Akarnae, p.18
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       Akarnae, p.18

         Part #1 of The Medoran Chronicles series by Lynette Noni
 

  “Yeah, well, at least Fletcher was able to fix my problem with that healing paste. He can’t do anything to fix what’s wrong with your face.”

  “Ha ha,” Jordan said dryly. “You’ve got Combat now, haven’t you? I don’t even know why you bother going anymore since all you do is sit and watch.”

  “It’s the principle,” Alex said. “Karter’s made it very clear he doesn’t want me there, and even though I certainly don’t want to be there either, my pride is at stake. I refuse to let him see me quit, even if I’m not actually participating.”

  She paused before quietly adding, “And maybe a little part of me is hoping that one day he’ll get so sick of seeing me sitting on the sidelines that he’ll start teaching me something simple, something I can handle.”

  “Well, good luck with that today,” Jordan said. “I’ve got to run if I want to make it to Archery. We’re meant to be out in the forest and I’m hoping Finn will be mapping out his new obstacle course so I can accidentally shoot an arrow through his—”

  “Jordan! Hurry up!” Mel called out over the sea of students. She stood with Bear near the entrance to Gen-Sec, and when Alex and Jordan headed over to them, she bounced excitedly and chanted, “Last class, last class, last class!”

  “Didn’t you just have PE?” Alex asked. “How do you have so much energy?”

  “Finn was easy on us Betas today,” Mel said. “All we had to do was map out the new obstacle course he’s planning for some of the upper levels when classes start back.”

  Jordan muttered unhappily under his breath, clearly disappointed that he wouldn’t get a chance to try and shoot their teacher.

  “I don’t envy you guys,” Mel continued. “Finn is a genius—an evil genius, but a genius no less. You’re going to die!”

  “I’m so glad you’re finding joy in our potential demise,” Alex said, unable to keep the bitterness from her tone.

  Mel grinned. “You know you love my positive outlook on life.”

  Alex shook her head in exasperation, but her lips curved into a smile. Mel really was a lot of fun; it was a shame she and Connor were rarely around.

  “Time to go, guys,” Bear said, hustling everyone along.

  They parted ways and Alex headed towards the Arena, resigned to waste the next two hours while her classmates beat each other up.

  After she took her seat on the sidelines, Alex watched as the five boys stretched and talked amongst themselves. As far as she knew, only two of them had a close friendship outside of class—Declan Stirling, the tank of a guy who had decked her on her first day, and Kaiden James. Both were in the year above Alex, while her other three classmates were older. Sebastian Gibbs and Nick Baxter were in their fifth year, and Brendan Labinsky was a first year apprentice. Despite their age differences, they all got along well, and they were indisputably the best Akarnae had to offer when it came to physical fighting and defence.

  Alex still had no idea whose sick idea of a joke it had been to stick her in with them.

  “Jennings!” Karter bellowed when he entered the Arena.

  She turned to face him, surprised he’d even acknowledged her presence. Usually he ignored her completely.

  “Sir?”

  He glared at her until she hesitantly stood and walked over to him.

  “Yes, sir?” she tried again.

  “Tell me what you’ve learned since joining this class,” Karter ordered.

  Alex gaped at him. Was he serious? Didn’t he remember his orders for her to sit and be silent in every class?

  She looked closely at him, trying to guess his intention. His gaze was narrowed, but there was something in his eyes—a challenge. Well, she wasn’t going to back down. She might not have learned anything by her own experience, but she’d spent hours observing the others.

  Alex ignored the condescending stares of her classmates and blurted out the first thing that came to mind: “Brendan is arrogant.”

  Her eyes widened, but she couldn’t take the words back, so she continued quickly to cover the amused and indignant noises coming from her classmates. “His technique is solid, but he’s overconfident of his own ability and often relies on brute strength which makes his movements sloppy.”

