MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 5

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 5

Cleo, the Gods’ Record Keeper, gasped when the Whim arrived. She’d been making tea when the electric jolt threw her off balance. Her tea cup tumbled off the kitchen counter and broke. Placing her palms on the counter, she counted three deep breaths.

A small shiver wasn’t unusual. Inspiration came to Muses through Whims: physical sensations in the form of a shiver, an itch, a tickle, butterflies in the stomach. Tiny attention-grabbers. Nothing unpleasant.

This morning, however, an electric eel of energy replaced Cleo’s spine. It blazed through her body, gripping the nape of her neck, exactly where her violet hair grew.

She knew what it was. The time had come.

Cleo clawed at the edge of the counter and breathed deeply to allow the subject of the Whim to come forth; its details would follow shortly. A shimmering cloud of dust swirled up from the sunlight of the kitchen window and formed smoky gold letters in front of her forehead.

The prophecy is in place.

Cleo stared at the shimmering words, already fading at the edges. She had often thought about the irony of Whims, how they lit up the air with golden inspiration and then vanished as the real work began. By the time this Whim faded, its words etched in the history of Olympus, Eden would begin the hard work of untangling her true identity. Her journey would begin in earnest, her simple childhood in the mortal world gone forever like a fairytale.

The other irony – that the Olympians’ Record Keeper could not use her knowledge to guide her own granddaughter through this journey – seemed almost criminal now, as Cleo stared at the Whim’s glittering statement once more.

The prophecy is in place.

Cleo held back tears; there was no time to waste. With a slippered foot, she swept the broken cup aside. She hurried down the hall, past framed pictures of her eight sisters, her late husband Jack and daughter Serena, her grandchildren Eden and Troy, and up a flight of creaky wooden stairs to her office.

Cleo swept into the office. If anyone had seen her through the window, they might assume she was a typical grandmother. She wore a linen tunic and a beaded necklace that held her reading glasses, her kind face was framed by a sleek bob of silver hair. But her topaz eyes, the same color as her illustrious ancestors on Olympus, gave her away.

Today, that connection was both a blessing and a burden.

The Record Keeper closed the thick curtains and rushed to the mammoth desk in the center. Carved from the base of a single tree, it was a relic from the earliest generation of her family and her birthright as the historian of the Gods.

She switched on the desk lamp, the wise eyes of its stained-glass owls gleaming in green and gold. Her trusty leather bag drooped beside the desk, its long brown strap resting on the rug. The desktop was fitted with two slender laurel branches on either side, a golden quill resting in a shallow groove, and an inkwell. With a deep breath, the Record Keeper settled into the century-old walnut arms of the chair that had once belonged to her Great Aunt Clementine and paused to admire the desk.

Three of the desk’s thick legs represented the plight of the Gods, their battles and triumphs chiseled into the ancient oak as tiny dioramas. The fourth leg—Cleo’s favorite—was carved into the shape of a beautiful young woman with a wreath of flowers on her head. Under one arm, she held a scroll. Soft waves of hair swirled from her shoulders to her delicate feet. Her eyes sparkled as though she might break free of her wooden post and dance around the room.

 “Grandmother Calliope.” Cleo shook her head, a cloak of sadness settling over her shoulders. “What power do I have to help Eden?”

There was no answer. Calliope, the First Muse, had died many generations before Cleo was born. Still, Cleo felt reassured by Calliope’s presence, if only as a wooden totem.

The grandfather clock chimed in the corner. Soon, the Messenger would arrive for the Scroll. With a resigned sigh, Cleo returned to the task at hand.

The Whim.

She pulled the scroll from her bag and threaded the loose edge of its parchment through a narrow opening in one laurel branch. Smoothing the parchment across the desktop, she placed the second laurel branch inside the roll and attached it to a disk on the other side.

With nimble fingers, Cleo spun the disks counterclockwise. As the Muse of History—the Record Keeper of Mount Olympus—she had done this thousands of times. Each Whim brought details of the significant events of Olympus, ready to be archived in the Tempus Memorauimus, the Scroll of Recorded Time. Cleo would twist the ancient scroll until she reached blank parchment and then inscribe the words of the Whim, chronicling her family’s history.

As the yellowed parchment scraped from roll to roll, Cleo skimmed Olympian history, starting with Saturn’s unsuccessful attempt to outwit his Fate, written on the very first pages of the Scroll. His plan to eat his children and outwit destiny led to the Clash of the Titans and, ultimately, to Saturn’s defeat by his son Jupiter and his other children, the Olympians. It was a story she’d told Eden and Troy from the time they were little, as much a cautionary tale about the futility of trying to outrun your Fate as a bedtime story.

