Spartan Promise – Jennifer Estep

“I hate field trips.” I looked at my friend Zoe Wayland. “Why would you say that?” She shrugged. “Because field trips always end in disaster.” “And why would you say that? Field trips are awesome. They’re a break from the regular old boring school routine. A chance to leave campus, go somewhere new, and see lots of cool stuff. And best of all, an excuse to miss all the classes we don’t like.” Zoe snorted. “Maybe for you, Spartan. But for me, field trips are always a pain.” “Why?” Instead of answering me, Zoe picked up a pair of pliers from her desk. She fiddled with the pliers for a few seconds before setting them down and grabbing a hammer instead. Screwdrivers, wrenches, even a small blowtorch. All those tools and more crowded together on one side of her desk, along with swords, daggers, and several arrows.

Zoe was a genius when it came to inventions, and she loved creating weapons and gadgets for Team Midgard to use in our fight against the Reapers of Chaos. One by one, Zoe picked up the tools and weapons, along with odd bits of metal and piles of twisted wires, as though she were trying to straighten out the jumble, but then she set them right back down where they had been before. Every time she grabbed something, pale blue sparks of magic streamed out of her fingertips before winking out. Valkyries always gave off more magic when they were upset or emotional. Zoe would tell me what was bothering her when she was ready. But she wasn’t ready yet, and she scooted over and started fiddling with the scissors, ribbons, and bolts of cloth on the other side of her desk, since she enjoyed making clothes and jewelry as much as weapons and gadgets. Zoe grabbed a clear plastic box full of red heart-shaped crystals, which she used to embellish her designs. She shook the box, making the crystals inside rattle around, before setting the container back down on her desk. Finally, she sighed and raised her hazel gaze to mine. “I hate field trips because I have an annoying tendency to get carsick whenever I go on one.

” I raised my eyebrows. “Carsick?” She slumped down in her chair. “Well, more like bus sick. I don’t know why, but every time I get on a bus to go on some stupid field trip, I always get sick and have to throw up before we get there. Just ask Mateo. I puked all over his boots when we went to the Powder ski resort last year. Everyone on the bus saw me literally lose my lunch. It was so embarrassing.” “Well, then it’s a good thing that this isn’t a field trip and that we aren’t taking a bus.” “Oh, no,” Zoe said sarcastically.

“We’re going to explore some creepy old tunnels that run underneath Mythos Academy, the school of warrior kids, mythological monsters, and artifacts that summon mythological monsters. What could possibly go wrong?” I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come on. Where is your sense of adventure?” She sighed again and slid even farther down in her chair. I turned my attention back to my own desk, making sure that I had everything for our so-called field trip. A flashlight, a digital camera, a notebook, several pens, a couple of bottles of water, and some chocolate chip cookies. Okay, okay, it was probably overkill to bring snacks, but Zoe was right. You never knew what might happen at Mythos Academy, and if we did get stuck in the tunnels, I didn’t want to starve before someone rescued us. I wasn’t the only one who might be thirsty, so I opened one of the bottles and poured a healthy amount of water into a small green pot on my desk that contained a beautiful flower with delicate white petals and a heart-shaped emerald-green blossom in the center. The water soaked into the soil, and the winterbloom perked up and spread its petals wide, as if it were thanking me.

“There you go,” I cooed, and stroked one of its velvety petals. “There’s some water for you.” “Have I told you how weird it is that you talk to that flower?” Zoe snarked. “Don’t listen to her,” I said, still speaking to the flower. “She’s just jealous that she doesn’t have anything as pretty as you on her desk.” The winterbloom stood up even taller with pride. I stroked its petals again, then capped my water bottle. I stuffed my supplies into my green messenger bag, then glanced around, making sure that I hadn’t forgotten anything. Zoe and I were in the main briefing room in the Bunker, which was located beneath the Library of Antiquities on the Mythos Academy campus in Snowline Ridge, Colorado. Only a few people knew about the Bunker, since it was the supersecret headquarters of the Midgard, a team of students and adults who had been tasked with battling a new group of Reapers of Chaos.

A long rectangular table dominated one side of the room, with the seats turned to face the monitors that took up most of one wall. Zoe’s desk stood off to one side of the center table, along with mine, while two more desks sat on the opposite side of the table. One of those desks held a laptop, along with a couple of keyboards and monitors. Several miniature foam footballs, soccer balls, and tennis balls were stuffed between the computer equipment. That desk belonged to Mateo Solis, the Roman who was the Midgard’s computer guru and another one of our friends. Battle axes, swords, and other weapons covered the second desk, along with myth-history books with notes stuck to their pages to mark certain passages. That spot belonged to Ian Hunter, the Viking who was the team’s warrior muscle, along with yours truly. My gaze moved to the back half of the room, which had several rows of floor-to-ceiling shelves. Books lined many of the shelves, but they weren’t your normal paperbacks and hardcovers. No, these volumes were all extremely old, with worn pages, tattered covers, and frayed spines.

