury didn’t answer, and his silence scared me.

Pluto’s going to destroy everything, isn’t he? I asked. First me, then Olympus…

He put up his hand, gold dust swirling around his fingertips. Calm…

I breathed in his command and concentrated on slowing my heartbeat. I had to cool down. I had to be more matter-of-fact like Minerva. There had to be a plan in place for me. The Gods wouldn’t leave me on my own, would they?

I tried not to consider the alternative and, gradually, my heart stopped racing.

Diana finished her drink and stood. As she collected her bow and arrows, she said, “I have faith in my brother’s decision.” With a curt nod, she led her maids toward the acrobats.

“That makes one of us,” Mars uttered, stretching. He extended his hand to Minerva. “Would you care to dance?”

The Goddess of Wisdom gazed after Diana, deep in thought. Rising to her feet, she bowed her head respectfully. “Thank you, Mars, but dancing is the last thing on my mind. Perhaps later.”

As she swept away from the couch, a group of maids led by a curvaceous Goddess slinked toward Mars. In spite of their supermodel looks, he stifled a yawn. Still, the Goddess fixed her gaze on him, like a tigress sizing up her prey. Pushing long golden curls out of her clear blue eyes, she adjusted the slim gold belt around her waist and wandered away from her rosy-cheeked maids and swayed her hips toward the God of War.

I was in her path and began to move backward.

Mercury stopped me. She is just a memory, he reminded me. Watch.

The Goddess stepped forward and I felt her energy pass through me. She held a great deal of unhappiness within her, even as her heart burst with desire for Mars.

Who is that? I asked.

Just watch. It will make sense.

“Mars,” she said, running her fingertips across his broad shoulders, “I would be happy to dance with you.”

The God of War bristled at her advances, which surprised me. With bee-stung lips and extra-long eyelashes, she could have any man she wanted.

“Where is your husband, Venus?” he asked gruffly. “I’m sure he’d like the first dance.”

Mercury gave me a sidelong glance and I nodded. It was Venus, the Goddess of Love.

“How cruel of you to single out his handicap so early in the evening.” Before Mars could retract his comment, Venus tossed her hair seductively. “Not that Old Vulcan cares. I’m sure he’s stirring a cauldron of scalding metal with his grotesque Cyclopes as we speak.” She batted her lashes and lowered her voice. “His inventions are his true love. And that leaves me very, very lonely… Tell me, Mars, are you lonely, too?”

“Perhaps.” He stared after Minerva, who now stood in a gathering of Gods by a statue of frolicking cherubs. “Can you do me a favor?” Turning back to Venus, he drew closer to her face and she seemed to breathe in his words expectantly. “Tell me… Do you have a love spell strong enough to win Minerva’s favor?”

Venus grimaced and her face flushed with humiliation. She swung her hair like a golden rope, striking Mars across his face. Then she flounced back to her friends, dramatically placing both hands on the lyre player’s cheeks and kissing him hard on the lips. As the musician swooned, his melody faltered. And then the Goddess of Love vanished into the crowd in a glittery pink poof.

I shook my head. Mount Olympus was just like high school, but with more firepower.

Mercury and I hovered at the edge of the hall after Venus’ departure, watching the revelers dance, but my thoughts drifted back to the memory of my birth.

I turned to the Messenger. Mercury, when I was born, Jupiter and Apollo talked about the Treaty of the Sibyl. Jupiter promised to give my soul to Pluto, so he’d get me and the Sibyl. Why isn’t anyone talking about that?

Before he could answer, a shimmering cloud of gold dust loomed over in the doorway.

“Apollo!” someone cried. Everyone lifted their goblets and cheered.

The Sun God appeared in the center of the gold dust and scanned the crowd, a hangdog expression on his face.

Jupiter clapped him over the shoulders and bellowed, “Welcome home, my son.”

Behind them, Mercury glided over the threshold, stopping to embrace his brother.

That’s kinda weird, huh? I said to Mercury. Being here and seeing yourself there

He shrugged. For me, it is not out of the ordinary.

