Daphne Cruz giggled and laid another loud, smacking kiss on her boyfriend, Carson Callahan. Princess pink sparks of magic shot off my best friend’s fingertips and flickered in the air around them, the tiny rainbows of color almost as bright as Carson’s flaming cheeks.
I rolled my eyes. “Seriously, seriously sick.”
Daphne quit kissing Carson long enough to turn and stare at me. “Oh, get over it, Gwen. We’re not making out. Not in this stuffy old museum.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really? Then why is Carson wearing more of your lip gloss than you are?”
Carson’s blush deepened, his dusky brown skin taking on a fiery, tomato tint. The band geek pushed his black glasses up his nose and swiped his hand over his mouth, trying to scrub away the remains of the lip gloss, but all he really did was get pink glitter all over his fingers. Daphne giggled, then pressed another kiss to the band geek’s lips.
I sighed. “C’mon, c’mon. Break it up, lovebirds. The museum’s closes at five, and we haven’t seen half the artifacts we’re supposed to for myth-history class.”
“Fine,” Daphne pouted, stepping away from Carson. “Be a spoilsport.”
I rolled my eyes again. “Yeah, well, this spoilsport happens to be concerned about her grades. So, let’s go to the next room. There are supposed to be some really cool weapons in there, according to the exhibit brochure.”
Daphne crossed her arms over her chest. She narrowed her black eyes and glared at me for interrupting her fun, but she and Carson followed me as I stepped through a doorway and left the main part of the museum behind.
It was a few days after New Year’s, and the three of us were in the Crius Coliseum, a museum located on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina. Visiting a museum didn’t exactly top my list of fun things to do, but all the second-year students at Mythos Academy were supposed to schlep over to the coliseum sometime during the winter holidays to view a special exhibit of artifacts. Since classes started back at the academy in the morning, today was our last chance to finish the assignment. It was bad enough that I and all the other warrior whiz kids at Mythos were being trained to fight Reapers of Chaos. But homework over the holidays, too? That was so not fair.
Daphne, Carson, and I had gotten here about three o’clock, and we’d been wandering around the museum for the last ninety minutes, going from one display to the next. From the outside, the Crius Coliseum looked like just another building, just another museum, one of several tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains in and around the city.
Inside, though, it was a different story.
Walking through the front door of the museum was like stepping back in time to ancient Rome. The main room had been designed to resemble a grand coliseum, and white marble rolled out as far as the eye could see, broken up by towering pillars. Gold, silver, and bronze leaf glinted here and there on the walls before spreading up to cover the entire ceiling in dazzling disks of color. Sapphires and rubies burned like colorful coals in the necklaces and rings on display, while the fine silks and other garments shimmered inside their glass cases, looking as light and delicate as spiderwebs. The museum staff even wore long, flowing white togas, adding to the effect.
But it wasn’t just ancient Rome that was on display. Every room had a specific theme and displayed a different culture, from Norse to Greek to Russian to Japanese and all the lands and peoples in between. That’s because the coliseum was devoted to members of the Pantheon. Gods, goddesses, ancient warriors, mythological creatures—the Pantheon was basically a group of good magic guys who’d joined forces to save the world.
Way back in the day, the evil Norse trickster god Loki had tried to enslave everyone and had plunged the world into the long, bloody Chaos War. But the members of the Pantheon had risen up to stop Loki and his evil followers, the Reapers of Chaos. Eventually, the other gods and goddesses had locked Loki away in a mythological prison, far removed from the mortal realm. Now, the coliseum showcased the artifacts—jewelry, clothing, armor, weapons, and more—that both sides had used during the Chaos War.
Of course, what most people didn’t realize was that Loki was thisfreakingclose to breaking free of his prison and starting another Chaos War. It was something I thought about all the time, though—especially since I was somehow supposed to stop the evil god from escaping.
“This is cool,” Daphne said.