Many of the books looked like they would disintegrate into dust if you pulled them off the shelves, much less tried to read them, but the books—and the knowledge they contained—were far more dangerous than they appeared. As were all the other artifacts here. Weapons, armor, jewelry, clothing, and more sat on the shelves next to the books. Golden swords, silver shields, bronze daggers, diamond rings. Each artifact was more beautiful than the last and had some magic that made it very, very powerful. Like the Gauntlets of Maat, named after the Egyptian goddess of truth. Once the gold gauntlets were placed on your arms, you couldn’t take them off, and you had to answer truthfully any question you were asked. Oh, you could try to resist the artifact’s magic, but for every lie you told, the gauntlets would heat up a little more, until they finally erupted into flames and burned you alive. And that was just one of dozens of objects that would scorch, freeze, or otherwise torture you to death. Not to mention the artifacts that would make you see monsters that weren’t really there or fall in love with someone you hated or otherwise mess with your mind and heart until you lost all your free will.

I leaned to the side and peered down one of the aisles at the shelf along the back wall. My gaze locked on a glass case sitting all by itself. Unlike other warriors, I didn’t have enhanced eyesight, so I couldn’t see it clearly from here, but I knew exactly what that case contained: a jewelry box made of polished jet, with silver vines running across the top and wrapping around small, heart-shaped ruby flowers. The Midgard had recovered the jewelry box from the Cormac Museum a few weeks ago. We had kept Covington, the Reaper leader, from stealing the artifact, but we didn’t have any idea what it was, what magic it might have, or what it might contain. Still, something about the box seriously creeped me out. Just looking in its direction made me shiver, and I wondered what was so special about the artifact that Covington had been willing to kill to get it— “Well, I, for one, am looking forward to our adventure, Rory.” A voice with a lilting Irish accent cut into my thoughts. I looked over at the chair to my right. A silver sword sheathed in a black leather scabbard was propped up in the seat, but it wasn’t your average weapon.

No, this sword had a woman’s face inlaid into the hilt, complete with a delicate eyebrow, a round bulge of an eye, a pointed cheekbone, a sharp hooked nose, heart-shaped lips, and a curved chin. The sword focused on me, and I stared into her deep, dark, emerald-green eye. “Thank you, Babs,” I said. “It’s nice to see that someone is excited about mapping the tunnels.” Zoe snorted. “Babs is your sword. She goes where you go, so she has to be excited about everything you do.” Babs sniffed. “Don’t listen to her, Rory. It will be grand fun to map the tunnels.

Why, it reminds me of a time years ago in Cypress Mountain, when one of my previous warriors was tracking a Fenrir wolf through the forest…” And she was off, talking about that long-ago adventure. Babs liked to, well, babble. I thought it was an endearing quirk, but Zoe gave me a pointed look, grabbed a silver dagger off her desk, and pressed in on the blue stone set into the hilt, making blue-white sparks of electricity sizzle up and down the blade. Zoe gave me another pointed look, silently telling me that she was going to zap Babs with her electrodagger if the sword didn’t pipe down. “All right,” I said, cutting into Babs’s story. “I’m ready. How about you guys?” “Ready!” Babs chirped. Zoe sighed again, but she got to her feet. She grabbed a glittery blue headband from the mess on her desk and used it to push her wavy black hair back from her face. Then she grabbed a compact from the jumble of items and dabbed a bit of powder on her nose, even though her lovely mocha skin was already flawless.

For a final touch, she zipped up the blue coveralls she was wearing over her regular clothes. Red crystal hearts spelled out the words Valkyrie Power on the pocket on her chest. “Ready,” she muttered. I eyed her heavy-duty coveralls. “We’re walking through the tunnels and mapping them. Not digging through the walls.” Zoe slapped her hands on her hips, and more blue sparks of magic streamed out of her fingertips. “And I am not taking a chance on getting my new cashmere sweater dirty or getting cobwebs all over my jeans. Got it, Spartan?” “Got it, Valkyrie.” I grinned.

“Now, let’s get on with our field trip.” She groaned. “You just had to call it that, didn’t you? Now you’ve jinxed us.” “Just don’t puke on my boots, and we’ll be fine,” I teased. Zoe gave me a dark look, but her lips curved up into a sheepish smile. I grinned back at her. Whatever happened, she would always be my friend. * * * I slung my bag of supplies over my shoulder and hooked Babs’s scabbard to my belt, while Zoe stuffed her electrodagger into her pocket. Then the two of us left the briefing room and walked through a long hallway until we reached the back of the Bunker. A door was marked with a sign that read Stairs, but instead of opening the door, I went over to a bookcase along the wall and pressed a small silver button on the side of it.

