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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
Vivian laughed. "Sure, go ahead and believe that. Whatever helps you sleep at night, Gwen. Anyway, I gotta go. Catch you later. Or maybe I should just say kill you later."
She laughed again and hung up on me.
Once again, I searched the quad, looking for any movement in the shadows, but I still couldn't spot her.
"Gwen?" Oliver asked. "Are you okay?"
I whirled around to face him. "Where's Logan? Where is he right now?"
Oliver shrugged. "He's with his dad. That's all I really know. Why?"
I told him everything Vivian had said. Oliver listened, then shook his head.
"Relax, Gwen. Of course, she was lying. She was just trying to rattle you. I was texting with Logan earlier. There's no way the Reapers have him."
"But how can you be sure it's really him?" I persisted.
"Because I can tell by his tone and the things we're talking about. Stuff only Logan would know. So relax, okay? Vivian is just messing with your head. Logan is safe. Trust me."
Oliver put his hands on my shoulders. Sincerity and surety blazed in his green eyes. After a moment, I forced myself to nod. He was right. Vivian was jerking my chain - nothing else.
Oliver bent down, picked up Nyx, and cradled her in the crook of his arm. She let out a happy yip and licked him on the cheek. He rubbed her head a moment before looking at me again.
"Now, come on," he said. "There's nothing else we can do here. We both know Vivian is long gone. So let's go back inside, find Nickamedes, and tell him what happened."
Oliver was right, but that didn't keep me from searching the quad a final time for the Reaper girl before sighing and following him up the steps and back inside.
Oliver and I made it back to the main part of the library. Coach Ajax, Aiko, and a few other Protectorate guards had converged in the center of the room and were examining the part of the aisle where I'd fought the Reaper. Nickamedes stood behind the counter, talking on his phone. Ajax nodded his head at me and Oliver. We waved back at the big, burly coach.
Most of the students had cleared out, and the few who remained were gathering up their things. Helena Paxton shot me a pointed, nasty look as she picked up her book - the one I'd hit the Reaper with - from where I'd dropped it on the floor. I ignored her. I had other things to worry about right now - like why Jason had tried to poison me.
Okay, okay, so I knew why. Well, sort of. The Reapers wanted me dead because they had this strange idea that I was going to kill Loki - something that Nike believed, as well. If I was dead, then obviously I wouldn't even get the chance to try to kill Loki - as if I even knew how I was supposed to do that in the first place.
No, what I really wondered was why now? Why here, tonight, in the library? Why had it suddenly become so important to murder me? But in the end, I supposed it didn't really matter. Jason wasn't the first Reaper who'd tried to kill me, and he wouldn't be the last.
Still, I eyed my poisoned water bottle. It was sitting on the counter where Jason had left it. If I hadn't been upset, if I hadn't gone up to the second-floor balcony, if I hadn't seen what he was doing, I might have picked up the bottle and chugged down the rest of the water before my psychometry kicked in. Then, I would have been as dead as Jason was. This wasn't the first time I'd escaped death, but the knowledge that it could have just as easily been me lying outside on the quad made me shiver all the same.
Vic's eye snapped open at the shuddering motion that swept through my body. I was still clutching the sword, and he looked at me, then at the water bottle.
"You fought well tonight, Gwen," he said, picking up on my dark thoughts. "You did what you had to in order to survive - that's all. And there was nothing you could have done to change that boy's mind."
"Vic's right," Oliver chimed in. "The Reaper made his choice - not you."
Nyx let out a low, serious yip, agreeing with them. The wolf pup was still secure in the Spartan's arms.
I shrugged. Maybe that was true, but it didn't feel that way. Yes, I'd wanted to kill Jason, but now that he was gone, I just felt hollow and empty inside. A boy was dead because of me - but not in the way I'd expected.
