Akarnae, p.23
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       Akarnae, p.23

         Part #1 of The Medoran Chronicles series by Lynette Noni
 

  “She’s right,” Bear said. “She asked me to preserve them for you. They’re frozen in time, forever looking as fresh as the day they were picked.”

  Alex looked at him in surprise. “More genius Chemistry stuff?”

  He shrugged modestly. “Someone has to do it.”

  Alex thanked the little girl with a squishy hug and a raspberry kiss, before she picked up her next package, which was from Blake. She wasn’t sure what to think when she opened up a small jewellery box and found a ring inside.

  “Don’t get the wrong idea,” he joked from across the room. “Even I don’t move that fast.”

  Alex chuckled along with everyone else, but she was distracted by the strange ring. It was unlike any kind of jewellery she’d ever seen before. The band was as black as onyx, but it was the stone secured in the centre of it that was most intriguing. It was also black, but as she looked closer she noticed that the inside was swirling with dark, inky colours as if there was a gas or something trapped inside.

  “Hey! How come she gets one of those? I’ve wanted one forever!” Bear said, looking enviously at her gift.

  “From what you’ve said, little brother, it sounds like Alex and trouble go hand-in-hand,” Blake said. “I thought she might need it more than you.”

  Bear grumbled a little, but he reluctantly agreed.

  “There’s only enough Shadow in there for three Walks,” Blake told Alex as she slipped the ring on her finger, “so it’s for emergencies only, got it?”

  She nodded even though she had absolutely no idea what she was agreeing to. She would just have to ask Bear about the ring later. In the meantime, she had one gift left, and it wasn’t labelled.

  “That came through our TCD earlier in the week,” William told her. The Ronnigans had a much more integrated TCD than her new little Communications one. They used theirs for everything from grocery shopping to sending and receiving post. Alex had even used it to send D.C.’s gift through to the academy with a note asking Jarvis to forward it on to her roommate.

  Alex opened the gift in front of her, wondering who could have possibly sent it. Inside was a book: Overcoming Iatrophobia: How to turn your fear into your friend. The author had a list of abbreviated titles next to their name, as if that was supposed to mean something, but Alex still had no idea if the present was actually for her.

  She turned the book over and read the blurb, laughing out loud when she discovered that iatrophobia was a fear of doctors. She opened the front cover and found a note inside:

  Happy Kaldoras, Alex!

  I don’t normally give presents to students, but I saw this book and thought of you. Here’s hoping it will provide you with some much needed counselling.

  Wishing you an enjoyable holiday,

  Fletcher.

  Alex laughed again as she read his scratchy note, and she wondered briefly why all doctors seemed to have nearly illegible handwriting, no matter what world they came from.

  Now that everything was open, she put her pile of treasures to the side and waited while everyone else finished with their own unwrapping. They oooohed and ahhhhed, and, in Evie’s case, squealed with excitement. Some of the loudest exclamations came when they opened up their gifts from Alex, but their reactions weren’t quite what she’d expected.

  The first surprise came when Johnny opened his Advanced Metaphysics book, which apparently wasn’t meant to be released to the public for another six months. There was an awkward silence when he asked her how she’d received a copy so early, and she ended up stammering out an uncertain answer.

  “I guess the woman who gave it to me must have known the author?”

  Everyone—including Alex—was sceptical about that.

  The book for Blake caused her even more trouble, since she soon discovered that it was an original copy of a manuscript that was handwritten over three thousand years ago. Only two copies were ever made, and neither had been seen for hundreds of years. Even the dialect was ancient—a dead language. Meyarin, as a matter of fact.

  When Blake mentioned that little piece of information the room went completely silent as everyone waited for Alex’s explanation.

  “Um…” she hesitated. “The woman at the bookshop must have had it for a while then, I guess?”

  Even to her ears it seemed impossible.

  Her predicament worsened further when William pulled out the glinting dagger. He stared at it in wonder for a moment before locking eyes with Alex. They weren’t the comforting eyes of the Ronnigan patriarch she’d come to know, but instead they were hardened, suspicious eyes. Eyes that made her realise she was now facing William the Warden.

