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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
"Covington is a friend," Ajax said, noticing my questioning glance. "We need him to prepare for the next part of our journey."
"Journey?" Covington asked. "What journey?"
Ajax sighed. "Not here. Let's go somewhere more private."
"Certainly. I know just the place."
Covington gave us all one more curious look before he gestured for us to follow him.
Covington led us deeper into the library. Instead of heading for the checkout counter like I thought he might, the librarian skirted around that area and veered left into one of the wings. Eventually, he reached a door set into one of the walls, unlocked and opened it, and ushered us all inside. We stepped into a conference room. A long table, chairs clustered all around it, a pitcher of water and glasses perched on a silver tray on a small counter. Nothing all that interesting - except for the gryphon carving.
It took up almost the entire back wall. A gryphon with its wings spread wide, its head thrown back, and its beak wide open as if it was about to let out a screech, swoop down from the sky, and attack. And it wasn't the only gryphon in here. More images of the creature could be seen on the other walls, although those carvings were much smaller, but no less fierce-looking.
As soon as I stepped into the room, it seemed as if all of the gryphons' eyes swiveled around to me. I shivered and took a seat at the end of the table, as far away from the carvings as I could get.
"So," Covington asked when we were all finally settled, "you want to tell me what you're doing here? With five students in tow? I heard a rumor about some students being the target of a Reaper attack on the train this morning. I'm guessing that was you and your kids?"
Ajax nodded. "We're here on behalf of a friend. Nickamedes."
Covington nodded back. "I know him. He's my counterpart in the Library of Antiquities at the North Carolina academy. We exchange e-mails, books, and even artifacts from time to time."
"He's been poisoned, and we're here searching for a cure."
Ajax drew in a breath and explained everything to his friend. The Reaper boy poisoning Nickamedes, our hurried journey here, the attack on the train. To my surprise, the coach didn't say much about me or my friends. He introduced us, but he only gave Covington our first names. It made me wonder if Ajax didn't entirely trust his friend - and if so, why not. Then again, we'd all been fooled by the Reapers. Maybe the coach was just being extra cautious, even though I thought it was far too late for that.
When Ajax finished, Covington let out a low whistle. "Chloris ambrosia flowers aren't easy to come by."
"I know," the coach replied. "That's why we need to go up to the Eir Ruins - tomorrow."
Covington frowned. "You want to go the ruins? With your . . . students?"
Ajax nodded. "I know what you're thinking, and believe me, I know how dangerous the ruins are supposed to be. But it's the only place where the ambrosia flowers grow, and Nickamedes will die without them. So can you help us? Please?"
Covington studied his friend. "And if I don't?"
Ajax gave him a level stare. "Then, we'll go on our own."
Covington kept staring at Ajax, then his hazel eyes roamed over the rest of us. We all looked back, showing him the same determination to go to the ruins with or without his help. When he realized we were serious, he nodded.
"Okay, okay, I'll help. Don't worry about that." He hesitated. "It won't be easy, though. I know someone who can guide you to the ruins, and I'll be happy to accompany you myself, but I don't know of any other professors or staff members who would be willing to go. Especially not tomorrow."
"What's wrong with tomorrow?" Ajax asked.
"A storm is blowing in," Covington said. "We're supposed to get a foot of snow sometime in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Maybe more."
Of course it was supposed to snow. As if this wouldn't be hard and dangerous enough already. I wondered if the Reapers had looked at the weather forecast and had factored in the brewing snowstorm when they'd decided to try to poison me. Probably. I wouldn't put it past them. That would be just the twisted sort of thing that Vivian and Agrona would think of - to make us all suffer as much as possible while we tried to get the antidote for Nickamedes.
"Well, we'll just have to risk the storm. And the fewer people who know where we're going, the better," Ajax said. "The Reapers already know we're here and that we have to go to the ruins to get the ambrosia flowers. But just because we're walking into a trap doesn't mean we can't be careful."
Covington nodded. "Understood. I'll start making the arrangements immediately. We'll leave tomorrow."
He stood up, and so did Ajax. The two men shook hands. Covington gave us all a polite nod, then left the conference room.
"So not only do we have to hike up to some creepy ruins, but now, it's going to snow buckets on us too? Terrific," Daphne said.
"Afraid you'll get your pink snowsuit all messed up?" Oliver teased.
She glared at him. "The only thing that's going to get messed up is your face, Spartan. The second I shove my fist through it."
Oliver raised an eyebrow. "Bring it on, Valkyrie."
"Enough," I said. "That's enough. It's bad enough we know the Reapers are lurking around waiting to attack us again. Can we please not snipe at each other too?"
Daphne turned her glare to me, but I glared right back at her. After a moment, she sighed.
"All right," she said. "All right. I'm just a little stressed."
"We all are," Carson said in a soft voice. "But we'll be okay, as long as we stick together."
I flashed him a grateful smile. We were all silent for a moment before Ajax spoke.
"Well," he said. "I have to help Covington with the arrangements. You guys can hang out in the library while we work."
I nodded. Hopefully, we would have a quiet day here, and I could gather my thoughts and prepare for what was to come tomorrow - another trap set by the Reapers, most likely.
We trooped back out into the main part of the library. Covington waved at Ajax, and the two men disappeared into the glass office complex behind the checkout counter. My friends and I settled ourselves in the cushioned chairs in front of the fireplace. Even though no logs were burning, everyone else seemed perfectly happy to lean back in the chairs, close their eyes, and doze, but I couldn't sit still. Too much on my mind, too many things to worry about, and too many unanswered questions.
So I took off my coat, pulled Vic out of my messenger bag, and belted the sword around my waist, just in case there were any more Reaper attacks today. I also spent a few minutes fiddling with my bag and making sure that Ran's net was still safely tucked away inside, even though I doubted I'd have need of it anytime soon. After that, there wasn't anything left for me to do but start pacing back and forth through the chairs and study tables.
