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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
“His name is Doug,” she said, answering my silent questions. “Apparently, he’d been into me for a while, and wanted to ask me out, but I was with Logan, so he thought he didn’t have a chance. Once I wasn’t, well, you know what happened. He’s great.”
“I’m happy that you’re happy,” I said. “I really mean it.”
Savannah nodded. “I know you do. And I’m happy for you guys too.”
She smiled at me, then went back over to her boyfriend. The two of them kissed and started working with their weapons again.
Another hour passed, and we were still grabbing artifacts from every part of the library and passing them out to whoever wanted one.
Finally, though, we stripped the library bare, everyone had all the weapons and artifacts they could wear and carry, and there wasn’t anything else left to do but wait. I was sitting at a table with Rory, Rachel, and Grandma Frost. Nyx was back in the office complex with Nickamedes, where she would be safe. My other friends were roaming around the library.
We hadn’t said much, but I was glad they were here with me. It made me feel better about things, like we might actually have a chance to win the looming battle after all.
But it wasn’t long before I realized that all the kids and even some of the adults were staring at and whispering about me, the way they always did.
“The Gypsy girl will get us through this . . .” “She won’t let the Reapers win . . .”
“Surely, she has to have some sort of plan . . .”
That last hushed comment made me grimace. Right now, the only plan I had was to try to kill as many Reapers as I could and not die myself. Other than that, well, I was open to suggestions. But I couldn’t tell any of them that. They were already frightened enough. We all were.
“You should go talk to them,” Rory said, hearing the same comments and whispers.
I looked at her. “Why? What good would that do? They all know what we’re up against. They don’t need me to spell it out for them again. Or to remind them how we’re probably going to lose. And die.”
She shrugged. “Because you’re their hero, and that’s what heroes do.”
I shook my head. “I’m nobody’s hero. Trust me on that. I’m just a girl who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Or maybe it’s the right place at the right time,” Rachel suggested. “You’ve come this far, Gwen. I didn’t know your mom, and I only met your dad a few times, but I think they’d both be very proud of you, for fighting against the Reapers the way you have.”
I shifted in my chair, uncomfortable with her words. I’d never really known my dad, Tyr, so I had no idea what he would or wouldn’t think, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not my mom would be proud of me. She’d been Nike’s Champion before me, and she’d done a lot of good, including keeping the Helheim Dagger hidden from the Reapers for years. But she’d also stopped being Nike’s Champion, and she’d withdrawn from the mythological world. My mom hadn’t wanted me to be a part of it, but I’d been sucked into it anyway. “Rachel’s right,” Grandma Frost chimed in. “Grace would be so proud of you, pumpkin. And Rory’s right too. You should go talk to your friends. Let them know that you’re going to do the best you can for them. It’ll
help. I know it will.”
I looked at her, wondering if she was getting another vision of the future, maybe even of my future, but her violet eyes were clear and firmly focused on me. So I nodded, got up, and did what she and Rory had suggested.
I went from one table to the next, talking to all of the kids in turn, and even a few of the adults, asking how they were, joking about how we were all getting out of classes and homework assignments today, and making other small talk. Just trying to lighten the mood and get everyone to take a collective breath before the Reapers arrived. I didn’t know that it helped, but at least it took everyone’s minds off the coming battle for a few minutes, including mine.
But all too soon, I’d made my rounds, and I found myself standing behind the checkout counter, looking out over the library. In some ways, it seemed like a typical evening. Students sitting at the study tables or clustered around the coffee cart. The soft murmurs of conversations. The constant squeak-squeak-squeak of sneakers on the marble floor. The faint, musty smell of the books permeating everything.
But in so many other ways, it was completely different. All of the kids with their weapons, fingering the sharp edges of the blades. Everyone glancing nervously toward the closed doors, as if they expected the Reapers to storm inside at any second. Everyone flinching, jumping, and jerking at every little sound, no matter how small or innocent it was.
