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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
Nobody spoke, but the others stared at me, then Linus. Once again, I started fiddling with the silver laurels on my bracelet. Sometimes, I thought my entire life revolved around artifacts and all the stupid riddles that came along with them.
Logan shook his head. “No, Dad, no. You can’t expect Gwen to use her magic like that. Especially without even asking her in the first place. Who knows what kinds of memories or feelings might be attached to these artifacts? It can’t be anything good. Not if the Reapers are after one or more of them.”
Frustration filled Linus’s face. “I don’t like it any more than you do, son. But you didn’t see the Reapers. They put everything they had into trying to get these artifacts, and I want to know why. I want to know what’s so important that they would risk so many of their own warriors. And Miss Frost is the only one who can help me with that.”
Logan opened his mouth to argue with his dad, but I
held up my hand, cutting him off.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’ll do it. I can’t see or feel anything worse than some of the stuff that we’ve been through already, right?”
Logan pinched his lips together. He looked at me, then glared at his father.
“It’s okay,” I repeated. “Really. I’ll be fine. I want to do it. Agrona and Vivian . . . they’ve always been one step ahead of us. It sounds like we might finally be able to get one step ahead of them. Right, Mr. Quinn?”
“That’s exactly right, Miss Frost,” Linus said. “I’m glad you understand.”
I did understand, but that didn’t mean I liked it. But being a Champion was about making sacrifices. Really, using my magic to flash on an artifact was a pretty small price to pay, considering some of the things I’d seen and done over the last several months. The loved ones I’d lost, the battles I’d been in, the kids my own age I’d had to kill just to survive. No, this wasn’t anything, in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I was surprised that it wasn’t going to be worse.
Or maybe I was fooling myself about that too.
“I would like Miss Frost to look at the artifacts as soon as possible,” Linus said. “I was hoping that she might accompany me and my men to the airport tomorrow.”
This time, he looked at Metis, as if asking her permission. The professor stared at me.
“It’s your decision, Gwen,” she said.
“It’s okay. I’ll go with them. Maybe I’ll be able to pick out the artifact on the spot without even touching any of them.” I doubted it, but my words seemed to ease some of the worry in her face.
“Then, I’m going too,” Logan said.
Linus opened his mouth as though he was going to argue, but after a moment, he sighed and nodded. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from my son.” A note of pride rippled through his voice, and he gave Logan a tentative smile.
Logan nodded back at his dad, and some of the tension between them eased.
“There is one more thing,” Linus said, picking up a couple of folders at the end of the table and handing one each to me, Metis, and Nickamedes. “I thought that you might like to review the artifacts before the shipment arrives tomorrow. I want to know what the Reapers are targeting as soon as possible.”
I opened the folder and flipped through the photos inside. Some weapons, some jewelry, a half-used candle. The artifacts were exactly as Logan had described them to me before. I studied each one of the photos carefully, but they were just glossy sheets of paper, and I didn’t get any vibes about the artifacts off them. Not the way I would when I saw the objects in person and then touched them.
“Anything, Miss Frost?” Linus asked.
I shook my head and closed the file. “Nothing that jumps out at me.”
“Well, I suppose it was too much to hope, but thank you for looking at the information.”
“Is that everything?” Nickamedes asked, his voice still as snide as before.
Linus hesitated. “I don’t have to tell you that we’ve reached a critical point in our war with the Reapers. Now that Loki is free, they’ve become much bolder. It won’t be long before they start attacking larger and larger groups. Maybe even one of the academies. Finding this artifact could be our chance to finally turn the tide against them. And you all know how important that is.”
He was speaking to everyone, but his eyes were locked with mine, and I felt that same mix of worry and determination roll off him. For the first time, I realized what Linus already knew, what he was trying to tell everyone, even if he hadn’t come right out and said the words yet.
Unless we figured out which artifact the Reapers were after and why, we were in danger of losing everything
The meeting broke up, and we all went our separate ways.
