Freeze Warning: A Tor.Com Original

Freeze Warning: A Tor.Com Original

by Susan Krinard

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466856387
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 10/23/2013
Series: Midgard Series
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 32
Sales rank: 738,392
File size: 749 KB

About the Author

SUSAN KRINARD is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-seven fantasy and paranormal romance novels and eleven novellas. Krinard grew up in the San Francisco bay area. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband Serge Mailloux, two cats, and three dogs.


SUSAN KRINARD is the author of twenty-seven fantasy and paranormal romance novels, including Mist, and eleven novellas. Krinard grew up in the San Francisco bay area. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband Serge Mailloux, two cats, and three dogs.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Gungnir seemed to hum in Mist's hands as if it had a life of its own.

And it did. Odin's life. The life of the All-father, who sat in his throne before Mist and her sister Valkyrie, a father stern and uncompromising and pitiless.

Outside the walls of the vast hall known as Valaskialf, the battle raged: Einherjar and Alfar against Jotunar, the Aesir facing Loki and his fell children. Surtr and the fire giants on their way from across the sea, and the World Tree, Yggdrasil, groaning and writhing as its roots began to rot.

But it was only the beginning of the Last Battle. And when it ended ...

"By your sacred oaths, you will protect these Treasures with your lives," Odin said, sweeping them once more with his burning, one-eyed gaze. "No matter what transpires in the other Homeworlds, you will remain on Midgard, and you will see that no one finds these objects of power."

"But if this is Ragnarok," Mist said, daring Odin's wrath, "all the enemies will be destroyed. Whatever becomes of Midgard —"

"Silence." Odin scowled at her, with an expression that could knock any of the Aesir off his feet if the All-father chose. "You forget yourself, Valkyrie."

Mist lowered her head, trembling with fear and anger and the desperate need to join the other warriors of Asgard in battle. But the sword she wore at her side was only symbolic, and Gungnir — the Swaying One, the Spear that never missed its mark — was not hers to wield.

"You will be set down in the Northlands of Midgard," he said, relieving Mist of his terrible attention. "You will be concealed from Loki and his allies. Even the Aesir and Alfar will not be able to find you."

Because they will be dead, Mist thought. Odin will meet Fenrir and be destroyed. The Homeworlds will fall, and there will be nothing left but ash. Midgard may become a paradise as the seeress foretold, but no one will ever come for what we guard, neither ally nor enemy.

We will be utterly alone.

"And our mounts?" Bryn asked in a soft, very respectful voice.

"They remain in Asgard until the end. You will have but this one purpose. Do not fail."

The Sisters looked at one another, fearful and bewildered and desperate: Hild gripping the reins of Odin's eight-legged steed, Sleipnir; Regin with mighty Mjollnir, Thor's Hammer; Bryn with Freya's cloak, which let its wearer fly like a falcon; Sigrun with Gleipnir, the chain that could not be broken, which had snapped when the world began to crumble and released the Great Wolf Fenrir upon Asgard.

The others — Kara with the Gjallarhorn, already sounded by Heimdall to mark the beginning of the end; Eir with the apples of Idunn, which kept the gods forever young; Horja, Olrun, Rota, Skuld, Hrist, each with her own Treasure — waited without speaking. Waited for the final command.

"Go into the antechamber," Odin commanded all but Mist, "and wait for me there."

The others drifted away, some stumbling in shock, others feigning acceptance Mist knew they didn't feel. When they had closed the doors behind them, Odin beckoned to Mist, calling her up to the dais where he sat on his golden throne. His wolves, Geri and Freki, sniffed and circled her as she climbed the steps.

"You have ever rebelled against your Fate, Valkyrie," he said, Draupnir glittering on his finger as he gestured his disapproval. "Yet now you have been given a greater one than ever you imagined." He reached inside his coat and withdrew a leather cord. At the end of it hung a piece of stone, carved with a raven and Rune-staves of power and protection. "Take this. You will wear it as a sign of my favor, and as a ward against evil."

Mist bowed her head, stunned by Odin's favor. "Why am I worthy of this?" she whispered.

"Ask not what I will not tell you." He draped the cord around her neck. She gripped Gungnir so tightly that she thought her fingers might break.

"It is done," Odin said, rising from his throne. He sighed, the first time he had shown even the slightest weariness or regret. "Join the others. I will follow presently."

Mist turned for the great double doors, her footsteps echoing in Odin's Hall. No one spoke when she met her Sisters in the antechamber. There was no more to be said.

When Odin joined them again, he seemed as ancient as time itself. He worked the Galdr, the Rune-magic, and Mist felt a great light open up beneath her feet. The next step she took was on the green grass of a Midgardian summer.

And she knew that Asgard was no more.

*
The wind was very cold for mid-June ... much colder than it should have been, Mist thought, even though San Francisco in summer was often shrouded in fog and was subject to temperatures low enough to cause tourists in their shorts and sandals more than a little discomfort. Mark Twain himself had once said that the coldest winter he'd ever seen had been the summer he'd spent in San Francisco.

