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 Frozen

Heart of Dread - 1

by

Melissa de la Cruz, Michael Johnston

For Mattie

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

—ROBERT FROST, “FIRE AND ICE”

It’s time to begin.

—IMAGINE DRAGONS, “IT’S TIME”

THE VOICE OF THE MONSTER

THEY WERE COMING FOR HER. SHE COULD hear their heavy footsteps echoing in the concrete hallway. In a way, the sound was a relief. For days upon days she had been left in the room, alone, in total silence, with little food and water, the weight of solitude becoming ever more oppressive, the silence a heaviness that she could not shake, punishment for refusing to do as she was told, punishment for being what she was.

She had forgotten how many days, how many months, she had been left here, alone with only her thoughts for company.

But not quite alone.

I warned you about waiting, rumbled the voice in her head. The voice that she heard in her dreams, whose words echoed like thunder, thunder and ash, smoke and flame. When it spoke, she saw a beast through the inferno, carrying her aloft on black wings through dark skies as it rained fire upon its enemies. The fire that raged within her. The fire that destroyed and consumed. The fire that would destroy and consume her if she let it.

Her destiny. A destiny of rage and ruin.

Fire and pain.

The voice in her head was the reason her eyes were not brown or gray. Her clear tiger eyes— hazel-green with golden pupils—told the world she carried a mark on her skin, one that she kept hidden, one that was shaped like a flame and hurt like a burn, right above her heart. The reason she was imprisoned, the reason they wanted her to do as she was told.

The girl did not want to be different. She did not want to be marked. She did not want to be what the voice said she was. What the commander and the doctors believed she was. A freak. A monster.

Let me go—she had implored the first time she had been brought to this place— I’m not what you think I am. She had insisted they were wrong about her from the beginning of her captivity.

What is your talent? they had demanded. Show us.

I have none, she had told them. I have no ability. I can do nothing. Let me go. You’re wrong. Let me go.

She never told them about the voice in her head.

But they found ways to use her anyway.

* * *

Now they were coming, their heavy footsteps plodding against the stone. They would make her do what they wanted, and she would not be able to refuse. It was always this way. She resisted at first, they punished her for it, and finally she gave in.

Unless . . .

Unless she listened to the voice.

When it spoke to her, it always said the same thing: I have been searching for you, but now it is you who must find me. The time has come for us to be one. The map has been found. Leave this place. Journey to the Blue.

Like others she had heard the legends of a secret doorway in the middle of the ruined Pacific that led to a place where the air was warm and the water was turquoise. But the way was impossible—the dark oceans treacherous, and many had perished attempting to find it.

But perhaps there was hope. Perhaps she would find a way to do what it sought.

Out there.

In New Vegas.

Outside her window, far away, she could see the glittering lights of the city shining through the gray. Before the ice, night skies were supposedly black and infinite, dotted with stars that shone as sharp as diamonds against velvet. Looking up into that dark expanse you could imagine traveling to distant lands, experiencing the vastness of the universe, and understanding your own small part in it. But now the sky was glassy and opaque at night, a reflection of the bright white snow that covered the ground and swirled in the atmosphere. Even the brightest of stars appeared only as faint, distant glimmers in the blurry firmament.

There were no more stars. There was only New Vegas, glowing, a beacon in the darkness.

The city lights stopped abruptly at a long arcing line just a few miles out. Beyond the line, beyond the border, everything was black, Garbage Country, a place where light had disappeared—a no-man’s-land of terrors—and past that, the toxic sea. And somewhere, hidden in that ocean, if she believed what the voice said, she would find a way to another world.

* * *

They were closer and closer. She could hear their voices outside, arguing.

The guards were opening the door.

She didn’t have much time . . .

Panic rose in her throat.

What would they ask her to do now . . . what did they want . . . the children most likely . . . always the children . . .

They were here.

The window! the voice bellowed. Now!

Glass smashed, broken, sharp icicles falling to the floor. The door burst open, but the girl was already on the ledge, the cold air whipping against her cheeks. She shivered in her thin pajamas, the arctic winds blowing sharp as daggers as she dangled on the knife-edge, two hundred stories in the air.

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