There was nothing we could do but wait. So I went over to another table, where Daphne was sitting with Carson. They’d been my very first friends at Mythos, and it felt right, sitting with them here, now, at what could be the end—of everything.
Daphne was plucking the golden strings on her onyx bow over and over again, listening to the faint, thwangy chimes they made, almost as if they were some sort of harp that she was playing. Meanwhile, Carson was studying his own artifact, the Horn of Roland, which looked like a small, handheld tuba. He kept turning it over and over in his hands, peering at the ivory surface, and studying the onyx keys, as though he was using his Celt warrior bard instincts to try to figure out how to get it to work.
I sat down with them, but none of us spoke. There was nothing left to say.
Logan, Oliver, and Alexei had been practicing with their weapons, but they came over to the table too. Logan sat down beside me and threaded his fingers through mine. He put his arm around me, and I leaned my head on his shoulder.
We’d only been sitting like that for about five minutes when Metis stepped out of the office complex and walked over to us, her phone in her hand. Nickamedes appeared in the door of the office complex, cradling Nyx in the crook of his arm. Everyone slowly hushed as Metis approached me.
She stopped and touched my shoulder. “I just got off the phone with Linus. The guards down by the main gate have spotted the Reapers. They’re here, and Loki is leading them, along with Agrona and Vivian.”
I nodded and got to my feet. Everyone turned to stare at me. I stared out over the faces, so many of them strangers to me, kids and professors and staff members I’d only seen from a distance. One by one, I looked at them, then focused my attention on the people who were so very familiar—my friends, my family, all the people I loved.
Logan. Daphne. Carson. Oliver. Alexei. Metis. Nickamedes. Grandma Frost. Rory. Rachel. Nyx. Vic.
I wondered if this would be the last time I ever saw them, but I couldn’t let myself think about that right now. For a moment, I focused on my breathing—in and out, in and out—letting each inhalation and exhalation ground me and prepare me for what was to come.
“It’s time,” I finally said.
Everyone grabbed their weapons and started trickling outside, except for a few folks like Grandma Frost, who were staying here to protect the library from any Reapers who might try to sneak inside. Those armed with bows and arrows, including Rory and Rachel, climbed to the upper levels of the library to head out onto the balconies and serve as archers from those vantage points.
I also stayed behind to talk with Nickamedes. He put Nyx down on a nearby table and leaned on his cane. The battle hadn’t even begun yet, but he already looked tired, which told me how much he needed what I was about to give him.
I grabbed what was left of Sol’s candle out of my jeans pocket and put it down on the table where Nyx was. She came over and started sniffing it out of curiosity. Then, I reached down, pushed up my sweater sleeve, and plucked the last silver laurel leaf off the mistletoe bracelet around my wrist. I held it out to him.
“What’s this?” he asked, staring at the leaf, which glinted underneath the library lights.
“It’s for you. I saved the last one for you, so you can use it to heal your legs. You should hold on to the candle too.”
Nickamedes shook his head. “You don’t have to do
that, Gwendolyn. It’s not your fault that I was poisoned, and it’s not your fault that my legs haven’t fully recovered.”
“Yes, it is,” I insisted. “And there’s a very real chance I won’t make it through the battle today. So I want you to have this. Just in case.”
Nickamedes stared at me. “You should keep it. You need it more than I do.”
“I can’t see the future like Grandma Frost, but whatever happens today, this is the end for me. But it doesn’t have to be for you. Besides, if we fail, if I fail, someone will have to pick up the pieces. Someone will have to go on, will have to keep fighting the Reapers for as long as possible, and I know that someone is you.”
He opened his mouth like he wanted to argue with me, but he clamped his lips shut. I held out the leaf again, and he finally, reluctantly, took it.
“All right,” he grumbled. “But I’m just holding on to it for you. That’s all.”
He slipped the leaf into his pants pocket. Nickamedes stared at me, his blue eyes bright. Then, he did something I never imagined he would do in a million years. He stepped forward, reached out, and hugged me tight with one arm.
“If I am ever lucky enough to have a daughter, I hope that she’s just like you, Gwendolyn,” he whispered.
Emotion clogged my throat, and I nodded and tried to blink back the tears from my eyes. That was one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to me.
“And you’ve been more of a dad to me than anyone else ever has,” I whispered back.
He hugged me even tighter.
Slowly, I drew back, and Nickamedes and I both dropped our eyes, not quite looking at each other.
Nyx let out a soft whine from her position on the table, and I went over and rubbed her ears between my fingers, the way I had a hundred times before. She gave a contented sigh, and I let my emotions flow into her, trying to show her how much I loved her. Her tail thumped against my side in response, and I petted her one final time before forcing myself to step away.
“Keep an eye on Nyx for me, okay?”
“Don’t you worry, Gwendolyn,” Nickamedes said, straightening up as much as he could. “I will protect her with my life.”
I nodded. I knew he would.
There was nothing left for me to do but draw Vic out of his scabbard. He’d been quiet the last few hours, resting up for what was to come. I held the sword up so that we were eyes-to-eye.
“Are you ready for this?” I asked.
His mouth split into a wide grin, and his purplish eye gleamed with anticipation. “I was made for this, Gwen. And you too. You’ll see. We’ll come through this battle just fine. With dead Reapers all around! And Loki cringing at our feet!”
The sword went off on another one of his rants. I let his loud, quick, excited words wash over me, but I kept staring at him, memorizing his features, in case this was the last time that we ever went into battle together.
“Well, then,” I said, when he finally wound down. “I
guess we should get on with things then.”
I saluted Nickamedes and Nyx with Vic, then hurried outside to join the others.
* * *
I left the library and headed down the main steps, stopping at the two gryphon statues. I wasn’t the only one. Carson was also there, crouched down beside them, still rubbing his hands over the Horn of Roland. He kept glancing at the horn, then at the statues, as though the two were somehow connected.
Daphne was right beside him, her bow, Sigyn’s bow, out and ready. If things went badly, she was to head up to one of the balconies and cover us while we retreated back into the library, something I thought was bound to happen, given that Loki was leading the attack. I didn’t know what magic the Protectorate might have, but how was it supposed to stop a god? I didn’t know, but I had a bad feeling that I was going to find out.
Logan was waiting for me out on the quad, so I headed in his direction. He was carrying the Sword of Thanatos that he’d shown me before and had thrown a gray Protectorate robe on over his clothes for extra warmth. So had all the other students. I was the only one who wasn’t wearing one, but my purple plaid jacket was thick enough. Besides, we’d be fighting soon enough, and then no one’s clothes would matter. Nothing would but surviving.
All around the quad, the other kids and adults were getting into defensive positions, with archers stationed on the balconies of the buildings and the other warriors in small groups below so they could watch each other’s backs. The Reapers might come in at the edge of campus, but I wouldn’t put it past them to have Black rocs fly over to the quad and drop some warriors off so they could attack us from multiple sides at once—
A large shadow zoomed over the quad, and my breath caught in my throat, thinking that the Reapers were already here. My head snapped up, and I realized that the leader of the gryphons had landed on top of one of the library towers. And he wasn’t the only one up there. The baby was there too, along with the third gryphon I’d seen before, and several more besides that. They must have been the ones that Rory had said had been staying in the park near my grandma’s house.
I waved, and the leader let out a loud screech. One by one, all of the gryphons joined in his fierce battle cry. My heart lifted, and I knew that they would fight with us to the end. The Eir gryphons hated the Reapers and how they enslaved gryphons, Black rocs, Nemean wolves, and other creatures.
“Come on,” Logan said when the sound of the gryphons’ cries had faded away. “My dad’s down by the front gate.”