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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
Maybe it was Agrona's covetous look or maybe it was the way the weak winter sun glinted off Vic's blade, but I flashed back to two days ago when I'd been staring up at the flat ceiling inside the Library of Antiquities. Instead of the fresco of my friends and me fighting the Reapers, I'd only been able to see the weapons we carried - not who was actually wielding them.
My eyes went from one of my friends to the next. Daphne holding Sigyn's bow, ready to let loose the arrow nocked on the golden strings. Alexei slowly twirling the Swords of Ruslan around and around in his hands. Carson with the Horn of Roland hanging off the side of his bag. Me with Vic in my hand and Ran's net stuffed into my backpack.
"Artifacts," I whispered. "That's what this is all about."
Agrona raised an eyebrow, apparently surprised that I'd figured it out. She glanced at Vivian, who shrugged.
"I didn't say anything," Vivian said. "I was waiting for your grand entrance."
Agrona shot her a pointed glare, but Vivian gave her an angelic smile in return. After a moment, Agrona turned back to me.
"Well, I hate to ruin the surprise, but, yes, Gypsy, this is all about artifacts," she said. "According to my spies, you've been searching for artifacts lately - artifacts that I am very, very interested in. And surprise, surprise, you've actually managed to get your hands on at least one of them that I know of - Ran's net. What made you decide to start looking for artifacts?"
I kept my face blank. I wasn't going to tell her about the mission Nike had given me to find artifacts and keep them out of the Reapers' hands.
Agrona shrugged when she realized I wasn't going to respond. "Your answer doesn't really matter. All that does is that you walked right into my trap, just like I thought you would." Her eyes met mine. "At first, I was disappointed you didn't drink the poison I'd so thoughtfully sent your way, but this will work out even better. Now, we won't have to figure out some way to steal your sword from the academy. We'll just take it from your cold, dead body."
"That's why you poisoned Nickamedes?" Carson asked, pushing his glasses up his nose. "To get us here? In hopes that we'd bring our weapons along with us?"
"Not your weapons," Agrona sneered. "Your artifacts . Sigyn's bow. The Horn of Roland. The Swords of Ruslan. And, of course, Vic."
"Well, naturally," the sword crowed, his voice swelling with pride. "I do put the art in artifact."
I looked down at him. "Really?" I whispered. "You're really going to talk about how awesome you are at a time like this?"
"Certainly," Vic said. "Why wouldn't I?"
I rolled my eyes.
"We knew that if we poisoned Nike's Champion you would all be just frantic to find an antidote," Agrona said. "So frantic that you would forget about everything else, like the fact that it was so obviously a trap. It was simply a matter of picking the right poison and making sure you went exactly where we wanted you to. Fools. Don't you realize we've been watching you ever since you left North Carolina?"
"We realized," Ajax said. "But we had to come anyway. You made sure of that."
"Yeah," Daphne chimed in. "We take care of our friends no matter what. Something the two of you wouldn't know anything about."
Vivian clutched a hand to her heart. "Oh Valkyrie. I'm so very hurt by your words."
Daphne looked down her arrow at the other girl. "You'll be hurt when I put an arrow through your black heart."
Vivian raised Lucretia. "Bring it."
Agrona shot Vivian another warning glare. After a moment, the Reaper girl lowered her sword, although she kept glaring at Daphne.
"And of course you all obliged me by bringing along your artifacts, then traipsing up here to the ruins. Not only that, but you actually found the ambrosia flower, which will be a nice bonus," Agrona said. "So sad that you only want to use it on Nickamedes. It's quite powerful, you know. It has all sorts of uses. Why, legend says it can even heal the gods themselves."
Her words made me think back to the night Vivian had used my blood to free Loki at the Garm gate. The evil god had been powerful, but I'd also sensed weakness in him - that all the long centuries of being trapped in Helheim had taken their toll on him. Loki's weakness was the reason the Reapers had tried to put his soul into Logan - so the evil god would have a young, healthy body.
