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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
I let out a bitter laugh. Maybe I wasn't angry so much as I was jealous. Because if I never saw another Reaper again, it would be too soon. But there was nothing I could about that - or anything else.
Nothing at all.
So I slid the photo of me and Logan into the frame, then hugged the silver to my chest, as though it would ease my anger, as though it would soothe the hollow ache inside me, as though it were a shield that would protect me, as though the small bit of metal would keep my heart from breaking any more than it already had.
It didn't, of course, but at least I felt that I could breathe again and that the walls weren't closing in on me. So I sat there on Logan's bed, holding the photo of us, for a while longer.
I made it back to my dorm right before the ten o'clock curfew, but I didn't sleep much that night. Every time I started to drift off, I would jerk awake, worried that I'd have another nightmare about Logan and the Reapers. Finally, I gave up trying to sleep, wrapped myself in my comforter, curled up in the padded window seat, and stared out into the dark of the night. That way if Vivian and the rest of the Reapers attacked, at least I'd see them coming.
But no Reapers appeared, the sun came up, the way it always did, and I had to face another day.
Weapons training with my friends Oliver and Kenzie in the gym. Morning classes. Lunch with Oliver and Alexei. Afternoon classes. A quick visit off-campus to see my Grandma Frost. Same-old, same-old, right up until it was time for me to go work my shift at the Library of Antiquities.
Normally, I would have been sprawled across my bed, reading through my latest stash of comic books and eating some sinfully sweet treat that Grandma Frost had baked for me. But right now, I was in another dorm room, one where the walls, the ceiling, and the curtains were all pink. I shifted on the bed, wrinkling the comforter, which was also, you guessed it, pink. Sunlight streaming in through the lace curtains slanted across the bookcase in the corner, highlighting the volumes there. Even her myth-history books had pink covers on them. How had she managed that?
I didn't consider myself a tomboy, but I certainly was no girly-girl, and being around so much pink made me a little queasy. If I didn't have nightmares already, I certainly would now. No doubt the next time I dreamed about Logan killing me, he'd be wearing a pink leather jacket. I snorted at the thought.
A pair of fingers snapped in front of my face, followed by a shower of princess pink sparks. I jerked away from the explosion of magic and looked up to find Daphne Cruz standing in front of me, her hands on her hips and her foot tapping out a quick rhythm on the pink rug on the floor.
"Gwen? Are you even paying attention to me?"
"Sure," I said in a bright voice. "I was just waiting for you to try on the next dress."
Daphne's black eyes narrowed, and more sparks shot out of her fingertips. Like all Valkyries, Daphne always gave off more magic whenever she was angry, upset - or aggravated, in this case, by me and my complete lack of fashion sense.
She'd asked me over here to help her pick out something to wear for a big date that she had planned for next weekend with her boyfriend, band geek Carson Callahan. I'd been sitting on Daphne's bed for the last hour, watching her try on dresses, sweaters, and the occasional pair of pink designer jeans, all with matching purses, jewelry, and other accessories.
"Well?" she demanded. "What do you think of this one?"
She twirled around, causing her blond hair to dance around her shoulders and the short skirt on her pink dress to swirl out around her legs. The rich color of the fabric made me long for some of Grandma Frost's homemade strawberry ice cream.
"Um . . . it's very... pink?"
Daphne rolled her eyes. "Of course, it's pink. Is there any other color? But do you like this pink dress better than the raspberry one I tried on a minute ago? Or what about the cotton candy skirt I showed you before that? I think I have a bubblegum sweater in my closet somewhere too . . ."
Daphne stalked over to her closet and started grabbing even more clothes out of the depths, tossing them aside until she found the ones she wanted. With her great Valkyrie strength, the garments flew all over the room, landing on the bookcase, the TV, and even on the computer monitors, servers, and hard drives on her desk that she loved to tinker with in her spare time.
