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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
I’d been wondering how I was going to get away from Alexei long enough to go steal the candle, but he’d given me the perfect opening without even realizing it.
Alexei looked at me, suspicion filling his hazel eyes, but he didn’t say anything else. Neither did I. After a moment, he nodded his head, then turned and walked away. I thought about slipping away right then and there, but I headed into the building like I really was going to class after all. I stopped at the first window I came to and peeked out through the glass. Alexei was standing at the opposite end of the quad, staring back in my direction.
I froze, my breath catching in my throat, but he couldn’t see me through the glass at this distance. After a moment, he nodded, as if satisfied that I was where I was supposed to be. Then, he hurried on and headed into the gym. That must be where the meeting was.
As soon as I was sure that he wasn’t going to double back to check on me, I went against the flow of students streaming inside and stepped out of one of the side doors. Kids were now racing across the quad, trying to get into the buildings, their classes, and their seats before the first bell of the day rang. I put my head down, burying my face in the scarf wrapped around my neck, and scurried along with them, heading straight for the Library of Antiquities. A few kids ran out of the building, having gone into the library during breakfast in a last, desperate attempt to get their homework done for the day. I stepped to one side so they could pass me, then approached the gryphons that sat on either side of the main steps. Yeah, I could have gone in through a side entrance, but that would have made me seem even more suspicious than I already was. Besides, I wanted to see the statues.
Because this might be the last time I ever saw them. Eagle heads, lion bodies, wings, tails. The statues looked
the same as always, if a bit fiercer today, with all the bits of snow clinging to them, as though they’d been rolling around in the fine white powder.
“Well, guys, this is it. For better or worse.” Silence.
By this point, all of the other kids had disappeared into the buildings, and I was the only one on the quad. My stomach clenched at the thought of what I was about to do, but I knew there was no going back.
“Wish me luck,” I whispered.
The gryphons didn’t respond, not really, although it seemed like they dipped their heads to me the slightest bit. That, at least, made me feel a little better about things. Like I could actually pull this off. Like I could steal the candle and use it to rescue Grandma Frost.
Like I might not doom us all in the process.
I nodded back at the gryphons. Then, I sucked in a breath, went up the stairs, and stepped into the library.
Instead of going in through the main double doors, I stayed in the hallway that ran around the building and went over to one of the side entrances. The door was open, and I slipped through to the other side. I could have strolled down the center aisle, but that was a sure way to let everyone know what I was up to. So instead, I slid into the stacks and eased up so that I could peer out into the main part of the library.
Sol’s candle stood in the case in the same spot as before. In fact, the glass was so smooth and shiny that it didn’t look like anyone had so much as approached the artifact, much less put their grubby hands on the case. Of course, they wouldn’t. None of the other kids would have any interest in a half-used candle, unless they were Reapers and knew how important the artifact really was. Even then, they’d wait to see if I’d deliver it to Vivian, before trying to steal it themselves.
No one was sitting at the study tables since all of the students were supposed to be in class right now. Excellent. That would make this easier. I didn’t need someone to pull up that stupid phone app that practically everyone had on campus, the one that let them track me all around the academy, and give away my location. That would be a good way to bring Linus and all of the other Protectorate guards down on top of me before I even got close to the candle.
But the library wasn’t completely deserted. Aiko was here, along with two other Protectorate guards. Aiko sat at one of the study tables close to the candle, reading through a graphic novel. The two other guards patrolled through the stacks, moving from one section of the library to the next, and looking supremely bored all the while.
I slid back into the shadows and crept through the stacks until I was standing in the section that was closest to Raven’s coffee cart. It too was deserted, given the early hour, and the old woman was nowhere to be seen. Good. There was one more artifact I needed in order to put my plan into motion, and I didn’t want Raven spotting me and wondering what I was up to.
Being as quiet as possible, I hurried over to the appropriate aisle and walked down it until I came to a case sitting in the middle, one that housed a small silver box with a large, shimmering opal set into the top of it. I glanced at the card that was propped up next to the box, although I already knew what it said, since I’d dusted this particular case more than once during the months I’d been working in the library.
The Dreambox of Morpheus supposedly belonged to the Greek god of sleep and dreams. It is thought that Morpheus stored some of his dream dust in the box, and that he would blow the dust into the faces of his enemies in order to make them go to sleep so he could pass by them undetected . . .
It wasn’t enough that I had a key to unlock the case that housed the candle. I also needed some way to get past the Protectorate guards in the library, and the box was my solution. Because if the guards were all asleep, then they wouldn’t see me take the candle—or try to stop me after the fact—and I had to steal the candle and get off campus with it before anyone sounded the alarm.
So I drew in a breath, pulled Janus’s key out of my jeans pocket, and slid it into the padlock on the case. The lock clicked open, as easily as if the key had been made specifically for it, and the box was in my hand a second later. My psychometry kicked in, but the only vibe I got from the box was a sense of supreme and utter calm, as though I had closed my eyes and was sleeping peacefully. Hopefully that’s exactly what the Protectorate guards would feel when I used the dream dust inside on them.
And now, it was time to take out those guards.
So I squared my shoulders, gripped the box a little tighter, and headed in the direction of the first guard.
I moved from one bookcase and one shadow to the next. For months, I’d grumbled about having to work my shifts in the Library of Antiquities, especially since I wasn’t getting paid. But now, I was grateful for all the time I’d spent here. The Protectorate guards might be bigger, stronger, older, and more experienced warriors than me, but no one knew the library like I did, except for Nickamedes. So I was able to slide from one aisle to the next, all the while drawing closer and closer to the first guard.
