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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
My head snapped to the side, even as my fingers fumbled across the seat, straining to reach Vic's hilt - but it was only Coach Ajax looming over me. I let out a breath.
"I'm going to the snack car to get some coffee," Ajax said. "Want anything?"
I shook my head. "Thanks, but I'm good."
"Well, I'm starving," Daphne piped up.
"Me too," Carson said.
The two of them got up and followed Ajax. The coach walked to the front of the car, swaying from side to side with the motion of the train. He reached the door and hit the button so he could step forward into the next car; then he, Daphne, and Carson disappeared from sight. Oliver and Alexei slept on, their heads close together as they leaned on each other. The two guys made a cute couple. They'd met over winter break and had been totally into each other, although they hadn't officially started dating until a few weeks ago.
The minutes ticked by, and I started to wonder what was taking Ajax, Daphne, and Carson so long. I leaned over into the aisle. Through the glass in the doors at the front, I could see folks standing in the middle of the aisle in the next car up. That must be the line for the snack car. Looked like my friends weren't the only ones who'd wanted some breakfast. I sighed, leaned back, and stared out the windows again.
Another five minutes passed. Then, one of the girls in the front of the car got up and headed toward the back. At first, I wondered why, until I remembered that was where the bathrooms were. Still, I tensed up as the other girl approached me. Something about her seemed a little . . . off.
She glanced down and realized I was staring at her. The girl hesitated, then gave me a small smile. I nodded at her. But instead of nodding back, her eyes slid past me and fixed on Vic. For a moment, something sparked in her gaze. I couldn't tell exactly what it was, but it almost seemed like . . . satisfaction.
Her smile widened, and she stared at Vic a second longer before she noticed I was watching her watch my sword. Her features twisted into a grimace, and her gaze snapped straight ahead, as though I'd caught her doing something she shouldn't. Yeah, it was weird that she'd noticed Vic. Then again, it was weird for me to have a sword on a train, even this train that catered to Mythos students. And I still couldn't put my finger on what was bugging me about her so much, other than her curious interest in Vic.
It was only when she took a step past me that I realized she had one of her hands down by her side, instead of putting both of them on top of the brass rails for balance as she made her way to the back. I frowned, wondering why she would walk like that when the train was shuddering so much right now. The car rocked again, and the girl lurched to her right - letting me see the glint of silver underneath her long, black coat.
The girl froze for a moment, realizing that I'd noticed something. Then, she gave a small shrug, as though it were no big deal. She took another step forward, then another. I turned my head, following her movements.
She'd almost gone all the way past me when she abruptly whirled back in my direction. The girl whipped out a sword from underneath her coat, raised it high, and brought it down - aiming for my head.
Instinct took over, and I immediately ducked down and to my right.
The girl's sword hit the top of the brass rail in front of me instead of driving deep into my skull. I scrambled to my feet, bumping my knees against the back of the bench in front of me.
But the girl was quick - Amazon quick. She stepped back, twirled the sword around in her hands, and raised it again for another strike. Since there was no way I could reach out, grab Vic, and use him to block her blow, I put my hands on the brass railing behind me, hefted myself up off the ground, and kicked out with my feet, catching her in the stomach.
The Reaper girl let out a loud oof! as the air hissed out of her lungs, but she didn't go down. I braced myself on the seats, pushed up, and kicked her again. This time, she staggered to the side - and landed right on top of Oliver and Alexei.
"Hey!" Oliver snapped. "I'm sleeping here!"
"What the - " Alexei muttered.
I didn't bother yelling about how I was getting attacked by yet another Reaper. The guys would figure that out soon enough. Looked like Ajax's plan to travel on the down low hadn't worked quite as well as he and Metis had thought it would.
While the girl scrambled up off Oliver's lap, I reached over and grabbed Vic.
"Look," I said, slipping out from behind the bench so that I was standing in the middle of the aisle. "A Reaper. Do you forgive me now?"
