“Shit, that hurt!” I snapped as Michael hit me in the head with his bamboo stick. “Is this what you did to the original Lyra or is it just me because I have none of her powers to beat you back with?”
“Focus, Lyra. You are not concentrating.”
I glared hard at him. “Like hell I’m not concentrating. I’m trying, Michael.” My second day of training was going even worse than my first. Everything was even sorer and I’d had trouble getting out of bed that morning and getting ready for work. Not to mention I was probably in a heap of trouble for sleeping on the job.
“No, you are not. You are thinking about the pain, not about how to block it. It is only going to get worse if you do not put your mind into it.”
“Cut with the Yoda crap, okay? Instead of criticizing why don’t you let me try to hit you and you can show me what I’m doing wrong?”
“Fine,” he answered easily. It was weird. No matter how bitchy I got he never lost his patience and he kept his temper even.
“Fine,” I snapped back.
I took my stance and instead of blocking I had my opportunity to get my revenge against him. I swung the stick like a baseball bat at his crotch but he moved at the absolute last second.
“Hey,” I protested. If it wasn’t obvious, I’d really been looking forward to hitting him. “You said that I could hit you so you can show me what I was doing wrong!”
“First of all,” he explained smugly, “I said that you may try to hit me. Secondly, I was demonstrating what you have been doing wrong.”
Talk about a loop hole. Like seriously, he could totally be a lawyer. I frowned. “And what exactly was it that I was supposed to see from that little demonstration?”
“You were supposed to see, Lyra-Rose, that it does not take much force to avert disaster. You have been overthinking all of this and you have been trying to put too much strength into your blocks.”
I huffed and crossed my arms over my chest like a sulky little kid. “Okay, fine. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Another hour passed before he let me take a break. I collapsed into the green grass and let my aching muscles take the break they so longed for. Michael sat next to me and held out a bottle of water which I gladly accepted. “Was it this hard the first time?” I wheezed.
He let out a laugh which helped me relax more than the water or the grass. “The first time I taught you swordplay you knew the basics. On top of that, you knew how to focus your energy so I did not have to teach that to you,” he teased.
I twisted onto my stomach and propped myself up on my elbows. “How? How did I know how to focus and time my blocks?”
“You knew how to concentrate because you already had control of your Gift by the time we met.”
I cocked my head to the side. “My Gift? What’s that mean?”
Michael frowned and a little crease appeared in his brows as he tried to figure out how to explain it. “Your Gift is that power that you possess as a goddess. It is that energy from you immortal essence.”
“Like that freaky magic ball I saw Vega hit you with?”
“Yes, but your power is not as… destructive as Vega’s. Your essence is much purer than hers.”
I pursed my lips. “Vega’s more destructive? Is that your nice way of saying tougher?”
“No. She is the more destructive between you two. She created titans whereas you created humans. Need I say more?”
I smiled and dropped my head down onto my arms. “Okay, I’ll take that as a compliment.
I closed my eyes and melted into the soft ground for a few more minutes. I was seriously debating crashing on the grass when Michael nudged my ribs. “Alright, Lyra-Rose, it is time to start once again.”
I groaned and peeked at him through one half-closed eye. “Now? When I barely got comfortable? You’re like an evil drill sergeant from hell.”
He smiled and offered his hand to help me up. I grudgingly took it and hobbled to my feet. I was actually doing a little better but I was still getting my ass kicked. I’d stopped trying to prove how independent I could be and started actually listening to his instructions. It was still taking a ton of effort to concentrate and let the movements come more naturally but at least I was getting the hang of it.
When Michael figured that I’d had enough for the day, he offered to take me to dinner which I surprisingly accepted. We went through the drive-thru at Taco Bell then drove out to Lundstrom Park for a picnic at dusk. I found that I could actually enjoy my time with Michael when he wasn’t beating the crap out of me while we were training.
It was surprisingly warm for mid-October so we stayed at the park until around eight and watched as the Autumn stars started to sprout in the crisp night sky. Of course, Lyra was the first constellation to catch my attention. “There’s me,” I stated just as proudly as I always did.
“Yes, you and Vega,” Michael teased.
I scowled and chucked an open sauce packet at his face. “That’s not even funny. I used to really like astronomy because my name is one of the constellations but now every time I think of that one, I’ll be reminded that Vega and I are connected.”
Michael smiled gently at me. “Would you like to hear a story that may change that?”