A green light flashed, scanning my thumbprint. A few seconds later, the light vanished, and the bookcase creaked back, revealing a stone passageway. Excitement surged through me. I had always loved all kinds of mysteries, like the Nancy Drew books, the Sherlock Holmes adventures, and the old Scooby-Doo cartoons, but my absolute favorites were stories that featured secret passages and hidden compartments. Ever since I found out about the tunnels, I had been itching to explore them. Today I’d finally roped Zoe into coming with me. Zoe peered into the tunnel. “I still can’t believe you want to waste a perfectly good Sunday afternoon tromping through these creepy tunnels. I could be taking a nap. Inventing a new weapon.

Binge-watching a fantasy show. You know, something fun.” “This will be plenty of fun. Besides, it’s not only about exploring the tunnels.” I pulled a pen and a notebook out of my bag. “It’s also about mapping them. I want to know where every single tunnel goes and where all the secret entrances are all over campus.” “Why? It’s not like the other Mythos kids know about the tunnels. The Midgard—we—are the only ones who realize that they exist.” “Covington probably knows about them,” I said in a sharp voice.

“Which means that I need to know about them too.” Zoe winced at my harsh tone, but sympathy and understanding filled her face. Covington used to be the head librarian at the Colorado academy, until he had revealed himself to be a Reaper of Chaos. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Covington had also murdered my parents, Rebecca and Tyson Forseti, when they had tried to leave the Reapers. I had been so angry at my parents for hiding their involvement in the evil group, for never telling me that they were Reaper assassins, and especially for not being the noble, honest Spartan warriors I’d always thought they were. But finding out that Covington had killed and blamed them for his crimes was a hundred times worse. He had taken my parents away before I’d even had a chance to ask them why they had been Reapers. I had thought that Covington was locked away in prison until a few weeks ago, when I discovered that he was the mysterious Sisyphus, the leader of a new group of Reapers who wanted to take over the mythological world. Covington had tried to get me to join him, to become a Reaper. He had claimed it was my Spartan destiny.

When I had refused, he had used an artifact—a jeweled Apate ring—to try to turn me into a Reaper against my will. With Babs’s help, I had managed to fight off the artifact’s magic. But the most surprising thing was that my parents had helped me too, even though they were dead. I shook my arm, and a silver charm bracelet slid down my right wrist. A silver heart locket dangled from the chain, along with two other charms—a tiny silver whistle and a silver winterbloom with a heart-shaped emerald center. My parents had given me the bracelet for my sixteenth birthday last year, and the heart locket contained a picture of the three of us. I had loved the gift and had worn it every single day—until I found out that my parents were Reapers. I had been so angry and heartbroken by their betrayal that I’d torn off the bracelet and thrown it down on their graves, although my Aunt Rachel had eventually given it back to me. I had started wearing the bracelet again when I joined the Midgard, as a reminder that I didn’t have to be a Reaper and that I had the free will to choose my own path in life. But my parents had had another secret.

They hadn’t told me that the bracelet was actually Freya’s Bracelet, a powerful artifact that protected the wearer from other people’s magic. It had saved me from Covington and his foul ring. He might have murdered my parents, but they had still protected me from him as best they could. I would always be grateful to them for that. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the cool feel of the bracelet around my wrist, like a ring of hard frost kissing my skin. I let that coolness, that frost, seep into my mind and especially into my heart, until it iced over my hurt and rage that Covington was still out there, plotting against me and Team Midgard. I would hunt down the librarian and get my revenge, but today wasn’t going to be that day, and I had to accept that. When I felt calmer, I opened my eyes and looked at Zoe again. “Covington was the head librarian here for a long time,” I said in a quieter voice. “Linus Quinn and Takeda don’t think he knows about the Bunker or the tunnels, but I don’t want to take a chance that he does.

It would be just like Covington to use the tunnels to try to sneak into the Bunker to steal the jewelry box and other artifacts. I want to be ready for all the twisted things he might dream up, and mapping the tunnels is one way to prepare.” More understanding and sympathy filled Zoe’s face, and blue sparks of magic dripped out of her fingertips like tears, almost as if her Valkyrie magic were crying at my obvious pain. “I agree with Rory,” Babs piped up from her spot on my belt. “It wouldn’t hurt to map the tunnels and see where they lead. Besides, it will be fun. Why, it reminds me of the time I was in the Ashland sewers, chasing after a nasty Nemean prowler…” The sword started babbling about another adventure she’d had, but Zoe and I tuned her out. “Please,” I said in a soft voice. “I have to do this. Even if mapping the tunnels seems silly and pointless, I have to do something other than sit around and wait for Covington to strike.