"Relax, Gwen," Oliver finally said, cracking one eye open at me. "Try to get a little rest. We'll have a tough enough day tomorrow."
"I know, I know," I grumbled. "But I hate that we have to sit here all day. I'm going to call my grandma and see how Nickamedes is doing."
Oliver nodded and went back to his dozing. I pulled my cell phone out of my jeans pocket and headed for the edge of the stacks. I stopped there, making sure to keep the others in sight, then hit the number that would speed-dial Grandma Frost. She answered on the second ring.
"Hello, pumpkin." Her warm, familiar voice flooded the line. "I thought it was about time for you to call."
"Hi, Grandma. How are you? How are Metis and Nickamedes?"
"We're all okay," she said. "I'm in the infirmary, sitting with Nickamedes and reading a book. He's asleep right now."
"How is he?"
"The same," she said. "No better, no worse."
"She's in the next room, sleeping. She's wearing herself out, coming in here and healing him every few hours, but so far, she's keeping the poison at bay."
I let out a breath. Well, that was something, I supposed.
"How are you, pumpkin?" Grandma Frost asked. "Where are you now?"
I filled her in on everything that had happened since we'd left the academy, including the Reaper attack on the train.
"There was something else," I said, finishing up my story. "I met someone today. A girl. Her name is Rory Forseti."
Grandma didn't say anything. For a moment, the only sound was the faint buzz of static over the line.
"Grandma? Did you hear me?"
After a moment, she sighed. "I heard you, pumpkin. I thought you might run into Rory out there."
My hand tightened around the phone. "Her last name is Forseti - just like my dad's was. Am I - are we - related?"
For a moment, I thought that Grandma wasn't going to answer me, but she finally let out another soft sigh.
"Yes," she said. "She's your cousin. Her father and your father were brothers."
My dad, Tyr, had died when I was two. My mom and grandma had always claimed that he'd passed away from cancer, but ever since I'd learned about the mythological world, I'd had a sneaking suspicion that he'd been killed, probably by Reapers, just like my mom had been murdered by Vivian. But so much had been going on that I hadn't thought to ask my grandma about him.
I didn't have any real memories of my dad, and my mom had only had a few photos of him that she'd shared with me. From the pictures I'd seen, Tyr Forseti had been a tall man with sandy hair, blue eyes, and a face that always seemed to have a hint of sadness in it, even when he had his arms wrapped around my mom and was smiling for the camera.
"Are there any others?" I asked. "Any other Forsetis?"
"No, as far as I know, Rory is the last Forseti. Her parents are both dead, and she lives with her mother's sister, her aunt," Grandma said.
"Why didn't you tell me about her?"
"Tyr . . . your father . . . didn't get along with the rest of his family," she answered. "Let the girl explain it all. It's more her story to tell than mine anyway, especially since she has to live with the consequences of it every day."
I frowned. "Consequences of what - "
Something rustled off to my left. I hadn't been paying attention to where I was walking, and I'd drifted back into the stacks while I'd been talking to Grandma Frost. Now, I was about halfway down one of the aisles, with books all around me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone watching me from the next shelf over.
I couldn't tell much about the figure. The stacks were actually shelves that had been carved out of the lumber logs, and the thickness of the wood cast deep shadows. The figure seemed to be tall, so I assumed it was a guy. He appeared to be wearing dark clothes, judging from the glimpses of his jeans and long coat that I got through the rows of books that separated us, but he was standing too far back in the shadows for me to get a good look at his face.
I was going to change that, though. No doubt he was some spy sent here to follow me and my friends since the Reapers had failed to kill us on the train. Maybe if I could sneak up on him, I could question him and get some answers as to what the Reapers were up to and why - and where Vivian and Agrona were hiding. Logan might not be here, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from tracking them down - and making Vivian and Agrona pay for what they'd done to him.
"I have to go, Grandma," I said. "I'll call you again later tonight, okay?"
"Just be careful. I love you, pumpkin."
"I love you too."
I hung up the phone. But instead of putting it away, I kept fiddling with it. I started pacing up and down the aisle, as though I were totally distracted and checking my text messages, even though I didn't have any. With every pass I made, I crept a little closer to the end of the aisle - and so did the guy on the other side.
He was keeping pace with me, and I was going to make him pay for it. When I was in range, I planned to grab Vic, charge around the end of the bookshelf, and put the sword up against the Reaper's throat. Okay, okay, so it wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than letting some Reaper creep spy on me and report back to Vivian and Agrona.
I finally got close enough to the end of the aisle to put my plan into action. I hit a few more buttons on my phone, scrolling through screen after screen, before sliding it back into my jeans pocket. I took a step forward, like I was going back to the center of the library, but at the last second, I pivoted, grabbed Vic from his scabbard around my waist, raised the sword high, and darted around the end of the bookcase and over into the next aisle, ready to attack whomever was watching me . . .
Empty - the aisle was completely, utterly empty.
I looked right and left and in front and behind me, but no one was there. I even peered through the rows of books, looking into the stacks on either side, but those aisles were as empty as this one was.
"Gwen?" Vic asked. He'd woken up when I'd abruptly yanked him out of his scabbard. "What are you doing? Are there Reapers to fight?"
I let out the breath I'd been holding. The Reaper must have realized that I was onto him and had slipped away into the stacks. He could be anywhere by now - if he'd really even been there to start with.
I thought I'd seen someone watching me, but now, I didn't know. Because it had been a long day already, and I was still jumpy and on edge from the Reaper attack this morning. Maybe someone had been watching me - or maybe I was imagining things the way I so often did. Either way, there was nothing for me to do but go back to my friends.