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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
"You won't attack me again," I protested. "You're free of Loki now. I saw that too. And I see it in your eyes now."
He gave me a grim smile. "Only because you used your psychometry on me. But you're not always going to be around. What if he comes back? What if I go all Reaper again? What if I hurt someone else? I can't take that chance - especially not with you."
His words broke my heart all over again, especially since I could see how much he was hurting. He could barely look at me, and even when he did, guilt twisted his features.
"So what happens now?" I asked, forcing out the words through the hard knot of emotion in my throat. "After we get down the mountain? Will you come back to Mythos with us?"
Logan shook his head. "I'll return to the academy to make sure Nickamedes is okay - but I'm not staying. After that, I'll go back to be with my dad."
"For how long?" I whispered.
He shrugged again. "I don't know. I just don't know. I'm sorry, Gwen. Really, I am."
Logan gave me a sad smile, then quickened his pace, leaving me alone at the back of the group. But I didn't mind too much. At least this way, no one saw my face pinch tight with pain or heard the sob that escaped my throat. Logan might be here, but he was still as far away and lost to me as ever, and I didn't know how to fix it - I didn't know how to fix us.
Now, I wondered if it was even possible - or if Logan and I were as crumbled and broken as the ruins around us.
We reached the rope bridge a few minutes later. My heart was still aching, but I kept my emotions in check. As Ajax had said, we were still in danger, and turning into a weeping, wailing mess wouldn't help.
Ajax held up his hand, and we stopped. The coach looked this way and that, just like the rest of us did, but there was no sign of Vivian, Agrona, or any other Reapers. Ajax took a few steps out onto the bridge, testing it, but it seemed as sturdy as when we'd first come up here. It looked like the Reapers had expected to kill us in the courtyard and hadn't bothered to sabotage the bridge.
"All right," Ajax said. "Let's get this over with. And keep your eyes open. There could still be more Reapers waiting on the other side to ambush us."
Ajax and Oliver crossed the bridge first. I held my breath, but they made it over to the other side safely, and no Reapers came rushing out of the forest to attack them.
Rory went next, prodding a dagger into Covington's back to get him to shuffle along in front of her. She'd used some of the climbing rope we'd brought along to tie his hands together. The evil librarian hadn't said a word as we'd been walking, although he kept giving us all murderous glares.
Rachel hurried after her niece, and Daphne and Carson followed them. Alexei hesitated, but I waved him on ahead.
"Logan and I will cross last," I said.
Alexei looked at me, then Logan. After a moment, he nodded and set off across the bridge. He made it to the other side without any problems.
"You first, Gypsy girl," Logan said.
I started to step onto the bridge -
The roc's shrieks sounded once again, although for some reason, it seemed as if the cries were coming from the ground beneath my feet, rather than the clouds above. I moved away from the bridge, raised Vic, and turned this way and that, searching for the roc - and the Reapers that would be riding the creature.
A second later, instead of dropping down from the sky, a Black roc soared up out of the chasm below. The creature smashed right through the middle of the bridge, snapping the boards and ropes in two like they were made of nothing more substantial than brittle matchsticks and thin thread. The splintered debris seemed to hover in midair for a moment before it silently floated down into the canyon far, far below.
The Black roc swooped back down, with Vivian and Agrona on its back. I tightened my grip on Vic, expecting the creature to dive-bomb forward and attack me and Logan, but instead, the roc only hovered above the chasm.
"Good luck getting off the mountain now, Gwen!" Vivian yelled.
She slapped the reins against the creature's back, and they zoomed off into the sky. A golden arrow followed them, shot by Daphne, but the wind sent it skittering sideways, and it sailed off into the ruins.
Stunned, all I could do was stare up into the clouds and then back down into the yawning chasm in front of me. Slowly, the reality of the situation broke through my surprise.
Now, only empty air lay between me, Logan, and the others - and the Spartan and I were trapped on the wrong side of the bridge.
