Savannah Ice is cold and beautiful, and she is also very, very powerful.
It is lunchtime in Fall Shadows Private Academy. The cafeteria is a huge hub of food and bodies, of laughter and of screams, of friends meeting friends and enemies meeting allies. At the table in the centre sits Savannah Ice with her kingdom – though it should really be queendom, shouldn't it? – spread out around her. With her sit what is known as the Ice Court.
There is Casey Goldstein, the Ice Queen's best friend, one of the few granted the privilege of knowing what lies beneath that emotionless façade. Then Lincoln David who is Savannah's closest male friend. He is currently in between girlfriends so the coveted seat beside him is unoccupied. Then comes Poppie the cheerful redhead. She is editor of the school newspaper. Her twin sister Diana is reticent and clever, the one who does anything related to technology. A pair of purple earphones snake down into her school-regulation blazer.
The Ice Court are speaking to each other in muted voices, occasionally shooting glances at someone not on their table. Savannah's rare genuine smiles are more frequent here and she even laughs without the intention to intimidate. Poppie gestures wildly as she retells the story of her daily battle with Diana over who gets to drive their silver Mercedes. Everyone else is laughing.
Then Casey turns her head and utters the words that will change the status quo of Fall Shadows Private Academy forever.
"There's a new kid, Sav."
As one the occupants of the royal table swivel to look. The table that contains the jocks and cheerleaders are lucky nearest, filled with shallow good-looking girls and shallow good-looking boys. But there's a new addition. He is tall, that much is obvious, slightly over six feet, with very dark brown hair that could pass as black and cool blue eyes that are stunning in their paleness. They have only slightly more colour than water. He is sitting on the side of the soccer players; they buzz around him. He looks unimpressed by the lavish attention bestowed upon him.
"That's Chase Anderson," Poppie says. She is Gossip Central for any topic excluding her friends. "He was in my History lesson and he's really smart," she adds.
Savannah narrows her eyes. They are shocking green, as striking in their vividness as Chase Anderson's are in their colourlessness. She recognises the arrogant air that he exudes for the simple reason that she exudes it herself. It comes from the knowledge that you are the most powerful person in the figurative room and she feels a strange discomfort at seeing him wear it like a well-fitting cloak. He has the makings to be a rival for the Fall Shadows Private Academy crown that currently resides with her.
Savannah mentally shakes herself. If he hasn't heard of her already doubtless he will have by the end of the day. Someone will warn him not to mess with her. Besides, she's probably just being paranoid; in all her years at high school she hasn't yet met a person who has beaten her. For the first three years she was merely the queen of her grade. Now she's a senior and her territory is the whole school. The people who think they'll be the ones to dethrone her are always scared away.
While the rest of her court move onto other matters, Savannah continues to study the new boy. Chase Anderson, he's called. To her displeasure she finds that he has already won the hearts of the J&C table. They are fawning over him much the way they fawn over her. More, because he's a member of them.
Abruptly he looks up, straight at her, as though he has felt her gaze. She is treated to the full power of his eerie eyes. To her shame they unnerve her slightly, but she remembers who – no, what – she is and lifts her delicately pointed chin. He isn't the only one with oddly coloured irises.
Savannah is rewarded by the sight of his eyes widening slightly in surprise. She smiles smugly. Then he flashes her a disarming grin and mouths something.
Fury burns slowly through her bloodstream, but she holds it in check. Strategy and planning are key; she has always been a level-headed plotter. It has helped her innumerable times to defeat opponents and keep her crown.
Savannah is a manipulator. She deceives, and lies, and connives. She can exploit weaknesses and play on emotions, but she has never been as afraid as she is now, against a boy with the body of a brainless jock but the mind of a schemer.
His words return to haunt her.
Good luck, Savannah Ice, and let the power games begin.
In chess, black always moves first. In this case, Chase Anderson also makes his move before Savannah, a concession she allows to see how he prefers to act. Herself, she is inclined to work in the shadows. She isn't the sort to stand up and publicly humiliate someone to their face, although she sometimes does just to spice things up a bit.
Chase starts out small. Savannah finishes a day of school one week after she first saw him in the cafeteria. When she emerges into the car park she finds the tyres of her bright red Porsche slashed and Pepsi poured over the windshield and engine. She rolls her eyes. A childish prank, but after all he's just testing the waters at present. She'll respond with a suitably small prank in return.
First Savannah calls Hans, a mechanic she knows. She tells him about what has happened to her car and asks him to bring spare tyres and whatever else he needs to fix her car. Then he can have the honour of driving it home for her. Hans doesn't ask who would do such a thing to her car; the thirty-three year old has a healthy fear of her and her family. Next Savannah calls Lincoln. He's at basketball practice, but he'll be done in ten minutes. She can wait until then.
Lincoln's blue Volvo is parked a few rows away. She walks over. Beside it is a shiny black Jaguar, obviously brand new. Savannah makes her last call of the day.
"Hey, Diana," she says into her iPhone. "Can you tell me what kind of car Chase Anderson drives?"
