"I know your secret."
Daphne Cruz leaned closer to the mirror over the sink and put another coat of pale pink gloss onto her lips, pointedly ignoring me the way all the pretty, popular girls did.
The way everyone did at Mythos Academy.
"I know your secret," I repeated in a louder voice.
I pushed away from the statue of a sea nymph that I'd been leaning against, strolled over to the door that led out of the girls' bathroom, and locked it. I might not care who knew Daphne's dirty little secret, but I was willing to bet that she would before we were through. That's why I'd made sure that all of the white marble stalls were empty and waited for the rest of Daphne's friends to leave their spots on the cushioned settee in the corner before I'd approached her.
Once Daphne was satisfied that her lips were glossed to a high sheen, she dropped the tube into the depths of her oversize pink Dooney & Bourke purse. Next, she drew out a hairbrush and went to work on her smooth, golden locks. Still ignoring me.
I crossed my arms over my chest, leaned against the door, and waited. The intricate raised figures of warriors and monsters carved into the heavy wooden door pressed against my back, but I ignored the odd lumps and bumps. The two hundred bucks I was getting for this job meant that I could afford to be patient.
After another two minutes, when her hair had been brushed a dozen times and she realized that I wasn't actually, you know, leaving, Daphne finally deigned to turn and look at me. Her black eyes flicked over my jeans, graphic T-shirt, and purple zip-up hoodie, and she let out a little snort of disgust, obviously offended that I wasn't wearing the latest designer threads like she was. That I didn't have the matchy-match look down pat that she and her friends had going on.
Apparently, today's theme had been argyle, because the pattern was on everything that Daphne wore, from her pink cashmere sweater to her black pleated skirt to the printed black and pink tights that showed off her legs. The contrast of light and dark colors made her perfect, amber skin look that much more luminous. So did the shiny lip gloss.
"You know my secret?" Daphne repeated, a sneer creeping into her voice. "And what secret would that be?"
So the Valkyrie wanted to be snotty. Not a problem.
I smiled. "I know you took the charm bracelet. The one that Carson Callahan was going to give to Leta Gaston as a will-you-go-to-the-homecoming-dance-withme present. You snatched it off the desk in his dorm room yesterday when he was helping you with your English lit paper."
For the first time, doubt flickered in Daphne's eyes, and disbelief filled her pretty face before she was able to hide it. Now, she was looking at me-really looking at me-trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted. After a moment, her eyes narrowed.
"You're that Gypsy girl," Daphne muttered. "The one who sees things."
That Gypsy girl. That's what everyone at Mythos Academy called me. Mainly because I was the only Gypsy trapped here in this school for magical warrior freaks. The middle-class girl whose strange ability had landed her here among the rich, popular, and undeniably powerful. Like Daphne Cruz, a spoiled, pampered wannabe princess who also happened to be a Valkyrie.
"What's your name?" Daphne asked. "Gail? Gretchen?"
Wow. I was impressed that she even knew it started with a G.
"Gwen," I told her. "Gwen Frost."
"Well, Gwen Frost," Daphne said, turning her attention back to her purse. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Her voice and face were both just as smooth as the gilded silver mirror in front of her. I might have even believed her, if her hands hadn't clenched the tiniest bit as she put her hairbrush back into her purse. If I hadn't known just how good girls like her could lie.
Just how good everyone could lie.
I reached into my gray messenger bag and drew out a clear plastic bag. A small silver charm shaped like a rose glinted inside. I might as well have shown her a bag full of pot from the way Daphne visibly recoiled.
"Where-where did you get that?" she whispered.
"Carson hadn't finished putting all the charms on Leta's bracelet when he showed it to you during your tutoring session yesterday afternoon," I said. "I found this one way, way back behind his desk in his dorm room. It fell down there when you grabbed the bracelet and stuffed it into your purse."
Daphne let out a laugh, still keeping up the act. "And why would I do something like that?"
"Because you're crazy about Carson. You don't want him to ask out Leta. You want him for yourself."
