MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 17
Unable to sleep but equally unable to wake up, I tossed and turned in a purgatory of dreams. The black robes swarmed my brother and pulled Troy into the fiery pit, then Calliope and Apollo flirted without consequence, and on and on, in a maddening loop. The firefly’s taunts buzzed around my head like a soundtrack, and each dream was rounded by more restless slumber.
At one point, the dulcet hum of Grandma Cleo’s singing voice washed over me. I remembered napping at her house after preschool, feeling the soft velvet fabric of the green chaise in her office, immersed in the faint scent of her freesia perfume.
Why had she given me the dusty old books in Troy’s room? And why did he dig them out of the basement? What did Troy know that I didn’t?
And again, I wondered: was it possible that Grandma Cleo was the Muse of History?
Footsteps shuffled into my room. Seconds later, the persianas roared open. I tucked my comforter under my chin and squinted. Dishes were piled on the nightstand by my bed: a plate of toast with a pat of congealed butter in the middle, a bowl of dried-up rice, a glass of water. All untouched.
Judging by the sepia-toned sunlight and the long shadows across the walls, I guessed it was late in the day. Which day, I didn’t know.
My bed groaned as someone sidled next to me. Again I smelled freesias.
“Eden, wake up.” Grandma Cleo tugged on my comforter and smiled at me with her golden eyes.
I blinked awake. My mouth was dry as I spoke. “Did Troy come home?”
A knot of emotion caught in my throat, but I gulped it back. “When did you get here?” I croaked.
“Yesterday morning.” I grimaced and she added, “It’s Sunday.”
“Sunday,” I repeated. Three days since Troy was taken.
My body ached, muscles weak from too much sleep or too many dreams, but I had to get up. I rubbed my eyes, swollen from crying and crusted with dried tears, and found my way to a seated position, back against the cool wooden headboard. The sudden movement made me woozy, and I had to rest my head in my hand.
“Poor thing, you’re dehydrated.” Grandma Cleo passed me the water glass.
While I sipped, Grandma Cleo said, “I waited as long as I could to wake you up. Here, I brought you something.” The brightly colored beads of her necklace tinkled as she lifted the leather flap of her bag and produced a light gray box.
I set the water glass aside and took the box in my unsteady hands. Heavier than it appeared, the box seemed to be covered in delicate, silvery fish scales. It glittered in the sunlight, appearing to be a shimmering pink one moment and then an opalescent blue the next.
“Even the box is quite precious. It was fashioned from the skin of a stingray,” she said, running her fingertips along a pattern of delicate scales. “You can open it, if you like.”
I set the box on my lap and fiddled with my fingernails, ashamed to be given a gift when my brother was missing. “Maybe later.”
The weight of my lie pressed on me and I wanted to confess everything, to come clean about where I was when Troy found me. Shame washed over me as I remembered Troy’s captor dragging him into the fire, but I had to tell her everything, from the start. I stabbed at my palms with my fingernails, afraid to look at Grandma Cleo and lose my nerve to tell the truth.
“Do you remember the email you sent me,” I asked, “about strange things happening?”
My grandmother sighed and her shoulders dipped. “I do. And I know you’ve been trying to weather these things alone.” She picked up Notebook 19. “I didn’t want to pry into your personal life, but it was open on your bed. May I?”
“Yeah, sure, take a look.”
Grandma Cleo unfolded her reading glasses, always on a chain around her neck, and put them on.
I took another sip of the water and set the glass on my night stand. “Anyway, before Troy…disappeared…a lot of weird stuff happened. I even thought maybe you were a—”
I interrupted myself as I watched Grandma Cleo read my art journal with her glasses like any other ordinary grandmother. It struck me that she wouldn’t need glasses if she was a mythological being.
Grandma Cleo nodded haphazardly as she turned the pages of Notebook 19 with care, scanning each one before moving on. Her face was expressionless, as though she were reading a weather report and not the first-hand account of her only granddaughter slowly going insane.
In fact, the only reaction she made was a small gasp when the gypsy’s leaf fell onto her lap; then again, I may have been the one gasping, embarrassed that I had a stupid leaf nestled in the pages of my journal. Grandma Cleo drew the leaf to her face and, after a perfunctory inspection of both sides, carefully put it back and turned the page.
When she got to the picture of Calliope, she asked, without looking up, “What were you saying? What did you think I was?”
I blushed, my cheeks hot with embarrassment. It suddenly seemed ridiculous, the idea of my grandmother being a Muse. “It’s sort of silly.”