"Hang on," Diana says. "Let me ask Poppie. She'll know." A few moments later she returns. "Pops says he has a black Jaguar, and she also wants to know why. I'd like that info as well, actually."
Savannah laughs. "Oh, nothing much. He just messed my car up a bit, that's all."
"What?" Diana shrieks. "Why?"
In the background she can hear Poppie demanding to know what's going on.
"He wants to take over from me," she explains to the twins. "This is his first move in taking the crown."
"Well, we're sure not going to let him get away with it," Poppie snaps breathlessly. "What are we going to do to him?"
They have done this before, all of the Ice Court have. They play their parts in aiding their queen. Already Poppie is rattling off a list of things that involve Chase Anderson's car, with Diana interjecting occasionally. Savannah breaks in.
"I appreciate this, you two, but relax. I'm not doing anything right now. I just wanted to send him a little message, you know?"
They understand. "Alright," Diana says. "Tell us when you want to make your move."
"Will do," Savannah replies and hangs up.
Her Gucci watch tells her that it is twenty-five past four, which means five minutes left before Lincoln will arrive. That gives her just enough time. She takes out her trademark Lancôme Berry Noir lipstick and scrawls five words on the Jaguar's windshield.
Good. But not good enough.
Lincoln arrives then, grinning broadly. "Practice was great, Sav, I totally – what's wrong?"
He stares at the message she wrote in lipstick.
"Anderson's started the power games," she explains. "He slashed my tyres and poured Pepsi in my car, and we're going to think up some payback soon."
"Man, and I thought he was a good guy," he says, shaking his head. "But anyway, it doesn't matter. I doubt he's a pro at playing the games, like we are."
Savannah smiles lightly. All of the Ice Court know that she has only managed to stay at the top with their help, and she genuinely cares about them, even if her detached nature means that she rarely shows it. Now she gives Lincoln a tiny one-armed hug as she slides into the passenger seat of his Volvo.
Chase Anderson isn't going to know what hit him.
The Ice Court and their queen have congregated at Casey's house, although mansion would be a more appropriate word. She lives directly opposite Savannah and the two have been best friends since first grade. The twins arrived in third grade, and Lincoln joined the group in fourth. All of them have been together for all of the games played throughout the years. Right now, they are brainstorming ideas.
"We could egg his car," Poppie suggests.
"Too simple," Savannah disagrees. "I want something that tells him to back off at the same times as asserting my superiority."
Casey snaps her fingers. "I have it! Diana could hack into his school email account, and send the teachers compromising pictures!"
Savannah winds a strand of hair thoughtfully around her finger. Her curls are glossy raven black, loose waves that reach her elbows, with shades and streaks of midnight blue when viewed in certain lights or angles.
"Wait," she says suddenly. "What's his best subject?"
"Math," Gossip Central Poppie replies. "Set A. Casey's in his class."
"Right. Diana, you know how the Set A senior math teacher, Mrs Cooke, keeps all the students' latest math results on her account?"
Diana frowns. "Yeah?"
Savannah is smiling. "And you know how any student scoring lower than 50% has to take successive resits of the test until they bring it up to at least an 80%?"
Lincoln whistles. "You want Di to keep hacking in and lowering Anderson's results so he has to keep taking math tests even though he's done really well on them?"
"Precisely," she smirks. "Am I a genius, or what? And who says it has to be restricted to math?"
"You are one mean Ice Queen, Savannah Ice," Casey says, but of course that's why they love her, that and the fact that she is loyal to her friends.
Savannah leans back and laughs, allowing herself the pleasure of imagining what victory against Chase Anderson will feel like. She doesn't think that this simple retaliation, barely a fraction of what she could do, will scare him off, but soon she'll up the ante and really let the boy have it. He's almost to be pitied.
Just then her phone signals that she has received a text. It is from an unknown number. Her emerald eyes glitter dangerously as she reads it. Then silently, she passes it to her friends.
What I did to your car wasn't good enough because it was a warning. Give up now, and I might let you stay on as a servant of my own court. But if you insist on challenging me I will crush you. Don't try me.
Savannah's beautiful face is taut with rage. She doesn't know how he got her number, but that's unimportant at present; what's important is the fact that the new kid who's just arrived thinks he can beat her. She texts him back. Instead of ending with her initials like he has she uses her title, a subtle manoeuvre to remind him who she is.
Pride comes before a fall, Chase Anderson. You don't want to see what I could do to you.
The Ice Queen
She presses send. Her friends know better than to talk to her with that murderous expression on her face.
"Do it tomorrow, Diana," Savannah says abruptly. The truth is, she's worried. Nobody has ever made her worried like this boy before. It is a bad omen.
But Savannah Ice isn't going down without a fight.
"Done," Diana announces the moment the arrives into the quad. It's a sunny day so the Ice Court have decided to eat outside. Meanwhile Diana snuck away to implement Operation Math Score, alone. She doesn't like people seeing how she works.
"You changed all his results to 21%?" Savannah asks. "And you made sure nobody saw you, and you didn't get caught?"
Diana rolls her eyes. "Relax, Sav. I'm no rookie at this. Your games have seen to that." It's true. The hacker has proved herself invaluable in the power games.