He never even saw me coming, and I waited at the end of a bookcase until he stepped past, heading toward the next aisle over. He finally spotted me lurking there out of the corner of his eye. His hand dropped to the hilt of his sword, and he turned to face me.
He frowned when he realized that I was the one standing beside him. “Hey, shouldn’t you be in class right now—”
I opened the top of the box, reached inside, drew out a handful of the sand-like granules, and blew them in his direction. A gust of fine black powder swirled through the air, straight into his face, sank into his skin, and disappeared. For a moment, the veins in his forehead turned black, as though he had ink running through them instead of blood. The guard blinked and waved his hand in front of his face.
“Kid, what do you think you’re doing—”
His eyes rolled up in the back of his head. That was all the warning I had, but I darted forward, caught his heavy body, and slowly lowered him to the floor. A moment later, peaceful snores started rumbling out of his mouth. Looked like Morpheus’s dreambox and dust did exactly what the ID card had claimed.
“Sweet dreams,” I murmured and slipped back into the shadowy stacks.
I did the same thing to the second guard. Snuck up beside him, blew the powder into his face, and caught him before he hit the floor.
A minute later, Aiko was the only thing standing between me and the candle. She was engrossed in her graphic novel, and it didn’t look like she was getting up anytime soon. I let out a frustrated breath, but I didn’t have any other options. I had no way of knowing how long the other two guards would sleep, and I needed to be long gone before they woke up.
“Now what are you going to do?” Vic asked from his position on my belt. He’d kept quiet while I was dealing with the other two guards. “It’s not like you can just walk up to Aiko and ask her to give you the candle.”
I thought for a moment. “You know what, Vic? I actually think that’s an excellent idea.”
“Oh, bugger,” he muttered. “This is so not going to end well.”
“I guess we’ll find out.”
I lifted my chin and headed toward Aiko. This time, I did step out into the center aisle of the library, as if I’d just gotten there and hadn’t been lurking around in the stacks, taking out the other guards. I didn’t try to be loud, but I wasn’t trying to be quiet either. Aiko looked up at the sound of my sneakers scuffing across the marble floor. Like the other guards, she frowned when she recognized me. I marched over to the table where she was sitting, as if she was the person I’d come here to see all along.
“Gwen?” she asked in her soft voice. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in class right now?”
“Yeah,” I said. “There are a whole lot of other things
I should be doing right now instead of this.” She frowned at my words.
“Anyway, tell Linus I’m sorry,” I said. “Sort of.” Her dark eyes narrowed. “Sorry for what—”
I brought a handful of the powder up and blew it into her face just like I had with the other two guards. Aiko’s eyes widened. She was quicker than the others in that she started to push back from the table, get to her feet, and draw her sword, trying to stop me. But the powder hit her as hard as it had the other guards, and she slumped down over the table. I glanced around, then darted forward, pulled her away from the table, and carefully laid her body on the floor in between two of the study tables. That way, if someone else did come into the library, they might miss seeing her for a few precious seconds—and every one of those was important to me right now.
Once Aiko was sort of out of sight, I hurried over to the case. Sol’s candle lay under the glass, looking as harmless and innocent as ever, even though I knew it was anything but. I grabbed Janus’s key out of my pocket, slid it into the padlock on the case, and gently turned it.
And just like that, the case was open, and the candle was mine.
I hesitated, wondering if some sort of magic mumbo jumbo might flare to life, or if an alarm would blare and give me away, but nothing happened, so I lifted the glass and grabbed the candle, careful to use my jacket sleeve, instead of grabbing it with my bare hands. I couldn’t afford to get lost in another intense vibe from the artifact right now, so I made sure that none of the white wax touched my bare skin as I slid it into my messenger bag. I suppose I could have put an ordinary candle into its place to buy myself some more time, but Aiko knew what I’d done to her. Once she and the other guards woke up, everyone would realize that I’d stolen the candle.
Either way, there was no going back now.
“Well,” Vic said, his voice a little less snide than before. “That was actually easier than I expected it to be.”
“Yeah, me too—”
I spoke too soon. Because the second I turned around, I realized there was one person in the library I’d forgotten about.
He stood by the door of the office complex, staring straight at me. For a heartbeat, all we did was look at each other. I wondered if he was going to lunge for one of the phones, call Linus, and tell him what I’d done. It was one thing to hand me an artifact for supposed cleaning. It was quite another to let me walk away red-handed from the scene of the crime.
“I saw what you did to Aiko. The Dreambox of Morpheus,” Nickamedes murmured. “I wouldn’t have thought of that. Clever, Gwendolyn. Very clever.”
I shrugged, not sure what else to do.
Nickamedes leaned to one side, and I realized that one of Aiko’s legs was sticking out from behind the study tables. “And apparently, very effective as well.”
I shrugged again.
Nickamedes kept staring at me. After a moment, he nodded his head, as though he’d made some sort of decision. “Well, I think I’m going to go back into my office now and do some work for, oh, say, the next thirty minutes or so. Unless I am interrupted before then.”
Surprise surged through me again that he was actually helping me with this, but I wasn’t going to stand around and waste my good fortune. I slowly started backing toward the doors that led out of the library, in case he decided to change his mind. I started to turn around and run when I thought of one more thing I
needed to do before I left.
“If I don’t come back, you totally need to ask Metis out on a date sometime,” I called out. “Because she’s crazy about you.”
This time, he blinked, and his mouth was the one that fell open, as if he were absolutely shocked by my words. Well, it looked like Metis was right, and he really didn’t know how she felt about him, how she had always felt about him.
“She never said anything because of your history with my mom,” I said. “But my mom would want Metis to be happy. And you too.”
A faint smile pulled up his lips, and his blue gaze softened with memories. “You’re so much like Grace, do you know that?”