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|Killer Frost(Mythos Academy #6) by Jennifer Estep|
“But why?” I asked, totally not understanding their cryptic talk.
“Because we have caused too much damage here over too many years,” Nike said. “Too much pain, too much sorrow, and too much death. We will not risk that happening again. We will not risk another god trying to rise up and enslave everyone as Loki attempted to. It was a mutual decision.”
I knew that what she was saying made sense, but I couldn’t help but feel a pang of loss and longing all the same. Because the gods’ withdrawing from the world meant that Nike would leave too. She’d been such a big part of my life these last few months. I didn’t always agree with the goddess, and I’d long since grown tired of her games and riddles, but I also didn’t want to lose her the way I had my mom and Nott.
I swallowed. “Will I . . . ever see you again?”
She gave me that familiar, slightly mysterious smile, the one that was so old, knowing, wise, and yet so infuriating all at the same time. “Perhaps. But never fear. I will always be here, watching over you.”
“And don’t forget about me,” Vic piped up, breaking his long silence. “I’ll always be with you, Gwen. For as long as you will have me.”
“So . . . what do I do now?” I asked. “What happens next?”
“Whatever you want to happen, Gwendolyn,” Nike said. “Although Loki is gone, there will still be battles for you to wage as my Champion. And for others as well. Your friends, your . . . family.”
Something about the way she said family made me think of Rory, but before I could ask her exactly what she meant, she smiled at me again.
“Either way,” Nike said. “Your part in this fight is finally finished.”
I shook my head, still not understanding.
“Perhaps this will help set your mind at ease.”
Nike nodded, and Sigyn stepped forward, a book in her hand. Sigyn opened the cover and held the book out to me. Slowly, the pages began to turn, and I realized the images there held the story of my life, the pictures moving the same way the drawings in my myth-history book always did.
Me growing up. My first day at Mythos. Me sitting in classes, the dining hall, and even the library. All the battles I’d endured right up until the moment I’d stabbed myself in the chest with Vic. After that, the pages were mostly blank, although every once in a while, I caught glimpses of my friends. Daphne. Carson. Oliver. Alexei.
And then there was Logan.
His face was one of the constants, and somehow I knew we would get through this and everything else that came our way, good and bad. Oh, there would be fights through the years. Breakups and makeups. But through it all, we would always love each other. We would always find our way back to each other.
And some day, in the future, there would be a little girl with black hair, violet eyes, and a teasing grin that was exactly like her father’s. She would laugh and play and run through the Library of Antiquities while I worked as the head librarian. Late at night, the two of us would lie on a blanket on the marble floor and stare up at the amazing fresco on the ceiling, and I would tell her stories about our battle against Loki. And one day, I would hand Vic over to her, and she would continue on with the Frost family tradition of serving Nike and being her Champion.
The last page of the book fluttered by, and I realized that it was blank. But before I could ask what it all meant, Sigyn closed the book and stepped back.
She nodded at me. “Until we meet again, Gwendolyn.” Sigyn strolled over to where Raven’s, or rather her, coffee cart was, stepped around it, and melted into the
But Nike stayed where she was in front of me. The goddess took my hand in hers, and I felt the cold waves of power flow from her, into me, and back again.
“So Loki’s trapped, and I’m still here,” I said. “How am I going to get back this time?”
“You saved yourself, Gwendolyn,” she said. “When you gave what was left of Sol’s candle to the Spartan librarian. He’s using it at this very moment to heal you, along with the last laurel leaf.”
I shook my head. “I told him to save the leaf for himself. Not me.”
“Nickamedes is making his own sacrifice—for you,” Nike said. “Don’t dishonor him by not accepting it.”
I nodded. I looked down, and I realized that there was a silver glow right where the stab wound was in my heart. I concentrated, and I could feel the power of Sol’s candle surging through me and repairing all the damage that had been done to my body, both from my own actions and from Loki ripping into my mind, heart, and soul.