She pointed to a curved bow inside a glass case. The bow was made out of a single piece of onyx, inlaid with bits of gold scrollwork and strung with several thin golden threads. A matching onyx quiver sat next to the bow, although only a single golden arrow lay inside the slender tube.
Daphne leaned down and read the bronze plaque mounted on the pedestal below the weapon. “This says that the bow once belonged to Sigyn, the Norse goddess of devotion, and that every time you pull the arrow out of the quiver, another one appears to take its place. Okay, now that’s wicked cool.”
“I like this better,” Carson said, pointing to a curled ivory horn that resembled a small, handheld tuba. Bits of onyx glimmered on the smooth surface. “It says it’s the Horn of Roland. Not sure what it does, though.”
I blinked. I’d been so lost in my thoughts about Loki, Reapers, and the Pantheon that I’d just been wandering around, instead of actually looking at the artifacts, like we were supposed to.
We stood in an enormous circular room filled with weapons. Swords, staffs, spears, daggers, bows, and throwing stars glinted from behind glass cases and in spots on the walls, next to oil paintings of mythological battles. The entire back wall was made out of the same white marble as the rest of the museum, although a variety of mythological creatures had been carved into the surface. Gryphons, gargoyles, dragons, chimeras, Gorgons with snakelike hair and cruel smiles.
An ancient knight dressed in full battle armor perched on a stuffed horse on a raised dais in the center of the room. The knight had a lance in his hand and looked like he was about to charge forward and skewer the wax figure of a Roman centurion that also stood on the dais, his sword raised to fend off the charging knight. Other figures were scattered throughout the area, including a Viking wearing a horned helmet, who was poised to bring his massive battle-axe down onto the circular bronze shield of the Spartan standing next to him. A few feet away, two female figures representing a Valkyrie and an Amazon held swords and dispassionately watched the Viking and Spartan in their eternal epic battle.
I stared at the Viking and Spartan, and for a moment, their features flickered and seemed to move. Their wax lips drew up into angry snarls, their fingers tightened around the hilts of their weapons, their whole bodies tensed up in anticipation of the battle that was to come. I shivered and looked away. My Gypsy gift, my psychometry magic, had been acting up ever since we’d entered the museum.
“Hmph. Well, I don’t think that bow is so bloody special,” a voice with a snooty English accent muttered. “I think it’s rather boring. Ordinary, even.”
I looked down at the source of the voice—Vic, the sword sheathed in the black leather scabbard hanging off my waist. Vic wasn’t your typical sword. For starters, instead of having a plain hilt, the sword actually had half a face inlaid into the silver metal there. A single ear, a hooked nose, a slash of a mouth. All that joined together to form the sword’s hilt, along with a round bulge of an eye. It always seemed to me like there was a man trapped inside the metal, trying to get out. I didn’t know exactly who or what Vic was, other than rude, bossy, and bloodthirsty. The sword was always going on and on and on about how we should go find some Reapers to kill.
Actually, there was just one Reaper I wanted to kill—the girl who’d murdered my mom.
A crumpled car. A sword slicing through the rain. And blood—so much blood …
The memories of my mom’s murder bubbled to the surface of my mind, threatening to overwhelm me, but I pushed them away and forced myself to focus on my friends, who were still staring at the onyx bow and ivory horn.
I’d brought Vic along today because I thought he might enjoy seeing the items on display. Besides, I’d needed someone to talk to while Daphne and Carson had been giggling and tongue-wrestling with each other. The two of them were so into each other that it was rather disgusting at times, especially given the sad state of my own love life.
“It’s just a bow, after all,” Vic continued. “Not anything important. Not a real weapon.”
I rolled my eyes. Oh, yeah. Vic talked, too—mostly about how awesome he was.
“Well, some of us happen to like bows,” Daphne sniffed, looking down at the sword.
“And that’s what’s wrong with you, Valkyrie,” Vic said.