  “Where did this come from, Alex?” he asked, his voice deceptively calm.

  “The same place as the rest,” she said, feeling a flicker of anxiety. “Lady Mystique helped me with all of your gifts, except the ones for Jordan, Bear and Evie.”

  “Lady Mystique?” William asked, walking over to sit beside her.

  Alex furrowed her brow. Maybe they knew her by another name. “The owner of the bookshop.”

  “What bookshop?”

  “The—the one down the road. In the village.” Seeing the blank looks around her, Alex added, “Ye Olde Bookshoppe.”

  “Alex,” Bear said, “there’s no bookshop in Woodhaven.”

  “What?” she said, taking in their serious expressions. “Of course there is! We walked straight past it when we visited On The House.”

  William exchanged a glance with Bear before turning back to Alex. “So, when you went shopping yesterday you went into this bookshop?”

  She nodded.

  “What happened once you were inside?”

  Alex told him everything, only leaving out the end part of her conversation with Lady Mystique and the fact that the old woman seemed to know much more about Alex than she should have. She finished by saying, “I figured she was a friend of your family or something. But she wouldn’t let me pay for the gifts, and at the end she just…”

  “She just what?” William pressed.

  “Um… she just… disappeared,” Alex said, wincing at how ridiculous she sounded.

  “Disappeared?” he asked, frowning. “How?”

  “She just sort of… faded out.”

  William stared into her eyes as if they would show whether she was telling the truth or not. Finally, he looked away from her and back to his dagger.

  “This is a Meyarin blade,” he told her. “It would have been forged thousands of years ago by their ancient warriors. It’s a dagger of incomparable worth, made out of priceless metals. It’s not something an old lady would give to a complete stranger so that you could gift it to another complete stranger.”

  “Don’t forget my book, Dad,” Blake added. “I believe it’s worth much more even than your dagger.”

  “My brooch, too, seems to be made of the same metal as your blade, Will,” Dorothy said, adding to the growing list.

  Alex started to feel faintly nauseous.

  “I don’t know what you’re all diddling on about,” Gammy spoke up. “We’ve been given some wonderful gifts from a remarkable young lady who only wanted to find us something she thought we’d like and appreciate. We’re not showing much gratitude with all these interrogations. We ought to count our blessings, not question them. It’s Kaldoras morning, a time to receive gifts and be thankful. Now, come and help me in the kitchen, Alex dear, before they forget their manners entirely and turn into wild animals.”

  Alex quickly scrambled after Gammy and tried to collect her thoughts. How could there be no bookshop in town? She’d seen it across the street from the other shops every time she’d walked the little strip. But, despite her own experience, she knew the Ronnigans were telling the truth too. Which led to the question: why could she see it when they clearly couldn’t? Was Ye Olde Bookshoppe perhaps like the Library, and only certain people could access it? Alex didn’t think so. She had a feeling the weirdness was influenced more by the owner of the shop
than anything else. But why had Lady Mystique opened her doors for Alex? And why had she given her such remarkable gifts to give to the others?

  “Now, now, dear, wipe that worried look off your face,” Gammy said. “Such a pretty girl shouldn’t look so confused.”

  “Sorry, Gammy,” she said gloomily. “But I am confused.”

  “Yes, well, I don’t think you’re the only one, sweet pea,” Gammy said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw my William so flustered. But Missy wouldn’t have caused this stir without reason, don’t you worry.”

  “Missy?” Alex asked, not sure what Gammy was talking about.

  “Your Lady Mystique.”

  “You know her?” Alex cried.

  “We’ve met,” Gammy said. “It was a long time ago, mind you, and just the once. She helped me out of a tight spot. Saved my life, in fact.” Gammy paused with a thoughtful look on her face. “It’s funny how the world works. That day I was carrying a book with me—a book I’d written myself, detailing all my favourite recipes and the ones I was still improving. After saving my life, Missy asked if she could borrow it for a while. It was a small price to pay, really, but it’s nice to have it back in my possession again.”