Oh, I'd killed Reapers before in battle, and I'd even used my psychometry to pull all of the magic, all of the life, out of Preston Ashton so I could heal the mortal wound he'd given me. I'd done those things in the heat of the moment, because it had been them or me, and I'd just wanted to survive, like Vic had said. But this - this was different. Jason had free will, the same free will we all had, the same free will that Nike and Metis were always going on and on and on about. But I'd forced him to make a choice between surrendering or death - and he'd chosen death. I didn't know if that made things better or worse, but right now, it felt like worse.
"Gwendolyn," Nickamedes said, waving his hand at me. "Come here, please."
I sighed and looked at Vic, then Oliver, then Nyx. "Great. Not only is that boy dead, but now I'm probably going to get another lecture from Nickamedes about ruining the peace and quiet of his precious library."
Oliver grinned at me. "That does sort of seem to be your thing, Gypsy."
I punched him in the shoulder as I passed. "Shut up, Spartan."
I walked over to Nickamedes. He murmured something into his phone, then snapped it shut and put it down on the counter. He reached up and wiped a bit of sweat off his forehead, as though he were hot.
"I just got off the phone with Aurora," he said, referring to Professor Metis. His voice took on a harsh, raspy note. "She's on her way over here. What happened? What tipped you off that boy was a Reaper? And did you really have to chase him through the middle of the library?"
I sighed. There it was. The beginning of the lecture I knew was coming. There was nothing to do now but listen to him, so I went around the counter, slid Vic back into his scabbard, and propped the sword up next to Nyx's basket.
Nickamedes drew in a breath. "Because I have to say that not only did you upset your fellow students, but you also . . ."
And it went on from there. How I'd disturbed the peaceful, studious atmosphere of the library. How I'd frightened the other students. How I'd put my classmates in jeopardy by chasing after the Reaper instead of quietly alerting someone that I suspected there was a bad guy in the library.
"And most important, you didn't wait for me," Nickamedes said. "I would have come and helped you if only you'd waited - "
The librarian stopped in mid-sentence. I kept staring down at the checkout counter, rubbing my thumb over a rough spot in the wood. I'd learned it was better to keep my mouth shut until Nickamedes got done lecturing me. To let him get it all out of his system at once. Like Daphne, his bark was almost always worse than his bite.
But instead of picking up his train of thought and telling me how reckless I'd been once again, Nickamedes stood there, still and silent. I tapped my finger on the counter, wanting him to get on with things. Because in addition to his lecture, I'd probably have to listen to several more, including one from Alexei. The Bogatyr would be upset that he hadn't been around to protect me from Jason and his poisonous plot -
Nickamedes sucked in another breath. I thought he was finally going to start up his rant again, but once more, he didn't say anything.
"Gwendolyn . . ." he finally said, his voice even harsher and raspier than before. "You'll have to excuse me. I don't feel . . . very well . . ."
My gaze flicked up to his face. I noticed more beads of sweat on his forehead, the ruddy flush in his cheeks, and the faint, upset gurgle of his stomach. His blue eyes seemed dull and unfocused, and he was swaying from side to side, as though he was having a hard time keeping his balance.
"Nickamedes?" I asked.
The librarian collapsed without another word.
I rushed forward, and dropped to my knees beside the sick librarian.
"Nickamedes? What's wrong? Are you okay - "
My gaze caught on a piece of plastic that had rolled underneath the counter - the bottle of water I'd slapped out of the librarian's hand when I'd been chasing after Jason. The bottle was empty now, the water having pooled underneath the counter. A sick feeling filled my stomach, and I turned back to Nickamedes.
"The water," I asked, leaning forward and shaking his shoulders to try to get him to talk to me. "Did you drink any of your water in the last few minutes?"
"I just . . . had a sip . . ." he mumbled, his head lolling to one side.
Poisoned - Nickamedes had been poisoned.
He must have taken a drink from his own spiked water bottle while I was running down to the first floor and through the stacks. I'd been so focused on trying to stop Jason that I'd never considered someone else - Nickamedes - might drink the poisoned water meant for me.
For a moment, my mind went completely, utterly, horribly blank. There was nothing but shock - and growing fear. Then, the moment passed, the gears in my mind started grinding together again, and all I could think about was the terrible thing that had happened - because of me.
