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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
“Gwen?” Alexei asked again.
“I’m fine. What about you guys?”
“I think we’re all okay,” Logan said, coming to stand beside me. “Just some cuts and bruises, for the most part.”
One by one, my gaze swept over my friends. Logan. Alexei. Oliver. Carson. All of them covered with just as much dirt, blood, and sweat as I was. Oliver had a knot on his head the size of a goose egg from where a Reaper had slammed the hilt of his sword into the Spartan’s temple. A cut dripped blood on Logan’s cheek, while one of Alexei’s eyes was starting to blacken from where someone had hit him. But Logan was right. We’d all been lucky to escape with minor injuries—so far.
Carson, miraculously, didn’t have a scratch on him, and some of the dreaminess seemed to have leaked out of his gaze, along with the strange magic that had darkened his eyes. Still, he kept a tight grip on the horn, and I wondered if he was thinking about what else he might do with the artifact.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Carson looked at me, his eyes dark with sadness. “He killed them all. Loki. I made them come to life, I set them free, and now, they’re all gone. Just . . . gone.”
I thought of how the statues had shattered one by one, then how all of the others had crumbled to dust with a wave of Loki’s hand. I put my own hand on his shoulder.
“I know how you feel,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.” Carson reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose
above his black glasses, as if he was trying to hold back tears. “I know that it’s stupid. That people died out on the quad today—good people. But I can’t stop thinking about the statues . . .” He glanced down at the horn he was still holding. “If I’d known that they were going to be destroyed, I never would have started playing in the first place. I never would have even picked up the stupid horn that day at the coliseum. I wish I’d never even seen it.”
“Maybe the statues being destroyed was what was always supposed to happen,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
I shrugged. I didn’t really know, but it was something Nike had said to me more than once. I’d hoped that Carson would find some comfort in the words, but his face seemed as troubled as before. I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t know what to say to anyone right now.
“Come on,” I said. “We should help the others and find Daphne and my grandma.”
He nodded, and we headed toward the checkout counter. Logan, Oliver, and Alexei stayed behind with Linus and the guards.
I noticed Morgan McDougall trying to hop around on a bum ankle, so I went over and put my arm under her shoulder. The Valkyrie leaned on me, a few sparks of green magic hissing out of her fingertips.
“Never better,” Morgan quipped. “You know, for being in the middle of the most epic fight ever.”
I grinned at her black humor and helped her to the back of the library.
Nickamedes was already there, along with Metis, who was healing the most seriously injured. She went from one warrior to the next, the golden glow of her magic bathing the wounded in its soft, warm light. Nickamedes followed her, hobbling around on his cane and helping her as best he could. Metis finished with a particularly nasty wound in a guard’s stomach and staggered back from the table, but Nickamedes was there to catch and steady her. Metis looked at him a moment, then hurried on to the next person who was injured. Nickamedes followed her again. Raven was there, too, trailing both of them, carrying rolls of bandages that were the same ghostly white as her dress.
My eyes swept over the study tables, and I finally spotted a splash of pink among all the blood. Daphne had come down from the second-floor library balcony and was holding hands with Savannah, who had an ugly cut over her right eye. A rosy golden glow moved from Daphne’s body into Savannah’s, and I watched while the gash over the Amazon’s eye seamlessly healed.
“You good?” Daphne asked.
Savannah nodded, and Daphne got up and started to move to the next person. But she caught sight of Carson trailing along beside me and Morgan, and stalked over to us.
“What were you doing?” she hissed at him. “What were you thinking, strolling out into the middle of the quad like that? You could have been killed, you idiot!”
Carson gave her a sheepish grin and held up his artifact. “Um, the horn made me do it?”
Daphne grabbed the front of Carson’s robe, drew him forward, and pressed her lips to his. A cascade of sparks erupted all around them, bathing them in a soft, princesspink shimmer.
“Wow,” Morgan drawled. “Maybe you guys should get a room.”
Daphne wrapped her arms around Carson’s neck and kissed him even harder.
I helped Morgan over to one of the empty chairs so she could sit down and take her weight off her ankle. Then, I went over to my grandma, who was holding the hand of a Protectorate guard who’d been laid out flat on one of the study tables.
“Is he going to be all right?” I asked. “No,” she said.
And I realized that the guard was staring at the ceiling, his gaze glassy with death. Grandma sighed, then leaned forward, and gently closed his eyes. She turned to me and opened her arms. I let out a choked sob and stepped forward into her embrace. We stood like that for a long time, rocking back and forth, drawing what strength we could from each other.
“I have to go,” I finally whispered. “And see what the plan is now.”
She nodded, and we both drew back. Grandma cupped my face in her hands. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my bloody forehead before moving over to help Metis and Nickamedes.
I returned to the front of the library. By this point, all of the injured had been taken to the back, and all of the warriors that were more or less in one piece were milling around the study tables.
There weren’t many of us left.
Maybe thirty warriors were at the tables, clustered around Linus, Sergei, Inari, and Ajax. Thirty warriors to try to defeat Vivian, Agrona, Loki, and the rest of the Reapers out on the quad. It wasn’t enough.
We weren’t going to be enough.
My heart sank, but I forced myself to look up at the second floor, where Nike’s statue was. The goddess’s face was neutral, although her lips were turned down, almost as if she felt the same weary, aching sadness that I did. And I couldn’t help but wonder if Loki would wave his hand and destroy her statue as easily as he had the ones outside. My stomach clenched at the thought, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Because I still didn’t know how to kill Loki.
But I shook off my worry and hurried over to where Linus was standing with Logan, Oliver, and Alexei. Linus noticed that we were listening to him, and he stared at me a moment before turning to address the rest of the guards.
“We all know what we’re up against,” he said in a low voice. “We all know that there is no escape. Not for us.”
The Protectorate guards nodded their heads in grim agreement. We’d all hoped we would win the battle, but we had prepared for this too—including me.
“I’m afraid all we can do at this point is try to hold them off long enough to get the wounded to safety.”
Linus looked at Rory and Rachel, who had come down from the balcony with the other archers and were now standing with the rest of the warriors. I’d lost track of them during the fight outside, and I was glad to see they were both okay.
“You two seem to be the most familiar with the gryphons,” he said. “Do you think you can convince them to fly the wounded out of here?”
Rory looked at me, and I nodded at her. She, in turn, nodded at Linus. “We’re on it.”
Rory and Rachel disappeared into the back of the library to climb up to one of the balconies to talk to the remaining gryphons.
“It will still take the gryphons several trips to evacuate everyone,” Inari said.
Linus ran a hand through his hair, leaving streaks of blood behind in his blond locks. “I know. We need to think of a way to buy ourselves some more time. It won’t be long before the Reapers try to enter the library, if that’s not what they’re doing already.”
“So how do we stall?” Sergei asked, clutching his hand to his side, blood trickling out from the wound he’d gotten there.
Linus shook his head. “I have no idea.”
I thought for a minute, then pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket. To my surprise, the device was still intact, and I quickly scrolled back through my call history until I could pull up Vivian’s number. When I was sure I could reach her, I stepped forward.
“I might have an idea that can buy us a little more time.”
Linus looked at me. “And what would that be?”
“We give the Reapers exactly what they want. We let them walk right on into the library.”
“And why would we do that, Miss Frost?” Linus asked. “We’re trying to keep them out of here, in case you haven’t noticed.”
I stared back at him. “We let them in here so they can finally kill me.”
I quickly outlined my plan. Nobody liked it, especially not Logan.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No way, Gypsy girl.”
I looked at him. “You know it’s the best option we have at this point. The only option, really. They’ll go for it. You know they will. Especially Vivian, since she’s failed to kill me so many times in the past. She’ll want to prove herself to Loki by finally taking me down.”
Logan opened his mouth, but his dad cut him off. “She’s right,” Linus said. “The Reapers know they
have us trapped and outnumbered. They’ll want to savor their victory. I know Agrona. She’ll agree to it.”
“And Vivian will be practically salivating at the thought of killing me,” I added before Logan could protest any more. “And while the two of us are fighting, it will give the Protectorate more time to evacuate the folks in the back of the library. Trust me. It will work. Besides, this is what you’ve been training me for all these months, right? Surely I didn’t get up early all those mornings for nothing.”
I gave him a wobbly grin. Logan tried to return the expression, but he couldn’t. Yeah. I knew the feeling.
Logan didn’t like it, but he realized it was our only option, and he reluctantly agreed. We worked out a few more of the details. When everyone knew what their part was, I hit the button to dial Vivian’s number. Of course, it wouldn’t matter how clever my plan was if the Reaper girl hadn’t bothered to bring her phone with her—
“What on earth could you possibly want?” Vivian’s voice filled my ear.
“Hey, Viv. I’ve decided to make this your lucky day. I’m offering you a trade.”
She laughed. “Trade? What sort of trade? You don’t have anything we want, Gwen. Especially not when we’re going to come in and take it from you anyway.”
“Sure I do,” I replied. “Because you still want my head on a platter, and you still want to be the one to give it to Loki. Besides, isn’t it your duty as his mighty
Champion to finally kill me?”
“Oh, don’t you worry,” she said in a smug voice. “I’ll be doing that as soon as we get into the library. It shouldn’t be too much longer now. I noticed all those shiny new weapons your friends had out on the quad. Well, you weren’t the only one who thought to bring some artifacts with you.”
In the background, I heard a kind of loud whining sound, almost like a power saw. I wondered what sort of artifact could cut through the library doors and the bars that held them shut, but it didn’t really matter. Part of me didn’t want to know anyway.
“Sure, you can get into the library eventually,” I said. “But who knows how long that will take? And yeah, you’ll probably end up killing us all, but who knows what Reaper might get to me before you do? I wouldn’t want to rob you of your chance to finally prove that you’re worthy to be Loki’s Champion.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, and I knew I
had her. “And what do you want in return?”
“You and me fight in the middle of the library, nobody else, and with just Vic and Lucretia,” I said. “No other weapons or artifacts.”
“And when I finally kill you?” she asked. “What do you want in return for the promise of your own death?” “You let everyone else live,” I said. “That’s the deal.”
“Let me ask Agrona,” Vivian said.
More silence. In the background, I could still hear that saw buzzing, which effectively drowned out any chance I had of overhearing Vivian and Agrona. No matter what they said, I wouldn’t believe them. They would never let anyone live, especially not Linus, Sergei, and Inari. Vivian and Agrona knew that they were too important to the Protectorate. Without them, the Pantheon resistance would quickly crumble, and there would be nothing to stop Loki from enslaving the entire world, just as he’d tried to do all those centuries ago.
Still, every second I kept Vivian talking and distracted was another one that the gryphons had to evacuate everyone who was injured. Finally, after about two minutes, just when I was starting to get a headache from the saw’s whine, Vivian came back onto the line.
“We accept your deal,” she said. “Get ready to die, Gwen.”
“You do the same.”
“Oh, and don’t bother opening the doors for us,” Vivian said. “We’re almost through them anyway. See you in a few.”
She hung up on me. I let out a breath and slid the phone into my pocket. I looked at the others.