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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
I hadn't been sitting by the statue long, maybe five minutes, when boots scuffed on the floor again. I tensed, but this person wasn't trying to hide her approach. She rounded the corner and stepped into view. She hesitated a moment before squaring her shoulders, walking over, and plopping down beside me.
"I thought I might find you here," Rory said.
"Yay for you, Nancy Drew," I muttered.
"Your goddess, huh?" she said, twisting her neck so she could look up at the statue.
We didn't speak for a few moments. Right now, I never wanted to speak to her again. But once more, the questions bubbled up in my mind, and I couldn't keep myself from wanting to know the answers, from wanting to know every last part and ugly truth of this deep, dark, dirty family secret that had been shoved out into the light for everyone to see - including me.
"You could have just told me," I finally said, my voice cracking a little on the words.
She grimaced. "I know. I'm sorry about that. It's just . . . it hurts, you know? It hurts so much."
I did know, but it still took me a moment to gather the courage to ask my questions. "What happened?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Not really. One day, I'm just a girl, going through my first semester at Mythos Academy, dealing with classes and professors and stuff. The next day, my parents are dead. Then, it comes out that my parents were Reapers, had always been Reapers, and that they were trying to steal a bunch of artifacts from the library when Covington caught them. But instead of surrendering, they tried to fight their way free and killed some kids before Covington managed to take them out."
So that was why she didn't like the librarian - he'd killed her parents. Yeah, they'd been Reapers, but he was still responsible for their deaths.
Rory sucked in a breath and finished her story. "And if all that's not bad enough, I also find out that my parents had been secret Reaper assassins for years. The rest . . . well, you saw the rest in the dining hall."
"I'm sorry," I said. "That's awful."
She shrugged again, trying to pretend she didn't care, trying to pretend it didn't matter, trying to pretend it didn't hurt. "The funny thing is that my parents were always talking about how important it was for me to learn how to fight. To be a good Spartan so I could protect other people from Reapers. And then, they turn out to be Reapers themselves. And not just any Reapers - but some of the worst of the worst."
"I'm sorry," I repeated. I didn't know what else to say. No words would make it better. Not for her - and not for me either.
Rory let out a bitter laugh. "And you know what the really twisted thing is? I still love them. They were my parents, and they were Reapers, but I still love them anyway. I still wish they were here with me instead of being dead. What kind of person does that make me?"
"Just a girl," I said. "Just a girl."
Rory picked at a loose thread on her jeans. She wouldn't meet my gaze. If I hadn't thought she would run away, I would have put my hand on hers and used my psychometry to show her that she wasn't the only one who'd been betrayed, fooled, and hurt by the Reapers.
"And my dad?" I finally asked. "What do you know about him?"
She hesitated. "Not much. Just what my dad, Tyson, told me about him. Apparently, they had some kind of big fight when they were younger, and your dad took off. My dad never heard from him again, but he always seemed sad that he had lost his brother."
I was guessing there was a lot more to the story than what she knew. I'd have to ask Grandma Frost.
"My dad . . . a Reaper." The words tasted cold and bitter in my mouth. "It doesn't seem possible. It doesn't seem real."
Rory laughed again, but it wasn't a happy sound. "Tell me about it."
"But your aunt seems nice. She's not a Reaper. And neither are you."
Rory kept tugging at that loose thread on her jeans. "Yeah, Rachel's great. She didn't know about them being Reapers either, so she was just as clueless as I was. But word got out about them trying to steal the artifacts and killing those other students."
"And now all the other kids take it out on you - they hate you for it."
She shrugged. "I can handle it. I'm a Spartan."
Her words made me smile. "I know a Spartan guy who would say the exact same thing if he were here. His name is Logan."
Rory eyed me. "And why isn't he here? Why isn't he part of your adoring entourage?"
She snorted. "Isn't it always?"
"You have no idea."
We didn't speak for a few moments. Finally, Rory turned to me again.
