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|Midnight Frost(Mythos Academy #5) by Jennifer Estep|
So I pushed my sleeve up and held the bracelet out where he could see it. He leaned forward and ran his fingers over the leaves just as Grandma Frost had earlier. Nickamedes turned one of the laurel leaves this way and that, studying it with his usual intensity.
After a moment, his eyes brightened with wonder. "The mistletoe chain is quite beautiful, but this looks like a silver laurel leaf. They all do. Where did you get so many of them? Silver laurel is even rarer than ambrosia flowers. I've never actually seen them myself, not in person, just pictured in books in the library."
"Oh, it was just something I . . . picked up in the ruins," I said, not quite ready to tell him the whole story yet. "I need to know how to use the leaves and what they can do. Do you think . . . you can help me with that? Please?"
Back at the ruins, Covington had bragged about how he'd been researching artifacts for the Reapers. I figured it couldn't hurt to have Nickamedes do the same for the Pantheon - and for me too.
He smiled again, looking more and more like his old self. "Of course. I wonder if I could convince Ajax to bring me some books from the library. Well, actually, you can go get them. You'll be able to find them quicker than he would anyway. I know just the place to start researching this. Hand me that piece of paper and pen, will you? Quickly now, please. I want to make some notes before I forget them . . ."
I handed the librarian the items he asked for, and he started muttering to himself and scribbling down all the books he wanted to use to start researching the silver laurel. Instead of leaving, I sat down in a chair in the corner and listened to him talk, happy that he was going to be okay and that everything had worked out, despite the Reapers' plans.
For now at least.
Things slowly got back to normal over the next few days.
Once Nickamedes was out of danger, my friends and I went back to our regular schedule of classes, homework, and weapons training and tried to catch up on all of the assignments we'd missed while we'd been away. Rumors swirled around campus about what had happened in the Library of Antiquities the night Nickamedes had been poisoned and about where my friends and I had gone, but I ignored the stares and whispers. All that mattered was that he was getting better. Besides, I doubted the other kids would believe everything that had happened anyway. I could hardly believe it, and I'd been there.
A few nights later, I was back in the library, sitting behind the checkout counter, working my usual shift. Alexei was standing against the glass wall behind me, while Aiko, the Protectorate guard, was at one of the study tables, reading a book. After the attack, the Powers That Were at Mythos had decided to assign Aiko to watch over me, as well. It wouldn't do much good, though. If the Reapers wanted to get to me, they would get to me. All I could do was just keep trying to become a better warrior so that when I faced Vivian again, it would be for the last time. So that I would finally manage to defeat her.
It was a slow night in the library, and most of the kids had already left to go back to their dorms for the night. I'd grabbed several books out of the stacks and was poring over them, comparing the pictures on the pages to the artifacts on the map Oliver had drawn for me. Since the attack at the Eir Ruins, I was more determined than ever to find the artifacts before Vivian, Agrona, and the rest of the Reapers did -
I glanced behind me. Nickamedes slowly shuffled out of the glass office complex. With his left hand, he cradled some books to his chest. With his right hand, he leaned on the cane that he was using to help him walk. The librarian was still feeling the aftereffects of the poison that had damaged his legs, and his steps were slow and a bit unsteady.
Nickamedes was getting around well enough, and Metis had said he would probably make a full recovery, but the faint, hollow sound of his cane hitting the floor caused a fresh wave of guilt to surge through me - because it should have been me hobbling around instead of him. As soon as we figured out exactly what the silver laurel did, I was going to use one of the leaves on him to make him as strong and healthy as he'd been before.
Still, despite my guilt, I made myself smile as Nickamedes walked over to me and carefully slid the books in his arm down onto the counter.
"Anything?" I asked.
I wasn't the only one doing research. As soon as he'd been released from the infirmary, Nickamedes had started stockpiling books to go through in hopes that they might contain some information about the silver laurel leaves.
He shook his head. "Not in these books. But don't worry, Gwendolyn, we'll find out more about the laurels. It'll just take some time."
I looked at his too-thin face, the tired slump in his shoulders, and the way he had to lean on the cane just to stay upright. More guilt surged through me, along with anger. Not for the first time, I made myself and Nickamedes a silent promise - that the Reapers were going to pay for what they'd done to him.
"Yeah," I said, pushing my dark thoughts away and forcing myself to smile a little bigger and brighter. "I know you'll find out something about the leaves. It'll just take some time, like you said."
"Anyway," he replied. "You can shelve those. I've got some more books to go through in my office. I want to start researching the mistletoe too, in case it has any special properties."
I nodded. Nickamedes gave me a tired smile before he slowly turned and headed back through the glass door. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, making sure he made it back to his office and was seated at his desk again.
I had reached for the books so I could go shelve them when footsteps sounded. I looked up to see Logan walking toward me.
My heart lifted at the sight of him. I hadn't seen much of Logan these last few days, since he'd been spending a lot of time with Nickamedes, making sure the librarian was resting and taking it easy like Metis had ordered him to. I also hadn't had any more nightmares about Logan stabbing me. Our time together on the mountain had at least put those fears to rest.
My eyes traced over Logan's face. His chiseled features looked as handsome as ever, but something seemed . . . different about him. Maybe it was the square set of his shoulders or the way his gaze fixed firmly on my face instead of skittering away as it had so often on the mountain. He just seemed . . . better.
Logan stopped in front of the counter and tucked his hands into the pockets of his dark jeans.
"Hi," he said in a soft voice.
He stared at me, and I looked right back at him, wondering if this was the last time I'd ever see him. But after a few seconds, I couldn't stand the silence anymore - or the way my heart clenched with dread at the thought of him leaving again.
"Come to say good-bye?" I asked, wanting him to just say the word and go. At least that way, I could hurry off into the stacks where no one but Alexei and Aiko would see me cry.