Logan looked at me, then at his dad, who was talking with Sergei, Inari, Metis, Ajax, and Nickamedes.
“It’s okay,” I said, seeing the debate on his face whether to go with me or stay here. “Go spend some time with your dad. Daphne and Carson will walk me back to my dorm.”
Logan let out a relieved sigh. “Thank you, Gypsy girl. I’ll call you later, okay?”
I nodded. We kissed, and then he walked over to his dad and joined in the conversation with the adults. Oliver and Alexei stayed behind as well.
Still holding the folder of artifact photos, I left the basement with Daphne and Carson and climbed back up the spiral staircase to the main floor. The three of us didn’t talk as we left the library and stepped outside onto the quad. The sun had gone down while we’d been in the basement, and shadows now cloaked the lush lawns and spread out from the base of the bare, leafless trees like black blood slowly oozing over everything. I shivered, and not because of the bitter cold.
“All right, Gwen,” Daphne said as we started walking down the hill toward my dorm. “Spill it. Which one of the artifacts are the Reapers really after?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I didn’t get any big vibes off the photos, and none of the images moved or did anything creepy. I’ll have to see the artifacts in person to try to figure it out.”
Daphne gave me a suspicious look.
“Really,” I insisted again. “I don’t know what they’re after. At least, not yet.”
“But you’ll be able to find out with your psychometry, right?” Carson asked. “Once you see and touch the artifacts?”
I shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to.”
We didn’t say anything else, and we reached my dorm, Styx Hall, a few minutes later. I said good-bye to my friends, slid my ID card through the scanner attached to the door, and went inside for the night.
I trudged up the stairs to my room, which was located in a separate turret that had been added on to the side of the building. I unlocked the door and stepped inside.
All of the kids at Mythos had the same sort of dorm furniture, and my room was no exception with its bed, bookcases, TV, mini fridge, and desk. But the small, personal touches were what made it feel like home, like the photos of my mom and Metis that were propped up on my desk, along with a small replica statue of Nike. Posters of Wonder Woman, Karma Girl, and The Killers decorated the walls, while crystal suncatchers shaped like snowflakes hung in the windows.
At the sound of the shutting door, something stirred in a wicker basket in the corner. A moment later, a flash of ash-gray fur exploded out of the basket and leaped across the room, landing on top of my right sneaker. Nyx, the Fenrir wolf pup I was taking care of, sank her teeth into one of my shoelaces and gave it a vicious tug, easily ripping it in two. Her teeth were getting sharper every day.
I laughed, bent down, and rubbed her ears between my fingers. Nyx sighed with pleasure and leaned in to my touch, her tail thumping against my legs.
I finished petting her and straightened up, then crossed the room, unbuckled the leather belt from around my waist, and propped Vic, still in his scabbard, up on my bed. Nyx let out a happy, slightly squeaky yip, then jumped up onto the bed, reared up onto her hind feet, and licked the sword’s cheek. Vic’s eye snapped open.
“Ugh, fuzzball!” he groused. “What have I told you about licking me when your breath is that bad?”
Nyx let out another happy yip and licked him again. Vic grumbled, but his half of a face curved up into a smile. He would never admit it, but he loved the wolf pup as much as I did.
I plopped down on the bed next to them, sat crosslegged, and opened up the file of photos that Linus had given me.
“I take it you heard everything in the library?” I asked the sword. “About the Reapers desperately wanting to get their hands on this latest mystery artifact?”
“Yep,” Vic said.
“What do you think they’re after?” I asked, holding the photos up one by one so he could see them all. “From what Logan told me, none of the artifacts seemed particularly powerful.”
“You know that doesn’t mean anything,” Vic said, his purplish eye locked on to the pictures. “Just look at that bracelet on your wrist. Who would think that those silver laurel leaves could either heal or kill someone? Much less a god?”
He had a point. I wondered if I should have told Linus that I also had an artifact the Reapers would desperately love to get their hands on, should they ever learn of its existence. But that was one of the many secrets I was keeping. I hadn’t told my friends much about the bracelet, only that I’d found it in the Eir Ruins, and I hadn’t told them I was supposed to kill Loki either, although Grandma Frost and Professor Metis knew.