Casey is in the same class as Chase, with math after lunch. Mrs Cooke will be announcing out loud the names of people who will need to attend resits – providing the added bonus of making the knowledge public, since everyone has heard rumours of how intelligent he is. Now he'll have to contend with the fact that he has to do test resits in a subject he already did spectacularly in as well as everyone knowing about it.
Savannah finally exhales, feeling slightly more content for the first time since she got the text yesterday afternoon. The sun reflects off the dark blue in her hair as she leans her head on Casey's shoulder.
Suddenly Casey stiffens and the conversation dies down. Instantly Savannah shoots upright. Chase Anderson, surrounded by assorted cronies, is making his way towards her. She stops breathing until they all sit down on the picnic table a few metres away. When she glances at him he sneers. In return she bares her teeth.
Once Savannah turns back to her court she finds them staring at her, their expressions touched with fear. Lincoln voices what they are all thinking.
"You know, Sav, this must be maybe the tenth time in four years that we've played the power games along with you, and believe me when I say that I've never seen anyone who was as confident of winning as Chase Anderson seems to be now."
She doesn't get angry. She can't, not when she knows that he's right. Despite the sudden exhaustion that crawls over her limbs she keeps her face as blank as marble and as cold as ice.
"Classes are about to start, let's go," Savannah says. "Casey, do you think you could find a way to record what happens in math?"
They accept the topic change without question, used to their leader's violent mood swings and unpredictable ways.
"Sure," Casey says. "I'll video it on my phone and send it to you."
Savannah stands up. She brushes down her immaculate knee-length skirt, forcing herself not to look over at his table but feeling his white-blue eyes drilling into her back. She won't look at him until she's ready. Then slowly, deliberately, she turns around.
He's staring directly at her.
She summons all of her expertise, her arrogance, her power. She collects every last drop of her confidence, the knowledge that Chase Anderson is shortly to lose some of his standing with the population of Fall Shadows Private Academy. And with all that, Savannah Ice smiles at him. A brilliant, dazzling, mocking smile that makes him frown, unsettled.
Everyone is staring at them. But she doesn't care because she's good at reading emotions and his uneasiness is written all over him. He'll be warier from now on.
As he should have been from the start, because no-one takes Savannah Ice on and wins.
The phones start going off from 1: 39 p.m.
Savannah allows her triumph to show briefly on her face before caging her feelings away once more. People are reading the text messages sent on to them from their friends, then turning around to pass the news on with exclamations of shock and glee. The teacher's given up trying to make them put their phones away. In fact, his eyes are scanning his laptop screen furiously and Savannah has a pretty good idea of what he's reading.
Her iPhone goes off then. Savannah pulls it out of her bag (Louis Vuitton) and smirks. It's the video from Casey, along with a text: Pay attention to the end. She plays it, seeing how Mrs Cooke starts the lesson ranting on about the people who will need to take resits. For a moment the camera cuts to Chase to show him talking with one of his friends, clearly not listening. Mrs Cooke reads out the names of people who will need to come back until they have reached an 80%. The list consists of three people.
"Beccy Allman, Christine Sanchez and Chase Anderson. I am very displeased at that, Chase…"
Instantly the whispers sweep the classroom. His eyes are wide in disbelief as the people around him turn to gawk. Savannah nearly giggles at his horrified expression. He doesn't appear to hear how he'll be coming back for resits after school every day for at least a week, thereby missing soccer practice. Then suddenly he whips his head to the side. Chase is glaring directly at the phone, not Casey, and a shiver runs down Savannah's spine at the way he seems to looking straight at her.
Watch your back, Savannah Ice, he says, his lips silently framing the words. It's my turn next.
She rises smoothly to her feet. There is so much pandemonium that nobody will notice her absence, and they wouldn't dare stop her even if they did. She makes her way to North Block, Room 13.
Inside, the general state of matters is no better than it was in her previous class. At Savannah's entrance everyone falls silent. She walks right up to Chase Anderson.
"Battle One, on Saturday at midnight, Fall Shadows Park," she says. "Bring your troops… oh, and don't bother bringing your pride. It'll just get stepped on."
His lips pull back from his teeth. "Winning a battle doesn't mean winning the war, Ice."
She winks at him, her brilliant green eyes blazing. "I don't care about the winning, Anderson. I only care about the crushing you part of it, and I'm prepared to do whatever it takes for that to happen."
"Go to hell," he hisses.
"I'll save a seat there for you," she says, and with that she sashays out, secure in the confidence that her power of knowing when to exit at the right time has not steered her wrong.
It's 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night.
Savannah stands in front of one of the many mirrors situated inside her walk-in wardrobe. This is by no means the first time she's gone out for a battle, but she hasn't had to resort to one for a long time. She's just glad that Chase seems to be a first-timer at the power games.
She believes in looking your best when facing down the enemy, which is why Casey and the twins are prowling her wardrobe with her. Poppie is exclaiming over a Vera Wang dress she's found hanging in a corner. Casey and Diana are trying out the Tommy Hilfiger. Meanwhile, Savannah holds up a printed Levi's blouse. It's one of her favourites – she's worn it twice before, a rarity. She couples it with black Replay jeans. On her feet are a pair of knee-length black L.K. Bennett boots. Her navy-streaked raven locks she leaves loose, carelessly tumbling over one eye.
