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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
But I had a job to do, so instead I concentrated, focusing on the net and all of the images, memories, and emotions attached to it, but the scene and the feelings didn't change. After a few more seconds, I opened my eyes, unwound my fingers from the gray seaweed, and stuffed the net and the card back into my bag.
"Anything new?" Oliver asked, watching me.
I shook my head. "Nothing I haven't seen before."
"But Nike showed it to you, so it has to be important, right?"
"I guess. Although I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with a mythological fishing net when we're hundreds of miles away from the ocean."
My eyes drifted upward, searching for inspiration - or some sort of clue. For months, I'd only been able to see darkness whenever I'd gazed up at the ceiling inside the Library of Antiquities. But a few weeks ago, Nike had shown me the amazing fresco hidden beneath the shadows - one of me and my friends fighting the Reapers in some great battle. Each of us had been holding a weapon or some other object, and those were the artifacts that Nike had asked me to find and keep out of the Reapers' hands. So far, though, Ran's net had been the only thing I'd been able to identify and track down.
But once again, shadows obscured the fresco. No help there. At least not tonight.
"But it looks like the net in my drawing, right?" Oliver asked.
I couldn't draw to save my life, but Oliver had some mad art mojo so he'd happily sketched the fresco for me, based on my own crude drawings and descriptions. His detailed sketch was also nestled inside my messenger bag for safekeeping.
"Your drawing is perfect, and this is definitely the right net," I said. "It's not your fault I'm too dumb to understand what the big deal is about it."
"Don't worry, Gwen. You'll figure it out. You always do. I have faith in you."
"Well, it's a good thing one of us does," I grumbled.
Oliver grinned at my sarcasm.
Since I'd struck out with the net, I shelved a few more books and dusted a couple more artifact cases, but my mind wasn't on the tasks, and I was only going through the motions, just like I had ever since Logan had left. More than once, I found myself staring off into space, wondering where he was and what he was doing. If he was okay. If he was cold or hungry or scared or tired.
If he was thinking about me.
After about two minutes of that, I'd shake off my sorrow and get angry at for myself for obsessing about him. Vic was right. I really needed to quit brooding and get on with killing Reapers. Or at the very least, finish my homework for tomorrow.
Easier said than done. Because five minutes later, instead of reading through my myth-history book like I should have been, I found myself thinking about Logan again.
Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer, so I turned around on my stool and faced Oliver, who was messing with his phone.
"So . . ." I said in a light voice, trying not to let on how important this was to me. "Have you heard anything from Logan?"
Oliver froze. He looked at me, then glanced down at the screen. Guilt flickered in his green eyes.
"You're texting with him right now, aren't you?"
Oliver winced. He typed something else on his phone, then slid the device into his pants pocket. He didn't answer my question.
"How is he? Where is he? Is he okay? Is he ever coming back to the academy?"
They were the same questions I'd asked everyone a hundred times already. The same ones I thought about late at night in my room, especially after I'd had one of my nightmares.
Oliver sighed. "Logan needs some time, Gwen. He needs some space, from the academy and everything that happened. But yes, to answer your question, he's fine. At least, that's what he says when he texts me." He hesitated. "If it helps at all, he asks about you all the time."
"And what do you tell him?" I asked in a soft voice.
He hesitated again. "That you miss him. That we all miss him. That we need him, and that he should get his ass back here as soon as he can."
"And what does he say to that?"
Oliver shrugged. "Nothing. Just . . . nothing. I don't know when he's coming back. I don't know if he's ever coming back. Not after what the Reapers did to him. And especially not after what he did to you."
I let out a breath. The thought that Logan might never return was one I hadn't let myself dwell on too much, but now, it was all I could think about, like a cold fist wrapped around my heart and slowly crushing it, crushing me, from the inside out. Suddenly, it was too small behind the checkout counter. Too cramped, too cluttered, and much too crowded for me to catch my breath.
Oliver noticed my stricken expression. "I didn't mean that, Gwen. It's not your fault Logan's gone."
