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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
It was the best compliment he could have possibly given me, and I nodded back, blinking away the tears that burned my eyes.
“Be careful, Gwendolyn,” Nickamedes said.
I nodded again, then whirled around and ran out of the library as fast as I could.
I eased back out onto the quad, looking left and right, but the area was as deserted as before, since everyone was still in class. I stepped off the cobblestone path that led to the library and cut across the grass, trying to get off the quad and down the hill as quickly as possible.
Sol’s candle might as well have been on fire, along with the rest of my messenger bag. That’s what it felt like anyway. Like there was a big neon arrow over my head that kept flashing the word Thief! Thief! Thief! in huge red letters. But I had to go through with the rest of my plan.
So I darted from tree to tree, and building to building, working my way down the hill and toward my ultimate destination—the main gate at the edge of campus. Eventually, I made it to the amphitheater and hurried through there, knowing that area would be empty at this time of day, and over to the far side. I stood at the edge of the amphitheater and peered out across the snow-dusted landscape, waiting for all of the guards I saw to move around the sides of the dorms and other outbuildings before I ran forward.
It took me longer than I thought it would, but I made it all the way down to the gate without any problems. To my surprise, a guard hadn’t been posted by the iron bars. Of course not, I thought in a sour mood. Linus wanted the Reapers to sneak onto campus to steal the candle. He didn’t want to make it any harder for them than necessary to breach the perimeter.
I wondered what he would think when he realized that I’d done the job for them.
No doubt he’d throw me in the academy prison like he’d threatened, and I doubted he would ever let me out again. But, on the bright side, if the Reapers killed me first, then at least I wouldn’t have to listen to Linus yell at me or spend the rest of my life in jail. It wasn’t really a bright spot, but it was all I had, so I decided to go with it.
Even though I didn’t see any guards, I was still careful as I eased up to the gate and peered out through the iron bars. Just because Vivian had sent me an address to go to didn’t mean that she and Agrona couldn’t have ordered some Reapers to wait outside the academy, jump me, and take the candle away without even giving me the chance to see Grandma Frost again. That would be exactly the sort of cruel, sneaky thing they would do.
But no one was lurking on the other side of the gate, and I didn’t see anyone milling around across the street over in the shops in Cypress Mountain either. That was one reason why I’d decided to steal the candle so early in the morning. So that if the Reapers were lying in wait for me in town, I would at least have a better chance of seeing them coming—
A branch cracked behind me.
I yanked Vic out of his scabbard, raised the sword high, and whipped around, ready to attack whoever was sneaking up on me.
But no one was there.
My eyes darted left and right, wondering if the effects of the dreambox dust had worn off sooner than I’d expected and if Aiko had caught up with me after all. With her stealthy Ninja skills, I wouldn’t even see the Protectorate guard coming until she had her sword pressed up against my throat—
“Finally,” a familiar voice muttered. “I was starting to wonder if you were ever going to get here.”
I froze. What . . . what was she doing here?
A shower of pink sparks erupted, flickering in the air like fireflies, and Daphne stepped out from behind a tree.
It took me several seconds to get over my shock. “What are you doing here?” I finally hissed, sliding
Vic back into his scabbard.
“I’m going with you to rescue your grandma, silly.” Daphne rolled her eyes. “Really, Gwen, what does it look like I’m doing?”
An onyx quiver was strapped to Daphne’s back, one that contained a single golden arrow, while a black onyx bow with thin golden strings hung off her right shoulder. Her usual pink purse dangled off her right arm. It was almost as big as her bow was. Instead of a skirt and tights, she was wearing a black leather catsuit with a hot pink zipper and other pink trim accents underneath a long, matching, black-and-pink trench coat. Black boots covered her feet, and her golden hair was slicked back into a ponytail. She’d even gone the extra step of swiping some black greasepaint under her eyes like a football player. The Valkyrie was definitely geared up for a fight. All put together, she looked like some superhero straight out of one of the comic books I loved to read.
“But . . . but . . . but . . .” I sputtered, trying to think of something to say.
She arched a golden eyebrow. “But what? And please don’t give me some lame excuse that you just happened to cut class to go over to the library to finish some homework assignment and then you came running down here to the main gate for no reason at all. I hate to break it to you, Gwen, but you totally suck at lying. I knew the second you quit fighting with Linus that you were going to try to steal the candle yourself. Going all lone wolf is sort of what you do.”
“See?” Vic piped up from his scabbard. “I’m not the only one who can tell when you’re up to something, Gwen. Especially not when that something is as bloody insane as this is.”
“Shut up, Vic.”
I turned my attention back to Daphne. “Yeah, I stole the candle, and yeah, I’m going to trade it for my grandma. But you are not coming with me. No way. It’s too dangerous.”
Daphne snorted. “Please. I’ve been dealing with Reapers a lot longer than you have, Gwen. I know the risks as well as you do.” Her face softened. “Besides, I love your grandma too. She’s like the grandma I never had, since both of mine were killed by Reapers, and I’m just as determined as you are to save her. So I’m going with you, and I don’t want to hear one more word about it.”
Pink sparks of magic hissed out of Daphne’s fingertips as she planted her hands on her hips. “Not one more word, or I will take that stupid candle away from you and go give it to Vivian myself. Understand?”
She narrowed her eyes, telling me that she meant business, and I knew there was no way I could convince her to stay behind.
“Okay, okay,” I finally groused. “If you’re so determined to do something dangerous, then who am I to stop you? Especially when you dressed for the occasion.”
Daphne smoothed down her coat. “You’re just lucky I had this tucked away in the back of my closet for a rainy day. And that the coat and the cat suit were both on sale when I bought them.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Only Daphne would be proud of her shopping prowess at a time like this.