  She sneaked a peek at the oldest boy in the group and found him scowling at her. Big surprise. She really didn’t want him killing her in her sleep or anything, so she hurried to say something complimentary. “When he’s not being cocky”—she heard a hiss but continued anyway—“he has a lot going for him. When he doesn’t taunt his opponents and actually focuses on what he’s doing, very little can get past his defences.”

  Alex didn’t risk looking at Brendan again, but at least he wasn’t hissing any more. She quickly moved on to her next victim. “Declan is a machine—I’ve learned that first-hand.” She smiled at him tentatively and he surprised her with a friendly wolf-grin back. “His size is intimidating enough to make anyone think twice before attacking him, but if they were stupid enough to take him on, he’s actually got some mad skills up his sleeve.”

  She went on to list the rest of her observations about Declan, and then Nick and Sebastian too, until only one classmate remained.

  “Kaiden is…” she searched for the best word before settling on, “creative. He’s quick on his feet and he’s a master of improvisation. His actual technique makes fighting seem effortless, but it’s his resourcefulness that makes him such a dangerous weapon. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this class, it’s that Combat isn’t all about strength and power; it’s about creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. That’s what’ll keep you standing long after your opponent has hit the ground.”

  Alex trailed off into silence, which continued to the point where she actually heard a cricket chirping in the background. The lack of noise was so uncomfortable that she made the mistake of looking around, and she immediately became trapped in Kaiden’s curious stare. She’d never been close enough before to notice that he had the most amazing blue eyes. They complimented his dark hair and tanned complexion perfectly. He was one of those naturally gorgeous guys—the kind who were automatically off-limits because they were usually too good to be true.

  He raised an eyebrow questioningly and she quickly averted her eyes, embarrassed to have been caught staring back.

  “Right,” Karter grunted, finally breaking the awkward silence. “At least you haven’t been twiddling your thumbs and thinking about shoes during my class.”

  Alex jerked with shock. That was about as close to a ‘well done’ as she’d ever heard him give anyone.

  “But since you’re such an expert,” he continued, and she cringed at his inflection, “then you’re wasting away on the sidelines, aren’t you?”

  It was clearly a statement, not a question.

  “You lot, pair up and get started,” he told her classmates, all of whom were still staring at her as if they’d never seen her before. “Jennings, come with me.”

  Alex scrambled to keep up with Karter as he led her through an archway in the side of the Arena and into a large, sheltered space.

  “Suit up,” Karter commanded, gesturing towards some padded armour hanging on the wall.

  Alex did as ordered, and after donning a helmet, protective vest, and knee and elbow guards, she looked and felt ready for some reasonably hard-core rollerblading.

  Karter, however, had other ideas.

  “Do the course as many times as you need until you can complete it from start to finish without mistake,” he ordered, pressing on a remote TCD terminal by the door.

  Within moments the room came to life as objects around the floor started moving, forming what looked to be an obstacle course. There were dangling ropes, rock walls, ditches, slime pools, stepping stones, and even a moving balancing beam located underneath three heavy-looking, swinging sandbags.

  It wasn’t an obstacle course, Alex realised—it was a hospital course. Because that was surely where she would end up afterwards.

 
“Come find me when you’re done,” Karter said, walking out of the room. “But only when you can do it perfectly.”

  She looked at the menacing course and gulped before taking a step towards the first obstacle.

  Twenty-One

  Karter arrived to check on her progress at the end of their two-hour class. Unfortunately, Alex had yet to complete the course without falling, tripping, hitting or slipping, which meant she was stuck there until he was satisfied.

  She was covered in scratches from the thorn-filled ditches and coated with slimy gunk from sliding off the swing-ropes—not to mention soaked to the bone and covered from head to toe with mud. But, despite all that, she’d finally figured out a strategy for getting around safely and she was confident that if Karter hadn’t scared her when he’d entered the room and yelled at her to hurry up, then she just might have made it through in time to leave with everyone else.

  Instead, the interruption broke her concentration and led to her being smacked in the head by a swinging sandbag. The force of the hit knocked her off the narrow balancing beam and into the muddy bog below. It wasn’t the first time she’d come off the beam, but it was the first time she’d been hit by the heavy bag—and it hurt, even with her protective gear cushioning the impact. She ended up just sitting in the mud for a moment, completely dazed.

  “Get up, Jennings! You’re wasting my time!” Karter barked, and she had little choice but to move.

  Alex’s newly pounding headache and ringing ears messed with her balance so much that it took another half hour before Karter was satisfied enough with her performance to let her go. She smiled with exhausted relief, but that wasn’t how he interpreted her expression.

  “Don’t look so cocky, Jennings,” he grunted. “You were on the easiest setting and it still took you longer than any student I’ve ever had before. When you come back after the holidays I’ll be increasing the level of difficulty and I’ll continue to do so every week. I doubt you’ll be smiling much then.”

  “I wasn’t—” she broke off, realising there was no point in defending herself.

  “And make sure you go and visit the Med Ward before dinner,” Karter ordered. “You’re a mess.”

  As a result of the extra time she’d been stuck on the obstacle course and her unplanned visit to see Fletcher, Alex didn’t have long before the food court was due to close for the night. She looked disgusting and probably smelled awful, but she was also starving. If she stopped off to have a shower first, there was no way she’d make it back in time to eat. So, after deliberating for a moment, she decided to risk it and hope that the other students had already finished and returned to their dorms to pack for the holidays.

  When she entered the food court it was emptier than usual, but there were still a few stragglers around. She heard muffled laughter as she walked further in and saw the guys from her Combat class still eating. Clearly they’d had time to shower and clean up, unlike herself.

  “Still alive?” Declan called out to her from across the room.

  “Piece of cake,” she called back, thankful that Fletcher’s painkillers kept her from hobbling like an old woman in front of them.

  They laughed again—at her, not with her—and she hurried to find a table with some kind of privacy.

  Glancing around the room, she spotted D.C. sitting alone in the corner with her head buried in a book. Perfect. No one would bother her if she was with the difficult girl. Alex had learned early on that the red-head was a people-repellent. Everyone knew to stay away from her lest they face her wrath. It was exactly what Alex needed at the moment.

  “Hey, Roomie.” Alex took a seat at the table.

  D.C. looked up in surprise. “Can I help you?” she asked, clearly annoyed by the interruption.

  “Nope,” Alex said, popping the ‘p’.

  She picked up a menu and ordered at random, so hungry that she didn’t even care what she ate. Almost instantly her meal arrived—a hamburger with salad on the side—and she started eating with relish. After a few bites she felt D.C.’s eyes on her, so she looked up.

  “You stink.”

  Alex almost choked on her mouthful. She quickly ordered a glass of water and guzzled it down to help clear her throat. “Gee, thanks.”

  “And you look terrible,” D.C. added.

  “Don’t hold back now,” Alex said.

  D.C. didn’t ask for any explanations about her appearance and Alex didn’t feel inclined to enlighten her; she had already accepted the fact that D.C. didn’t want anything to do with her. In fact, other than in class and sometimes just before bed, they hardly ever saw each other.

  It was kind of sad. Alex could have used a close female friend, especially when she was surrounded by guys most of the time. But it was clear D.C. wasn’t interested in friendship—with anyone.

  Despite all that, Alex was still curious about her, so she asked, “What are you reading?”

  “A book.”

  Right. That was helpful.

  “Is it good?” Alex tried again.

  “Would I be reading it if it wasn’t?” came the response.

  “It could be a textbook.”

  “It’s not.”

  “So, it’s a novel?” Alex guessed.

  D.C. sighed and put the book on the table, marking her place. “No, it’s not a novel,” she said, her voice tight with irritation. “If I answer your question, will you shut up?”

  Alex took another bite while she pretended to think about it. “Maybe.”

  D.C. made an annoyed sound and pushed her chair back, ready to leave.

  “Hey, don’t go!” Alex still needed her people-repelling buffer around until she finished eating. “I promise I’ll be quiet.”

  The other girl eyed her warily before slowly taking her seat again. She then did something totally unexpected and slid her book over so that Alex could see the cover. The Lost City: What Really Happened by A. N. Onymous.

  Alex snorted at the author’s name, but then she focused on the title again. “The Lost City?” she asked, handing the book back. “What lost city?”

  D.C. looked at her strangely. “Meya, of course. What other cities have just disappeared?”

  “Oh, right,” Alex said. “Meya.”

  Alex remembered what Darrius had told her about the missing city. She would never forget the image of the enchantingly beautiful Meyarins, but she was pretty sure he’d said they were kind of a taboo subject. She wondered how her roommate, of all people, had managed to get her hands on such a book.

  “What does it say really happened?” Alex asked, curious.

  “I thought we agreed you’d shut up once I told you what I was reading?” D.C. said, opening the book to start reading again.

  “Right,” Alex murmured. Conversation over.

  She picked at her salad and gulped the rest of her water before standing and saying, “I guess I’ll see you later?”

  “You’re deductive skills are astounding,” D.C. replied, not looking up from her book.

  Alex clenched her teeth and walked away before she could say anything she would regret. She headed straight for her dormitory and, after a much-needed shower, she ventured down to the Rec Room in search of Jordan and Bear.

  “Finally!” Jordan greeted Alex when she found both her friends hanging out with Connor and Mel. “Where have you been?”

  “Karter decided it was time for me to start pulling my weight,” she said, collapsing onto a beanbag in front of the fire. “He kept me back late and I had to visit Fletcher afterwards.”

  “That sucks,” Connor said. “I’m only Gamma for Combat, but I don’t think that matters to Karter. It’s almost like he can smell weakness.”

  Alex wasn’t sure how to take his comment, so she just smiled at him and gave what she hoped was a supportive look. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Listen guys, sorry to be lame, but I’m wrecked. I pretty much just came here to find out what’s happening tomorrow.” She addressed her comment to Bear and Jordan since she w
as leaving with them in the morning.

  “Mum sent over a Bubbler earlier in the week so we can take off whenever we want,” Bear told her, referring to the vial of liquid that, when smashed on the ground, opened a Bubbledoor. “The sooner we’re out of here, the sooner our holiday starts, so I say we aim to leave early-ish.”

  “What about the wards?” Alex asked, confused.

  “They’ll be deactivated tomorrow so students can leave,” Jordan explained, “and they’ll be taken down again at the end of the holiday when we all come back. It happens at the beginning and end of every break so we can come and go easier.”

  “Oh,” Alex said, seeing the logic in that.

  “Do you reckon you’ll be okay to leave straight after breakfast?” Bear asked, bringing the conversation back around.

  She nodded. “Sounds perfect. I’m really looking forward to meeting your family and seeing somewhere outside the academy.”

  Alex noticed the strange looks the cousins sent her way and realised that she hadn’t been careful enough with her words. “It’s been so long, I mean,” she covered, “since I arrived and all. It feels like I’ve been here forever. It’ll be nice to get away… again.”

  She’d never been a very good liar, but thankfully Jordan came to her rescue.

  “Yeah, it does feel like forever,” he said. “I think we’re all pretty excited for the break. I can’t wait to have some of Gammy’s apple pie. Mmm.” He smacked his lips and rubbed his stomach. Alex thought he might have even been drooling a little.

  “We go home every weekend, so it’s not such a big deal for us,” Mel said. “But still, it’ll be nice to not have classes and homework for a fortnight.”

  Alex agreed wholeheartedly. Two weeks with no PE sounded heavenly. She was about to respond but her words were cut off when she yawned.

  “You should go to bed,” Jordan said. “You’re going to need your energy for the next two weeks.”

  “Holidays are meant to be relaxing,” she informed him.

  “You’ve never been on holiday with us before,” Bear said, grinning. “You might even need a holiday from your holiday.”

 
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LYNETTE NONI SERIES:

  • The Medoran Chronicles
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