Black Ice

Black Ice
Midgard  —  Book 2
Tor Books (August 12, 2014)
ISBN-13: 9780765332097 ♦ ISBN-10: 0765332094

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The second installment in New York Times bestselling author Susan Krinard’s first urban fantasy series

Centuries ago, all was lost in the Last Battle when the Norse gods and goddesses went to war. The elves, the giants, and the gods and goddesses themselves were all destroyed, leaving the Valkyrie known as Mist one of the only survivors.

Or so she thought.

The trickster god Loki has reappeared in San Francisco, and he has big plans for modern-day Earth. With few allies and fewer resources — but the eyes of the gods and goddesses of an old world upon her — it’s up to Mist to stop him before history repeats itself.

Read an Excerpt

Black Ice

“Bryn doesn’t know about you yet,” she said, “and I want to keep it that way until I’m ready.”

Dainn looked up. “Would it be wise to tell her who I am? She, like Vidarr, might choose not to work with me. And she will rightfully fear what I can become.”

“I told you I wanted to help you control it.”

“Yes. But now you must rest.”

She sighed at his stubborn persistence. “You’re the one who looks like Lee dragged you out of the gutter,” she said, heading for the kitchen again.

“I believe I have looked worse,” he said, following on her heels like a faithful hound.

Mist flashed back to the day she’d found him, sprawled in the mud and dressed in filthy, ill-fitting rags. She almost smiled.

“I’d say it’s a draw,” she said.

“Nevertheless, I must remind you—“

“I thought we agreed that you’re not my mother,” Mist said, falling into one of the kitchen chairs. Her head ached like Hel, and she wished she had the energy to go get the Ibuprofen out of the bathroom cupboard. She made do with massaging her temples, digging her fingertips hard into the muscle.

Dainn sat at the opposite side of the table. “Mist.”

She knew from the tone of his voice that she wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. She dropped her hands and regretted it immediately. “Spit it out,” she said.

“Are you certain you can trust these mortals?” he asked.

“I knew Bryn for centuries before the Last Battle. We fought side by side in the Second World War, and until today I thought she was dead.”

“Yes,” he said. “But it is her followers I doubt.”

“You convinced me to become the leader of our army, such as it is,” she said, “and now you won’t trust my judgment? She gave him a hard, searching look. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe Rick has figured out you’re more than you seem, and he was testing you?”

“He cannot possibly know—“

“If the bikers are as unusual as Bryn says they are, we don’t know what’s possible.”

“If these mortals threaten you—”

“I can handle it myself.”

Black Ice

His gaze slipped away from hers. “You are right, of course.”

His sudden acquiescence didn’t make her feel much better. She took a breath, eager to change the subject. “What about Freya?”

Confronted with a puzzle more intellectual than physical, Dainn seemed to lose a little of that dangerous edge. “It is as it was before the battle,” he said, meeting her gaze. “I cannot reach her, and the bridges are still closed.”

“You can bet Loki will keep on trying to find and open them,” Mist said. “But maybe he won’t realize right away that Freya’s gone from Midgard. With luck, he’ll keep on believing that my abilities are dependent on hers.” She glanced at the clock. “I can’t believe the kids haven’t come down yet.”

“You did instruct them to stay upstairs,” Dainn said.

“I didn’t think they’d be so obedient.” She frowned, remembering all too well how slippery they could be, and how badly they wanted to stay in spite of all the danger. “Can you go check on them? They should know at least some of what’s going on, even if they won’t be here much longer.”

The deep indigo of Dainn’s eyes grew darker still. “Are you sure I can be trusted with them alone, even though I nearly killed Ryan once?”

“That wasn’t you, and it’s not going to happen again. Ryan still believes in you.”

“Because he has a ….” Dainn trailed off, his expression both grim and bewildered.

“A crush on you?”

“He is hardly more than a child, even in mortal years, and you and I both know that his condition is likely to become worse the longer he remains here.”

“That’s why Tashiro and I are working on getting him and Gabi away as soon as possible. But I hope you’ll be a little gentle with him until then.”

“Would that not be more cruel?” Dainn asked. “Gentleness, as you call it, will only encourage him to believe—“

“That there’s some hope for him?” Mist said, feeling an unexpected tightness in her chest. “He’s not an idiot. He already knows there isn’t.”

Dainn looked at her, his entire body as rigid as stone. She knew what was going through his mind now, even though he’d only let her see it on rare occasions. Just as she had done her best not to let him ….

Pummeled by the sheer force of his stare, Mist found herself remembering that kiss, the one that had brought her back from the “fugue state” she’d been in during much of the fight with Loki. If things had been different … if there had been any way it could possibly have worked ….

“I think I’d better eat something,” she said, rising to look in one of the ransacked cupboards. She found a package of ramen noodles and a jar of peanuts.

“Protein,” she said, setting the jar on the table. “This is going to have to do until—“

She never finished the sentence. There was a woman standing in the doorway. Dainn followed her gaze and nearly leaped out of his chair.

It was the first time Mist had “seen” her mother as a physical entity, though the goddess had twice shared Mist’s body to fight Loki. Yet Mist couldn’t possibly doubt who stood before her.

