MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 23
As the bus soared in and out of clouds on its magic autopilot, Mercury gathered a ball of gold dust in his hands, just as my grandmother had done, and released it into the air.
A vision appeared between us, the image of a pale yellow house with a large front porch flanked by rose bushes and an overgrown avocado tree. A boxy sedan was pulled right up to the porch, its trunk open while a young guy with short dark hair and glasses loaded a few bags into the back. It was dusk and a light late summer rain sprinkled the garden. Apart from the three palm trees at the end of the driveway, it was a familiar sight.
“That’s where I grew up,” I whispered. I could practically smell the pink tea roses and the warm, wet earth. “Wow, my dad looks so young… But I don’t remember the palm trees.”
Within the vision, there was a crack of thunder and the image flickered. Storm clouds gathered above the house and rain began to fall in sheets. A flash of lightning ripped across the sky, severing the palms in a single electric jolt. Their spiky fronds littered the lawn as the tops of the palms came down. One blocked the driveway while another fell dangerously close to the porch.
“Michael?” A beautiful woman appeared at the front door, long wavy hair spilling over her shoulders, one hand on her very pregnant belly. Her skin was pearlescent, glowing like Calliope’s, and a wisp of unruly violet hair peeked out from her neck. She had the same long nose as me, with expressive eyebrows framing honey-colored eyes.
“Her eyes are the same color as Troy’s and Grandma Cleo’s,” I gasped.
“And yours.” Mercury winked. “Golden eyes are a dominant trait of your family.”
But I wasn’t listening, captivated by the woman in the vision. I reached my hand into the gold dust.
“Is that my...” I choked on the word, crippled by a wave of ache and emotion I hadn’t expected, “…mother?”
The gold dust swirled around my fingers like the light from a movie projector and the vision continued, but I was gob smacked. Until now, when I thought of my family I’d only ever included Dad and Troy, Grandma Cleo and Grandpa Jack, and Dad’s long list of siblings and cousins; my mother wasn’t on the list. She’d been a scepter, a ghost in my history. Now, watching the vision, I felt a deeper pang of loss than I’d never known.
The gold dust rippled. Holding tightly to her belly, my mother steadied herself in the doorframe and called out, “Michael, watch out!”
My dad looked up as the last palm tree snapped. He raced up the front steps and reached my mother. Together, they watched the palm topple down, crushing the front end of the car.
“What the–?” My dad removed his glasses absent-mindedly and rubbed them on his wet shirt.
My mother braced herself on the porch railing and surveyed at the sky, nodding as though she had expected the bad weather. The avocado tree shook violently, its dark green leaves scraping the front windows. Wind whistled through the yard, bringing with it a gale of sticks, leaves and debris.
“It never rains in September,” my dad sputtered.
My mother jumped as he spoke, as though she’d forgotten he was even there. Calmly, she cradled one arm around her belly and then touched his cheek and smiled. “I don’t think we’ll make it to the hospital.”
My dad grimaced at the rain storm and thunderclouds. Under his breath, he repeated, “It never rains in September.”
Panic and fear shook through me and I turned to Mercury. “September?” I whispered, lips quivering.
I should have known what was coming. It had to be September 15, the night I was born.
The night my mother died.
“Mercury, I can’t watch this.” I bit my lip, tears filling my eyes. “Please…”
The messenger’s eyes softened. “Eden, it is my duty to bring this message to you. Although it is painful, your history is significant.”
I looked out the bus window at the wispy clouds and patchwork of the Italian fields below. I wanted to stop watching this vision, wanted to go back to the stories I’d been told and to believing I had a normal life again.
But this wasn’t just about me. My brother was out there, somewhere, waiting for me to figure this out. If I was going to help him, I had to understand why my life had become so complicated. Before I could ask any more questions, I had to know who I was.
Heart pounding, I turned back to the vision, clutching my hands together so hard my knuckles turned white.
“There’s gotta be a way down the hill.” My dad grimaced. “Lemme go see if the Thompsons’ driveway is clear. We could borrow their car.”
Before my mother could protest, he braced himself for the rain and ran for the front gate. He clambered over the downed palm tree and disappeared.
Lightning crackled between the storm clouds and another curtain of rain pummeled the yard.
“Mama?” my mother called into the house.
A set of footsteps rushed down the stairs.