I ducked down just in time to avoid getting hit in the face by a baby pink turtleneck. Desperate, I glanced at Vic for help, since I'd propped him up on the bed when I'd first come into the room. But the sword's mouth was open, and he was snoring softly. Vic wasn't into fashion any more than I was. I'd brought Nyx along too, and the wolf pup was crouched down on the floor on the far side of the room, getting ready to pounce on a stuffed Hello Kitty that was propped up against the bottom of one of the bookcases. Even the plush toy had on a pink dress.
"There it is!" Daphne said, stepping away from the closet, a pale cashmere sweater in her hands. "What do you think about this?"
She held the sweater up over the dress she was wearing, and the color made her amber skin seem even lovelier than usual.
"I like it," I said. "It's very . . . pink."
I winced again, but Daphne beamed at me.
"It is one of my favorite sweaters," she said, holding it up to her chest again and admiring her reflection in the mirror over her vanity table. "I don't know why I didn't think of it before. Thanks, Gwen."
"Sure. No problem."
"And I'm sure it will be just perfect for the restaurant where Carson is taking me."
Daphne must have picked up on my less-than-enthusiastic voice because she abruptly spun back around to face me. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be talking about Carson and some stupid date that he's taking me on. Not with Logan..."
Her voice trailed off, and this time, she winced.
"Not with Logan gone," I finished.
"I'm sorry, Gwen. This was a dumb idea, wasn't it? I just wanted to cheer you up - "
I held up my hand, cutting her off. "No, it's fine. Just because Logan isn't here doesn't mean that life doesn't go on. That we don't go on. I'm glad that you and Carson are so happy together. And coming here today helped take my mind off . . . other things."
Namely, my nightmares, although I didn't tell her that. I hadn't told Grandma Frost or Professor Metis about them either. Vic and Nyx were the only ones who knew that I dreamed about Logan stabbing me over and over again, if only because they were with me in my room every night and had to listen to my screams.
Daphne chewed her lower lip in doubt, and more sparks of magic flickered in the air around her. I made myself smile at her, hoping to convince her that I was having a great time. Yeah, maybe it hadn't been the easiest thing in the world, hearing her chatter on about her date with Carson, especially since my one and only date with Logan had ended with me getting arrested by the Protectorate a few weeks ago. But she was just trying to be a good friend, and I wasn't going to ruin her fun because I was tired, cranky, and worried about problems I couldn't fix.
"Are you sure?" Daphne asked, tossing her sweater aside and plopping down on the bed beside me. "Because we can totally do something else."
"I'm sure," I replied in a firm voice. "Besides, we've only been through half your closet. We can't stop now."
Daphne arched an eyebrow. "Your sarcasm is noted."
She reached down, grabbed a pillow off the bed, and threw it at me, but I laughed and easily ducked down out of the way.
An alarm on my cell phone beeped, reminding me that I had fifteen minutes to get my butt in gear and get over to the library.
"And fun time is officially over," I said, making a face and getting up off the bed. "Gotta go slave away in the library. You know Nickamedes will be on my case if I'm so much as one minute late."
On the floor, Nyx let out a fierce growl and finally pounced on the stuffed toy, tearing into it with her baby teeth. Vic's eye snapped open at the sound of the fabric ripping, and he stared at the wolf pup.
"Way to go, fuzzball," Vic said. "You're getting much better at pouncing on things. I approve. Soon, you'll be ready to take on some Reapers."
Nyx puffed up with pride and spent the next two minutes racing from one side of the room to the other, the Hello Kitty plushie hanging out of her mouth as she showed off her prize to me, Vic, and Daphne.
"You know that was my favorite toy, right?" Daphne groused.
"Well, just think," I chirped. "Now you can buy a new one . . . that's wearing even more pink."
Daphne gave me a shove, careful not to hurt me with her Valkyrie strength. I laughed and tossed a pillow back at her.
Nyx plopped down on her butt, tilted her head back, and let out a triumphant, if slightly squeaky, howl. She'd totally killed Hello Kitty, and she knew it. And even Daphne had to smile at that.
Daphne offered to walk with me over to the library, but I told her to stay put and finish going through her closet. She reluctantly agreed.