Black Ice

Freya wore flowing robes that alternately revealed and concealed her lushly curved figure. Her golden hair hung in abundant waves around her shoulders, and the scent of primroses hung heavy in the air, almost cloying in its intensity. Her beauty was startling, but her eyes were cold, turning her seemingly benevolent expression into a cruel parody of itself.

Dainn had said he couldn’t reach her. Yet here she was, as if she’d taken strength from last night’s fight and finally completed her physical transformation.

Or it would have seemed that way if Mist hadn’t been able to see right through her.

“Freya,” Mist said, quickly overcoming her shock.

The goddess didn’t even glance at her. She strode into the kitchen and faced Dainn as if she didn’t know her daughter was there. Fury radiated from her body in almost tangible waves.

“Traitor!” she spat.

Dainn stared at her, his face blank with astonishment. “Lady?” he said hoarsely.

“Freya!” Mist said, coming up behind her mother. The goddess ignored her.

“You know what you were to have done,” Freya hissed at Dainn, “and already you have failed.” She gripped Dainn’s arm, and he collapsed to his knees with a groan of something between pain and ecstasy.

Without thinking, Mist grabbed Freya’s shoulder. The goddess sent Mist flying back to slam against the wall. Dainn began to rise and was forced back down as Freya snatched a handful of his hair in her fist.

Mist scrambled up and went after Freya again. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “How did you—“

“You know the penalty,” Freya said to Dainn in her gentle, savage voice. “There is no hope for you now.”

Dainn closed his eyes. “I know,” he whispered.

“Dainn!” Mist said. “Get up!”

He, like the goddess, seemed not to hear her. But he began to change, and all at once she saw a shimmer around him, a brilliant light, as if his body were dissolving in the heat of a dying sun. It caught Freya in its radiance, and Mist was struck with a burning pain as if she, too, were catching fire.

Dainn slumped to the floor. Freya vanished. After some indeterminate length of time, Mist found herself lying on the floor as well, her throat aching, and Gabi crouching beside her. Ryan was with Dainn, who was on his knees and breathing harshly.

“Madre de Dios!” Gabi exclaiming. “Are you okay?”

“We heard someone scream,” Ryan said, his voice tight with anxiety as he peered into Dainn’s face.

Mist touched her burning throat and realized she must have been the one screaming.

She never screamed.

“I’m okay,” she said, getting to her feet. “Dainn?”

He looked up from the floor, his eyes bloodshot. “You saw her?” he asked.

“Did I see her?” Mist glanced from Gabi to Ryan and helped Dainn to his feet. “She was talking to you!”

“Quién?” Gabi asked. “Who was here?”

“I felt it,” Ryan said, his voice dreamy. “It reached all the way upstairs.”

Black Ice

“Is he all right?” Mist asked Gabi. “No seizures?”

“No.” But Gabi looked scared, and that wasn’t normal for the feisty teenager.

“What did you feel?” Mist asked Ryan.

Suddenly Ryan blinked, and the dreaminess was gone. “I don’t know,” he said, his expression collapsing into misery. “A shape of someone. Something dangerous.”

“We’re not in any danger now,” Mist said, “so I’m going to have to ask you and Gabi to go back upstairs. We’ll talk about this later.”

“We know,” Gabi said with a moue of disgust. She took Ryan’s arm, and he didn’t resist.

Once they were gone—presumably—Mist led Dainn to a chair and made him sit. His face was bathed in sweat, as if he’d felt that strange fire that had burned like an exploding star.

“Okay,” she said, dragging another chair close to his, “what the Hel just happened?”

“Freya,” he said, slowly coming back to himself. “She was here. But she wasn’t.”

“Odin’s balls, what does that mean?”

“Did she speak to you?”

“No, she didn’t,” Mist said, wishing she could shake him. “What are you trying to say? That she wasn’t real?”

“I don’t know.”

“You sure as Hel acted like she was. You felt her touch you?”

He rubbed his arm slowly. “Yes.”

“But she ignored me completely. What in gentle Baldr’s name did we just see and hear?”

He wiped the perspiration from his forehead with the back of his hand. “Again, I—“

“She called you a traitor,” Mist said. “She said that you’d failed in something you were supposed to do, and there was no hope for you.”

“I don’t remember,” he said, setting his jaw.

“You betrayed the gods,” she said, “but what did you fail to do?” His blank expression didn’t change. “You have no idea what she—whatever she was—meant by all this?”

“No.”

“Fy Faen,” Mist swore. That burning light would have confused anybody. But she had that all-too-familiar feeling that he was holding something back.

“Did you feel … anything else, any physical sensations while she was talking to you?” she asked.

He flushed. Seeing him turn red was a somewhat novel experience. She had a feeling what had caused it, and it wasn’t any kind of light.

“If it wasn’t just an illusion, you should be able to reach her, right?”

Black Ice

“I am as interested in finding the source of this … manifestation as you are,” he said.

Was he? Mist wondered. If Freya was threatening him and making accusations—

But Mist had never even seen them together. She knew only what Dainn had told her about his interactions with the goddess—or, more specifically, with her mind—and what she’d experienced of Freya’s consciousness during the fight.

Too little information to make any kind of judgment.

Yet.

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