Akarnae, p.24
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       Akarnae, p.24

         Part #1 of The Medoran Chronicles series by Lynette Noni

  He handed over a bulky envelope and motioned for her to open it. Inside were two small Bubbler vials, along with a beautifully scripted invitation.

  On behalf of His Royal Highness:

  Alexandra Jennings

  is hereby invited to attend the

  New Year’s Eve Gala

  Alex read the words a second time and asked, “Does this mean the royal family will be there?”

  Bear shrugged. “Not necessarily. All the invitations to elite events are written ‘On behalf of His Royal Highness’ just so they sound more impressive than they actually are. I doubt the king and queen will be in attendance.”

  “It still sounds really exclusive,” Alex said, her stomach fluttering with nerves. She smoothed a non-existent wrinkle from her dress, hoping she looked okay.

  “It’s not that big of a deal,” Bear assured her. “I mean, it is, but everyone’s always so snobby that it’s easier to see it as a bit of a joke.”

  “Right,” Alex said, not at all comforted. “What do I need to know about these security measures?”

  “You just need to have your invitation with you to be able to Bubble in and out of the venue,” Bear said. “Each Bubbler is formulated to work only when in range of the invitation it’s linked with. It’s really complex Chemistry, but all you need to know is, if I swapped one of my Bubblers with one of yours, it wouldn’t work because yours is networked to link with your specific invitation. I can only get there and back by using my two Bubbler vials, provided that I have my invitation with me as well.”

  “What happens if I lose my invitation?” Alex asked. “Or one of my Bubblers?”

  “Err—it’s best if you don’t,” Bear said. “Of course, it happens every year to someone. But you’d have to go and talk to the hosts and that’s not something we want to have to deal with tonight, if you can help it.”

  “Understood,” Alex said, securing both the invitation and the second Bubbler in her purse.

  “These Bubblers were created specifically to arrive and depart from a single place—the Gala,” Bear said. “Normally the first person through a Bubbledoor has to envision where they want it to open out at, but with these the destination is already pre-set.”

  “That makes things easier,” Alex said. It could have ended disastrously for her otherwise, since she had no idea where they were going.

  Bear nodded and said, “I’ll see you in a minute, okay?” Without waiting for a response, he smashed his vial on the ground and jumped into the shimmering colours, disappearing from view.

  Alex followed immediately after him, stepping into her own bubble portal and landing in the middle of a rose garden lit by twinkling fairy lights. A huge marble mansion glowed in the background, and Alex felt the need to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming.

  “Nice, huh?”

  She spun around, relieved to find Bear behind her.

  “It’s incredible,” she said. “Does someone actually live here?”

  “The hosts of the Gala,” he said. “It’s called Chateau Shondelle, which translates roughly to mean: ‘I have a massive house and an equally large stick shoved up my—’ ”

  “Bear!” Alex hissed, looking around to see if anyone else was in hearing range.

  “Anyway,” he continued, ignoring her reprimand, “the Gala is held here every year. There’s a massive ballroom inside which is perfect for the event.”

  Alex struggled to take in the size of the mansion. She couldn’t even begin to imagine living in a place like this.

  “Come on, we’d better get inside,” Bear said, pulling gently on her arm.

  They walked straight over to and then through a doublearched entryway, continuing down a brightly lit corridor. At the end of the hallway was an attendant waiting beside a set of closed doors.

  “Invitations?” he asked in a bored voice.

  They handed over their invites and the man looked at them closely before returning them. “Proceed,” he drawled, and the doors opened automatically with his acceptance.

  Alex tried to contain her amazed expression when she stepped into the ballroom, but it was challenging. Crystal—possibly diamond—chandeliers hung from the vaulted ceilings, an elevated stage held a string orchestra, and there was even a buffet feast spread along one entire wall of the room. People everywhere were dancing, laughing and eating their way into the New Year.

  Bear chuckled at Alex’s expression as he led her down the steps and further into the room. “Pretty fancy, huh?”

  Alex nodded and continued scanning the room, keeping an eye out for Jordan. She soon spotted him standing with a group of people near the far wall. Like Bear, he was also wearing a tux—and wearing it well—but Jordan clearly felt uncomfortable. He was standing tall, his posture stiffer and sharper than she’d ever seen, and his face was a mask of stone. On one side of him stood a man and on the other a woman, both of them blond and beautiful. Their body language oozed confidence and self-importance.

  “Are they his parents?” Alex asked, pointing out the group.

  Bear tensed slightly. “Yeah, that’s them. Marcus and Natasha Sparker. I’ve only met them a few times, but they’re a real piece of work.”

  Alex didn’t doubt his words. Even standing on the opposite side of the room she felt intimidated by them.

  “Now that we’re here, should we go and rescue our friend?” she asked.

  Bear looked at her strangely. “Ah, no. We don’t want to interrupt them. Jordan will come and find us when he can.”

  “What do you mean, ‘when he can’?”

  “Remember what he said about his parents showing him off? They’ll parade him around for a while—which is what he agreed to do in order to get us here—but then they’ll get sick of him and he’ll be free to hang out with us for the rest of the night.”

  “That’s horrible,” Alex said. How could anyone’s parents be so uncaring? “What do you normally do while you wait?”

  “What do you think?” Bear tipped his head towards the buffet spread. “These people might be snobs, but they’re snobs with access to the best chefs in all of Medora.”

  Alex laughed, feeling her anxiety dissipate, and she eagerly followed him in the direction of the food.


  “I’m exhausted.”

  Alex looked up from her chocolate mud cake to find Jordan collapsing onto the chair beside her, loosening his bow tie and stretching out his legs.

  “You look it,” she agreed, spooning another bite of pure heaven into her mouth.

  “You’re supposed to tell me how devilishly handsome I look,” he said with a pout. “That no amount of tiredness could ever diminish my ruggedly perfect looks.”

  “My mistake,” Alex said, enjoying her cake too much to pay close attention to his words—at least until he slid the dessert away from her and started devouring it. “Hey!” she cried, pulling the plate back and shielding it behind her arm. “Get your own!”

  He looked at her with the saddest puppy-dog expression she’d ever seen, and she glanced from the cake to him and back again, before sighing and removing her arm.

  “We’ll share it,” she said, emphasising the ‘share’.

  “You’re the best!” he said, or at least that’s what she thought he’d said, since his mouth was full of chocolate.

  “Are you done for the night, mate?” Bear asked from Alex’s other side.

  Jordan nodded and swallowed quickly. “Yeah, I’m free. And it’s a good thing too, since I think if Emily Walters continued making those goo-goo eyes at me, I might have ended up in an arranged marriage.” He shuddered while Alex and Bear laughed even though they didn’t know who he was talking about.

  “Jordan, darling, there’s one more person we’d like you to meet,” came a feminine voice from behind them.

  Alex looked around to see Jordan’s parents standing there waiting for him.

  “But, Mother—” he started.

  “Come along, son,” his father interru
pted in a tone that allowed no room for debate. “This will only take a moment, and then you can come back to your… friends.”

  Alex didn’t like Jordan’s father one bit. The cursory glance he gave her and Bear only highlighted the fact that he considered them to be beneath his notice. His wife didn’t even look in their direction, but instead she ordered her son to stand up straight and fix his tie.

  Jordan sent Alex and Bear an apologetic look, promising to be back soon.

  “They’re…” Alex failed to think of an appropriate description that could be said in public.

  Thankfully, Bear understood the words she couldn’t say. “Yeah, I know.”

  They watched as their friend was led across the room to yet another group of haughty-looking aristocrats. While he appeared to fit in with them, there was something in his stance that screamed of rebellion. Alex was amazed that Jordan could have grown up around these people and yet still turned out to be the decent—if playfully arrogant—friend that she knew.

  “How did it happen?” she asked Bear, before realising that he couldn’t read her mind. “How did he turn out so normal surrounded by all this?”

  Bear looked torn, but he eventually said, “His brother died, five years ago.”

  Alex’s eyes widened. “Jordan had a brother?”

  “An older brother, Luka. There was a ten-year age gap between them, but Jordan idolised him. I never knew Luka, since I didn’t meet Jordan until we started at the academy, but from what he’s told me, Luka was everything anyone would want in a brother. He was smart, funny and an all-round nice guy. Jordan was a spoiled brat in comparison, having always been given everything he wanted—except maybe some quality attention from his parents. But Luka gave him that attention. They weren’t just brothers, they were best friends.”

  “What happened?” she asked.

  “Luka killed himself,” Bear whispered and Alex gasped. “It was very sudden; no one even knew anything was wrong. He was so normal, so happy. It really hit Jordan hard.”

  “How awful,” Alex said quietly.

  “Yeah,” agreed Bear. “But what’s worse is that Luka left a note for Jordan.”

  “What did it say?” she asked, unable to hold back her curiosity.

  “I don’t know,” Bear said. “Jordan never told me. But it changed him. He decided he didn’t want to be the spoiled child anymore, and that’s how he became the person he is today.”

  “That must have been difficult, to lose his brother like that and not have his parents around for support,” Alex said.

  “Yeah,” Bear agreed. “I can’t imagine having to go through that. But Jordan’s made of tougher stuff than we sometimes give him credit for.”

  Alex murmured her agreement and they descended into silence. She looked around the room, watching the waltzing couples who shared whispered words and secretive smiles.

  Bear must have followed her gaze since he stood from his seat, held out his hand, and asked, “Do you want to dance?”

  “Um… I don’t really know how.”

  “That’s okay,” he said, grinning widely as he pulled her to her feet. “I don’t either.”

  Alex laughed and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. Despite his words, it was soon clear that he at least knew the basics since he was able to keep them moving in time with the music. He was the best partner she could have imagined for her first waltz, and he even managed not to cringe every time she stood on his feet—which happened a lot.

  “You’re not too bad,” he said after they finished their third dance. They’d decided to skip the next one to catch their breath—and in Bear’s case, rest his damaged feet.

  She snorted. “Liar.”

  “Okay,” he conceded as he handed her a glass of water which she eagerly gulped down. “You’re not too bad now. When we started, I thought I’d have to amputate my feet by the end of the night.”

  She chose to take his words as a compliment. “I’ve truly flourished under your expert guidance.”

  “That’s what all the ladies say.” He winked at her and proclaimed, “I am the dancing king!”

  “Did he have some of the punch?” Jordan asked Alex as he stepped up beside them. He gestured towards their empty glasses. “You know that stuff’s potent, right?”

  Alex laughed and shook her head. “No, it’s just him being normal.”

  “Ah. That explains it,” Jordan said. “Well, in that case, I’m going to have to insist you sit this next one out, buddy, while I show Alex how to really dance.”

  Jordan took Alex’s glass and handed it to an indignant Bear before sweeping her into his arms and back out onto the dance floor.

  Alex had to admit that he was a much better dancer than Bear. He held her firmly and she didn’t have to look down at her feet because he led her through the steps with such a confident assurance that she followed him without hesitation.

  “You’re very good at this,” she said as he guided her around the room.

  “I’ve been dancing at events like this since I was five,” he said, shrugging away her praise. “I’d want to not completely suck after all that time.”

  “I suppose so,” she agreed, imagining a cute little five-year-old Jordan trying to waltz across a ballroom.

  “I’m sorry about before,” Jordan said as he led her effortlessly through a complicated set of steps that she and Bear had disregarded on their previous attempts. “With my parents, I mean. I know they can be a bit… difficult.”

  “It’s no problem,” Alex said, but she didn’t know what else to say after that. He looked guilty, and she wanted him to know that it wasn’t his fault.

  “When I was seven, my parents took me to a dinner they’d been invited to,” she told him on a whim. “It was some sort of awards night to acknowledge the difference they and others around the world had made in the scientific community. It was a huge deal and they wanted to make a good impression. I’m still not sure why they let me tag along.”

  Jordan gave her his full attention and she wondered if perhaps she should have thought of a better story.

  “What happened?” he asked.

  “We were seated at a long table beside the most important people, including all the major sponsors and the potential future investors. Halfway through the main meal I reached for a bread roll and accidentally knocked over someone’s wine glass. When I tried to help clean it up I slipped off my chair, and as I fell I grabbed onto the tablecloth, which caused everyone else’s food and wine to end up in their laps. We were escorted from the event, despite the fact that the awards hadn’t even been announced by that stage. My parents were so embarrassed that they grounded me for a month.”

  Jordan laughed, the first proper laugh she’d heard from him all night.

  “It’s kind of different to your situation,” she admitted as their song wound to a close. “But if it helps, most families are dysfunctional in some way. I’m the odd one out in mine, as are you in yours. Us weirdos have to stick together.”

  “Thanks, Alex,” he said, hugging her tightly in the middle of the dance floor. “What would I do without you?”

  “You’d be a mess,” she told him as he let her go. “Crying your eyes out, snotting all over your tux. Believe me, that’s not something anyone wants to see. So be thankful I’m here, saving us all from that unpleasant sight.”

  He laughed again and then turned serious once more. “Bear told you about Luka, didn’t he?”

  She was startled by the unexpected change of topic. “How…?”

  “I was watching you guys after my parents dragged me away. It was written all over your face. Am I right?”

  In a quiet voice, Alex admitted, “Yeah, he told me.”

  Jordan looked into her eyes for a moment before he finally nodded. “I’m glad you know.” He didn’t say anything else. Instead, he reached for her hand and led her off the dance floor.

  “Time for a bathroom break,” she said once they were with Bear again.

; Jordan gave her directions and she hurried off before she could forget them. She retraced her steps out of the ballroom and walked down the corridor until she came to a massive winding staircase. Supposedly the bathroom was on the next floor up, at the end of the hallway, but Jordan had failed to mention that the staircase was designed to spiral through the centre of the chateau, which meant that it opened out in the middle of the floor. The hallway led in both directions, so Alex did a mental eenie-meenie-miney-moe and chose to head down the left corridor.

  The hallway was long, really long, and much darker than the ground floor had been. Paintings hung from the walls and hollow-eyed statues stood at attention in between closed doors.

  Alex picked up her pace, wanting to finish her business and get back to her friends—or just people in general.

  Finally she arrived at the end of the hallway only to find two doors, one on the right and one on the left. Not sure which one to enter—and cursing Jordan for his lack of proper directions—she decided to try the right door first. She opened it but it was too dark to see so she stepped into the room and the lights came on automatically. Instead of a bathroom, it was a storage room of some kind, so she quickly backed out and stepped across to the opposite door, hoping that she wouldn’t have to trek back down the hallway to the opposite end.

  Just like the first room, it was too dark to see what was inside until she walked far enough forward that the lights turned on.

  Still no bathroom.

  This time she’d entered a professional-looking study. She was about to back out again when something mounted on one of the walls caught her eye and she found herself walking towards it unconsciously.

  It was a sword. The weapon itself seemed normal—as far as Alex’s limited knowledge went—but the blade was something else entirely. It was completely black, swirling with an inky darkness that was almost identical to whatever was inside the ring Blake had given her for Kaldoras. In all the holiday excitement she’d never had the chance to ask anyone about it, much to her annoyance now.

  She was just about to grasp the hilt of the sword and pull it off the wall for a closer look when a voice startled her.

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