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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
Logan looked at me. After a moment, his face softened into a smile once more. "No, I wouldn't want to do that."
"All right then. Let's get you up. We still have a long way to go."
I managed to get him back up on his feet, although he was staggering even worse than before. But there was nothing I could do about that - there was nothing I could do about any of this but keep going forward.
So I put my arm under Logan's shoulder, helping him as much as I could, and together, we stumbled forward into the storm.
I managed to half-drag, half-carry Logan another mile down the trail before he passed out. One moment, he was hobbling along as best he could. The next, he was facedown in the snow.
I turned him over and shook his shoulder, but he didn't respond. I bent down and put my ear over his mouth. His warm breath rasped against my skin, and his chest rose and fell with a steady rhythm.
I let out a quiet breath. He was still breathing, still alive.
But for how long? It was even colder now than it had been before, and the wind was howling like a pack of Fenrir wolves. Plus, I still hadn't seen anyplace where we could take shelter from the storm. I wanted to scream and cry and beat my fists against all the stupid rocks and trees around us. I would have, if I thought that my knuckles wouldn't crack and bleed and that the tears wouldn't have frozen on my face and added to my misery.
"Now what are you going to do?" a voice interrupted my thoughts. "Because the Spartan is pretty much done for."
I looked down at Vic, who was still snug in his scabbard around my waist. I'd been so focused on getting down the mountain that I'd pretty much forgotten about the sword, but he was peering at Logan, his purple eye bright against the white wash of snow.
I knew what Logan would say if he were still awake - that I should leave him behind. That there was no way he could get off the mountain now, and that I should save myself. But no matter what Logan said, I wasn't leaving him out here in the cold. He'd freeze to death - or bleed out from the roc wound. No, I needed to keep moving, and I needed to figure out some way to take him with me.
"Gwen?" Vic asked again. "You need to make a decision - fast."
"I'm going to save him - and us too."
I opened my backpack, digging through all of the items inside, hoping one of them would give me some sort of spark of an idea about how I could get us down the mountain.
Matches, extra clothes, a couple of comic books, my cell phone, a flashlight, a pack of granola, a bottle of water. Important items, but nothing that would help me right now. I was just about to zip the bag back up when I noticed something thin and fragile at the very bottom of it - Ran's net.
Desperate, I pulled out the net and held it up. Thin strands of gray seaweed woven together and tied off with a series of tiny, brittle knots. It looked even smaller and more pitiful than I remembered. I started to wad it up and shove it back into my bag when I thought about what the ID card in my bag said about the net - and what it claimed the artifact could do.
This net is thought to have belonged to Ran, the Norse goddess of storms, and was rumored to be among her favorite fishing gear. Despite its fragile appearance, the net is quite strong and can hold much more than it should be able to, given its relatively small size. The braided seaweed itself is thought to have the unusual property of making whatever is inside it seem much lighter than its actual weight . . .
I looked at the net, then at Logan - and I finally got the idea I needed so badly.
I closed my backpack and put it on my shoulders again. Then, I wrapped the net around Logan. At first, I didn't think there was going to be enough seaweed to cover him, but every time I reached down, there was more and more of the net to use. Finally, I looped the last bit of it around his shoulders. I propped him up into a sitting position, wrapped one arm around his waist, and put my shoulder under his. Then, I drew in a breath and lifted him. To my surprise, I was able to pick him up as if he weighed no more than a couple of dumbbells.
"Come on, Spartan," I said. "Back on your feet."
"Okay . . ." Logan mumbled, his eyes fluttering open before sliding shut again. "Okay, I'm up . . ."
Slowly, I started down the trail once more. Oh, it was still awkward, with Logan half-clinging, half-hanging off me and me trying to keep the net from slipping off his body, but he was much, much lighter than before. I could at least hobble down the mountain, even though I was moving much, much slower than before. Still, every step I took was one that got us closer to the bottom.
"Thank you, Ran," I murmured, although I doubted the goddess was even listening to or interested in my troubles.