Still, this was different. Forty-five degree weather in the City by the Bay was only one more sign that the climate had gone haywire all over the world.

Mist leaned on the rail of the pedestrian sidewalk that ran the length of Golden Gate Bridge, gazing down at the choppy water. The wind cut through her light sweater and short leather jacket as if they were woven of the fog itself. A tour boat glided under the span, a few of the more hardy passengers huddled on the exposed upper deck as they took pictures and pretended to be more thrilled than chilled.

But Mist wasn't interested in the boat or the tourists. She was thinking of the water spilling into the bay from the ocean. It was deep here, but not quite deep enough. Not for what she had in mind.

Strands of blond hair that had come loose from her heavy braid flew across her eyes and mouth. She brushed them away. She'd worn her hair in the same simple style for centuries. The same long centuries during which she'd guarded one of the Twelve Treasures of lost Asgard.

She had used Gungnir only once, with disastrous consequences, seventy years ago. Then she'd meant only to save refugees from Nazi-occupied Norway, working with the Norwegian Resistance fighters of Milorg. But she had left them in 1942, after everything had gone wrong, and hardly touched Gungnir since.

Now, for the first time since she'd settled in San Francisco right after the end of the war, she was well past the point of wondering if she'd fulfilled her duty. There was no duty left to fulfill. No reason to hold Gungnir when all the Aesir were dead and gone.

It was all meaningless now, and she knew it was time to move on with her life. Even Kettlingr, the Kitten — the sword she'd carried as a knife at her belt since she and her Sisters had been sent to Midgard with the Treasures — no longer served any purpose, and it held memories she would be happy to leave behind.

She left the railing and stood in the middle of the walkway, noting that the only other people who had dared to venture onto the bridge were a woman invisible beneath several layers of clothing, a sole cyclist wearing very tight shorts, a mother and her well-swaddled child, and a pair of men with their arms around each other, bundled up in gloves and scarves and the warmth of each others' bodies.

Romance, Mist thought cynically, could conquer just about anything. Except death.

Almost by instinct, her gaze shifted to the mother and child. There was life, too. The little girl was chattering incessantly, her breath condensing in excited little puffs as she pointed at another boat on the ocean side of the bridge.

Mist closed her eyes. So long ago since she'd been a child, staring in bewilderment at the golden halls of Asgard with its five hundred and forty doors, her small hand gripped in the much bigger one of the tall, fierce woman in her mail armor and winged helmet. No one had looked at them as they passed through gardens and arbors and pavilions open to the air. No one noticed them as she tried to make sense of the incredible scene before her: the thousands of feasting warriors clinking their silver ale cups, the gods and goddesses laughing at jests she couldn't hear, the vast hearth roaring as the juicy carcasses of boar and deer turned on their spits.

But Mist hadn't been her name then. She had forgotten it as soon as she set foot in Asgard, just as she had forgotten who her Midgardian parents had been and where she had lived.

None of that had mattered when she had first gazed into Odin's face. The face of the ruler of all the gods. His single wise, bright, and terrifying eye had examined her as his ravens, perched on the back of his chair, had offered their own guttural commentary. And beside him, shining and wonderful, Gungnir stood close to hand.

She had passed the test. They had given her the name she was to bear along with her new immortality, set her to learning the ways of the Valkyrie: to ride, to properly select those fallen warriors suitable for a life of feasting and fighting in Valhalla, to serve in Odin's Hall as bearers of mead and ale to his thousands of guests and Einherjar.

Mist remembered her first ride with the Sisters. She remembered blood and death on a stubbled field in the frigid cold of Midgard. She remembered sweeping down to gather up a particularly gallant warrior, throwing his body across her mount's withers and turning back toward Asgard, passing through brilliant light, the sound of hooves clattering in a courtyard inset with jewels and gold. Her Sisters followed one by one, some already having fulfilled this same duty for centuries as mortals reckoned the passage of time.

For most of them, it had always seemed enough. For her, it never had been.

Heading back the way she'd come, south toward the toll plaza, Mist wondered how quickly she could charter a small boat to carry her far enough out into the Pacific to bury Gungnir and Kettlingr forever. She had enough magic and the right spells to ward the weapons so that anyone who happened to be looking for sunken treasure would be inclined to ignore them.

And then it would be done. Finished. Over.

She was still thinking of endings when she saw the woman climb over the railing.

Thought vanished, and instinct took over. Mist ran toward the woman, slowing as she approached and holding her hands out at her sides as if she were declaring truce with an enemy.

The woman paused and looked back, her seamed face caught in an expression of profound misery. Mist knew that expression, because she'd worn it herself more than a few times in the past.

"Hello," she said softly, standing very still.

The woman — who could have been any age between fifty and seventy — only stared. Her clothes were a strange tumble of colors and textures and lengths, of linen and fake fur and corduroy and cotton, embellished here and there with random bits of taffeta and chiffon. She wore a beaded pouch around her neck, and a cap pulled low over gray hair. If she had any other belongings, Mist couldn't see them.