A numb feeling spread through me. "You're going to use the ambrosia flower to make Loki stronger."
"Well, well, Gwen. Look at you, being all smart again. But you're exactly right," Agrona purred. "We are going to give the ambrosia to our lord. It won't return him to his full strength, but it will take care of some of his . . . difficulties being in the mortal realm once again."
I didn't need to glance at the others to realize they were as horrified as I was. We'd thought the Reaper trap was only about killing us, but they had a plan within a plan within a plan just like they always did. Whatever happened, whether we lived or died, we couldn't let the Reapers take our artifacts - and we most especially couldn't let them have the ambrosia flower.
"Well, too bad none of that is going to happen," I said, trying to make my voice sound stronger and more confident than I felt. "You're not getting anything. Not one thing. Not our artifacts, not the ambrosia flower, not our lives."
Agrona laughed again. "Oh Gypsy. You always play the part of the fool so well, don't you?"
My fingers tightened around Vic's hilt. "Maybe. But I'd like to see you try and take my sword away."
Agrona smiled. "Gladly."
She jerked her head at Vivian. I tensed, expecting the Reaper girl to raise her sword and finally rush forward and start the fight. But instead, all Vivian did was put her fingers to her lips and let out a loud, earsplitting whistle.
Oliver gave her a mocking look. "What good do you think that's going to do you - "
A series of harsh cries rang out, drowning his voice. One moment, the only things in the sky were the snow-laden clouds. The next, Black rocs filled the space above the ruins. One by one, they dropped to the ground beside Vivian and Agrona, forming a solid line in front of us. There must have been more than a dozen rocs, all with a Reaper or two riding them. The Reapers' long, black robes fluttered in the wind, while the rubber masks covering their faces seemed especially hideous, mirror images of Loki glaring at us.
"Get ready," Ajax murmured, cracking his knuckles. "On my mark, raise your weapons and retreat back into the courtyard. Make the Reapers come to us. Engage them at will, but stay in groups and stay away from the rocs. Otherwise, the birds will tear us to pieces with their beaks and talons. Daphne, you stay behind all of us and pick off as many of the rocs as you can with your bow."
She nodded and started easing backward. The others tightened their grips on their weapons and raised them into attack position.
One by one, the Reapers unbuckled themselves from the rocs, slid to the ground, and started creeping forward. I drew in a breath and brought up Vic, ready to fight once more -
A hand snaked around my waist from behind. Before I could react, before I could move or try to fight back, cold, sharp metal pressed against my throat - a dagger.
But even more surprising was the person holding it.
"Don't make a move," Covington hissed at my friends. "Or Nike's Champion dies."
I hadn't seen or heard Covington move, but he had to be a Roman to have gotten behind me that fast. My friends looked back and forth between the dagger at my throat and the Reapers still creeping toward us. My psychometry kicked in, showing me flickers and flashes of all the people Covington had killed with the dagger - and how he planned to do the same thing to me.
"Covington?" Ajax asked, the shock apparent in his voice. "What are you doing?"
"What I've been doing for years," the librarian said in a sly, satisfied tone. "Ensuring the downfall of the pathetic Pantheon one death and one artifact at a time."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
He laughed in my ear, the sound even more chilling than the air around us. "Who do you think has been helping the Reapers find so many artifacts lately? I've been using the resources in the Library of Antiquities to track down the objects that we need - that Loki needs - to finally defeat the Pantheon and win the second Chaos War. But time and time again, you and your little friends have been there first. You've already gotten Sigyn's bow, the Swords of Ruslan, and the Horn of Roland, and you almost stopped Agrona from getting the Apate jewels. How are you doing it? How do you know so much about artifacts?"
I didn't answer him, but my eyes met Oliver's, and I could tell he was thinking about the same thing I was - the drawing he'd done for me of all the artifacts, people, and creatures that Nike had shown me. The one I had stuffed in my backpack right now. Another thing I couldn't let the Reapers get their hands on.