Logan shook his head. "No, not to say good-bye - to apologize."
I frowned. "Apologize for what?"
He looked at me, his blue eyes serious. "For running away, just like you said."
This time, I shook my head. "I didn't mean that. Not really. I know you needed some time to think about things. I'm the one who should be apologizing. You were the one the Reapers hurt - not me. I was just being a selfish, whiny bitch, back in the cavern. You're the strongest, bravest person I know, Logan. What the Reapers did to you was horrible, but you survived it. That's the only thing that matters. I'm sorry for all of the mean, hurtful things I said to you - sorrier than you will ever know."
Over the past few days, I'd had a lot of time to think about me, Logan, and what the Reapers had done to him. Yeah, I was still hurt and angry, but I'd also realized that part of me was jealous of Logan - and the fact that he could walk away from the Reapers and everything else when I couldn't. But being in danger, being a target, being hurt over and over again, was part of being a Champion - part of being Nike's Champion. And it was something I was just going to have to deal with until the second Chaos War was decided - one way or the other. But in the meantime, I wasn't going to take my emotions out on Logan, not when he'd suffered just as much as I had - maybe even more.
I drew in another breath. "So anyway, I'm just - I'm just sorry. For everything. I hope you can forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive," Logan said. "Because you're right. I did run away. It was easier to leave, rather than staying here and facing you."
"You didn't want to see me and be constantly reminded of how you'd hurt me. I get it - really, I do. I probably would have done the same thing, if our positions had been reversed."
He shook his head again. "No, you wouldn't have. You would have stayed here. You would have sucked it up and done what you had to do in order to defeat the Reapers and keep everyone safe. Because that's the kind of person you are, Gypsy girl. And it's the kind of person I want to be too."
"What are you saying?" I whispered.
"I'm saying that I'm back," he said. "I'm back at the academy, and I'm back in the fight, right here by your side, Gypsy girl. I love you, and I don't ever plan on leaving again."
So many emotions surged through me at his words - hope, relief, happiness, and just a touch of fear. That it wouldn't last. That something else would happen. That he would leave again. But I made myself stare into his eyes, and I let him see how important this was to me.
"Promise?" I whispered again. "Promise that you'll stay no matter what happens? Because I don't know - I don't know what I'll do if you leave like that again."
He drew an X over his heart - the same sort of off-center X that the scars on my own chest and hand made. Then, he grinned, and it was his grin again - Logan's crazy, crooked, sexy, teasing grin that I loved so much. There was no guilt in his blue eyes. No hurt. No fear. Just his determination - and his love for me.
And just like that, all the anger, hurt, and guilt I'd been carrying around ever since Logan had stabbed me and left the academy vanished. Maybe it was crazy, but all the pain was just . . . gone, and all I felt in its place was a dizzying rush of love and concern for him, the emotion so intense that my body trembled with it. Logan had told me once that we'd already spent enough time being apart, and he was right.
I closed my eyes and drew in a breath. Then, I shuddered it out, hopped off my stool, ran around the checkout counter, and threw myself into his arms. Logan stepped forward to meet me, burying his face in my neck. The heat of his body melted into my own, driving away the chill I'd felt in my heart ever since he'd gone away.
I pulled back, stood on my tiptoes, and pressed my lips to Logan's in a hot, fierce kiss, not caring who saw me or what they thought about it.
His lips met mine, and everything else just fell away. All I was aware of was the press of his lips on mine, our breath mingling together, our arms holding each other that much tighter, and all the warm, soft, fizzy, dizzying rush of love flowing from him to me and back again.
Finally, the kiss ended, and I stared up into his face.
"I love you," I whispered.
He gave me another crooked grin. "You know, I think that's the first time you've ever said that to me. In person, anyway. I thought girls were supposed to say I love you first, along with all that other mushy stuff."
I rolled my eyes, stepped back, and lightly punched him on the shoulder. "There you go again, Spartan. Ruining the moment."
His grin widened.
I stood up on my tiptoes and pressed another kiss to his lips. Then, I jerked my head at the checkout counter.
"What is it?" Logan asked. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I said. "But now that you're back, we have work to do. Feel like helping me with something?"
He grinned again. "Always, Gypsy girl. Always."
I threaded my fingers through his, then led him around the checkout counter to show him the map of artifacts that we were going to go after - together.
BEYOND THE STORY
Wondering how Gwen retrieved Ran's net before the start of Midnight Frost? Read on for a blow-by-blow account.
Today, Daphne, Alexei, and I went to the Crius Coliseum to look for a possible artifact, but things didn't turn out quite like I expected...
"Do you really think the artifact is here?"
I shrugged. "I don't know."
Daphne Cruz, my best friend, stopped in the middle of the room, put her hands on her hips, and glared at me. Princess pink sparks of magic streamed out of the Valkyrie's fingertips, telling me she wasn't exactly happy with me right now.
"Well, if you don't know, then what are we doing here?" she asked. "And by we, I really mean me."
Here was the Crius Coliseum, a museum on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina, devoted to all things mythological. Most folks who visited the coliseum thought it was an interesting look back at ancient times, with its rooms highlighting Greek, Norse, Russian, Roman, Japanese, Chinese, and all the other peoples, cultures, and gods of the world.
What they didn't realize was that it was all real.
That those in the mythological world were locked in a struggle that had carried over into modern times - and that it was up to warrior whiz kids like me and Daphne to make sure the good guys of the Pantheon won.
That's right. Me, Gwen Frost, the Gypsy girl who touched stuff and saw things, was officially responsible for saving the world. Something I wasn't doing so well at so far, since I'd gotten my ass kicked more times than I cared to remember by some seriously bad guys. But no matter how terrible things got, I kept on fighting. It was the only thing I could do.