But it was, and we both knew it. I shook my head, grabbed some books, and disappeared into the stacks before Oliver could see how much I was hurting.
Thankfully, Oliver decided not to follow me. I went back to a remote part of the stacks, the spot where Vic's case had once been. I stood there, eyes closed, books clutched to my chest, trying to breathe. In and out, in and out, in and out, like my mom had taught me to do whenever I was worried, nervous, scared, or upset.
Worried? Check. Upset? Definitely. And once again, I felt that spurt of anger at Logan for not being here, for leaving me behind to deal with everything.
It took a few minutes, but my heart stopped aching, and the pressure in my lungs slowly eased. I still felt cold inside, though - cold, dull, and empty. My anger was gone, or at least iced over for the moment, and I couldn't even cry. My tears seemed to be as frozen as the rest of me felt deep down inside.
Once again, I went through the motions, shelving the books I'd grabbed. When that was done, I wandered up the stairs to the second floor. It was quieter here, and the only sound was the faint scuffle of my sneakers on the marble. Oliver would probably get worried and come looking for me at some point, but for now, I enjoyed the silence - and the solitude.
Eventually, I wound up in a familiar spot in the circular pantheon - in front of Nike's statue.
The Greek goddess of victory looked the same in her marble form as when she appeared to me in real life. Her hair twisted into ringlets and falling down past her slim shoulders. A white, toga-like gown wrapped around her slender, muscled body. Wings arching up over her back. A crown of laurels resting on top of her head. Features that were somehow strong, cold, terrible, and beautiful all at the same time.
Normally, I said a few words to the goddess whenever I came up here to her statue, but I didn't feel like it tonight. Instead, I curled up into a ball at the base of the statue and leaned my head back against the cool, smooth marble.
After a while, I felt calmer, like I had the strength to go downstairs and face the rest of the night, but I stayed where I was. Since I was on the second floor, I had a bird's-eye view of all the students studying below - including the guy standing by the checkout counter.
I wasn't sure what drew my attention to him. Maybe it was the way he just stood there, as though he were waiting for someone to come and help him. Maybe it was the furtive looks he kept giving Oliver, who was still sitting behind the counter and texting on his phone again, oblivious to everything else. Or maybe it was the fact that he didn't have anything in his hands. No textbooks, no notepads, no pens, not even a tablet that he was using to idly surf the web instead of doing his homework like he should have been. But something about the guy just seemed . . . wrong.
I scooted over to the edge of the balcony so I could get a better look at him. Jeans, green sweater, brown boots, brown leather jacket. He had on the same clothes as everyone else, right down to the designer logos that covered the expensive fabrics. So I studied his face. Brown hair, dark eyes, tan skin.
Wait a second. I knew him. Jason Anderson. A Viking and a second-year student like me. He sat two desks over from me in English-lit. I'd never paid much attention to Jason before, except to say hello or ask him to pass me a book or a copy of the latest pop quiz we were taking. But something about him made me keep watching him now.
Jason tentatively put one hand on the counter, then another one - and then he reached out and grabbed my water bottle.
I frowned. What was he doing messing with my drink? As I watched, Jason slid a small white pouch out of his jeans pocket. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching him, then dropped the bottle down by his side and held the pouch up over it. Some sort of white powder dropped into the water. Jason quickly swirled around the liquid inside so the powder dissolved in it.
I sucked in a breath. Was he - could he be - was he poisoning my water?
Jason put the bottle back on the counter where it had been. He started to turn around, but then he spotted the second bottle - the one that belonged to Nickamedes. Jason must not have been sure which water was mine because he glanced around again, then did the same thing to that bottle. White powder, shake the water around until the poison dissolved, then set it down like he'd never even picked it up to start with.
"Reaper," I muttered.
Jason glanced around a final time, making sure no one had seen what he'd done. Then, he turned, went over to the study table where he'd been sitting, and gathered up his things. Now that his mission was complete, he was leaving the library, leaving the scene of the crime.
