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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
So I took the leaf and pressed it into the candle, still careful not to touch the wax with my bare fingers. To my surprise, it melted into the wax seamlessly, until it looked like it had been a part of the artifact all along. In fact, the leaf had sunk so deeply into the candle that you could barely see the silver outline of it against the white wax. It gave me a little more hope that this might actually work.
“What are you doing?” Daphne asked, twisting around in the seat so she could see me.
“Hopefully, giving Loki exactly what he deserves,” I murmured back, plucking another laurel off my bracelet and pressing it into the wax.
I repeated the process over and over again, until the entire surface of the candle was covered with the laurels. I didn’t know how many leaves it would take to hurt Loki, much less kill him outright, but I was guessing it was more than just one, given how strong he still was.
I used all of the leaves on the bracelet except for one. I’d made a promise to myself to try to heal Nickamedes with the last one, and that’s what I was going to do.
I’d just finished putting the final laurel on the candle when Oliver slowed and stopped the SUV.
“What?” I asked, tensing up. “What’s wrong? Why did we stop?”
I looked through the windshield. Oliver had parked the SUV outside the entrance to a fancy subdivision, the sort of place where each house took up three acres and was then surrounded by five more acres of lawn and woods. Even from here, I could see the walls and gates that fronted each house in the neighborhood. Some of them even had small wooden guard shacks sitting by the gates, although the structures were all empty.
“I stopped because I know this place,” Oliver said, staring out the window.
“Oh yeah,” Daphne chimed in. “Although it looks a little different in the daylight than it did at night.”
“You guys have been here before?” I asked. “When?” They both glanced at each other, then at me. “Actually, we’re not the only ones who have been
here before,” Oliver said. “You have too.”
I frowned. “When? I’ve never been here before. Trust me. I would know. Magic memory, remember?” I tapped my finger against the side of my head.
Oliver and Daphne looked at each other again. This time, she answered me.
“You were here before when Vivian kidnapped you,” she said. “When she used your blood at the Garm gate to free Loki from Helheim.”
“This . . . this is where Vivian’s house is?” I asked. “The one with that room full of creepy Black roc figurines?”
I hadn’t seen the outside of the house, since I’d been unconscious at the time, but I remembered the inside all too well. I’d woken up in an opulent living room, one that was full of paintings, statues, and carvings of the birds, not to mention Vivian’s own personal roc, which had been peeking in through the balcony doors at me, as if the creature wanted to rip me to shreds with its sharp beak. A shudder rippled through my body at the thought of going back to that awful room. But if that’s where Grandma Frost was, then that’s where I had to go.
“Are you sure this is the right address?” I asked, even though I knew it was.
“Yeah,” Daphne said, handing my phone back to me. “This is where the directions said to go. This is the right place.”
“What do you think will happen once you go inside?” Oliver asked in a worried voice. “Do you think they’ll take the candle away from you immediately? And how are we even supposed to get inside? They’re sure to have a ton of guards.”
I shook my head. “You won’t have to get inside.” He looked at me. “Why do you say that?”
“Because,” I said. “They’ll take me out to the Garm gate, just like they did before.”
“How do you know that?” Daphne asked. “I just do.”
It was true. I did know it, deep down in my bones. Somehow, I could feel it. Besides, it had a certain sort of sick symmetry to it. The gate was where Loki had gotten free, and that’s where he would want to be healed as well. Perhaps the gate still had some magical properties left, some way that it might add to the power already burning inside Sol’s candle. I wondered if it would be enough to counteract the laurel leaves I’d embedded in the wax, but it was too late to back out now.
“You guys stash the car somewhere and hike through the woods and over to the Garm gate,” I said. “That’s where they’ll take me sooner or later. But whatever happens, don’t approach the Reapers.”
“Why not?” Daphne asked. “How do you think you’re going to get away from them?”
I grinned. “Because you guys weren’t the only ones who came up with a plan.”
I told them whom I’d contacted and what I’d asked that person to do. Oliver and Daphne were silent for several seconds.
“Well, it’s not half bad,” Daphne said in a grudging tone.
“Not bad?” Oliver said. “It’s brilliant, in a completely twisted sort of way.”
“Well, I’m glad the two of you think so,” I sniped. We all glared at each other, none of us wanting to
give in. Finally, I let out a breath, leaned forward, and took their hands in mine. I reached for my magic, and I tried to show them how much it meant, their coming with me, helping me, standing by me through this. I tried to show them how much their friendship had meant to me over the past several months, how they had given me a sense of peace, happiness, and belonging I’d thought I would never find at Mythos Academy. Their wonder washed over me in return, along with their own feelings of love and friendship. After several moments, I slowly pulled my feelings, memories, and emotions back into myself and drew my hands away from theirs.
“No matter what happens, promise me you guys won’t approach the Reapers,” I said. “I may be willing to risk myself, but I don’t want you guys to get hurt too. More important than that, if things go wrong, someone needs to go back to the academy to tell Linus, Metis, and the others what happened. Logan too.”
Oliver and Daphne stared at me, and they both slowly nodded their heads. I gave them both a bright, brittle smile.
“All right then,” I said. “Let’s go get my grandma back.”
I left my messenger bag in the backseat and slid Sol’s candle into my jeans pocket. Then, I got out of the SUV and started walking into the neighborhood. Oliver cranked the engine again, and he and Daphne drove away, leaving me alone. I pulled out my phone and sent out a quick text message, telling the other person I’d contacted my suspicions about the Garm gate. My phone beeped a few seconds later.
Garm gate. Woods. Got it. We’ll be there.
And that was all the message said. That was all it really needed to say. I just hoped I was right about Vivian and the Reapers—or else I’d be dead, along with Grandma Frost.
