Raelia – Lynette Noni

“Introducing their Royal Majesties, King Aurileous and Queen Osmada Cavelle.” Alex watched from the corner of the palace’s grand ballroom, catching her first glimpse of D.C.’s parents as they descended the gold-lined staircase. King Aurileous was tall and intimidating, but even from where Alex stood she could tell he had a kind face with prominent laughter lines. His eyes were warm as he scanned the sea of cheering people and his smile made her feel relaxed despite the overwhelming atmosphere. Queen Osmada seemed, in a word, lovely. She was beautiful, with her dark auburn hair, and her smile was even more calming than the king’s. Alex’s attention was diverted when her best friend appeared at the top of the staircase and the room fell silent as everyone gazed upon their princess. “Presenting Her Royal Highness, Princess Delucia Cavelle.” The cheers were deafening as D.C. walked gracefully down the staircase to stand beside her parents, her lavender-coloured gown sparkling silver wherever the light touched it. Both the king and queen reached across to kiss D.C.

on the cheek before her father stepped forward to address the crowd. “Beloved friends, we thank you for joining us in celebration of our daughter’s seventeenth birthday. This is a momentous day for her and we are thrilled to share it with you,” King Aurileous said. “Now please, eat, drink, dance, and be merry as we revel in this special occasion.” As if the end of his speech was an invisible cue, the orchestra hidden in the balcony above the ballroom immediately began playing an upbeat melody. The guests proceeded to move about and make pleasant conversation, while Alex stood awkwardly on her own as she waited for D.C. to make her way through the crowd. Glancing around, Alex marvelled at her surroundings. She wondered if she should pinch herself to see if she truly was standing in the royal palace of Medora’s capital city, Tryllin, when just a few short weeks ago she’d had no idea how to sort out her mess of a life.

That was because, as far as her parents had known, Alex had spent most of the previous school year at the International Exchange Academy just outside Portland, Oregon. In reality, she’d actually been stranded for eight months in the fantasy world of Medora, attending Akarnae Academy—a school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts. Alex was supposed to have spent her summer coming up with an excuse to leave Earth—or ‘Freya’ as it was known to the Medorans—so she could return to Akarnae when it reopened in the fall. But when she’d arrived back home for the holidays, her parents had been waiting for her, along with a dizzying assortment of federal agents. Apparently the International Exchange Academy had finished classes a week earlier than Akarnae, and her parents had returned from their Siberian sabbatical in time to greet her. When Alex hadn’t shown up, they’d contacted the school and discovered that she’d never enrolled as a student there. This news had sent them straight past panic mode and directly into full on hysteria. Their daughter had been missing for the better part of a year and they’d had no idea. Cue the plethora of police, private investigators and federal agents all on the hunt for their lost teenager. With Alex’s imagination frozen and her flippant story about having joined the circus for a few months falling on deaf ears, she’d been forced to tell her parents the truth and hope they wouldn’t have her committed.

It had been touch-and-go for a few minutes, so Alex had decided to prove to them that she wasn’t stark raving mad. After willing a doorway to open in the middle of their living room, she’d dragged her stupefied mother and father through to Medora. With them wide-eyed and slack-jawed, Alex had guided them straight to Darrius Marselle’s office —her headmaster and friend—knowing he’d be able to ‘speak parent’ better than she could. And he had indeed come through for her, offering a detailed rundown of Alex’s months spent at the academy in a way that her parents had been able to not just understand, but also see the changes in their daughter for themselves. In the few short months Alex had spent at Akarnae, her dedication to classes had made her both mentally and physically stronger, and she’d found good friends who made her happier than she’d ever been before. Be that as it may, they’d still gone ballistic when Darrius had mentioned Alex’s misadventures with the banished Meyarin prince, Aven Dalmarta. Alex wasn’t sure what had concerned them most: the fact that an immortal being was determined to use her influence over a sentient library to open a magical doorway to a missing city— and said like that, Alex couldn’t blame them for worrying—or the fact that if his plans succeeded, he intended to carry out a mass extermination plot against the humans of Medora. At that point in the conversation, Alex found herself wishing Darrius had gone for a ‘less is more’ approach. In fact, she’d gone back to wondering if her parents would find a way to lock her up— this time for her own protection. To calm her parents it had taken several cups of something Alex could tell by the smell alone wasn’t just tea.

