“This is pointless.”
Daphne Cruz, my best friend, leaned forward, stared into the bathroom mirror, and put another coat of gloss onto her lips. Sparks of magic the same princess-pink color as her gloss streamed out of the Valkyrie’s fingertips and winked out as they hit the porcelain sink below the mirror.
“Pointless,” I repeated. “Point. Less.” “Mmm-hmm.”
Daphne gave a noncommittal reply, capped her gloss, and dropped the tube into the enormous purse hanging off her arm. She reached into the depths of the designer bag and pulled out a hairbrush, ignoring me as she started smoothing out her golden locks. Which, of course, were already perfectly smooth. Daphne never went anywhere without looking her best.
“C’mon,” I said, not ready to give up on my rant yet. “You know I’m right about this. The day is sure to end in disaster.”
Daphne finished with her brush, put it away, and plucked a silver compact out of her purse. She smoothed a bit of powder onto her already flawless amber skin and gave herself a critical once-over in the mirror, picking a tiny piece of lint off her pale pink cashmere sweater.
I drew in another breath to continue with my tirade, but Daphne snapped her compact shut, interrupting me before I could get started again.
Daphne looked at me in the mirror, her black eyes finally meeting my violet ones. “Geez, Gwen. Relax. We’re out on a double date. We’re supposed to be, you know, having fun. Not worrying about Reapers coming to ruin everything.”
I glowered at her. She might be able to relax, but worrying about Reapers was something I did pretty much twenty-four-seven these days.
My left hand slid over to my right wrist, and my fingers wrapped around the bracelet that hung off my arm there. The bracelet itself was unique—several laurel leaves dangling off strands of mistletoe that had been woven together to form a thin chain, all of them made out of silver. I tightened my grip on one of the leaves and waited a few seconds for my psychometry to kick in. But the only sensation I got off the bracelet was the same cool, calm vibe I always felt whenever I focused on it.
To look at the bracelet, you’d think that it was nothing more than a bit of interesting jewelry. But it was one of the keys to finally defeating Loki and his Reapers of Chaos. At least, that’s what Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, claimed. I served as Nike’s Champion, the girl who carried out the goddess’s wishes here in the mortal realm—and the goddess wanted Loki dead. Something the bracelet was supposed to help me accomplish, even if I hadn’t figured out exactly what to do with it yet.
“Gwen?” Daphne asked, a bit of exasperation creeping into her voice. “Now what are you brooding about?” I fiddled with the leaves on the bracelet for a few more seconds before tucking the whole thing back under the sleeve of my purple hoodie.
“I’m wondering how you can be so blasé about Reapers,” I said. “Um, hello? In case you haven’t noticed, Reapers have ruined pretty much everything at Mythos Academy the last few months. Homecoming dance? I end up fighting a Reaper in the library. Winter Carnival weekend? Another fight with a Reaper at the ski resort. Last day of winter break? Fighting Reapers at the Crius Coliseum. Winter band concert? More Reapers at the Aoide Auditorium. And don’t even get me started on what happened when we went to the Eir Ruins.”
One by one, I ticked the examples off on my fingers. When I finished, I gave her a knowing look. “So why should today be any different?”
Daphne rolled her eyes. She slapped her hands on her hips, causing even more princess-pink sparks of magic to erupt out of her fingertips.
“Because today is supposed to be about us—you, me, Carson, and Logan—not about Reapers,” she said. “The rest of us have been having a great afternoon so far, even if all you’ve done is try to ruin things by looking for Reapers around every corner.”
“The Valkyrie’s right,” a voice with a cool English accent chimed in. “You have been a little on edge today, Gwen.”
I reached down, pulled a sword out of the black leather scabbard belted around my waist, and held it up to eye level. Instead of being plain, half of a man’s face was inlaid into the silver hilt, complete with a hooked nose, a mouth, an ear, and a bright purplish eye that was fixed on me. Vic, my talking sword, the weapon given to me by Nike herself.
“I thought you’d be eager to run into some Reapers today,” I said. “Considering that all you ever do is talk about wanting to kill them.”