Right, I said, pointing a thumb at myself. Mortal upbringing…

Mercury grinned. Shall we move closer?

I cleared my mind and my body shook with the sensation of flight, soaring over the dancers and feasting Gods and Goddesses. This time I floated deftly through the spaces between the celebrants, coming to a fairly easy stop beside Mercury.

Apollo glanced around the extravagant feast. “I didn’t expect a party on my behalf…”

“My brother Pluto is outraged by your spell, Apollo. I feared it may be our last celebration until this conflict is resolved,” Jupiter said. He conjured a goblet and furrowed his brow at the empty glass. “Bacchus! More ambrosia!”

A strangely handsome creature with smoldering eyes and dark hair, the God of Wine had the chiseled torso and glowing skin of the Gods, but with the unusual additions of pointed ears, hind quarters and hooves, like a goat. Bacchus galloped past me, a flask hanging from the leather cord across his chest.

As he reached for the flask, he sniffed the air curiously, rotating his head toward me.

No, no, no… I floated backward, heart pounding, but again Mercury didn’t move, his honey eyes trained on the memory.

“I sense a mortal nearby,” Bacchus whispered, clicking his hooves in a circle, eyes wide with disbelief.

“Drunk as much ambrosia as you’ve poured, have you, Bacchus?” the memory of Mercury asked.

“I assure you, my senses are intact,” Bacchus snarled as he filled Jupiter’s levitating goblet with a glowing liquid. The corners of his nostrils curled as he took a deep inhale. “And it is no mere mortal…”

Bacchus narrowed his suspicious eyes in my direction. Fear rippled through me and I clutched Mercury’s arm. What will happen if he knows I’m here?

Mercury frowned. It may alter the memory. If so, you may not learn about the Treaty of the Sibyl.

Bacchus stepped one hoof forward, nearly nose to nose with me, his piercing gold-brown eyes searching the air between us. His wine-soaked breath was as close as my own, except I was too scared to breathe.

I had to get it together. I needed to know why Mercury brought me here.

Calm… calm… I exhaled so slowly my body barely moved.

Bacchus glowered, sniffing at the air. He turned abruptly.

“Does anyone else sense a mortal?” he demanded. “I fear we are being watched!”

“A mortal on Olympus?” The memory of Mercury threw his head back and laughed. “Conjure me a glass of your fantastic hallucinations, you old goat.”

Next to me, the real Mercury suppressed a grin, clearly tickled by this memory.

Jupiter swallowed his ambrosia in a single gulp. “Yes, perhaps you should be more concerned with keeping our glasses full, Bacchus,” he tapped his glass for more, “and then you would not have time for such delusions.”

Bacchus grunted as he refilled Jupiter’s goblet, his eyes shifting back to where I stood. He offered the flask to Apollo, who waved it away. With a goat-like grunt, Bacchus trotted back to the party.

Well done, Eden, Mercury said.

I relaxed my shoulders and turned my attention back to the Gods.

Jupiter regarded Apollo and Mercury, a storm brewing in his cloudy gray eyes.  “Apollo, I fear your spell has cast more troubles than you intended. Pluto has threatened a war unless he receives a worthy soul in the place of the Sibyl.” He finished his ambrosia and licked his lips. The goblet vanished from his hand. “You, of all my children, should have known better than to make a deal with the devil himself.”

“Father, she is gathering an army of mortals to worship Pluto–” Apollo began, but Jupiter silenced him.

“She is an instrument of the Underworld, Apollo. Pluto understood what he was doing, transforming a cunning mortal beauty into a seductive prophetess, and he caught you in his web.” The God of Gods shook his head in disgust.

A burst of light showered the dining hall, casting a brilliant glow over the party. The Muses arrived in a diaphanous display of pale dresses and fragrant flowers, gliding as softly as Whims across the mosaic floor. While her eight sisters greeted the guests, Calliope rested against a column, the swelling of her belly now unmistakable.

