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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
“That’s it, Gwen!” Vic shouted, his mouth moving underneath my palm. “On to the next one!”
Next one? What next one?
It took me another few crucial seconds to realize that the warrior wasn’t alone. Half a dozen Reapers stood in the backyard, all with their curved swords up, ready to attack me. One of them, a woman, stood on a smooth patch of dirt to one side of the yard, her black boots trampling the purple and gray forget-me-nots that I’d planted there on Nott’s grave. Anger surged through me at the sight, but I looked past the Reapers, searching for Grandma Frost.
But she wasn’t here.
She wasn’t here.
The Reapers grinned, twirled their swords in their hands, and charged at me. I tightened my grip on Vic and stepped up to meet them, even though I didn’t know how I would manage to take on all of them at once—
Two figures moved between me and the Reapers— Alexei and Aiko. The two warriors drew their own weapons and rushed forward to meet the charging Reapers. Frantic, I scanned the yard again, searching for any sign of Grandma Frost. Where had the Reapers taken her? What had they done with her? How had they kidnapped her so quickly?
A sharp, high yip-yip-yip sounded, and I realized that Nyx had darted outside as well and was standing next to the fence at the edge of the backyard, trying to hurdle it with her short legs. If anyone could find Grandma Frost, it was Nyx. After all, her mom, Nott, had tracked me to the academy from a ski resort miles away. I just had to hope that Nyx had the same nose and instincts that her mom had had.
Nyx howled, and I raced in her direction, rushing past Alexei, Aiko, and the Reapers they were battling.
“Gwen!” Alexei yelled. “Gwen! Wait!”
But I didn’t have time to stop and explain what I was doing—and that I was saving my grandma no matter what.
I reached the part of the fence that Nyx was still trying to hurdle. I grabbed the pup, picked her up, and set her down on the other side. Nyx put her nose to the ground. After a few seconds, she went tearing up the hill behind the house. I hopped over the fence and followed her.
“That’s it, fuzzball!” Vic shouted out his encouragement to her. “You find Geraldine! Track her down!”
Nyx howled again in answer. I scrambled up the bank after her, not caring that I was tearing through a thicket of briars and other bushes that clutched at my clothes and scratched my hands. All that mattered was getting to Grandma Frost.
I finally crested the hill, but the other side was even steeper, and I had to put a hand down to keep my feet from sliding out from under me. Below, the bottom of the slope gave way to a small, grassy park that I used to play in all the time when I was a kid. Two black SUVs sat at the far side of the park, and I could see Grandma Frost struggling with the three Reapers who were trying to force her into the back of one of the vehicles.
“Grandma!” I screamed. “Grandma!”
Below, in the park, Grandma fought with her captors, but I knew she wasn’t going to be able to break free of them. And they weren’t the only Reapers here.
Agrona stood by one of the SUVs, dispassionately watching my grandma’s struggles, while Vivian swung her sword from side to side and headed in my direction. “Gwen! Gwen!” I could hear Alexei yelling again, his
voice getting closer and closer. “Wait for me!”
He and Aiko must have taken care of the Reapers in the backyard and were hurrying in my direction. But I didn’t have time to wait, not if I wanted to save my grandma.
So I sucked in a breath, raced down the hill as fast as I could, and ran straight at Vivian. Nyx charged along with me, heading toward the SUVs, as though she could save Grandma all by herself. Meanwhile, Vivian smiled, and she raised her sword high so that I could see the half of a woman’s face and the burning red eye inlaid into the hilt of her weapon.
“Come on, Vic! You miserable coward!” Lucretia called out in her low, throaty voice. “Come over here, and let me cleave you in two!”
“The only one who’s going to get cleaved in two is you, you overconfident bit of scrap metal!” Vic crowed back at her.
Those were all the insults the two swords were able to exchange before I raised my weapon and brought it down, aiming for Vivian’s head.
Our blades crashed together, sending out a cascade of red and purple sparks. Red sparks of magic also dripped out of Vivian’s fingertips, another sign of her Valkyrie power.
“Give it up, Gwen,” Vivian taunted me. “You’ve already lost this battle.”
“Never!” I snarled back at her.
We broke apart and went right back on the attack, each one of us trying to skewer the other. Still, I couldn’t help but look past Vivian. By this point, the Reapers had forced Grandma Frost into the back of one of the SUVs and closed the door, hiding her from sight. Nyx was closing in on the vehicles, but the wolf pup wasn’t going to get there in time. Agrona gave me a mocking wave with her ruined right hand, then slid into the front passenger’s seat.
The vehicle rumbled to life and drove away a second later.
She was gone.
Grandma Frost was gone.
“No!” I screamed, feeling like my heart had just been ripped out of my chest.
“Ah, Gwen,” Vivian purred. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear you scream like that.”
I ignored her taunt and lashed out with Vic. Vivian lurched to one side, and I ran past her, racing after the SUV, even though I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to catch it. Nyx was still chasing after it as well, moving as fast as she could on her short, pup-sized legs.
But Vivian wasn’t about to let me go that easily. She whipped her sword down and out, and I felt the blade bite into my left shin even as I tripped over it.
I landed facedown, my forehead hitting the ground and momentarily stunning me. But I forced the dizziness away and rolled over onto my back to block the attack I knew was coming—
Vivian put the tip of her sword against my throat and planted her black boot on my right wrist—the hand that I was using to hold Vic. I couldn’t move without her breaking my bones, but I tightened my fingers around the sword’s hilt. I wasn’t letting go of my weapon. If she wanted Vic, she’d have to pry him out of my cold dead hand.
“Do it,” I said through gritted teeth. “Go ahead and kill me.”
Vivian stared down at me, that Reaper red spark flickering in her golden eyes. She turned her sword, the point digging into my skin and drawing a bit of blood. Her golden Janus ring glinted on her finger, the ruby chips in the god’s two faces, one looking forward into the future, and one looking back into the past, flashing in the sunlight.
“As much as I would enjoy it, I’m afraid that’s not the plan,” she said. “At least not for today. But there’s nothing to stop me from hurting you—”
“Gwen! Gwen!” I heard Alexei shout again.
Vivian glanced over her shoulder. Alexei and Aiko must have been closer than she would have liked because her mouth turned down into a petulant pout. She whipped around to me again.
“The deal is simple. You either bring us the candle, or your precious grandmother dies,” Vivian hissed. “I’ll call you with the details later, but the choice is yours, Gwen.”
I opened my mouth to say something—I wasn’t quite sure what—but Vivian raised Lucretia high and slammed the hilt of the sword into the side of my head.
The world snapped to black.
Something warm, wet, and sticky touched my cheek, jerking me out of the darkness that I’d been drowning in for what seemed like forever. A small, hopeful yip sounded, and a solid weight bounded up onto my chest.
I opened my eyes to find Nyx wagging her tail and staring down at me with her bright, twilight-colored eyes. When she realized that I was awake and looking at her, she let out another happy yip and licked me on the cheek again. I wrinkled my nose. Vic was right. Her breath wasn’t the best in the world, but I was so happy to see her that I didn’t care. I rubbed her ears between my fingers, and Nyx’s tail thumped against my ribs in contentment.
I sat up and realized that I was in the academy infirmary, lying on one of the hospital beds. I still had on the same clothes I had been wearing earlier. They were ripped, torn, dirty, and bloody from where I’d scrambled up the hill and down the other side, but the briar scratches on my hands and arms had disappeared. Other than a slight headache, I felt fine, and I knew Professor Metis or maybe Daphne had used her magic to heal me.
Nyx licked my cheek again, then hopped from the bed over onto a chair where Vic was propped up. She licked his cheek as well, and the sword’s eye popped open.
“Ugh, fuzzball!” he groused. “I told you not to wake me up until Gwen was awake too.”
Nyx let out another happy yip and hopped back over onto the bed. Vic realized that I was in fact awake and sitting up, and some of the worry eased out of his metal face.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“I’m okay. What’s going on?” I asked. “Where’s
Vic gave me a serious look, his purple eye dark and solemn. “I’ll let the others tell you.”
A hard knot of fear formed in the pit of my stomach. “The Reapers have her, don’t they?”
“I’m afraid they do.”
I pressed my fist to my mouth, fighting back tears, nausea, and the urge to scream all at the same time. Vivian and Agrona had Grandma Frost at their mercy— something I knew they didn’t have a single shred of in their entire bodies.
The door opened, and Metis stuck her head inside. “Oh good,” she said. “You’re awake.”
She stepped into the room, along with Linus and Coach Ajax. Nickamedes shuffled in as well, leaning on his cane. The librarian shut the door behind him, and the adults formed a row in front of the hospital bed.
“What are you doing to find my grandma?” I demanded. “Do you have any idea where the Reapers have taken her?”
Linus shook his head. “Unfortunately not, Miss Frost. Alexei and Aiko told us what they witnessed of the attack, but I’d like to hear your version of events.”
I told them about fighting the Reapers, chasing after Grandma, and my confrontation with Vivian—including what she wanted.
“I told you that putting the candle on display was a bad idea,” I said, staring at Linus with accusing eyes. “Only the Reapers aren’t going to be stupid enough to try to steal it from the library like you wanted them to. Oh no. They’re going to make us hand it over to them instead.”
Linus look at Metis, then Ajax, and finally Nickamedes. Metis and Ajax stared back at him with sad, but resigned faces, but anger burned in the librarian’s eyes, making them glint like chips of hard blue ice.
“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen,” Linus said, squaring his shoulders and facing me again.
That ball of fear in my stomach morphed into a lump of cold, hard lead. “What . . . what are you saying?” I whispered, barely able to force out the words.
“We do not negotiate with Reapers,” Linus said. “We are not giving the Reapers the candle. We can’t afford to. Not after you told us what it does, and how they could use it to return Loki to his full strength.”
For a moment, I cocked my head to the side, wondering if I’d heard him right—and really, really hoping that I hadn’t.
“You’re . . . you’re not going to save her?” I sputtered in disbelief. “You’re not going to give the Reapers the candle?”
Linus straightened up to his full height, his face harsher and sharper than ever before. “No. We are not giving the Reapers the candle. We cannot do anything that will potentially make Loki stronger.”
My gaze snapped over to Metis and Ajax. They both looked back at me with tired, weary faces.
“I’m sorry, Gwen,” Metis said. “We tried to convince him to change his mind.”
“We all did,” Ajax chimed in. “You know how much we all care about Geraldine.”
Nickamedes didn’t say anything, but he looked at the others, his own features pinched tight with disgust.
“But I’m not going to budge,” Linus finished. “I
can’t. Not as the head of the Protectorate.”
“Can’t? Or don’t want to?” I said in a clipped voice. Linus sighed. “Can’t, Miss Frost. Believe me, I take
no pleasure in this. No pleasure at all.”
“But you . . . you can’t just leave her with the Reapers,” I protested, my hands balling into tight fists. “Vivian and Agrona will kill her—they’ll torture her—just out of spite.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Frost,” Linus repeated. “Truly, I am. But there’s nothing I can do in regard to the candle. Rest assured that I have every available member of the Protectorate out looking for your grandmother. We are doing everything in our power to find her.”
I glared at him. “Just not everything in your power to actually save her, right?”
Linus’s lips pressed into a hard, thin line, but he didn’t argue with me. He couldn’t.
I looked at them all in turn. Linus. Metis. Ajax. Nickamedes. They stared back at me, a mixture of pity and resignation on their faces. Well, except for Nickamedes, who looked as angry as I felt. And I realized that they were actually going to do it. They were actually going to stand by and let my grandma die. Anger roared through me at the knowledge, melting that cold ball of lead in the pit of my stomach, and leaving behind a hard, sizzling determination, more intense than any I’d ever felt before.