Vic didn’t have a shoulder to shrug, so he rolled his one eye instead. “Even I need some downtime every once in a while, Gypsy. The Valkyrie’s right. You should enjoy the quiet while it lasts. I, for one, am going back to my nap. You know the drill.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. “Only wake you if there are Reapers to kill.”
Vic snapped his eye shut. I gave the sword a sour look, even though he wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to me anymore. I sighed, then slid him back into his scabbard.
“See?” Daphne said in a smug tone. “Even Vic agrees with me.”
I glared at her again, though she and Vic were both right. I was being a total spoilsport today. But it had been almost two weeks since we’d heard so much as a peep from Agrona Quinn, the head of the Reapers, or Vivian Holler, the girl who was Loki’s Champion and my nemesis. Two long weeks that had no doubt given the Reapers time to regroup—and come up with some new horrible plan to mess with me and the people I cared about.
Just thinking about what the Reapers might be up to made my stomach clench with dread. I’d already lost so much to Agrona, Vivian, and the other warriors, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before they struck again. But Daphne and Vic were right. There was nothing I could do about the Reapers today, and I should enjoy this time with my friends and boyfriend.
Because I might not have much longer with them, if Loki had his way.
“Okay, okay,” I muttered. “I’ll put on a happy face for the rest of the day.”
Daphne gave me a sharp look. “Promise?”
I made an off-center X over my heart, tracing over two scars that marred my skin there underneath the purple hoodie and thick gray sweater I wore. “Promise.” “Good. Then let’s go,” Daphne said, clamping her hand on my arm and using her great Valkyrie strength to pull me toward the door. “Our order should be ready by now, and I’m in desperate need of a sugar buzz.”
I sighed again, but I let her lead me out of the bathroom.
Daphne and I stepped out into the main part of Kaldi Coffee.
In many ways, Kaldi’s was your typical coffeehouse. A long counter running along the back wall. A glass case full of sinfully sweet cheesecakes, cupcakes, and every other kind of dessert that you could think of. Lots of overstuffed chairs and couches. Wrought-iron tables. Espresso machines burping and bubbling away, flavoring the air with the rich, dark aroma of the coffee they were brewing up.
What wasn’t so typical were the folks inside the coffeehouse.
Valkyries, Amazons, Vikings, Romans, Spartans. All kids around my own age, all descendants of ancient mythological warriors, and all armed with weapons. Swords, daggers, staffs, spears. Practically every person in the shop had a mug of coffee in one hand and something sharp and pointy within easy reach of the other. Morgan McDougall, one of my Valkyrie friends, had a crossbow propped up on the table next to her, the bolt in it aimed toward the door. Morgan had told me once that always having a weapon around made her feel better. Yeah. Me too.
I barely had time to wave at Morgan before Daphne strong-armed me over to two couches in front of the fireplace. As we moved through the shop, whispers sprang up in our wake. Or my wake, rather.
“Hey, look, Gwen Frost is here . . .”
“She must be taking a break from fighting Reapers . . .” “I wonder when she’s finally going to battle Loki . . .” I grimaced and tried to pretend I didn’t hear the other kids talking about me. Everyone at Mythos Academy knew that I was Nike’s Champion and that I was supposed to find some way to save us all from Loki and the Reapers. Nothing like a little added pressure to make a girl worry and obsess that much more.
I sighed. Daphne was right. I was being totally paranoid today, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.
She let go of my arm and plopped down on one of the couches next to a guy with black glasses and hair, eyes, and skin that were all a dusky brown. Carson Callahan, her band geek boyfriend, and a truly nice guy.
Daphne leaned over and gave Carson a loud, smacking kiss, not caring who saw her do it or the fact that she’d just transferred all the pink gloss from her lips onto his. Carson gave her an adoring look in return and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her close. She hugged him back, her strength making him wince before she let him go.
“Is that my hot chocolate?” Daphne asked, her gaze zooming over to a tray full of mugs and plates of desserts on the table between the two couches. “Finally.”
Practically every seat in the coffeehouse was taken, so we’d left the guys to brave the long line at the counter while Daphne freshened up in the bathroom.
Carson shot her another adoring glance. “I got you a piece of chocolate cheesecake too. I know how much you like it.”
