Read an Excerpt
By JENNIFER ESTEP
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Estep
All rights reserved.
I was trapped.
I paced from one side of the room to the other, pivoted on my sneaker heel, and hurried back the other way. A few steps later, I reached the opposite wall, so I turned and repeated the process. Back and forth, and back and forth, I stalked, my mind drifting from one thing to the next.
My friends at Mythos Academy. My search for artifacts. What Agrona, Vivian, and the rest of the Reapers of Chaos were plotting next. Where Logan was.
My heart twinged at the thought of Logan, and my foot caught in the bottom part of a net that was draped over the back of my desk chair. I stumbled forward, barely managing to catch myself before I slammed face-first onto my bed.
I staggered back up onto my feet and glared at the net. Oh sure, it looked all innocent hanging there, like a patch of light gray seaweed had sprouted out of the back of my chair. Supposedly, it had belonged to Ran, the Norse goddess of storms. Truth be told, it wasn't all that impressive, as far as artifacts went. The seaweed was gnarled, knotted, and seemed so thin, threadbare, and brittle that it would probably crumble to dust if you so much as breathed on it. But I'd learned the hard way that looks were often deceiving, especially in the mythological world. Still, I supposed I should be grateful I hadn't crushed the net by tromping all over it.
I'd had the net for a couple of days now, ever since I'd found it at the Crius Coliseum, and I still didn't know what was so special about it. I hadn't even gotten any big vibes off the net with my psychometry magic, which let me know, see, and feel an object's history.
But finding powerful mythological artifacts and keeping them safe from Reapers was the latest mission that Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, had given to me. Most folks knew me as Gwen Frost, that weird Gypsy girl who touched stuff and saw things, but I was also Nike's Champion, the girl picked by the goddess to help carry out her wishes here in the mortal realm.
Me, a Champion. I still couldn't believe it sometimes. But Nike was very, very real, just like the rest of the mythological world, with all its gods, goddesses, magic, creatures, artifacts, and warrior whiz kids.
More and more thoughts crowded into my mind, but I pushed them aside. Instead, I slid the chair even closer to the desk so I wouldn't trip over the net again and resumed my pacing. Back and forth, and back and forth, from one side of my prison to the other ...
"Will you stop all that bloody stomping around?" a voice with a cool English accent growled a few minutes later. "You are making it impossible for me to get in my mid-afternoon, pre-killing-Reaper nap."
I looked at the wall, where a sword in a black leather scabbard was hanging next to my posters of Wonder Woman, Karma Girl, and The Killers. A purplish eye on the hilt was open wide and glaring at me, while the rest of the sword's features—a nose, an ear, and a mouth—were turned down into a petulant pout.
"Really, Gwen," Vic, my talking sword, chastised me again. "Some of us are trying to sleep. Isn't that right, fuzzball?"
An agreeing bark sounded from a basket in the corner. Nyx, the Fenrir wolf pup I was taking care of, was as cute as she could be with her dark gray fur and purplish eyes, but she had an annoying habit of going along with just about whatever Vic said.
"Fine," I grumbled and plopped down on my bed. "I'll stop pacing."
Okay, okay, so I wasn't really trapped. But my dorm room sure felt like a prison these days, especially since there was almost always a Protectorate guard stationed outside. I pushed aside a curtain and stared out one of the picture windows. Aiko, a thin, petite, twentysomething Ninja, was leaning against a tree on the lawn below, just like she had been ever since I'd come back to my room an hour ago. Aiko shifted on her feet, causing the folds of her gray robe to billow out around her slender figure and giving me a brief glimpse of the short sword and silver throwing stars hooked to her belt.
I sighed and let the curtain fall back into place. Aiko was outside to protect me from any Reapers who might try to kill me, something that had happened more than once within the walled confines of Mythos Academy. Still, I didn't like being watched all the time, even if it was for my own good. It made me feel weak and helpless and just ... trapped.
Suddenly, the room felt unbearably hot and stuffy, and I couldn't draw enough air down into my lungs. Even though my room was on the large side compared to some of the others at the academy, the ceiling seemed to swoop down and the walls seemed to creep closer the longer I stared at them, like they were all slowly sliding toward me, getting ready to surge forward and crush me in their cold, indifferent embrace.
I shivered and dropped my gaze to the floor, but even it seemed to ripple, as though it was trying to rise up to meet the ceiling. I sighed. My Gypsy gift was acting up and making me see things that weren't really there. I stared at the floor, determined to control my psychometry, but once again, the boards rose and fell like the ocean waves I'd seen when I'd touched Ran's net.
I bolted off my bed. "I need some air," I said. "I'll be back soon."
Vic and Nyx didn't say anything as I stalked over to the door, opened it, and peered out into the hallway. I expected to see a guy with hazel eyes, dark brown hair, and tan skin leaning against the wall, but Alexei Sokolov, my friend and the Russian Bogatyr warrior who served as my guard, wasn't waiting to walk me across campus. That was a little strange, since Alexei took his assignment super seriously, but I wasn't about to overlook my good luck.