I stared in disbelief at the canyon. We'd gotten the ambrosia flower, learned that Covington was a traitor, and had survived being attacked by Vivian, Agrona, the other Reapers, and their rocs. I'd thought we were finally free and clear.
I really should have known better by now.
"Gwen!" Rachel shouted, the wind whipping her words over to me. "You'll have to take the other trail on the far side of the courtyard! It's the only way you can get off the mountain now!"
I remembered her talking about the trail before - the steep, winding trail that she hadn't gone down in years and that had probably been made impassible by falling rocks. Terrific. But Rachel was right - it was the only option we had.
"Where is it?" I shouted at her.
"Look at the map in your backpack! Go to the south side of the courtyard!" she yelled back. "It starts there! You can't miss it!"
"Get as far down the trail as you can!" Ajax yelled, his voice booming across the open space. "We'll come up and get you as soon as we can!"
He didn't say it would take hours - if not longer. My friends would be lucky if they made it back to the academy by lunch. By the time they geared up for a rescue mission, dark would be approaching, and it would be too late to come searching for us without putting everyone in danger - which meant that Logan and I were most likely spending the night on the mountain.
Panic rose up in me, as cold and biting as the winter wind tearing through my hair, but I pushed it down. I couldn't afford to panic. Not now. Instead, I plastered a smile on my face and waved at my friends.
"See you at the bottom!" I yelled.
They all stared at me, their faces pinched with worry. But there was nothing they could do - there was nothing any of us could do. So I forced myself to turn away from them.
Instead, I looked at Logan. Fear and unease flickered in his blue eyes, and his face was twisted into a painful grimace. He held his hand against his side where the roc had injured him, as though the wound was bothering him more and more, although I couldn't see how bad it really was, given the heavy black snowsuit he wore.
"Please tell me you brought your supplies over to this side of the bridge."
He winced. "Sorry. I left all my gear behind when I came over to help you guys fight the Reapers."
That meant we only had what little food and water I had left in my backpack, along with my sleeping bag. But I didn't know how warm it would keep us tonight with no tent to help keep out the cold.
As if being separated from my friends and low on supplies wasn't bad enough, a few fat, fluffy flakes of snow started to drift down from the sky. The storm was here - and Logan and I were going to be stuck in the middle of it.
"We need to get moving," I said.
"I know." He hesitated, then handed me the sword he'd grabbed from one of the dead Reapers. "I want you to take this - and use it on me, if you have to."
I reached out and took the sword. I hefted it in my hand a moment, then turned and threw it into the chasm. Logan sucked in a surprised breath, but he didn't say anything. I faced him once more and slid Vic back into the scabbard on my waist.
"I trust you, Spartan. You're not going to hurt me. Not again."
No matter how many horrid nightmares I'd had. They weren't real. Logan was - this Logan. He was real, and he was what mattered.
"But what if I - "
I held up my hand, cutting him off. "I don't want to hear another word about it - not one more word. In case you haven't noticed, it's snowing. That means that big monster storm is almost here. We at least need to get down a little lower on the mountain and find some firewood and a place to camp for the night. Otherwise, we'll freeze to death. I'm more worried about that than I am about Loki suddenly popping into your head and you going all Reaper on me again. We can . . . talk about things later. After we're somewhere safe for the night. Okay?"
Logan stared at me, but, in the end, neither of us had a choice, and we both knew it.
Finally, he nodded, his face still grim. "Okay. Let's move."
I found the trail easily enough on the south side of the courtyard, right where Rachel had said it would be. Before we'd left the park, Rachel had given each of us a map of the mountain, the ruins, and the various trails, so I dug that out of my backpack and tried to make sense of all the squiggles, lines, and symbols.
"It looks like the trail down this side of the mountain is twice as long as the one coming up, just like Rachel said," I muttered. "Wonderful."