“I’m here, Serena.” With her leather rucksack crossed over her body like a shield, Grandma Cleo swept across the porch and embraced my mother. It was strange to see her younger, without glasses strung around her neck. She had long, dark brown hair casually flecked with silver strands and set off by her vibrant violet strands at the back. I could see the outline of the Scroll within her bag.
Her golden eyes studied my mother’s face. “Is it time?”
“Soon,” my mother said. “Is Troy asleep?”
My grandmother squinted at the thunderclouds and nodded. “I’m not sure how, in this ruckus, but I told him his baby sister would be here soon and he fell right to sleep.”
Patting her belly, my mother smiled. “I’m happy they’ll have each other.”
“Are you sure about this?” Grandma Cleo furrowed her eyebrows. “I will do what you ask if you feel it is the only thing…”
“I’ve seen her destiny.” My mother wrapped her arms tightly around her pregnant body as she surveyed the storm. “And now it’s the only thing I’m sure about.”
I turned to Mercury. “Is that what Grandma Cleo meant when she said my mother was a Seer? She could see my destiny?”
He gave a slight nod. “Seers are born with a natural gift for seeing what the rest of us cannot, both in the past, the present and the future—”
Another lightning bolt split the sky in four jagged quadrants, followed by a roar of thunder. We turned back to the vision. My father climbed back over the palm tree and sloshed through the widening puddles toward the porch.
“Man, oh man,” he said, shaking his wet hair, glasses fogged. “If you think this is a mess, it’s nothing compared to the Thompsons’ yard. And if it’s this bad here, it’s gonna be worse for the boys at the station. No way they’ll get a fire truck up our hill in this storm.”
Standing behind my mother, Grandma Cleo twitched and a tiny wisp of gold dust escaped from her forehead. She inhaled and the gold dust swirled in the air. As she exhaled, it danced toward my father.
“The gold dust… that happened to me in Pozzuoli...” I tilted my head toward Mercury. “What is that? Is it some kind of spell?”
“Oh no, those are very special vessels of inspiration,” he said. “The Muses call them Whims.”
“Where do they come from?”
Mercury shrugged. “From the mysterious place where all truth is derived.”
I didn’t know what he meant, but I didn’t have time to ask. In the vision, the Whim had surrounded my father with a shimmering mist of gold dust. He looked like he was about to sneeze and then stopped, eyes wide. With a burst of energy, he reached for my mother’s hand.
“Serena, I know this isn’t ideal,” he said, “but I’ve delivered plenty of babies. I promise little Eden will be just fine.”
My mother squeezed his hand. “I know she will.”
“Then let’s go have this baby!” He clapped his hands together. “Cleo, I’ll gather some towels and blankets. Will you help Serena inside?”
Grandma Cleo put her arms around my mother as he ran into the house. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she led my mother into the living room, her shoulders shaking.
“Mama, don’t cry,” my mother said as she settled onto the couch. “You have to do this for me. For Eden. Promise me.”
I felt a pang of panic. “What did my grandmother promise, Mercury? What did my mother ask her to do? Mercury?”
The Messenger’s golden eyes didn’t waver. “You must watch.”
Reluctantly, I turned back to the vision, holding my hands over my mouth to keep from sobbing.
“You have been my world, Serena,” my grandmother cried.
“I know,” my mother said, “but my role is set and Eden needs you now.”
My grandmother gently pulled away. She smoothed the violet hair away from my mother’s neck, kissed her forehead and nodded.
Outside, the sky crackled with lightning and my mother gasped, hugging her arms to her belly. “It’s time to go, Mama,” she moaned. “They’re coming.”
I didn’t want to see what was next. I wanted to stop the vision and curl up next to my mother on the couch. I wanted time to stand still. Prickles of fear dotted my arms. “Who’s coming?”
“I know this is painful, Eden, but you must watch,” Mercury said. “Remember, this is only a vision of the past. It cannot hurt you now.”
I chewed on my lip and watched Grandma Cleo rise to her feet. My father charged into the room, his arms laden with towels. Grinning with excitement, he said, “Cleo, could you close the front door? I don’t want my daughter’s first sounds to be a storm.”
My grandmother pursed her lips together and nodded, hand on the leather bag around her body. I could tell she didn’t want to leave the room, but the weight of her promise to my mother was heavy on her shoulders. Reluctantly, she trudged toward the door. With one final glance toward my parents, Grandma Cleo paused and closed her eyes. A faint glow of gold dust floated away from her forehead and enveloped my mother.
