The awkwardly silent car ride took all of twenty minutes but they were the longest of my life and I was ecstatic when it was over. I wasn’t looking forward to my first training session with Michael but it had to at least beat the anticipation I’d nearly been crushed by in the car.
I climbed out and pulled my giant Ray Bans from my eyes. In front of me was a row of pretty pricy townhouses. Most of them had their own personal touches decorating the exteriors but the one on the end looked almost unlived in. The boring house was the one that Michael led me up to.
“Do you live here?” I asked in astonishment.
He laughed a little. “Of course. What did you expect?”
I blushed and looked down toward my shoes. “Um, not this,” I replied honestly. I didn’t really know what to expect with everything that had been happening but a simple town house definitely wasn’t what I would have picture Michael living in.
The inside was just as plain as the outside. The furniture was simple like what an interior decorator would use in a model home and there were no pictures on the walls or the bookshelves. The living room was freakishly clean with nothing out of place. I studied the books neatly stacked on the shelves- the only things that it seemed Michael himself had added to make the town house more homely.
“So what do you think?”
“It’s, um, quaint,” I answered for lack of anything more suitable to describe the townhouse.
He shot me a half smile. “No, I mean what do you think about that book in your hand?”
I glanced down at the thick leather-bound book that I hadn’t even noticed I’d stolen from the shelf. The front of the brown cover had golden hieroglyphs sewn into the leather and the book was bound by thick thread made from some sort of animal hair. It didn’t really seem like much but even I could tell how much history was contained in the single book. Hesitantly, I opened to the first page.
I blinked in shock. “It’s blank.”
Michael came up to me and laid his hands over mine. I felt the heat rise up into my face but I tried to ignore it as he started muttering in some ancient language that I couldn’t quite decipher. “There, that should be better.”
I ripped my gaze from his and glanced down at the books. Black calligraphy wove across the page in an elegant text until words were finished and I could read them:
It is not fair! Mother treats me like a child while Vega gets to do whatever she wants! I want my own creature if my sister gets the Titans but mother will not let me. She has even assigned me a guard. I want to learn how to fight for myself and not have to depend on the new warrior, Michael. He seems to be an acceptable soldier but nonetheless, I can manage myself.
My eyes widened and I immediately closed the book. “Is this…?”
“Even in your first life you were a writer. Not many citizens of the City kept journals and none were ever as descriptive as yours.”
“So why do you have it?” I really hoped that I hadn’t written anything that would incriminate me in this life- like how in love Lyra was with him.
His stormy grey eyes turned sad as he reached for the heavy book in my hands. He turned to one of the yellowing pages about halfway through. “Maybe this will help you understand.”
I will not stand by and let my mother or Vega destroy my humans. I know that everyone in the City believes me to be a foolish little girl but I now know why I created the humans. They are everything that I wish to be and no one is going to stop me.
They will try, though. All of them have their own selfish reasons for me to stay in the City. Except Michael. Michael truly cares for me and I cannot imagine leaving him behind. If he finds me, I do not know if I will be able to go through with becoming human.
But I have to. I cannot let him find me.
There was a big, fat water mark on the wrinkled paper and I knew that she’d been crying when she wrote this. The next page was riddled with even more water drops so it was hard to make out the words. Somehow I managed to read what she’d written in her graceful cursive.
My dearest Michael:
You finding this means that I am gone but please understand that I am so sorry. I could not stay a daughter of the Goddess any longer. I know that you did not want me to run but I had to. You will make a fine warrior, my guardian angel. Without me, you will not merely be the Princess’s bodyguard. Please, for me, become the army general like you always planned. We may meet again someday but for now I must do this.
All my love, Lyra
“Oh,” I muttered helplessly. “So she didn’t- I mean, I didn’t- even say goodbye?”
“Not willingly,” he answered vaguely.
I sniffled and wiped at my watery eyes. I couldn’t help crying even if I did look totally stupid. I really didn’t like that some part of me had been so careless to leave her best friend a simple note saying that she was leaving him. “Why are you showing me this?”
“Because in order to harness the power that it is going to take to defeat Vega you need to know where it all began. You need to know about your original life as a goddess and all the lives in between.”
“I don’t know if I can,” I admitted in a nearly silent whisper.
His warm fingertips gently pushed my chin up so that I was forced to look at him. I could read the trust and confidence in his face and it made my stomach knot up. How could I just leave someone who had so much faith in me like that? “Lyra, I know that you can. I was able to teach you to harness your powers in the first life and I can teach you again. You will make a fine warrior yourself, Princess.”