"So what's your story? The real story? Because I gotta say, I've heard some strange stuff about you."
I let out the same sort of harsh laugh that she had earlier. "Strange doesn't even begin to cover it. One day, I'm just a girl going to public school who has no idea the mythological world even exists. Then, I have a freak-out with my magic, my mom gets murdered, and I get shipped off to Mythos Academy. I find out that I'm descended from a long line of Nike's Champions and that I'm pretty much supposed to save the world from Loki. Only, I end up freeing Loki instead against my will, and now, I've got to figure out some way to stop him. Oh yeah, and the Reapers tried to put Loki's soul into my boyfriend's body, which made my boyfriend go all crazy, stab me in the chest, and almost kill me. Now, my boyfriend's gone, but I still have nightmares about him trying to murder me."
Rory let out a low whistle. "And I thought my life sucked."
"Sucks isn't a strong enough word," I said. "Not by a long shot."
Rory and I didn't talk after that, but we didn't get up and go our separate ways either. Instead, we sat there by Nike, both of us thinking about all of our problems. But it wasn't an awkward silence. In fact, it felt kind of . . . nice to be with someone who was going through some of the same things I was.
Yeah, I had my friends, and I knew I could talk to them - or Grandma Frost or Metis - about anything, but they'd all grown up in the mythological world. None of my friends had ever had their whole lives turned upside down by family secrets - not like Rory and I had. Well, none of them except for Logan, but he wasn't here right now. Once again, I worried if the Reapers might have captured him, but I made myself push the thought aside. Oliver had assured me over and over again that Logan was okay, and there was nothing I could do but believe him.
Finally, Rory spoke again. "So why are you and your friends really here?" she asked. "I know you didn't come for some transfer visit like that coach of yours is claiming. And you wouldn't believe some of the rumors that have been going around campus about you guys."
I looked at the Spartan girl, wondering if I could really trust her. But then, I thought of everything I'd seen when I'd flashed on Rachel. Rory was more like me than she realized.
"We're going up to the Eir Ruins tomorrow," I said. "One of our friends has been poisoned. We have to find some ambrosia flowers to make an antidote for him, and the ruins are the only place where they grow. But of course, the Reapers know we're coming. We think they poisoned our friend to lure us out here and that they'll be waiting to ambush us up at the ruins, especially since they didn't kill us on the train."
Rory snorted. "That sounds like Reapers, all right. Always up to something. But the ruins are actually cool."
"You've been up to the ruins? Aren't they supposed to be haunted or something?"
She shrugged. "It's just a pile of rocks and lots of flowers, trees, and herbs everywhere. I don't see what's so creepy about them. Aunt Rachel and I go to the ruins all the time to pick fresh herbs for the dining hall kitchen. I like it because it's quiet up there, you know? Someplace you can sit and think and be by yourself."
I knew exactly what she meant. That was the reason I wound up in the Library of Antiquities so often. The stacks were a great place to lose yourself and get away from everything - at least for a little while.
But now it was time for me to go back to my friends. No doubt they were worried since I'd rushed out of the dining hall, especially since Ajax had told us to stick together. Plus, we needed to start preparing for the trip to the ruins tomorrow. And every second I sat here feeling sorry for myself was another one in which Nickamedes got a little worse as the poison slowly took its toll on him.
"Come on," I said, getting to my feet and heading for the stairs. "Time to go back to the real world."
Rory grinned, stood up, and followed me.
We went downstairs to the first floor. My friends were sitting in the comfy chairs around the fireplace once more. Carson, Alexei, Daphne. They all relaxed when they realized I was okay. Oliver was busy texting on his phone again, and he gave me a distracted wave.
Daphne got to her feet and came over to me. "Are you all right?" she whispered.
"I'm fine," I said, making myself smile at her even though I didn't really feel like it. "I'll deal with it later. Right now, we need to focus on our trip to the ruins, finding the ambrosia flowers, and getting them back to Nickamedes in time."
