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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
The arrow had stopped a foot from my face.
Eyes wide, my head snapped to the side, and I realized that the angry girl from the train station was there - and that she was holding the arrow in her hand like it was a football she'd just plucked out of midair.
"You're welcome," she said in a snide voice.
Then, she tossed the arrow up in the air, grabbed it by the end, and threw it at the Reaper with the crossbow. The arrow sank into his throat. The man clawed at the projectile, trying to rip it free, even as his legs went out from under him, and he dropped to the floor.
"A Spartan," I whispered. "You're a Spartan."
"Yeah, and you and your friends seem to be in a lot of trouble," the girl sniped.
She stepped in front of me and picked up the dead Reaper's crossbow. A second later, she slammed the heavy wood into the side of another Reaper's face. I shook my head, stepped up, and got back into the fight.
Together, the girl and I advanced on the Reapers who were clustered in front of Alexei and climbing up onto the benches so they could swarm around and attack him all at once. She'd step up and hit one with the crossbow, then slide to the side, leaving me enough room to move forward and kill the Reaper with Vic. When the crossbow finally splintered, then shattered, she used one of the broken pieces as a dagger, stabbing it into everyone she could reach.
Logan would have definitely approved.
Seeing that we had a handle on the Reapers on this side of the car, Alexei whirled around to help Oliver deal with the ones who were attacking him. Working together, the four of us cut through the rest of them. Three minutes later, it was over, and all the Reapers were dead.
We stood there, weapons clutched tight in our hands, blood everywhere, bodies stacked up two and three deep at our feet, with even more Reapers sprawled over the benches and tables. For a moment, the only sounds were our harsh, raspy breaths and the grind of the gears as the train kept chugging up the mountain.
"Well," Vic said in a cheery voice. "That's the way to start the day off right. Blood before breakfast. Always a treat, if you ask me."
The Spartan girl gave me a strange look, like she thought I was the one who was talking. Please. As if I would ever say such gruesome things - or could manage an English accent right now.
"Shut up, Vic," I muttered.
I looked at Oliver and Alexei. "You guys all right?"
They both nodded, and we all stared at the Spartan girl.
"I'm fine," she sniped again. "Thanks for asking."
Alexei stepped forward, probably to start searching the bodies, when the door at the front of the car hissed open. We all tensed and whirled around toward the opening.
Daphne stepped inside, with Carson and Coach Ajax right behind her.
"I can't believe they were out of blueberry bagels already - "
Her voice cut off, and she stopped in the middle of the aisle. Carson ran into her back and bounced off. Daphne's black eyes fixed on the dead Reapers, then her gaze flicked to Alexei, Oliver, and finally me.
"So," I asked. "How was breakfast?"
Daphne arched an eyebrow. "Obviously not as exciting as yours."
I grimaced at her words.
Ajax shouldered past Carson and Daphne. The coach went from one Reaper to another, looking at them all in turn. Finally, he shook his head.
"I thought they'd at least wait until we got to the ruins before they attacked," he rumbled. "I'll have to call ahead and report this. Everybody stays in here where I can see you until we get to Snowline Ridge. Understand?"
We all nodded.
Ajax pulled out his cell phone and moved to the front of the car. He punched in some numbers and started talking in a low voice, probably alerting the members of the Protectorate about the battle - and the fact that they needed to come and deal with the blood and bodies.
We took turns using the bathrooms, cleaning the Reapers' blood off our hands, clothes, and weapons as best we could. Once that was done, Alexei and Oliver moved from body to body, pulling out the Reapers' wallets and looking at their driver's licenses, credit cards, and more. But they were just names that went with dead faces. None of the information told us anything important about the Reapers, like why they'd decided to attack us now - or what they might have planned next. I even leaned down and touched a few of the dead Reapers' hands, but the only flashes I got off them were of the battle - nothing useful. Ajax also went through the other cars on the train, in case Vivian or Agrona might be on board, hiding in the midst of the other passengers, but they were nowhere to be found.
