Akarnae, p.36
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       Akarnae, p.36

         Part #1 of The Medoran Chronicles series by Lynette Noni
 

  “Can you open your eyes, Alex?”

  Her eyelids fluttered again and she willed herself to open them properly, blinking rapidly until the world focused.

  “Good to see you back with us,” Fletcher said, smiling down at her.

  Alex tried to sit up but he put a hand out to stop her. “Just stay still for a little longer,” he said. “Your body is still recovering.”

  “What happened?” Alex asked groggily.

  “What do you remember?” he asked, peering into her eyes.

  Picnicking with her friends. Sleeping in the painting. The Lockdown. Darkness. Aven.

  Aven.

  The memories flashed through Alex’s mind in fast-forward, stealing the air from her lungs. “Everything,” she whispered. “I remember everything.”

  “You know how you came to be here?” he asked.

  “Yes. No. Sort of,” she said, uncertain. “I think I got… injured, but I can’t remember much after that.”

  Someone chuckled lightly and Alex realised she and Fletcher weren’t alone in the room. She tried to look behind him, but she couldn’t see who was there.

  “Interesting word choice,” Fletcher murmured, “however, I do believe ‘stabbed’ is the more accurate term. The dagger slid straight through your posterior rib cage and punctured your right lung from behind. It was touch and go for a while, young lady. You almost gave me a heart attack.”

  Alex winced at the memory of the blade tearing into her flesh. “Fine,” she said. “I was stabbed. But how did I get here?”

  Darrius came into view then, his silver eyes sparkling even in the low light of the Med Ward. “I believe I can answer that.”

  “Darrius!” she cried, pleased to see him. “I thought I heard your weird song!”

  “Weird?” he scoffed. “It’s classic folk, I’ll have you know. Extremely popular.”

  “If you say so,” she said, sharing a grin with Fletcher as he began to check her vitals.

  Darrius ignored her comment and pulled a chair up beside her bed. “I’ve spoken with your roommate, but there are still some questions I have regarding the events from Saturday evening. Would you be so kind as to share your version of the night before I enlighten your understanding of the current situation?”

  Alex frowned slightly, trying to piece together what he’d said. The only thing that really stuck was his use of the words ‘Saturday evening’ and not ‘last night’.

  “How long have I been here?” she asked.

  Darrius and Fletcher shared a glance before the doctor turned back to her. “It’s Tuesday. You’ve been in and out of consciousness for three days.”

  Alex gaped at him. Three days?

  She tried to get her head around that and turned back to fill Darrius in.

  “Well, it all started when I got hurt in my Combat exam, I guess. Or maybe even before that, when I overheard a conversation between Jarvis, Maggie and the librarian…”

  She started at the beginning and didn’t leave anything out. Darrius remained silent throughout her entire tale, flinching only when she mentioned the part about Aven joining their bloodied hands and her being his puppet for a while. When she finished talking, he gently reached across for her left hand and turned her palm upwards. What he was looking for, she wasn’t sure, and after a moment his eyes moved back to her face. He stared at her for a full minute before he released her arm.

  “Incredible,” he whispered.

  Alex was too busy looking at her hand to question his statement. Her palm was now cleaned of their mixed blood but there was a thin scar left, glowing faintly with a silver sheen, much like the colour of Aven’s unnatural blood.

  “Is it meant to look like that?” Alex asked, turning her palm towards Fletcher.

  He looked at her in sympathy. “I’m afraid I couldn’t erase it completely. You’ll have that scar for the rest of your life.”

  “It’s just a scar,” Alex said, shrugging. “But that’s not what I meant. Is it supposed to be glowing like that?”

  Fletcher cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’ll leave you two alone while I go and update your charts.”

  Alex looked at him strangely as he walked off and she turned back to Darrius. “It’s because of Aven’s blood, isn’t it?”

  “Yes. I presume you noticed his blood is different to yours?”

  “Silver,” she said, shuddering at the memory of it dribbling down her arm.