“And now, I must leave you, Gwendolyn,” Nike said. “This is good-bye—for now. Know that I am so very proud of you, and so very honored to call you my Champion. Now and forever.”
Then, the goddess leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, making even more of her cold power flow through me. Tears streaked down my face, freezing on my cheeks like tiny snowflakes. Nike bowed her head. The silver laurels on her brow glinted; then her wings slowly curved forward and closed in on her body. That bright silver light flared again.
And then she was gone. And so was I.
Once again, I woke up with a gasp and sat bolt upright. I sucked down breath after breath, trying to figure out what was going on and where I was. Slowly, everything came rushing back to me.
I looked up to find my friends clustered around me. Logan. Daphne. Carson. Oliver. Alexei. Linus, Metis, and Grandma Frost loomed over them, while Nyx was sitting on the floor beside me. So was Nickamedes, a small bit of white, melted wax clutched in his hand. They all looked at me with wide, frightened eyes.
I stared past them up at the fresco on the ceiling. It was completely free of shadows now, and I could see all the images of the battle that we’d just been through. Me, Logan, and everyone else fighting the Reapers, from the first attack at the main gate to the final confrontation here in the library. The fresco featured all that and more, and somehow, I knew it would never be covered with shadows again.
Next, I looked down at my right palm. Now, instead of two scars, I had three. But the really weird thing was that they formed a sort of snowflake design—one that was exactly like the necklace Logan had given me, the one I was wearing right now. And I knew that if I pushed my shirt aside, I’d see the exact same three marks in the exact same pattern on my chest, right over my heart. I grimaced, but I didn’t really mind. Because the marks would always remind me of the battles I’d survived— and how victorious I’d been in the end.
“Gwen?” Logan asked, his voice hoarse, as though he’d been screaming and screaming for a long time. “Is that really you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s me. I’m . . . okay. I think.”
My gaze flicked up to the second-floor pantheon to the empty spot, but it wasn’t empty anymore—a statue of Loki stood there, wrapped in thick, marble strands of mistletoe.
The others followed my gaze. One by one, their mouths dropped open, and they all let out sharp gasps of surprise.
“Is that . . .”
“That looks like . . .” “Could it be . . .”
“Loki,” I said. “He’s gone now, and he won’t ever be able to hurt us again.”
“What happened?” Linus asked.
I shook my head. “I’m not quite sure. Nike came to me. She said that when Loki . . . infected me, he gave up his own immortal body, and I forced him back into the gods’ realm by stabbing myself. She said that he would never be able to come back to the mortal realm ever again. So . . . I think we’re finally safe from him. I think we’re finally free from him. Forever.”
“Are you sure?” Metis asked.
I looked at the statue again, half-expecting it to glare at me the way all the other ones did, but Loki remained still, frozen, and locked in place, and I didn’t sense any vibes rippling off the stone—not a single one.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure.”
For a moment, there was silence. Carson peered up at the statue of Loki, then around at everyone else.
“So,” he said. “I guess this means that we . . . won?” More silence. Then, slowly, grins spread over my
friends’ faces. Everyone started laughing and cheering and clapping each other on the back until the entire library was filled with the happy sounds. Logan held out his hand, helping me up and onto my feet. He wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight, and I leaned into him, enjoying the moment.
It was over.
The second Chaos War was over. And we’d won. For good.
But our happy respite was short-lived. Because we had been through the battle to end all battles, and we had all paid a high cost. Many Reapers were dead, and Logan had managed to kill Agrona for all her crimes against him and his dad. But most of the Protectorate guards were dead as well.
Warm, happy, boisterous Sergei had fallen in the library to a Reaper’s sword. Alexei crouched over his father’s body, holding his cold, dead hand and crying and mumbling in Russian. Oliver stood by his side, his hand on his boyfriend’s shoulder. My own heart ached in response to the waves of grief rolling off Alexei.