“Mm-hmm.” She arrived at the last page of Notebook 19 and squinted under her glasses at my handwritten list of Muse attributes.
“That’s from one of those old books you gave me. It was on Troy’s desk.” I wiggled out of the comforter, knocking the gift box aside as I reached for Notebook 19. “It’s nothing—”
“Oh, no, it’s quite significant.” Grandma Cleo tapped the very last line. “Could you read that to me?”
“Um, yeah.” I cleared my throat and read, “Muses are easily recognized by their violet hair.”
I closed Notebook 19, embarrassed. The frantic connections I’d made on the night Troy went missing were lost in the light of day. How could I have imagined my brother and I were born into a fantasy-world family?
“I was tired when I wrote that,” I said, shrugging. “At the time, it made sense. You know, because of our weird purple hair.” I twisted a clump of violet hair from the back of my messy bedhead around my finger.
Without speaking, Grandma Cleo turned her neck and parted the straight, silvery hair at the back of her head to one side, revealing a layer of wildly purple hair, a deeper purple than mine, more amethyst than magenta.
“It’s just a weird birthmark, right?” I asked casually. “It doesn’t mean anything, right?”
My grandmother’s hair fell back into place like a shiny silver curtain across her cheeks. “Well, that depends. What do you think?”
I rubbed my eyes with my palms. “Grandma, I don’t know what I think anymore. Nothing seems normal.”
When I opened my eyes, Grandma Cleo was breathing deeply through her nose, eyes half-closed, her chest rising and falling softly, as though she were meditating. After a few rounds of breath, a wisp of golden smoke appeared in front of her forehead, dancing in the air.
“What is that? That happened to me, too, in Pozzuoli…”
My grandmother smiled, her gaze trained on the golden light between us. “Perhaps you should open your gift now,” she said, not breaking the strong, steady rhythm of her breath.
I rummaged through the bed covers and lifted the lid of the box. Inside, a pair of tiny gold hoop earrings rested on a blue silk pillow. They were so beautiful, my heart skipped: gleaming golden tubes carefully formed around a delicate sun. I lifted one feather-light hoop from its silk pillow and the gold seemed to snap, sending a sharp zing of electricity through my finger and hand, up my arm, through my body. They felt alive.
A heaviness filled my heart. Troy should be here to see this. All the gold in the world wouldn’t make up for the fact that my brother was gone.
Before I put the earring back in the box, I noticed an engraving along the inside of the globe: Sol invictus.
My grandmother smiled. “The inscription means—”
“Unconquered sun,” I blurted. “Oh my God, how did I know that? I don’t even know what language that is.” I shook my head. “Grandma, I should have told you about this, but there was a gypsy… I understood her perfectly, but Wayne said it was gibberish…” Tears rushed to my eyes and I started to cry. “And then I saw… creatures… They took Troy and—”
“Shhhh.” Grandma Cleo waved the dazzling gold dust in front of her forehead toward me.
Peacefulness washed over me. “But I’m…” I struggled to recall what I’d been going on about. I breathed in a long, easy inhale and sighed it out. I knew I should be more… upset… but I couldn’t muster the feeling. Every muscle in my body relaxed. I felt calmer than I had in months. “Grandma, I’m going crazy.”
“From what you’ve written in your journal, I’d say you’re the exact opposite,” Grandma Cleo said. “Your observations are sharp and your intuition is serving you quite well.”
“But it’s not just the gypsy,” I said, my words lazy and slow. “There’s also some weird, tall guy stalking me.”
My grandmother suppressed a smile. “I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of those questions in due time. These earrings have been in my family since the beginning.”
“Beginning?” I asked. “Beginning of what?”
“I’ll show you.” Grandma Cleo clasped her hands together as though she were forming a snowball. Tiny slivers of light twinkled between her fingers. She leaned forward and blew softly into the swirling light, as though blowing out birthday candles.
The light scattered, particles of gold dust twirling and dipping until a sparkling hologram emerged, like the diffused light from a movie projector. Soon, my bedroom walls were obscured by the gauzy dreamscape of a garden filled with fragrant flowers and willowy trees. The whispery melody of a song drifted on the breeze.
“What’s happening?” I whispered as a soft bed of flowers sprouted under my bed. “Where are we?”
Grandma Cleo reached for my hand and squeezed it. “We’re still in your room. I’m merely layering a vision of the past over it.”
Two holograms floated into the middle of the meadow like opaque balloons. When the gold dust formed a man and a woman, I turned to Grandma Cleo. “Calliope and Apollo?”