"Listen," Mist said. "I want to help. Can you talk to me a little?"

The woman glanced down at the water and then back at Mist. "Who are you?" she asked.

Her voice was rough with fear and determination, but there was just that slight glimmer of hope, of thinking someone might actually care what became of her. Mist planned to use that hope.

"My name's Mist," she said. "Can you tell me yours?"

"Bella." The woman laughed, as if she were telling a cruel joke. "Bella Stratus."

It was an odd name, but Mist had definitely heard stranger.

"I noticed you were thinking of jumping, Bella," she said. "I wish you wouldn't do that."

"Why?" the woman asked.

"Because maybe there are things you haven't taken into account. I'm not saying ... whatever you're going through isn't bad. But I know what it is to be lonely, and hopeless, and see only emptiness in your future."

"Do you?" the woman asked, her face turning expressionless.

"Yes. You can't believe how many times I've stood right where you are."

For several minutes they stared at each other, Valkyrie and mortal. Then the woman began to climb over the rail again. The wrong way.

"This isn't the answer, Bella," Mist said, taking a cautious step toward the woman.

"Then what is?" Bella asked without looking away from the water far below.

"I don't know. I haven't figured it out myself, and I've been searching for ... longer than you can imagine. But there's got to be another way."

Abruptly the woman bent over as if she had been caught unaware by a terrible pain in her gut. "It's better like this. It's too much."

"Will you tell me about it?" Mist asked, moving closer still.

Bella said nothing. She clambered the rest of the way over the railing and perched on the very narrow ledge on the other side.

Mist had no time left. She reached inside her pocket and pulled out a small, flat piece of driftwood and her smallest knife, inscribing the Rune-staves as she jogged toward the railing. The staves were uneven and crooked, but when she sliced her thumb and blood filled the grooves, she felt the magic stirring.

It wasn't much. It never had been. But she chanted under her breath, and tossed the driftwood in front of the woman's face.

The barrier was temporary; it was made only of air, more illusion than real, just solid enough to prevent the woman from stepping forward. Mist reached her as the barrier dispersed, lunged halfway over the railing and grabbed Bella's thin wrist as she began to fall.

Normally Mist would have had no difficulty dragging the woman to safety. But Bella seemed to become inexplicably heavier by the second, until it was all Mist could do to keep from letting that wrist slip from her grasp.

Then, without so much as a whisper of warning, there was a man beside her, reaching down with his longer arms, snatching at Bella's frayed sleeve and locking a big hand around her forearm. Together he and Mist pulled the woman up and over the railing, where Mist collapsed with the would-be victim onto the pavement as Bella wailed with an agony so intense that Mist seemed to hear in her voice the cries of the slaughtered on the field of Idavollr.

When her world had come to an end.

"You okay?" the man asked, crouching beside her. She looked up to meet his eyes. They were a beautiful blue in a rugged, handsome face under a shock of blond hair and a cyclist's racing helmet. She guessed that he was in his early thirties, a few years older than her own apparent age. His build was muscular under the cyclist's jersey and shorts, his manner self-assured but clearly concerned. He could have been a Norse warrior returned victorious from battle.

"Thanks for your help," she said. "We've got to get her to a hospital."

The man fished a cell phone from the pocket of his close-fitting jacket and punched in three digits. While Mist held Bella, feeling utterly helpless and deeply uncomfortable with the unfamiliar intimacy, the man spoke to an emergency dispatcher. He ended the call and pocketed the phone again.

"Do you think she'll be all right?" he asked.

"I think she will be," Mist said, unaccountably flushing under the intensity of the man's gaze. "My name's Mist Bjorgsen. Thanks for helping me."

"Eric," the man said. "Eric Larsson."

She'd been partly right. Swedish rather than Norwegian, but still every bit the image of a Viking warrior. Somehow that knowledge released a little of the tension that had turned her body into one large and painful knot.

Bella, whose arthritic fingers gripped Mist's jacket as if she feared she might fall again, murmured something unintelligible and closed her eyes. In a moment she had sunk into a state of what seemed to be complete unawareness.

"Whatever she's gone through," Eric said, "she's better off this way until the ambulance comes. She won't have to think."

He spoke as if he, too, understood. "Yes," Mist said. "Sometimes it's better that way." She realized that she was about to say too much and quickly changed the subject. "It was lucky that you happened to be passing by when you did. I don't know why there are so few people on the bridge this afternoon. I know it's cold, but —"

"It is weird, isn't it?" he said, though the look in his eyes suggested he wasn't thinking about the lack of pedestrians. "You know, it's strange, but I almost feel as if you and I have —"

His words were cut off by the wail of a siren approaching from the toll plaza. Lights flashing, the ambulance pulled up at the curb, and a pair of EMTs jumped out.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Freeze Warning"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Susan Krinard.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.

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