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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
"You're welcome!" Daphne shouted across the courtyard.
I waved at her and turned my attention back to Vivian. This time, I threw myself at the other girl.
I attacked Vivian with all the strength, skill, and fury I could muster. The intensity of my attacks seemed to surprise her, as though she was the only one of us who could be so fierce and vicious. I'd told Daphne before that the Reapers hadn't seen my crazy yet - but I showed it to Vivian.
I attacked her with everything I had.
All the moves Logan had shown me. All the sneak attacks Oliver and Kenzie had taught me. All the positions Ajax had drilled me on in gym class. All the passion and intense ferocity Daphne gave to everything in her life. All the fluid grace of Alexei's movements. All the quiet devotion Carson showed to his friends. All the pain, anger, and frustration Rory and Rachel had felt these last few months. All the love Grandma Frost, Nyx, and Professor Metis had always given me. All the cranky concern Nickamedes and Vic had for me.
I hacked and slashed at Vivian with all of that and more. And for the first time, it actually seemed like enough. I couldn't hurt her - not seriously - but she couldn't break through my defenses either.
The longer we fought, the more frustrated she grew, until her eyes were glowing like two pools of molten lava in her face.
"Why won't you just die?!" she hissed.
"You're going to fail again, Viv," I mocked. "Because you're not killing me today. Not by a long shot. Not with those weak-ass moves. And look. The rest of your friends are losing too."
Vivian's gaze darted around the ruins. By this point, Daphne had killed all of the rocs, except for Vivian's, and the Valkyrie was now picking off the Reapers one by one with her bow. Ajax and Alexei were battling three Reapers, while Carson and Oliver had cornered two more. Rachel was off to the side, fighting the last one, and I could still hear Covington screaming, which meant that Rory had him under control. One by one, the Reapers were falling. It was only a matter of time before my friends finished off the rest of them and came to help me against Vivian.
The Reaper girl knew it too. She cursed and lashed out at me with her sword, causing me to leap back. Then, she turned and raced toward her roc. Agrona had realized the tide had turned against the Reapers, and she was already trying to climb up onto the bird's back, although her damaged hand slowed her down. Vivian used her Valkyrie strength to shove the other woman up and onto the roc, then climbed in front of her.
"Go, Gwen!" Vic shouted, his voice slightly muffled by my sweaty palm over his mouth. "Go! Don't let them get away again!"
I started toward them, but Logan was quicker. The Spartan got to his feet and hurried toward the roc, quickly outpacing me. By this point, Vivian was on top of the creature and had the reins in her hands. All she had to do was slap them down, and the bird would take flight. But instead, she looked at me, a cruel smile curving her face.
"No! Logan!" I screamed. "Stop!"
But he didn't listen to me. Instead, he kept running as fast as he could because he had his own score to settle - with his former stepmom.
"Agrona!" Logan shouted. "Face me!"
Agrona leaned forward and whispered something in Vivian's ear, and the Reaper girl's smile widened. I raced along behind Logan, but I knew I was going to be too late - again.
Logan was ten feet away from the roc and closing fast. Seven feet . . . five . . . three . . . Just as he started to launch himself through the air and onto the roc, Vivian let out another high, earsplitting whistle. The roc darted forward - and jabbed its beak into Logan's side.
All of his forward momentum abruptly stopped, and he tumbled backward to the ground.
"Logan!" I screamed again.
He groaned and didn't answer me, although his legs kicked out, sending up sprays of petals.
"Finish him!" Agrona hissed. "Now!"
Vivian let out another whistle, and the roc darted forward once more - but this time, I was there.
I put myself between Logan and the bird and swung my sword in a vicious arc. The roc jumped back to avoid me.
"Forget them!" Agrona screamed. "Get us out of here!"
But Vivian wasn't about to give up this chance to finally murder me. Again and again, she urged her roc forward. Again and again, I lashed out with my sword, keeping the creature from killing me and Logan. It was bizarre, fighting something more than twice my size, but maybe all those mornings of weapons training had finally started to sink in because I actually held my own against the creature. Then again, it was also burdened by the two riders on its back, whereas all I had to do was avoid its raking claws and sharp, stabbing beak.