“I love you, too,” my mother whispered.
A half second later, another contraction gripped her body and she squeezed my father’s hand. She screamed out in agony, her face screwed up in pain. Once more she opened her eyes and called to my grandmother, “You’ve got to hurry!”
My grandmother rushed out of the room toward the front door. As she stepped over the threshold, lightning charged into the entryway, shaking the walls and windows. Grandma Cleo gripped her hands around the doorframe as the porch swing creaked in the wind.
Lightning bolted across the sky in every direction as she shut the door and stepped off the porch into the driving rain. Grandma Cleo tucked the leather bag under her arm and made her way to the center of the yard. Another Whim appeared at her forehead, this one more dazzling than the others, and it enveloped her body like a golden bubble. Grandma Cleo inhaled and exhaled deeply, and the Whim swept away from her and into the sky, a mist of light soaring upward, impenetrable to rain clouds and lightning.
With a final snap of thunder, the storm stopped as though freeze-framed. The rain was now a web of plump teardrops suspended ominously in mid-air. Our citrus trees and rose bushes lay sideways as though the wind was still pressing upon them, their fruit and flowers grazing the drenched ground.
Grandma Cleo dropped to her knees and bowed into the marshy earth, arms extended before her.
Above her, the lightning clouds rippled with the sound of a crackling fire and fractured. A sudden flash illuminated the yard and two figures appeared in the center. Immediately, I recognized Apollo. He moved with careful steps around my grandmother’s kneeling body, his eyes lingering on the violet hair by her neck.
Behind him, a hulking man with stern gray eyes and incandescent skin surveyed the yard. He appeared to be about the same age as Mercury and Apollo, and, like them, I couldn’t compare his appearance to anyone or anything I’d seen before. Still, there was something different about him, something they just didn’t have. Not only was he the epitome of Roman perfection, with chiseled features and an amazing physical body, but he was a study in harmonious opposites. He seemed both rugged and polished at the same time, wise beyond words but eternally young, a man who could woo women and kill enemies in the same breath.
As he crossed his chest with massive, muscled arms, I sensed something else about him, too… an ancient feeling of burden and responsibility. Even in this form, as a long-ago vision made of gold dust, he gave off a powerful feeling of authority.
I knew exactly who it was: Jupiter, ruler of the Gods.
Mercury gave me a slight nod as Jupiter began to speak.
“Muse Cleo,” he boomed, “your Whim comes at an inopportune time. In a few moments, Apollo and I will receive the King of the Underworld. When the child is born, we will witness the transference of her soul from Olympus to the Underworld, fulfilling our obligation under the Treaty of the Sibyl. I trust the Scroll is ready?”
“Almighty Jupiter… Great Apollo…” Grandma Cleo rose to a kneeling position. She held tightly to the leather bag around her body, her fingers clutched around the Scroll. “It is our family’s honor to fill this role for Olympus…”
Lightning flashed in Jupiter’s gray eyes. “And yet your Whim described a concern about new information within the Scroll?” Jupiter asked, his voice charged with electricity.
Inside the house, my mother let out a terrible cry, and Grandma Cleo followed the sound with tears in her eyes. The earth rumbled deep underground, shaking the house and the trees.
“It must be quick, Muse Cleo,” Apollo said. “Pluto and his creatures are on their way to collect the soul.”
My grandmother blinked, tears in her eyes, and untied her rucksack. The Scroll escaped from the bag and unfurled itself between two golden rods. Grandma Cleo spoke, her words shaky in the presence of the Gods. “In my tenure as the Record Keeper, I have never seen one’s destiny recorded until the moment of birth. And yet, as Serena began to feel contractions, I received this Whim.”
The Scroll whirred to a stop. Grandma Cleo waved her hand over a gold-lettered passage and the words rose above the parchment, each letter glowing brightly in the air.
The words resembled the squiggles and lines on the gypsy’s leaf, and when they came into clear focus, I knew what they said, as though they’d been written in my DNA.
My grandmother took a deep breath and read each line carefully.
“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 determine the fate of Olympus.”
“There’s no way,” I whispered to Mercury. “This is a mistake.”
He didn’t say anything but motioned for me to keep watching.
“This child shall use what the Underworld seeks… and determine the fate of Olympus,” Jupiter read in the vision, his voice lowered to a sonorous growl, jaw set, thunder clouds shuffling across his gray eyes. “The Oracles.”