  Alex’s eyes widened as she realised that the book she’d given Gammy was actually Gammy’s own recipe book.

  “Why don’t you take a seat, dear. You look a bit peaky.”

  Alex didn’t argue as the older woman led her to a stool and placed a glass of water in front of her.

  “Now, you just sit there and keep me company while I cook up a feast,” Gammy said.

  Alex sipped her water and concentrated on the melody Gammy began humming, readily receiving the peace that was flowing out of the older woman.

  Eventually Alex had to move as the Ronnigan household began to fill with more and more people. Apparently Bear had been telling the truth when he’d said that Kaldoras was a community event for his family.

  Benny and Sal arrived first, bringing with them a large flagon of Sal’s homemade dillyberry juice to serve with lunch—much to everyone’s pleasure.

  Next came Dorothy’s sister, Tessa, who surprised Alex by pulling her into a hug and giving her a small wrapped package, saying, “To go with your dress.” Inside were two tear-drop earrings, delicate and beautiful. Alex stammered her thanks and tried to apologise for not getting Tessa a gift in return, but Tessa just laughed, saying she hadn’t expected one.

  A number of other guests arrived and, just before they all sat down to eat, Anton Grey hurried through the door, apologising for his tardiness. Alex was more concerned by the smoke coming off the back of his jacket than anything else, and she watched as Bear quickly spoke to the Chemist, pointing him towards the bathroom.

  Anton rushed off, calling out, “So sorry! Had a little accident in the lab! Be right back!”

  They all laughed and waited for him to return before they sat down to start Gammy’s amazing feast, revelling in the happiness of the day and enjoying one another’s company. Not for the first time, Alex felt the warmth of contentment stirring in her chest. She never would have guessed upon arriving in Medora that she could have felt anything other than alienated and isolated in this strange, new world. But sitting around a table brimming with food and merriment, she realised her presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. She felt safe. She felt comfortable. And, most importantly, she felt loved.

  “What are you thinking about, Alex?” Jordan asked from across the table. “You look like you’re miles away.”

  Alex shook her head and offered him a soft smile. “I’m just having a moment.”

  He glanced at her quizzically but only said, “Well, when your moment’s over, can you pass the potatoes? They’re begging for my attention.”

  Alex chose not to comment on the mountain of food already covering his plate and instead handed the potatoes over. As she turned back to her own delicious but much more appropriately sized meal, she sent a silent thought back to her world: Merry Christmas, Mum and Dad. I hope wherever you are, you’re as happy as I am.

  Twenty-Nine

  The days following Kaldoras passed by in a blur of food and laughter. Johnny and Blake were due to leave after lunch on New Year’s Eve, so the family—which now included Jordan and Alex—crammed in as many experiences together as they could. One of those experiences included a walk into the village so that Alex could prove to them that Ye Olde Bookshoppe existed.

  Unfortunately for Alex, when they entered the bookshop all they found was a half-collapsed building. No books, no weapons or jewellery, and no Lady Mystique. If not for Gammy’s reassurance that she’d previously met with the lady, Alex would have questioned her own sanity. Instead, all any of them could do was shrug and try and put the strangeness out of their minds.

  Woodhaven turned out to be a winter wonderland, with everything from a fantastic sledding hill to a small frozen lake that was perfect for ice-skating. They skated and sledded until the point of exhaustion, and even had a snowman-building competition which ended in a massive snowball fight.

  Before she knew it, the week came to an end, and it was time to say goodbye to Johnny and Blake.

  “You take care of yourself, Alex,” Johnny said, pulling her into a hug.

  “I’ll try,” she promised.

  “Be good, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Blake said, giving her a hug as well.

  “That doesn’t give me a lot to work with,” she replied with a knowing smile. If there was one thing she’d learned about Blake in their short time together, it was that he enjoyed the thrill of a challenge.

  “Exactly,” he said, adding a wink for good measure.