  Darrius nodded and began to explain, “Aven sought to Claim you through a forbidden Meyarin bonding ritual, using his blood as an anchor and yours as a sacrifice. The rest of his race considers it the worst of all possible transgressions, an act punishable by death. To bend the will of another is to take away all of their freedom. The Claiming ritual was believed to be long forgotten, but clearly that’s not the case.”

  Alex was glad she was lying down otherwise she probably would have fainted. “Are you saying I’m bonded to him?”

  “No, no,” Darrius said, trying to calm her. “Aven tried to Claim you, but you eventually broke through his compulsion. An impossible feat, let me assure you, for anyone other than yourself.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Had Aven been truly successful, you would have been his slave for the rest of your life, completely obedient to his will. And that life would have been unnaturally long, since you would have shared some of his Meyarin traits as a result of the bonding ritual.”

  Alex looked at her hand again. “Please tell me that won’t happen? The last thing I need is to become some kind of half-Meyarin, half-human hybrid.”

  “I can’t be certain, of course, but I doubt you’ll suffer any adverse effects aside from the colour of your scar,” Darrius assured her. “Though, I’m amazed—the blood-bonding ritual is supposed to Claim a person for life.”

  “Then how was I able to break through it?”

  Darrius smiled and said, “I believe you may have used your gift.”

  She blinked at him. “Huh?”

  “It’s not uncommon for someone to awaken their gifting under stressful circumstances,” Darrius told her. “And from the sounds of it, your situation was particularly challenging.”

  Alex almost laughed at his description. ‘Challenging’ didn’t even come close.

  “So, I really have a gift?” she asked, excited to finally learn what it was after all this time.

  “Yes, and it’s a very powerful gift,” Darrius said. “One that is at once much more and much less than we desire. It’s a gift that every person is given but many make light of, and very few actually use to its full potential.”

  “And it is…?” Alex prompted.

  “Can I ask a question first?” Darrius said, and she had to stifle her groan. “When you first met Aven all those months ago, how did he make you feel?”

  Alex raised her eyebrows. What sort of question was that?

  “I don’t know,” she said, thinking back and trying to answer honestly. “He was very attractive, but I guess that’s the Meyarin part of him. He definitely caught my attention.”

  “But what did you feel when you were around him?” Darrius clarified.

  Alex knew exactly what he was getting at. “I wanted to please him, to do whatever he said. I think I was pretty much willing to do anything he asked. Is that something all Meyarins can do?”

  “No,” Darrius answered. “They’re all enchanting, as you would remember from the picture I showed you months ago, but Aven Dalmarta has an unnatural amount of charisma—much more than most of his kind possess. Even under normal circumstances, it’s very difficult to defy him.”

  Alex thought back over her interactions with Aven.

  “You, however, were able to resist his allure. On more than one occasion, if I’ve heard correctly,” Darrius said. “Such continued resistance is beyond admirable—it should have been near impossible. Which only confirms my theory about your gifting.”

  “And?” she pressed. “What is it?”

 
He smiled at her impatience and said, “I believe your gift is your strength of will, Alex. Your willpower.”

  She couldn’t help but be disappointed. Willpower? Seriously? Most people had that, to some degree.

  “Are you sure?” she asked.

  “I’m positive,” Darrius said. “There’s no other way you could have disregarded his direct order while Claimed and broken out of his hold. I’ve never heard or read of anyone being able to do so. And as I already mentioned, the fact that you were able to stand against him before then shows that even when your gift wasn’t fully awakened, it was still protecting you, at least to a small degree.”

  He took in her expression and cocked his head. “You’re upset?”

  “Well, it isn’t what I expected,” Alex admitted. “I wasn’t even convinced that I’d ever develop a gift, but if I did, I was kind of hoping for something… cooler.”

  “Cooler?” Darrius repeated. “How so?”

  “Like being able to fly, or shape-shift, or make chocolate appear out of thin air,” she explained. “You know, something exciting. Everyone can have willpower—it doesn’t seem like much of a gift.”

