Akarnae, p.33
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       Akarnae, p.33

         Part #1 of The Medoran Chronicles series by Lynette Noni
 

  Step. Step. Step. Step. Thump.

  “Ouch!” she hissed into the darkness after colliding with the bottom step of the staircase. She hopped on one foot and bent over just as a radiant light flared out from the top of the staircase. Stubbing her toe had actually saved her from being blinded by the light, since it burned to look at it even from the corner of her eye.

  “Who’s there?” she asked, shielding her gaze with her hand.

  “Alex?” called a shaky voice.

  “D.C.,” Alex said with relief. It was just her roommate. “What’s going on? Why has the Lockdown been activated?”

  The other girl didn’t answer, but as the light moved steadily down the staircase, Alex’s eyes began to adjust. When her vision was clear enough, the sight in front of her made her wish it was still too dark to see.

  “How kind of you to be ready and waiting for us, Alexandra. I was under the impression that I’d have to drag you down here, kicking and screaming.”

  Aven. Talk about horrible timing—she was exactly where he needed her.

  “I was wondering when you were going to show up again,” Alex said, trying to keep her voice steady. “It was considerate of you to wait for exams to be over.”

  “Education is important, Alexandra,” he said with a mocking smile.

  “You really should call first, next time. It’s more polite,” she said, wondering why she was deliberately goading him.

  Aven’s eyes glinted dangerously. “How careless of me. However, I did drop by your room first. Thank you for the Liquid Light—as you can see, it’s rather useful.”

  The thought of Aven going through her stuff made Alex visibly shudder.

  “Fortunately, I’ve brought a gift to make up for my lack of etiquette,” Aven said.

  Alex sucked in a breath as D.C. came into view. She was being pushed down the staircase by another man who stopped just behind Aven. The light illuminated D.C.’s terrified features, along with the jagged knife that the man held to her throat. It was a familiar knife.

  “Gerald,” Alex said, trying to keep her panic from showing.

  “You and I have unfinished business,” the tattooed man said menacingly. “We were interrupted last time.”

  “Trust me, I haven’t forgotten,” she returned. “Does Marcus Sparker know you’re here? Or are you just a hired lackey with loose loyalties?”

  “Gerald is one of my… associates,” Aven said. “He’s here to make sure you keep up your end of the bargain.”

  “What bargain?” she demanded, turning back to him. “I’m not helping you with anything.”

  “I think you’ll find that I have ways of convincing you.”

  “You’re wasting your time,” Alex said. “I won’t help you get where you want to go.”

  Aven looked at her for a moment, not saying anything, and the silence was worse than his dangerously smooth voice.

  “Let’s take a walk,” he finally said.

  Alex opened her mouth to protest, but Aven latched onto her arm so fast that it surprised her enough to keep quiet. She struggled against him, but the harder she fought, the tighter his grip became. He dragged her across the foyer and down the staircase, with Gerald forcing D.C. after them.

  To Alex’s relief, the stairs stopped at the main Library level and didn’t go any further. Aven’s light—her light—illuminated the closest bookshelves but nothing else.

  “I have a question,” Alex said as he continued to drag her forward, lighting up new shelves as they passed. She’d given up the struggle, choosing to save her strength in case she needed it later. “The second time we met, you told me you were once a student here. But if alumni are allowed onto the grounds, why did you trigger the Lockdown? Both times? It was your fault, right?”

  There were certainly more pressing questions Alex could have asked, but she needed a distraction from her growing anxiety. His answer would hopefully mean one less unsolved mystery, which might help calm her nerves, at least somewhat.

  “I lied.” Aven’s response was as simple as it was uncaring.

  Alex glared sullenly into the darkness. “What else have you lied about?”

  He didn’t answer and she was forced to follow him in silence after that, his pincer grip cutting off her circulation.

  She looked over her shoulder and saw that Gerald and D.C. were still trailing behind them. Months ago, Alex had promised D.C. that no one was after her and that there was nothing to worry about. At the time, Alex had thought it was true, but now her roommate was stuck in this mess with her, and she had no idea how to get them both out of there.

