Vardaesia – Lynette Noni

The sky was falling. Millions of stars streaked across the horizon, like tears weeping in the midnight void. Sand lashed against Alex’s flesh as she struggled across an unending desert. She knew very little about where she was, just that it was night-time. It would have been pitch black if not for the raining starlight and the three blue moons hovering in the sky, their unnatural colour highlighting the abandoned landscape surrounding her. “Kaiden!” Alex yelled, her voice hoarse from how many times she’d repeated her call since tumbling into the world known as Tia Auras. “Kaiden, can you heeeeeear me?” It was no use. Even though she and Kaiden had been holding hands upon stepping through the Library doorway, they’d somehow become separated. Alex had arrived in the middle of the bluelit, star-strewn desert, with Kaiden nowhere in sight. After having breathed her way through an initial bout of panic, she’d managed to pull herself together enough to realise that he had to be around somewhere. She just had to find him, after which they would carry out their mission to seek help from the Tia Aurans in the war against Aven and his Claimed army. Squinting across the barren skyline with her hand raised to keep the windswept sand from blinding her, Alex battled the anxiety churning within her. When Athora had opened the doorway leading to his native world, she had presumed it would deliver her right to where she needed to go. Instead, she was stranded in the middle of nowhere without any knowledge of which direction to walk in, let alone where she was walking to. And her one source of comfort—and company—for the trip was missing.

Having already roamed the desert for hours, Alex was now more lost than when she had first arrived. Her worry increased with every stumbling step she took and every minute that ticked by, leaving her with the shallow hope that she might be better able to orient herself when the sun—or perhaps, suns—rose. However, she soon discovered that Tia Auras wasn’t like Medora. Nor was it like her original world, Freya. Because as she witnessed the moons drifting lazily across the horizon while waiting impatiently for the dawn, it never arrived. The blue moons disappeared, but instead of the rising sun, three red moons crept into the sky, bathing the landscape with an eerie, blood-like glow. Even the star fire took on a reddish tinge, making it seem like balls of flame were shooting through the air high above her head. “Kaiden!” she called again, her voice hitching in the middle. “Please, please answer me!” Alex screamed his name until she could scream it no longer. She walked until her feet blistered and her skin became raw from the spearing sand and unrelenting wind.

Only when she could take no more did she slump to the ground, exhaustion flooding her both physically and mentally. If not for her Meyarin blood, Alex never would have lasted this long. She dreaded the idea of what Kaiden might be facing, praying that he had arrived far from the desert surrounding her. She couldn’t bear the alternative; the possibility that, if he too collapsed in the wilderness, he might reach the point where he’d be unable to get up, never to be seen again. “Enough!” Alex snarled at herself, her voice a harsh croak. Get up, get up, GET UP! With a grunt of effort, she rose back to her feet, forcing herself to continue onwards. Many more hours passed as Alex stumbled her way across an ocean of dunes, the time marked only by the arc of the red moons across the sky. When they began purpling into the equivalent of sunset, Alex realised that she had been walking aimlessly for almost an entire day, yet her landscape remained unchanged. In an act of desperation, she considered the little she knew about Tia Auras, her mind returning to one thing over and over: that when the Meyarins had been banished from this world, they had been accompanied by draekons, which meant that the draekons had originated here, too. And while Alex knew that Zaronia had been slain by Aven’s hand, there had been no confirmation of Xiraxus’s death—all she’d heard was that any of the draekons who had survived the massacre had long since fled Medora.

So… what if they had returned to their original home? Hoping she wasn’t wrong, that Xiraxus was still alive and in this world, Alex mentally called, Xira? Nothing. It’s me, Alex, she added, wondering if perhaps the thousands of years had made his mind foggy. The mortal you bonded with from Medora. Long ago. There was no response to her clumsy words. Worse, however, was the lack of awareness she felt on the inside. When once she’d sensed the low hum of the bond between them, like a constant, subtle touch against her mind, ever since she’d said goodbye to Xira and he’d returned to the past, there had been nothing. Just as there was now. She refused to read into what that could mean, unwilling to believe the worst. She had already lost Niyx—she couldn’t lose Xira, too.

Disheartened and growing increasingly afraid that she would die alone in the desert, Alex sank to her knees again as the blue moons rose once more, the flaming stars overhead losing their redness and returning to normal. Lips cracked, eyes crusty with sand, every inch of her skin scraped and stinging, Alex took a moment to consider her options. Athora was a hard taskmaster and had never shied away from challenging her, but he’d never deliberately put her life in danger, nor would he have sent her to her death. She had to believe that her current circumstances were no different from her previous experiences—that this was merely a test. She also had to believe that Kaiden, wherever he was, wasn’t undertaking the same test. Or that he’d overcome it much swifter than she. He had a myriad of gifts at his disposal; surely one of them would have helped him. And she was confident— or at least hopeful—that Athora never would have let Kaiden leave the Library if he wasn’t going to survive in Tia Auras. The Library. Something about it kept niggling at Alex.