  “That’s where you’re wrong,” Darrius said. “Your willpower gift means that you will always be in control of your decisions—no matter the circumstances. You can never be manipulated or controlled by anyone. Most people have to train their entire lives to reach the same level of mental security that you now have without even trying.”

  Alex thought about what he said for a moment before she realised something. “When I came back after the Kaldoras break, my Core Skills professor couldn’t read my mind anymore. Could this willpower gift have something to do with that?”

  “Absolutely,” he said. “Having a gift of willpower means that you won’t ever have to worry about your thoughts or emotions being read, stolen, or manipulated. Nor will anyone ever be able to force you to act physically without your consent. Which again brings us back to Aven and why he couldn’t control you after your gift asserted itself.”

  Alex realised then that while her gift wasn’t superhero-awesome, it also wasn’t as boring as she’d first thought. Without it, she would have remained a lifeless slave, murdered the royal princess of Medora and doomed the entire human race. All in all, she decided to be thankful and to leave it at that.

  “Is D.C. okay?”

  Accepting the abrupt change of topic, Darrius was quick to assure her. “She’s well. A little shaken up—and rather worried about her roommate—but otherwise she’s fine.”

  Alex nodded, relieved. “She kind of knows everything now. About me, I mean.”

  “I think you can trust each other with your secrets,” Darrius said. “And despite the circumstances upon which it was founded, I’m certain your friendship with the princess will be beneficial for you both.”

  Alex’s eyes widened. “You know who she is?”

  “I do,” he said, but he didn’t elaborate.

  Just as she was about to ask Darrius how he always knew things without being told, Fletcher walked back into the room.

  Alex gasped as she realised something. “Fletcher! You—I—you—everything we said…?”

  While Fletcher was one of her favourite people at Akarnae, he wasn’t supposed to know that she was anything but a normal student. But he’d been standing in the room the entire time she’d told Darrius her story. He would have heard everything about Freya, about Aven, and about the Library.

  “Doctor–patient confidentiality,” Fletcher said, waving her fear away. “And it’s nothing I didn’t already know, anyway.”

  “What? How?” she spluttered.

  “Did you really think I wouldn’t look up the administrative file for one of my most frequent patients?” he asked, his green eyes twinkling. “I’ve known all about you since your first visit to me.”

  One more person to add to the growing list. But with Aven after her, Alex felt reassured knowing she had more people watching out for her. People who she knew actually cared for her.

  “I did come back in here for a reason,” Fletcher said, looking to Darrius. “I have to give Alex some more medication, so visiting hours are over, I’m afraid.”

  Darrius stood from his seat and smiled down at her. “We’ll talk again soon.”

  As he walked out of the room she remembered something and called out for him. “You never told me how I got back here from the Library?”

  “Your Sir Camden came and found me,” Darrius said.

  Sir Camden! “Is he—?”

  “He’s fine,” Darrius said. “Whole again and ready for his next quest.”

  Alex breathed a sigh of relief. The suit of armour had been so brave to stand up to Aven, and she truly appreciated his intervention. He’d really proved himself to be a Protector Knight.

  “As I was saying,” Darrius continued, “Sir Camden made me aware of your dilemma and he led me and some trusted friends straight to you. We were a few minutes behind him because, unlike his impressive ability to move through walls, we were restricted to the pathways.”

  “Does that mean he never found the headmaster?” Alex asked. Time was ticking down, and there were only a few days left until she needed to get back to Freya if she wanted to arrive before her parents realised she was gone. Where was Marselle?

  “The headmaster of Akarnae played a pivotal role in your liberation, Alex,” Darrius said. “I’m certain you’ll meet him soon, now that he’s back at the academy.”

  With that promise Darrius waved and headed out the door, and Alex felt something within her relax after hearing confirmation of the headmaster’s return.

  Alex turned to Fletcher and noticed an amused expression on his face. “What?”

  “Nothing,” he responded, still smiling slightly. “Now drink up and maybe I’ll let you out of here sometime before next winter.”