I shrugged. “Sure,” I answered although I’d thought I knew most of the stories about my group of stars. My namesake was from ‘lyre’ which was some sort of harp thing that one of the Greek gods, Hermes, had given another god, Apollo. I know, it wasn’t as exotic as the story of Cassiopeia or Andromeda or Orion but I was proud of it, even that pride stemmed from the sole purpose that I honestly loved my name.
He smiled again as I pulled my knees up into my chest. “Once there was a lovely goddess. She was a creative girl that could find beauty in the simplest things. She was a noble, the daughter of an important god.
“There was also a peasant boy that worked for the most powerful gods in the heavens. He worked hard, trying to become more than just a simple messenger and he never thought that anything could get in his way.
“Until he saw her.”
I wrinkled my nose slightly. “Well that doesn’t really sound promising, you know,” I chastised. This was supposed to make me appreciate my stars again?
He laughed. “Just wait, Lyra-Rose. I am getting to that part. The boy met this girl and the two swiftly became lovers. It was not long before each began to neglect their duties and only wanted to spend time with each other. The other gods became angry: at the girl for falling in love with a poor boy and at him for neglecting his work. As punishment, they were separated in the stars. She became Lyra and he became the constellation Aquilar.” He pointed to constellation that looked almost like a squished kite. It was directly across the Milky Way from Lyra.
I frowned and crossed my arms snugly. “That’s it? They were separated? Michael, that story sucked. It doesn’t have a romantic ending at all.”
“I do not believe that I said there would be a happy ending.”
I opened my mouth to protest but closed it immediately. “I still don’t think it’s fair. Don’t they ever get to be together?”
“The story does say that on the seventh day of the seventh month a bridge is formed between the two so that they may be together for a short period once again.”
I chewed my bottom lip absently. “Aquilar is the eagle, right?”
This time my brows knit together. “An eagle symbolizes courage, like a warrior, right?”
Michael thought about it for a moment. “Yes, I suppose so.”
A tight knot formed in my stomach and I got the feeling that Michael’s story was more than just a cute myth invented by ancient astronomers.
I was exhausted when I got to work. I had a huge stack of papers that I’d been neglecting over the past few weeks and tons of messages and memos that I needed to catch up on. I was so far behind that I would have to put in some serious overtime if I wanted to be caught up by Christmas if I was lucky.
There were two short knocks on my door before Amy poked her head into my office. Her golden curls were tied back with a blue headband that matched her narrowed eyes and she had on a simple grey business suit. “Hey, Mr. Maddison wants you pronto. It didn’t seem like he was in the best mood so I’d hurry if I were you.”
I groaned and I could see the slight smirk on her pouty pink lips. I gulped silently and made my way down to Mr. Maddison’s office. Sure, last time I’d been called in there I’d gotten a journalist position but I was definitely slacking on that lately.
I knocked on the open door before I poked my head in. “You wanted to see me?”
“Ah, Lrya-Rose. Please, come in and sit.”
I did as instructed and gnawed nervously on my bottom lip. I felt like a little kid in detention or something and I really hated the nauseous feeling that was starting in the pit of my stomach. “Yes?”
Mr. Maddison folded his beefy hands on top of his desk. “I am going to be blunt with you. I have seen a serious decline in your work over the past few weeks, Lyra-Rose. The editors and I gave you leeway following your accident but enough time has passed that there should be an improvement in your articles. I’m starting to question giving you the full time writing position.”
My eyes widened and I nodded once. “I promise, Mr. Maddison. I’ll do better. Please, just don’t regret promoting me.”
He frowned for a moment before slowly nodding. I let out the breath I hadn’t even noticed I’d been holding and it felt like a weight had been lifted from my already tense shoulders. “Thank you so much. I won’t let you down. I swear.”
I was on a mission when I got back to my office. I started by answering all of the emails I’d been neglecting and going over the latest article list that Delia had sent out that morning. If I hurried and worked through lunch I might actually have a chance to barely make the deadline.
I was busily tapping away at my keyboard doing a report on a recent fire on the outskirts of Logan when Randall strolled into the room. His blonde hair was an organized mess that matched his button-up shirt with the rolled-up sleeves and pressed jeans. “Hey, Ly. Wanna go grab some lunch?”
I barely spared him a glance. “Sorry, Randall, but I can’t. I have so much crap to catch up on.