Otherwise, I’ll go crazy.” She nodded. “All you had to do was ask.” Zoe zipped up her coveralls a little higher and held out her hand. “Give me your camera. I’ll take photos while you do your whole treasure map, X-marksthe-spot thing.” I grinned and passed her the camera. Then, together, we stepped into the tunnel. The bookcase swung shut behind us, and for a moment, everything was pitch-black. I stepped forward, and lights clicked on in the stone ceiling.

The motion-activated lights turned on as we approached and clicked off as we moved past them. We walked about fifty feet before another tunnel branched off to our right. I stopped and made an X on my map. We went down all the tunnels, one by one, to see where they went. Five main tunnels led to the five main buildings on the Mythos quad aboveground—math-science, English-history, the dining hall, and the gym. And of course, the tunnel we had started out in led back to the Bunker and the Library of Antiquities, the final building on the quad. Each tunnel ended in a door, and I pressed the silver button on each one, using my thumbprint to unlock them and see where we had ended up. I already knew that the gym tunnel opened up into Takeda’s office, since he had brought us that way before, but the other secret entrances surprised me. A supply closet in the math-science building, a study room in the English-history building, a broken freezer in the dining-hall kitchen. By the time we’d finished with the five main tunnels, all sorts of lines, squiggles, and Xs covered my map, and I was humming a happy tune.

“You are having way too much fun,” Zoe groused. I grinned. She rolled her eyes, but she raised her camera and snapped a photo of me. Several more secondary tunnels branched off from the five main ones, leading away from the quad and farther out onto campus. We mapped those as well. The tunnels snaked all over the grounds and opened up in all sorts of places—the girls’ dorms, the boys’ dorms, storage sheds full of landscaping and other equipment. I felt like we were exploring some cool underground spider’s web, and I couldn’t wait to see where the next tunnel led. Three hours later, we had mapped all the tunnels and secret entrances, except for a particularly long passageway that left campus and seemed to head over to the town of Snowline Ridge. I wanted to keep going to see where that tunnel led, but Zoe was grumbling about all the walking we’d done, so we headed back to the Bunker instead. We stepped into what I considered the center of the spider’s web, a large junction with the five main tunnels running out to different sections of the quad.

Zoe was in front of me, and she rounded the corner and stepped into the tunnel that would take us back to the library. She looked over her shoulder and opened her mouth, probably to say how glad she was that we were finally stopping, but she tripped over something, staggered forward, and bounced off one of the walls. Her legs flew out from under her, and she sat down hard. “Zoe! Are you okay?” I rushed over to her. “I’m fine,” she said. “Nothing bruised but my pride. Help me up, please.” She took my hand, and I hauled her to her feet. Zoe glanced around, and her gaze landed on a pile of loose bricks sitting beside one of the walls. “Stupid bricks,” she muttered.

Zoe lashed out with her boot, and one of the bricks disintegrated into shards. Zoe didn’t think she had strength magic like other Valkyries did, but I thought she was far more powerful than she realized. I crouched down and stared at the pile of stones. “Looks like someone deliberately chipped these bricks out of the wall. See how the mortar is scraped away from them?” “Why would someone pull bricks out of a wall?” Babs asked. “Maybe because they wanted to hide something behind it,” I replied. “Hidden treasure?” Zoe perked up. “Now, that would be cool.” My heart started pounding with excitement. Discovering someone’s hidden treasure would be the perfect way to end our exploring.

I unhooked Babs’s scabbard from my belt and propped the sword against the wall so she could see what was going on. I didn’t have Zoe’s Valkyrie strength, but the bricks weren’t very heavy, and I moved them out of the way, revealing a dark space about the size of a large book. Then I leaned down, shone my flashlight into the hole, and realized…that it was just an empty space. I moved the light back and forth, but nothing was in the wall. It was an empty, hollow space, with no hidden treasure of any kind. Disappointment rippled through me. I sighed, but I grabbed the bricks and stacked them back into the wall so they would be out of the way and we wouldn’t trip over them again. I had just slid the last brick into place when a loud creak sounded in the distance. In an instant, I was on my feet and standing next to Zoe. “Did you hear that?” she whispered.

I nodded, and we peered down the tunnels, trying to figure out where the sound had come from. “Hey!” a low voice called out. “Down there!” At least that was what I thought the voice said. The weird echoes in the tunnels bounced back on each other and garbled everything together, making it hard to figure out the exact words, much less whom the voice belonged to. Still, I couldn’t help but think that my dire prediction from earlier had already come true and that Covington was here. That he knew about the tunnels and was going to use them to sneak into the Bunker and steal artifacts, specifically the jewelry box. A series of loud, steady thump-thump-thump-thumps rang out, confirming my suspicions. I might not have been able to make out the garbled words, but I recognized those sounds. Footsteps, and more than one set. Other people were in the tunnels—and they were coming this way.

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