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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
They didn't know the details, though. That all I had to do was find some mysterious magical artifact that would supposedly let me kill Loki, who was pretty much all-powerful and evil incarnate.
No pressure or anything.
Nyx cocked her head to the side, staring up at the other kids. She gave a tentative little growl, hoping that someone would drop to their knees and pet her, but the low sound only made the other students shy away from her. I couldn't blame them for that, though. Most kids at the academy weren't used to mythological creatures like Fenrir wolves, Nemean prowlers, and Black rocs trying to do anything but kill them.
I was the last one in line, and, finally, it was my turn to order. I scanned the menu tacked up beside the cash register.
"Give me a bottled water, a jumbo pretzel with nacho cheese sauce, and a dark chocolate brownie," I said.
I peered around a display of blueberry muffins. A woman sat on a stool behind the cash register, reading through a celebrity gossip magazine as if it was the most interesting thing ever. The woman was old - even older than Grandma Frost - with a shock of long, white hair that seemed to flow into the long, white gown she wore. Her eyes were as black, bright, and shiny as a bird's, while dark wrinkles streaked across her face, almost like the thin grooves were filled with shadows instead of just sagging skin. She licked her thumb and turned another page in her magazine, completely ignoring me, even though I'd stepped up to the counter as soon as the Viking in front of me had left.
I sighed. Raven was here today. I should have known.
Raven ran the coffee cart, one of the many odd jobs she had at the academy, along with being on the security council, overseeing members of the Protectorate when they cleaned up crime scenes, and watching over any Reapers being kept in the prison in the math-science building. I didn't know exactly why Raven had all of these jobs, since she didn't seem particularly qualified for any of them and was always scanning through some magazine or another, but everything important always seemed to get done, and I guess that's all the Powers That Were really cared about.
I cleared my throat, and Raven finally put down her magazine. I repeated my order, and she moved from one side of the cart to the other, heating up my pretzel and cheese sauce in the small microwave and handing them to me, along with my bottled water and brownie. I reached into my jeans pocket, drew out a ten-dollar bill, and handed it across the counter to her, careful not to let my fingers brush hers. Not only could I flash on objects, but my psychometry also kicked in whenever I touched another person. Right now, I had no desire to see how bored Raven was sitting at the coffee cart making hot peppermint chocolate for folks.
Still, as I looked at her, it seemed like her face flickered for a moment, as though there was something underneath her features the same way there was something lurking beneath all the statues on campus.
"One day I'm going to figure out what you're hiding with all of those wrinkles," I said.
Raven raised her bushy eyebrows at me, but she didn't say anything. She'd never said anything to me, so I had no idea what her voice sounded like, whether it would be light and lilting or the cackle and crackle of an old crone.
She handed me my change, sat down on her stool, and stuck her nose back in her magazine. I rolled my eyes, grabbed my food, and hurried down the main aisle to the checkout counter. Nyx trotted along beside me, her toenails click-click-clicking against the floor.
I stepped behind the counter, laid my food down on it, and put my messenger bag on the floor next to a large gray wicker basket. Grandma Frost had given me the basket so Nyx would have a comfy place to hang out while I was working. I crouched down and unclipped the leash from around the wolf's neck, although I left the collar on her.
"I have to go to work now, so stay in your basket, okay?" I murmured, rubbing her tiny ears between my fingers.
Nyx leaned into my hand and let out a contented sigh. Then, she plopped down on her cute, pudgy, baby belly, tucked her tail over her nose, and closed her violet-colored eyes. She'd been coming to the library with me for several days now, so she knew the drill.
"The fuzzball has the right idea," Vic said, his half of a mouth stretching into a wide, loud yawn. "Wake me when there are Reapers to kill."
"I wouldn't dream of doing anything else."
Vic glared at me, picking up on the sarcasm in my voice. "Hmph!" he huffed, then snapped his eye shut.