Now for the finishing touch. Savannah selects a bottle of DKNY Golden Delicious perfume and spritzes it in front of her. She walks through the faintly visible cloud so it clings to her body, the slight haze settling around her. Her sparkling eyes flare brighter as her excitement peaks.
"Let's go, girls," Savannah says.
The Porsche is in the huge garage, as good as new, but the colour is too flashy for tonight so she unlocks a sleek black Ferrari. Casey rides shotgun while the twins get into the back. They are silent now, watchful; they've all done this before but there's nothing like the thrill of knowing that they're about to engage in a battle. The first one is usually the one when the least action is seen as both sides get a feel for how their opponent operates and how to counter their attacks.
The garage door automatically opens, admitting the Ferrari outside. The engine whirs smoothly as they race off down the dark roads. It's twenty to midnight, which leaves them enough time to reach Fall Shadows Park and set up a good base in a secure location. If Chase Anderson is smart he'll be doing exactly that. She has a feeling that he is. It's not for nothing that she senses he'll be the most dangerous rival she's ever faced.
The sound of Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger explodes through the air, and Casey pulls out her phone.
"Where are you?" she barks into it. It's Lincoln, with a few of the Ice Court's allies who have been called in for the night. She puts him on loudspeaker so that the rest of the girls can hear him too.
"The others and I have set up base at Beaten Hollow," he announces. Beaten Hollow is a small clearing at the edge of the expansive forest in Fall Shadows Park. It is backed by Beaten Lake, which cuts off approach from behind, with thick tree growth on all the other sides. Savannah approves.
"Dustin and Jace stocked some of the less useful arsenal in a fairly obvious place," Lincoln continues. "Hopefully Anderson will find them and think that he's chanced across our entire store. It will lower his guard a little. We've discovered a spy of his lurking in the forest, but he refused to talk so we tied him up for you."
The call ends just as Savannah pulls onto the pavement, parking illegally. She steps out of the Ferrari and takes a breath of the slightly warm air. It rustles with the hint of a breeze but holds a comfortable heat to it, perfect for what is scheduled to happen. Her heartbeat picks up. The danger, the excitement, the anticipation; it comes back to her in a rush how she's missed this.
Let the battle begin, Chase Anderson. We'll see who's laughing when it ends.
The park gate is locked, naturally, but it poses no problems. Poppie picks the padlock with a hairpin and opens the gate with a little screech. The four girls slip inside. Beaten Hollow is almost a mile away, making straight through the forest, and it will take them roughly fifteen minutes. Savannah puts her fingers to her lips and lets out a shivering whistle.
Moments later an answering whistle comes out of the foliage. Jace Tyson, one of the boys on Lincoln's basketball team, appears between the trees. Sometimes he helps in their battles as a muscle, Fall Shadows slang for a fighter or guard. He is tall and lean with knuckles scarred from countless fights. Savannah inclines her head.
"Ice Queen," he replies. She is slightly amused by the way those two words, used as an insult at any other school, are an affectionate family title in their town. "Come on, we need you to get the dagger talking."
A dagger is Fall Shadows-speak for a spy. She nods at him and starts walking, the rest following behind her. There is a slight crackle as the variety of heels land on the undergrowth. Savannah is running through battle plans inside her head – it usually only takes one round of the power games to rout an opponent, and each round culminates in a battle.
He's going to be beaten so bad that he'll never dare to question anyone else ever again.
Savannah reaches Beaten Hollow soon, her long even strides carrying her smoothly over the ground. All her senses are alert to the slightest rustle of the trees. There are enemy daggers watching her every move, she knows, but she doesn't try to hide. Neither do her companions. She wants them to know that the Ice Queen has arrived in all her glory and the battle is about to begin.
The Battle of Beaten Hollow… Hmm, that has a nice ring to it, she thinks.
Beaten Lake glimmers flat and silver in the moonlight. A few decades ago the story goes that a beautiful young girl drowned in the deep lake. It was impossible to tell whether she had been murdered, committed suicide, or fallen in by accident. Ever since then it has been dogged by claims of hauntings by the Beaten Maiden.
For some reason the legend springs to Savannah's mind as she gazes pensively at the rippling expanse. The tent has been set up in the centre of the clearing with two people guarding the entrance. They straighten up as she approaches.
"Dustin Walker, Grace Hyde," she greets.
"Hey there, Ice Queen," Grace grins. "Good battle weather, isn't it?"
Savannah, despite what her title would imply, believes in speaking to everyone in her kingdom regardless of their social status. You never know, they might come in handy someday. She likes Grace Hyde well enough in any case – the girl is trustworthy and calm under pressure, two qualities Savannah prizes.
"Perfect for trouncing Chase Anderson," she agrees. "Is Lincoln in there?"
"He's in there with the dagger," Dustin says. "You say the word and we're all ready to start."