And Sergei wasn’t the only friend we’d lost. The bodies of many of the gryphons littered the quad outside the library, right next to those of the Black rocs they’d been fighting. Still more wounded and dead—mortal and creature alike—could be found in and around the library, on the quad, and all the way across campus and down to the main gate.
The next few days passed by in a blur, filled with an odd mix of tears and smiles. I went from one place to the next, trying to help wherever I could. Carrying bodies down to the morgue in the bottom of the mathscience building until they could be properly identified and buried. Cleaning blood off the floor in the library. Returning all of the artifacts we’d used to their cases and original locations in the library. Rounding up the artifacts the Reapers had used, including Lucretia, and putting them in the library basement until they could be examined and catalogued. I got up early, worked all day, and then dropped into bed at night utterly exhausted. And still, there was more to do the next day.
And I wasn’t the only one who was busy. Not all of the Reapers had been killed, and the wounded were rounded up and taken down to the academy prison.
Agrona appeared to have been right when she’d said that I’d destroyed the Reaper girl’s mind because we found her hiding back in the stacks, curled up into a ball, rocking back and forth just like she had before. All the while, she kept murmuring nonsense. Well, to the others, it was nonsense about hairbrushes, gloves, and Reaper red walls. To me, it made perfect sense because I knew all about the horrible memories she was seeing over and over again in her mind. Either way, she wasn’t a threat now, and she was taken to the prison, along with the other wounded warriors.
A few of the Reapers had escaped from the library, and Linus, Inari, Aiko, and what was left of the Protectorate were hot on their trail, but I wasn’t too worried. With Loki gone, the Reapers would need some time to regroup—if they ever could. I didn’t know what the Reapers would do next, and right now, I didn’t care. As Nike had said, my part in the battle was done, and now, it was time to rest and try to recover from all the wounds and scars I’d gotten along the way.
Three days later, I stood in the parking lot behind the gym and watched a group of Protectorate guards load Sergei’s coffin into the back of a waiting limousine to be taken to the Cypress Mountain airport. Alexei was taking his father home to Russia to bury him, and Oliver was going with him. Logan had also come to see them off.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish we could have saved him. I wish we could have saved everyone.”
Alexei nodded. He hadn’t spoken much since the battle, and I knew he was hurting. We were all hurting, despite the fact that we’d won.
“He died serving the Protectorate and helping his friends,” Alexei said. “He always told me there was no greater calling, no greater honor, than that.”
His face was as stoic as ever, but I could see the pain glimmering in his hazel eyes and the sad slump of his shoulders. So much pain. And I couldn’t help but think that if I’d been smarter or stronger, I might have figured things out sooner and spared us at least some of the grief we were feeling. But it had been a fight to the death, and now, we were paying the price—the loss of those we loved. “I’ll be back soon,” Alexei said, finally turning to
look at me.
“We both will,” Oliver chimed in. “Count on it.”
I nodded. I was too emotional to speak, so I settled for hugging them both as tight as I could. Logan did the same.
Alexei laid a hand on his father’s coffin before closing the back door of the limo. He got into the back passenger’s seat, along with Oliver.
Logan wrapped his arms around me, and together, we watched our friends leave the academy.
We said a lot of good-byes that day, not only to Alexei, Oliver, and Sergei, but to Rory, Rachel, and the gryphons too. I met them down by the main gate in the spot where the gryphons had brought us when we’d escaped from the Reapers. A car was waiting on the other side of the gate to take Rory and Rachel to the airport.
“Well, Princess,” Rory said. “I guess this is good-bye again. I’ll say this. Things are never boring with you around.”
I grinned. “They aren’t boring with you around, either. What are you going to do now?”
She shrugged. “I guess I’ll go back to the Colorado academy and see how things are shaking down out there.” News of the battle had spread to the other academies around the world. I didn’t know much about what was happening at the other schools, but I imagined that