When they had relaxed somewhat and Darrius had answered most of their questions —thankfully leaving out the part where Alex had been stabbed and nearly died—they followed Alex home in stunned silence. Thinking she was doomed to be superglued to their protective sides forevermore, it came as a great surprise when, a few days later, her mother and father informed her that she could go back to the academy for her next year of schooling. Apparently once the shock had worn off—and they’d likely repressed everything regarding Aven—her parents had realised just how valuable the last eight months at Akarnae had been for Alex. Intrepid explorers themselves, it would have been hypocritical of them to keep their own daughter from her chance at a real life fantasy adventure—or so they’d told her. Whatever their reasoning, Alex had been too thrilled to question their decision. Until they’d informed her that they would also be joining her in Medora for the year. Her parents. In Medora. Apparently her mother and father had become so intrigued by the possibility of the unknown that they’d decided their next great archaeological adventure was to be of the otherworldly kind. As such, they’d spent the entire summer packing their earthly belongings into storage in preparation for spending some quality time in Alex’s new world.

Alex, however, had spent that time freaking out about how to keep them safe from Aven since, if he found out about them, she was certain he would use them as leverage aga In the end they’d come to a compromise, one that Alex had cunningly offered to them on her seventeenth birthday, using that fact to help guilt trip them into accepting. Having thought about it endlessly, she had decided that the best place for her parents was inside the Library itself. While Aven now had access to the unending corridors of doorways, the chances of him locating them in there were slim to none even if he somehow learned of their existence in Medora. As far as Alex could tell, it was the most secure place available to them. Birthday-blackmail or not, it had taken some work for Alex to convince her parents to agree to remain locked away when they were so curious about the rest of Medora. But Alex explained that if Aven ended up getting his hands on them, and thus Alex in turn, their otherworldly adventures would come to a swift conclusion—as would the lives of all the humans populating Medora. Doom and gloom aside, Alex’s parents had accepted the truth of her words and reluctantly agreed to her terms. That reluctance had quickly turned to delight, however, when, with Darrius’s help, Alex had managed to find them a place to stay in the Library that came with an ancient ecosystem as their scientific playground. Having relocated from Freya just this morning, Alex had left her parents more excited than she’d ever seen them, even after she’d hesitantly informed them that she’d have to limit her visits to keep from drawing attention to their unorthodox location. But distracted by the wonder of the impossible discoveries awaiting them, they hadn’t minded in the slightest.

Instead, they’d kissed her absentmindedly on the forehead, wished her good luck for the year and encouraged her to enjoy her ‘adventures’. Alex, for her part, had just rolled her eyes, hugged them, and promised to keep in touch as best she could. Knowing that her parents were safely tucked away deep in the Library was all Alex had needed to switch her focus onto what came next: returning to the academy—and reuniting with her friends. She had missed Jordan, Bear and D.C. fiercely over the holidays and couldn’t wait to be back with them again once Akarnae reopened. They’d kept in regular contact via their ComTCD holographic communications devices, but she hadn’t been able to leave the academy grounds to see them in person. They had, however, been able to meet up without her. It was easy enough for the boys, since Jordan always spent his summers with Bear’s family, but Alex had no idea how D.C.

had managed to sneak out of the palace, especially given that the boys were unaware of her royal status. As much as Alex kept telling her friend to let the others in on the secret, she knew D.C. was afraid that Jordan and Bear would treat her differently once they learned she was the princess. Alex knew them better than that, but she had yet to convince D.C. Honestly, between organising a new life for her parents and arranging their long-term, secretive stay in Medora, Alex hadn’t had much of a chance to try and break down D.C.’s arguments. But that was also because what little spare time she’d had over the holidays had been allocated for her to get beaten up, over and over again.

It was sad, but true. For three days each week Alex had endured hours of training with her Combat instructor, Karter, developing her previously non-existent fighting skills. In Karter’s defence, Alex could admit that he’d done wonders with her in the nine short weeks they’d trained together. Their final session had been just yesterday, and while Karter hadn’t shown any last lesson leniency with his fighting—not that she’d expected him to—at the end of their time he’d gruffly conceded that she’d learned enough to join the rest of her classmates in the coming school year. Despite her anxiety, she was actually looking forward to seeing how well she handled the class. And her classmates. She would know soon enough, since all Akarnae students were due to arrive back at the academy tomorrow, with classes beginning first thing the following morning. All Alex had left to do was make it through tonight—D.C.’s birthday party at the royal palace.