  “Ouch,” Alex hissed when Aven yanked her around a pile of books. “Ease up, would you? I bruise easily.”

  His fingers flexed even tighter and he led the way down an aisle before abruptly turning to walk between a stack of shelves. He stopped three quarters of the way along and picked out a book, handing it to Alex. It looked innocent enough but she knew the books in the Library could trigger hidden trapdoors, and she wasn’t willing to make the mistake of allowing her naivety to give him what he wanted by accident.

  “Open it,” he ordered.

  She crossed her arms, ignoring his painful grip. “No.”

  “Open it.”

  “No.”

  “Gerald.”

  Alex watched in horror as Gerald tightened his hold on her roommate. His blade grazed D.C.’s flesh and she whimpered as a droplet of blood dribbled down her neck.

  “Open it,” Aven said again, “or your friend dies.”

  Alex looked from D.C.’s terrified eyes to Gerald’s excited ones before she turned back to Aven. His gaze was cold and uncaring; he’d have no hesitation following through on his threat.

  “I—I—”

  “Last chance, Alexandra,” Aven said, leaning close. “Open the book!”

  Alex couldn’t just let him kill D.C., but she still didn’t know what the consequences would be if Aven made it through to Freya. Why was he so desperate to get there? Would saving her roommate mean dooming her world? Was D.C.’s life really worth the risk? Alex’s lack of answers both frustrated and terrified her.

  “He hasn’t found what he’s after yet,” D.C. whispered, even as Gerald pressed the knife deeper into her skin.

  Alex didn’t know how her roommate even understood what was going on, but she chose to trust the other girl’s words. Closing her eyes, she tore the book open, hoping desperately that it wouldn’t create a doorway to Freya.

  “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Aven purred.

  Alex reopened her eyes and felt her stomach lurch when she saw that a doorway had appeared before them. The glossy black panelling was streaked with flecks of silver, and the handle itself seemed to be glowing with an invitation to reach out and discover the secrets that lay beyond.

  “After you,” Aven said.

  Alex looked at his hand still clenching her arm. “Are you going to let go of me so I can step through?”

  “That won’t be necessary,” he said. “I’ll follow along with you.”

  Well, it had been worth a try.

  Alex reached a trembling hand towards the glowing handle. It was warm to touch, strangely soothing, and turned easily beneath her fingers. The door sprung open without her help, and she sagged in relief to see that it led to a torch-lit corridor full of closed doors, much like the ones she’d explored months before. Her world was still safe—at least for the moment.

  “What next?” she asked, looking down the corridor of endless doors. There were many more than she remembered.

  “Now I find the door I’m after,” Aven said, gesturing for her to move forward. Once they were in the flame-lit corridor he stoppered the Liquid Light and waited for Gerald and D.C. to join them before he finished, “And then you will open it for me.”

  Alex didn’t waste her breath contradicting him. Instead she asked, “Why do you even want to go to Freya? What’s in it for you?”

  Aven tilted his head and eyed her with
bemusement. “Freya?”

  She nodded. “What do you plan on doing in my world?”

  He laughed then, a dark, cold laugh that set her nerves on edge. He seemed genuinely amused, as if her question surprised him.

  “Freya?” he repeated again. “You’re from Freya?”

  Alex frowned at him. “Of course I am! That’s what this is all about!” His amusement seemed to increase, and in a voice full of uncertainty, she added, “Isn’t it?”

  He didn’t answer her question. Instead, he said, “When I first saw you appear in that forest clearing, I felt the power within you. I was certain you were who I’d been seeking for so long.” His voice was contemplative and he seemed lost in his memories. “You were clearly affected by my presence and because of that, when you claimed never to have heard of Akarnae, I presumed you were merely simple-minded and forgetful. It was of little consequence to me; I didn’t need you for your intelligence, I needed you for your power.”

  Alex opened her mouth to object—to so much of what he’d said—but he continued before she could speak.