Usually, Alexei would have been waiting outside Daphne's dorm, Valhalla Hall, to walk with me wherever I was going, but he'd texted me to say he was busy with something and he'd meet me at the library. So I looped my gray messenger bag over my chest, clipped a purple leash to the collar Nyx was wearing, per Linus Quinn and the Protectorate's rules, and headed out.
It was even colder today than it had been yesterday, and the whistling winter wind cut through my thick layers of clothes like they weren't even there. But campus was much livelier this afternoon, as kids went to their after-school clubs, sports, and activities, headed over to the dining hall to get some supper, or trudged toward the library to finally get started on that essay that was due, like, first thing in the morning.
I walked along the cobblestone path winding up the hill and stepped onto the main quad, which featured the five buildings where students spent most of their time - English-history, math-science, the gym, the dining hall, and the Library of Antiquities.
I tucked my chin down into my scarf and hurried over to the library. Despite the cold, I stopped a moment at the bottom of the main steps, where two gryphon statues sat.
Eagle heads, wings, lions' bodies, long tails, curved beaks, sharp talons. The gryphons seemed like they were about a breath away from breaking free of their stone shells and attacking anyone who so much as glanced at them funny. But it wasn't just how fierce they looked that made them seem special to me. There was some sort of presence, some spark of life, deep inside the stone. I'd felt it before when I'd touched the statues, and I could sense it now. But instead of filling me with dread like it used to, the fact that the gryphons were watching over me gave me a sense of comfort and peace. As if maybe they really would spring to life and help if something terrible happened here.
Another cold blast of wind swept across the quad, making me shiver, so I gave the gryphons a small salute, then left the statues behind, hurried up the steps, and headed into the library.
It might be cold, dark, and gloomy outside, but the high dome that arced over the main space gave the inside of the library a bright, airy feel. Stacks of books ringed the bottom floor, while a wide aisle cut through the middle of them and led to a series of glassed-in offices in the center of the enormous room. Acres of marble made up the floor and the walls, but my gaze drifted up to the second floor and the statues there - the ones of all the gods and goddesses of all the cultures of the world.
The statues circled the entire balcony, each facing out toward the center of the library, as if they were watching over the students studying below. Slender columns separated the statues from each other, although it sometimes seemed to me as if the gods and goddesses were leaning around the columns and whispering to each other about all the happenings below. Then again, that might have just been my psychometry playing tricks on me, like it so often did, especially where statues were concerned.
I walked down the main aisle, but instead of going behind the checkout counter, logging on to the computer system, and getting to work, I veered off to my right, where a freestanding coffee cart was shoved in between some study tables and the stacks behind them. I got in line and breathed in, enjoying the rich, dark aroma of the hot espresso mixed with the softer scents of chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon that flavored the air.
Maybe it was the cold outside, but I wasn't the only one who wanted a drink or a snack, and several kids were ahead of me in line. As I stood there, I was aware of eyes on me. Except this time, it wasn't the statues who were watching me - it was my fellow students.
I knew what they saw when they looked at me - a girl with violet-colored eyes and frizzy, wavy brown hair who was wearing not-so-designer jeans, sneakers, and a gray T-shirt and sweater under her purple plaid jacket. Nothing really out of the ordinary or impressive, but the students started talking all the same.
"Look. There's Gwen Frost."
"Is that a real Fenrir wolf she has with her? It's so cute!"
"I wonder what she's up to now?"
"The Gypsy girl? Probably trying to figure out how to stop the Reapers. They say she's Nike's Champion . . ."
Those whispers and more swirled around me like the bits of snow had outside. I grimaced, but there was nothing I could do but pretend I didn't hear everyone talking about me or the chimes on their phones as they texted their friends about the latest Gwen Frost sighting. Daphne had told me that someone had even come up with an app so everyone could track me around campus with their phones. As if I didn't have enough problems already without everyone knowing exactly where I was all the freaking time.
Oh yeah, everyone seemed to be watching every move I made, and it had only gotten worse since the Reaper attack at the winter band concert. Now, all the kids at Mythos knew that I was Nike's Champion - and that I was supposed to save us all.