“Now, come on,” she said. “Are we going to go get your grandma back or what?”
“Have I told you lately what a good friend you are?” I asked, my voice dropping to a choked whisper.
Daphne grinned. “Nah, but I know. I’m fabulous, darling. Always have been, always will be.”
Truer words were never spoken, but I didn’t have to tell her that.
She already knew.
Daphne and I slipped through the gate and jogged across the street. I started to head for the bus stop, since that’s how I had planned on getting to the address Vivian had sent me, but Daphne shook her head and grabbed my arm.
“The bus? Get real,” she said. “Come on. This way.” She tucked her arm through mine and led me down the street. The shops weren’t open yet, and we were the only ones on the sidewalk. I kept glancing around, still waiting for that Reaper ambush, but it seemed as though Vivian really had wanted me to bring her the candle after all, without trying to take it away from me beforehand. No doubt she wanted me to be there in person to witness Loki’s ultimate triumph. But, thanks to Nickamedes, I had an idea that just might turn the tables on Vivian and the rest of the Reapers. At least, I hoped it would work. That was all I could do.
Daphne led me over to one of the many car lots where the Mythos students parked their expensive rides, since students weren’t allowed to have vehicles on campus.
“What are we doing here? You don’t have a car.” Despite her many, many attempts to beg, bully, and
badger her parents into getting her one.
“No,” Daphne said. “I don’t have a car, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get some transportation for us.”
She walked straight over to a black SUV. The engine was already rumbling, and the driver’s window slid down as we approached, revealing another familiar face.
“Oliver?” I asked, surprised again. “You too?”
He grinned. “What can I say? I like to live dangerously, Gypsy, and you certainly help a guy do that.”
His snarky words made more tears spring to my eyes, but once again, I shook my head and tried to talk them out of this—both of them.
“No,” I croaked. “This is too much. I can’t ask you guys to risk yourselves like this. Not only against the Reapers, but against the Protectorate too. Linus will lock you both up if he realizes you helped me.”
“Well, he’ll have to lock us all up then,” Daphne said in a determined voice.
“What do you mean by that? All of you . . . all of you didn’t figure out what I was up to, did you?”
“Of course we all figured it out,” she said, waving her hand and causing more pink sparks of magic to shoot out of her fingertips. “You’d have to be completely out of it not to realize you like to do things your own way, Gwen.”
I looked at her, then Oliver. “What did you guys do?” “Well,” Daphne said. “Oliver and I are going with you, obviously, to fight the Reapers. That’s why we were standing by waiting for you to swipe the candle, so we could hook up with you down here. Carson was watching outside the library, and he texted me to let me know when you were on your way. Alexei and Logan are busy running interference with Linus right now, keeping him busy at that Protectorate meeting in the
One by one, she ticked our friends and what they were doing to help me off on her fingers.
“Logan really, really wanted to come,” Daphne said. “But he knew his dad would get super-suspicious the second he tried to leave the academy.”
“You wouldn’t believe how long it took us to convince him to stay behind,” Oliver added. “And the things he threatened to do to both of us if we didn’t bring you back alive.”
“When . . . did you guys decide to do all of this?” I
Daphne waved her hand again. “Oh, we had a big powwow right after you had your freak-out in the infirmary, and we left you at your dorm. We divided everything up as best we could. Believe me, Carson’s gotten the worst of it, trailing you these past few days, wondering when you were finally going to steal the candle.”
I thought someone had been following me in the library last night. Poor Carson. I bet he’d panicked when I’d ditched him in the stacks. I closed my eyes. I thought I’d been so clever, pretending everything was fine, but my friends had known what I was up to all along— Logan had known what I was up to all along. I wondered if Linus had figured it out as well, but it was too late to turn back now.
“Okay,” I said, opening the back door and sliding inside. “If you two are so bound and determined to come with me, let’s go.”
Daphne got into the front passenger seat, and Oliver drove out of the lot.
“Where are we going?” he asked. “Where do the
Reapers want to meet to make the exchange?”
I handed Daphne my phone and the directions I’d looked up online. “Here. They want to meet here.”
She scrolled through the information and told Oliver to take the next right. The three of us rode in silence for several minutes. Using the edges of my sleeves, I pulled the candle out of my messenger bag and looked at it. Out here in the bright sunlight, it seemed even more unremarkable than before. Just a plain, white, wax candle, half-melted, with no other marks or distinguishing features on it.
Well, that was something I was about to change.
I pushed back the sleeves of my coat and sweater so that I could see the laurels hanging off the mistletoe bracelet around my wrist. The heart-shaped leaves caught the sunlight and reflected it back, wink-winkwinking at me like sly silver eyes. I’d been thinking about how to use them ever since Nickamedes had pointed out the information he’d found in that book.
From the passage he’d shown me, it sounded like the laurels just had to touch someone in order for their magic to kick in, and I was hoping they would work the same way if the leaves were touching—or even embedded in—an artifact that someone was trying to use.
So I drew in a breath and reached for one of the laurels. I’d never seen a way to take the leaves off the bracelet before, or even get the chain off my wrist, since there wasn’t any sort of clasp on it. But to my surprise, the leaf came off quite easily, as though I’d reached up and plucked it from a tree.
I stared at the leaf in the palm of my hand and concentrated, but I got the same cool, calm vibe off it that I always did. The goddess Eir had said the leaves could be used to heal or destroy, depending on the will of the person using them. So I closed my hand around the leaf, so tight that I felt one of the sharp edges cut into my palm and draw a drop of blood.
Kill, I thought. Kill, kill, kill Loki.
Then, I opened my palm and stared down. The leaf looked the same as before, and I had no way of knowing if my silent plea had had any effect on it at all. Only one way to find out.