I turned to Mercury. “The Oracles?”
With a heavy sigh, he said, “Yes. They are a set of books rumored to offer solutions and preparations for disasters and wars in the mortal world. They have been lost for centuries, if they still exist.”
I grimaced. “I don’t understand—”
Mercury nodded again to the vision. It was irritating, not knowing what was happening or why, but I forced myself to watch.
Apollo gritted his teeth, fists at his sides. “I should have destroyed them when I had the opportunity.”
“And yet, you did not.” Jupiter fixed his gray eyes on his son and Apollo frowned.
Wringing her hands, my grandmother said, “There is no doubt this is Eden’s destiny, my Gods, for it came as a Whim and is written in the Scroll. However, it makes no sense. My daughter Serena is a gifted Seer, but her father and husband are both mortals. Genetically, this child should be more mortal than Muse—”
A tremor rocked the yard, knocking Grandma Cleo off balance.
Jupiter glanced at the rippling puddles. “Pluto is near.” He turned to my grandmother. “Muse Cleo, what are the terms of the treaty?”
She waved her hand. The gold words of my destiny dissipated and the parchment of the Scroll spun faster between the rods. A new passage rose from the page. “The Treaty of the Sibyl stipulates that this child’s soul shall be given to Pluto at birth. And then, in 15 years, when the dread Sibyl is ready to die, Pluto will finally claim her soul, thereby adding an extra soul to his kingdom, as promised by Mount Olympus.”
“As promised by me,” Jupiter fumed.
Apollo tucked his chin to his chest humbly. “Yes, and a war of the worlds will be averted.”
The gypsy’s words swirled in my head. The war of the worlds begins with one Muse…
Jupiter scowled. “Apollo, if the child finds the Oracles for my brother Pluto, there will be no need for a war of the worlds.” He paced the yard, each step as heavy and determined as his words. “If Pluto controls the Oracles, the balance of power will tilt toward the Underworld and he will control all three realms.”
Apollo shook his head. “We cannot release the child’s soul to him.”
“But if we do not honor the treaty and give Pluto a soul from Olympus, the Underworld may revolt,” Jupiter said. “I cannot imagine my brother forgiving this debt.”
My grandmother waved her hands and the gold dust of her calming spell settled over all three of them. She bowed her head to her hands. “With respect, my Gods, Serena wishes to go to the Underworld.” Tears slid down her face. “In Eden’s place.”
A white-hot wave of nausea gripped me and I held tightly to the railing. The air left my lungs and I struggled to make sense of what my grandmother had said. It couldn’t be true… she couldn’t have sacrificed my mother in order to “save” me…
Jupiter held his chin in his hand, considering my grandmother’s proposition. Apollo opened his mouth to protest, but his words were cut short by the rumbling of the earth below their feet. In the center of the yard, the mud puddle swirled furiously, gathering speed like a whirlpool. A hole emerged in the center and the inky water spun into a vortex of darkness, the void growing wider every second.
With a terrifying shriek, smoke filled the yard. My grandmother stuffed the Scroll into her bag and fell to her knees, a look of terror on her face as the murky earth around the black hole burst into a tower of flames. She bowed deeply into the mud, body shuddering with fear.
I knew that black hole from the amphitheater.
A raspy, disembodied voice crackled within the fire. “The time has come. You will hand the child to us at the moment of birth,” it commanded in a ferocious, breathless whisper, “or we will take her from you.”
Jupiter rose to his full height, standing as tall as the pillar of fire. “Brother, it has been so long… perhaps we could greet each other in corpulent form.”
The fire sparked higher. As the flames began to recede, the image of a man appeared within the fiery column. With a hoarse growl, he emerged as a skeletal shadow covered with smoky flesh. In the flickering darkness of the fire’s embers, Pluto hovered over the black pit. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see he was as tall and uncommonly handsome as his brother Jupiter, but he was far leaner, with a hunger in his soulless black eyes. He wore a suit tailored around his bone-thin body and his hair hung like thick slabs of silver and obsidian over his shoulders.
The King of the Underworld stepped away from the dying fire, tamping the grass as he admired the yard. When he turned to Jupiter, the smoky flesh of his face swirled and separated in the fire’s dying light, revealing the pitted bones of a dead man.
I reeled in disgust.