I stepped outside, shut the door behind me, and hurried away from my room as fast as I could.
* * *
Despite the fact that Aiko was outside my dorm, it was easy enough for me to go to the common kitchen that all the girls in Styx Hall shared, open one of the windows, and crawl outside. I slid from one tree to the next until I was out of sight of Aiko and the dorm before I stepped onto one of the ash-gray cobblestone paths that wound across campus.
It was late January, and the air was bitterly cold. The blustery gusts of wind kicked up the hard bits of snow that littered the ground, while the thick gray clouds cast the landscape in shifting shadows, even though it was only late afternoon. I stuffed my hands into my jacket pockets and tucked my chin down into the dark gray, snowflake-patterned scarf wrapped around my neck, trying to stay warm.
Since it was so cold, I was the only one walking across campus. I thought about heading up the hill to the main quad and going over to the Library of Antiquities, but it was sure to be full of kids studying. I didn't feel like being gawked at, so I veered onto a path to my left. I wound up in the amphitheater.
The amphitheater was really two pieces put together—a stage at the bottom and then a series of long, flat shallow steps that climbed up the hill above it. The steps, which also served as seats, arced out and up into an enormous semicircle, until it almost seemed like each row was a pair of arms reaching around to hug the stage close.
The shadows seemed even deeper here, but the theater's bone-white stone glimmered like a ghost in the wintry darkness. Sparks of soft lilac, silvery gray, and forest green were embedded in the stone, giving it a pale, opalescent sheen and making it seem as if a hundred thousand fireflies were slowly winking on and off. It was a beautiful sight, and some of the tension and worry drained out of my body. Plus, the amphitheater was empty, just like I'd hoped it would be. I wasn't in the mood for any sort of company.
I walked over to the stage, which was surrounded by four columns, one at each corner. Stone chimeras crouched on round globes on the very tops of the columns, their heads turned to stare out at the steps, almost as if they were waiting for a crowd to gather for some show. I hesitated, a bit of unease bubbling up in my stomach, but when the chimeras didn't turn and glare at me, I climbed up the steps, walked to the middle of the stage, and sat down on the edge. I let out a deep sigh.
Alone—I was finally alone.
I closed my eyes and breathed—in and out, in and out—just enjoying this moment of peace, quiet, and solitude—
Something skittered off to my left.
My eyes snapped open, and my hand dropped to my side, but I only came up with empty air. I'd left Vic in my room, so the sword wasn't strapped to my waist as usual. I frowned. Why had I left him behind? That wasn't like me. I usually took Vic everywhere I went, especially now, with the Reapers on the verge of declaring another Chaos War against the Pantheon.
The noise sounded again, like boots scuffling over stone. I turned my head to the left and realized there was someone else on stage with me—a boy about my own age with ink-black hair and a lean, muscled body.
Logan freaking Quinn.
The guy I loved.
The one who'd stabbed me in the chest—and left me behind.
He wore boots, jeans, and a black leather jacket over a light blue sweater that brought out the intense color of his icy eyes. He looked the same as I remembered, the same as I'd imagined him a hundred times since he'd left Mythos, since he'd left me.
Logan?" I asked, my voice a hoarse, hopeful whisper. "Logan!"
I scrambled to my feet. I opened my arms and started to run toward him when I realized that Logan was holding a sword—and that his eyes were now glowing that eerie Reaper red.
I stopped short. The last time Logan's eyes had been that horrible color had been a few weeks ago during a Reaper ambush at the Aoide Auditorium. He'd attacked and almost killed me before I used my psychometry to undo the murderous magic the Reapers had done.
I thought I'd saved Logan from the Reapers, from Loki, but now, it looked like he was here to finish the job.
"Oh, go on, Gwen," a mocking, sneering voice called out. "Go say hello to your boyfriend. He's oh so glad to see you."
I whirled around. A girl now sat in the middle of one of the auditorium steps. A black Reaper robe hid her clothes from sight, but she wasn't wearing a mask so I could see her face. Frizzy auburn hair, amazing golden eyes, pretty features. Vivian Holler, Loki's Champion, the Reaper girl who'd murdered my mom.
"What are you doing here?" I hissed.
Vivian grinned at me. "Nothing much. Just watching Logan finally follow through with what he started. Isn't that right, Logan?"
I looked at the Spartan. He didn't say anything, although his fingers slowly tightened around the hilt of the sword. After a moment, he started twirling the weapon in his hand, getting a feel for the sword, just like he'd done at the auditorium before he'd attacked me.
"No," I whispered. "No, no, no."
"Oh yes, yes, yes, Gypsy," another voice purred.
I looked back at the steps. A woman with golden hair and bright green eyes was now sitting beside Vivian, wearing the same sort of black robe that she did. Agrona Quinn, Logan's traitorous stepmom and the head of the Reapers.
I frowned. How had Agrona and Vivian gotten here? And how had they managed to work their foul magic on Logan again? He was supposed to be with his dad, Linus, recovering from all of the terrible things that had happened at the auditorium. He was supposed to be safe.
"What's going on?" I asked.