"What do you think they wanted?" Carson asked, leaning down to peer at a guy who wore the same sort of black glasses he did.
"Other than killing us?" Daphne said. "I think that's enough for them. Don't you?"
Carson's words made me think back to the way the first Reaper girl's eyes had fixed on Vic. Sure, maybe she hadn't expected me to have the sword propped up in the seat beside me, but it seemed like there had been something more to her sharp gaze than just curiosity. I couldn't imagine what it could be, though, or what her interest in Vic could have to do with the attack.
Daphne turned to the mystery girl, who was leaning against the back wall of the car, her arms crossed over her chest once again. "And then there's you. Gwen says you're a Spartan. Female Spartans are rare. I've never met one before."
The girl shrugged. "Not so rare to me, since my mom and dad were both Spartans. Lucky for you, you get to meet me first, Valkyrie."
Pink sparks of magic crackled around Daphne's fingers, and she narrowed her eyes at the other girl. I stepped in between them, trying to diffuse the situation before things got any crazier.
"Well, thank you," I said. "For saving me. For fighting with us against the Reapers. You didn't have to do that."
The girl laughed, although it was a harsh, bitter sound. "Oh, you know us Spartans. We can't resist a good fight."
"What's your name?"
The girl glared at me, as though I'd asked her to reveal her deepest, darkest secret. Finally, when she realized that I was serious and expected her to, you know, actually answer me, she let out a long, deep sigh, as if giving me the information was some sort of cruel torture I'd devised specifically for her.
My mouth dropped open in surprise. I didn't know what name I'd expected her to give, but it hadn't been that one - because Forseti had been my dad, Tyr's, last name. Tyr Forseti. My parents had been married, but I had my mom's last name of Frost since that was the tradition for the women in our family.
It took me a moment to close my gaping jaw and gather my thoughts. "Forseti?" I asked, wondering if I'd heard her right. "F-o-r-s-e-t-i?"
The girl's eyes narrowed, and her hands balled into fists like she was thinking about stepping forward and attacking me the same way she had the Reapers. "Well, give you a gold star, for being able to spell. You got a problem with that name?"
Alexei stepped forward, shielding me from her. "You're the one who's going to have a problem if you take another step toward Gwen."
She let out another angry, bitter laugh. "In case you didn't notice, dude, I'm the one who saved your precious little princess from getting an arrow through her skull."
"Princess?" I asked.
Rory gave a loud, derisive snort. "Yeah. You. Princess. You and your little entourage. I saw them hovering around you at the station. You'd think that you were some sort of princess or something the way they were hanging all over you."
My eyes widened, my lips twitched, and my shoulders started to shake. I tried to contain it - really, I did - but I couldn't help it. I started laughing. And once I started, I couldn't stop. I knew it was crazy, that my laughter was crazy, that I should try to bottle it up the way I had all of my other emotions lately, but I just couldn't do it.
My friends looked at me, then each other. Daphne shrugged. She didn't know why I was laughing, and neither did any of the guys.
"What's so funny?" Rory muttered.
"Princess!" I managed to get out the word between fits of laughter. "You think I'm a bloody princess!"
The laughter kept coming and coming until tears streamed out of the corners of my eyes, and my stomach ached from the force of it.
Rory glared at me again. "If I'd known you were crazy, I would have let the Reapers put you out of your misery - and mine too."
I wiped the tears away and finally managed to get my giggles under control. "You don't understand. If there's one thing I'm not, it's definitely a princess. That's more Daphne's thing than mine."
"Hey!" Daphne snapped.
I looked at her. "C'mon. You know it's true. How many bags did you bring for this trip?"
She sniffed. "Just because you want to spend the rest of your life wearing hoodies, sneakers, and ratty T-shirts doesn't mean the rest of us should suffer."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh no."