  While she was sad to see them go, Alex was also excited, because it was finally the day of the New Year’s Eve Gala.

  “I better go and start getting ready,” she said after Johnny and Blake departed.

  “Do you need any help?” Dorothy asked.

  “I think I’ll be fine, thanks,” Alex said. “But I’ll call if I need anything.”

  As she headed up to Blake’s room, she couldn’t help but chuckle when she heard Bear whispering incredulously to Jordan, “It’s three o’clock! Does she seriously need two hours to put on a dress?”

  Alex ended up thoroughly enjoying those two hours, despite the ridicule of her friends. Every so often it was nice to actually be girly and feel like the young woman she was.

  “Ten minutes, Alex!” came Bear’s voice through her door.

  “Coming!” she called back.

  She glanced one last time at her reflection, still surprised by what she saw. The dress Dorothy had designed for her was stunning. It was a sky-blue colour and made out of silky material that flowed softly down her body, swishing as she moved. On her feet were the silver strappy shoes William had given her, and she wore the teardrop earrings from Tessa along with Evie’s wildflower clip pinned into her hair. All in all, she felt—and looked—like a princess.

  “Alex! Come on!”

  Hearing the impatience in Bear’s voice, Alex moved away from the mirror and dropped her ComTCD into the purse Dorothy had loaned her for the night. “You told me I had ten minutes,” she said as she opened the door.

  “And three have passed,” Bear said. “Which only leaves us seven to get you downstairs in those heels.”

  Alex took in Bear’s worried expression. “Are you all right?”

  “I’m fine,” Bear answered. “But I don’t know if Jordan is.”

  “Why? Where is he?”

  “His parents called an hour ago and said they wanted to see him before the Gala. He told me he’d meet us there.”

  Alex frowned. “I thought he didn’t get along with his parents?”

  “He doesn’t,” Bear said, leading the way downstairs. “I don’t think they’ve ever hurt him or anything like that, but they’re pretty negligent as far as affection goes. They’re just too caught up with themselves to invest any time in him.”

  “
Then why did he go to them?”

  “They’re still his parents,” Bear said. “He won’t admit it, but he would give practically anything for their attention, I think.”

  “Poor Jordan,” Alex said, feeling sad for her friend.

  “Don’t,” Bear warned. “The last thing he’d ever want is pity. He’s got us, at least. And he’ll need us tonight.”

  “So what are we still waiting here for?” Alex asked cheekily. “I’ve been ready for hours!”

  “Yeah, right,” Bear said, rolling his eyes. “But you look hot, so those hours must have been good for something.”

  Alex sent him a look that said more than any words could. “There’s a reason you don’t have a girlfriend, Barnold, if that’s how you give a compliment.”

  He laughed at her expression, before bowing cordially. “I apologise, my lady. You look beautiful.”

  “That’s more like it.” Alex chose to ignore his over exaggerated dramatics. “You clean up all right yourself.”

  It was true. He was wearing a tux—something she never would have imagined him to own, let alone wear. But he looked rather dashing in it, not that Alex was surprised.

  “Oh, don’t you both look wonderful!” Dorothy cooed when she caught sight of them in the hallway. “My little boy’s all grown up.”

  Alex had to cough into her hand to hide her laugh.

  Bear tugged awkwardly at his collar, blushing slightly. “Mum. Please.”

  “I’m sorry, darling. You just look so handsome! So much like your father.” Dorothy brushed some invisible lint off his jacket.

  “And that’s our cue to leave,” Bear said, handing Alex her coat and pulling her towards the front door.

  “Have a fun night!” Dorothy called after their retreating backs. “We’ll probably be asleep when you get home but we’ll see you in the morning!”

  Bear just waved without turning and continued to drag Alex out the door.

  “Are we using a Bubbledoor?” she asked when they were outside.

  “Yeah, but we have to go separately for security reasons,” he said. “The hosts are always paranoid about party crashers.”

 
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LYNETTE NONI SERIES:

  • The Medoran Chronicles
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