I carefully pulled away from him. Had he intentionally quoted what had been written in the letter or was it a coincidence? I couldn’t believe that after so many centuries he’d have been able to remember that. I was so overanalyzing this but I couldn’t help it. Michael had really liked the original me and I didn’t know what that meant for my present self.
Michael reached out and took the book from me, pulling me from the crazy web of thoughts that I was caught in. He flipped back until he was about a quarter way into the book. I glanced over his shoulder and saw that the careful script that Lyra had written was replaced by a sloppier scrawl with doodles showing the fighting techniques that were being described.
“This,” he said as he pointed to one of the pictures of a sword fighter, “is where we are going to have to start.”
I arched one perfect brow at him. “Are you serious? Do I seriously look like the kind of girl that can lift a sword?”
He rolled his eyes at me. “That is why I will teach you. It will be easier in the back yard.”
He started walking through the kitchen and out the back sliding door and I reluctantly followed. The fenced-in backyard was probably the most spectacular aspect of the house. The grass was lusciously green and thick with gorgeous, professional landscaping. I was admiring the flowers and perfectly placed boulders when Michael whacked me on the butt with a bamboo stick.
“Ow! What the hell?” I yelled, jumping a foot in the air.
“I was trying to get your attention,” he said innocently.
I scowled. “And you didn’t think of clearing your throat or something?” I bit back.
He ignored me and tossed me a four-foot bamboo pole like his. I blinked once and my brows scrunched up in confusion. “I thought that we were sword fighting?”
“Have you ever even held a sword in this lifetime?”
“Then for now we will use these. We cannot risk you getting hurt, now can we, Princess?”
I aimed the stick toward his head but he easily blocked it. “Don’t call me that,” I snapped.
Michael smirked down at me. “One thing about you that never changes is that you do not like to be privileged. You want to be able to do everything on your own, Lyra. I believe that is how we are going to tap into your immortality.”
“Bring it on,” I challenged smugly.
Everything hurt like hell after my first ever training session with Michael. He’d spent well over two-and-a-half hours showing me how to use my stick as a defensive weapon but I wasn’t very good at it and he wasn’t really inclined to show me any mercy. I had huge welts and bruises from the millions of spots he hit me and my arms were sore from holding my bamboo sword up all afternoon.
I limped up my stairs when I got home and went straight into the bathroom. I filled the tub and plugged my iPod into my speakers and let it play on shuffle. Getting undressed was the hard part. I could barely life my arms to peal my T-shirt off and my muscles shook as I lowered myself into the tub. When I was finally submerged in the warm, bubbly water I exhaled in relief and let myself start to relax.
Of course, my moment of piece only lasted for the two seconds it took for my phone to start blaring Linkin Park. I groaned and felt around on the table next to the bathtub where I kept my phone and speakers. “Hello?”
“Hey, I’ve been calling you all day. Where have you been, Lyra-Rose?” my sister demanded from the other end of the line.
“I was out,” I answered elusively.
“Well Ethan and I are down the block. Please tell me that you didn’t forget about babysitting tonight.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and scrunched my nose. Crap. “No, of course not.”
“Lyra!” Max hissed. Of course she knew I was lying even over the phone. “It’s my anniversary and you promised two weeks ago that you’d watch Mackenzie.”
“I will,” I said defensively. “I’m at home so you can just come drop her off whenever you want. I didn’t forget, Maxine.”
“Good, because we just pulled up in front of your place.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear and saw that it was already five. I hadn’t realized that I’d been over at Michael’s so long. I forced myself out of the tub and wrapped a fluffy blue robe around my soapy body. A moment later, the doorbell rang.
“Well isn’t this just freaking perfect?” I muttered to myself as I dashed down the hallway to my bedroom. “Come in,” I shouted when I reached the safety of my room.
“Lyra!” Max called from the front door.
“Yeah!” I yelled back. “I’m upstairs getting dressed.”
I heard footsteps on the stairs as I was pulling some comfy sweats and an oversized shirt from my dressers. The door opened and my big sister caught me in the rush of trying to get ready. She leaned against the closed door with her arms crossed over her full chest. “So where were you really earlier?”
My cheeks heated up immediately. “I was busy, Max.”
“Busy how?” she persisted.
I rolled my light eyes. “I was with friends. You can ask Randall.”
“I already did,” she stated smugly. “He had absolutely no idea where you were although he said he might have a guess but he wouldn’t tell me. So who were you with that Randall would know but wouldn’t want to fill me in? Was it that hottie that went to your office a few weeks ago? The one that we’ve been talking about but you won’t introduce me to?”
How the hell did she remember about that? “Maybe,” I answered before I turned my back on her so I could wiggle into my pants.
