Book 1 ♣ Episode 2 ♣ Chapter 1
Savannah travels to the Fortress, the largest city on Gaia. Chapter 1 of the Paragons Episode The White Knight.
While it would have taken us half a day to fly from Bayshore to the Fortress—and over a month by boat—the trip through the Spirit Tree was nearly instantaneous.
We clutched the handgrips inside the big SUV, our teeth chattering as the caravan rumbled over the uneven, scorched earth of the Forbidden Zone. There were three cars in front of us. I watched them vanish, one by one, the moment they passed through the doorway of the Spirit Tree. And then it was our turn.
As soon as we were inside the tree, the inner trunk’s wall lit up with a large, sparkling symbol, projected from the SUV’s headlights. Something invisible passed through me—and then I felt like I was dropping through the ground.
The vertigo only lasted a moment. Then came the bright, blinding light as we drove out the other end of the Spirit Tree. But it wasn’t the same Spirit Tree. And this wasn’t the same place. We’d traveled 12,000 kilometers in an instant.
We were inside the Fortress now, the largest city on Gaia.
“Cool,” Dante gasped, face pressed to the window, his eyes wide, flickering. It was like he was trying to drink in the whole world through a very narrow straw.
“I can’t believe we’re here. At the Fortress!” Nevada said. “It’s so unreal.”
I looked behind us, at the enormous magic tree we’d come out of. The Fortress’s Spirit Tree was even bigger and brighter than the one in Bayshore.
“The Interchange,” I read off a black-and-gold sign as we passed it. “So, this is the Interchange!”
Dante turned from the window. “You’ve heard of it?”
“Oh, yes. It was in one of the books about the Fortress that Mom gave us. Didn’t you read them?”
“Not really.” He shrugged. “I might have looked at a few of the pictures, though.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Weren’t you at all curious about the Fortress? I mean, you’ve spent your whole life trying to get here.”
“I figured I would see it when I see it.”
“I’m glad the Government chose you, Dante, but I have to wonder why they did. You never study!”
He chuckled. “I don’t need to.”
Dante wasn’t showing off—ok, so maybe he was showing off—but he wasn’t wrong. My brother had never had to study a day in his life, and yet his grades were always perfect. I wasn’t sure how he did it.
“Besides, I thought it was obvious why the Government chose me,” he said. “Because I’m cool.”
“Right, because the Government cares about how ‘cool’ someone is.”
He rolled back his shoulders in a slow, easy shrug. “I have skills, Sav. If you’re nice to me, I might even teach you some of them.”
I snorted. “Like I actually want to learn a totally useless thing like spinning a basketball on my finger.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. Only cool people care about things like that.” He winked at me.
“Funny.” I glanced at Nevada.
She laughed. “Don’t look at me. He’s your brother.”
Dante blew me a kiss.
“So what is the Interchange?” Nevada asked me.
“It’s also known as the Gateway to Gaia.” I looked for any sign of recognition in their eyes, but all they did was shrug like they had no idea what I was talking about. I sighed. “The Interchange is the Fortress’s smallest district. It’s only as large as the train station.” I pointed through the window. “But what the Interchange lacks in size, it makes up for in importance. The Spirit Tree sits at the center of it.”
“You’re cute when you sound like a textbook.” Dante lurched forward, trapping me in a headlock just long enough to totally mess up my hair.
“Thanks,” I grumbled once I was finally free again.
“No need to thank me.” He smirked at me. “The look on your face is all the thanks I require.”
I threw a water bottle at his face, but unfortunately he caught it.
“We’re slowing down,” Nevada commented.
I craned my neck to get a look out the front windshield. “It’s just a checkpoint. The Fortress is actually a cluster of many towns, built like a honeycomb. Each town is surrounded by a wall. Movement between the towns is heavily restricted. The only way in or out is through controlled checkpoints.” I pointed at the sign stuck to the closed gate. “This checkpoint brings us between the Interchange and the Black Obelisk.”
“The Black Obelisk?” Dante repeated, brows lifted. “Sounds like a friendly place.”
Further up the line of SUVs, the driver was discussing something with the Watchers standing guard outside the fence. There was a rackety noise, then the metal gates slid open.
“The Black Obelisk is the Watchers’ headquarters,” I said. “All new Knight Apprentices are brought here for processing.”
“And you read all of this from a book?” Nevada asked me.
“Multiple books actually.”
“Nerd,” Dante coughed under his breath.
“Here, let me help you with that cough, brother.” I reached out to slap him hard on the back.
But he rolled out of the way, and my hand hit the car door instead. And that really kind of hurt.
“You’ll have to do better if you want to distinguish yourself as a Knight,” Dante snickered as the car came to a stop.
I stuck my tongue out at him. And that’s what I was doing when the door opened to reveal the General on the other side.
He glowered down at me. “Charming.”
Great. So much for blending into the crowd. I’d told Dante that plan was never going to work, but for once, I really hated being right.
I stepped out of the SUV, Nevada and Dante following closely behind me. Mom was getting out of the next car.
“They said they’ll deliver our luggage to our new homes.” Her tone was steady, but something in her eyes gave her away. Shades of sadness leaked through her steely facade.
I knew just how she felt. Our victory at having all made it to the Fortress was somewhat tempered by the reminder that we would no longer be living together as a family.
But I shouldn’t complain. At least I still had family. Nevada did not. A few years ago, she’d lost her mother to the Curse. And she didn’t even know who her father was.
Dante and I had never met our father either. Mom said he’d been an old colleague of hers, back in her pre-Curse days as a professor of biochemistry, but he’d died before we were born.
“It will be fine, Mom,” Dante assured her with an easy smile. Then he stretched out his interlaced fingers, and I heard at least four distinct knuckle-cracks.
Mom winced. “Dante, you know how much I hate it when you do that.”
“Yeah, I know, Mom.” He gave his neck a long, slow roll, and there was another crack. “But I also know how much you enjoy scolding me. Giving you that opportunity is just my way of showing you that I love you.” He flashed her a huge grin.
I rolled my eyes at my brother. “You are such a ham.”
But his distraction seemed to have done the trick. Mom couldn’t stop smiling.
“I’m proud of you. Of all three of you,” she added, pulling Nevada into our big family hug.
A loud, foghorn-like noise roared across the grassy field. A big sign on the gate told me we’d stopped just outside ‘the Garden’, a fenced-off park that cowered in the shadow of the gargantuan building that towered over it. That building must have been the Black Obelisk, the district’s namesake.
The wide base of the tall tower sat at the center of town; its angled tip kissed the sky. Black glass coated the entire structure, absorbing the surrounding light. The Watchers could see out of those glass windows, but no one could see in. That was just how they liked it. Surrounding the structure was an iron fence covered in security cameras (to watch us all) and broken glass (to keep us out).
“Apprentices!” the General’s voice—sharp and commanding—bellowed through the speakers at the Garden’s gate. “Line up for assessment!”
Copyright © Ella Summers
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