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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
After we finished our snack and chugged down some water, Daphne, Rory, and I headed into the woods to answer the call of nature, so to speak. All the while, though, I kept scanning the trees for that mysterious shadow I'd spotted earlier. But I didn't see or hear anything, and I didn't get the sense that I was still being watched. Maybe it had just been some animal following us. That's what I told myself anyway, even if I didn't really believe it.
The three of us started to head back to the others when a soft whine sounded.
I froze, wondering if I was only imagining things, but the whine came again. That sounded like . . . Nyx.
I frowned. But there was no way the wolf pup could be here. She was back at the academy, safe and sound with Grandma Frost. But the small, plaintive wail came again, indicating that some sort of critter was in trouble. So instead of following the others back toward the trail, I veered off into the trees.
"Gwen?" Daphne asked, finally noticing I wasn't following along behind her and Rory. "Where are you going?"
"Don't you hear that? It's coming from this direction."
She sighed and put her hands on her hips. "And of course you're going to go see what it is, despite the fact that the woods are probably crawling with Reapers. Sometimes, Gwen, I think you're going to be the death of me."
I paused long enough to stick my tongue out at her, then headed deeper into the woods. After a moment, Daphne and Rory followed me. I stopped every few feet, looking and listening. I also drew Vic out of the scabbard belted to my waist.
The sword yawned and slowly opened his eye. "What's going on? Are we at the ruins already? Are there Reapers for me to kill?"
"I'm not sure," I whispered. "Stand by."
I kept going into the woods, with Daphne and Rory behind me. The Valkyrie had nocked an arrow in her bow, but the Spartan girl wasn't carrying any weapons. Then again, she didn't need them. Rory could pick up a twig and stab someone to death with it or slice open a Reaper's throat with the edge of a frozen leaf.
"You know there are bears out here, right?" Rory said. "Great big grizzlies. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to come face-to-face with one of them."
"They can't be any worse than Reapers, can they?" I quipped.
Rory muttered something under her breath about me being flat-out crazy. I grinned and walked on.
The cries grew louder and more plaintive the farther we went, almost as if whatever was out there could hear us approaching and knew that it couldn't escape before we found it. Finally, we crouched down behind a tree several feet away from whatever was making the noise. Even though it sounded like a wounded animal, I wasn't going to rush toward it. Daphne was right when she said the forest was probably full of Reapers, and this could easily be one of their traps.
"What do you want to do now?" Daphne asked. "Because whatever that is, it doesn't sound happy."
"I'll go see what it is," I whispered. "If it is a Reaper trap, maybe we can at least take some of them out before we get to the ruins. Cover me."
She nodded, and so did Rory.
I got to my feet, tightened my grip on Vic, and rounded the tree. I tensed, expecting an arrow to come zooming out of the woods. But when nothing happened, I slowly started moving forward. I'd only gone about ten feet when I stepped into a small clearing and finally spotted the source of the cries - a baby gryphon.
At least, I thought it was a baby. It was still about three feet long from its beak to the fuzzy tuft on the end of its lion's tail. The gryphon's fur and wings were a beautiful bronze that glimmered in what little sunlight slid through the trees to the forest floor. Its eyes were the same mesmerizing shade, although its beak and claws were as black and shiny as ebony.
The gryphon caught sight of me and stopped its struggles, although it narrowed its eyes and sank down onto its haunches, like it was getting ready to leap on me and tear me to pieces.
At first, I wondered what was wrong with the creature, but then I realized why it was crying - its back right foot was caught in a metal trap. Actually, trap wasn't the right word. This thing had so many rows of teeth that it looked more like a torture device. The gryphon must have stepped on the trigger, causing the trap to snap shut, and the rows of sharp metal teeth had dug into the poor thing's leg. A thick metal chain secured the trap to a tree, keeping the gryphon from flying away. The creature must have been there a while because the blood in its fur had already matted.
"It's okay," I called out to my friends. "It's not a Reaper."
Leaves crunched, and Daphne and Rory moved to stand beside me.