Grandma Cleo nodded. “Yes, aren’t they lovely?”
On cue, Apollo tossed his head to the side, casting brilliant rays of light through my bedroom. A worried expression troubled his handsome face, and he walked with downcast eyes, deep in thought as Calliope swirled beside him.
“Can they hear us?” I whispered.
“Not in this form.”
Before I could ask what she meant, Calliope spun in a giddy circle around the Sun God, the train of her lavender gown billowing behind her. Framed by a wreath of white flowers, her hair spilled over her shoulders in careless spirals of gold and violet. She dipped her lissome body sideways, brushing the mossy earth with her fingertips before floating up again. “Apollo, why won’t you dance with me?”
“I am hardly in the mood for dancing, Calliope.” The Sun God leaned against a tree trunk where my wardrobe had been just a few minutes before. “If my father has forbidden us to marry, then—”
“Then you shall live out your days in desperate despair?” She mimicked his deep voice. ”We must not concern ourselves with the end before the beginning. Where there is love, there is transformation.’” With a coy smile, she dissolved into girlish laughter.
I tapped Grandma Cleo’s hand. “I dreamed that! That exact line was in my dream the other night.”
“Sometimes our dreams aren’t what they seem,” she whispered.
Calliope laughed again and the sweetness of her voice rang through the night air. She balanced on her toes, arms stretched overhead like a ballerina. “These are not new rules, Apollo. Gods have never been allowed to marry Muses—”
The Sun God pounded his fist into the tree and my room shook under the force of his anger. “But these are not my rules. How can I be expected to live by ancient decrees?”
Calliope lowered her heels and tilted her head softly toward Apollo. “My love, it will not change anything between us.”
He extended one hand and Calliope embraced him. Gazing into her eyes, Apollo wrapped a lock of her tousled hair around his fingers. “Calliope, you are my muse. And you will always be so.”
Then he bent down to pluck a dewy yellow flower from the mossy garden floor and presented it in his upturned hand. As Calliope grabbed for it, the flower vanished. In its place, a pearly box appeared on his palm.
I looked at the box in my hands.
“Yes,” Grandma Cleo said. “It’s the same one.”
Calliope ran her delicate fingers over the top of the box. “What is this, Apollo?”
With a shrug, Apollo placed the box in her hands. “For you,” he said, his light eyes twinkling as Calliope delicately opened the box.
Eyes wide, she gasped. “They are exquisite, Apollo.” She read the inscription and glanced up. “‘Unconquered sun’?”
“Just as the sun never fails to shine, unconquered in its quest for light, so shall my love for you prevail.” Apollo took the earring from her finger. “May I?”
Calliope lowered her chin, allowing the Sun God to fasten the earrings to her ears. “Like my love for you, the hoops have no beginning,” he kissed the tops of her shoulders, “and no end.”
Calliope looked away from him, distracted, and held both hands to her ears. All of a sudden, a delighted smile stretched across her face. “I love you, too, Apollo.”
He grinned. “So you like them?”
“I adore them.” She swung her arms around his neck and planted giddy kisses on his cheeks. In a playful whisper, she said, “But, my love, they seem to be… alive, pulsing with their own thoughts. What sort of magic are you imposing on me?”
“The earrings were forged by old Vulcan. Despite the mess Venus has made of their affairs, he remains quite the romantic alchemist. He infused the gold with an enchantment to allow us to communicate with our thoughts.” Apollo shrugged. “Actually, it enables you to hear the thoughts of all the Gods, as you wish. You merely have to concentrate on a God or Goddess, or vice versa, and they will be connected to your thoughts.”
“This is how the Gods communicate, is it not?”
“More or less.” He caressed one of the hoops. “But without such beautiful tools.”
Calliope drew away from the Sun God. “Does your father know about this gift? I cannot accept them if Jupiter does not approve—” She touched her ear lobe, ready to remove the hoops.
Apollo placed his hand over hers and shook his head. “Allowing me to remain close to you is the very least my father can do, in light of his opposition to our union,” he said, teeth gritted. “Old Vulcan convinced him they are a tool for Olympus to keep control in the mortal world. If you and your sisters cannot inspire mortals to prosper and live peacefully, then my father and siblings would have to leave Mount Olympus to restore order, which he would detest. Thus, Jupiter agreed that you, the brightest Muse on Olympus, must hear us clearly.”
Calliope broke away from Apollo, a pink blush lighting up her cheeks.
