MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 16
As we parked the car and made our way up the front steps, I tried to convince myself that my brother had escaped the black robed creatures and made it back home. When my dad unlocked the front door, I half-expected to see Troy lounging on the couch, eating chips. The empty house groaned with my father’s sad footsteps.
Still, in spite of the dark silence, I bolted upstairs. “Troy! Are you here?” I opened and closed doors, hoping he was there.
“Listen, I know this is silly,” my dad called from the stairway, “but was Troy unhappy?”
I paused, my hand on the bathroom doorknob, and turned to see my dad standing at the top of the stairs. “What? Why would you ask that?”
Dad leaned his head back on the wall, staring up at the ceiling with bloodshot eyes. “Captain Baxter said…” He cleared his throat. “Honey, I just need to rule out anything like running away. I know you kids have been homesick.”
I lowered my eyes. “Dad, that’s crazy. Troy would never leave us.”
“I know you’re right. I just…I want him to be safe. Wherever he is.” With a deep sigh, he added, “I wish your mother was…” The rest of the sentence caught in his throat. He reached out and hugged me tightly, pinning my arms against my sides.
“Okay. Well.” My dad let go and took a deep breath. The next time he spoke, he was in his efficient fire chief mode. “If you think of anything that might be helpful for the NSA, anything your brother might have said or any suspicious people you saw at the amphitheater…” He glanced toward Troy’s room then back to me. “I’m gonna make a couple calls to the States. I want you to try to sleep. You don’t have to go to school tomorrow, or in the near future, if you don’t want to. I’d rather keep an eye on you anyway.”
Quietly, he kissed my forehead. “You’re all I’ve got, Eden. Until he comes back. Just me and you.”
My dad closed himself in his bedroom and I walked in a daze down the hall to mine. I lay on my bed and through the thick walls of our villa, I heard his muffled voice. “Troy… can’t believe it… gone… as fast as his mother…”
I cried into my pillow. Eyes closed, all I could see was Troy being dragged into the abyss of black robes and fire and then into… nothing.
Where did they take him?
Clutching my pillow harder, I thought back to the night I was on the roof with Troy. When I asked him about our mother – What if we could bring Mom back? Would you do it? – his expression had been hard to read: a flash of concern, eyes crinkled at the edges. It was a look I’d never seen him make before that day, but it was the same expression he made today when he found me with Bax under the amphitheater, more fearful than annoyed.
I pounded my fist into the pillow. I should have warned him.
But warned him about what, exactly?
A breeze whistled through my room. I sprang to my feet and flipped on the lamp, expecting to see black-robed creatures slithering through the window to finish me off.
The gauzy lace curtains over my windows whipped at the frame with a loud flapping noise. I had to get out of my room, had to do something besides cry into my pillow and jump at shadows. I shut the persianas and tiptoed to Troy’s room. His wardrobe was slightly ajar, a pair of jeans thrown over the top of the door and a wadded-up t-shirt wedged in the drawer. More clothes lined the floor and his basketball jersey spilled over the top of the dirty clothes hamper. A striped blue comforter lay across the bottom half of his bed in a heap. Like me, the room was waiting for him to return.
Through Troy’s window, I noticed the Petrakis family across the street, everyone piled into the den to watch TV. George and Niko wrestled on the carpet while Alessi sat with her parents on the couch, her legs sprawled over her mother’s lap. It was so simple, so complete, and it made my sadness even heavier.
I closed the curtains and switched on Troy’s lamp. Several old books lay scattered across the desk, their spines flattened so they remained open, their covers overlapping. A small black notebook, a pencil wedged inside its pages, rested on the right side of the desk.
For most people, this might not even register as odd.
But Troy had never been much of a reader. Unless he was doing research, it wouldn’t be like him to have so many books on his desk. Then again, I couldn’t imagine him sifting through old books looking for information if he could do it on his phone or laptop.
Something was off.
I set Notebook 19 on top of the black notebook and sat on his chair with a loud squeak.
Instinctively, I twisted my head to the door, ready to plead my case to Troy. How many times had I snuck into his room to snoop around, afraid he’d catch me?
But the door remained closed, the room bitterly quiet.
A wave of grief passed through me and I squeezed my eyes together so I wouldn’t start crying. If Troy had been searching for something, I needed to know what it was. I took a deep breath and studied the piles of books on Troy’s desk. Aside from the dog-eared pages and faint pencil markings, I noticed something even stranger than my brother having a stack of books on his desk.