I left Vic in his scabbard and propped the sword up next to Nyx. Despite his snit, I knew that Vic would give a shout and let me know if he or Nyx needed anything, and that Nyx would come running to get me if something happened to Vic. I liked that the two of them could watch each other's backs, especially these days, when we all knew that Reapers could attack anywhere, anytime - even in the Library of Antiquities.
I plopped down on a stool and logged in to the computer system. Then, I opened my bag of food and arranged it on the counter. I dunked my pretzel into the warm, nacho cheese sauce and was about to take a big bite when a door opened in the glass office complex behind me, and the sharp tap-tap-tap of wing tips on marble sounded. A moment later, a shadow fell over me, and someone cleared his throat.
"You are late, Gwendolyn," he said. "At this point, do I even have to say again? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say as usual, or as always, or even for the umpteenth time."
"I'm not late," I protested, waving my pretzel in his direction. "I've been in the library for ten minutes already. I was at the coffee cart. See?"
Nickamedes sniffed. "Standing in line is not the same thing as actually being behind the counter working."
I rolled my eyes. Sometimes, I thought the two of us were just destined to disagree.
"And will you please look at me when I am speaking to you?"
I pressed my lips together, raised my head, and looked up at him. The head librarian was handsome, for a guy in his forties, with ink-black hair and blue eyes. You could tell how lean and muscled his body was, despite the dark blue sweater vest, shirt, tie, and black corduroy pants he wore. I wasn't trying to be rude by ignoring him and concentrating on my food. Really, I wasn't. But Nickamedes looked so much like his nephew that it made my heart clench. Because the librarian was yet another reminder that Logan was gone.
"Thank you," Nickamedes said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Now, as I was saying, you are late again, and I think that . . ."
I immediately dropped my gaze back down to my food. Okay, okay, so I was totally tuning out his lecture, but only because it was the same one he'd given me a dozen times before. Besides, I was hungry. I started to lean forward to take a bite of my pretzel, when the librarian snatched it out of my hand.
"Hey!" I said. "I was eating that!"
"Correction, you were going to eat that," Nickamedes said. "Right now, you are going to shelve books."
He put my pretzel down on top of its bag on the counter, grabbed a stack of books off a metal cart, and dumped them in my arms.
"But - "
"No buts," Nickamedes said. "Books now, food later."
The librarian crossed his arms over his chest and gave me a pointed stare. He was standing between me and my food, so there was no way I could grab my pretzel, shove it into my mouth, and take it into the stacks with me. Even if I did, Nickamedes would complain about how I was getting crumbs all over his precious books. There was just no winning with him.
"Now, if you please, Gwendolyn."
"Yes, master," I sniped.
Nickamedes's eyes narrowed at my snide tone, but I didn't care. I gave my food one more longing look before I tightened my grip on the books and trudged back into the stacks.
I spent the next half hour shelving books. By the time I got back to my food, the warm, soft pretzel and ooey, gooey cheese sauce were a hard, cold, congealed mess. So I dumped them in the trash and made do with my brownie and bottled water.
I'd just finished licking the last of the dark chocolate crumbs off my fingers when Nickamedes stepped behind the counter. He'd been over to Raven's coffee cart too, judging from the blueberry muffin and water bottle he was holding. A professor came over and asked him a question. Nickamedes took a swig of his water, then put his bottle on the counter right next to mine. I edged my bottle away from his and turned mine so that the label faced out toward the rest of the library so I would know which one was which. I had no desire to accidentally ingest his germs. I might catch something awful, like, you know, punctuality. I also noticed that the librarian didn't wait to eat his muffin as he looked up something in the computer system for the professor.
I was still shooting Nickamedes angry, jealous glances when Oliver Hector stepped up to the checkout counter.
Sandy blond hair, green eyes, great smile, muscular body. The Spartan was cute, but, more important, he was my friend. Oliver watched me watching the librarian.
"You know, if I were Nickamedes, I'd be glad that you just had touch magic, instead of the ability to shoot fire out your eyeballs," Oliver drawled. "Because Nickamedes would be totally toasted right now."
