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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
“Here we go again,” I muttered.
“Yes,” a soft voice called out. “Here we go again.” My head snapped up, and I realized that I wasn’t
A lone figure stood in front of me. Her long white gown seemed as crisp and fresh as new snow and draped around her strong, slender figure in perfect fashion. White wings rose up over her back, forming a heart shape above her head, and her hair was curled into bronze ringlets that fell past her shoulders. But it was her eyes that I could lose myself in. Beautiful, beautiful eyes that were a mix of purple and gray and lavender and silver that blended together to form one amazing twilight shade.
Even though I was dead, or mostly dead, or whatever I was, I still recognized her. Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
She smiled, stepped forward, and clasped my hands in hers, and I felt a wave of cold power blast off her and flow into me.
“Hello, Gwendolyn,” Nike said.
I focused on the goddess, trying to make sense of things. “So I’m dead this time, right? Dead-dead. For real? Forever?”
She gave me a mysterious smile. “That remains to be seen. But you have done exactly what I asked of you, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
I raised my eyebrows. “So you wanted me to stab myself in the chest with Vic all along? You know, you could have just told me that. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.”
The three wounds on my chest throbbed. I winced. My words were true in more ways than one.
“Yes, I suppose it would have,” Nike murmured. “But things had to happen this way, Gwendolyn. You had to get to this place and time of your own free will, and so did he.”
Nike dropped her hands from mine and stepped to one side. I blinked and blinked.
Because Loki was here.
He was on his knees in the middle of the library floor. But he didn’t look like the ruined, rotten figure that I knew. No, he looked as he must have centuries ago, before Helheim, before the Bowl of Tears, before everything.
Because he looked beautiful.
Golden hair, alabaster skin, piercing blue eyes. All of that had been restored to him, and both sides of his face were as smooth as any of the statues that lined the second-floor balcony. A long white robe rippled around his body, instead of the black one I’d always seen him wear before. The bright, pure color only made him seem that much more perfect.
He was perhaps the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, even lovelier than Nike herself. But the longer I looked at him, the less his features dazzled me and the more that I saw the cruel cunning in the sly shimmer of his eyes.
Loki glared at me, his mouth turned down into a sullen pout, before his hate-filled gaze moved over to the goddess. His eyes blazed with rage, but they remained the same blue as before and didn’t turn that awful Reaper red I’d seen so many times in my nightmares.
“What is he doing here?” I asked Nike.
“He’s here because you killed him,” she replied. “Just as you were meant to do all along with your magic.”
“My magic?” I frowned. “But I thought I was supposed to use the silver laurel leaves that Eir gave me to kill Loki. Not my magic.”
Nike shook her head. “The leaves and the candle severely weakened Loki, enough for you to allow your psychometry, your touch magic, as you call it, to pull his soul into your own body—a mortal body that you then sacrificed for the good of all your friends.”
“Self-sacrifice is a very powerful thing, especially if you do it of your own free will,” I murmured, thinking about the words Nike had once said to me.
The goddess beamed at me. “And you made the ultimate sacrifice when you gave your life to stop Loki. You have proven yourself worthy of being my Champion, of being the Champion of all Champions.”
“You and your damn trickery.” Loki spat out the words, still glaring at Nike. “I should have known it was too easy, thinking I could take over your Champion’s body and finally complete my victory. Well, I won’t stand for it. Take me back. Put me back into my own body. I demand it. Now.”
“You’re simply upset that I beat you at your own game,” Nike said, her voice as cold and harsh as I’d ever heard it. “You gave up your immortal body of your own free will, Loki. There is no going back to that body or the mortal realm for you—ever.”
“Do you mean . . . is he . . . dead?” I whispered. “Like me?”
Nike shook her head. “Not exactly.”
“But you told me I had to kill him. That’s what you and the Reapers have been saying all along. That I was going to kill Loki. Why go through all of this if that’s not what I actually did?”
“In a way, you did kill him,” Nike said. “You killed his body, and without it, he can never return to the mortal realm.”
“But how will his being . . . here . . . wherever here really is . . . help?” I asked, throwing my hands out wide in frustration. “Can’t he just escape again and go back to the mortal world? And then we’ll have to go through this all over again.”
Nike shook her head again. “No, Gwendolyn. He can’t escape. Not this time. He cannot leave this realm, not as long as he is wearing that.”
She pointed at Loki, and I noticed a thin silver bracelet gleaming around his right wrist—one that was very familiar. I glanced down at my own wrist, but the mistletoe bracelet that the laurel leaves had been attached to was gone. He was wearing it, and he kept glaring at it and grimacing, as though the mere sight of it pained him greatly, along with the feel of the silver actually touching his skin.
“The bracelet was transferred to Loki since you were wearing it when you killed him,” Nike said, answering my silent questions. “Mistletoe has very powerful properties. It’s what Loki used to trick another god into killing Balder, the Norse god of light, so long ago. And it is what will keep him here where he belongs, along with other things.”
“What other things?” I asked.
“Blood,” another voice called out. “My blood.” Suddenly, Raven was there, striding down the main
aisle toward me, Nike, and Loki.
“What is she doing here?” I whispered to Nike. “You’ll see.”
Raven stopped, her white hair and gown swirling around her in a way I’d never seen them do before. Her black eyes locked with mine.
“You always wondered what I was hiding with my wrinkles, Gwendolyn,” she said, her voice light, sweet, and pure. “Well, let me show you.”
Raven held her hands out wide, her palms up, as though she were somehow drawing the air in around her. And I watched while her hair slowly blackened, her wrinkles melted away, and her skin smoothed out and tightened up, as if she were growing younger instead of older. The only thing that remained the same about her were the old, faded scars that marred her hands and arms. In a moment, she went from a mysterious old crone to a gorgeous goddess. And suddenly, so many things about her made sense to me, including her real identity.