The books weren’t Troy’s.
In fact, they were mine, a gift from Grandma Cleo on my 12th birthday. She’d wrapped them up in brown Kraft paper and tied them with a violet ribbon, along with a small note: For Eden, from Grandma and her sisters. I’d skimmed them repeatedly but nothing made sense, their words written in the tiniest handwritten script on onion-skin pages.
I hadn’t thought of the books in a long time. Although we’d already unpacked day-to-day stuff, most of our moving boxes were still downstairs. If it wasn’t essential, like clothes or dishes, it was still in the basement. In other words, Troy would have had to search for these books.
But why would he?
The book on top appeared to be some sort of encyclopedia of mythology. I held Troy’s place with my finger while I flipped through its pages. The first section was a list of Roman Gods, filled with pages of names I could barely read, much less pronounce. Then there was an unexpected break in the text and several blank pages in the center before the second half of the book, which didn’t have any words at all, its pages swirling with symbols and hieroglyphic-style pictures.
Underneath the mythology book was an old atlas, I guess, filled with topographical maps I couldn’t read. Next was a small, basic journal with blank pages, its old paper weathered to a mottled ivory. I touched its tan leather cover, wondering why I hadn’t used it for an art journal. It was the perfect size, just a little bigger than my palm, its pages thick enough to hold ink and paint. To the right of the stack of books, there was a Latin dictionary.
I flipped back to the page Troy had left open. Tiny gold script traveled across the ivory parchment, bleeding into the gutter and over to the next page. Troy (or, at least, I assumed it was Troy) had lightly drawn a box around a particular passage. The writing was so small, I had to squint in the light of the desk lamp to read it:
Although Muses reside on Olympus, they are charged with traveling to the mortal realm to inspire new thoughts and encourage mortals in the creation of art, music and the study of the stars. Muses can frequently be found in the company of the Sun God Apollo. They are easily recognized by their violet hair.
I touched the hair at the back of my neck as I stared at the passage.
Again, I thought of the gold words I’d seen at the amphitheater: The Muse Warrior has come. The prophecy is in place.
Fatigue closed in on me. I yawned and gathered the books in my arms. Back in my room, I spread the books across my bed and rested my head against a pillow.
I was exhausted, but my mind was racing. After the words had burst out of my forehead, which was weird enough, Bax had convinced me to go underground. But Troy had appeared out of nowhere, as though he knew something was wrong. He’d pulled me away from the creatures. He’d saved me from them.
Eyelids heavy, I opened Notebook 19 and made a quick sketch of the pile of books. Across the top of the drawing, I wrote the first thing that came to my mind:
Is Troy the Muse Warrior?
This was absurd. I was grasping at things that weren’t even real – words made of gold dust! – and desperate to make connections between mythological beings and my own family.
In short, I’d lost it.
That was the only explanation. I was worn out from crying and trying to divert my attention away from my sadness. I had to get a grip.
I closed Notebook 19 and thumbed through the mythology book, intent on reading everything. In my drowsy haze, I felt sure that Troy had hidden magic clues within its pages.
I skimmed the book until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Then I kicked my feet under the covers, fully clothed, shoes still on.
In the lamplight, I stared at the wall with half-lidded eyes, dizzy with a thousand questions: Was my brother the Muse Warrior? Why would he keep it from me? And what did it even mean?
I drew my legs up to my chest and the books slid around on my blanket. Notebook 19 fell open to the picture I’d drawn of Calliope in art class. Naturally. It felt like the whole world was playing tricks on me.
With a fingertip, I traced the violet streak of Calliope’s hair. A tiny spark flickered, casting splinters of light across the drawing. I let my sleepy eyes follow it, too tired to wonder what it might be.
The spark illuminated the page I’d drawn, quickly bleeding outside the edges, forming a lush green forest and a meadow under a canopy of tree branches. My room dissolved and the light became an entire scene before me: a group of young women dancing in flowing gowns around a handsome musician playing a lyre. Every person and object glowed as though painted with gold dust, shimmering like holograms.
Dressed in a short toga that covered his lower body, the lyre player seemed both aware of his looks and unencumbered by them. Long locks of wavy blond hair spilled over his smooth, muscled chest as he played. His skin was luminous, glowing as brightly as the golden light of the afternoon, and his face was perfection itself, the embodiment of a master sculpture. As he played, muscles flexed, his fingers hardly moved. The dancers giggled and swooned.