Daphne nodded, but she still reached out and hugged me. My back cracked, and I winced at the crushing pressure of her grip, but I returned her hug. She was just trying to comfort me. She was a good friend that way.
I sat down on a couch next to Oliver, who was still messing with his phone. Rory hovered outside the ring of chairs, clearly wanting to join us but not sure if she'd be welcome. I gestured at the empty chair a few feet away from me. Rory hesitated a moment longer before stepping forward and plopping down in it.
She'd barely settled herself before footsteps sounded, and Rachel stepped into view. She'd been heading for the checkout counter, but she caught sight of Rory and veered in our direction. Her eyes roamed over our group before they stopped on her niece.
"Rory?" she asked. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Rory said. "Shouldn't you be in the dining hall helping the other chefs clean up after lunch?"
"I got a call to come over here instead," Rachel said. "Covington wants to talk to me about guiding some folks up to the Eir Ruins tomorrow."
Rory's face darkened at the mention of the librarian.
"Rachel!" Covington's voice drifted out of the glass office complex. "There you are."
The librarian stepped around the checkout counter, with Ajax behind him. The coach gestured for us to follow him, and we all walked back to the conference room we'd been in earlier. When we were all inside, including Rachel and Rory, Covington shut the door.
The librarian's gaze went from me to Rory to Rachel and back again. "Well, it looks like some of you have met. But for the rest of you, this is Rachel Maddox. She works in the dining hall."
"She's a chef," Rory interrupted him. "The best chef at this miserable school. Not some random lunch lady."
Covington paused. Rachel winced and gave him an apologetic look. Everyone had heard the anger in Rory's voice.
"Er, yes," he finally continued. "Rachel is a chef. She's also familiar with the Eir Ruins, and she's agreed to serve as our guide tomorrow."
"How do you know so much about the ruins?" Ajax asked.
"My parents had a summer cabin close to the ruins," Rachel answered. "My sister and I used to go exploring there when we were kids. Rory and I still go up there quite a bit."
Rachel smiled at her niece, but then her eyes cut to me, and the softness in her face vanished. She'd probably seen the kids in the dining hall confronting me and Rory. That meant Rachel knew exactly who I was - another Forseti.
"Anyway, I thought I would show you some images of the ruins so you can prepare yourselves for what we might find there," Covington said.
The librarian powered up a laptop in the corner, pulled a white film screen down over one of the walls, and dimmed the lights. He hit a button on his computer, and a series of images appeared on the screen.
The Eir Ruins were perched on top of a beautiful, snow-covered mountain. They were larger than I'd thought they'd be, seeming to stretch from one side of the mountain to the other, although it was probably just the photos that made them seem so vast. The ruins were actually a series of buildings clustered together around a courtyard full of flowers. A small stream flowed through the middle of the courtyard, feeding into a broken fountain, before trickling out the far side, although the water seemed still and frozen in the photos. Perhaps they'd been taken in the winter, although I couldn't imagine how that many flowers could survive in such a cold climate.
"Legend has it that the ruins were once the winter home of Eir, the Norse goddess of healing," Covington said, clicking through some more photos. "Of course, what we are interested in is the main courtyard. Well, it's more like a garden, really. All sorts of plants and flowers bloom there all year long. There's also a stream that winds through the area."
The next photo showed a stone statue of a goddess, which I assumed was Eir. Short hair, sharp nose, curvy body. She wasn't nearly as beautiful as Nike, but there was . . . a kindness in her face, one I could sense even through the photo.
"After Rachel guides us to the ruins, we'll make camp and search for the ambrosia flowers," Covington said. "Rachel believes they should be located somewhere in this area in the main courtyard."
The librarian hit a button on his computer, and another image appeared, this time a close-up shot of several colorful wildflowers that had grown up through some small cracks in the stone courtyard.