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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
The silver coins on the edges of the thin, rippling silk tinkled merrily in the gusty breeze. A purple scarf was wrapped around her head, covering her ears, and holding her iron-gray hair back off her face.
“Grandma!” I said, breaking away from Logan and stepping forward to hug her.
“Hey, pumpkin,” Grandma Frost said, enfolding me in her warm, welcoming embrace.
We hugged for several seconds before I drew back. “What are you doing here?”
“Metis called and told me about the shipment of artifacts,” Grandma said, her violet eyes meeting mine. “She asked me to come to the airport to see if I could help you figure out which one the Reapers are after.”
That made sense. Like me, Grandma was a Gypsy, part of a family that had been gifted with magic from one of the gods. In our case, our magic came from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and Grandma’s Gypsy gift was the ability to see the future. Maybe she could simply look at the artifacts and tell which one might be important to the Reapers or the Pantheon in the days ahead. It was worth a shot.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” I said, hugging her again. She smoothed down my frizzy brown hair. “Me too,
pumpkin. Me too.”
Grandma Frost and I broke apart. Footsteps smacked against the pavement, and Linus strode over to us. He held out his hand, pointing at one of the nearby hangars.
“If you’ll follow me, Miss Frost, I think we’re ready to get started,” he said.
I nodded. Grandma Frost squeezed my hand, and we fell in step behind him, with Logan, Oliver, and Alexei following us.
Linus led us inside the hangar, which was really just a giant metal shell. No planes perched inside the area, no tools covered the concrete floor, and no other kinds of flight equipment could be seen anywhere. There was nothing in the open space at all, except for a table that had been set up along one of the walls.
A table that was covered with artifacts.
Weapons, armor, jewelry, clothing. The long, wide table featured all of the usual items, the objects that had belonged to the gods and goddesses and the warriors and creatures who had served them over the centuries.
As I stepped closer to the table, I realized that most of the Protectorate guards had left the tarmac behind and had followed us inside the hangar—and that they were all staring at me with curious, expectant eyes. No added pressure or anything.
“Any time you’re ready, Miss Frost,” Linus said. “There’s no rush.”
“You’ll do great,” Logan whispered as he squeezed my hand. “I know you will.”
I returned his crooked grin with one of my own, then drew in a breath, took off my gray fleece gloves, stuffed them into my coat pockets, and stepped up to the table.
I touched first one thing, then another, systematically going down the table and two rows of artifacts, and spending a few minutes with each item. A large, silver shield that had belonged to Ares, the Greek god of war; a bronze-tipped spear that had once been the property of Sekhmet, an Egyptian war goddess; a set of tiny diamond rings that had been worn by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
One by one, I picked up each of the items and waited for my psychometry to kick in and reveal all of the artifact’s secrets to me. The memories and emotions were exactly what I expected them to be. The shield taking a severe beating as swords screeched across it and arrows thunk-thunk-thunked against it during the many battles that the shield had been used in over the centuries. Various warriors wielding the spear, stabbing their way through one enemy and one fight after another, shouts and screams rending the air all around them. Still more men and women wearing the diamond rings in hopes of enticing the objects of their affection to love them in return.
But there was nothing surprising among all the flickers and flashes, the cracks and crashes, the images and feelings. Nothing that stood out, and absolutely nothing that told me which specific artifact the Reapers might be interested in and why.
Frustrated, I opened my eyes, pulled the diamond rings off my fingers, and set them back down onto the table.
“Anything?” Sergei asked.
I shook my head. “Nothing out of the ordinary. All of the artifacts have magic, but I’m not sensing anything powerful or unique enough to justify the kind of fullscale Reaper attack that Linus described. They’re just weapons and armor and jewelry. They have their uses, sure, but nothing that you couldn’t get from other weapons, armor, and jewelry—ones that aren’t being guarded by the Protectorate and would be much easier to steal.”