The sword stared at her. Vic only had one eye, and it was a curious color—not quite purple but not quite gray either. Really, Vic’s eye reminded me of the color of twilight, that soft shade that streaked the sky just before the world went dark for the night.
“And you, Celt,” Vic said, turning his attention to Carson. “Gwen told me that you prefer to use a staff. A staff! It doesn’t even have a bloody point on the end of it. Disgraceful, the things they’re teaching you warrior kids at Mythos these days.”
Every kid who went to Mythos Academy was some sort of warrior, including the three of us. Daphne was a Valkyrie, Carson was a Celt, and I was a Gypsy, all of us the descendants of the Pantheon warriors who’d first taken on Loki and his Reapers. Now, we carried on that tradition in modern times by going to the academy and learning how to use whatever skills and magic we had to fight against the Reapers of Chaos. And we weren’t the only ones. Vikings, Romans, Amazons, Ninjas, Samurais, Spartans. All those warriors and more could be found at the academy.
“Disgraceful, I say,” Vic crowed again.
Carson looked at me. I just shrugged. I’d only had Vic a few months, but I’d quickly learned there was no controlling the mouthy sword. Vic said whatever he liked, whenever he liked, as loudly as he liked. And if you dared to disagree with him, he was more than happy to discuss the matter further—while his blade was pressed up against your throat.
Vic and Daphne glared at each other before the Valkyrie turned to Carson and started talking to the band geek about how cool the bow was. I wandered through the rest of the room, peering at the other artifacts. Vic kept up his running monologue about how swords were the only real weapons, with him, of course, being the best sword ever. I made agreeing noises when appropriate. It was easier than trying to argue with him.
Daphne and Carson continued to look at the bow, and Vic finished his rant and fell silent once more. I was reading about a ball of silver thread that had belonged to Ariadne, a Greek maiden who helped Theseus find his way through the labyrinth where the Minotaur was kept, when shoes tapped on the floor and someone walked up beside me.
“Gwendolyn Frost,” a snide voice murmured. “Fancy seeing you here.”
I turned and found myself face-to-face with a fortysomething guy with black hair, cold blue eyes, and skin that was as white as the marble floor. He wore a dark blue suit and a pair of wingtips that had a higher polish than most of the glass cases in the room. I would have thought him handsome if I hadn’t known exactly how uptight and prissy he was—and how very much he hated me.
I sighed. “Nickamedes. What are you doing here?”
“Overseeing the exhibit, of course. Most of the artifacts on display are on loan from the Library of Antiquities.”
Nickamedes was the head honcho at the Library of Antiquities, which was located on the Mythos Academy campus not too far away in Cypress Mountain, North Carolina. In addition to books, the massive library was famous for its priceless collection of artifacts. Hundreds and hundreds of glass cases filled the library’s seven floors, containing items that had once belonged to everyone from gods and goddesses to their Champions to the Reapers they had battled.
I supposed it made sense that the Crius Coliseum had borrowed some artifacts from the library—that was probably the reason the Mythos students had been assigned to come here in the first place. So they’d be forced to look at and study the items they walked past and ignored on a daily basis at the library.
Nickamedes stared at me, not looking a bit happier to see me than I was to have run into him. His mouth twisted. “I see that you and your friends waited until the last possible second to come and complete your myth-history assignment, along with a great many of your classmates.”
Morgan McDougall, Samson Sorensen, Savannah Warren, Talia Pizarro. I’d spotted several kids I knew roaming through the coliseum. All seventeen, like me, Daphne, and Carson, and all second-year students at Mythos, trying to cram in a visit to the museum before winter classes started in the morning.
“I’ve been busy,” I muttered.
Nickamedes let out a disbelieving huff. “Right.”
Anger filled me. I had been busy. Very busy, as a matter of fact. Not too long ago, I’d learned that the Reapers were searching for the Helheim Dagger, which was rumored to be one of the Thirteen Artifacts that had been used during the final battle of the Chaos War. All of the Thirteen Artifacts had a lot of power, since they’d seen action during the climactic fight. But what made the weapon so important—what truly scared me—was the fact the dagger could be used to free Loki from the prison realm he was trapped in.
