Book 1 ♣ Episode 2 ♣ Chapter 3
A strike on the Garden puts everyone in danger. Chapter 3 of the Paragons Episode The White Knight.
There was no life in the Cursed One’s eyes. Spittle dangled from its savage mouth. Like a rabid dog, it sniffed and stalked and shrieked. It swiped at anyone who got too close.
Our families ran for the gate, but it was closed. A few of them tried to climb it. Fists and feet caught on spiky tips and broken glass. The Government had obviously designed the gate to be unscalable, like all their gates.
They were watching us right now, through those cameras. They could have opened the gate to let us out, but I knew they wouldn’t do that, not as long as the Cursed One was trapped in here. It didn’t matter that all these people were trapped in here too. The Government would never risk opening that gate. The Curse was too contagious. Too deadly.
“Is this some kind of test?” I asked Dante.
His gaze cut past me, drinking in the scene of total pandemonium that had broken loose all around us. “I don’t think so.”
A shrill shriek sang above the panicked chorus. It was one of the Program Managers. Ms. Pirana. The Cursed One had rushed past the mass of Apprentices, honing in on her and Ms. Featherdale, like it was drawn to them. It was closing in fast. The two women held to each other, shaking and sobbing.
I felt myself take a step toward them. Somehow, I’d managed to repel the Cursed Ones yesterday in the Forbidden Zone. For whatever reason, they were afraid of me. If I could just put myself between this Cursed One and everyone else…
Except everyone else was scattered all across the Garden. We were all in grave danger. Sure, Apprentices were immune to the Curse, but we weren’t immune to being torn to pieces by savage monsters.
I froze in place, trying to figure out what to do.
I didn’t have much time. Any second now, the Cursed One was going to bite someone.
I needed to distract it.
I sprang into action, lunging for a garden hose. I pulled the trigger and a jet stream of water exploded out of the head, smashing into the Cursed One. An enraged, primal roar erupted out of its pale, cracked lips. Then it dropped to all fours and bounded toward me like an angry monkey.
As it passed the big black SUV, the other doors swung open and three people jumped out. No, not people. There was no humanity left in their eyes. They all wore the same soulless, savage expression.
It wasn’t just one Cursed One who’d hitched a ride in that SUV. There were four of them.
Everyone starting running around the Garden even faster. And screaming louder than ever before. The running and screaming only served to incite the Cursed Ones. The three new arrivals charged at the panicking people.
“Leave them alone!” I shouted.
The first Cursed One stopped.
Looked at me.
Looked at the hysterical people running around.
Then it sprinted away from me to join the other Cursed Ones in the hunt.
I hit it with another squirt from the hose, but it didn’t even seem to notice. I tried blasting the other three with water; they didn’t notice either. They were too focused on all the panicking people running around. And they were avoiding me just like the Cursed Ones yesterday in the Forbidden Zone.
If the Cursed Ones had a boogie monster—that thing they feared above all else—I guess I was it. But why? What was so repulsive about me?
I turned up the pressure on the hose and hit one of the Cursed Ones with an even stronger blast of water. It stumbled back. But that hardly slowed it down. A few seconds later, it was back on the hunt. And all the people running around screaming weren’t helping matters.
I grabbed a man’s arm as he sped past me. “Stop it,” I told him, keeping my voice quiet and level. “You need to be still and silent. You’re only making things worse.”
He bumped me hard with one of his shoulders, freeing himself. Then he went right back to running around in circles.
Mom was trying to calm people down, but no one was listening to her either.
I threw down the useless hose. It wasn’t helping at all.
“Haven’t you guys read the emergency guide on the Cursed Ones?”
No one answered me. I doubted they could even hear me over all their shouting.
I watched the Cursed Ones. All this hysteria had made the inhuman beasts totally crazy. Thankfully, it had also made them too distracted to focus on any one person for more than a few seconds; they kept changing targets. They hadn’t managed to bite anyone. Yet. But I knew our luck wouldn’t hold for long.
There had to be a way to stop the Cursed Ones. I looked around, trying to come up with some clever trick, but the only spells I could do were pretty useless. I needed real magic.
Magic. No sooner had the word entered my mind than I saw a Cursed One being flung off its feet by invisible forces. It smashed into the hood of the SUV with a thundering crash. For one wonderful, impossible moment, I believed my fantasy had become a reality. That I’d suddenly learned telekinesis.
Those happy, wishful thoughts came crashing down as surely as the Cursed One’s body hit the SUV. A Knight in shining white armor strode toward the Cursed One, his gloved hand lifted in the air in front of him.
I hadn’t tossed the Cursed One aside. That Knight had.
A glowing halo of magic swirled around him like dozens of moons orbiting a planet. The White Knight pivoted toward a second Cursed One. As he moved, his sword turned into a long staff. The Knight tapped a finger to his helmet, speaking a few quiet words. Suddenly, the Cursed One pulled off its pursuit of the people; it dropped to all fours and charged at another Cursed One instead, all the while snarling in protest.
The Knight was controlling its body.
He said a few more words, waving his staff. The Cursed One he was piloting grabbed another Cursed One and hurled it at the SUV. The tossed Cursed One crashed into the one still lying on the hood of the vehicle.
The Knight’s staff turned into a small metal disc. In one smooth, swift movement, he inserted it into an open slot in his gauntlet. Then he grabbed the Cursed One he’d been controlling, lifting it over his head like it weighed nothing. He tossed it onto the SUV too. There were now three of them lying there, unable to move.
The fourth Cursed One was running at the Knight, trying to get the jump on him from behind. I rushed in, sticking out my foot. The Cursed One tripped over it and fell to the ground right in front of the SUV. The Knight helped it along with a solid shove.
Then he spun around to face me. “I’ve never seen anyone trip a Cursed One.” His words echoed a little inside his full-head helmet, making his voice sound really deep.
“I got the idea from some mean Apprentices who tried to trip me today,” I blurted out.
The Knight didn’t answer. I guess he wasn’t impressed by my stupid response.
The many rows of medals on the Knight’s breastplate clinked as he turned away from me—and toward the SUV. The Cursed Ones were glued to the hood like it was covered in a really sticky paste. But it must have been some invisible magical force holding them there because I didn’t see anything on the hood besides the struggling Cursed Ones and the SUV’s normal black paint.
The whole vehicle began to shine. It purred like a humming bird. The Knight waved his hands, weaving them through the air, glowing brighter with every flick of his fingers, with every twist of his wrists.
A pulse of blinding blue light flashed out from his hands.
Then, suddenly, the whole Garden was silent. No screaming. No footsteps. Nothing. The final, flourishing clap of the Knight’s hands cut through the vacuum of sound.
And then the SUV—and the three Cursed Ones stuck to it—dissolved into a cloud of blue dust. The fourth one on the ground was quivering, like it knew it was about to be next.
It leapt off the ground and slammed into me. Then it grabbed my arm and dragged me into the magic light after it.
Copyright © Ella Summers