She gives them a sincerely grateful smile. Then Savannah ducks through the tent flap and makes her way inside, Diana right behind her.
Lincoln looks up from where he's kneeling by the side of the dagger. It's a boy she recognises: Carl Brennan, captain of the soccer team. A bandanna has been tied around his mouth and narrow ropes bind him to a chair. He was glowering at the world in general but freezes at the sight of her.
Diana slides her ever-present laptop out of her Marc Jacobs bag. Chase Anderson doubtless has someone on his side to look after the technological side of things, and it is her job to ruin their communications and generally wreak havoc on all their gadgets. She sits on a chair placed especially for her use. Most of the time her services are unnecessary in actual battle, but she is always there just in case. First they have to find out what information the dagger holds.
Savannah deftly unties the bandanna from around Carl Brennan's mouth. His show of bravado has weakened; he really is scared of her. Most people are. She kneels beside him like Lincoln, almost as tall as him.
"Brennan," she says. "What a surprise."
He pulls together his cockiness. "What, didn't think that anyone would be brave enough to leave your rule for Anderson?"
"No," she says with mock brightness. "I was actually commenting on the fact that he obviously can't judge people very well or he'd never had chosen a buffoon like you to be a dagger."
Lincoln and Diana snicker at that. Carl Brennan may be a hotshot soccer prodigy, but it's well known that his grades leave something to be desired. In fact he usually plays dumb muscle in the power games. Anything that needs quick thinking, like being a dagger, is beyond him.
Savannah frowns. Surely Anderson should have known that? She files that thought away for future consideration and turns her attention back to Brennan.
"Okay, Brennan. You have two choices. One: you tell me everything you know and I will leave you tied up in the forest somewhere for one of your own to find you. Two: I call in some muscle to get whatever you know painfully out of you, then I leave you tied up in the forest somewhere for one of your own to find you. What will it be?"
His self-assured façade is slipping fast. He knows she's more than capable of making good on her threat.
"I don't know anything!"
She sighs. "What were your orders from Chase Anderson?"
"I didn't get any from him! His second-in-command was the one who told me to get as close to Beaten Hollow as possible and see what was going on."
Savannah can now see where this is all going. It's a clever move on her enemy's part, she admits, but he'll have to do better than that to win the battle.
"Who was the second-in-command?" she prompts.
Carl hesitates. "I really shouldn't be telling you…"
She eyes him flatly. "Ten seconds to get talking before I call in the muscle."
"Alright, alright!" he says quickly. "It was Lauren Ashford, happy now?"
"Lauren Ashford," she rolls her eyes. "Of course."
"Hmmm," Diana muses. "Isn't she that girl with all those crazy piercings and tattoos? Lost the power games a couple of years ago?"
Savannah nods. Lauren Ashford is the epitome of rich little bad girl, with her hair dyed every colour of the rainbow and piercings dotted around her face. Both her arms are covered with tattoos of skulls and serpents. To complete the image she even drives a Ducati motorcycle to school. She used to be extremely popular a few years ago, so much so that she thought she had a chance at winning the power games. She was wrong. Ever since then Lauren Ashford has hated Savannah Ice. It makes sense that she would be at the forefront of this battle.
"Well, now we know that we need to target Lauren Ashford," Lincoln says. He stands up. "She'll probably be at their base though, protected. We won't be able to get her directly unless she ventures out."
Savannah is amused. "Lincoln, you really are bad at reading people, aren't you? Ashford isn't the kind of girl to sit around and rely on other people to bring her second-hand information while she's hidden away under layers of guards. She'll be out doing a little cloak-and-dagger herself at the very least."
As if waiting for that cue, there is a yell from outside the tent. Savannah rips the zip up and bends through the opening. The scene outside makes the corner of her mouth tilt up in a satisfied smile.
Lauren Ashford is fighting for all she's worth, four boys restraining her as she writhes like one demented. Her shoulder-length multi-coloured hair flies everywhere when she bucks and screams.
Savannah steps forward. "Speak of the bad girl," she says lazily. "We were just discussing you, you know. I knew you'd probably let yourself get caught sooner or later… you're too hot-headed."
"I don't need a psychological assessment from you," Lauren spits. She stops fighting, allowing the boys to pull her to her feet. She watches Savannah with a crafty gleam in her fiery cornflower-blue eyes. Their contrast to Chase Anderson's cool ice ones are shockingly intense.
"I'd give up now if I were you," Lauren says, smirking. The abrupt mood swing raises several eyebrows. "Anderson's got you beat and you know it."
"All I know is that I've got his second in my base and you better start talking fast," Savannah retorts.
Lauren looks unsurprised. "Brennan told you, then? Good. He's done his job well."
A sudden suspicion flames up in her mind, one that has been brewing ever since she wondered why someone like Carl Brennan would be picked as a dagger. With a feeling of furious dread she whirls around and starts barking orders.
"Hyde, Walker! Protect the tent. Tyson, you and your boys come here. There's –"
Lauren's laughter rings out and Savannah hisses as she realises that she's too late. There is a sharp, high scream in the distance that is cut off abruptly. Casey Goldstein has been taken hostage by the enemy. She was the head of the Ice Court's dagger ranks. Moments later Poppie races into Beaten Hollow.