I was determined to find the dagger before the Reapers did, so during the holidays I’d read everything I could get my hands on about the weapon. Who might have made it, how it might have been used during the Chaos War, even what powers it might have. But all the books and articles I’d read didn’t tell me what I really wanted to know: where my mom, Grace, had hidden the dagger before she’d been murdered—or how I was supposed to find it before the Reapers did.
Of course, I couldn’t tell Nickamedes all that. He wouldn’t believe I’d been doing something useful, something important, during the holiday break. No doubt Nickamedes thought I’d just been sitting on my ass reading comic books and eating cookies like I did so many nights when I was working for him in the Library of Antiquities. Yeah, yeah, so maybe I wasn’t all that dedicated when it came to my after-school job. Sue me for wanting to goof off and have a little fun before I had to face down another crazy Reaper who thought I was more powerful and important than I really was.
Still, despite the librarian’s frosty attitude, I couldn’t help glancing around the room, hoping I’d see a guy my age with him—a guy with the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen and a sly, teasing grin to match.
“Is Logan here with you?” I couldn’t keep the hope out of my voice.
Nickamedes opened his mouth when a voice interrupted him.
“Right here, Gypsy girl.” A low voice sent chills down my spine.
My heart pounding, I slowly turned around. Logan Quinn stood behind me.
Thick, wavy, ink black hair, intense ice blue eyes, a confident smile. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at Logan, and my heart sped up, beating with such force that I was sure he could hear it.
Logan wore jeans and a dark blue sweater topped by a black leather jacket. The clothes were designer, of course, since the Spartan was just as rich as all the other academy kids. But even if he’d been dressed in rags, I still would have noticed the lean strength of his body and his broad, muscled shoulders. Yeah, Logan totally rocked the bad-boy look, and he had the man-whore reputation to match. One of the rumors that kept going around the academy was that Logan signed the mattresses of every girl he slept with, just so he could keep track of them all.
I’d never quite figured out if the rumors were true or not, or how Logan would even manage to do that in the first place, but they didn’t matter that much to me because the Spartan was just a really, really great guy. Smart, strong, funny, charming, caring. Then, of course, there was the whole saving-my-life-multiple-times thing. Kind of hard not to like a guy when he kept get you from getting killed by Reapers and eaten by Nemean prowlers.
Logan’s eyes dropped to my throat and the necklace I wore there—the one he’d given me before school had let out for Christmas. Six silver strands wrapped around my throat, creating the necklace, while the diamond-tipped points joined together to form a simple, yet elegant snowflake in the center of the strands. The beautiful necklace looked like something a goddess would wear. I thought it was far too pretty and delicate for me, but I loved it just the same.
“You’re wearing the necklace,” the Spartan said in a low voice.
“Every day since you gave it to me,” I said. “I hardly ever take it off.”
Logan smiled at me, and it was like the sun had erupted from a sky full of storm clouds. For a moment everything was just—perfect.
Then Nickamedes cleared his throat, popping the bubble of happiness I’d been about to float away on. A sour expression twisted the librarian’s face as he looked back and forth between his nephew and me.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, the museum’s closing soon, and I need to make sure the staff is ready to start packing up the items for transport back to the academy in the morning.”
Nickamedes pivoted on his wingtips and strode out of the weapons room without another word. I sighed. Yeah, I might not be the most dedicated worker, but I always felt like there was another reason that Nickamedes hated me. He’d pretty much disliked me on sight, and I had no idea why.
I put the librarian and his bad attitude out of mind and focused on Logan. He’d texted me a few times over the holiday break, but I’d still missed him like crazy—especially since I had no idea what was going on between us. Not too long ago, we’d shared what I thought was the kiss to end all kisses, but he hadn’t exactly declared his love for me in the meantime—or even asked me out on a real date. Instead, we’d been in this weird holding pattern for weeks—one that I was determined to end.