Within the earliest sections of the Scroll, Cleo found the passage in which Jupiter outlined why the Gods needed to maintain authority over the mortal world. She touched the gold letters as she re-read the passage.

Without our help, mortals would seek a Fate which they are not guaranteed, rather than focus on the real purpose of their existence: the journey to reach one’s destiny. If mortals were to control their own lives, they would simply run faster into the arms of doom. Our role is to keep order so that Fate may prevail.

Cleo thought about how the Olympians’ rule of the three realms – Olympus, the Underworld and the mortal world – always seemed to circle back to the lessons of Saturn. Gods were as bound to the unwavering nature of Fate as mortals, their destinies indelibly etched into the fibers of the Scroll in gold. It was no wonder they felt bound to allow Fate to unfold naturally.

She raced through the rest of the Scroll, past more tales of those who had wronged the Olympians. Cleo understood these stories well: actions against the Gods had consequences. At best, exile or immediate death. At worst, a torturous eternity in the Underworld like Tantalus.

Hands shaking, she spun the disks of the Scroll backward until she found the prophecy, written at Eden’s birth, which glittered gold on the parchment in Cleo’s own handwriting. Now, 15 years later, she whispered each line aloud.

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 will determine the fate of Olympus.

Whims of history had been few and far between since Eden’s prophecy, but Cleo knew that today’s Whim would change everything.

She ran a shaking hand over the parchment. What can I do? How can I help her?

Across the room, the arms of the grandfather clock seemed to accelerate, each tick louder than the one before. The Messenger was on his way.

Closing her eyes and breathing deeply, Cleo struggled to focus on the Whim. Each time the message appeared to her – the prophecy is in place ­- the more elusive its details became, buried beneath blurred images of Eden and Troy and snippets of ancient conversations. The information was tangled with Cleo’s fear of what was next, even though she knew it was unreasonable to fear that which couldn’t be known, couldn’t be foretold.

The grandfather clock chimed once more and Cleo pulled herself upright in Aunt Clementine’s chair. Her choice was clear.

She had sacrificed enough in her lifetime. Now that the prophecy was in place, she could not afford to play by someone else’s rules, no matter what her role as Record Keeper stipulated. Her granddaughter’s safety was more important than rules.

Cleo reached for her computer and typed an email.

Dear Eden,

As I told you before you left, it is imperative that you communicate with me every day. Although there is no substitute for hearing your voice or seeing your face, a simple text or email will suffice. I miss you and your brother and father dearly. A tiny “hello” every day would do my heart good.

On that note, I am planning a visit to Italy and will send you the details once I’ve made my arrangements.

Finally, I must ask you: have you come across anything unusual in your explorations of Naples? If so, you must tell me. I do not wish to frighten you, but there may be strange things afoot, and I will elaborate when I see you.

Love,

Grandma Cleo

As she pounded the “send” button, a crack of lightning rocked her house. Cleo’s heart pounded.

They know.

The Record Keeper willed herself to stay calm and receptive. She uncapped the inkwell on her desk and positioned a quill next to the Scroll.

Now I am ready, she thought, her mind clear of worry now that she had decided to go to Naples. I am at your service.

The Whim came instantly. First, there was a pinch at her forehead and then golden letters formed words:

The Muse Warrior has arrived in the Fields of Fire. Her abilities are sharpening, although she is unable to recognize the presence of beings from other realms. As of today, she is in possession of a leaf stolen from the Underworld. The prophecy is now in place.

The words hung in the air while the quill dipped itself into the inkwell floating above the parchment. It scratched at the paper with precision in spite of its speed, diving back into the gold ink every few words. Each symbol sizzled as the ink dried, etched into the Scroll, into Olympian history.

When the pen returned to its spot at the head of the desk, Cleo recapped the inkwell and read the Scroll silently, shaking her head.

“Mercury,” she whispered, “I am ready.”

With a whoosh, the visitor arrived in a flash of light. He hovered several inches above the floor, an abnormally tall man in a dark blue suit two sizes too large, a pair of cheap mirrored sunglasses perched on the bridge of his nose. In a single swoop, he removed the light brown wig from his head, revealing a swath of golden hair that sparkled as he shook his head, sending prisms of color about the room like a crystal chandelier. The tiny, flapping gold wings on his glittering shoes whirred to a halt, and he landed softly on the Persian rug.

Cleo opened her eyes and harrumphed, “One would think, considering the seriousness of the situation, the Messenger might wear something more appropriate.”

Mercury, Messenger of the Gods, removed his sunglasses. His honey-colored eyes, the same color as Cleo’s, were wide with panic.

“What is it, Mercury?” Cleo had never seen a God with an expression of fear on his face. She sprang to her feet. “Is Eden all right? Has something happened?”