Daphne slumped over, her hands dropping to one of the sinks that lined the wall below the mirror. Her fingers curled around the silver faucets, which were shaped like Hydra heads, before sliding down to the basin. Her French-manicured nails scraped across the white marble, and pale pink sparks of magic shot out of her fingertips. Daphne might only be seventeen like me, but Valkyries were incredibly strong. I knew that if she wanted to, Daphne Cruz could rip that sink out of the wall easier than the Hulk could.
Maybe I should have been scared of the Valkyrie, of the weird princess pink sparks, and especially of her strength and what she could do to me with it. But I wasn't. I'd already lost one of the people I cared about most. Everything else dulled in comparison to that.
"How do you know all that?" Daphne asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
I shrugged. "Because, as you put it, I see things. And as soon as I found this charm, I knew that you were the one who took the bracelet."
I didn't tell Daphne anything else about my Gypsy gift, about my ability to know an object's history just by touching it, and she didn't ask.
Instead, the Valkyrie kept staring at me with her black eyes. After about thirty seconds of silence, she came to some sort of decision. Daphne straightened, reached into her bag once more, and drew out her wallet. It matched her designer purse.
"All right," she said. "How much will it take for you to give me that charm and forget about this whole thing? A hundred dollars? Two?"
This time, my hands were the ones that clenched into fists. She was trying to buy me off. I'd expected nothing less, but the gesture still made me angry. Like everyone else at Mythos Academy, Daphne Cruz could afford the very best of everything. A few hundred dollars was nothing to her. She'd spent that much on her freaking purse.
But a few hundred dollars wasn't nothing to me. It was clothes and comic books and a cell phone and a dozen other things that girls like Daphne never had to worry about.
"Carson's already paid me," I said.
"So?" she said. "I'll pay you more. However much you want."
"Sorry. Once I give my word to somebody, I keep it. And I told Carson that I would find the charm bracelet for him."
Daphne tilted her head to the side like I was some strange creature that she'd never seen before, some mythological monster masquerading as a teenage girl. Maybe it was stupid of me, not taking her up on the cash that she was so willing to give me. But my mom wouldn't have taken Daphne's money, not if she'd already made a promise to someone else. My mom, Grace, had been a Gypsy, just like me. With a gift, just like me.
For a moment, my heart ached with guilt and longing. My mom was gone, and I missed her so much. I shook my head, more to push the pain aside than anything else.
"Look, just give me the bracelet. That's all I want. That's all Carson wants."
Daphne's lips tightened. "He-he knows? That I took the bracelet? And why?"
"Not yet. But he's going to if you don't give it to me. Right now."
I opened the top of the plastic bag and held it out to her. Daphne stared at the rose charm glinting inside. She bit her pink lip, smearing her gloss on her teeth, and looked away.
"Fine," she muttered. "I don't know why I even took it in the first place."
I did because I'd flashed on Daphne when I'd touched the charm. As soon as my fingers had brushed the silver rose, an image of the blond Valkyrie had popped into my head. I'd seen Daphne sitting at Carson's desk, staring at the bracelet, her fingers tightening around the metal links like she wanted to rip them in two.
And I'd felt the other girl's emotions, too, the way that I always did whenever I touched an object or even another person. I'd felt Daphne's hot, pulsing jealousy that Carson was thinking about asking out Leta. The warm, soft, fizzy crush that Daphne had on Carson herself, despite the fact that he was a total band geek and she was part of the popular crowd. Her cold, aching despair that she didn't like someone the rest of her snobby friends would approve of.
But I didn't tell Daphne any of that. The less people knew about my gift and the things I saw and felt, the better.
Daphne yanked the bracelet out of her bag. Carson Callahan might be a band geek, but he had money, too, which was why the bracelet was a heavy, expensive thing loaded down with a dozen charms that jingled together. Daphne's nails scraped against one of the charms, a small heart, and more pink sparks of magic fluttered like fireflies in the air.