“This brings me such relief, Apollo, because…I love them,” she gushed, twirling in circles around the garden in my room.
Apollo studied her movements and the serious expression returned to his face. “There is one more thing I must tell you, my love.”
“Tell me in thought,” she said.
Again, Apollo concentrated on her and Calliope stopped to listen. She froze, her fingers clasped over her abdomen, concern on her face.
“Must you go to Cuma?” she asked.
When Apollo nodded, the smile faded from her lips. “I have heard of the Cumaean Sibyl’s beauty. Will these earrings ensure your devotion to me while you are away?”
Apollo jerked his head in surprise. “Are you jealous?”
Calliope crossed her arms and turned away, but the Sun God swept her into his muscular arms. “But she is a fraud, a charlatan! The Sibyl claims she can see the future and journey across the boundaries of the Underworld unscathed, but no mere mortal has such power. Her hubris makes my father’s blood boil. As the God of Prophecy, I must investigate her supposed talents and expose any traitorous acts against Olympus.”
I thought of what Maya and Valeria told me on the day of the field trip, about the Sibyl reuniting Aeneas with his dead father.
“Then you must go,” Calliope said. “And I shall be as close to you as my thoughts.” She tapped one earring and smiled unconvincingly.
Apollo traced his fingers along her violet streak to the back of her neck. As he kissed her, Calliope patted her stomach covertly.
“And when you return,” she whispered, “I shall have something special to tell you.”
“Apollo!” a low voice called out. “The feast has begun.”
Calliope bristled, moving her hands away from her abdomen.
A tall man entered the garden, hovering a few inches above the ground. He clapped Apollo on the shoulder, offering a polite bow to Calliope. “Brother, we are requested in the palace for a friendly competition. Bring your lyre.”
Like Apollo, the tall man’s skin sparkled like gemstones and he wore a short toga that draped over one shoulder and ended at his kneecaps. His golden hair was cropped short and topped with an odd, shiny metal helmet. But it was his glittery footwear, golden sandals with tiny whirring wings, which caught my eye.
“I know him!” I blurted. “He’s stalking me!” I flipped through Notebook 19 to find the sketch I’d made of him. “He was at the hotel lobby when we arrived, and then he was at my school—”
“Mercury,” Apollo scolded the tall man, “I am occupied.”
I turned to Grandma Cleo. “Mercury? The Gods’ Messenger?”
Mercury glided through the garden, his lanky body more appropriate for Mount Olympus than Earth. Somehow, he seemed more normal as a God than in the weird outfits I’d seen him in.
I shook my head. What was “normal” now, anyway?
“Calliope,” Mercury said, his deep baritone cutting through the garden air, “your jewelry is fetching.”
She held one hand to her ear and listened. Laughing, she said, “Yes, Mercury, you can count on my vote.”
“Brilliant earrings.” He winked at Apollo and put his arm around Calliope, guiding her away from the garden, the wings of his sandals whirring.
As Apollo turned to follow them, the vision sparkled one last time before he faded. The garden and trees receded until only a shimmer of gold dust hovered in the middle of my room.
“So…” I turned to my grandmother. “Does this mean my earrings can communicate with the Gods?”
Grandma Cleo nodded. “They are your birthright, Eden. No one else can wear them.”
She tapped the box. “Go ahead. Try them on.”
I hooked one earring through my earlobe. As I fastened the second one, the gold began to vibrate, humming. They were alive.
Grandma Cleo watched me with expectant eyes. I waited a moment, afraid and excited to hear what the earrings might say. But apart from the humming vibration of the gold, they were silent.
I shook my head. “Nothing yet. Just a dull hum.”
Her expression fell slightly. With a sigh, she said, “I’m sure they’ll warm up to you.”
“Right, okay…” I pulled my knees under my body and bit my lip. “But the guy in the vision? I know him. He’s been stalking me.”
“Mercury?” She waved a hand, dismissing my statement. “He’s not a stalker, dear. He’s following you.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?” I asked. “But, here’s what I don’t understand. If Mercury’s the messenger of the Gods, why would he follow me? I’m not a Muse.”
My grandmother pursed her lips.
“I’m a… Muse?” I whispered. “But how? I mean, nothing in my life… at least, nothing before we moved here… was unusual.”
“The closer a Muse gets to the source of her inspiration, the stronger the Muse’s power.”
“Whoa, wait a minute. Slow down.” I waved my hands in front of my face, shaking my head. “When you say ‘closer to the source of inspiration,’ do you mean here, in Italy? Or do you mean Rome… as in Roman mythology?”