Unfortunately, it seemed like every single invitee wanted to pay their respects to the ruling family, and D.C. was stuck playing the good little hostess until she could escape to Alex’s side, as they’d arranged earlier that evening while getting ready in D.C.’s bedroom. At least I’m dressed for the part, Alex thought while she waited. The dress she wore was almost as beautiful as the gown Bear’s mother had designed for her as a Kaldoras present the previous year. Unlike that one, which had been a stunning sky-blue colour, the dress D.C. had given her was emerald green and cut on the bias to drape over one shoulder, leaving the other bare.

It was made of the highest quality material, flowing softly over her body to compliment her figure. Her dark hair had been piled on top of her head with a few wispy tendrils left out to frame her face, and her smoky makeup accentuated her brown eyes. All in all, her regal look gave her the confidence she needed to wait, and keep waiting, on her own. With nothing but the company of her thoughts, Alex mulled over everything that had happened that day, from saying goodbye to her parents—and Freya—to activating her personalised Bubbledoor invitation that was pre-programmed to whisk her directly to the palace where D.C. had been waiting with open arms and excited squeals. The last few hours had been filled with Alex’s awed delight at wandering the majestic hallways, along with pampering fit for a princess in preparation for the night’s event. But now, especially given her exhausting weeks filled with packing and Combat training, all Alex wanted to do was walk back up the shiny gold stairs and curl up on the couch in D.C.’s room—a room she was sure measured about the size of a small city.

That, however, wasn’t an option for her just yet. After what felt like hours, D.C. finally managed to escape the hordes of people demanding her attention to arrive at Alex’s side. “I’m so sorry!” D.C. said, her vivid blue-green eyes filled with apology. “I didn’t think it would be so difficult to get away.” “That’s okay,” Alex said. “I’ve just been hanging with my new friend here.

” She slung an arm around the statue of a dragon-like creature beside her and added, “His name is Spitfire and he likes long walks on the beach at sunset. I think we’re a match made in heaven, don’t you?” D.C. shook her head. “You must have been bored out of your mind!” “Seriously, it’s fine,” Alex laughingly reassured her while untangling herself from the dragon. “I actually kind of enjoyed watching how everyone reacted to seeing you and your parents. They really do adore you, you know.” D.C. smiled wistfully.

“It’s my parents everyone loves. No one has seen me up close for years. This is the first birthday in a long time that I’ve celebrated with an actual party.” Alex had heard the warm reaction to D.C.’s arrival and she wholeheartedly disagreed that the crowd’s adoration was solely for the king and queen. But she let it go and instead asked, “How are you able to be here so publically now?” She gestured at the room full of guests. “Won’t people realise who you are after this? What if there are other students from the academy here?” D.C. waved away her concerns.

“Don’t worry, Alex. The guest list is highly exclusive. There might be some people from Akarnae here if they’re relatives of the royal council or on-duty Wardens, but they’re all people I’ve grown up around. They know how important it is for me to remain anonymous.” Accepting her explanation, Alex took a moment to scan the room. Her gaze snagged on a familiar face and she had to do a double-take to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. “Is that…?” Alex’s eyes narrowed and she hissed, “I can’t believe it, that’s Marcus Sparker! What is he doing here?” D.C. followed Alex’s line of sight. “The Sparkers are an important family,” she said in a hushed voice.

“There was no way for us to get out of inviting them without causing more problems than it was worth.” “You’re not worried that Jordan might have decided to come along with his parents?” Alex asked, sounding a little more aggressive than she’d intended. She really didn’t like the idea that the man who had once held her semi-captive for information was in the same room as her again. “Jordan’s never come to a palace event before, so I doubt he’d suddenly decide to now. Plus, he’s staying with Bear, remember?” D.C. answered. “Relax, Alex. Marcus and Natasha won’t dare try anything here.” “If you say so,” Alex murmured, choosing to trust her friend.