“Cleo—” he started, voice tinged with alarm. “He left Olympus right behind me – you mustn’t interfere –”

Cleo’s chest tightened. The blood drained from her face, replaced by a white-hot panic.

Thunder rumbled through the house like a freight train. The walls quaked and the bookshelves groaned. A sudden burst of blinding light blazed through the room and Cleo braced herself for the end. She only hoped Eden’s life would be spared, that the prophecy would prove fallible. That her daughter’s sacrifice wouldn’t have been made in vain.

Cleo cupped her hands over her eyes and dropped to her knees. Tears sprang from her eyes as she thought of the perils Eden faced within her Destiny. If she had to face them alone—

“Please, almighty Jupiter,” she sputtered, “I beg your forgiveness! You are the father of all, the ruler of everything. You cannot abandon her, or me! Not after all we’ve lost!”

The thunder subsided and the room settled back into place. Cleo felt the warmth of another presence in her office.

“Jupiter?” a familiar voice asked. “Mercury, tell me, have I changed so much that my own Muses don’t recognize me?”

“Don’t taunt the Record Keeper, Apollo,” Mercury scolded. “She has yet to surrender the Whim.”

Cleo opened her eyes. The light had transformed into a luminous man with golden hair. Taller and more muscular than Mercury, he was surrounded by a brilliant glow, like the sun itself.

A wave of relief washed over Cleo, but it was short-lived. Although the Sun God was known to be kinder than his father Jupiter, he could still punish her for trying to contact Eden.

The Record Keeper scrambled to her feet and turned toward the desk. “Grandfather Apollo, I have added the Whim to the Scroll and will give it to you presently—”

“The Whim can wait.” Apollo held up a hand. Gold dust settled over Cleo’s shoulders and she stopped moving instantly. “Cleo, we are aware of your infractions against Olympus and I have been sent to straighten out the details before my father gets involved.”

Cleo laced her fingers together and bowed her head. Whatever her punishment might be, she stood beside her decision to communicate with Eden. She only hoped that Eden and Troy would be able to decipher her cryptic email.

While Mercury circled the room and the glittering wings of his shoes sent sparks of light onto the walls, Apollo crouched next to the wooden desk, admiring the likeness of Calliope.

“I have always supported the Muses, despite…” He rested his finger upon Calliope’s wooden cheek, far away in his thoughts.

After a moment, he stood and continued. “To reach out to the girl, in this fashion, could mark the beginning of the War of the Worlds, Cleo. You, of all the Muses and Gods of Olympus, know this. Even now, my father thinks me a fool for coming here, offering you the opportunity to explain your actions.”

Tears welled in Cleo’s eyes. “It was never my intention to fool the Gods, Apollo. It was simply an email…to be sure she’s safe…”

“An email?” Apollo snapped his head toward Mercury, a confused expression on his handsome face.

The Messenger gestured toward Cleo’s laptop. “Email… it’s a way for mortals to communicate, using computers.”

Apollo considered this. “How would one send an… email… from the Underworld… in the form of a leaf?”

Cleo struggled to understand what the Sun God was asking. Did Olympus believe she had sent the leaf to Eden, from the Underworld?

“Great Apollo,” she pleaded, clasping her hands in front of her body, “the leaf is not mine. I would never betray Olympus.”

Apollo studied Cleo. “But this… email…” With a flick of his wrist, the laptop sailed into his hands and the screen lit up with Cleo’s note to Eden.

Cleo regained her composure. “It is merely to announce my upcoming visit—”

“Visit?” Apollo looked down at Cleo. He released the laptop, which flew back to the desk. “The Gods cannot be side-stepped, Cleo. This… email… could be interpreted as a breach of the Olympic rule and my father will not stand for it. The girl must come to know her Destiny on her own. All questions must be asked by her, and her alone.”

“But if Eden were to triumph over the Darkness, it would be a victory for all of us,” Cleo pleaded. “She knows of no world beyond the mortal realm—”

“This was the deal you struck on behalf of her mother, is it not? To spare the girl until such time as she can fulfill her Destiny?” Apollo asked. “To allow her to be raised with a mortal father, ignorant of her true identity until the prophecy has begun?”

Biting her lip, Cleo nodded.

“To be fair,” Mercury said, gliding toward them, “the girl is completely unaware of her situation. I am concerned… not only for her safety, but for Olympus. It seems unlikely that she is equipped to save our world—”

With a twitch of his hand, the Sun God released another calming spell in a puff of gold dust. The wings of Mercury’s sandals slowed to a lazy rhythm. Cleo sighed as her body relaxed.

“Uncle Pluto has threatened a war if the communications with the girl continue,” Apollo warned. “No one – whether a God, mortal or a Muse – may interfere with a prophecy. If we do not comply with his wishes, he will open the Gates of Hell and chaos will reign on Earth. Do you understand?”