My grandmother opened her mouth to answer, but I cut her off.
“Because, all of this sounds, you know, crazy.” I circled my finger near my temple. “Pazzo. Ridiculous. I was in art class the other day and my teacher told us about the Muses, and said Cleo was the Muse of History.” I harrumphed. “Cleo… get it? Like you.”
She didn’t say anything.
I gaped at her. “You’re the Muse of History? My own grandmother?”
“The short answer?” she asked. “Yes, I am.”
“Oh my God, I was right!” I clapped a hand to my forehead. “All this time, I had no idea… why did I have no idea?”
She sighed. “We’ll get to that in a moment, but—”
I shifted my legs underneath me and sat cross-legged facing Grandma Cleo. “Okay, okay, I have a million questions… Starting with, if that’s the short answer, what’s the long one?”
Grandma Cleo crossed her arms over the leather bag on her lap. “In our family, every generation must present a Muse to fulfill an important responsibility for the Gods. It was my destiny to become the Record Keeper, long before I was born. As such, my role is to keep the history of Olympus, updating the Scroll of Recorded Time.”
I thought of the pictures on her walls, sketches and paintings of girls dancing and posing in Victorian dresses and Grecian togas. “So, the pictures in your hallway—?”
“My sisters and our aunts, and their aunts?” She flicked her wrist with a flourish. “All Muses.”
“What about my mother?” I asked.
“Yes,” Grandma Cleo said. “Your mother was a special sort of Muse, a Seer.” She stared out the window at the lake. “But her destiny was tied to another purpose.”
“That doesn’t make sense. She died when I was born. She didn’t live long enough to fulfill her purpose.”
“Sadly, our destinies aren’t decided by length of time, Eden. When a person has fulfilled his or her destiny…”
“Wait!” I kicked off the covers and stood on shaking legs. A slow chill shuddered through me. “If my mother died after her destiny was fulfilled… and she died just after I was born… was her destiny just to have me? Was that her purpose?”
Grandma Cleo answered with a heavy sigh.
“Oh my God.” Tears filled my eyes. “So once they reach their destiny, that’s it?” I wiped the tears from eyes as I circled the room. “Has, um… Has Troy fulfilled his destiny? Is he—?”
My voice caught on the word dead. I couldn’t bear to say it aloud.
Still, Grandma Cleo didn’t say anything.
A fire of anger boiled inside of me. “Who decides this stuff? The Gods?”
“The Gods are as tied to their destinies as mortals are, Eden.” Grandma Cleo turned her head toward me and spoke with a soft voice. “What we call ‘destiny’ is a kind of roadmap that certain people – Seers, like your mom – can read, based on the unique energy of an unborn soul. For our family, and the Gods of Olympus, these destinies are collected in the Scroll.”
A tiny glimmer of gold dust hovered in the air above Grandma Cleo’s leather bag, illuminating a cylindrical shape within it.
“Is that the Scroll?” I pointed at the bag. “Just open it! Maybe the Scroll tells where Troy is! ”
Grandma Cleo’s silence enraged me. It suddenly occurred to me my own grandmother was the Muse of History, that she knew everything about our lives – from birth to death – and hadn’t said or done anything to prevent Troy from being kidnapped.
I set my jaw, too angry to even look at her. “How could you let that happen to Troy? Why didn’t you warn us?”
My grandmother answered softly, “The Scroll holds only certain facts about a person’s life. Some details may remain unformed until the God or mortal reaches a pivotal decision. Your brother’s disappearance—” Emotion caught in her throat. After a pause, she added, “It was not foretold, although I would be powerless to stop anything.”
The firefly’s threats echoed through me: Death is upon us. Read the leaf or suffer the same consequences as your mother.
“Grandma, there’s a firefly and it keeps telling me to read a leaf…And then, on the ICR tour, a crazy gypsy lady gave me this leaf.” I thumbed through Notebook 19 and found the leaf. Grandma Cleo winced.
“She said I’ve come to settle debts, and the war of the worlds begins with one Muse,” I said. “What does that mean? And who is the Muse Warrior?”
My grandmother looked stricken, as though I’d crossed a line or asked one too many questions.
But how could I not ask more? My whole life had changed.
“Is it Troy?” I asked, my voice strained. “Is he the Muse Warrior? Is that what the gypsy meant?”
“Shh-shh,” Grandma Cleo said, waving her hand gently, a light sprinkling of gold floating in the air with each movement.
