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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
I raced from one aisle to the next, grabbing all of the books on my list and dumping them onto my cart. When my cart was full, I pushed it back to the center of the library. Carson and Oliver were already there, standing next to a study table covered with books. The guys were flipping through the books one by one and then tossing them aside when it became clear they weren't what we were looking for. Nickamedes would have pitched a fit if he saw the way the guys were casually throwing the books onto the next closest study table - and the fact that more than a few were missing the mark and falling to the floor. But the books would recover from being tossed around a little - the librarian might not if we didn't figure out which poison the Reaper had used.
"Remember," I said. "Look for any red highlights and dog-eared pages. That's what I saw in Jason's book."
Carson and Oliver nodded and went back to flipping through the books and tossing them aside. I added my books to the pile they'd made and pushed the empty cart back into the stacks.
Up and down, and back and forth, I raced through the library as fast as I could. Every once in a while, I caught sight of Daphne doing the same thing, her long, blond ponytail swishing from side to side, or Alexei smoothly moving from one aisle to the next, his dark brown hair glinting under the library lights. My friends waved at me, but none of us stopped working - not even for a second.
There was no time for that - not when Nickamedes's life depended on us finding an answer.
I don't know how long I moved through the stacks, grabbing book after book after book. I focused on each of them a moment, but they were only reference materials. Nobody had any real emotional attachment to them, which meant that I didn't get any big flashes off them with my psychometry. All I saw were the hundreds of kids who had touched the volumes over the years, and all I experienced was their supreme boredom, weariness, and frustration from using the books to finish their homework.
Of course, all of those flickers of weariness and frustration didn't make me feel any better, and my movements became more hurried, awkward, and frantic as my fear and worry for Nickamedes grew. But there was nothing I could do but keep moving, keep grabbing books, and keep flashing on them.
Finally, I got down to the last book on my part of the list. I found it easily enough and grabbed it off the shelf -
An image of the Reaper boy popped into my mind.
I was so surprised that I almost dropped the book, but I managed to cradle it to my chest. I closed my eyes and concentrated, and I saw the same thing that I had before - Jason leaning over the book at one of the study tables. This was it. This was the book he'd been looking at.
I opened my eyes and stared down at the title on the brown cover: Healing, Medicinal, and Poisonous Properties of Mythological Plants.
My fingers trembling, I opened the book and flipped through the pages until I came to the passage that Jason had highlighted in red:
Serket sap is an evergreen plant that is known in the mythological world for its intense poisonous properties. It is named after the
Egyptian goddess who is associated with poisons. Serket sap can be administered in a variety of ways, including boiling it to create a dark green liquid, but the most popular method involves drying the plant's leaves and roots, then grinding them up into a fine white powder in order to more easily use it . . .
I stared at the left page and the picture of the small green plant, which resembled a miniature pine tree with both leaves and needles sprouting from its thin brown trunk. It looked harmless, but according to this description, it was anything but. I snapped the book shut, left the cart where it was, and ran back to the study tables.
By this point, even more of the Protectorate guards had gathered in the library, but I pushed past them to where Metis was still standing beside Nickamedes.
"Here," I said, thrusting the book into her hands. "This is what they used to poison Nickamedes - Serket sap."
Metis looked at me, her green eyes sharp. "Are you sure?"
I nodded. "This is the book I saw the Reaper boy looking at. This is the poison he used. It has to be. Look at this page in the middle."
Metis opened the book to the appropriate page, and I pointed to the drawing and highlighted passage. My fingers brushed hers, and my psychometry kicked in, letting me feel Metis's worry for Nickamedes - and something else I never would have guessed.
I froze, wondering if I was imagining things, but the emotions washed over me again, even stronger than before. Metis's cold, agonizing dread that she wouldn't be able to save Nickamedes mixed with a warm, soft, fizzy feeling that could only mean one thing - love.
Metis? In love with Nickamedes? When had that happened? And how?
I was so shocked that I pulled my hand away from hers. The professor nodded and closed the book. She didn't seem to realize that I'd flashed on her - and what I'd felt.
"All right. Thank you, Gwen. We'll take it from here." Metis turned to Ajax. "Let's go. We need to get Nickamedes over to the infirmary and get started on an antidote."
Ajax nodded, and several of the Protectorate guards stepped forward. They helped Ajax transfer Nickamedes to a flat, plastic board, the sort that paramedics use, strapped him down to it, and hefted the board onto their shoulders, as if he were some ancient king they were transporting. A moment later, the guards left the library, carrying Nickamedes along with them.
And all I could do was just stand there, watch them go, and hope he would be okay.
"What is taking so long?" I growled. "It's been hours now."
"Actually, it's only been about ninety minutes," Carson pointed out.
I glared at him, and he winced and slouched down a little more in his chair.
Daphne rolled her eyes. "Ignore her, Carson. She's just a little crazy right now. Well, crazier than usual. It's going to take as long as it takes, Gwen. You're just wearing yourself out pacing back and forth like that."
"I am not pacing," I muttered.
"Yes, you are," Oliver said. "You have been ever since we came in here."
Here was the waiting room of the school's infirmary, which was located in a square, three-story building not too far from my dorm. I'd expected the infirmary to be in the bottom of the math-science building, right next to the morgue and the prison, but my friends had led me over here instead.
I'd never paid too much attention to this building before, since it was made out of the same dark gray stone as most everything else at Mythos. But it was a calm, soothing space, at least on the inside. The white marble floor had a hint of blue in it, like veins running near the surface of someone's skin. Or maybe the sheen of color was simply the stone reflecting back the pale blue paint that covered the walls. Each wall featured several windows, while a series of round skylights had been set into the ceiling, although all I could see through the glass right now was darkness.