"Tell me!" Covington screamed and pressed the dagger into my throat.
I winced as the blade sliced into my skin, but I didn't answer him. I wasn't telling him about the drawing or the fact that I knew there were other artifacts out there - ones that might make the difference between who won and who lost the looming Chaos War. I wasn't telling him anything - not one damn thing.
I didn't get a chance to respond before Rachel stepped forward, a horrified look on her face.
"Rebecca . . . Tyson . . . You said they attacked you. That they were trying to steal artifacts from the library. You said they murdered those students, and that you had no choice but to defend yourself against them - against the poor, misguided Reapers. That's what you called them."
"They were fools," Covington sneered. "They agreed to break in to the Library of Antiquities and steal artifacts to make it look like a robbery and a Reaper attack gone wrong so suspicion wouldn't fall on me. But at the last moment, they changed their minds and tried to stop me."
Rory moved to stand beside Rachel. Anger made her cheeks burn and her eyes flash, and her hands were clenched into tight fists. "Why? Why did they try to stop you?"
"They were unhappy," he sneered again. "They didn't want you to grow up to be like them. Boo-hoo. They were even talking about leaving the Reapers completely. But they should have known better. No one leaves us - ever."
"So you framed them," Rory said, her voice raspy with rage. "You framed them for what you did."
"Oh, grow up, you stupid girl," Covington snapped. "Your precious parents were hardly innocent. They were Reapers for years - years. You have no idea the things they did, all in service to Loki."
Tears streaked down Rory's face, but she didn't bother to brush them away. Rachel was crying too, but she had the same hurt, determined expression on her face as Rory.
Covington laughed at their tears and anger. "And do you know what the best part is? That you two were dumb enough to come up here with the rest of these fools. Why do you think I asked you to be our guide?"
Confusion filled Rachel's face, but I had a sinking feeling I knew exactly what he was getting at.
"Because I'm the only one from our group who will go back to the academy alive," Covington answered. "There will be a Protectorate investigation, of course, but in the end, it'll look like I finally took care of the rest of the Forseti family of Reapers."
So not only was he going to help Vivian and Agrona kill us, but the librarian was also planning to frame Rachel and Rory for our murders. And of course everyone would believe him, given the fact that Rory's parents had been Reapers. Cruel - very, very cruel.
"You're not going to get away with it," Rory vowed. "I won't let you."
More tears slid down her face, but she slowly started advancing on the librarian. So did Rachel. Meanwhile, the Reapers crept up on my friends, who were standing their ground. My friends hesitated, wanting to attack the Reapers, but they couldn't - not as long as Covington had his dagger against my throat - which meant that I had to find some way to free myself or we were all dead.
I quickly considered my options. Sure, I had Vic clenched in my right hand, but I couldn't raise the sword and attack the librarian with it. Not with Covington right behind me. So I concentrated on exactly how and where he was standing. He had his left hand around my waist, and his right one at my throat, still holding the dagger. Warm blood trickled down my neck from where he'd cut me already.
No, I couldn't use Vic, not without getting my throat sliced open, but the sword wasn't my only weapon - I had my touch magic too.
That's what I'd used on Preston Ashton when he'd stabbed me with the Helheim Dagger. I'd pulled the Reaper boy's life force into my own body and healed myself with it - and Preston had died as a result. Killing him had been horrible enough, but Vic had wanted me to do the same thing to Logan, to keep him from murdering me when he'd been under the influence of the Apate jewels. But I'd refused. I hadn't wanted to hurt Logan. I hadn't wanted to use my Gypsy gift that way. Not again - never again.
But Covington was a Reaper, he was my enemy, and he'd happily led me and my friends into Agrona and Vivian's trap. Not only that, but he'd framed Rory's parents for something they hadn't even done.
Killing Preston with my touch magic had sickened me, and the thought of using it on Covington was making me ill right now, but I didn't see any other way out of this. My friends couldn't defend themselves until I was free, and this was the only way I could slither out of the librarian's grasp.