“Hey, do you have the pictures from this weekend’s fire by any chance?”
He frowned and hopped up onto my desk. “Lyra, with everything going on you’re really worried about your job?”
That stopped the furious typing of my fingers. I couldn’t decide whether to glare at him or cry. I settled on folding my hands in my lap and looking down at my fingers as they twisted themselves together. “I won’t lose my career because the rest of my world has tumbled to shit,” I whispered to my keyboard. “I need to have something normal in my life. I love being a journalist and I don’t want my past life to ruin this for me. Please, Randall, as my best friend, can you understand and respect that?”
He sighed heavily and slid off the desk. “Yeah, I can. I’ll find out who has those pictures and make sure you get them. But, Lyra, you’ve been working your ass off with Michael and now work. As my best friend I want you to promise that you won’t overdo it. I love you and you’re running out of lives.”
I let out a little giggle and finally looked up at him. “Thanks. And I promise not to work myself to death.”
He laughed and pecked my forehead before he walked out the door. I felt more relaxed after I vented to Randall and the rest of my afternoon went by much more smoothly.
I was in a good mood when I was done so I decided to stop by Starbucks to reward myself for a job well done. I ordered a Venti caffé latte and curled up on one of the plush armchairs next to the window. It was nice to be able to relax for once so I closed my eyes and leaned against the back of the chair while I sipped my latte.
“So this is where the spoiled princess goes after a long day at the office,” someone sneered at me.
My eyes flew open and I spilled some of the hot drink on myself. I met Vega’s turquoise gaze steadily and kept my voice calm as I spoke. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Yes. You can stop running. Give up, Lyra. Just think about how easy everything would be if you were a goddess again.”
My voice caught in my throat for a brief second. “So you’re not trying to kill me?”
Vega smiled but there was something hidden behind the expression. “Lyra, I have thought about this and I know that our animosity is just because I don’t want to join the Council. If you return to the City and take that position then there would be no reason to hunt you, now would there, Sister?”
Something about the way she argued her point made me almost want to agree with her. “And if I don’t?” I pressed before I could get sucked into her proposal.
Her congenial smile was wiped away instantly. “You do not have to power to stand up to me, Lyra. You are running out of lives and if I have to kill you for upsetting me then so be it. If I don’t get to enjoy the company of my titans then I will ensure that you do not get the company of your worthless humans.”
I gently placed the cup on the table next to me and leaned forward so that I was nearly nose-to-nose with her. “You don’t want company; you want the power that comes with ruling over the titans. I will not let you convince me to return to the City. If I ever chose to give up my humanity for my immortality, it will be of my choosing and not simply because I’m afraid of you.”
She leaned back in her chair and frowned. “Wrong answer, Lyra-Rose. I have spent centuries searching for you and now that I have found you, it will be too easy to simply follow your reincarnations and destroy each of your lives until there are no more. Think about it. Do you really want to leave Michael alone to mourn you for all eternity?”
My heart gave a little squeeze at that. I still wasn’t sure if I even liked Michael but it still hurt to imagine what it would be like for him were anything to permanently happen to me. “He’d get over me,” I said even though I wasn’t quite sure of that myself.
She smirked. “Do you really believe that? I know that that wrench Cassiopeia has been giving you glimpses of your pasts. Has she shown you what it was like when you first met him? Do you even know how much he truly cares for you, no matter how I tried to persuade him otherwise? He would never get over you, Lyra. Michael would go insane with the guilt of not being able to protect you from me.”
I bit my tongue until I could taste blood. “Well then I guess that I’ll have to protect myself, won’t I?”
She let out a silver laugh that sent chills all the way down to my bones. I shivered slightly until someone put a meaty hand on my shoulder and gave it a light squeeze.
“Vega? What are you doing here?” Michael asked harshly.
“Well speak of the devil,” the goddess giggled. “We were just talking about you, weren’t we, little sister?”
I looked up and met his cloudy silver eyes. What the hell are you doing with her? they asked.
I’m fine, I answered back silently. I still didn’t quite get how it was that I could understand what was going through his mind with just a look but that would have to be a problem for later.
“Well, I think that I will leave the cute couple alone. Remember my offer, Lyra. I am usually not this kind and my kindness will not last very long.”
She stood up graceful and dangerous as a panther while I could do nothing but stare blankly ahead while I tried to decide on what to do about Michael if she got her way.