Logan didn't say anything. He was still being careful to stay at least five feet away from me at all times. I put the map back into my pack, grabbed my gloves out of it, and zipped it up. Then, I pulled my gloves on and started down the trail. After a moment, Logan fell into step behind me.
It was slow going, just like Rachel had said it would be. The trail was so steep and narrow that we had to be careful with every step we took or risk our feet going out from under us and starting a slide that would be hard to stop - if not impossible. It would be all too easy to slip right off the edge of the trail - and fall hundreds of feet to the rocks below.
For some reason, the wind was more intense on this side of the mountain, until it almost seemed like fingers constantly clawing at my jacket, scarf, toboggan, and gloves. I bundled up as best as I could, but nothing seemed to keep out the cold that crept into every corner of my clothes, boots, and even down into my socks.
And then there was the snow.
It picked up speed and intensity with every passing minute. We hadn't even been walking an hour, and there were already several inches on the ground. The only reason I could still see the trail was because it was the only part of the mountain that wasn't covered with trees.
Logan didn't talk, and neither did I. We didn't want to waste our breath or energy. Even as we picked our way down the steep slope, I scanned either side of the trail, trying to find someplace where we might find shelter from the snow for the night. Five feet to my left, the land dropped away in a sheer vertical drop, so no help there. Five feet to my right, a solid row of pine trees ran alongside the path, and I had no way of knowing how far we might have to go into the forest before we found a cave - or if we'd even find one. All I could see was snow, rocks, and trees. So we walked on.
We'd gone maybe two miles down the mountain when I realized Logan wasn't keeping up with me anymore. He had maintained his distance, but I couldn't even hear him shuffling along in the snow behind me. I turned around and realized he was about fifty feet behind me, staggering around like he was drunk. For the first time, I noticed his black snowsuit had a wet, almost shiny spot on it - right where the roc had stabbed him with its beak. A sick, sinking feeling filled my stomach as I worried he was hurt worse than he'd let on - a suspicion that was confirmed a moment later when I saw the blood dripping off the ends of his fingers and spattering onto the ground.
"Sorry," he said, lumbering toward me, his face white with pain. "I don't think . . . I can . . . go . . . any farther . . ."
He crumpled to the snowy forest floor.
I raced over to the Spartan and dropped down on my knees beside him. He smiled up at me, but I only had eyes for his wound. I carefully lifted his hand and pushed aside the tattered edges of his snowsuit and his clothes underneath so I could get a look at his injury. The roc had left a deep, ugly gash in his left side - one that kept oozing blood.
"Why didn't you say anything?" I asked.
"I didn't want you to worry," he rasped. "I was going to get Daphne to heal it after we left the ruins."
Daphne wasn't here - but I was. I might not have her healing magic, but I'd picked up some first-aid skills at Mythos. That was another thing Coach Ajax drilled us on in gym class, along with weapons training. I slung my backpack off my shoulders, unzipped it, and rummaged through the items inside until I found two extra gray turtlenecks I'd brought along. I used Vic to slice up the turtlenecks and placed a couple of squares of fabric over the wound. Then, I wrapped the rest of the cloth all the way around Logan's waist and tied the whole thing together as tightly as I could. I tried not to notice how quickly the blood seeped through the fabric, even as I helped Logan put his clothes and snowsuit back in place.
"You need to leave me behind," he said in a soft voice.
I shook my head. "Don't even think about that. We stick together, remember? That's the best chance we have to get off this rock. That's our only chance. It always has been, and it always will be."
Logan gave me a crooked smile, the one that always turned my heart into a pile of mush. "I've missed this about you."
"Your determination," he said. "I seem to have lost mine the second Agrona snapped that damn Apate collar around my neck."
He rubbed his throat, as though the gold band with its glittering jewels was still cinched tight there. Pain and memories darkened his eyes.
"Well, I've got enough determination for both of us," I said. "And I'm determined that we're both getting off this mountain - alive. You wouldn't want to make me a liar now, would you?"