Pluto’s human form was simply a skeleton wearing the illusion of a man over his bones like a spectral overcoat.
“Brother, it has been a long while.” Jupiter extended a muscled arm. “I look forward to laying our treaty to rest.”
“As do I,” Pluto said, his hoarse whisper as piercing as a scream. “The uneven balance of souls has caused great suffering in the Underworld.”
“There is always great suffering in the Second Realm, Uncle.” Apollo glared at the King of the Underworld.
“You forget I do not live in the light, like other Olympians!” Pluto shrieked. “While you feast with Bacchus, shirking your duties, I toil in the darkness. While you concern yourselves only with the immortal First Realm, I must provide shelter to all who cross the threshold of Life and enter Death. My only joy is the influx of souls, and when one is withheld, it is like a knife in my side!”
The skeleton king lifted a wraith-like arm and pointed accusingly at Apollo. “Were it not for your greed, Sun God,” he sneered, “I would not be here, collecting a mortal child in exchange for the brilliant youth of the Sibyl, whose thousand-year-old shell will hardly be of use to me when she dies. Instead, your arrogance has cost me the Oracles…” His terrifying black eyes flashed in the skeletal void behind his ghostly flesh. “For now.”
Inside the house, my mother screamed in pain. In a low, steady voice, my father consoled her. “Just a few more minutes, sweetheart… Keep breathing…”
The King of the Underworld closed his eyelids and inhaled deeply. “Oh, but the fragrance of a new soul is so intoxicating… Not yet fetid with the suffering of the world…”
He drifted toward the sound of my mother laboring in the house, stopping abruptly over my grandmother’s kneeling body.
“Record Keeper?” Pluto’s frightening voice appeared as wisps of smoke.
My grandmother nodded, her body shaking.
Smoke curled away from the black void of Pluto’s mouth. “Tell me, Muse, keeper of the great Scroll of Olympus… Where are the Oracles?” Pluto gestured to the leather rucksack.
Pluto swiped at the air with his bony fingers and the Scroll emerged from the bag. Desperation flashed on my grandmother’s face, but she seemed paralyzed, stricken with fear. “It must be within these hallowed pages, Record Keeper…you must know that…”
Jupiter cast a bolt of lightning at his brother. A shock of electricity ripped through Pluto’s transparent body and his brittle bones seized up. His suit and vaporous flesh disappeared. Without them, the King of the Underworld was a wretched skeleton.
Jupiter took the Scroll in both hands. “Enough, Brother. You have told me yourself, the Oracles are a figment of fantasy, gypsy lore, a simple metaphor for finding true power within each realm.” He turned to the Sun God. “Imagine, Apollo, your place as the God of Prophecy replaced by three books of future events foretold by a mortal prophetess, alongside instructions for mortals to save themselves from destruction and ruin! It is preposterous!” The God of Gods let out a long, low laugh and narrowed his eyes at Pluto. “Only a fool would search for them.”
The skeleton king grinned and his transparent clothing reappeared over his bones. “Then we are two old fools, aren’t we, Brother?” With an eerie, breathless howl, Pluto drifted away from my grandmother’s quivering body.
Jupiter shook his head angrily. “To possess the Oracles, if they existed, would mean absolute power. Brother, have you forgotten the lessons of the Titans?”
With a careless shrug, the King of the Underworld circled the ruler of the Gods. “It seems one of us has a better vantage point from which to view those lessons.”
Inside, my mother moaned again.
“She’s here!” my father shouted. “Serena, open your eyes. Oh, she’s so beautiful! She looks just like you!”
“Finally, the child…” Pluto moved toward the door.
A moment of contemplation passed through Apollo’s honey-colored eyes and he again glanced at my grandmother’s violet hair.
“Uncle!” Apollo shouted. “If you are troubled by the balance of power between our realms, I have a solution.”
“I have grown tired of your negotiations, Sun God,” Pluto wheezed, drifting away from the Gods.
Apollo leapt to the edge of the porch, blocking the King of the Underworld from my house. “There is, perhaps, a better soul for you…”
Pluto studied the Sun God, his black eyes impatient and greedy. “What’s this, Nephew? A better soul?”
Narrowing his gray eyes, Jupiter clenched his fists, fireballs visible between his fingers as he watched Apollo and Pluto.