"That's a snap-snare," Rory said, disgust evident in her voice. "It's like a bear trap, but with more teeth. Reapers leave them in the forest in hopes of capturing gryphons. Fenrir wolves too. The more you struggle, the deeper the teeth tear into your body."
The baby gryphon's tail started lashing from side to side at the sound of Rory's voice, and it studied each one of us in turn. Its bronze eyes narrowed that much more, and it grew very still, except for its tail, which kept whipping from side to side. Suddenly, the creature leaped through the air, its claws aiming for my throat -
But the chain attached to the trap jerked it back, and the gryphon thumped to the ground about five feet in front of me. The creature screeched with surprise and pain, but I could also hear the faintest whimper in its high cries. Despite its tough façade, the gryphon was scared, tired, and hurting. I knew the feelings. Reapers and their cruel schemes had a way of doing that to you.
"Easy, boy," I said, taking off my gloves, holding out my right hand, and creeping toward the creature. "We're not here to hurt you. We're going to get that nasty thing off your leg."
"What are you doing?" Rory hissed. "That gryphon will bite your hand off if you get too close to it. In case you didn't notice, it would have torn your throat out if that chain hadn't stopped it. Are you out of your mind?"
"Have you met Gwen?" Daphne sniped. "Because crazy is kind of her thing. Believe me, this is mild compared to some of the stunts she's pulled."
I shot her a dirty look, then turned back to the gryphon. "It's just scared and confused," I said. "That's why it tried to attack me. I'm not going to leave it here for the Reapers to find. You know what they did to Nott. You know what they'll do to this little guy too."
"Fine, fine. Be all brave and heroic," Daphne muttered. "But don't blame me if it backfires."
I handed Vic to the Valkyrie. Then, I dropped down on my hands and knees, putting myself on the gryphon's level, and slowly crawled toward it. The creature sat on its back haunches and watched me approach, even more wary than before. Its claws started digging into the snow-covered ground as if it was thinking about springing at me again. I could see the suspicion in the gryphon's eyes, but I wasn't leaving it there - even if it did lash out at me again.
Closer and closer, I crept. By this point, the gryphon could have surged forward and swiped at me with its claws - quite easily. But instead, the creature watched me. Maybe it sensed I wasn't an enemy. Maybe it realized I wanted to help. Or maybe it just wanted me to get as close as possible so it could do the most amount of damage to me. I was about to find out. I was three feet away from it, two, one . . .
I drew in a breath, surged forward, and put my hand on the gryphon's front paw.
The first thing that filled my mind was the baby gryphon's pain.
Every slight movement, every small shift, every shallow breath it took seemed to twist the trap's teeth a little deeper into the creature's back leg, like rows of needles slowly digging into its skin. I grimaced and pushed the feeling aside, sinking deeper into the gryphon's mind, trying to figure out some way to get the creature to trust me long enough for me, Daphne, and Rory to pry the trap off its - his - leg.
The gryphon tried to pull away from me, but I held on, being as gentle as I could with him. I was dimly aware of his face next to mine, his beak snapping close to my nose in a warning to let go or else, but still, I held on. If I took my hand from the gryphon's paw, I doubted he would let me touch him again, and then, we'd never be able to help him.
So I tightened my grip and reached for my psychometry again. Image after image flooded my mind, like I was watching a high-speed movie of the gryphon's life. Most of the memories involved the gryphon soaring through the clear blue sky, and a sense of wonder and wildness surged through me - along with one of peace. There was nothing he liked better than spreading his wings wide and drifting up and down on the currents that whipped around the mountaintops. But there were other sights and sounds, as well, mostly of adult gryphons doing the same thing, as if they were flying together in some sort of fancy formation. And finally, there was another gryphon, one who looked larger, stronger, and fiercer than all the others. The leader of the group - and the father of the baby before me. More than anything else, the baby gryphon wanted to grow up to be as big, strong, and tough as his dad. The thoughts, the feelings, the images, made me smile.
