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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
"I was afraid you'd try to convince me to stay," he whispered. "And that I'd let you."
"I know," I whispered back. "I know that you just wanted to get away after what Agrona and the Reapers did to you, but it hurt all the same. It still hurts, knowing that you'll be leaving again the second we get back to the academy and Nickamedes is okay."
Logan didn't say anything. I got to my feet and turned away so he wouldn't see me brushing the tears from my eyes. I'd just finished wiping the last of them away when I realized I could see daylight through the cavern entrance - real daylight and not the twilight world I'd been in with Nike and Eir.
I drew in a breath, lifted my chin, and faced Logan once more. Because no matter how much I would have liked to find someplace to curl up into a ball and cry, we still had to hike the rest of the way down the mountain so we could get the ambrosia flower to Nickamedes in time.
"It's light outside," I said in a dull tone. "We should get moving. Ajax and the others will probably come searching for us soon."
Logan nodded. We didn't look at each other as we got ready to leave.
I packed up my sleeping bag, grabbed my backpack from the bed of needles and grasses, and hoisted it onto my shoulders. I also walked over to the wall where I'd propped up Vic last night. The sword let out a wide, jaw-cracking yawn, then regarded me with a sleepy purple eye.
"Good," he said. "You're up. That means I can finally get some sleep. Don't wake me unless there is something to kill."
Before I could even say anything, he'd snapped his eye shut. Less than a minute later, he started snoring and talking in his sleep.
"Bloody Reapers . . ." he mumbled. "Going to kill them all . . ."
Vic didn't stir as I picked him up and belted the scabbard around my waist.
With that task complete, there was nothing left to do but to finally turn and face Logan again. He had gotten to his feet, although he was a bit wobbly. He clutched at his side, but he seemed to be a little stronger than the day before. I took a sip of water from the bottle I'd been carrying in my backpack, then gave him the rest. He downed it in one gulp. I also offered him the last packet of granola that I had, but he shook his head, telling me he didn't want it. Neither did I, so I stuffed it into one of my pockets.
"Can you walk?" I asked. "Do you want me to check your wound again?"
He shook his head. "I can make it, with your help. I think we should leave the bandage alone. Otherwise, the wound might start bleeding again."
I nodded, stepped forward, and slid my arm under his shoulder. We fell silent, although he leaned on me as we slowly headed outside.
When Logan and I stepped out of the cavern, the cold was like a slap in the face, and the bitter chill instantly seeped through all my layers of clothes.
But the worst part was the snow.
More than a foot of the white stuff had fallen overnight - a thick, heavy, wet snow that would be difficult to walk through even if Logan wasn't injured. Not to mention the fact that we were deep in the forest, and I didn't have a clue as to where the trail was - or how to find it.
"Where's the trail from here?" Logan asked, voicing my thoughts.
"I have no idea. Maybe the gryphons can take us back to it."
Our movements in the cavern had woken the gryphons, and they'd followed us outside, screeching, yawning, and stretching, shaking off the last of their sleep as Logan and I had. I helped Logan lean against the side of the cavern while I went in search of the leader. He was standing outside with the others, with the baby snuggled by his side.
I looked at the adult gryphon, wondering if he'd really been with Eir in the clearing earlier, but I had no way of knowing.
I cleared my throat. "Um, so I was wondering how my friend and I can get back to the trail? You know, so we can walk the rest of the way down the mountain?"
The gryphon cocked his head to the side, as if he didn't understand what I was asking. I pumped my arms up and down by my sides and marched in place, trying to show him what I wanted. The gryphon stared at me a moment longer, then dropped down onto his belly in the snow. He screeched, spread his wings wide, and then waggled them at me before making a little hopping motion, like he was about to take off into the air. He did that over and over, but I didn't understand him any more than he did me. I looked at Logan, but he shrugged.
"Don't look at me," he said. "I don't speak gryphon."
"Oh, it's so bloody obvious," Vic grumbled. "He wants you to ride him."
I looked down at the sword. "I thought you were going to sleep."