"Sav," she gasps, "Anderson, he's got Casey, he wants to negotiate –"
"I know," Savannah cuts in. "Were you there when it happened?"
"Yes, I was. He had. muscle hiding up the trees, they dropped down and five of them surrounded her She didn't have a chance. One of them – some soccer player called Trick, I think – he gave me that message about the negotiation. He had a knife, he was holding it to her throat, I couldn't do anything."
Savannah turns away, her normally unreadable expression bitter. She has done the unthinkable; she has underestimated Chase Anderson, and it has cost her dearly. She'll have to meet with him now. But she hadn't expected a first-timer like him to be so good at strategy and planning attacks. He deliberately allowed Carl Brennan to get caught, supplying to them the information that Lauren Ashford was second-in-command. Lauren allowed herself to get caught as well so that they were all sufficiently distracted when Casey was taken. Savannah wants to kick herself for how she's miscalculated the risks. But the battle isn't over yet.
Don't get mad. Get even.
Savannah makes her way to the other end of the forest, where a space has been made naturally by several large trees curving round each other and protecting the gap within. It is known as Seven Arches and she has correctly guessed that it is where Chase Anderson has set up his base. In her left hand she grips a long, sharp knife that shines wickedly. This may be the power games, but she isn't playing now; it's time for the real thing. He stepped over the line between game and reality when Trick threatened Casey. A safe distance behind her slip Lincoln, Poppie and a few others to provide back-up.
As she expected Savannah encounters no obstacles. No doubt Chase Anderson has ordered a path to be freed for her. He's waiting alone in Seven Arches, his eyes glowing like glass sapphires in the dark. She draws in a breath imperceptibly when she notices the switchblade in his hand.
It seems he isn't playing anymore either.
"Savannah Ice," he says. His voice is backlit with triumph; he thinks he's already won.
"Chase Anderson," she responds, her own voice frigid.
"How did you know I'd be here?"
A smile barely touched with mirth lifts her full red lips. "The Seven Arches is popular for rookies on their first time against me." There. In the same sentence she has reminded him of both who she is and the fact that he is a first-timer at this. But he doesn't let himself get angry. Instead, he laughs.
"I'm no rookie, sweetheart. I played the power games at my last school too, against their reigning king. And guess what? I won."
She mentally berates herself for not having had Diana hack into his student records. "You're not winning here, Anderson. You might have some of them wrapped around your little finger, but it's me who has the whole of Fall Shadows under my thumb. And you know it."
When he next speaks, he raises his voice slightly to correspond with the way he subtly elevates the switchblade. Savannah catches the movement and lifts her own knife higher in return. She doesn't usually use it on people – only those who she wants to take care of personally. So far she hasn't killed anyone, but she won't hesitate to permanently maim Anderson if he makes a move.
The same way he wouldn't even blink at doing the same to Casey.
"I told you before, Savannah, and I'll tell you again: give up now. This is a genuine piece of advice that protects the interests of you and your people. If you do choose to capitulate at this point I will personally guarantee your safety. Besides…" he pauses for effect. "Some of my people have discovered your stash of weaponry. You are effectively defenceless."
If he's moved to a first-name basis, so will she. Savannah smiles patronisingly. He's fallen for Lincoln's ruse.
"That's a nice way of looking at the state of matters, Chase. Unfortunately it isn't accurate. Let me tell you what is really happening: I am the Ice Queen, and for generations my family has ruled Fall Shadows Private Academy. I am a legacy. The crown belongs to me, and I do not intend to allow you to get it. However, if you admit defeat now, I won't punish you."
He grins. "I know you're a legacy. Your grandparents, parents and sister went here as well, didn't they? I've done my homework on the Ices. This is far more than just the power games."
Her blood freezes in her veins, just like her name suggests. More than just the power games…
"What do you mean?" she snarls.
Chase laughs. "You know exactly what I mean. This isn't only about the power; this is personal, sweetheart."
She does know exactly what he means. Chase Anderson isn't against her for the sole purpose of ruling the school. He wants revenge for something, something which she doesn't know yet but has no doubt exists. Her family has stepped on its fair share of toes. She rules the school, which is the centrepiece of the town; whoever has the crown of Fall Shadows Private Academy also has the crown of Fall Shadows itself. He wants that crown, and the power that comes with ruling an elite community of wealthy and mostly criminal families.
"You won't win," Savannah says. "I would never let you."
Chase offers her a sinister smile. "It isn't about what you want any more, Savannah Ice. It's about what I want now."
She can feel her sixth sense screaming at her, telling her that the time is near. Casually she moves her knife from one hand to the other.
"You sure about that?" she asks, and all hell breaks loose.
Her people spring out of the trees, yelling war cries. Behind Chase Anderson his people do the same. Savannah moves out of the fray brandishing her knife, pairs of grappling muscles moving respectfully out of her way. She wonders if the same privilege is being accorded to Anderson.
She slides the knife into her boot and starts to climb the nearest tree. Her arms stretch and hands grip easily, a skill taught by Lincoln in fifth grade. Once she reaches a suitable height she looks down at the clearing below.