Pushing the golden hair from his eyes, the musician turned his radiant gaze away from the dancers and watched a pair of girls sitting at the edge of the meadow, picking wildflowers.
One of the girls rested with her knees to one side, crafting a chain of wildflowers in her delicate hands. With her pillowy cherry-red lips and olive skin, she could have stepped out of a Renaissance painting. She wore her thick, chestnut-colored hair braided into a crown, a single strand of brilliant violet peeking through the weave. Her light eyes darted back and forth between the musician and the white flowers in her hands.
The younger girl wore a simple wreath of pink flowers on her head as she lay on her belly in the soft grass. She watched the musician’s gaze linger on her older sister and bounced up, barely containing her enthusiasm.
“I’ve noticed,” the younger girl said, long lashes brushing her upper cheeks, “that Apollo cannot pull his eyes from you, Calliope.”
Calliope lowered her eyes, a blush reddening her cheeks. “Melpomene, you’re always causing trouble.” With nimble fingers, she knotted the wildflower stems onto her sister’s wrist. “You know a God cannot marry a Muse.”
“But what if he loves you?” Melpomene lifted herself to a seated position, lacing her fingers under her chin, batting her lashes like tiny birds around her golden eyes. “What then?”
“Then I shall be loved from afar. It is our duty to be the Sun God’s companions and to inspire mortals on his behalf, but I would be a fool to fall for his advances.” Calliope plucked the petals off a white flower.
“Oh, I’d be a fool for him,” Melpomene sighed.
Calliope tossed the petals at her sister.
“You really think you could stop yourself from falling in love?” Melpomene asked, tucking a flower behind her ear. The music swelled and Calliope’s sisters swept across the meadow floor, dancing and chattering, a subtle glimmer of gold dust hovering over them.
Across the meadow, Apollo focused his eyes on Calliope. “I must have a ring of flowers around my head!” he commanded playfully, his hands a blur on the lyre. “Or else I shall leave and never return!”
“No!” one of the Muses cried. She skipped toward Calliope, pleading with a tragic face, mouth turned down into an exaggerated frown. “Calliope, Melpomene! Quick, a wreath for the Sun God!”
Smirking at Calliope, Melpomene snatched the pink wreath from her head and moved to stand.
Apollo paused his strumming. “Thank you, Melpomene, but—” he waved a hand toward Calliope “—I prefer to accept my gift from its creator.”
The Muses erupted into giddy laughter, prancing toward their oldest sister and dragging her to her feet. They coaxed her toward the Sun God and stepped away, giggling.
Calliope squinted her eyes at her sisters and dropped her shoulders in surrender. To the Sun God, she said, “For you, mighty Apollo.” She placed the wreath on top of his golden hair and kissed his cheeks, one and then the other.
Apollo grabbed her wrist and leaned closer, brushing his lips to her cheek. “You are loved from afar, Calliope,” he whispered in her ear. “Does that make me the fool?”
Calliope pulled away from his embrace and lowered her eyes under the surveillance her sisters’ curious stares.
The Sun God held the lyre to his chest and played a soft tune, feigning disinterest. After a few notes, the Muses lost interest in their sister and Apollo. They scattered through the meadow and occupied themselves with poetry and singing.
Apollo turned his attention once more to the eldest Muse. “Again, I ask you, fair Calliope, does my love for you make me a fool?” he asked. “Or perhaps you have eyes for another?”
Calliope adjusted the flower crown on Apollo’s head, a sad smile on her lips. “There is no one else… but a union between a God and Muse cannot end well. A Muse is not a Goddess in the eyes of Olympus.”
Apollo slowed his strumming, his honey-colored eyes intent on Calliope. “We must not concern ourselves with the end before the beginning,” he said. “Where there is love, there is transformation.”
Calliope bowed her head, ready to turn away. The lyre fell from Apollo’s grip and he rose to his feet.
“You are my destiny, Calliope. I’ve seen it.” He lifted her chin with his finger. “We belong together, no matter what my father says.”
She studied his face, noticing the way the sun’s reflection glinted across his light eyes like the rosy fingers of dawn. Her voice barely a whisper, she asked, “Have I no choice in my own destiny?”
“You always have a choice.” Apollo lifted her hand to his face, kissing each of her fingertips. “But if I have my way, it will always be me.”