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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
I shivered. Somehow, I found their flat, noncommittal stares even creepier than if they’d been openly glaring at me and obviously thinking about busting out of their stone shells to attack me, like I always imagined they could.
“Gwen?” Logan touched my arm. “Yeah. I’m coming.”
I dropped my gaze from the gryphons, trooped up the steps, and went into the library with my friends.
Despite its dark and foreboding exterior, the inside of the Library of Antiquities had a light, airy, open feel, thanks to the white marble that rolled out in every direction and the enormous dome that arched over the main space. I glanced up. For months, all I’d been able to see whenever I peered at the ceiling were deep, dark shadows. But a few weeks ago, Nike had shown me what lay underneath the blackness—a fresco of me and my friends engaged in a great battle, each of us holding an artifact or two.
This afternoon, a bit of silver glinted through the shadows—the mistletoe and laurel bracelet that I was wearing on my wrist. My fingers crept down to the bracelet, and I started fiddling with the leaves, wondering what I was supposed to do with them. But after a few seconds, I forced myself to let go of the metal. My gaze zoomed over to Nike’s statue, which was part of the circular pantheon on the second-floor balcony, one that featured statues of all the gods and goddesses of all the cultures of the world.
A long, toga-like gown wrapped around the goddess’s body, while wings rose up and gently curved over her back. A crown of silver laurels perched on top of her head, even as the rest of her hair cascaded down in thick ringlets. Nike looked the same as ever, although her expression was as neutral as the gryphons’ had been. Whatever was going on, the goddess wasn’t going to give me any clue about it. I sighed. Sometimes, being Nike’s Champion was even more frustrating than waiting for the next Reaper attack.
“Come on, Gwen,” Daphne said, grabbing my arm and pulling me forward. “Let’s get on with this.”
She led me down the main aisle, past the shadowy book stacks that filled much of the library. Since it was Saturday, the study tables that sat on either side of the aisle were deserted, along with the coffee cart that perched off to the right. Most of the kids were over in Cypress Mountain having fun, and they wouldn’t start panicking about their homework until late Sunday afternoon. This time tomorrow, there wouldn’t be a free seat at any of the tables, and the line at the coffee cart would be even longer than the one at Kaldi’s today.
But my gaze moved past the empty tables and cart to the end of the aisle. Linus was already there, standing by the checkout counter that lay in the center of the room, along with the glass complex that housed the librarians’ offices. I looked through the glass, but I didn’t see Nickamedes sitting at his desk.
“This way,” Linus said, gesturing with his hand. “Everyone else is already waiting for us.”
We followed him around the office complex and into the back half of the library. The lights were turned down low in this section, and I couldn’t help but peer into the shadows and drop my hand to Vic’s hilt, wondering if any Reapers were hiding in the stacks, watching us from between the rows of books. I didn’t see anyone, though. I never did—until it was too late.
I thought that the others might be waiting for us at the study tables on this side of the library, but no one was here. Linus walked past the tables and led us over to a door set into the back wall of the library. He drew an old-fashioned, iron skeleton key out of one of the pockets of his gray robe and opened the door, revealing a flight of narrow stairs that spiraled downward.
“Great,” I muttered. “Another creepy basement.” Linus gave me a sharp look over his shoulder before
stepping onto the stairs. I sighed, but I had no choice but to follow him, with Daphne and Carson behind me. Logan brought up the rear and shut the door behind us.
Down, down, down we went, until it seemed like we were going to keep walking all the way through to the other side of the world. Linus used that same skeleton key to open a few more doors, as well as saying some magic mumbo-jumbo code words. Eventually, though, we reached the bottom of the stairs, walked down a short hallway, and stepped into another room.
I was expecting something similar to the prison in the bottom of the math-science building, something stark, depressing, and utterly gloomy, but dozens of lights dropped down from the ceiling, casting the entire area in a bright, golden glow. The bottom level was one enormous room that seemed to be as large as the main floor above and almost an exact, mirror image of it. And just like up there, stacks stretched out as far as the eye could see, arranged in the same, familiar pattern.