A long reception desk squatted near the back of a room, with a set of double doors behind it that led to the patient rooms. Apparently, manning the infirmary was another one of Raven's odd jobs. She'd been sitting behind the desk when we'd arrived, her black boots propped up on top of the smooth wood. She'd glanced up at me and my friends, then gone back to her magazine. Every once in a while, she turned a page, but other than that, she was silent as usual.
White wicker chairs with thick cushions clustered together in the middle of the room, along with a couple of blue plaid couches. Daphne and Carson were huddled together on one of the couches, while Oliver and Alexei were sitting side by side in the chairs. I'd taken Vic and Nyx back to my dorm room before hurrying over here with the others. My friends alternated between talking to each other and texting on their phones, but I kept pacing.
Still, with every lap I made around the waiting room, my gaze was inevitably drawn to the small marble statues that could be found everywhere, from the wall recesses to the end tables cluttered with magazines to the far side of the reception desk, right next to Raven's elbow. The infirmary was like the dining hall in that all the statues had a similar theme. But instead of harvest and food gods who watched over the students as they ate, here in the infirmary, all of the statues were of figures associated with healing. Like Apollo and Asklepios, two Greek gods. As always, the statues seemed to be watching me, but their expressions were all closed-off and neutral, and I couldn't tell what, if anything, might be happening to Nickamedes.
I started to take another turn around the room when a faint jingle-jingle-jingle caught my attention. A moment later, an older woman with iron-gray hair and warm, kind violet eyes stepped through the open doorway.
"Grandma!" I threw myself into her arms.
Grandma Frost was wearing a white sweater with black pants and shoes with toes that slightly curled up. Layers of green, purple, and gray scarves peeked out of the various folds of her coat. Each one of the scarves was fringed with silver coins that made a merry sound as I hugged her tight.
She pulled back and cradled my face in her hands, and I felt a wave of love flow from her and wash over into me. Suddenly, everything seemed a little brighter and more hopeful, and I felt much calmer. Like everything would be okay now that she was here, even though I knew that wasn't really the case.
"It's okay, pumpkin," Grandma murmured, smoothing down my frizzy hair. "Everything's going to be all right. You'll see."
Her arms tightened around me, and I felt a force stir in the air around her - this old, knowing, watchful force that seemed to hug me right along with Grandma Frost. Like me, Grandma was a Gypsy, which meant that she'd been gifted with magic by Nike, just like I had. In her case, that power was the ability to see the future. I wondered if she'd just gotten a glimpse of Nickamedes's future, but by the time I pulled back to ask her, the force had vanished, and her eyes were as clear as mine, instead of being distant like they got when she was looking at something only she could see.
"I'm glad you're here," I whispered.
Grandma patted my hand. "I'm glad to be here. Now, tell me everything. Ajax filled me in on some of it when he called, but I want to hear it from you, pumpkin."
I led her over to one of the waiting room couches. She sat down and took my hand again, and I told her everything - including how the Reaper had really been trying to poison me instead of Nickamedes. My voice cracked a little on that last part, but Grandma tightened her grip on my cold fingers, and another wave of love and understanding surged through me.
"It's not your fault, pumpkin," she said. "Not that boy doing what he did, and not Nickamedes being hurt either."
I bit my lip and looked away from her, not wanting her to see the guilt in my eyes - especially when it came to Nickamedes. The librarian used to be in love with my mom, Grace, and when I'd first come to Mythos, he'd asked Metis to assign me to work with him in the library so he could look out for me in his own way. I couldn't help thinking he shouldn't have done that. He would have been so much better off if I hadn't been there tonight, if I'd never even set foot in the library to start with -
One of the double doors that led back into the infirmary opened, and Metis stepped into the waiting room. We all surged to our feet and hurried forward, clustering around her.
"Did you get the poison out of his system?"
"Is Nickamedes going to be okay?"
One after another, the questions tumbled out of our lips. Metis held up her hands, and we slowly quieted down.
"Finding out which poison the Reaper used was an enormous aid," she said. "It's helped me figure out the best course of treatment for Nickamedes, including a way to slow the progression of the poison."
"Slow, but not stop?" Daphne asked, picking up on what she hadn't said.
Metis sighed. "Yes, slow, not stop. Poison is a tricky thing, especially a magic-based poison like this one. Basically, poisons like these eat up all of the magic you use to try to get rid of them. All my healing magic is doing right now is keeping the Serket sap from causing any more damage to Nickamedes. But eventually, the poison will build up a resistance to my magic and start to overcome it. When that happens, the poison will once again follow its normal progression and will start doing further damage to him - until he finally dies from it."
I closed my eyes. I wasn't touching any of my friends, but I could feel the agonizing grief rolling off them - it mirrored my own emotions perfectly. After a moment, I forced myself to open my eyes and look at Metis again.
"So there's no . . . cure?" I barely got the words out through the hard lump in my throat. "No way to save him?"
Metis sighed, a little deeper and sadder than before. "There is an antidote."
"So what's the problem? Go mix it up or get it or whatever and give it to him."
She shook her head. "It's not that easy. The only known antidote to Serket sap is Chloris ambrosia, named after the Greek goddess of flowers."
Chloris ambrosia? I'd never heard of it, and neither had anyone else, judging from the blank looks on my friends' faces.
"Oh sure," Carson piped up. "It's sort of like the honeysuckle that grows around here."
We all looked at Carson, who blushed.
"My dad owns wineries in California," he said. "He's always talking about grapes and plants and things like that."
Metis nodded. "That's right. Chloris ambrosia is a flowering vine that is similar to honeysuckle. The only problem is that it's very rare. In fact, there's only one place in the United States where it's supposed to grow - in the Rocky Mountains."
"So what's the problem?" I repeated. "We go there, pick this flower, and bring it back so you can cure Nickamedes with it. No sweat."