My eyes narrowed. Not if I could help it.
I scrambled to my feet and started to run.
I ran into the stairwell and raced down the steps as fast as I could. I was in such a rush that I jumped down the last five steps, almost falling on my face before I managed to right myself at the last second. I drew in a breath and hurried along the back wall of the library. More than a few couples stood in the shadowy stacks, eagerly macking on each other, but I didn't have time to be disgusted by the PDAs. My focus was on stopping the Reaper boy - nothing else mattered right now.
I broke free of the stacks and skidded to a halt in the middle of the main aisle. Jason had been walking toward the open double doors that led out of the library. He'd been texting on his phone, and his head snapped up at the squeak-squeak-squeak of my sneakers on the floor.
"You!" I screamed, pointing my finger at him. "Jason Anderson! Stop right there!"
The Reaper froze. He was in the middle of the study tables, and all the kids stared at him, then me, wondering what was going on.
I slowly walked toward him, not sure what other tricks he might be plotting. Jason blinked and stuffed his phone into his jacket pocket. His hand also dropped down, and he fumbled with a zipper on his backpack. I picked up my pace and charged at him, not wanting to give him the chance to draw a weapon on me, especially since Vic was still in his spot behind the checkout counter.
I put my shoulder down and barreled into the Reaper, laying him out like a linebacker would a quarterback, and we both went down in a heap, slip-slip-sliding across the slick floor. All sorts of things slid out of his open backpack - books, pens, his laptop, a sword encased in a red leather scabbard.
"Gwen!" Oliver's voice rang out above the confused shouts of the other kids.
"Reaper!" I yelled back, surging to my feet. "He's a Reaper!"
Jason reached out, snatched up his sword, pulled the weapon free of the scabbard, and got back on his feet.
"Die, Gypsy!" Jason hissed at me.
He raised his sword high, and I ducked to one side. The blade sliced by my shoulder and sank into the top of one of the study tables, right in front of where Helena Paxton, a mean-girl Amazon, had been sitting. Helena shrieked, pushed her chair back, and stumbled away.
Jason cursed and struggled to pull his weapon free of the wood. I snatched up one of Helena's books off the table, darted forward, and slammed it into the side of his head. He cursed again and lashed out at me with his fist. I turned, so that the blow only dug into my shoulder, but I still yelped as pain exploded in the joint and shot down into my arm, making me lose my grip on the book, which clattered to the floor. He definitely packed a punch with his great Viking strength. I started to throw myself forward again, but Jason managed to pull his weapon free. I stopped short. He grinned, realizing that I didn't have a sword, and he crept even closer to me.
"Now what you are going to do, Gypsy?" he taunted.
Jason raised his blade for another strike, and I lurched to the side -
A pencil zipped through the air and embedded itself in Jason's shoulder, causing him to arch back and scream with pain. It was quickly followed by two more pencils, a roll of tape, and a metal stapler that beaned him in the side of the head with a loud, satisfying thwack.
I looked past the Reaper. Oliver stood behind the checkout counter, his green eyes narrowed, already reaching for one of the computer keyboards. Spartans had the freaky ability to pick up any weapon - or any object - and automatically know how to kill someone with it. In Oliver's hands, that keyboard could be as deadly as a battle-ax.
But the Spartan wasn't the only one on my side now.
My fight with Jason had stunned the other students, but their surprise had quickly worn off. Chairs scraped back, shouts rose up, and the other kids started digging into their bags, drawing out the swords, staffs, and spears that were their weapons of choice. Oliver yanked the keyboard off the counter and headed toward the Reaper. Jason's eyes flicked from one kid to another, and he realized he was going to be seriously outnumbered in another minute.
"This isn't over, Gypsy!" Jason hissed again.
Then, he turned and ran toward the back of the library.
For a second, I froze, surprised that he wasn't going to stand and fight, but then I bolted into action, running after him. Jason had headed toward the right side of the library, away from Oliver, who was rushing toward him from the left, the keyboard still clutched in his hand.