I eyed the diamond rings again, wondering if perhaps there was more to them than I’d realized. That’s what had happened with the Apate jewels that Agrona had stolen from the Library of Antiquities and had used to control Logan and turn him against me. Back then, I’d thought that the Apate jewels were simply pretty gems and hadn’t realized they could be used in a far more sinister way, until it was too late.
So I sighed and reached for the rings again—
Linus stepped up beside me, holding his right arm out to stop me from picking up the rings. “I’m sorry, Miss Frost. But you’ll have to look at the rest of the artifacts back at the academy.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
His face was pinched tight with worry, and he was clutching a phone in his left hand. “I’ve had a report that some of the guards stationed around the perimeter have seen someone wearing a black Reaper robe and a rubber Loki mask scaling the fence at the opposite end of the airport.”
I gestured at the table. I’d only gone about halfway down the two rows, and a dozen more artifacts stretched out before me. “But I’m not finished.”
Linus shook his head. “There’s no time. If the Reapers are headed this way, then I want you, your friends, and the artifacts out of here and on your way back to the academy, where I know you’ll all be safe.”
I wanted to point out that the academy wasn’t safe, not these days, but I didn’t have time to protest before Grandma Frost grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the table. Several Protectorate guards stepped forward and started packing up the artifacts.
“Come on, pumpkin,” she said. “Linus is right. You can look at the artifacts again when we get back to the academy. Let the Protectorate do its job.”
“Don’t worry, Gwen,” Alexei said, coming to stand beside us. “I won’t let anything happen to you or your grandma.”
“It’s not us that I’m worried about right now,” I replied. “But Linus is right. We can’t let the Reapers get their hands on whatever artifact they’re after.”
We stood off to one side of the hangar and watched while the members of the Protectorate stowed the artifacts in the back of a large white van.
Ten minutes later, I was sitting in the back of a black SUV, with Logan next to me. Sergei was driving, while Grandma Frost perched in the front passenger seat. Linus and Inari were ahead of us in the van with the artifacts, while Oliver and Alexei actually rode in the back of the vehicle with the crates. Two more black SUVs full of Protectorate guards, including Aiko, idled behind us. Everyone had their weapons out and ready.
“This is bloody ridiculous, if you ask me,” Vic muttered, breaking the silence in our SUV. “We should be waiting at the airport for the Reapers. Not running away. It’s demeaning, I tell you. Demeaning!”
I had the sword laid out flat across my lap, and I leaned forward so that I could look into his one eye. “Well, it’s not up to you, O great slayer of Reapers.”
Vic narrowed his eye in an angry glare, but he didn’t say anything else.
“All right,” Sergei said, pulling his phone away from his ear and laying it down on the console in the center of the SUV. “Linus says we’re ready to move out. Here we go.”
He cranked the engine and steered away from the hangar entrance, following the van full of artifacts. I looked out the windows, scanning the acres of flat, open land around us, but I didn’t see anything but snow, asphalt, and a few trees in the distance. There was no place for the Reapers to hide, and we’d literally see them coming a mile away.
Still, as we drove toward the gate, I couldn’t help but think that we were playing right into the Reapers’ hands.
Our convoy rolled toward the edge of the airport. I tensed up as the chain-link fence at the perimeter slid back, expecting Reapers to appear out of thin air on the other side to attack us.
But nothing happened, and Sergei steered the SUV
through the opening with no problems.
“Relax, Gypsy girl,” Logan said, noticing the worried look on my face. “The Reapers would have to be really crazy or really desperate to attack us with so many members of the Protectorate around.”
I gave him a look. “Crazy and desperate is kind of what Vivian and Agrona do, remember?”
He grimaced. He couldn’t argue with that.
We rode in silence. For the first few miles, everyone stared intently out the windows, expecting the Reapers to strike at any second. But as the miles and minutes passed, Logan relaxed back against his seat, and Sergei started whistling softly. Grandma Frost remained silent.