But despite her acceptance, she still felt antsy. Seeking a distraction, her eyes fell on the bar and she said, “I think I’ll go grab a drink. Do you want anything?” “Some of that fruit punch would be great, thanks.” Alex left D.C. and headed towards the beverage table. She would have made it there much faster if she’d crossed the centre of the ballroom, but she didn’t want to risk running into Marcus, so she took the longer route and hugged the walls. The closer she moved to the beverages, the louder the music became, since the refreshments were located directly beneath the orchestra. When she finally reached the table, she felt overwhelmed by the vast array of coloured liquids to choose from. “What are you after?” asked a male voice in her ear.

It was only his proximity that allowed her to hear his question over the music. “The fruit punch,” Alex said loudly as she continued to search the kaleidoscopic contents of the table. A hand reached out from behind her and pointed towards the bubbly pink liquid served in dainty crystal glasses. Alex retrieved two of them and turned to thank the person she presumed was a waiter. “Thank—Kaiden?” Alex stared up at his familiar face in surprise. “Alex,” Kaiden responded, with a hint of a smile. “What are you doing here?” Alex gasped, glancing nervously to where D.C. was waiting. Was Kaiden one of the people who had grown up around D.

C., or was he a threat to her friend’s secret identity? “It’s the refreshments table,” Kaiden said pointedly, reaching around her and grabbing a glass filled with a glowing green liquid. “Not what are you doing here, what are you doing here?” Alex asked, flustered. He raised one dark eyebrow and she struggled to fight off a blush. If it was possible, he was even more attractive than the last time she’d seen him in her Combat class. And considering he was wearing a tuxedo and not covered in sweat and grime, it was definitely possible. “By ‘here’, I presume you mean the palace ballroom?” Kaiden clarified. She shook off her dazzled feeling and pursed her lips. “Obviously.” “It’s the princess’s birthday,” he stated.

“There’s a party going on, in case you haven’t noticed. And I never turn down an invite to a good party.” Alex couldn’t quite interpret the depth behind his humour-filled expression, but before she could ask anything else, they were joined by another familiar face. “Alex! Fancy seeing you here!” “Hey, Declan,” she greeted the massive hulk of a boy. His tux was practically bursting at the seams and he didn’t appear at all comfortable—unlike Kaiden, who looked as if he was born to wear formal attire. “How was your summer?” “You didn’t ask how my summer was,” Kaiden said, looking even more amused for some reason. Alex felt her left eye twitch and was glad when Declan started speaking so she didn’t have to respond to Kaiden’s remark. “Yeah, all right. Not too exciting, but good. You?” “Same here,” she said, not wanting to go into detail.

While they were definitely the nicest of her Combat classmates, the first time she’d met Declan he’d ended up sending her to the Medical Ward, unconscious. As for Kaiden, well, she wasn’t sure what to make of him. Needless to say, neither of them were what she would call close friends. But speaking of close friends… “Oh, no,” she said, looking across the room. “I’m so sorry, but I have to go.” Alex set both drinks back on the table and lifted her floor-length dress high enough to move quickly without tripping. She didn’t care about avoiding Marcus Sparker this time as she hurried across the middle of the ballroom, weaving between dancing couples and political dignitaries. Her focus was solely on the two people who had arrived at the entrance to the room and were now heading towards the corner where D.C. was speaking to a small group of people.

Alex knew she had to warn the princess, but she was too far away to capture her attention. The king and queen came into Alex’s peripheral vision as they waltzed along to the music and she groaned inwardly when she recognised the opportunity they presented. With a mortified breath and a silent apology, Alex picked up her pace… … And launched herself at the dancing couple. The three of them tumbled to the floor in a pile of limbs and formal attire. Alex could hear people shrieking around them, and before she could so much as blink, she was forcibly hauled off the royal couple with her arms wrenched behind her back. With no chance for her to explain, two guards promptly dragged her from the room. She felt like her face was on fire as the entire ballroom of people watched the guards manhandle her, but she managed to lift her head and meet D.C.’s stricken gaze. When her friend stepped forward to intervene, Alex shook her head and subtly gestured in the direction of the two boys who were now gaping in shock along with everyone else.

Alex offered Jordan and Bear a weak smile as she was escorted past them. She turned back to D.C., relieved when her noticeably pale roommate nodded to say she understood why Alex had acted as she had. ‘I’ll fix this,’ D.C. mouthed.

.

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