Rory looked at the Valkyrie. "Your name's Daphne?"
She straightened up. "Daphne Cruz. From the North Carolina academy."
One by one, Daphne introduced everyone, including Coach Ajax, who'd finished his phone call.
Rory glanced at my friends before her green eyes fixed on me once more. "And what's the princess's name?"
"Gwen," I said. "Gwen Frost."
Rory froze, just as I had a moment ago. A shadow passed over her pretty face, and for a moment, her whole body tensed up, like she was debating whether or not to throw herself forward and attack me. Something that looked a lot like hate blazed in her eyes, and I felt a wave of anger surge off her, as hot as a furnace blasting heat in my face.
"Maybe you've heard of her," Carson said in a helpful voice.
"Yeah," Rory muttered. "I've heard of her all right."
And from the sound of her voice, it hadn't been anything good. It was bad enough that all the kids back home watched my every move now, but I'd never considered that word of who I was would make its way through the rest of the mythological world. I should have known it would, though. Sometimes, I thought Mythos kids gossiped even better than they wielded weapons. I wondered what this meant for our welcome at the academy. Ajax had wanted to pass our group off as some kids taking a field trip, but that wasn't going to happen now - if it had ever even been possible to start with.
Rory gave me another dark look, then plopped down on her bench, crossed her arms over her chest, and turned her head toward the windows, pointedly ignoring me and my friends. The others and I sat down, as well, making sure we were as far away from the blood and Reapers' bodies as we could get. I tried to catch Rory's gaze, but she stared out the windows with the same sort of intense, single-minded determination she'd shown during the fight. She might have saved my life, but it was obvious she wasn't happy about it. I wondered why. I'd never seen or met her before today, so I had no idea why she'd have such an obvious grudge against me. Usually, I had to be around people for at least a few minutes before I pissed them off.
Maybe it was her dislike of me or maybe it was the fact that the train was now filled with dead Reapers, but I couldn't help feeling there was a giant ax swinging back and forth over my head. All that was left to do now was to see when it would finally fall.
About fifteen minutes later, the train pulled into the station at Snowline Ridge. My friends and I grabbed our things and stepped off the car. Waiting on the platform was a group of men and women, all wearing black coveralls with the hand-and-scales symbol of the Protectorate stitched into the collars in white thread. The Protectorate members waited for us to get clear of the train before they boarded, pushing metal carts into the car where the Reapers' bodies were.
The other folks on the train had finally realized something had happened, and more than a few kids held their phones out and up, taking photos of me and my friends before they started texting furiously. Someone must have known someone who knew something about me, because within two minutes, everyone's phones started chirping, and the whispers drifted over to me.
"Her name is Gwen Frost . . ."
"She's supposed to be a Champion . . ."
"Apparently, she's always in some sort of trouble with the Reapers . . ."
Well, there went Ajax's hopes of our staying incognito for as long as possible. I grimaced. Maybe things weren't going to be all that different here at the Colorado academy after all. Reapers trying to kill me? Check. Everyone staring at me? Check. Kids whispering about me behind my back? Double-check. So far, it was like I hadn't even left home.
The only person who seemed as miserable as I did was Rory. The Spartan girl stood off to one side of the platform by herself. Once again, I noticed how the other kids took pains to avoid her - when they weren't openly sneering and snickering at her.
"Of course she was on the train with the Reapers . . ."
"Keeping it in the family, I suppose . . ."
"I don't know why they even let her come to school with us . . ."
From the sound of things, the other kids thought Rory had something to do with the Reapers. But why would they think that? She'd helped us fight them. If she'd really been one of them, she would have joined in the attack - and let that arrow punch right through my skull. I frowned and looked at Rory, but once again, she wouldn't meet my gaze.
"Come on," Ajax said, interrupting my thoughts. "It's just a short walk to the academy from here. We need to get there, get settled in, and start making plans for tomorrow."