“I don’t know,” Vic said in a thoughtful voice, after I’d finished showing him the photos. “The Reapers could be after anything. Any one of those objects could have more power than the Protectorate realizes. What is your Gypsy gift telling you?”
“Nothing right now. I guess I’ll have to wait until I
see the artifacts in person tomorrow.”
I stuffed the photos back into the folder and put it on my desk. Vic continued chastising Nyx, trying to get her to stop licking him, as I moved around my room, taking a shower, putting on some pajamas, and getting ready for bed. By the time I finished, the wolf pup had wrapped her tail around Vic, and they were both snoring on my bed. I left them alone, not wanting to disturb them.
I grabbed an extra blanket from my closet, curled up in the window seat, pushed back the curtains, and looked outside. Below, partially hidden by the branches of a large maple, Aiko, a Ninja and one of the Protectorate members, stood guard outside my dorm the way she did every night.
My eyes scanned the darkness, but all I saw were shadows, broken up here and there by a few patches of snow that still clung to the ground from the latest winter storm a couple of days ago. The night was so cold that a killer frost covered everything, from the grass and trees to the cobblestone walkways that wound through them, adding sharp glints of silver to the black landscape. Frost had even crept up onto my window and frozen into delicate clusters of hard, brittle snowflakes around the edges of the glass.
Everything seemed calm, cold, and quiet. Still, I couldn’t help but peer out past the frost and stare broodingly into the night, wondering how long it would be before the Reapers struck again.
At noon the next day, Sunday, I found myself standing on the tarmac at the Cypress Mountain airport, shivering in the cold. The sun had already vanished for the day, disappearing into a wall of ominous, dark gray clouds that cloaked the sky like a Protectorate robe spread over the tops of the surrounding mountains. The private Protectorate plane containing the artifacts had arrived fifteen minutes ago, but it was taking the guards forever to unload the crates, which was why I was standing around, freezing my ass off.
I tucked my chin down into the dark gray scarf patterned with silver snowflakes that was wrapped around my neck. It didn’t help much, though, especially since a winter wind continually gusted across the tarmac, bringing tiny flakes of snow along with it.
An arm wrapped around my shoulders, and I found myself looking up into Oliver’s grinning face.
“Relax, Gwen,” he said. “Surely, they’ll get the plane unloaded in another few minutes.”
“You mean before or after I freeze to death?” I groused. “I don’t know what you are complaining about,” Alexei chimed in, his Russian accent coloring his words.
“It’s not even chilly. Not really.”
Alexei tilted his face into the wind and smiled, as if he actually enjoyed the cold breeze sweeping over his exposed skin. Oliver and I exchanged a look.
“Hey, now—” Logan stepped up and drew me away from Oliver. “That’s my girl you’re cozying up to.”
Like me, Logan was also bundled up, wearing a black leather jacket and a black fleece toboggan to help ward off the chill of the day.
“It’s not my fault you left her all by herself,” Oliver teased. “You know that’s how Gwen gets into trouble.” “I would stick my tongue out at you, but it’s too
cold,” I grumbled.
Oliver laughed. So did Logan, but I didn’t mind because he kept his arms wrapped around me, shielding me from the worst of the winter wind.
Linus stood off to the far side of the tarmac, holding a clipboard and talking with Sergei and Inari. More members of the Protectorate, all wearing gray robes over their heavy winter clothes, milled about them, including Aiko. I waved at the pretty petite Ninja, and she waved back at me.
“Well, I’m glad to see that I’m not late after all,” a voice called out behind me.
A faint, familiar jingle-jingle-jingle rang out across the tarmac. I turned at the sound, a smile spreading across my face at the sight of the older woman walking toward me. A long gray coat covered her black pants and boots, although green and gray scarves peeked out from underneath her collar and trailed down her chest.