I drew in a breath, ready to ask Logan how his winter break was and what was going to happen between us now. “Logan, I—”
Shouts and screams ripped through the air, drowning out my words.
I froze, wondering if I’d only imagined the harsh, jarring sounds. Why would someone be shouting in the museum? A second later, more screams sliced through the air, followed by several loud crashes and the heavy thump-thump-thump of footsteps.
Logan and I looked at each other, then bolted for the door. Daphne and Carson had also heard the screams, and they raced along right behind us.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Daphne hissed.
She managed to grab my arm and the back of Logan’s leather jacket just before the Spartan sprinted out of the room. With her great Valkyrie strength, she was easily able to yank both of us back and give me whiplash.
“You don’t know what’s going on—or who might be out there,” Daphne warned.
Logan glared at her, but after a moment, he reluctantly nodded. I did the same, and Daphne loosened her grip on us. Together in a tight knot, the four of us crept up to the doorway and peeked through to the other side.
The Crius Coliseum was shaped like a giant wheel, with one main space in the middle and the hallways and rooms branching off like spokes. The doorway we stood in opened up into the center section of the museum. When Daphne, Carson, and I had walked through a few minutes ago, folks had been milling around the exhibits, looking at the artifacts and browsing through the expensive replica weapons, armor, and jewelry in the gift shop. Besides the staff, most of the other people here had been second-year Mythos students, trying to get their homework assignment done before classes started tomorrow, just like the three of us.
Now, figures wearing long, black, hooded robes stormed through the coliseum—and they all carried sharp, curved swords. The figures swarmed over everyone in their path, their blades slashing into the students who’d been staring at the exhibits just a few seconds before. More screams and shouts tore through the air, echoing as loud as gunshots, as people realized what was happening.
But it was already too late.
“Reapers,” Daphne whispered, voicing my own horrific thought.
The Reapers of Chaos ran their swords through everyone they could get their hands on, then shoved the dead and dying to the floor. The museum staff, adults, kids. It didn’t matter to the Reapers who they killed. Wax figures, statues, and display cases crashed to the floor, splintering into thousands of pieces. Blood spattered everywhere, a cascade of scarlet teardrops sliding down the white marble walls.
A sick, sick feeling filled my stomach at the bloody chaos in front of me. I’d heard about Reapers, about how vicious they were, about how they lived to kill warriors—about how they lived to kill us. I’d faced down two Reapers myself, but I’d never seen anything like this.
Some of the Mythos students tried to fight back, using their fists or whatever they could get their hands on. But it didn’t work, and one by one, the Reapers swarmed over the kids. Samson Sorensen fell to the floor, screaming and clutching his stomach, blood spurting out from between his fingers. A few Mythos students tried to run, but the Reapers just grabbed them from behind, rammed their swords into the kids’ backs, and then tossed them aside like trash.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Morgan McDougall duck down and squeeze in between a tall, wide pedestal and the wall. Green sparks of magic shot out of Morgan’s fingertips like lightning, a clear sign of her surprise and panic, and she curled her hands into tight fists and tucked them under her armpits to try to smother the colorful flashes. Morgan knew as well as I did that if the Reapers saw the sparks, they’d find and finish her off. The pretty Valkyrie spotted me watching her and stared back at me, her hazel eyes full of fear.
“Stay there! Hide! Don’t try to run!” I shouted, although I didn’t think Morgan could hear me above the screams and the alarms that had started blaring.
In less than a minute, it was over. The Reapers regrouped in the middle of the coliseum, talking to each other, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the moans, groans, and whimpers of the dying kids on the bloody floor.
“Reapers,” Daphne whispered again, as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing any more than I could.
It was almost like they’d heard the Valkyrie’s low murmur because several of the black-robed figures turned and headed in our direction.
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