Jupiter tilted his head toward Calliope. “When were you planning to tell me about the child?”

Apollo lowered his eyes.

“You can change the course of your actions, Apollo. Surrender the child to Pluto and he will leave us alone.”

The memory of Mercury gasped, “Father, no! A child of our kingdom has no place in the Underworld!”

Apollo shook his head, eyes horrified. “Calliope would never consent to it.”

“Even if I were to grant her immortality?” Jupiter asked.

“But the child…” Apollo settled his gaze on Calliope.

“You would be together for eternity. You could have more children.” Across the room, a shapely woman in a jeweled gown called to Jupiter. “I must join Juno and receive our guests.”

“Father, wait!” Apollo’s golden eyes were wide and desperate. “I cannot ask Calliope to give up our child, but perhaps another heir, later in our lineage…”

A sharp twinge gripped my heart.

Jupiter pursed his lips. “My brother does not like waiting for souls.”

Apollo searched his father’s eyes for help, glancing toward Calliope every few seconds. “But I have seen this child in a dream. She will be born before the Sibyl’s death, and she will be the last of my line, the most powerful combination of Muse and Goddess, the Muse Warrior. For Pluto, it will be worth the wait.”

“I see…” Jupiter rubbed his chin. “You wish for me to ask Pluto for a treaty to quell his anger?”

The memory of Mercury gripped Apollo by the shoulder and spoke under his breath. “You cannot be serious. If the Muses were to hear of this plan, Calliope would never speak to you again!”

“I refuse to live an eternity without Calliope. But this is not your concern, Mercury.” Apollo shook his brother’s hand off his shoulder. “Father, will you call for Pluto tonight?”

“I will do what I can. Enjoy your feast.” Jupiter vanished and reappeared across the room by Juno’s side.

Apollo turned to Mercury. “Do not jump to conclusions, Mercury. I promised the Sibyl a thousand years, but she is the fool, brother, to expect our foul uncle to reward her for recording her prophesies in the name of the Underworld,” Apollo said. “By the time the Sibyl dies, the children of my lineage will be more powerful than most of Mount Olympus, born of a potent combination of the Gods and the Muses.”

“But the Muse Warrior–”

“The Muse Warrior will be the most powerful of all.”

I grimaced. Why did he keep saying that? I was hardly powerful enough to keep from being discovered within a memory.

“I’ve seen her in the ether, on the temple steps,” Apollo continued.

He saw me? I asked, feeling the panic in my thoughts.

Mercury held up a finger, cautioning me. Eden, remember. Control.

I nodded and breathed deeply while Apollo continued. “She has learned to drift through memories,” he said. “She can touch our world through hers. And do you know what that means?”

The memory of Mercury turned his head in my direction. “That she’s listening to us right now?”

Next to me, Mercury stifled a chuckle and I jabbed him in the arm.

Apollo moved toward Calliope. “No. It means Calliope will forgive me.”

In the memory, Mercury raced behind the Sun God, the wings of his sandals flapping frantically. “Apollo, wait!” He reached an elegant arm to stop his brother. But he was too late.

At the far end of the feasting hall, Apollo scooped a startled Calliope into his arms and ran his fingers along the braid of violet hair that decorated her head.

“I have good news for you, my darling,” he said. “My father will grant you immortality.”

Calliope stiffened, turning her head from Apollo. The Muses shook their heads and whispered with disapproval, their pretty faces drawn into frowns.

My earrings vibrated and I turned to Mercury. Calliope heard everything, didn’t she? The Sibyl’s deal, Jupiter’s offer, everything…

With sad eyes, he nodded.

Calliope laced her fingers over her belly and held tightly to the unborn child inside. “I have been faithful to you, despite my sisters’ warnings. I thought you would respect the sacrifice I have made for you, carrying your child in spite of your father’s refusal to allow us to marry.” Calliope choked on her words, tears spilling over her rose-colored cheeks as two Muses rushed to her side. “You have made a fool of me, Apollo!”