I rolled my eyes, but I had to laugh. "Yeah, well, if I had that power, I'd save it to use on Reapers. I wouldn't mind melting off Vivian's face. Or Agrona's."
"I don't think any of us would mind that," Oliver said.
I thought about my recurring nightmare. Maybe next time instead of letting Logan attack me, I could try to throw myself off the amphitheater stage and fight Vivian and Agrona instead. No doubt they would still kill me in my dream, but that wouldn't be as bad as Logan murdering me again - and having to stare into his Reaper red eyes while he did it.
Oliver walked around the counter, slung his bag down next to mine, and hopped up on a stool that was sitting against the glass wall behind me.
I frowned. "What are you doing?"
He shrugged. "Alexei had some meeting with the other Protectorate guards that's running long, so he asked me to keep an eye on you until he gets here."
I sighed. "I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, you know. I think I've proven that enough already."
"I know," Oliver replied. "But I also know that all of the Reapers are gunning for you, Gwen. So just relax and let us watch your back, okay?"
I sighed again. He was right, but sometimes it made me feel so helpless, so useless, always being watched over by somebody, whether it was Alexei, Oliver, Daphne, or one of my other friends. I was a target for the Reapers, and now they were too, just because they were my friends. I didn't know what I would do if something happened to one of them because of me - because they'd taken an arrow or a dagger meant for me. But no matter what I said or did, my friends insisted on sticking by me, telling me we were all in this together. It made me want to scream at their stubbornness - and cry because of their loyalty.
"All right, all right," I groused. "You can stay. But only because you're so cute, and I need some eye candy to look at."
His grin widened. "Oh Gypsy. You say the sweetest things."
I rolled my eyes again. Oliver laughed.
The next two hours dragged by. I did all my usual chores. Shelved books. Helped kids locate reference material for their homework assignments. Even dusted a few of the artifact cases in the stacks.
Cleaning off the cases made me think about Ran's net, which I'd shoved into the bottom of my messenger bag for safekeeping. Of course, I'd shown the net to Professor Metis when Alexei, Daphne, and I had brought it back from the Crius Coliseum a few days ago, but Metis didn't know what was so special about it any more than I did. So she'd told me to hang on to it for now. I didn't know what good the net would do, stuffed in among my comic books and the tin I had that was shaped like a giant chocolate chip cookie, but like Metis had said, at least we'd know where it was.
Since I didn't have anything else to do, I decided to take another look at the net. I reached into my bag, drew out a small white card that had been in the artifact case with the net, and scanned through the words on the front, even though I'd read them a dozen times already.
This net is thought to have belonged to Ran, the Norse goddess of storms, and was rumored to be among her favorite fishing gear. Despite its fragile appearance, the net is quite strong and can hold much more than it should be able to, given its relatively small size. The braided seaweed itself is thought to have the unusual property of making whatever is inside it seem much lighter than its actual weight . . .
The card went on to talk about some of the creatures Ran had supposedly caught and tamed with the net, but I skimmed over the rest of the words.
Instead, I reached back into my bag and grabbed the thin, threadbare net itself. To my surprise, it had folded up quite easily, and I'd looped it over and over again, until the whole thing was no bigger and not much thicker than a belt. I threaded my fingers through some of the loops and reached for my magic.
But the only thing I saw was the endless rise and fall of the blue-gray ocean, and the only thing I felt was a smooth, constant motion, as if I was bobbing up and down like a fishing lure riding the tops of the waves. The sharp tang of the sea filled my nose, while the sounds of the swells slapping against each other echoed in my ears. I licked my lips and tasted salt. Even more of it seemed to be crusted in my hair, and I could almost feel gritty bits of sand sticking to my skin, as though I'd spent the day at the beach.
It wasn't unpleasant, though. In fact, the sensations were some of the nicest I'd experienced with my magic in a long time. So nice, so calm, so soothing, that I could have let the waves carry me away - and all my fears, worries, and heartache along with them.