Chase is standing in the centre with a clear ring around him. Savannah smiles at the rage clear on his face as her obviously armed muscles swarm around his, taking and conquering. He's realised he's been tricked, and the expression on his face is worth all the designer clothes in her room-like wardrobe.
Now to rescue Casey. No doubt Anderson has stationed guards by her. Savannah hopes that the one who held a knife to her throat, Trick, is one of them. She has a little surprise planned for him.
Her reconnaissance over, Savannah drops down and enters Seven Arches once more. Anderson has disappeared somewhere. Thinking her group were out of weapons, he didn't pay too much attention to his muscles, and he's paid the price; his fighters are either littered on the ground or have escaped. It's a comprehensive victory for the Ice Queen.
She navigates past the fallen warriors to the other side of the clearing. His tent is pitched just beyond the cluster of trees, a silhouette visible inside. Savannah pulls out her knife and raises the tent flap. It's empty. The silhouette was caused by a three-legged stool. Her phone vibrates in her back pocket.
"Hello?" she says.
"Bad news," Diana responds. "It's urgent."
Savannah's eyes narrow. "What's wrong?"
There is a pause, then Poppie speaks. "I think you'd better come and see for yourself. He says you have two minutes to get here before it's too late for Casey."
"What?" she shrieks. "You have got to be kidding me! He said that?"
"One and a half minutes," Lincoln says into the phone, and then he hangs up.
Savannah shoves the iPhone back into her jeans pocket. Any merciful thoughts she might have entertained for Chase Anderson have completely and utterly disappeared, but she doesn't have the upper hand right now and she knows it. If he says jump she'll have to jump… at least until she can figure out a way to return the power to her.
He'll be begging for forgiveness when I'm done with him, she thinks. Just like so many others have before him.
She leaves Seven Arches, her emerald eyes flaming crazily. An enemy muscle boy tries to step in front of her, takes one look at her expression, and wisely decides to back away with his hands held up in a gesture of surrender. Savannah would have smiled at this evidence of how badly she is feared if she wasn't too busy seething.
The time it takes her to reach Beaten Hollow is a fraction of the time she spent on the journey to Seven Arches. Much has changed since she last saw it. Anderson's people have overrun her base, leaning on trees and chatting to each other. Most of them are watching a point on the stone step that edges Beaten Lake.
For once, Savannah's face betrays her surprise.
Casey Goldstein's hands and feet have been tied together so she cannot move. She stands on the very brink of the step, almost teetering dangerously. Another millimetre and she will fall straight into feet of dark, cold water. She won't even be able to thrash around, let alone swim. On either side of her stand Trick and another muscle. Chase Anderson is directly behind her, his fingers barely brushing Casey's shoulders.
Poppie, Diana and Lincoln are unbound, but guarded by the three remaining muscles Anderson possesses. The horror is written all over them – they might have played dirty before, dirtier than most people would dare to even imagine, but never like this. They've never murdered someone in cold blood or given them a long, lingering death.
Savannah makes a mental note. When this battle is over, find Dad and ask him for some tips. Then she straightens up to her full, just-tall-enough-to-be-impressive height and tosses back her mane of midnight hair. Her feet carry her past the rest of her court without looking at them. The rest of the world vanishes. It's just her, Chase, and Casey… oh, and don't forget Trick. She still has to deliver a suitably painful punishment for him. Another mental note.
"Anderson," she says coldly.
In contrast, his practically colourless eyes are lit up with glee, and he shoots her a charming grin. "Savannah! Didn't think you'd make it in time, to be honest. Guess you do care about your minions after all."
"Unlike you," she points out. Time for an insult. "You're so clearly inexperienced it makes me cringe; I mean, who falls for the old hiding-part-of-the-arsenal trick? Which is exactly what you did. Hook, line, and sinker. If I were you I'd have armed my troops better even if I thought the enemy was defenceless."
To her disappointment, he doesn't blush. Instead his gaze turns menacing. "I think you're forgetting who has all the power here, sweetheart. One little push and your best friend's finished."
Savannah doesn't blink. She has a plan, but it's risky, and it all depends on speed. Most probably it will get Casey killed. But a long shot is better than no shot at all, so she flashes her even white teeth at Chase in a smile and glides closer. He shifts back minutely.
"No closer," he orders. "I want to see the despair on your face when you realise that she's doomed… unless, of course, you and your family cede power to me and mine."
Savannah can't help it. She laughs derisively. "You really think it's that easy? Think again. Even if for some reason I chose to hand the crown to you, my family would kill yours before ceding power. You don't know who you're messing with, kid."
"I disagree," he says. "I've heard of the Ices. Everyone has. Your parents are the heads of a successful not-altogether-legal business empire, and your sister is well on her way to starting her own. The rest of your family lead a powerful gang that has branches all over North America. Anything I missed?"
Savannah smirks. "Yes," she says. "The part where you remember that if I want you dead, all I have to do is say the word and you won't see another sunrise."