I don't know how long I guided Logan down the trail. It might have been five minutes, it might have been an hour. Time ceased to have any meaning. There was just cold and snow and wind and trees. More than once, my boots slipped in the snow, and I almost sent both of us sliding down the trail, but I managed to stop myself before my feet went out from under me.
I'd just kept myself from dumping us in the snow for the fifth time when I realized there was something on the trail ahead of me.
I froze, Logan hanging off my side like some sort of weird, extra limb, and squinted through the flakes. What was that shape up ahead? For a moment, I thought it might be a Reaper, someone who'd been stationed on the back side of the mountain to finish us off if we made it this far down the trail, but the shape didn't seem dark and slender enough for that. It looked . . . big. That was all I could really tell about it. Maybe a boulder had fallen across the path, like Rachel had said. Well, wouldn't that just be terrific.
I sighed, tightened my grip on Logan and the net, and surged forward once more. Maybe it would just be a tree or rock that I could find some way to get over or around.
I'd almost reached the shape - whatever it was - when a sharp, fierce screech cut through the swirl of snow.
I froze again. I'd lowered my head against the cold, looking down at the trail, so I had a perfect view of the lion's paw right in front of me. It was easily larger than my hand and featured long, sharp, curved claws that glittered like ebony against the white snow.
I swallowed and slowly raised my head.
A gryphon stood in the middle of the trail, looming over me and Logan.
I stared up at the huge creature.
Lion's body, eagle head, bronze fur, wings, and eyes. The creature looked even larger than the Black roc that Vivian and Agrona had flown away on, probably a male, from the size of him. I stared down at his claws again, before my gaze drifted up to his curved beak. It too glinted like ebony, despite the snow.
Finally, I raised my gaze to the creature's eyes. They glowed like bright, warm, bronze lanterns in the midst of the swirling snow. I stared into the orbs, but I didn't see any trace of Reaper red in the creature's eyes. So this was a wild gryphon then, and not one the Reapers had caught and forced to serve them. I didn't know if that made things better or worse. Because a wild gryphon could kill me and Logan as easily as a Reaper-controlled one could. Claws were still claws, after all.
"Crikey," Vic said from his scabbard. "He's a big fellow, isn't he?"
"Sshh," I said, talking out of the side of my mouth. "Don't make him angry."
The gryphon stood in the middle of the trail, staring at me. Just . . . staring at me, as though I were some sort of bug he was examining. After a few more seconds of scrutiny, the gryphon's gaze flicked to Logan. The creature studied the Spartan with the same intensity before his eyes dropped down to Logan's side. He could probably smell the blood that was no doubt still seeping through the bandages I'd wrapped around the Spartan.
I tensed, then turned my body so that I was standing between the gryphon and Logan. I thought about pulling Vic out of his scabbard, but I'd have to let go of Logan to do that, and I didn't want to drop him in the snow, not when he was so badly injured already. But I'd go for the sword if I had to. Because whatever happened, the gryphon was not going to hurt Logan.
At least, not until he had eaten me first.
Seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. The silence stretched on and on, and, still, the gryphon didn't move. Finally, I drew in a breath. Because I still had Logan to think about, and we were both growing weaker and colder with every passing second.
I drew another breath and took a step to my right.
The gryphon didn't move. The creature could have been one of the statues outside the Library of Antiquities for all the emotion he showed. So I took another step to my right. Then another, then another, until I was no longer directly in front of the gryphon.
And then, I started to walk forward.
The trail wasn't all that wide, and the creature's wings brushed against my snowsuit as I stepped past it. The gryphon turned his head, watching me, but I kept walking. I'd never wanted to just run, run, run as badly as I did in that moment, but I forced myself to keep my panic down and put one foot in front of the other. Slowly, carefully, cautiously, and mindful of the mythological creature at my back the whole time.
"What are you doing?" Vic said.
"What I have to," I said. "Now shut up. Maybe he likes to eat things that make unnecessary noise."