"Hard to sleep with all this bloody screeching going on," he muttered. "Apparently, I have to translate as well as stand guard. My work is never done."
I ignored the sword's snit and faced the gryphon again. "Do you really want us . . . to ride you?"
I shook my head. "I don't think that's a good idea."
The gryphon narrowed his bronze eyes and screeched again. He wasn't going to take no for an answer. And really, we didn't have another choice anyway. Not if we wanted to get off the mountain in time to get the ambrosia flower back to Nickamedes.
"Come on, Gypsy girl," Logan said, grinning. "It'll be fun."
I sighed, thinking that his idea of fun was far, far different from mine.
I helped Logan climb up onto the gryphon's broad back; then I got up in front of him. I also grabbed Ran's net out of my backpack and used it to tie Logan, Vic, and myself to the creature - because I really, really did not want to fall off. I also hoped the net would make the three of us that much lighter. I'd seen Black rocs carry more than one rider, and the gryphon probably had the same sort of strength, but I figured it wouldn't hurt.
The gryphon seemed amused by my wrapping the net around and around all of our bodies, and he gave a little huff, as if he was laughing at me.
"What?" I muttered. "In case you haven't noticed, you're the only one with wings here. Logan and I can't fly like you can. If we fall off, well, we won't even have time to scream on the way down."
The gryphon let out another huffing laugh.
Finally, when I was as ready as I could be, I gently put my hand down on the gryphon's head and smoothed out his bronze fur.
"Please take us back," I said.
The gryphon let out a loud, fierce, wild cry and launched himself into the air. In the space of a few heartbeats, we'd shot up hundreds of feet into the sky. My hands tightened around Ran's net, and I felt Logan's arm slide firmly around my waist.
"Easy," he murmured in my ear. "If Vivian and Agrona can do it, so can we. The gryphon isn't going to let us fall. So just relax and enjoy the ride."
It took me a few minutes to unclench my fingers and jaw enough to do that. The gryphon flew at an easy pace, his wings spread wide, sailing up and down on the air currents. Slowly, I began to enjoy the high, airy, weightless sensation. It was almost like we were a feather floating this way and that on the breeze. Eventually, I was able to look over the side of the gryphon's body. For a moment, I wished I hadn't, as the forest, trees, and rocks zipped by us below, becoming a white, green, and gray blur. But I slowly got used to the sensation, and I realized just how wonderful it was - like being completely, utterly free.
I wondered if this was how Vivian felt whenever she rode her Black roc. I wondered if she got any happiness out of soaring through the sky on the creature - or if she ever enjoyed anything besides hurting other people. But I pushed thoughts of the Reaper girl out of my mind, determined to enjoy this moment for as long as I could.
The other gryphons joined us in the air, even the baby, and they formed a sort of honor guard around us. I found myself laughing and waving at the creatures, even as the wind tore away my happy chuckles and sent them sailing down to the ground so very far below. Behind me, I could hear Logan laughing and cheering, as well. He was enjoying the ride just as much as I was. Even Vic chimed in on occasion with a Jolly good show. Jolly good show, old boys.
We flew down the mountain, and I got glimpses of the winding trail that we'd first come up. Once he sensed us relaxing, the gryphon picked up the pace, pumping his wings back and forth, and flying faster and faster. Soon, we left the mountaintop completely behind and were zooming over Snowline Ridge. Below, the people and cars on the streets looked like tiny toys half-buried in the snow. I leaned over the gryphon's side and waved, although I doubted anyone could see me. A few people looked up as the gryphons' shadows slid over their heads, but they quickly ducked back into whatever shop they'd come out of. I kept laughing.
Finally, though, the academy came into sight. Like everything else, snow covered the grounds, but I still spotted the wall that ringed the campus, as well as the buildings on the main quad.
I leaned forward. "Set us down there," I told the gryphon. "Right in the middle of everything."
The creature nodded, let out another screech, and started circling down toward the ground.