“My darling, you must believe me… Pluto and the Sibyl deceived me! They tricked me into making a deal with the Sibyl,” Apollo said, dropping to his knees, pleading. “But we can mend this… All we need to do is promise a child of our lineage to Pluto… My father will grant you immortality and we can marry –”

Horror-struck, Calliope stumbled backward, cradling her belly. “Promise a child of ours to Pluto? Are you mad, Apollo?”

The Sun God grabbed for Calliope. “It is not as it sounds, my love, and I have a plan,” he said, speaking faster. “We have a thousand years. I will talk to Vulcan and the child will be protected with a Mark.”

My eyes darted to Mercury. The Mark?

He nodded, his eyes glued on Calliope and Apollo.

“Do you not see your folly?” Calliope steeled her eyes at Apollo. “This witch—this Sibyl—will not leave our children alone. She will haunt them. She will wait. And she will kill, if given the chance.” She shook her head. “No, I will not consent to this plan of yours. Return to Cuma and cast a new spell — turn the Sibyl to stone if you must! – but protect our family at all costs!”

Apollo stood. “But this child will be special, and powerful. I have seen it, Calliope! She is the Muse Warrior! The Sibyl will not have the chance to kill this child—”

“No, she will not,” Calliope held her belly tighter in her arms, “because I will raise my child without a father. Generations from now, our children will not even know you.”

Calliope swept out of the grand hall, shielded from the curious stares of the Olympians by her sisters. Apollo chased them, the memory of Mercury directly on his heels, both Gods moving so quickly I couldn’t tell whether they were running or flying.

Hurry, Eden, Mercury said, his sandals flapping wildly. We must follow!

I concentrated and my body become a ball of energy. In less than an instant, we’d hurtled out of the dining hall, through tables and satyrs and imposing statues, and floated above Calliope and Apollo in the grand entry.

“Where are you going?” the Sun God demanded.

“Away. I can’t live here anymore.” Calliope gathered her billowing skirt at the top of the palace stairs. “I would rather live my life free of your arrogance than tethered to it!” She raced down the palace stairs, veiled by her sisters.

“Calliope, you can’t leave!” Apollo pushed through the Muses and gripped Calliope’s arm. “If you leave Olympus, there is no hope for the Muse Warrior,” he whispered, his eyes darkening, face stricken with shock. “The Muses cannot tell her how to defend our world. That is the responsibility of the Gods, Calliope.”

Calliope twisted away from his grasp. “Then you have one thousand years to prepare for war.”

Exchanging nervous looks, the Muses swept Calliope from the garden. The soft ripples of her lavender gown were soon replaced by shimmering gold dust and silent moonlight.

Apollo stared after her, curling his fingers into fists.

The wings of Mercury’s sandals whirred to a halt beside Apollo. “Brother, what have you done? The Muses must not leave Olympus! It will disrupt the balance of our world!”

“This was not my mistake, Mercury! Pluto tricked me,” Apollo growled. “If only Calliope would listen…”

With a sudden jerk of his head, a cluster of clouds obscured the moon, shrouding the garden in darkness. As he stalked toward the bright chatter inside the palace, the rosebuds in the garden shriveled, the leaves of their bushes falling into piles beneath the barren, thorny branches.

The memory faded and again I stood at the base of the temple of Olympus. Beside me, Mercury adjusted his helmet, the usual mischief in his eyes replaced by sadness.

So, that’s it? I asked. Apollo didn’t even fight for Calliope?

Mercury leaned against the marble. Gods and Muses are quite different, Eden. Apollo concentrated on finding a resolution with the Underworld, while Calliope forged a new life in a different land. When Pluto consented to the Treaty of the Sibyl, Jupiter finally agreed to grant immortality to Calliope. By that time, however, Apollo could not convince the Muses to return home.

Where did they go?

Mercury poked at the earth with the tip of the caduceus. It is unclear… You see, when the Muses left Olympus, they broke all ties with the Gods for several generations. By the time their children’s children found their way back to our realm, Jupiter forbade the Muses to even mention Apollo’s deal with the Sibyl, fearing that they would somehow undermine the Treaty of the Sibyl.