I held out the bag again, and Daphne dropped the bracelet inside. I closed the top and tied off the plastic, careful not to touch the jewelry itself. I didn't want another slide show into Daphne Cruz's psyche. The first one had almost made me feel sorry for her.
But any sympathy I might have had for Daphne vanished when the Valkyrie gave me the cold, haughty stare that so many mean girls before her had perfected.
"You tell anyone about this, Gwen Frost, and I'll strangle you with that ugly purple hoodie you're wearing. Understand me?"
"Sure," I said in a pleasant tone. "But you might want to pull yourself together before you go to your next class, Daphne. Your lip gloss is smeared."
The Valkyrie's eyes narrowed, but I ignored her venomous dirty look, unlocked the bathroom door, and left.
I stepped out of the bathroom and into the hallway. Somewhere deeper in the building, a bell chimed, warning me that I had five minutes to get to my next class, so I fell in with the flow of students walking toward the west wing of the English-history building.
From the outside, Mythos Academy looked like an elite Ivy League prep school, even though it was located in Cypress Mountain, just outside of Asheville, up in the high country of western North Carolina. Everything about the academy whispered of money, power, and snobbery, from the ivy-covered stone buildings to the perfectly manicured grassy quads to the dining hall that was more like a five-star restaurant than a school cafeteria. Yeah, from the outside, the academy looked exactly like the kind of place rich people would send their spoiled trust fund babies to in preparation for them going on to Yale, Harvard, Duke, or some other acceptably expensive college.
Inside, though, it was a different story.
At first glance, everything looked normal, if a bit stuffy and totally old-fashioned. You know, suits of polished armor lining the halls, each one clutching a sharp, pointed weapon. Stone carvings and expensive oil paintings of mythological battles covering the walls. White marble statues of gods and goddesses standing in the corners, their faces turned toward each other and hands held up over their mouths, as if they were gossiping about everyone who passed by their perches.
And then, there were the students. Ages sixteen to twenty-one, first-year students all the way up to sixthyears, all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, with books and bags in one hand and their cell phones in the other, texting, talking, and walking all at the same time. Each one wearing the most expensive clothes their parents could afford, including Prada, Gucci, and, of course, Jimmy Choos.
But if you looked past the designer duds and flashy electronics, you'd notice other things. Strange things. Like the fact that so many of the students carried weapons. Swords, bows, and staffs mostly, all stuffed into what looked like fancy leather tennis bags. Color-coordinated to match the day's outfit, of course.
The weapons were just accessories at Mythos. Status symbols of who you were, what you could do, and how much money your parents had. Just like the colorful sparks and flashes of magic that crackled in the air like static electricity. Even the lowliest geek here knew how to chop off somebody's head with a sword or could turn your insides to mush just by muttering a spell or two.
It was like going to school in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.
That's what all the kids at Mythos Academy were-warriors. Real, live mythological warriors. Or at least the great-great-whatever descendants of them. The girls were Amazons and Valkyries, for the most part, while the boys tended to be Romans or Vikings. But there were other warrior types mixed in as well-Spartans, Persians, Trojans, Celts, Samurais, Ninjas, and everything in between, from every ancient culture, myth, or fairy tale that you'd ever heard of and lots that you hadn't. Each one with their own special abilities and magic, and the egos to match.
As a general rule, though, everyone was rich, beautiful, and dangerous.
Everyone except for me.
Nobody looked at me and nobody spoke to me as I trudged toward my sixth-period myth-history class. I was just that Gypsy girl, and not rich, powerful, popular, pretty, or important enough to register on anyone's social radar. It was late October now, almost two months into the fall term, and I had yet to make a friend. I didn't even have a casual someone I could sit with at lunch in the dining hall. But my friendless state didn't bother me.
Not much had, since my mom's death six months ago.
I slid into my seat in Professor Metis's myth-history class just before the bell chimed again, indicating that everyone should be where they were supposed to be by now.
Carson Callahan turned around in his seat, which was in front of mine. "Did you find it yet?" he whispered.