“It totally is,” she shrieked. “You’re blushing. You have the biggest crush on this guy.”
That comment made my cheeks really turn red. “Don’t you have an anniversary dinner to go to?” I asked just to change the subject.
She saw through me easily. “Yes, Lyra-Rose, but we are so not done talking about this.”
She stared down the stairs and I followed as she began leaving instructions on Mackenzie as if it was my first time babysitting my niece. “Make sure that Mac eats dinner and only a little bit of sugar if you’re having desert. She can watch TV but absolutely nothing too violent or scary or with cussing. I want her in bed by nine at the latest, Lyra. Ethan and I should be back around midnight. Can you keep her until then?”
I was practically pushing her out the door by that point. “Yes, Max. I’ve watched her for you before, remember? Mac will be fine. I swear.”
She frowned and took one last look at her daughter, who was seated on the footrest in front of the TV watching Disney. “Well, okay. Call me if you need anything.”
I shut the door on her before she could start freaking out again and went to sit on the couch with Mac. I pulled out my laptop and started checking emails for lack of anything better to do while the three-year-old was distracted by colorful cartoons. I scrolled through the inbox deleting most of it as junk mail but paused with my cursor hovering over something from Facebook. VG has added a photo of you on Facebook! the message said.
I frowned and a huge worry wrinkle appeared between my brows. I definitely didn’t know anyone on Facebook that went by ‘VG’. I clicked on the link and my breath caught in my throat as the picture slowly appeared. It couldn’t have been older than five minutes but someone had already uploaded a picture of me closing the door on Max as she left for her dinner.
I whipped out my phone from my pocket and dialed Randall’s number with shaky fingers. I chewed on my nails- a nasty habit that I thought I’d gotten rid of- as I waited for him to answer. It only took about four rings but it felt like forever.
“Hey, Ly. What’s up?”
“Can you come over? I’m watching Mac and I really need your help,” I whispered frantically into the phone.
His tone turned serious in an instant. “I’ll be there in just a few minutes. If you need someone now then you need to call Michael and he can be there in a flash.”
I shook my head even though I knew he couldn’t see the movement. “No, it’s fine. But please hurry. I don’t like Mac being alone with just me.”
“Cassi and I are on our way now. Just hold tight for a little bit longer.”
Randall didn’t live far but the ten minutes of waiting for him were tense. I paced the living room and jumped at every little sound. Mac didn’t seem to notice that anything was wrong but I was keeping a seriously sharp eye on her.
I let out a little squeak when the doorbell rang. I doubled checked through the peephole that it was Randall before unlocking the knob and deadbolt to let them in.
“Jeeze, Lyra, since when do you lock your door?” my best friend teased.
“Since tonight,” I answered more honestly than he expected.
Cassiopeia laid a comforting hand on my arm. “It is okay, Lyra. We are here now. What seems to be the problem?”
It was at that point that Mac decided to pull away from the TV. “Uncle Wandall!” she called catapulting herself into his awaiting arms. “I-I watching cawtoons! Will you play wif me?”
Randall let out a laugh. “Sure, kiddo, I’ll play with you. I just have to talk to Auntie Lyra for a little bit. Is that alright?”
She nodded her head vigorously before wiggling free of Randall’s embrace and plopping back on the couch. Cassi shot him an adoring smile which he actually didn’t even seem to notice. I let them have their little touching moment before calling attention back to my crisis.
“So what’s up, Ly?” I pointed to the Facebook page and the creepy picture. Randall didn’t seem fazed. “Yeah? So?”
My eyes narrowed dangerously at him. “This was taken tonight when Mac was dropped off. Do you know anyone named ‘VG’ that would be stalking me like that? I sure as hell didn’t know that anyone was out there taking pictures when my sister left,” I hissed so that Mac couldn’t hear.
Cassi was the first to understand what I was trying to say. “Do you think that Vega was the one that- um, what’s the word?- posted this?”
“Yes. She knows where I’ll be like all the time so I guess I’m not surprised that she’s watching my house. She’s targeting my family and she wants me to know it. I’m sorry I’m freaking out, I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“You have to tell Michael,” Randall said acting as the voice of reason. “He’ll want to know about what she’s up to now.”
I shook my head before he was even finished speaking. “No. I don’t want him to know. Michael will just get angry at her and I don’t want to risk that he’ll do something to personally piss off Vega. Keep this between us like we did the thing with the crow, ’kay?”
Randall rolled his baby blues. “Yeah, that worked out so well, right?”
I socked him in the arm and pushed him toward the couch so that he could keep Mackenzie company. The sun wasn’t even completely set and I already knew that I was in for a long night.