Straining her exhausted mind, she tried to recall what Aven had told her during her time in the past, when he had said that Soraya de lah Torra was closely linked with Tia Auras. He hadn’t been sure if the Library had been built by the otherworldly race or if it had only originated in their ancient world, but either way, there was some relation between the two. His lack of details had been unsatisfying then, but given her current situation, it was much more frustrating now. But then a memory whispered across her mind, something the Library had once told her: ‘I am always with you, even beyond these walls.’ On her knees, she glanced around her desolate landscape, wondering what the chances were that the Library could transcend time and space just like back in her world. She knew it could deliver her to and from Freya, but while in Freya, she had never attempted to open a doorway to anywhere other than Medora. And Athora himself had mentioned that he and Lady Mystique were the gatekeepers from Medora to Tia Auras, which implied she couldn’t cross between the two worlds without someone like him opening the door. But… What if now that she was in Tia Auras, the rules were different? Alex feared it was a fool’s hope. Even in Medora, she could only visit somewhere new by first being inside the Library building and then stepping through to a new location—it didn’t work from the outside unless she was moving through a doorway she had already used before. But then again, what did she have to lose by trying? Alex rose shakily to her feet, closing her eyes against a sudden attack of lightheadedness.

She would have given anything for some water and something to eat, since other than a meagre slice of bread, the last thing she’d consumed was the haesondel sludge Niyx had forced her to swallow before the battle at Graevale. The instant shot of adrenaline had helped her recover from the night of torture, just as it had helped her survive the fight against Aven and his Claimed army, but with the time she’d spent burying her friend afterwards—then her hours wandering through the Tia Auran desert—it had been nearly two days since Alex had last eaten anything of substance. And while the immortal blood in her veins was helping to ward off the effects of dehydration, she was still close to reaching her limit. But she wouldn’t give up—she couldn’t give up. Blinking through her dizziness enough to look across the rolling dunes and overhead at the streaking stars once more, in a hoarse, dry voice she whispered, “If you can hear me, I could really, really use a way out of here.” An answer came as swiftly as the wind that swept the sand up at her feet. “I thought you’d never ask.” Goose bumps rose on Alex’s skin as déjà vu hit her so strongly that she felt as if she’d been struck in the stomach. The voice, as clear as the night’s sky, echoed some of the very first words the Library had ever spoken to her. “You’re here,” Alex breathed, not believing it.

Fearful, perhaps, that her exhaustion had made her delirious. “I told you I’d always be with you, Alexandra Jennings. It is you who keeps forgetting.” Overly emotional from both her fatigue and the events of the last few days, Alex felt tears spring to her eyes. For the first time since she had arrived in the never-ending desert, she didn’t feel quite so alone anymore. And apparently, she never had been. “Is Kaiden all right?” she rasped, needing to know. “He is safe and waiting for you,” the Library answered. “You would have been with him much sooner had you not taken so long to remember to call on me.” Alex marvelled at the fact that a library was somehow managing to make her feel guilty.

But she also knew more than anyone that the Library was no ordinary library. She cleared her parched, croaky throat and gave the only excuse she had. “It’s been a rough couple of days. I wasn’t thinking.” “Your trials of late have been many, Alexandra,” the Library said in a deep, soothing voice that caused Alex to swallow thickly, the compassion both comforting and painful. “And I need not tell you what you already know—that they are not yet over.” Alex did know that. Despite what she had already endured, until Aven was defeated, there was still much more that she had to do. “Can you help me?” she asked. “Can you take me where I need to go?” In answer, a doorway rippled into existence barely a few feet from where she stood.

“You need only ask, Alexandra,” the Library said. “Try not to forget again.” Alex’s shoulders sagged with the knowledge that she had been wandering the desert for so long only because of her own stupidity. A similar experience had occurred during her time in the past— she’d forgotten all about the Library and the possibility that it could return her to the future. She should have learned from her mistake then, not continued to make it over and over again. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the Library said, as if reading her mind. “When the time comes that you need to remember me, you will.” A shiver ran down her spine, and all she could do was nod her head. “Where will it take me?” she asked, looking into the doorway that showed nothing but darkness. “Where you need to go,” the Library answered, back to being as vague as Alex expected.

Feeling the need to double check, Alex squinted her eyes and confirmed, “And Kaiden’s waiting for me there?” “You will have to step through and see.” With that, Alex could almost feel the Library’s presence disappearing. Or, if not disappearing entirely, at least… quieting. Leaving her to make her own decision about what to do next. While she wasn’t thrilled with the Library’s ambiguity, Alex knew that wherever the door led, and whoever was— or wasn’t—waiting on the other side, it had to be better than continuing to wander aimlessly through the desert. “Thank you,” she whispered, knowing the Library would hear her. And then she stepped into the doorway.

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