"Gwen!" Daphne screamed behind me. "Duck!"
I immediately dropped down on my knees. A second later, a golden arrow zipped over my head. But Vivian had heard Daphne's shout too, and she managed to maneuver her roc out of the way of the arrow, which sailed over the creature's head.
"Stay down!" Daphne shouted and loosed another arrow.
Vivian and her roc managed to avoid the second arrow, as well.
"Get us out of here!" Agrona screamed again. "Now!"
This time, Vivian listened to her. She slapped the leather reins down against the roc's back. The creature let out another loud, screaming cry before it flapped its wings, zoomed up into the sky, and disappeared.
I waited a few moments to make sure that Vivian and Agrona weren't going to come back for another strike, then turned to Logan. He'd gotten back up onto his feet, although he was holding his hand to his side.
I hurried over to him. "Are you okay?"
He smiled, although I could see the pain in his eyes. "I'll live, Gypsy girl. Just a little scratch."
"Are you sure? Let me take a look at it - "
"No!" he said, violently twisting away before I could touch him. "Don't touch me! Just . . . don't."
I stood there, my hand stretched out toward him. Logan must have seen the hurt in my face because he blew out a breath.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I just . . . I'm sorry. I'll be okay. Really, I will be. Nothing to worry about."
I dropped my hand and stared at him, not sure what to do, not sure what to say. This was the moment I'd longed for ever since he'd left. To see Logan again. But now that he was here, now that we were face-to-face, I realized things still weren't right between us - and I didn't know how to make them that way again.
"Gwen! Gwen!" My friends' voices echoed through the ruins.
A second later, they were all crowding around me and Logan. Daphne, Carson, Oliver, Alexei, Ajax, Rachel, even Rory, who shoved a bloody, bruised, and disheveled Covington along in front of her.
My eyes scanned each one of them. Except for Daphne, everybody had some lumps, bumps, and bruises. Carson was limping and using his staff to stand upright, as though he'd twisted his ankle, while Ajax's right arm appeared to be broken from the awkward way the coach was holding it against his side and grimacing. Rachel and Oliver both had bloody faces and scraped knuckles, and blood dripped from a series of deep cuts on Alexei's left arm. But no one seemed to be seriously injured. At least, nothing Daphne couldn't take care of with her healing magic until we could get back to the academy. I let out a quiet sigh of relief that no one had been hurt worse.
"Are you okay?" Daphne asked.
"I'm fine. Just a little beat up, bloody, and bruised. Nothing to worry about," I said, echoing Logan's words.
Once they realized I was okay, they all looked at Logan, who shifted under the weight of their curious gazes. Everyone seemed surprised to see him - except Oliver.
Oliver saw me watching him and winced. I thought of all the times he'd been texting on his phone the past few days. I'd thought he'd been talking to Kenzie back at the academy, but now, I knew better.
I narrowed my eyes. "You were texting with Logan this whole time. That's why you were so certain he hadn't been captured by Reapers. You knew he was here."
A guilty flush crept up Oliver's neck, but he didn't say anything.
"Um, hello. Totally lost right now. Who is this guy?" Rory asked, jerking her thumb at Logan. "And why are you all looking at him like you've just seen a ghost?"
Logan winced, but he stared at her. "I'm Logan Quinn."
Rory's brow furrowed in confusion, but after a moment, her face brightened. "Oh. You're the guy who went all Reaper on Gwen and tried to kill her. Right?"
"Yeah," Logan muttered. "That's me."
Rory opened her mouth, but Daphne elbowed the other girl in the side and shot her a warning look. Rory glared at her and took a step forward, like she was going to shove Daphne, but Rachel stepped between them.
"That's enough," she said, her eyes darting around the ruins as if she expected more Reapers to appear at any second. "We need to get out of here - right now."
Oliver gestured at the Reapers' bodies. "But what about them? Don't you want us to check them? They might be able to give us a clue as to where Vivian and Agrona went."