The smooth, wide street was deserted, and everything was oddly quiet. I didn’t see any TVs flickering through the windows, no cars pulling down the driveways, no one putting envelopes in a mailbox, nothing to indicate that anyone lived in this neighborhood at all. In fact, several of the homes had FOR SALE signs planted in their front yards. I wondered if that was why the Reapers had chosen this area for their hideout—because it seemed to be so empty. I shivered and walked on.
It took me about half an hour to find the right house, which, of course, was the one at the very back of the subdivision, set off from all the other houses, with a twelve-foot-high stone wall and an iron gate that was eerily similar to the one at the academy. I looked up, but no sphinxes perched on the wall on either side of the gate. That was probably for the best. No doubt the statues would have looked like they wanted to tear me to pieces, since this was a Reaper hideout.
A black security camera was mounted over the gate. It must have been motion-activated because it swiveled around and focused on me when I approached it. I waited, but the gates didn’t open, so I went over and punched a button on the metal intercom that was embedded in the stone wall. A bit of static crackled back to me in response; then the line started humming faintly, as though it were a phone and someone on the other end was waiting for me to speak.
“Open sesame,” I joked.
Silence. Apparently, the Reapers weren’t in a joking mood. Neither was I, really.
I sighed. “I have the candle.”
The gates started swinging open even before I finished speaking. I looked at the long, steep driveway that led up to the house. I had no choice but to walk up it. Not if I wanted to save Grandma Frost.
“Well, here we are,” Vic murmured.
I glanced down. The sword hadn’t said anything on the ride over here, but now, his purple eye was wide open, and he was staring straight ahead, his metal face set into hard, determined lines.
“Thank you for being here with me for this.”
Vic rolled his eye up so that he was looking at me.
“No thanks necessary. It’s what I do, Gwen. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever gone into a Reaper stronghold.”
I nodded. After that, there was nothing left to say, so I lifted my chin, squared my shoulders, and started walking.
The driveway dipped down before arching up a long, steep hill, with the house sitting at the very top. The structure was made out of light gray stone and looked more like a sprawling mansion than something you would find in a subdivision, even one as ritzy as this. I half-expected it to be covered with creepy statues, like the buildings at the academy, but only elegant balconies and tall glass windows fronted the mansion. Of course it wouldn’t have any statues on it. The Reapers probably wanted to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood as best they could, not stand out by having some dark, Gothic mansion. At least, that’s what I assumed. Maybe that’s why all of those paintings, statues, and carvings of the Black rocs had been on the inside of the house, since the Reapers couldn’t put them on the outside.
I glanced left and right as I walked up the driveway, but I didn’t see any Reapers patrolling the grounds or peering out at me from the trees in the woods that flanked the edges of the enormous yard. They must all be waiting inside for me.
The thought made my throat tighten with panic, but I swallowed down my fear. Nothing mattered except rescuing Grandma Frost—and hoping that the laurel leaves would kill or at least injure Loki. Or, really, do anything but make him stronger.
It seemed to take forever, but all too soon, I reached the front door of the house. I trudged up the steps and stared at the brass knocker, which was shaped like a snarling gargoyle. I squared my shoulders again, grabbed the knocker, and let it fall back down against the wooden door.
I waited, but I didn’t hear anyone moving inside the house, and I didn’t see anyone pushing the curtains aside to peek out the windows at me. Was anyone even here? Or was this another one of Vivian’s games? Or worse, a wild goose chase—
The door was abruptly jerked open, and I had to bite back my shriek of surprise.
But the person on the other side was all too familiar. Auburn hair, pretty features, golden eyes. She was even dressed like I was, in jeans, boots, and a gray sweater. Her gold Janus ring flashed on her finger, and I stared at the two faces. I wondered what the god would think of me using his key to steal Sol’s candle. After a moment, I shook off my thoughts and raised my gaze to the girl standing in front of me.
“Hello, Gwen,” Vivian drawled. “So glad you could make it.”
The Reaper girl and I stared at each other for several seconds. So did Lucretia and Vic, since both swords were sheathed in their scabbards and belted around our respective waists. The swords didn’t say anything, and neither did Vivian or I. The time for talking, threats, and insults was long past.
“This way,” Vivian said.
She stepped aside. I swallowed again and entered the mansion. Vivian closed the door and then moved back in front of me.
“I really hope I don’t have to remind you not to do anything stupid or your grandma dies,” Vivian said in a pleasant voice.
I glared at her.
She let out a pleased laugh. “Oh Gwen. It’s going to be so much fun finally watching you die.”
She turned and walked away, and I had no choice but to follow her.
Vivian wound her way through the first floor of the mansion, which featured lots of spacious rooms with high, vaulted ceilings. I looked around at all of the opulent furnishings that filled the house. In some ways, it was like being at the Crius Coliseum or some other mythological museum. Jewelry, weapons, armor, and more lined the walls or were displayed under glass cases, while crystal chandeliers hung down from the ceilings, bathing everything in soft white light. I wondered what all of the artifacts did, but, of course, Vivian didn’t tell me, and it wasn’t like I had time to stop and actually look closely at anything.
I was too busy staring at all of the Reapers.
As we moved deeper into the mansion, I saw more and more Reapers. They lounged on couches and chairs or hunched over tables, their heads close together as they talked softly to each other. They all snapped to attention as Vivian and I passed them, then got to their feet and trailed after us, each one wearing a black robe, although they’d left their rubber Loki masks off today. I supposed they didn’t think I’d be able to identify any of them later.
They were probably right about that. If I lived through the next hour, it would be a wonder.
Vivian strode up several sets of steps, then threw open a pair of double doors, leading me into a large, familiar room.
“I thought you might like to see this again,” she purred. “For old times’ sake.”