"Metis!" I screamed. "Somebody get Metis!"
"Gwen?" Oliver asked, peering over the counter, still holding Nyx. "What's wrong?"
"Nickamedes drank the poisoned water. Go get Metis! Right now!"
Oliver's eyes widened, and he hurried away. All I could do was lean over Nickamedes again.
The librarian looked at me. "Not . . . your fault . . ." he rasped.
I shook my head. "Don't try to talk. Save your strength. Metis will be here any second, and she'll fix you."
Nickamedes gave me a weak smile. "Not much . . . she can do . . . against poison . . ."
I bit my lip to keep from screaming. Instead, I made myself crouch there and talk to Nickamedes, telling him how happy he should be that I'd just chased the Reaper through the library this time, instead of knocking over some of the stacks like I'd done in the past. The librarian stared at me, but his eyes seemed to get brighter and glassier with every passing second. I didn't know if he was hearing me or not, but I kept up my constant stream of chatter.
Fabric whispered, and I looked up from Nickamedes's face long enough to see Coach Ajax ordering Aiko and the other Protectorate guards to form a semicircle around the counter, face outward, and draw their weapons as if more Reapers might storm into the library. But they wouldn't - the Reapers had already done all the damage they needed to tonight. Bitter laughter bubbled up in my throat like acid, but I managed to swallow it.
I don't know how long I huddled there, babbling nonsense to Nickamedes, but finally - finally - I heard footsteps hurrying across the floor. A second later, Metis was there, along with Daphne, Carson, and Alexei. Metis dropped to her knees on the other side of Nickamedes and took her hand in his. A second later, a golden glow enveloped them both as Metis channeled her healing power into the sick librarian.
Daphne put her hands on my shoulders and pulled me up and out of the way.
"C'mon, Gwen," she said. "Let Metis do her thing."
Daphne kept her arm around my shoulders, and we watched Metis work on Nickamedes. The librarian didn't have any visible injuries so I couldn't actually see his wounds knit together and disappear like I did when Metis used her magic to heal cuts and scrapes. The only thing visible was the golden glow that flowed from Metis into Nickamedes and back again.
Minutes ticked by. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Finally, Metis dropped her hand, and the golden, healing glow of her magic disappeared. I looked at Nickamedes. He wasn't sweating anymore, and his eyes were closed, as though he were sleeping peacefully. I let out a quiet sigh of relief. So did Daphne and the rest of my friends. Nickamedes would be okay now -
Metis slumped against one of the metal book carts, her shoulders sagging and exhaustion grooving deep lines around her mouth. Her black hair drooped out of its usual bun, her bronze skin seemed unnaturally pale, and she looked almost as sick as Nickamedes had when he'd first collapsed. I frowned. I'd never seen Metis look so worn out from healing someone. Oliver must have put Nyx down sometime while Metis had been working on the librarian, because the pup tiptoed forward and gave the professor's hand a tentative lick. Metis smiled and scratched Nyx's head, but if anything, she looked even more weary than before.
"Professor?" I asked.
Metis stared down at Nickamedes, a troubled look on her face. "He's stable - for now."
That sick feeling ballooned up in my stomach again, choking the hope I'd felt a moment ago. "For now? What does that mean?"
She looked up at me, pain, weariness, and sorrow glinting in her green eyes. "It means that if we can't figure out what kind of poison the Reapers used, then Nickamedes will die."
It didn't seem possible. It didn't seem real. He couldn't die. Not like this. Not when the Reaper had been trying to kill me.
For a moment, I swayed from side to side, just like the librarian had done. Then, all of my seesawing emotions, all of the pain and fear and worry I'd felt these past few weeks, disappeared into the burning ball of anger that roared to life in my chest. The Reapers had already taken my mom away from me. Nyx's mom, Nott. Logan. They weren't getting anyone else - not if I could help it.
I shrugged off Daphne's arm, got down on my hands and knees, and peered under the counter.
"Gwen?" Daphne asked. "What are you doing?"
I didn't answer her. There was only one thing I was focused on right now - Nickamedes's water bottle.