Ajax shook his head. "There's no time. Vivian and Agrona could come back with reinforcements, not to mention the snow that's going to start coming down soon. We need to get off the mountain and back to the academy as quickly as possible. So let's move."
We all hurried to grab our backpacks and other gear from where they had fallen. Five minutes later, we walked out of the ruins, leaving nothing behind but dead Reapers, dead rocs, and a courtyard full of crushed, broken, blood-covered flowers.
We headed toward the rope bridge at the edge of the ruins, weapons drawn, still keeping an eye out in case the Reapers had planned a second ambush. Despite the danger, I fell in step beside Logan at the back of the group.
He was carrying a curved, bloody sword that he'd gotten from one of the dead Reapers. Seeing him with the weapon made me think about how he'd stabbed me with a similar blade at the Aoide Auditorium, but I shoved the memory away. Logan was here now, and I had so many things I wanted to ask him - and so many things I wanted to tell him too.
"I think we can walk and talk at the same time," I said. "Don't you?"
For a moment, I thought he might rush on past me, but he finally sighed and nodded. The two of us walked a few feet behind the others.
"So," I said. "You're here."
"Yep. I'm here."
"You want to tell me about it?"
Logan sighed again. "Metis called my dad the night that Nickamedes was poisoned and let us know what was going on. I couldn't sit around and do nothing, especially when Oliver told me you were coming out here to look for a cure - and that it was most likely a Reaper trap. So I got on one of the Protectorate's private planes and flew out here. I arrived a couple of hours before you guys did."
"And what did your dad think of that?"
Logan shrugged. "He didn't like it, but he let me come. Mainly because I told him that if he didn't, I'd go to the nearest airport and buy a ticket to fly out here on my own."
"So what? You've been following us this whole time?"
He nodded. "I was already at the train station when you guys showed up. I even had a seat in your car, but I got up and moved to another one before you could spot me. My dad arranged for me to room in one of the guest dorms at the academy and then for a car to take me up to the park entrance. There's another trail that runs parallel to the ones you guys used, so it was easy for me to follow you. I camped on the other side of the bridge last night, in case the Reapers decided to attack from that direction. I was packing up my gear to leave when I heard the rocs. So I raced across the bridge to come help you guys."
I thought of all the times over the past few days when it seemed like someone was watching me. "So you were at the train station, and it was you I saw in the stacks in the library. And you were watching me through the trees as we hiked up here yesterday."
"Guilty as charged."
I reached over and punched him in the shoulder. "Well, you scared the crap out of me. I thought you were some Reaper spy. Why would you do that? Why not let everyone know that you were here? And that you wanted to help? Why not let me know?"
Logan stared at me, a troubled, haunted look in his eyes. "Because I still don't trust myself. Especially not when it comes to you, Gypsy girl."
Guilt filled his face, and he dropped his gaze from mine. I'd been so focused on my own nightmares, on my own anger, on my own pain, that I hadn't stopped to think that Logan might have had the same kinds of feelings. That he might have spent the last few weeks reliving how Loki had infected his mind and forced him to attack me, just as I'd seen it dozens of times in my dreams.
"Didn't you get my letter?" I asked in a soft voice. "None of it was your fault. It was all Vivian and Agrona. There was nothing you could have done against them. And I flashed on the letter you sent me. I saw how hard you fought against Loki himself - how hard you fought to keep from hurting me."
Logan let out a bitter laugh. "But I did hurt you. Sure, I fought - I fought Loki with all my might, but in the end, it wasn't enough to keep me from stabbing you. I almost killed you. And who's to say I won't do that again? Maybe next time, you won't be able to use your touch magic to get through to me. Maybe next time, Daphne and Metis won't be there to heal you. Maybe next time, you'll just be dead."
His voice cracked on the last word. More than anything else, I wanted to hug him and tell him it was okay, that everything was going to be okay, but he'd just sidestep me again before I could get too close to him. Even now, when we were walking, Logan made sure he was out of arm's - and sword's reach - of me.