The sword eyed the girl, who was once again raising her sword and charging at me. "I'll let you know after we kill her."
I didn't have time to respond before the Reaper was on me.
Up and down the aisle we fought, each one of us trying to drive her sword into the other. I ducked under the Reaper girl's swing and shoved past her, putting myself between her and my friends. I glanced over my shoulder. Behind me, I could see Oliver trying to crawl over the benches in order to get behind the Reaper girl, while Alexei was struggling to pull his two swords out of his black backpack. I knew my friends wanted to help me, but there wasn't time. Besides, I wanted to fight the Reaper, wanted to take my pain, anger, worry, and fear out on her. So I stepped up and focused on my enemy.
The girl was unbelievably quick, like all Amazons are, but the constant lurching of the train was messing with her balance more than it was mine. It made all of her attacks miss the mark by just that much. Through the windows, I could see a large curve coming up ahead, and I knew the train would lurch to the left. So I parried the girl's blows and waited for the right moment.
A minute later, the train screeched around the curve just as the girl raised her sword over her head. Her vicious strike, along with the train's rocking, put her even that much more off balance, and she almost fell onto one of the benches before she managed to right herself.
I leaned into the curve and let the train's momentum carry me forward into the girl - and help me bury Vic's sharp point in her stomach.
She sucked in a breath that was equal parts pain and surprise. The train swayed the other way, and I pulled the blade free.
The girl's sword fell to the floor, and she pressed her hands to her stomach, her breath coming in short, painful gasps. She looked down in disbelief at all the blood gushing out of her wound, then back up at me. For a moment, a spark of Reaper red fire shimmered in her eyes. Then, it was abruptly snuffed out, like a light that had been turned off. The girl pitched forward onto one of the tables, her head cracking against the window, even as her legs went out from under her. She didn't move after that.
Breathing hard, I stared down at the dead Reaper. I didn't know her, had never seen her before, but the thing that struck me the most was that she appeared to be about the same age as Jason Anderson. Just a kid. Just like me. And now she was dead like he was - all because of me.
"Gwen?" Oliver slid free of the bench he'd been trying to crawl over, stepped forward, and put a hand on my shoulder.
"I'm okay," I said. "She didn't hurt me."
Not on the outside anyway, even though killing her had caused another little painful crack to zigzag across my heart. I wondered how many more cracks it could take before it crumbled completely.
Naturally, the fight had attracted the attention of the other passengers, and they scrambled to their feet and turned around to see what had caused all the commotion.
I let out a breath and raised Vic. "So do you forgive me now?"
"I might," the sword said. "If you live through the rest of the fight."
I frowned. "Rest of the fight? What are you talking about?"
Vic rolled his eye forward.
I looked in that direction and got my answer a second later. Because the folks in the front of the car weren't getting up because they were concerned about the battle. Oh no. They were getting to their feet because they were all wearing long, black coats, just like the Reaper girl.
And because they all held sharp, curved swords, just like hers - and because every single person's eyes were glowing that bright, eerie Reaper red.
Oliver and Alexei realized what was happening the same time I did. Oliver cursed, while Alexei finally pulled his twin swords out of his backpack. Oliver grabbed my shoulder and shoved me behind him, so that I was standing in between him and Alexei.
"We need to get out of here," Alexei said.
The Bogatyr turned toward the back of the car. He hadn't taken two steps in that direction before the door hissed open, and more people entered from that side, also wearing long, black coats and carrying swords. The fiery red glow from the Reapers' eyes seemed to darken the inside of the train, despite the sunlight streaming in through the windows.
Alexei stopped short, and I almost rammed into him from behind.
"Trapped," he said in a voice loud enough for Oliver to hear. "Exit's blocked."
"Same on my side," Oliver said, reaching down and grabbing a magazine from the slot on the back of one of the benches.
"Well, then," Alexei said, twirling his swords. "Let's clear a path."
