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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
“Is it because of my mom?” I asked. “That’s the only reason I can think of why you wouldn’t tell him.”
A faint smile flickered across Metis’s face, softening the tight pinch of her lips. “Sometimes, I forget how perceptive you can be. And not only because of your psychometry.”
She started walking again, her steps much quicker than before, as though she could scurry away from the truth and her emotions if only she moved fast enough. I wondered if I’d made a mistake asking her about her feelings for Nickamedes. But before I could catch up to her and apologize, Metis slowed, turned, and then sat down on the library steps, right in between the two gryphons. I hesitated, then plopped down beside her, feeling the bitter chill of the stone even through the thick fabric of my jeans.
Metis ran her fingers back and forth over the dark gray stone of the step that we were sitting on. After about a minute, her hand stilled, although she kept staring at the stone, her green gaze dark and distant with memories.
“You know, your mom and I used to sit out here on the library steps and talk all the time. About everything. Boys, classes, life. I think that’s the thing I miss about her the most. The fact that I can’t talk to her anymore.” I had to clear my throat to get the words out. “Me
too,” I whispered.
Metis sighed, drew her hand away from the cold stone, and slowly curled her fingers into a loose fist in her lap. “But you’re right. Grace is the reason I never told Nickamedes how I felt about him.”
“How long?” I asked. “How long have you loved him?”
A faint smile pulled up her lips again, but her expression was even sadder than if she’d been openly crying. “Sometimes, it seems like forever. I was in the library one day, trying to find a book that I needed to finish a homework assignment. This was long ago, during my very first semester at Mythos. Nickamedes was sitting at one of the study tables near me. Even back then, he was always so serious, always such a stickler for the rules. I think that my muttering about not being able to find the right book annoyed him more than anything else, since he was trying to study. Anyway, he saw that I was in trouble, and he helped me find the book I needed. We became friends. And slowly, I realized that I felt much more than friendship for him.”
“So what happened?”
She drew in a breath. “A few weeks later, I introduced him to Grace. He took one look at your mom, and she at him, and the two of them fell head over heels for each other. They were inseparable after that.”
I could see it all as clearly as if it was a movie that was playing right in front of my eyes. Metis secretly crushing on Nickamedes, even though he was totally into my mom. The two of them not realizing that Metis always felt like the odd person out. Her keeping quiet, not wanting to ruin her best friend’s happiness with her boyfriend. In that moment, my heart broke for Metis.
“But you never said anything to him?” I asked. “Not even when my mom left him and the academy for good?” Metis shrugged. “After Grace left, Nickamedes was
so angry for such a long time. He threw himself into his job here at the library, and I did the same thing by getting my teaching degree and then working at some of the other academies. Several years later, I came back here to teach. We had kept in touch while I’d been gone, but seeing him again . . . all of my old feelings came rushing back. But there just never seemed to be a good time to tell him how I felt.”
She paused. “No, that’s not right. There were times that I could have told him. I just . . . didn’t. I suppose I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, in case he didn’t feel the same way. Or couldn’t, because of Grace.”
I could understand that too. Before we’d gotten together, I’d told Logan how I felt about him, and he’d told me that we couldn’t be together and then went off with another girl. That had been painful enough. I couldn’t imagine how much harder it would have been for Metis if Nickamedes had rejected her, since they’d been friends for so long. Even if he’d let her down easy, which he would have, she was right. It would have made things awkward between them for a long time, if not forever.
“And then you came to the academy last fall . . .” Metis’s voice trailed off.
“And I reminded him of my mom all over again and how much he’d loved her,” I finished. “How much you both loved her.”
She nodded. “And I felt it would be . . . disloyal to
Grace to say anything to Nickamedes.”
We sat there in silence, both thinking about my mom and everything she’d meant to us. Finally, I let out a breath. My mom was gone, but Metis and Nickamedes were still here, and I wanted them to be happy together, if they could. And I knew that’s what my mom would have wanted too. In fact, I was willing to bet that nothing would have made her happier than knowing her two best friends were finally together.
“You should tell him how you feel,” I said. “Before it’s too late.”
Metis cocked her head to the side and looked at me. “Why do you say it like that?”
“Because I still don’t know how to kill Loki,” I said in a flat voice. “I still don’t know how to use the silver laurel leaves that Eir gave me. I don’t even know which artifact the Reapers were after today, and I doubt that looking at them again will give me the answer. Some Champion I am, huh?”
Metis leaned over and put her hand on top of mine, and I felt a wave of understanding surge through me— along with rock-solid faith.
“I believe in you, Gwen,” she said. “You’ll figure it out, and I’ll be here to help you. Along with Nickamedes, Geraldine, and all your other friends too.”
“I haven’t told them. I haven’t told Logan or Daphne or any of the others about the bracelet or the fact that I’m supposed to kill Loki. I don’t know how to tell them.”
I looked at her. “Because what if I fail? What if Vivian or Agrona or one of the other Reapers kills me before I figure things out? I don’t want them to give up. I don’t want them to think that I’m their only hope, even though Nike made it sound like I pretty much was. I . . . I just don’t know what to do. About anything.”
Metis squeezed my hand, and I felt another wave of understanding and faith surge through her and into me. “Being a Champion is never easy, Gwen. But Nike believes in you, and so do I. She wouldn’t have made you her Champion if she didn’t think you could somehow defeat Loki.”
“But all she ever talks about when she appears to me is free will and things happening because they’re supposed to and other stupid riddles,” I muttered. “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of all of it. Sometimes, I just wish that it was over—one way or the other.”
“I know,” she said. “Your mom said the same thing to me so many times.”
“And what did you tell her?”