One kid looked up and caught sight of the gryphons. He started yelling at his classmates, and, soon, everyone's heads were turned up in our direction. All I could hear was the wind roaring in my ears, but I could imagine the chatter of conversation on the ground.
People came rushing out of all the buildings, mouths open, eyes wide with shock. It took me a few minutes, but I finally spotted my friends among the mix. All I had to do was look for a splash of head-to-toe pink, and I saw Daphne, with the others standing beside her. I waved, even though I wasn't sure they could see me.
Finally, the gryphons glided to the ground right in the center of the main quad. Whispers swirled all around me, but I ignored them as I untied Logan, Vic, and myself from Ran's net and the gryphon's back and slid to the ground.
I pulled off my glove and put my bare hand against the gryphon's side. "Thank you," I whispered. "For everything."
And then I closed my eyes and concentrated, trying to show the gryphon how much I appreciated his helping me and Logan - and saving our lives.
The gryphon bowed his head, then nudged me with it. I knew what he wanted, and I laughed and scratched the top of his head. Once more, I felt the creature's warm feelings of friendship and gratitude wash over me.
"You know," I murmured, "if you're ever out in my mountains, I'd love to take another ride sometime."
The gryphon dipped his head, and I knew it was a date.
Logan touched my shoulder, then jerked his head, and I realized we'd attracted quite a crowd. Students were holding up their phones and snapping photos, but no one dared approach the gryphons - no one but my friends.
Daphne. Carson. Oliver. Alexei. Ajax. Rory. Rachel. My friends, old and new, stood in a row before me, their eyes moving back and forth between me, Logan, and the gryphons.
"Hey, guys," I said.
No one spoke for a moment.
Finally, Rory shook her head. "I'll give you this, Princess. You sure do know how to make an entrance."
I just grinned.
I said good-bye to the gryphons a final time. Then, as one unit, the creatures spread their wings and soared up into the sky, spiraling higher and higher. A sense of awe rippled off everyone on the quad as they watched the creatures - and disappointment, too, that the creatures weren't going to hang around longer. I had a feeling the gryphons would be back, though - sooner than anyone thought.
Once the gryphons were gone, all eyes turned to me and my friends as we left the quad behind. Well, I was trying to leave. Everyone else was still walking slowly and staring up at the sky, hoping to catch one more glimpse of the creatures.
Daphne finally lowered her gaze and shook her head. "Only you would make friends with a gryphon and have it pay off later."
I thought of the silver laurel bracelet Eir had given me. "I don't know about that."
"What was it like?" Rory asked in an eager voice. "Actually getting to ride on one?"
I sighed. "It was amazing."
I told them all about my trek down the mountain with Logan and how the gryphons had saved us from the storm. I didn't say anything about my visit with Nike and Eir or my argument with the Spartan. But my friends could tell something was going on between me and Logan. More than once, Daphne raised her eyebrows at me, then at him. I shook my head, telling her we'd talk about it later.
As soon as I finished my story, Ajax pulled out his cell phone and started making arrangements for us to take a plane back to North Carolina as soon as possible. I handed the coach the container with the ambrosia flower, and Ajax tucked it inside his jacket. I didn't tell him about the bracelet, though. It was still hidden under my snowsuit and layers of clothes. I didn't know what I was going to do with the bracelet - or when I would do it.
Daphne used her magic to heal the roc wound in Logan's side, and she took care of all of my bumps and bruises, as well. Once that was done, we went back to Rachel's house, while the guys headed up the hill to the empty cottage where they'd been staying. Apparently, my friends had been packing up their gear and getting ready to hike back up the mountain to find me and Logan when the two of us had landed on the quad with the gryphons.
Daphne and I grabbed our things and went out into the front room. Rachel and Rory were looking at the photos on one of the tables - the photos of Rory's parents I'd noticed before. From Rachel and Rory's red eyes and flushed cheeks, it was obvious they'd both been crying.
Daphne looked back and forth between me, Rory, and Rachel. "I'll go on up to the other cottage and help the guys," she said. "It always takes Carson forever to get ready."