“Thanks, babe.” Daphne kissed him again before leaning forward and picking up her oversize mug of hot chocolate.
I shrugged out of my hoodie, then sat down on the other couch next to a guy with ink-black hair and the most amazing ice-blue eyes I’d ever seen. He smiled at me, making a warm, fizzy feeling explode in my heart.
Logan freaking Quinn. My boyfriend. The guy I loved. “It’s about time you came back,” Logan said, his voice taking on a light, teasing note. “I was starting to wonder if you’d snuck out the back and were ditching me for some other guy.”
“Never,” I replied. “It’s not my fault that Daphne spent forever touching up her hair and makeup.”
“Hmph,” Daphne sniffed, but she was too busy canoodling with Carson and eating her cheesecake to really let me have it the way she usually did.
Seeing my friends so lovey-dovey made me turn toward Logan. I smiled at him and leaned forward, ready to kiss him, but he grimaced. It was just a twinge, just a small twitch of his mouth, really, but it was enough to make me stop. Instead, I changed direction, moved past him, and grabbed my own mug of hot chocolate, as if that was what I had meant to do all along. As if I hadn’t noticed his wary expression—or the hurt that it sent shooting through my heart.
I leaned back against the couch cushions, still holding my hot chocolate. Logan hesitated, then reached out and put his arm around me. But he didn’t draw me close like Carson had Daphne. Instead, we sat there, touching, but still with this distance between us—distance that I didn’t know how to get rid of.
Not too long ago, Logan had attacked and almost killed me. Of course, he’d been connected to Loki at the time, and the evil Norse god had forced Logan to hurt me against his will. I’d managed to break Loki’s hold on Logan, but the Spartan had left the academy as a result. I’d eventually convinced him to come back, but Logan still thought he might hurt me again, even though I knew he would never do anything like that. Not of his own free will.
Some days, Logan was just as fun, carefree, and charming as ever. But there were other times when I saw him looking at me, and I knew he was wondering if he’d really done the right thing by returning to the academy. I had thought we were past all of his self-doubt and worry, but the Reapers had left their scars on Logan just like they had on me. Just like they had on all of us—inside and out.
All of our friends told me that he needed more time. I knew they were right, but that didn’t make things any better, especially when I saw how much Daphne and Carson trusted and loved each other. How freaking easy it was for them to be together.
“Are you two ever going to come up for air?” I asked.
Yeah, I knew it was wrong, sniping at them, but heartache or not, there was only so long that I could watch the two of them suck face.
“Sorry, Gwen,” Carson said, breaking their intense liplock, his glasses slightly crooked from how hard the two of them had been kissing.
“Just ignore her,” Daphne said, planting one more kiss on his cheek before she finally moved away from him. “She’s just grumpy because she hasn’t had enough sugar today.”
“I could feed you some cake if you want,” Logan suggested, giving me a sly wink.
I huffed. “Please. I am perfectly capable of feeding myself. Besides, that way, I don’t have to share.”
I grabbed the plate containing the giant s’more that I’d asked Logan to get for me, picked it up, and sank my teeth into the sugary treat. Buttery graham crackers; grilled marshmallows; two thick bars of oozing, melting dark chocolate; toasted, slivered almonds for a little extra crunch. It was a perfect combination of sweet and salty flavors, and I savored every single bite. Yum. So good.
Logan chowed down on the vanilla cheesecake he’d gotten for himself, while Carson nibbled on a blackberry scone.
A few minutes later, a Viking who played the tuba in the marching band came over to talk to Carson and Daphne, and the three of them started chatting, leaving me and Logan to face each other again.
“I’m glad we did this today,” Logan said in a quiet voice. “It’s been nice to get away from the academy for a while.”
Since it was Saturday, we’d spent the afternoon browsing through the shops in Cypress Mountain, the suburb where the academy was located. Well, really, Daphne dragged us all from one store to the next, but Logan was right. It had been a relief to leave campus and all the problems there behind for a few hours. Even if I had been secretly expecting Vivian, Agrona, and a group of Reapers to show up and attack us somewhere between the bookstore at one end of the main drag and the jewelry shop at the other.