Metis looked at me, her green gaze somehow sympathetic and stern at the same time. “That you’re a Champion. That it’s your duty to do the best you can do and to keep going, to keep fighting, as hard as you can for as long as you can. Because that’s what Champions do.”
“Now you sound like Nike,” I muttered again.
She shrugged, as if she didn’t know what to say to my comparison. Sometimes, I forgot that Metis was a Champion herself, one who served Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. So she definitely knew what she was talking about, especially since she’d been fighting Reapers ever since she was my age. Still, despite my own doubts, talking with her made me feel better, the way it always did. Or at least it gave me the strength to keep on going, to keep on fighting, for a little while longer. Just like she said. Just like she always did.
“Well,” I said. “You’re right about one thing.” “What’s that?”
I sighed, then got to my feet. “We might as well go on inside. Duty calls, and all that.”
Metis nodded and got to her feet as well. She started to head up the stairs, but I put my hand on her arm, stopping her.
“But promise me you’ll tell Nickamedes how you feel,” I said. “No matter what happens. My mom would want that. Because you deserve to be happy, and so does he.”
I grinned. “Even if he always gets way too grumpy when I’m late for work.”
Metis laughed, her face a little lighter. She nodded and looped her arm through mine. Together, we went up the steps and headed into the library.
Metis led me through the library, through the door in the wall, and down the stairs to the basement. We moved past the stacks to find Nickamedes and Linus standing at the conference table we’d all gathered around yesterday.
Only now, the table was covered with artifacts.
The shield of Ares, the spear of Sekhmet, the diamond rings of Aphrodite. They were the same artifacts that were in the photos Linus had given me yesterday, the same artifacts I’d seen and touched earlier today at the airport. Weapons, jewelry, armor, garments, and other miscellaneous objects. All just sitting there, glinting dully underneath the lights, and looking perfectly innocent, perfectly ordinary, and not at all like the powerful objects they really were.
Linus and Nickamedes stopped their conversation and turned at the sound of our soft footsteps on the marble floor.
Nickamedes glanced at his watch, then arched his black eyebrows at me.
I sighed. “I know, I know. You were expecting me here ten minutes ago.”
The librarian sniffed. “More like fifteen, actually. Really, Gwendolyn. This is no time to dawdle. And Aurora, I expected you to hurry her along, at the very least.”
“Oh, it’s not Metis’s fault,” I said in a snarky tone. “She couldn’t wait to come down here and see you, Nickamedes.”
His eyebrows drew together, and he looked at Metis in confusion.
“What Gwen means is that I couldn’t wait for her to get started,” she said in a smooth voice. “The sooner she identifies the artifact, the sooner we can figure out what the Reapers want with it and how to keep it safe from them.”
It was a nice save, and I was the only one who noticed the faint blush that stained her bronze cheeks. Still, I wasn’t about to let her get off that easy. I nudged Metis with my shoulder, but she shook her head and moved away from me, going to stand next to Nickamedes.
“Tell him,” I mouthed. “Tell him now.”
She shook her head at me again. Linus looked back and forth between the two of us, obviously wondering what was going on, but he didn’t comment on it.
Nickamedes shuffled over to the far end of the table, his cane tap-tap-tapping on the floor again. He picked up a thick notebook and an ink pen, then pulled out a chair and sat down.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
He peered up at me, his blue eyes bright with excitement. “Well, since you’re going to be using your magic to flash on the artifacts, I thought it would be an efficient use of time and resources to have you describe their properties to me in detail. It will save me a great deal of time researching them later on if you can tell me about them and what they do now.”
I eyed him. “That sounds suspiciously like research to me. And I’m not working today, remember? Um, hello, I battled a group of Reapers. I think I’ve been helpful enough for one day. For several days, actually.”
Nickamedes sat up straight in his chair and gave me a stern look that I knew all too well. “A librarian’s work is never done. You should know that by now, Gwendolyn.”
I rolled my eyes, but I knew there was nothing I could do but go along with him and his obsessive need to catalog every single thing in the entire freaking library. And not just because I still felt guilty that he had been poisoned instead of me. Once Nickamedes sank his teeth into something, he wouldn’t let go of it.
“Fine,” I muttered. “But this totally gets me out of one of my shifts this week.”
Nickamedes raised his eyes heavenward, as if asking all the gods and goddesses above for patience to deal with the likes of me. “Oh, very well. But just one.”
“Anytime you’re ready, Miss Frost,” Linus chimed in. I took off my jacket and scarf, pushed up the sleeves
of my sweater, and got to work. Once again, I went down the two rows on the table, picking up and touching each one of the artifacts in turn. I started with the weapons I’d already examined at the airport, doublechecking to see if I might have missed anything, but the vibes I got off them were the same as before. Images of battles, warriors, and blood everywhere. Not the most wonderful memories, but sadly, nothing that I hadn’t felt before with my psychometry or experienced in real life, given all the fights I’d been in recently. Vic, on the other hand, would have enjoyed seeing and feeling all of the memories, all of the harsh victories and brutal defeats. The sword would have probably demanded that I get him some popcorn and a giant soda, so he could experience a right proper show, as he would put it.
After I finished with an artifact, Nickamedes would ask me about what I’d seen and felt, and I dutifully answered all of his many questions. He scribbled down page after page of notes, his face creased with concentration and his eyes bright with pleasure. Nothing made him happier than research, even if I was the one who was doing all the hard work. But I knew he would put his extensive notes to good use. No doubt some of the information he was recording would be used to make the identification cards that would be placed with the artifacts once they were put on display on the main library floor.
Minutes passed, then turned into an hour. And still, all I did was touch artifacts, get sucked into memories of the past, and then regurgitate everything for Nickamedes.