Slowly, very slowly, I pushed my thoughts at the gryphon, trying to let him know that I was a friend and not a Reaper who wanted to trap him and take him away from his family forever. I showed the creature images of me fighting Reapers in the Library of Antiquities, the Crius Coliseum, and all the other places I'd battled them. But the images seemed to confuse the gryphon, so instead, I concentrated on my memories of Nott and showed those to him.
But that didn't work either. The gryphon started screeching in my ear and batting his wings against my body, trying to drive me away, as if he thought the Fenrir wolf was going to jump out of my mind and somehow attack him. So I tried showing him images of me playing with Nyx instead, but nothing eased the gryphon's suspicions, and I could tell he was thinking about trying to claw me again.
Finally, in desperation, I called up all the memories I had of the gryphons on the steps outside the Library of Antiquities back home. The baby gryphon immediately stilled, and I let him feel how beautiful I thought the statues were, how noble, how regal, how brave and strong and fierce. Most of all, I tried to show him how I'd come to view the gryphons as my silent friends and that I wanted to be the same sort of friend to him.
It was so freaking hard, especially since the gryphon kept beating his wings against my body and trying to worm himself away from me. Sweat slid down my face, and my hand ached from gripping his paw, but I held my position and poured all of my energy, all of my concentration, all of my magic, into trying to reach the gryphon and put his mind at ease. Finally, I felt the creature settle down and sensed his realization that I wasn't going to hurt him, that I wanted to get the trap off his leg. That would have to be enough for now. I didn't have the strength for anything else.
I opened my eyes, let go of the gryphon's paw, and wiped the cold sweat off my forehead. Then, I looked over my shoulder at Daphne. "Okay. You can pull the trap off his leg now. He's not going to bite us."
Rory looked at me, then at the gryphon, her green eyes wide with surprise. "How did you do that? One second, I thought he was going to tear your nose off or try to beat you to death with his wings. But now, he looks like a puppy you could pet."
It was true. The gryphon had flopped down on his side, exposing his pudgy baby tummy to me. I reached out and carefully ran my fingers over his silky bronze fur, before reaching up and scratching his head. Nyx always seemed to like that, and the gryphon did too, judging from the happy little squeaks he let out.
"What can I say?" I grinned. "I have a magic touch when it comes to animals."
Daphne snorted. "You're touched in the head is more like it."
Still, she handed Vic back to me and dropped down to her knees beside me. With her Valkyrie strength, it was easy for her to reach down and carefully pry open the trap clamped around the gryphon's back leg. Rory lifted the creature's leg free from the metal. Daphne eased the trap shut, then kicked it away.
"Horrible thing," she muttered.
I stayed on the ground next to the gryphon, still petting him. "It's okay, buddy. Everything's going to be just fine now."
I didn't know if the gryphon understood my words or not, but he surged to his feet - and promptly fell back down again. He let out a pitiful screech that told me how much pain he was in.
I turned to Daphne. "Do you think you could work your healing magic on him? He's really hurting, and I don't think he'll let us carry him back to the stream where the others are."
She looked at the gryphon. Doubt filled her black eyes. "I guess I could try. I'm still learning about my magic. But I know what you mean. We can't just leave the little guy out here like that. It's worth a shot."
Daphne put her bow on the ground and slowly crawled toward the gryphon. The creature eyed her with the same suspicion it had me, so once again, I put my hand on his paw and showed him my memories of Daphne and how she was my friend.
"She's going to make your leg all better," I told the gryphon. "It'll be okay. You'll see."
Daphne reached for her magic, and the pink sparks streaking out of her fingertips combined to form a beautiful, rosy golden glow. She leaned forward and gently pressed her hand to the gryphon's side, just above where the trap's teeth had dug into the creature's flesh. The rosy golden glow slowly spread down the creature's body and pooled in the ugly, jagged gashes that ringed his leg. As I watched, the edges of the wounds slowly pulled together and then seamlessly healed. All the while, I felt the soothing power of Daphne's magic, wave after wave of it pulsing off her and sinking into the gryphon. Just being near her when she was using her power made me feel a little stronger and my heart a little lighter, and I knew that if I put my hand on top of hers, I would see the bright princess-pink spark that burned at the very center of her being.