My earrings vibrated almost imperceptibly and a musical voice rang in the innermost depths of my ear canals.
It’s a calming spell, they whispered. The youthful timbre of the voice was disarmingly familiar.
The same warm, relaxing feeling as before washed over me, a marked contrast to the anger rising from my thoughts. I shook my head, trying to cast off the spell. “I don’t want to be calm! I need to know where Troy is—”
“It’s not that easy, Eden,” Grandma Cleo said.
The sun sizzled into the horizon, and darkness fell around the lake. I paced in front of the window, only slightly less aggravated under the influence of the calming spell. “If our family’s destinies are written in the Scroll, then what’s my role? What’s my destiny?”
Grandma Cleo closed her fingers around the bag in her lap. “We each have our own journey, Eden. There are things we cannot know until we are ready to hear them.” With a hushed voice, she added, “Please, I am asking you to trust that I acted in your best interest, waiting until you were old enough to understand.”
Downstairs, I could hear my dad moving about the living room and the sound of ESPN sportscasters. I spun my head toward Grandma Cleo. “What about my dad? Is he in on it, too? Don’t tell me he’s some other kind of mythological creature I need to know about—”
“No, he doesn’t know anything. Yet.” Grandma Cleo shook her head. “It is up to you to decide when to tell him.”
“Wait, are you saying my mother never told him? And I guess you want me to keep this a secret from him, too?” I balled my hands into fists at my sides, the pit of guilt in my stomach growing stronger. “First, I had to lie to him about what really happened to Troy, and now you won’t let me tell him about the biggest secret I’ve ever had?” I paced my room. “Not that you’ve even told me anything. What does a Muse do? How do I get Troy back?”
“Your powers—” With that word, my grandmother’s voice cut out, like a radio station in the middle of nowhere that suddenly lost its signal.
“Powers?” I planted my feet to the floor. “What kind of powers?”
My grandmother opened her mouth and moved her lips. No sound came out, not even a whisper or a wheeze. Hands to her throat, Grandma Cleo blinked several times, her eyes panicked.
I flew to her side. “Grandma? Are you okay?”
She ripped a piece of paper from my school binder and scribbled, I’m fine. I’m sorry I can’t say any more.
Her words didn’t seem right. Something – or someone – had stopped her from talking. She hastened toward the door and I followed close behind.
“Did I do this to you? I swear I didn’t mean to. Just tell me how to fix it,” I pleaded.
Lips pursed into a thin line, Grandma Cleo offered me a quick hug and waved goodnight, making it clear that our conversation was over.
Even as the door to her room clicked behind her, I moved to open it, afraid I’d never get answers to my questions. More importantly, I still hadn’t told her what happened to Troy at the amphitheater.
“Grandma?” I knocked on her door. “Please, open up. I won’t get mad again. Just talk to me.”
My earrings vibrated. With an electric zing, they spoke again, their words coming to me as thoughts in a familiar, matter-of-fact voice.
Let it go.
But – I began, then realized why I knew the voice so well.
It was my own.
There is nothing else you can know right now, they said. Let it go.
I wanted to protest, but instead I sighed deeply, shoulders slumped forward with the strange understanding that there was no use arguing with magic earrings.
I backed away from the door and retreated to my room.
“That went well,” I muttered.
The earrings vibrated and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Look at the leaf, they said in my own voice.
Now I’d really gone off the deep end, having a conversation with myself. Was I a Muse… or insane?
Stop overthinking, my earrings said. Look at the leaf.
The gypsy’s leaf was still in my hand. I turned on the lamp on my nightstand and inspected it. The veins on the back were just as I remembered them: a tangle of incomprehensible, wiggly lines. I stared at them expectantly, waiting to magically read them just as I’d read sol invictus on my earrings.
After a good minute of squinting, though, they were still just squiggles and curlicues around the dot-within-a-circle symbol.
“How am I supposed to read these?” I whispered to my quiet room.
My earrings twitched, radiating heat throughout my body. Ask Bax.
My body stiffened at the sound of his name. I couldn’t believe I’d gone along with his idea to lie about where we’d been. What if Troy was being held in the cells under the amphitheater, and those hadn’t been searched because of our lie? Too much time had passed now – if I told the truth at this point, I’d still be in trouble, but a lot more trouble. And if they stalled the search for Troy, I’d be no better off anyway.
My earrings twitched again. Ask Bax, they repeated in an impatient tone.
Okay, I thought, surrendering to the strangeness of my new life as a Muse. I’ll ask Bax.