Mercury shook the gold dust from his shoulders and narrowed his eyes at Apollo. “I won’t be swayed by a calming spell, brother, not in this case,” he snapped. “Don’t you think the girl deserves your help? You, of all Gods?”

The Sun God held Mercury’s angry gaze but did not speak.

The Messenger wheeled away from Apollo in disgust, the wings of his shoes flapping so hard they sounded like a jet engine.

Wringing her hands, Cleo stepped toward the Sun God. “Grandfather Apollo, I beseech you to allow me to go to Naples and be with Eden.”

She bowed her head, embarrassed by her tears. She hated to ask the Gods for anything, especially after what they’d already done for her family. But now, with Eden in peril, she had nowhere else to turn. If Eden had the leaf, it was only a matter of time before the Darkness found her.

A quick pinch tingled the back of her neck and her mind reeled. Had the Sun God grown weary of her pleas? Was this the start of her punishment, a small stabbing pain like the bite of an insect?

She jerked her head up.

Apollo held a single strand of her violet hair in his hand and inspected it in the lamp light. It glowed like an amethyst in the dim room.

“I have always loved the mark of a Muse…” he whispered. “Calliope used to tie her hair into two violet-streaked braids and fasten them at the crown of her head with a rose…”

As his lips curved into a smile, Cleo was reminded of how much her grandson Troy resembled the Sun God. The same spark of life and light within Apollo’s golden eyes coursed through her grandchildren. They were tied to the same family, shared the same blood.

The clock chimed, startling Cleo out of her thoughts.

“Apollo, time is not on our side,” Mercury huffed, pointing to the Scroll.

“Yes, of course, the Whim.” Apollo tucked the strand of hair into his hand and paced the floor in front of Cleo’s bookshelves.

Willing herself to remain calm and unemotional, Cleo read the Whim again. With deft fingers, she rewound the Scroll, slid it off the laurel branches and handed it to the Messenger.

Mercury closed his eyes and breathed deeply. The words of the Whim swirled up from the Scroll in gold curlicues, lingering in the air beside his forehead, then slipped into his skin. When he opened his eyes, the Scroll floated back to the desk on its own.

“Thank you, Cleo. I shall take this record to Olympus,” he said with a gracious bow. Sneering at the Sun God, he added, “And perhaps I will see you in Naples.”

Mercury’s golden shoes slapped at the air and he levitated several inches. The room shuddered once more and he was gone.

Now alone with the Record Keeper, Apollo leaned against the bookshelf. His skin cast a warm glow over the ancient texts, and his golden eyes lingered on Calliope’s wooden likeness. “Cleo, I am sympathetic to your plight. But if you have lied…” Apollo lowered his voice. “If Olympus finds that you led the girl to the leaf – or worse, if you have sent it to her by way of the Underworld – Jupiter’s punishment will be severe and irreversible.”

The Sun God waved his hand and a ball of gold dust appeared in the air. An image of Cleo emerged, standing before the court of Olympus.

With a forlorn expression, Apollo swirled the gold dust with a flick of his hand.

Inside the vision, Cleo fell to her knees, holding her head in her hands. Every Whim she’d ever received, visions of myths and facts, burst out of her forehead, disappearing into the air. Names and faces appeared, but she couldn’t recognize them. She tried to speak, but she couldn’t remember how. She had no words, no understanding, no purpose. She was no longer the Record Keeper, nor a Muse. Now she was merely an empty space void of identity.

A voice reached out to her, a trickle of light in the darkness.

“It would be an inglorious ending for a brilliant Muse,” Apollo said. He clapped his hands and the gold dust scattered.

 Smoky words and images flooded back to Cleo’s memory bank. She fell into her chair and clutched at her chest.

As the Record Keeper caught her breath, Apollo caressed the strand of violet hair in his hand. A moment passed and then she heard his words in her mind.

It may go against my father’s wishes, Cleo, but I will permit you to travel to Naples, he said, his voice softer in thought form. But the Muse Warrior must learn of the prophecy and her powers on her own. If you go against this rule, your voice will grow mute. It is the only spell I can use to protect you.

Wordlessly, Cleo nodded, grateful for the shower of gold light Apollo cast with a flick of his hand.

The Sun God drew himself up to his full height. My father will not tolerate any deviation from these guidelines, Cleo. Mercury will keep watch over the girl. Perhaps that will be enough.

Thank you, Great Apollo. Cleo stumbled to her knees once again, bowing her head in gratitude. As the Sun God disappeared into a faint glimmer, she sank to the floor, exhausted. “It will have to be enough.”

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 6

MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 6

In Case of Fire

In Case of Fire