But they weren’t filled with books. At least, not all of them. Instead, clear glass cases of varying shapes and sizes covered many of the shelves from floor to ceiling. Through the glass, I could see everything from swords and staffs to fine silk garments to elaborate jeweled headdresses that some ancient kings and queens had no doubt worn.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“This,” a familiar voice sounded from somewhere deeper in the stacks, “is my reference section.”
A faint tap-tap-tapping sounded, one that made my heart squeeze tight with guilt. A man slowly hobbled into view, leaning on a cane for support. He wore black pants and a blue sweater vest over a white button-up shirt. The colors set off his ink-black hair and ice-blue eyes, the ones that always reminded me so much of his nephew. Not only was Nickamedes the head librarian, but he was also Logan’s uncle.
Nickamedes stopped in front of me. My gaze flicked down to his cane, and that wave of guilt surged through me again. A couple of weeks ago, Nickamedes had accidentally ingested some poison that had been meant for me, and he’d been using that cane ever since. I was the reason he was hurting, I was the reason his legs had been damaged, but he still smiled at me. I don’t know that I would have been as forgiving, if our positions had been reversed.
“Really, Gwendolyn,” Nickamedes said, a faint teasing tone in his voice. “I would have thought that it was quite obvious.”
I dramatically rolled my eyes, playing along with him. “Well, you know me. I never seem to get the obvious.”
Nickamedes chuckled, and his face brightened. I was on my best behavior around the librarian these days, trying to do everything I could to make him laugh whenever I could. It wasn’t much, but I hoped that it helped him in some small way.
At least, until I figured out how to use the silver laurel leaves to fix his legs. Eir, the Norse goddess of healing and mercy, had given me the leaves and told me that they had an unusual property—the ability to heal or destroy, based on the will and intent of the person using them. I didn’t know how many of the leaves it would take to kill Loki, but I was saving at least one of them for Nickamedes. He deserved to be whole again, after everything he’d suffered—all because of me.
“Come along then,” he said. “I still have chores to do when our meeting is finished.”
Nickamedes led us past the stacks and into the center of the room, where a long conference table stood. The table sat in the same spot that the checkout counter did on the main floor above our heads, adding to my sense of déjà vu.
In addition to Sergei and Inari, two guys my own age were also sitting at the table. One had sandy blond hair, green eyes, and a sly grin, while the other looked like a younger, leaner version of Sergei with brown hair, hazel eyes, and tan skin—Oliver Hector and Alexei Sokolov, two more of my friends.
“It’s about time you guys got here,” Oliver quipped. “Alexei and I were starting to think you’d gotten lost.” Daphne sniffed. “Please. We weren’t lost. We were
“That doesn’t make it any better,” Oliver retorted. “In fact, I’d say that makes it worse.”
She glared at him, which only made Oliver’s grin widen. He loved teasing everyone.
Daphne slapped her hands on her hips. “Let me tell
you something, Spartan . . .”
I tuned out their bickering and went to the far end of the table, where a man and woman stood. The man was tall, with a big, solid frame and onyx skin, hair, and eyes. Coach Ajax, who was responsible for teaching all the kids at Mythos how to use weapons. The woman was much shorter, with black hair that was pulled back into a tight bun and green eyes that were warm and kind behind her silver glasses. Professor Aurora Metis, my mentor.
“What’s this about?” I asked Metis. “What’s wrong?” She shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong, Gwen.”
She didn’t say the word yet, but I got the impression that was what she was thinking. Or perhaps that was my own worry peeking through again.
Metis’s gaze flicked past me, and she moved over to Nickamedes, who was having trouble holding on to his cane and pulling out a chair that was wedged up tight against the table at the same time. Metis moved the chair away from the table, and he sank down onto it with a grateful sigh.