I backed away from Logan and eased toward the far side of the stage, hoping I could run down the steps before he caught me. Logan would cut me to ribbons with his sword, especially since I didn't have Vic to defend myself with. But more than that, I didn't want to fight Logan—not again.
"Ah, ah, ah," Vivian called out. "Stay right where you are, Gwen."
A soft click sounded. My head snapped back to the Reaper girl, who now had a crossbow trained on me. I froze. Where had she gotten that from?
"Excellent," Agrona purred again.
She waved her left hand, causing a large, heart-shaped ruby to sparkle in a ring on her finger. Did Agrona still have some of the Apate jewels left? Was that how she was controlling Logan again? I thought that I'd smashed all of the jewels she was wearing at the auditorium, but she must have gotten her hands on some more of them.
"Now," Agrona said. "We can finally proceed. If it pleases you, my lord?"
She and Vivian both turned and looked over their shoulders. I'd been so focused on the two of them that I hadn't realized a third figure was sitting on the steps in the exact center of the amphitheater.
Instead of a robe, shadows wrapped around his body, curling, writhing, and wisping around him like smoke hovering over a fire. Slowly, the darkness began to spread out from him, unrolling like a carpet over the steps, smothering the soft, rainbow flashes of color in the stone and staining everything a horrible, unending black. All I could see of his features were his eyes—one a vivid blue, the other that burning Reaper red I hated more than anything else—but I shivered with fear all the same.
Because somehow, someway, Loki, the evil Norse god of chaos, was here at Mythos Academy.
"My lord?" Agrona asked again.
"Proceed," Loki answered, his voice booming through the auditorium, louder than any clap of thunder. "Kill the Frost girl—now."
"With pleasure." This time, it was Logan who spoke. Only it wasn't his voice—it was Loki's.
I looked at him in horror, but Logan was already running toward me.
"No, Logan," I said, holding my hands up and backing away from him. "Don't. Please don't. Not again—"
Logan surged forward and ran his sword through my chest.
Agonizing pain exploded like a bomb in my heart, and I screamed and screamed from the sharp, brutal force of it. Logan smiled, yanked his sword out of my chest, and stabbed me with it again.
And again, and again, and again ...
I woke up screaming.
One second, I was on the amphitheater stage with Logan killing me, and Vivian, Agrona, and Loki all happily watching. The next, I was lying in bed in my dorm room, wrestling with the pillow I'd buried my face in.
I slapped the pillow off the bed, sat up, and gulped down breath after breath. My eyes darted around my room, but everything was the same. Bed, desk, bookcases, fridge, TV. Vic hanging on the wall, Nyx curled up in her basket in the corner, Ran's seaweed net draped over the back of my chair.
Real—this was real. Everything else had been a dream. Just a dream.
Vic's eye snapped open, and he regarded me with a sympathetic expression. "Another nightmare?"
I slid to the floor and leaned back against the side of the bed. Nyx hopped out of her basket and raced over to me. I scooped up the pup and cradled her in my arms. Nyx licked my cheek, and I felt her warm concern wash over me.
"Gwen?" Vic asked again. "Another nightmare?"
"Something like that."
"Did he stab you again this time?"
My chest ached, as though Logan really had hurt me again, and I buried my face in Nyx's fur until the sensation faded away, and I was reasonably sure I wasn't going to cry.
"How did it start?" Vic asked. "The nightmare?"
Calmer now, I rewound the images in my mind. Thanks to my psychometry, I never forgot anything I heard, saw, or felt, not even my dreams. Sometimes it was a blessing, being able to recall a cherished memory, but with the nightmares I'd been having lately, it seemed more like a curse.
"I was in here, pacing back and forth, and I felt like I needed to escape ..."
I told Vic the rest of it. When I finished, the sword frowned in thought, while Nyx licked my fingers, trying to let me know she was here for me too.
The weird thing was that I really had gone to the Crius Coliseum a few days earlier, and I really did have Ran's net draped over my desk chair. In fact, I'd talked about the net and how useless it seemed with Alexei and Daphne Cruz, my best friend, when we'd had dinner in the dining hall earlier. We'd come back to my dorm room to hang out for a while, and after they'd left, I'd decided to lie down on my bed to rest for a few minutes before taking a shower and getting ready for bed. Instead, I'd fallen asleep, and the image of the net had somehow led to my recurring nightmare of Logan stabbing me in the chest.
Just like he'd done for real a few weeks ago.
"Well, obviously, you still have some issues with the Spartan and what he did to you," Vic finally said. "And who wouldn't? Do you want to talk about it?"
He'd been asking me that ever since I'd had the first nightmare a couple of weeks ago, but once again, I shook my head. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't even want to think about it, even though my refusal to deal was probably causing some of my nightmares. After a moment, I sighed, suddenly tired—of Reapers, of fighting, and most especially of all the horrible memories that I could never, ever forget, not even when I went to sleep.
"Gwen?" Vic asked again.
"I'm fine now," I said. "It was just a dream. It wasn't real."
Excerpted from MIDNIGHT FROST by JENNIFER ESTEP. Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Estep. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.