I leaned forward, trying to see her face, but Grandma was staring straight ahead through the windshield, and I couldn’t get a sense of what she was thinking. Still, I could feel that old, watchful, knowing force stirring in the air around her, the way it always did whenever she was getting a glimpse of the future, but the sensation seemed to vanish as quickly as it had appeared. Or perhaps it had never been there to start with. This wouldn’t be the first time that my own worry, coupled with my psychometry magic, had made me see and feel things that weren’t real.
Trying to get rid of my nervous energy, I leaned back and started drumming my fingers on Vic’s hilt, careful not to poke him in the eye. I kept staring out the windows, but we’d left the open space of the airport behind and were now driving through a patch of woods. Thick stands of trees crowded right up to the edge of the narrow, two-lane road, their bare, brown branches looking as gnarled and knotted as bones swaying back and forth in the steady breeze.
The farther we went, and the closer to the academy we got, the more the others relaxed, and the more I tensed up. Nothing was ever this easy, not when it came to the Reapers.
“Don’t worry, Gypsy girl,” Logan repeated. “A few more miles, and we’ll be at the academy.”
I nodded, even though my fingers were now curled around Vic’s hilt. The sword’s eye was still open, although all he could really see was the car ceiling. Still, I knew he’d be ready if the Reapers did attack.
We drove on. The van in front of us slowed and stopped. I tensed again, until I realized that Linus was at a stop sign and getting ready to make a left since this part of the road became a dead end up ahead. A large black truck rolled up at the other stop sign, at a right angle to the van, on the road that we were going to turn onto. Through the windshield, I could see the truck driver waving for Linus to go ahead and make his turn.
Everything seemed normal, but my unease ratcheted up another notch. Something about this whole situation felt slightly off. Worse than that, it reminded me of . . . something . . . something I’d seen before . . . something I couldn’t quite put my finger on . . .
My eyes locked on to the stop sign next to the van, and a memory erupted out of the dark of my mind. I flashed back to another intersection and another time— when Vivian had told Preston Ashton to ram their SUV into my mom’s car so they could ambush and kill her.
And suddenly, I knew that the Reaper sighting at the airport had been a false alarm—one designed to make us drive to this exact spot.
“Tell Linus to stop! It’s a trap—”
Even as I started to yell, I realized it was already too late.
Linus eased the van out into the intersection to make the turn. The idling black truck immediately zoomed forward and slammed into the side of the van, sending it skittering sideways. Sergei cursed and put his foot on the gas, trying to get closer to the van and our friends.
But he didn’t realize that there was a second black truck right behind the first one.
It roared up and steered straight at us. I didn’t even have time to suck down another breath to scream before the other vehicle smashed into us.
For a moment, the world went completely black. Then, the SUV stopped rolling, and I snapped back to
reality. I shook the fog from my mind and looked at Logan. He’d gotten the worst of the impact, and his side of the car was smushed in like a tin can someone had stomped under his foot. The left side of his face was bloody from where the window had shattered, and the glass had cut into his skin, while his body was twisted at an awkward angle.
“Logan?” I said. “Logan!”
I thought he wasn’t going to answer me, but he let out a weak cough, and his eyes slowly fluttered open.
“Gypsy girl?” Logan rasped, raising his hand to his neck, as though it were aching. It probably was after the jarring impact of the crash. “What happened . . .”
“Reapers,” I muttered in a dark voice.
My yells and Logan’s voice roused the others, and Sergei let out a low groan from the front seat. So did Grandma Frost. Sergei’s face was cut and bloody, just like Logan’s, but Grandma didn’t seem to have a scratch on her. Neither did I, since we’d both been on the opposite side of the car from the impact.
Since everyone seemed to be more or less okay, I leaned forward and peered through the cracked windshield. Several figures wearing black robes and carrying curved swords had already gotten out of the two trucks and were approaching the artifacts van. That was bad enough, but what made my heart clench in my chest was the fact that more and more Reapers poured out of the woods on the right side of the road, including two very familiar figures.