"Unnecessary noise? Unnecessary noise? Hmph!" Vic sniffed.
But thankfully, the sword didn't say anything else.
I kept walking, my shoulders tense. At any second, I expected to feel the gryphon's claws sinking into my back or his beak tearing into my neck. But nothing happened. Maybe the creature had lost interest in us. I hoped so. I'd gone about fifty feet down the trail when I felt safe enough to look behind me.
Once again, I found myself staring into the gryphon's eyes.
The creature was about five feet behind me, his head stuck out and down as he peered at me. Despite his size, I hadn't heard the gryphon move through the snow. Once again, curiosity glimmered in his gaze, and I realized I wasn't a bug he was staring at - I was a mouse.
A tiny, tiny, little mouse - one that could be eaten at any second.
I swallowed down a hard knot of fear, along with a scream that was stuck in my throat, turned my head, and started forward once more. Every fifty feet or so, I stopped to look back, but the gryphon was always right there - following me.
Seriously, the creature was trotting along the trail behind me like Nyx running after me across the quad. Okay, that was creepy. But since the gryphon wasn't attacking us, I slogged on.
Logan drifted in and out of consciousness as I hauled him down the mountain. Occasionally, he would mumble a few words, but I was so focused on following the trail that I didn't pay any attention to what he was saying, although every once in a while, he called out my name.
"Gypsy girl . . ." he mumbled. "Can't fight it . . . can't fight him . . . run, Gwen . . . run!"
Logan thrashed against me, lost in his memories of our fight and the moment when he'd stabbed me. I wasn't the only one with some serious nightmares. But there was nothing I could do for him, so I gritted my teeth, pretended I couldn't hear his anguished cries, and trudged on.
I don't know how much farther I'd gone before I noticed the baby gryphon.
For the longest time, the trail ahead was a mix of snow and wind. Then, I glanced up, and the baby gryphon was there, like he'd just popped out of the trees. I slowed, then stopped, wondering if this was what the adult gryphon had been waiting for. If the creature had been following me and Logan this whole time because he knew that his baby was waiting and this would make it easier for both of the creatures to tear into us at once. I was so cold and exhausted that it took me a moment to realize why that would be a Bad, Bad Thing. Getting eaten by gryphons? So not cool.
Once more, I stopped and waited to see what the creatures would do.
The little gryphon crept closer to me. The baby eyed me the same way the adult had. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the baby let out a sharp, squeaky cry.
The adult gryphon screeched back some sort of response. Before I even realized what had happened, the adult gryphon had lunged forward, hooked his beak through Ran's net, and pulled Logan away from me. One moment, I had my arm around the Spartan's waist. The next, the entire net was dangling from the gryphon's beak, with Logan swinging back and forth like he was relaxing in a summer hammock.
The gryphon gave me a long, almost pointed look, then darted off the trail and into the trees.
I was so stunned that I stood there for a moment. Then, the reality of the situation hit me.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Come back here with him!"
But the gryphon ignored me and moved deeper into the forest, taking Logan with him. I drew Vic out of my scabbard and plunged into the trees after them.
I'd thought the gryphon might spread his wings wide and soar up into the sky, but instead, the creature loped through the forest at a slow, steady pace, like a lion running through the plains of Africa, despite the fallen trees, rocks, and other obstacles that littered the forest floor. I followed as fast as I could, not caring that my boots slipped in the snow with every step and that I was in danger of falling and breaking a leg. All I could think about was Logan and how I couldn't let him get eaten by the gryphons.
Apparently, the baby gryphon thought this was some sort of game because the creature hopped through the snow right beside me, occasionally letting out little screeches of excitement. Well, I was glad someone was having a good time because I certainly wasn't.
I don't know how far back into the trees we'd gone when the adult gryphon finally stopped. The creature stared at me another second before plunging into a dark opening that led into some sort of cave. The baby gryphon let out another happy screech and followed the older creature into the darkness.