  “When I saw you fall out of the waterfall painting, my belief in your power was confirmed. I realised then that you were indeed Chosen, but I didn’t for an instant wonder if you might be Called as well.” He shook his head incredulously and his eyes focused once more. “My, my, this is a surprise.”

  She took a step backward at the dark look on his face. But he was still gripping her arm and didn’t allow her the distance.

  “As to why you think I’d want to visit your disgusting world, I don’t know. There are far too many humans in Medora as it is.”

  Humans? Did he say humans? As if he wasn’t one himself?

  Alex felt dizzy. She looked at Aven, really looked at him, until she connected the dots between what was in front of her and the unforgettable image she’d seen in a book many months before.

  Suddenly, everything clicked into place.

  “You’re not human,” she said. “You’re Meyarin.”

  “Very good, Alexandra,” Aven praised mockingly.

  It explained everything. His beauty, his grace, why she found it hard to resist him—even his speed and strength. It also explained what he was after.

  “You’re not looking for a doorway to Freya, but a way through to Meya, aren’t you?”

  He didn’t answer her, and she knew she was right.

  “I heard the city disappeared thousands of years ago,” she said as he started pulling her down the corridor and opening doors at random. She was pleased when some of the doors opened to even more corridors full of doors. His search would hopefully take time—time in which someone would surely notice that she and D.C. were missing.

  Again he didn’t answer her, so she continued talking. “Why do you need a doorway to go there, anyway? If you’re Meyarin, you’d have to know where your own city is, right?”

  Aven opened another door and smiled in triumph. “Perfect.”

  He stepped over the threshold, dragging her with him. Inside was a small stone cell with no exit other than the doorway they’d entered through.

  “I thought I had to give you permission to walk through the doors?” Alex asked. If he could get through them on his own, why did he need her?

  Aven gestured for Gerald to bring D.C. in while he pulled something out of his pocket. In the dim light Alex saw that it was some kind of shiny wire, and she started struggling again, certain she wouldn’t like whatever he meant to do with it. She tried to pull away but he was too strong. She kicked out at him—which he dodged easily—and aimed a punch at his too beautiful face.

  Aven’s speed was astonishing and he easily caught her hand before it made contact. He pursed his lips with irritation, yanked her forward, spun her around, and drew her arms tightly behind her back. She hissed as he pulled on her sore shoulder and she realised that she was overdue for her next dose of painkillers.

  Aven deftly tied her hands together with the wire before he forced her onto the grimy stone floor and bound her ankles. Then he grabbed D.C. and positioned her to sit back to back with Alex on the ground, locking their hands together behind them and trapping them in place.

  “Come, Gerald,” Aven commanded, starting towards the door.

  “Hey, wait a minute!” Alex cried. “You’re just going to leave us here?”

  “I have neither the time nor the inclination to babysit you while I conduct my search,” Aven said. “Don’t worry; I’ll be back as soon as I find what I’m after.”

  “But—”

  “Until then,” he interrupted, “I feel the need to apologise, Your Highness, since I doubt these accommodations are up to your usual standard. I’m afraid it can’t be helped, considering the circumstances.”

  “No need to patronise me,” Alex said, frowning at the unnecessary title. She felt D.C. tense behind her, pulling uncomfortably on their bound hands.

  “I wasn’t talking to you, Alexandra,” Aven said, pausing at the doorway. “I have to admit, when I discovered your roommate was the royal princess, it came as a delightful surprise. I couldn’t have picked a better hostage.”

  Royal princess? Alex’s stomach dropped. Surely he was lying again?

  Aven smirked when he noticed her expression. “Am I to understand you don’t know who you’ve been sharing a room with all year?”

  Alex refused to say anything, but he continued, “I have to admit, it was difficult to find her, so well hidden as she is here at your academy. But allow me to make introductions. Alexandra Jennings, I give you Her Royal Highness, Princess Delucia Cavelle.”

  Alex felt D.C. sag in defeat behind her.