“Sigyn,” I whispered. “You’re Sigyn, the Norse goddess of devotion. Loki’s wife.”
Another thought occurred to me, and my gaze flicked up to the second floor, where her statue was. “That’s why your statue in the library seemed so hollow and empty that one time I touched it when I was searching for the Helheim Dagger. Because you were in the mortal realm all along instead of being . . . here.”
Wherever here really was.
Sigyn smiled. “Yes, Gwendolyn. That is exactly right. I have spent centuries in the mortal realm, watching over the members of the Pantheon, the Protectorate, and the academy students.”
Sorrow filled her black eyes. “Because Loki tricked me into helping him escape all those centuries ago. Because I believed he was truly sorry for orchestrating Balder’s murder. Because I thought he had really changed and wanted to be a better person, instead of trying to bend us all to his will. If I hadn’t been so foolish, none of this would have happened. So much pain and suffering could have been avoided. So much . . . loss.”
She stared down at her former husband, who was still on his knees in the middle of the marble floor. “So I decided to devote myself to setting things right, to making up for my mistake as best I could. And I finally have, with your help.”
She stepped toward me and held out her hand. I realized that she wanted Vic, and I handed the sword over to her. Sigyn stared at the blade a moment, then sliced her palm open on it before handing Vic back to me.
She walked over to Loki and stared down at him again.
“I’m sorry that it had to come to this,” Sigyn said in a soft voice. “But you gave me no choice.”
Loki glared at her, but he didn’t say anything.
Sigyn sighed, so much sadness in that one soft sound, as if she felt all of the evil Loki had done more intensely than anyone else. In a way, I supposed she did. Then, she clenched her hand into a tight fist until blood dripped out from between her fingers.
Plop . . . plop . . . plop . . .
One by one, the drops of her blood hit the mistletoe bracelet still wrapped around Loki’s wrist. He hissed and struggled with all his might, but some invisible force held him in place. Strangely enough, it felt like that same old, watchful, knowing force I had sensed around Grandma Frost so many times when she was having one of her visions of the future. Somehow, I knew that it was Nike’s victory magic at work.
Finally, Sigyn stepped back.
“There,” she said in a tired voice. “It’s done. The mistletoe is bound on him, and he is bound here—forever.”
“And now,” Nike murmured. “For the final step.” She waved her hand. I blinked, and Loki was gone,
and the floor was empty again. I whirled around and around, but Nike placed a hand on my shoulder and pointed up to the second-floor balcony. For as long as I’d been at Mythos, there had been a lone, empty spot there in the circular pantheon of the gods—an open space where Loki’s statue would have been.
But now, the god himself stood in that spot.
Nike, Sigyn, and I looked up at him, and I realized that we weren’t the only ones in the library anymore. All of the statues had turned their heads in his direction, and they weren’t statues anymore, but real, live people.
Real gods and goddesses.
My breath caught in my throat, even as I tried to look everywhere at once at all of the figures I’d read about in my myth-history books, since they’d all come to life right before my eyes. Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess, with her sleek, feline body. Athena, the Greek goddess, with her wise, solemn features. Coyote, the Native American trickster deity, with his wide, mischievous grin. And hundreds of others from all the cultures of the world.
All gathered here to watch this—Loki’s final defeat and punishment.
“We have all agreed as to what his fate is,” Sigyn said. “He has brought this upon himself.”
One by one, all of the gods and goddesses nodded their heads in agreement, giving their approval for what was to come.
“Eir,” Nike said. “If you will be so kind, please.”
On the balcony above, a goddess stepped forward. Black hair, green eyes, pale skin. I recognized her from my trip to Colorado—Eir, the Norse goddess of healing and mercy. The one who had given me the silver laurel leaves and the mistletoe bracelet.
Eir stepped forward and held out her hands. A force rippled off her, shot through the air, and slammed into Loki on the far side of the balcony.
The evil god let out a scream, and I realized that the mistletoe bracelet around his wrist was glowing with an intense silver light.
And then it started to spread.
I watched as the mistletoe sprouted, and more and more vines slowly began to curl out of the bracelet, reach up, and wrap around his body. Loki screamed and screamed, but there was nothing he could do to stop the slow, steady onslaught. The vines quickly crept up his arms, trapping his hands against his sides before climbing up his chest and neck. He tried to keep his face up out of the greenery, but the vines wrapped around his head, pulling it down, before swallowing him whole. After a while, even his screams faded away to nothingness.
That silver light flared a final time, pulsing brighter and more intensely than ever before, and I had to close my eyes against the burning brightness.
When the light faded away, and I finally opened my eyes again, I realized that another statue had been added to the pantheon—Loki.
His head was down, and his eyes narrowed, as though he were glaring at the mistletoe bracelet on his wrist, the source of all the vines that had wrapped themselves around him. But he was solid stone, even while the other gods and goddesses still showed their true forms. I let out a long, tired breath.
And just like that, it was done, and Loki was locked away—forever.
“So it is done,” Nike finally said in a loud, booming voice, echoing my own thoughts. “Forever.”
One by one, the other gods and goddesses nodded their heads at her before stepping back and slowly melting into their stone forms once more. In an instant, only Nike, Sigyn, Vic, and I were left in the library.
“What’s going on?” I said, staring up at the pantheon. “What’s happening? Why are they leaving?”
“The Twilight of the Gods is upon us, Ragnarok, some mortals call it. Either way, the gods are withdrawing from the mortal world,” Nike said, glancing at Sigyn. “With a few notable exceptions, of course.”
A faint grin pulled up Sigyn’s lips. “Some of us still have work to do.”
Nike returned her grin. “And warriors to mold. Spartans in particular.”
Sigyn’s smile widened. “Something like that.”