  She drank vial after vial of different coloured liquids until she was overcome with exhaustion and Fletcher ordered her to go to sleep.

  It was an order that she was more than willing to obey.

  Forty-Five

  “How can anyone sleep for so long?”

  “I don’t know, man. Can we poke her or something?”

  “Fletcher would have our hides if he found out we disturbed his patient’s beauty sleep.”

  “He doesn’t have to know…”

  There was a pause and Alex cracked her eyes open just as Jordan reached towards her. “Don’t even think about it,” she threatened in a croaky voice.

  “Alex! You’re awake!” he cried, sitting back hastily.

  “Finally!” Bear smiled at her.

  “Sorry to inconvenience you,” she said.

  “That’s okay,” Jordan said, taking her seriously. He grabbed a glass of water off her bedside table and held it out for her.

  Bear reached his arm around Alex to help support her as she carefully pulled herself into a sitting position. She was amazed that she was able to do so without any kind of pain. Fletcher’s medicines were evidently doing their job.

  “What’s been happening?” she asked after taking a long drink of water. “It’s been—what?—three days?”

  “Four now,” Bear told her. “It’s Wednesday.”

  “Time flies when you’re unconscious, hey?” Jordan said lightly.

  “Something like that,” she agreed, smiling.

  “Nothing’s really changed for us,” Bear said, answering her question. “Classes are wrapping up for the year. Finn has been almost pleasant, believe it or not.”

  “Not,” Alex said, and they laughed.

  “Otherwise everything’s pretty much the same as before our exams, if a little less stressful,” he concluded.

  “Same question for you, now,” Jordan said. “And don’t leave anything out.”

  Alex groaned. “Seriously? You’re here to interrogate me? Some friends you are.”

  “You love us,” Jordan replied. “Once again we missed out on the adventure, so spill.” H
e must have caught her tense expression before she could clear it, and he placed his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, I’m sorry. I sound like a jerk, don’t I? It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. I understand. We understand.”

  Bear nodded in agreement, his eyes full of concern.

  “No, it’s fine,” Alex assured them. “I already had to go over the whole thing with Darrius anyway.”

  “Darrius? The cloud guy?” Jordan asked. “The same guy that brought you back to the academy from the Gala?”

  Alex noticed that he didn’t say ‘from my house’. “Yeah, that’s him. Sir Camden found him and he came with some others to rescue us.”

  “Weird,” Jordan said. “Bear and I were waiting at the Med Ward when they brought you in—you were an absolute mess, by the way—but I didn’t see anyone we didn’t know. Just a heap of the professors and the headmaster.”

  Alex shrugged. “He probably stayed back at the Library to try and trace where Aven disappeared to. The others would have had to follow the headmaster in and back out. Who were they, by the way? The others?”

  “Half the teaching staff,” Jordan said. “Maggie, Karter, Finn, Varin, Caspar Lennox and Luranda.”

  “So much for the Library being a secret,” Alex mumbled. “Now the whole world practically knows about it.”

  “We heard Hunter went in as well, but we didn’t see him on this side,” Bear said, ignoring her comment. “It just confirms what we already know about Ghost: unless he wants you to see him, you won’t.”

  Alex looked at Bear for a moment before she burst out laughing.

  “Lame?” he asked.

  “Very,” she confirmed, still smiling. “Like the blurb of a bad horror film.”

  He feigned offence and she just laughed again, pleased when the movement didn’t hurt at all.

  “Are you going to tell us what happened and why you arrived here covered in blood, or do we have to guess?” Bear asked, changing the subject back again.

  Alex spent the next half hour bringing them up-to-date. She kept it brief, mostly because she lacked the energy for an in-depth discussion. Still, she told them everything she could, only leaving out D.C.’s royal status and claiming instead that the other girl played the role of a disposable hostage. Alex trusted Jordan and Bear with her life, but she’d also promised her roommate that she wouldn’t reveal her secret.

 
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LYNETTE NONI SERIES:

  • The Medoran Chronicles
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