  “I’ll allow the two of you some time to become better acquainted,” Aven said smoothly, before he turned and walked through the doorway. The light dimmed significantly when the door closed, and with the darkness came a silence so loud it was almost deafening.

  Forty-One

  After Aven left them in the dark cell, neither Alex nor D.C. knew what to say, and the silence lingered uncomfortably between them. When Alex couldn’t stand it anymore, she quietly asked, “Are you okay?”

  D.C. released a trembling breath. “Sure. Never better.”

  “We’re going to be fine,” Alex said, not sure who she was trying more to convince. “Someone will notice we’re missing and they’ll come looking for us.”

  “They won’t be able to find us down here,” D.C. said with a hint of bitterness. “Not unless they’re Chosen—like you apparently are.”

  There was a question in her tone, like she wanted to know more but wasn’t willing to ask. Alex was equally unwilling to share.

  “I’m not the only person who can get down here,” Alex said. “The headmaster can, as well as my friend Darrius. Someone will raise the alarm once the Lockdown is over and they will find us. Especially since you’re here.”

  D.C. didn’t respond, ignoring the implication, and the silence grew around them again.

  Alex tried to wiggle her hands out of the bonds, but it was no use. The wire was so strong and tight that even the smallest movement caused it to bite into her flesh.

  “I don’t suppose you have some kind of super-strength gift?” Alex asked.

  “No. But even if I did it wouldn’t help,” D.C. answered. “It’s Moxyreel, made from Myrox.”

  “Myrox?”

  “Meyarin steel,” D.C. said. “It’s completely impenetrable, the strongest metal in the world. The only thing that can break through Moxyreel is something else made from Myrox. So don’t bother.”

  “How do you know about Meyarin steel?” Alex asked.

  “How do you know Aven Dalmarta?” D.C. shot back.

  “I—I don’t know,” Alex answered, surprised by the abrupt question. “We just sort of ran into each other randomly a while back. And then it happened again the last time the Lockdown was activated. He just kind of… appears, you know?”

  “You haven’t seen him since the last Lockdown?” D.C. asked.

 
“I saw him again the day before classes started back after the Kaldoras holidays,” Alex said. Then she realised something. “But the Lockdown wasn’t activated that time, so I don’t know how he got through without triggering the wards.”

  “They were de-activated so the students could Bubble back in,” D.C. said.

  “Oh. I’d forgotten about that.”

  “What happened when you met him that time? Did I hear him right when he said you fell through a painting?”

  “Yeah,” Alex answered, knowing how ridiculous it sounded.

  “What did Aven do when he saw that? Did he say anything?”

  “Not really,” Alex said. “He was pleased, I guess. And from what he said earlier, it was then that he knew for sure that I was Chosen. All I know is that he tried to drag me down the stairs but the librarian interrupted him, saying he wasn’t allowed to be there.”

  “Did the librarian tell him anything else?” D.C. probed.

  Alex racked her memory, thinking back. “He just said Aven could only go where he wanted if I gave him permission to enter.”

  “And you thought that meant he wanted to go to Freya?” D.C. asked. “Where you’re from, right?”

  Alex ignored the question about her origin and answered the more important one. “I overheard a conversation between the librarian, Jarvis and Maggie. What they said made me believe that somehow I could open the door for Aven to get to Freya, and if I did, it would have terrible consequences.”

  Alex paused, thinking about how she’d misinterpreted the conversation. “I was completely wrong.”

  “Not completely wrong,” D.C. murmured. “You’re right about him needing you to open the door, and you’re right about the terrible consequences. It was just the destination you were wrong about.”

  “So he really does think there’s a doorway to Meya down here?”

  “He must, if he’s here,” D.C. answered.

  “What’s so bad about him finding it?” Alex asked, and then she repeated her earlier question that Aven had ignored. “And why does he even need a door to get there? Shouldn’t he know where his own city is?”

 
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LYNETTE NONI SERIES:

  • The Medoran Chronicles
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    Other author's books: