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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
My heart sank. He was the last person who I wanted to figure out what I was doing. He’d never forgive me for stealing one of his precious artifacts, not even to save my grandma.
But before I could scurry away from the case, he had reached my side, leaning on his cane and carrying a stack of books in the crook of his other arm.
“Here,” I said. “Let me get those for you. They look heavy.”
I stepped forward and took the books from him before he could protest, putting myself in between him and the case so he wouldn’t realize how interested I was in the key. That was my hope, anyway. Yeah, it was totally lame, but it was the only thing I could do.
“You ready to go back to your office?” I asked in a bright voice, edging away from the case.
“Actually, I was looking for you,” Nickamedes said. “I’ve found out something interesting about your silver laurel leaves.”
He reached forward and pulled one of the books out of my hands. Then, Nickamedes stepped past me, put the book down on top of the case, and opened up the thick, heavy volume.
“Come here and look at this,” he said. “I think you’ll find it extremely interesting.”
I wanted to scream, but I kept that blank look fixed on my face and did as he asked. “What is it?”
Nickamedes started flipping through the book. “Remember how we thought you actually had to find a way to grind up the leaves in order to get them to work?”
I nodded. In their attempt to poison me, the Reapers had used a plant called Serket sap, by drying and then grinding the plant’s leaves and roots into a fine white powder. So Nickamedes and I had thought that maybe we had to do the same thing to the laurel leaves. Of course, the only problem was that the leaves on my bracelet were made of solid silver, so they weren’t something you could throw on a cutting board and chop up with a knife. In fact, we hadn’t figured out any way to use the leaves so far. Otherwise, I would have used as many as it took to heal Nickamedes’s bum legs, since I was the reason he’d been injured.
“Well, it looks like we don’t have to grind, boil, or do anything like that to the leaves,” Nickamedes said. “Here. Take a look at this.”
He reached the passage he wanted and stepped aside so that I could read it.
Not much is known about how to use silver laurel leaves to heal or injure. However, one thing is clear. The leaves’ metallurgic properties make it impossible for them to be administered in the way one might boil, cut, or grind up a more typical plant, herb, or root. There is one school of thought that suggests getting someone to swallow one of the leaves is enough to activate their power, although that is a risky proposition at best. But another, more interesting idea is that the leaves can actually be used in conjunction with other artifacts to augment or influence their power, or perhaps even intensify a person’s own magic . . .
The book went on to give a few examples of how laurel leaves had been used in combination with other artifacts. The Greek goddess Hera had added a leaf onto a jeweled ring that her husband, Zeus, had planned to give to one of his many mortal lovers. Only when Zeus had given his lover the ring, she had dropped dead because of Hera’s jealousy and the malicious intent with which the goddess had used the leaf.
But apparently, the most famous example was of the leaves being stitched onto a pair of long, white silk gloves that Sigyn, the Norse goddess of devotion, had once worn, in order to help heal some horrible wounds. She’d gotten the injuries on her hands and arms while being splattered with snake venom when she’d been holding the Bowl of Tears up over her husband, Loki’s, head while he’d been imprisoned by the other gods.
“Great,” I sniped. “So all I have to do is tie one of the leaves to Loki’s finger, and he’ll drop dead. No problem. I’m sure he’ll let me close enough to do that, not to mention hold still while I slip the laurel onto his finger in the first place.”
“There’s no need for sarcasm, Gwendolyn,” Nickamedes said, picking up the book and shutting it. “Of course, I will research this further, but I thought you would want to know. I thought it might take your mind off . . . things.”
I tried not to look at it, but my gaze still flicked down to the key. That was what I needed to take my mind off things. Or at least to start working on the rest of my plan to rescue Grandma Frost—
Too late, I realized that Nickamedes had noticed me staring at the key. He frowned, then stepped forward and read the index card inside the case.
“Janus’s Master Key,” he murmured. “A very unusual artifact with some very unusual magic. Not the sort of thing most warriors would look at for more than a few seconds. They’re far more interested in weapons that kill people, rather than simple objects like keys.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say to get him to go away and not think about what I was really doing here.
“But then again, you are not most warriors, are you, Gwendolyn?”
Nickamedes looked straight into my eyes, and I could see the knowledge of my own scheme reflected back in his icy blue gaze.
My breath caught in my throat. He knew exactly what I was up to. Of course he would. Nickamedes knew everything that went on in the library, from the kids hooking up in the stacks to the professors who always returned their books late to why I would suddenly be so interested in an artifact that opened locks.
I sighed, fully expecting him to tear into me for even thinking about taking the key out of its case and using it to help me steal the candle. But to my surprise, Nickamedes kept staring at me. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he reached into his pants pocket and drew out a ring of keys.
My breath caught in my throat again because I recognized these keys too—they were the ones to the library doors, as well as the artifact cases. Nickamedes flipped through the ring until he found the right sort of key, then inserted it in the lock on the case, and opened it.
He reached inside and pulled out the Janus key. I expected him to walk away with the artifact, saying that he was going to move it somewhere else for safekeeping. In other words, far, far away from me and my thieving hands. But instead, Nickamedes shut the case and slowly placed the key down on top of the smooth glass. “You should take that downstairs and make sure it gets a good cleaning,” he said. “It needs polishing. Take
your time, though. There’s no rush—no rush at all.”
I couldn’t keep my mouth from gaping open. Of all the things that I thought might happen, Nickamedes actually giving me the key had never crossed my mind.
“Why do you think that it needs polishing?” I asked in a careful, but curious tone. “It looks fine to me the way it is right now. You know how . . . clumsy I can be with things, especially artifacts. Who knows? I might . . . lose it or something.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take, Gwendolyn,” Nickamedes replied in a soft voice. “Even if others are not.” The librarian stared at me again, and I saw the certainty blazing in his eyes, along with his faith—in me. Once again, my mouth gaped open, but Nickamedes didn’t seem to notice my surprise. Instead, he nodded at me, gathered up his books, including the ones I was still holding, then turned and walked away, his cane tapping
softly on the marble floor.
After a few seconds, I shook off my shocked daze and carefully picked up the key, waiting for my psychometry to kick in and show me all of the feelings, emotions, and memories that were attached to it. But all I got from the key was a sense of smoothness, as if it would slide into any lock it encountered and easily open it. Hopefully that’s exactly what it would do.
I tucked the key into the front pocket of my jeans, then went back down to the first floor. I grabbed the empty book cart from where I had left it in the stacks and pushed it back to the checkout counter, still wondering about my encounter with Nickamedes. But for the first time, I actually felt hopeful about my chances of rescuing Grandma Frost.
Alexei was in the same spot as before, sitting on his stool against the glass wall of the office complex, although his tense features relaxed a bit when he saw me—and realized that I didn’t appear to have gotten into any trouble while I’d been gone.
If only he knew.
“What took you so long?” he asked.
I shrugged, then parked the cart next to him. “I ran into Nickamedes, and he gave me some more books to shelve. You know, the usual.”
It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it seemed to satisfy Alexei. He relaxed back against the wall, and I slid onto my own stool and busied myself with more chores.
Another hour passed. All the while, though, I was aware of Janus’s key in my pocket, but I didn’t dare reach for it while Alexei was with me. He’d ask too many questions about what it was and why I had it.
Eventually, Alexei got up and wandered over to Raven’s coffee cart to get a snack. He’d barely been gone a minute when my phone rang. Odd, but not unexpected. In fact, I’d been anxiously waiting for this particular call all day. I looked out over the sea of students still studying at the tables in front of me, but no one paid me any attention. However, I was willing to bet that at least one of the students was a Reaper—and that they’d been waiting for precisely this moment so they could signal their bosses. The screen said the number was blocked, although I
knew exactly who was calling and what she wanted. “What’s up, Viv?” I drawled into the phone.
“How did you know it was me?” Her voice flooded the line. “I’m the one who’s telepathic, not you.”
“I had a hunch,” I retorted. “Besides, it seemed like it was about time for you to call and threaten me some more. You’d said that you’d be in touch yesterday at the park, remember?”
“Well, the next time I see you, they won’t be threats,” Vivian replied in a syrupy sweet tone. “Because you’ll be dead. You and your grandma. Unless you get me what I want—Sol’s candle.”
“I heard you before at the park.” My hand tightened around the phone. “Don’t worry. I’m going to deliver. I just need another day, maybe two. That’s all.”
“Really? You’re giving in? Just like that?”
“Just like that,” I snapped. “You kidnapping my grandma and holding her hostage doesn’t give me a lot of options, now, does it?”
“Well, no,” Vivian chirped in a cheerful voice. “But I at least thought you’d hem and haw a little more about it. You know, try to reconcile such a bad, bad deed with your do-gooder conscience and your hero complex and all that.”
“My hero complex will be just fine once I kill you,” I snapped back. “But I’m not simply handing the candle over to you. I want some assurances first.”
“Like the fact that my grandma is still alive. So why don’t you put her on the phone right now before I decide to hang up?”
“You do that, and your grandmother dies,” Vivian hissed.
“You kill her, and you die,” I hissed back. “And even worse for you, you won’t get the candle. I imagine that Loki wouldn’t be too happy about his Champion failing to get her hands on the one thing that can finally heal him. But if you want to take that chance, go ahead, Viv. Hurt my grandma. Because it will be the last thing you ever do—one way or the other.”
Silence. The seconds ticked by and turned into a minute. Worry flooded my body, and I started to wonder if I’d finally pushed Vivian too far.
“Fine,” she muttered. “But only because you asked so nicely.”
More silence. My fingers gripped the phone even tighter, wondering if Vivian was stalling or bluffing or simply messing with me. If maybe my Grandma Frost was already dead—
Grandma’s voice flooded the line, and I slumped over the counter in relief.
“Grandma? Is that really you?” I whispered.
“It’s really me, pumpkin,” she said, her voice a little stronger.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I just want to say that I love you.” “I love you too.”
“Good,” Grandma Frost said. “Then you need to forget about me. You can’t give them what they want, pumpkin. You can’t give them the candle. Promise me that you won’t—”
“Shut up,” I heard Vivian growl.
A sharp smack sounded, like someone getting slapped across the face. A low groan echoed through the phone. I closed my eyes. That was my grandma’s voice, her groan. But I couldn’t do or say anything to help her—not one thing. All I could do was sit there and try to pretend I wasn’t hearing the sound of someone I loved being hurt by my enemies—all because of me.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Vivian came back on the line.
“You have until noon tomorrow,” she said. “Bring the candle to the address that I’ll text you and come alone—or your grandma dies.”
She ended the call before I could say anything else. A moment later, the phone beeped again, and an address appeared on the screen, one that wasn’t too far from the academy. I’d search for the directions to it later. Right now, I was too angry to do anything but sit and glare down at the phone, wishing I could crush it with my bare hand—along with Vivian’s smug face.
“Who are you talking to?” a voice cut in.
I was so startled I almost dropped the phone. But the worst part was who it was that was asking the question.
I looked up to find Logan standing in front of the counter.
“Gypsy girl?” Logan asked again. “Who are you talking to?”