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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
One of the Reapers was a girl my own age, seventeen, with frizzy auburn hair, pretty features, and eyes that were an amazing golden color. The other Reaper was a tall, slender woman, remarkably beautiful with her blond hair and intense green eyes.
Vivian Holler and Agrona Quinn.
The leaders of the Reapers. Here. My enemies were right here in front of me.
And they weren’t alone.
Along with the Reapers, several Black rocs hopped out of the woods, some of the birds even larger than the smashed-up vehicles. Even from here, I could see the crimson sheen that streaked through their glossy black feathers and the sparks of Reaper red that burned in the depths of their shiny black eyes.
Agrona waved her left hand in an obvious command, and several Reapers surged toward the van. Another smaller group split off from the main pack and rushed past my SUV, no doubt to engage the Protectorate guards that were climbing out of the vehicles behind us. Even through the closed doors, I could already hear the sharp ring-ring-ring of metal hitting metal.
My eyes narrowed, and rage burned in my heart, searing through the rest of my foggy confusion from the crash. Vivian and Agrona were here, and they’d hurt my friends—again.
Well, they weren’t going to get away with it, and they especially weren’t getting their hands on the artifacts. Not if I had anything to do with it.
“Gypsy girl?” Logan rasped again, his blue eyes glassy and unfocused in his face. “What’s going on? What happened?”
“Stay here!” I yelled. “Don’t move!”
I unbuckled my seat belt, tightened my grip on Vic, opened the door, and sprang out of the SUV.
It was like stepping into a war zone.
Screams, snarls, shrieks, and shouts ripped through the air all around me, along with the constant clashclash-clang of swords smashing together and the occasional, high-pitched caw-caw-caw from one of the Black rocs. The coppery stench of blood mixed with the smell of burned rubber from where the Reapers had spun their tires, building up enough speed to ram the artifacts van and the SUV that I’d been riding in.
I staggered forward, my head spinning and my body aching, a little more shaken up from the crash than I’d realized, but I shoved the feelings away and concentrated on the van in front of me. Vivian and Agrona were standing off to one side of the road, next to a Black roc, while the other Reapers clustered around the van. Apparently, the back doors of the vehicle were locked because one of the Reapers drew a crowbar out from the folds of his black robe and went to work trying to pry open one of the doors. The left side of the van had been smushed in, just like with our SUV, but there was no sign of Linus, Inari, Oliver, or Alexei, so I had no idea how badly they might have been injured in the crash.
I risked a quick glance back over my shoulder. Reapers surrounded the other two SUVs that had been at the rear of the convoy and were fighting the members of the Protectorate who had hopped out of those vehicles. Aiko moved through the Reapers, spinning this way and that, like a leaf dancing in the wind. She seemed to be trying to break through the line of Reapers to get to the artifacts van. So did all the other members of the Protectorate, but there were too many Reapers between them and the van, and I knew they wouldn’t be able to defeat the other warriors in time.
Up to me, then.
“Reapers,” Vic said in a low, bloodthirsty voice. “Finally, finally, some Reapers to kill. What are you waiting for, Gwen? Charge! Charge! Charge!”
I knew exactly how he felt. “With pleasure,” I muttered back to him.
I tightened my grip on the sword and sprinted forward. Vivian, Agrona, and the other Reapers remained focused on the back of the artifacts van. Apparently, they’d thought that the hard crash had incapacitated everyone in my SUV, so they didn’t even glance in my direction.
“Get that door open!” Agrona shouted above the commotion. “Quickly! Before the Protectorate calls for reinforcements!”
The van was about fifty feet away from me, and I’d just stepped past the front of our smashed SUV when I spotted a swirl of black out of the corner of my eye. One of the Reapers had been standing on the other side of the vehicle, watching to make sure that no one got out of it. He raised his sword high, ready to bring it down on top of my head, but I darted forward and slashed Vic across his chest. The Reaper crumpled to the ground.
“That’s my girl!” Vic crowed. “Let’s fight another one!” I would have preferred not to, but another Reaper had noticed me battling her friend and came running over as well. But once again, I managed to get the better of the other warrior, and she crumpled to the ground as well, moaning and clutching at the stomach wound I’d given her. But fighting the two warriors had cost me precious seconds, and I wasn’t any closer to the van
than when I’d started—
The Reaper with the crowbar finally managed to wrench open one of the van’s back doors. He must have been a Viking and used his strength to help him get inside the vehicle. He reached through the gap, unlocked the second door, and threw it open as well. Any second now, the Reapers would get their hands on the wooden crates containing the artifacts, load them onto the rocs, and disappear into the woods with them—
Oliver and Alexei erupted out of the back of the van and jumped down into the group of Reapers closest to the open vehicle doors. Alexei clutched the twin Swords of Ruslan in his hands, swinging the weapons at every single Reaper who came near him. Meanwhile, Oliver punched the Reaper closest to him, plucked the other man’s sword out of his hand, flipped it around, and stabbed the other warrior in the chest with his own weapon. Spartans had freaky magic like that, the ability to pick up any weapon—or any object—and automatically know how to kill someone with it.
But despite Oliver’s Spartan skill and Alexei’s Bogatyr bravery, they were still going to lose.
Reapers surrounded them on three sides, severely outnumbering Oliver and Alexei and pinning them back against the van, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they overwhelmed my friends. Even if I stepped up and joined the battle, it wouldn’t be enough to save them. There were just too many Reapers for that. Desperate, I looked around, trying to figure out some way to help Oliver and Alexei and at least give them a fighting chance. But all I saw were the smashed vehicles, Reapers, and the Black rocs they’d brought along with them—My gaze locked on to the flock of birds. The Reapers had left them at the edge of the road, where the pavement gave way to the woods. The Reapers who had been watching the rocs had joined the fight against Oliver and Alexei, so the creatures stood by patiently, waiting for the warriors to climb onto their backs so they could fly off to parts unknown.
I didn’t know all that much about Black rocs, just that they were big, strong, and deadly, like Nemean prowlers, Fenrir wolves, and Eir gryphons. But a crazy idea popped into my mind. Maybe . . . maybe if I could startle the rocs into flying off, it would at least draw some of the Reapers away from Oliver and Alexei.
It was a hasty plan at best, but it was the only chance
I had—and my friends too.
So I stepped off the pavement and raced in that direction, hard bits of snow and frozen leaves crunching under my boots, all the while wondering how small, pitiful me was going to scare mythological creatures that could easily eat me with one snap of their sharp beaks.
“What are you doing, Gwen?” Vic shouted. “The fight is over there!”
“You’ll see!” I screamed back.
At the sound of my yell, Vivian whirled around in my direction. Her mouth dropped open in surprise, but that Reaper red spark flared to life in her topaz eyes. She shook Agrona’s arm and stabbed her finger in my direction. Agrona’s mouth flattened into a thin line, and she pushed Vivian forward, clearly ordering the Reaper girl to kill me. Vivian stumbled and almost fell to the ground before she managed to right herself.
But I shut the two of them out of my mind and focused on the rocs in front of me. A couple of the birds had realized that I was running toward them, and their heads turned this way and that, as though they were wondering what I was doing.
Yeah. Me too.
I sucked down a breath and shoved my shoulder into the side of the closest roc. It was like hitting a warm brick wall, and I bounced off the creature’s side and staggered back. But I sucked down another breath and surged forward, hitting the same roc again. This time, the creature hopped a few feet to the right and flexed its wing, as though I were a bothersome bug that it was trying to shoo away. I ducked, although the roc’s soft feathers brushed across my nose, making me want to sneeze at the strange, oddly ticklish sensation.
Okay, then, it looked like more drastic measures were called for, especially since I could see Vivian racing toward me, her talking sword, Lucretia, clenched in her hand and her black robe streaming out around her like a cloud of death—my death in the making.
So I raised Vic high and charged deeper into the group of rocs.
“Fly!” I screamed. “Fly! Fly! Fly!”
I swung my sword this way and that, not really wanting to hurt the creatures, but trying to incite enough panic in them to make them bolt, either up into the sky or better yet, into the Reapers still swarming around Oliver and Alexei. But all the rocs did was jump around me, as though we were all playing some bizarre game of hopscotch.
So I moved as close as I dared and lashed out with Vic again. This time, I managed to clip one of the creature’s wings with the edge of my sword.
The roc let out an earsplitting shriek and lurched away from me. It slammed into the roc closest to it, which set off a violent chain reaction. A second later, all the creatures were in motion, in a panic, exactly like I’d wanted. I ducked down in the middle of the flock of birds and put my hands up over my head, trying to shield myself as best I could from the roiling mass of wings and beaks and long, black talons.
With one thought, the rocs stepped onto the pavement and raced across the flat, smooth surface of the road, like airplanes trying to gain enough momentum to take flight. The Reapers who’d been fighting Oliver and Alexei whipped around in surprise at the sound of the rocs’ frantic, high-pitched caw-caw-caws. The Reapers were right in the path of the rocs’ stampede, and the birds slammed into the warriors, knocking several of them down and giving Oliver and Alexei some muchneeded breathing room.
I grinned. That had worked out even better than I’d hoped—
“Gwen!” Vic screamed. “Watch out!”
I ducked down, and a blade whistled through the air where my head had been a second before. On instinct, I spun around, raised Vic high, and surged to my feet.
I managed to get my sword in position just in time to keep Vivian from cleaving my head in two with her own weapon. We stood there, seesawing back and forth, our two swords scrape-scrape-scraping against each other, and spitting out red and purple sparks in every direction, even as Lucretia and Vic shouted insults at each other.
“Tarnished tadpole!” Lucretia yelled.
“Mouthy matchstick!” Vic yelled back.
I shut the sound of the swords’ bickering out of my mind and focused on Vivian, whose pretty face was twisted into a hate-filled grimace, just like mine was.
“You just had to show up, didn’t you, Gwen?” Vivian hissed. “You’re ruining everything! Again!”
“Ah, come on, now, Viv,” I snarled back. “You know it’s not a party unless I’m invited.”
She screamed and swung her fist at me, trying to use her Valkyrie strength to shatter my jaw, but I sidestepped the blow and raised my sword for another attack.
Clash-clash-clang! Clash-clash-clang! Clash-clash-clang!
Vivian and I fought and fought, moving back and forth along the edge of the road, our boots kicking up thick wads of snow and then the hard, frozen dirt underneath.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bit of gray swirling around, and I realized that Linus and Inari had finally gotten out of the front of the van and were helping Oliver and Alexei battle the Reapers. The two men had helped turned the tide in my friends’ favor, and it wouldn’t be long before the four of them cut down the rest of the Reapers. Behind me, Aiko and the other Protectorate guards were steadily working their way through the Reapers there.
“You should go ahead and surrender now, Viv,” I sneered into her face. “And maybe, just maybe, the Protectorate will let you and Agrona live for a few days before they execute you.”
“Never!” Vivian hissed back. “I’ll die before I give up—”
“Vivian!” Agrona screamed, running toward us. “We’re leaving! Now!”
“No, you’re not!” another voice chimed in.
I whipped around. Grandma Frost had managed to get out of the SUV. She wobbled on her feet, but she hurried toward Agrona as fast as she could, a sword clutched in her wrinkled hand.
Vivian’s golden gaze flicked from me to Grandma Frost and back again, and her eyes narrowed. “This isn’t over, Gwen!” she hissed.
Vivian raised her fingers to her lips and let out a loud whistle. A shadow fell over the two of us, and a Black roc dropped down from the sky. I thought I’d scared all of the birds away, but Vivian’s must have been better trained than the others because it landed right beside her, looking completely calm and unconcerned by the battle raging all around it. I charged at her, determined not to let her get away again—
Vivian let out another loud, sharp whistle, and the roc lashed out with one of its wings, knocking me off my feet. I hit the ground hard, and white spots winked on and off in front of my eyes.
Still, I raised my sword, expecting Vivian to try to end me while my defenses were down, but she was too busy climbing onto the roc’s back and pulling Agrona up behind her to attack me.