“Yes, Uncle,” Apollo said. His voice caught slightly as he met my grandmother’s sad eyes and looked away. “The mortal child’s mother, Serena – the Record Keeper’s daughter – is a gifted Seer. Her powers are said to be as strong as the Sibyl herself.”
My knees went weak. I couldn’t believe the Gods were negotiating over which of us to kill, me or my mother.
“Are you implying that Olympus would sacrifice a Muse for a mortal?” The smoke returned to Pluto’s bones and he again appeared as a man. His lips curled into a ghastly smile and he turned to Grandma Cleo. “Is this true, Record Keeper? Is your daughter a Seer as gifted as the Sibyl?”
The King of the Underworld leaned his ghoulish face close to hers and she shivered like a trapped mouse. In a sinister whisper, he demanded, “Is this written in your Scroll?”
Tears streamed down Grandma Cleo’s face and she nodded.
Pluto stood back and tapped his skeleton fingers together. “A young mortal soul is hardly a proper substitute for the Sibyl, but a Muse… a Seer…” Pluto’s black eyes flickered with greed. “That would be very useful…”
Pluto clapped the bones of his hands together and moved toward the black void in the center of the yard. Flames licked at the edges of the hole and the tower of fire emerged from the earth, rising high into the sky.
“Keep your mortal child,” Pluto shrieked. “I will take the Muse’s soul instead.” Laughing, he dove into the fire and disappeared.
As he did, a wisp of light appeared at the front door and burst through the wood. It was much larger than the Whims and it glittered like diamonds.
The light drifted into the yard and circled my grandmother’s body. In it, I saw my mother as a glowing being, every age of her life in a single incandescent apparition. There were a thousand versions of my mother hidden within the soft light, each one reliving a moment of her mortal lifetime: a girl with skinned knees on roller skates, a Homecoming princess, a doe-eyed woman in a wedding veil, a mother laboring in childbirth…
A baby cried softly in the house. “We did it, Serena… I knew we could… Serena?”
My mother’s soul floated back toward the house, each version of herself scrambling to peek through the window.
The earth shook and a wild rumble thundered from the ground. Flames licked at the hole in the center of the yard and the ground pulsed insistently.
“Serena… Serena?” My father’s voice tightened. “Help, Cleo! Something’s wrong! Where are you? Cleo?”
A shadow formed at the edges of the black hole. Like black spiders, an army of dark hoods scampered out of the earth and charged toward my mother.
I knew them. They were the creatures who took my brother.
“No!” my grandmother and I bellowed at the same time.
A faceless figure cloaked in a blood-red robe rose from the fire, carrying a small box. Its unearthly voice, filled with desolation and despair, emerged from the endless folds of the cloak.
“Pluto is honored to have a Muse in the Underworld,” the creature droned. With a swift click, the lid of the box sprang open.
The black robed creatures set about shepherding all the versions of my mother toward the fire, swooping in and out of the dark corners of the yard until they had consolidated into one bright ball of light. Next, the golden light of my mother’s soul began to flutter toward the box as though being sucked in by a vacuum.
Grandma Cleo ran toward the light and held out her arms. “Serena!”
“Muse Cleo, you must let her go,” Jupiter said in a soft but firm voice. “This is the final negotiation we will make with Pluto.”
My grandmother collapsed onto the wet earth. Apollo lifted her limp body into his arms, away from the gruesome parade of creatures.
I stood and waved my hands into the vision, blindly swatting at the translucent creatures. The gold dust parted like a shadow but it didn’t stop. The vision seemed to accelerate as the creatures scurried around my mother’s soul.
“Can’t you stop it?” I cried to Mercury. “Let me die! Let my mother live!”
“Eden, this is merely a vision,” he said. “You cannot bring back the dead, no matter how deeply you wish it.”
I braced myself against the railing and whimpered as my mother’s light drifted toward the box, gaining speed as it traveled over the earth. The creatures in the dark hoods scurried behind it, forcing the light toward Pluto’s courier. As the shimmering gold light of my mother’s soul vanished into the box, the red-cloaked figure let out a frightening howl.
The creatures scampered into the hole. The flames erupted once more, sizzling the earth. When the fire died down a few seconds later, the creatures and the hole were gone.
And so was my mother.
Inside the house, my infant self cried softly as my father choked on his sobs, unable to call out for my grandmother again.
“And so it is done.” With a sad wave of his hand, Jupiter returned the glowing Scroll to my grandmother’s rucksack and the Gods disappeared in a flash of light.