"One that's coming pretty quickly," he informs her. "It's nearly dawn, and I want this battle to be over before it. Enough of the cat and mouse. The real question is, are you willing to lose the power games to save the life of your friend?"
"I'm willing to win the power games and save the life of my friend," she says breathlessly. And then she strikes.
Savannah darts forward, crossing the distance between them in two strides. By that time Chase Anderson has done exactly as she expected: he drives an elbow into Casey's back, making her topple forward into the water with a scream. Savannah silently apologises to her best friend.
Sorry about that, Case. Here goes nothing.
Behind her she hears a sudden gasp as Lincoln, Poppie and Diana turn unexpectedly on their attackers, taking advantage of the fact that everyone's attention is focussed on the drama taking place on Beaten Lake. She mentally congratulates her friends. Chase looks stunned; he hadn't really expected her to sacrifice her friend. She smiles victoriously at him.
"Never underestimate an Ice Queen, Chase," she sneers. "You'll regret it."
She'd like to have spent more time gloating, but any longer and Casey will drown. Everyone watches incredulously as Savannah kicks off her boots and dives gracefully into the water. It is a freezing shock against her skin, but she ignores it and swims out to where Casey is desperately trying to float. With her limbs bound she isn't doing a very good job. Already she is staying down for longer periods each time.
Savannah ducks down and slashes through the rope around her wrists with the knife she still has in her hand. Next she treads water, cutting the one that lashed Casey's ankles together. Her best friend is choking and coughing, unable to keep herself afloat, so Savannah clumsily drags her along on a makeshift breaststroke while making sure neither of them get hurt by her knife. Lincoln and Diana are there at the step to pull them up.
"Casey, look at Casey," she snaps, shrugging off the blanket Grace Hyde tries to drape around her and dropping to her knees. Casey is half-lying and half-sitting up, furiously coughing up the water in her lungs. After a few moments she weakly vomits up some more water.
"Are you alright?" Savannah whispers.
She clears her throat, then smiles tiredly. "Never been better. But maybe a little heads-up next time I nearly turn into the Beaten Maiden, eh, Sav?"
"Of course," she says. Even though she knows it was necessary the guilt is eating away at her inside. She shakes herself and looks around.
"Grabbed Lauren Ashford and ran for it," Poppie says, appearing with two mugs of coffee from their supplies. "None of us tried to stop him. We were too busy being worried about you two. His goons have run too."
"It doesn't matter," Savannah decides. The cold of her wet clothes barely affects her. "He knows we won this round of the power games anyway, and he'll be warier of taking us on in the future."
"Will he even be taking us on?" Lincoln questions. "Most people don't dare try another battle with us."
She shakes her head. "Trust me Linc, he'll be back. He started the power games because he wanted revenge against my family, and now that he's lost he'll be even more determined to beat us."
"But we'll be ready for him," Diana says.
Savannah looks around, at her court clustered around her, and feels gratitude well up as she thinks of how they are not only her court but her friends as well. To their immense astonishment she throws her arms around them – first Lincoln, then Poppie and Diana, and finally hugging Casey tightly as she helps her up from the stone step.
Her phone signals that she has received a text. She isn't surprised to see that it's from Chase Anderson.
You might have won this round, Savannah Ice. But I'd recommend you sleep with one eye open, because there will be a next time.
She types out her response.
Looking forward to it.
Savannah glances at her Gucci watch and raises an eyebrow. "He was right, it will be dawn soon. How about we all go back to my house and order pizza from that all-night place?"
"Sounds good to me," Casey grins.
Savannah turns and surveys all the teenagers who fought on her side, arrayed in Beaten Hollow. "I'm grateful for all your help, guys, and for that I will be arranging a two-day holiday from school for all who participated. Just give your names to Lincoln here and I'll do the rest."
A cheer rises up, and she laughs. "All right, off you go!"
They begin dispersing, some nursing bruises, most grinning widely, all discussing the battle that just took place. Savannah pulls out her car keys.
"Linc, you follow behind us to my house, okay?"
"Sure," he says. He walks off to wherever his Volvo is parked. The girls go in a different direction through the trees, Casey shivering. Savannah flicks her a concerned glance and speeds up. She doesn't want her to catch a cold. As for herself, she doesn't feel it.
They finally reach the Ferrari and get in. Savannah turns the heating up full blast, making Casey settle back in her seat and murmur a thank-you. She breaks several speed limits on the way back to the house but there are few people around at this time of night (day?) to see. The second they park in the garage she jumps out.
"Come on, I have dry clothes upst –"
"Sav?" Lincoln asks worriedly, when she breaks off abruptly, staring at a gold Aston Martin. "What's wrong?"
After a few beats of silence, Savannah's face suddenly splits into a broad smile. "Wrong? Nothing's wrong! This is brilliant! She can help us!"
"Who can help us how?" Diana queries.
"My big sister. She's studying as a sophomore at Harvard, but that's her car right there!"
Comprehension dawns in her friends' faces. Now they know what has Savannah so excited. Jezelie Ice, the original Ice Queen, a legend just like their parents, is back.
They all know what that means for poor, powerless, hasn't-got-a-hope Chase Anderson.
Defeat. Plain and simple.