"My pleasure," Oliver replied, rolling the magazine into a long, thin, tight tube.
The two guys rushed forward to meet our enemies.
Alexei's twin swords smashed against the blade of the Reaper in front of him. Even though he could only maneuver from one side of the aisle to the other, Alexei never stopped moving, never stopped fighting, never stopped attacking. Bogatyrs had incredible endurance that way.
On his side of the car, Oliver ducked under a Reaper's wide swing. The Spartan might not have had a traditional weapon, but he didn't need one. He whipped the rolled-up magazine this way and that, slamming it into his opponent's chest, throat, and face.
The Reaper choked and sputtered, trying to suck air back down into his lungs. While he was distracted, Oliver plucked the Reaper's sword out of the other guy's hand, flipped it around, and then stabbed the Reaper in the chest with his own weapon. I couldn't see Oliver's face, but he was probably grinning.
Logan would have been.
But as soon as that Reaper toppled to the floor, another stepped up to take his place - and all I could do was stand in the middle and watch my friends fight another battle for me.
I turned first one way, then the other, but the aisle wasn't quite wide enough for me to get to the Reapers from where I was standing. At least, not without me pushing past Oliver or Alexei, and I couldn't risk doing that for fear of spoiling their concentration. But I was determined to help my friends, so I hopped up onto the bench on my left and started crawling over it toward the back of the car, where the majority of the Reapers seemed to be coming from.
"Gwen!" Alexei said, spotting me out of the corner of his eye and realizing what I was up to. "Stay put! Stay behind me!"
I didn't bother answering him. I couldn't stay put, and I couldn't just stand there and do nothing. Not while he and Oliver were fighting so many Reapers. I might not be the best or most skilled warrior, but I was no coward, especially when it came to helping my friends.
As I heaved myself across the benches, I noticed the girl who'd been sitting in the back of the train. She was standing up on her bench just like I was. The girl kept looking back and forth between the Reapers and Alexei, as though she was watching an intense sporting match. She didn't move to attack my friend, but she didn't try to help him either. Since the girl seemed to be staying where she was and out of the fight, I put her out of my mind and kept climbing over the benches as fast as I could.
A Reaper girl who looked about my age moved to attack me, but I swung Vic and sliced the sword across her chest. Blood spurted out of her wound and spattered onto my hand, sliding across my skin like warm drops of rain. I gritted my teeth and ignored the awful sensation.
"Get her, Gwen!" Vic crowed, not having any problems with the blood that covered his blade. "Get her!"
I lashed out with the sword again, this time stabbing the blade deep into her stomach. The Reaper girl screamed and lurched back into the boy behind her, but he put his arms on her shoulders and shoved her forward. I put one hand down on a brass rail, bracing myself, and kicked her in the chest, sending her flying right back into the boy. They both fell to the floor. I could hear the boy yelling as he tried to shove the dead girl off him, but since he wasn't an immediate threat, I continued climbing over the benches.
Behind me, I could hear Oliver and Alexei shouting to each other as they counted off the Reapers they killed.
"One down!" Alexei said.
"Two down!" Oliver chimed in.
I finally managed to crawl to the back of the car and an open space that was reserved for storing luggage. I'd just put my feet down on the floor when the Reaper boy finally managed to push the dead girl off him. He scrambled to his feet and charged at me.
I didn't have time to raise my sword, so I stepped forward and punched him in the face. The blow didn't have much of an effect on the Reaper, but it made him hesitate long enough for me to shove Vic into his stomach. The boy screamed and fell to the floor.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the Reapers who'd been attacking Alexei turn in my direction, reach underneath his coat, and pull out a small crossbow. He leveled the weapon at my head.
Even as I started to move, I knew I couldn't duck out of the way in time to keep the arrow from hitting me -
Something moved off to my right, a shadow flitted in front of my eyes, and I heard the distinct sound of wood hitting flesh. I blinked.