Is that why my grandmother can’t tell me anything?

I’m afraid so.

My grandmother was being punished because her ancestors left Olympus. A pang of sympathy stung my heart. I was in the same position, only my punishment was to somehow live up to my Destiny and not die before it happened.

I sank onto the cool marble of the bottom stair and kicked the ground with my soggy sneakers. Apollo said Vulcan was working on a Mark for me…

Mercury whirred in a circle. Ah yes, the Mark.

Will it protect me from Pluto?

That is up to you. Mercury flashed a handsome smile. But the Mark, birthright of the Muse Warrior, will unlock the Oracles.

I thought of Humpty Dumpty. The gypsy said the Oracles were meant for only one person. But why are the Oracles such a big deal?

The Sibylline Oracles foretold future events in the Third Realm. Natural disasters, catastrophes, wars, the emergence of mortal leaders. Mercury counted the list on his long, elegant fingers. For every disaster or social upheaval, the Oracles instructed mortals to make a sacrifice or offering to Pluto. And, in return, Pluto appeared to solve all the world’s ills… Sheer illusion. Mount Olympus has never let go of control of the mortal world.

With a shake of his head, he continued, But the Oracles rely on Pluto’s dark magic for their power, and he cast a spell to render them incomprehensible to all but two people. One is Pluto himself. And the other will have the Mark.

Me?

He nodded. Yes. The Muse Warrior.

If I ever get the Mark. Touching the hourglass around my neck, I said, But what about this? The gypsy said this shows how much time the Sibyl has left, but how do I make it work?

It will work when it is needed.

But when—

He cut me off. You will know.

This is so frustrating! I kicked the ground. And it doesn’t explain why the Sibyl took Troy instead of me.

It seems very clear to me, Mercury said. The Sibyl is drawing you near, hoping you will deliver the Oracles and will read them to her so that she may have the same knowledge as Pluto. Your brother is simply a pawn in her game, much as she was a pawn in Pluto’s game with the Olympians.

So if I can bring her the Oracles, she’ll release my brother?

Mercury’s honey-colored eyes flashed. The Sibyl is a cunning creature, Eden. No doubt she has anticipated your arrival for centuries and the Oracles will be the very least she wants from you. But the Oracles must not get into her hands again—

Abruptly, he stopped. What time is it, please, in the mortal world?

Startled by the strange request, I twisted my wrist to read my watch. Ten-thirty.

I must go. Mercury waved his hand and gold dust showered his shoulders. When it cleared, he was dressed in the airline pilot uniform again. The Oracles are powerful tools, Eden. If the Sibyl shares them with mortals, it will disrupt the natural order of the Third Realm. Mortals would have the chance to circumvent the trials and tribulations of their lives.

What?  I tilted my head, confused. But wouldn’t that be a good thing? Wouldn’t Olympus want mortals to fix their own problems and leave the Gods alone? If we knew how to prevent bad things from happening, life would be so much better. If I’d known about the Sibyl from the beginning, for example—

No, Eden. Mercury shook his head. If you are unable to see the value in your journey, you will not reach your destination. Which reminds me, I must return to the airport.

But Mercury, where do I go next? I stood and brushed my hands against the sides of my legs. Even after the memory and my conversation with Mercury, I felt like I had a losing combination of both too much information and not enough direction. Since Vulcan made the Mark, do I need to go to Solfatara before the Sibyl’s cave in Cuma?

Mercury avoided my stare, like he was unsure of how to answer. I am not at liberty to help you choose. Then he lowered his voice conspiratorially. But be advised that Old Vulcan doesn’t get many visitors.

I smiled. Thanks, Merc.

He dipped his chin, then looked toward the heavens.

The moon was fading. My body grew heavy and I sank to the earth. No, wait! I don’t want to go yet…

The memory is over, Eden, Mercury said, fading into gold dust. Now it is your turn.

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 30

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 30

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 28

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 28