“Thank you, Aurora.” “You’re welcome.”
She was standing behind him, so Nickamedes didn’t see her hand hover over his shoulder, as though she wanted to reach out and touch him. A few weeks ago, when Nickamedes had been poisoned, I’d flashed on Metis with my psychometry, and realized that she was in love with him. But Nickamedes didn’t seem to have any clue about how she felt. I’d been meaning to nose around and ask him if he was dating anyone, but it was such a weird topic that I hadn’t quite figured out how to bring it up yet. Especially since Nickamedes had been in love with my mom back when they’d both been students at Mythos.
Maybe that was why Metis hadn’t told him how she felt. Maybe the professor was still feeling loyal to Grace Frost, her best friend, even though my mom had been murdered last year by Vivian—
“Since we’re all here now, please have a seat, and we’ll get started,” Linus said.
We all shuffled forward and took a seat at the table. When we were settled, Linus strode to the head of the table and turned to face us. He might not be my favorite person, but I had to admit that he cut an impressive figure with his gray Protectorate robe billowing out around him and a long sword strapped to his thick, black leather belt. If there was anyone who could fight Agrona and the other Reapers and win, surely it was Linus Quinn. “What’s up, Dad?” Logan asked. “What couldn’t you
tell us before?”
“Yeah, or at least upstairs where it’s warmer.” Daphne shivered and crossed her arms over her chest.
Linus paused, as if he was searching for the right words. He let out a long breath. “There’s a shipment of artifacts coming into the Cypress Mountain airport tomorrow,” he said. “The items that we recovered from the ski resort that the Reapers were using as their hideout up in New York.”
Logan nodded. He’d been with his dad, Sergei, and Inari when they’d found the hideout and battled the Reapers who’d been inside the resort. Logan had told me about the artifacts he’d discovered in a study there, weapons mostly, although there were some more unusual items in the mix.
“We decided to move everything here to the Library of Antiquities for safekeeping,” Linus said.
I couldn’t help but snort. In my experience, the library was the most dangerous place on campus—not the safest. Not by a long shot.
“The library is the safest place for the artifacts right now,” Linus said, hearing my derisive snort. “Despite your obvious opinion to the contrary, Miss Frost.”
He arched an eyebrow at me, but I shrugged in response. Reapers had been able to waltz into the library and steal artifacts before, and I couldn’t imagine what would be different this time around. No doubt, they would try again as soon as they realized that the artifacts were being sent here. I thought of the three guys at the coffeehouse and how they’d bet that the Reapers would ruin the Valentine’s Day dance. Maybe I should get in on the action and try to win a few bucks. Because the dance would be the perfect time for the Reapers to break into the library again.
“The shipment will arrive at noon tomorrow,” Linus continued. “And the members of the Protectorate will be there to watch over the artifacts from the airport all the way here to campus.”
“So that’s why you brought so many men with you,” Logan said. “To protect the artifacts.”
“What aren’t you telling us?” Metis asked.
“Yes,” Nickamedes chimed in, his voice far more sarcastic than hers. “Protecting artifacts is all well and good, but you don’t need cars full of guards for that. So what’s really going on?”
Linus grimaced, as if he was upset that they’d already realized he wasn’t telling them everything, but he nodded. “It seems that the Reapers are particularly interested in one or more of the artifacts. They’ve already tried to steal the shipment once, when we took it to the New York academy. Three of my men were killed in that attempt.”
“And you think the Reapers will try again,” Ajax rumbled.
“I do,” Linus said.
“And you brought those artifacts here?” Daphne asked. “Why? You know this is, like, Reaper central, right?”
Linus ignored her and stared at me, and I suddenly realized why he was really shipping the artifacts here— and my part in things.
“You want me to flash on them,” I said in a flat voice. “You want me to use my psychometry to see what artifact the Reapers are after and why they want it so badly.”
“Yes,” Linus said. “That’s exactly what I want you to do, Miss Frost.”