I have two new chapters of Paragons for you this week. Here is the first.

Paragons 1.2.5

Book 1  ♣  Episode 2  ♣  Chapter 5

The secret to being a hero is classified. Chapter 5 of the Paragons Episode The White Knight.

Chapter 5

“So, we’re stuck here? Forever?” I tucked my twitching hands behind my back so the Knight wouldn’t see how scared I was.

It didn’t work.

“No need for concern,” he told me. “I’ve been in far worse situations.”

Somehow I doubted that.

“We just need to get moving,” the Knight declared. “We’ll find a way out of here.”

Even with the helmet distorting his voice, I could tell he didn’t really believe that. But the only other option was to give up, which I was way too stubborn to do.

“Ok,” I said, trying to sound confident. “Which way?”

The Knight turned in place, like he was trying to get his bearings. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Every direction looked exactly the same to me. It was all one big, thick curtain of white fog.

“Do you ever get dizzy turning like that?” I asked him, just to break up the silence.

“No.”

“Sir Knight…” I cleared my throat. “Actually, what’s your name?”

“My name?”

“You do have one, don’t you?” I smirked at him. “Or should I just call you Sir Knight?”

He stopped turning. “You probably should.”

Wow. He was something else.

He surprised me by adding, a few moments later, “Kato. My name is Kato.”

“Kato,” I repeated, nodding. “Sounds very knightly. Well, now I know everything there is to know about you.”

From his sudden change of posture, I could tell he was pretty confused.

“Just teasing,” I chuckled.

“No time for that.” I was sure he was done indulging me, so I was surprised when he added, “What is your name?”

“Savannah,” I said.

Or at least tried to say. His question was so unexpected—a Knight wanted to know my name!—that I tripped over my own tongue, and my name came out as a big, jumbled mess.

“Seven?” he asked. “Your name is Seven?”

I cleared my throat and repeated my name. Thankfully, it came out right this time.

But he replied, “I like Seven.”

That must have been the most normal thing he’d said to me so far.

And that little touch of humanity I sensed in him compelled me to say, “Call me Seven if you’d like.” I tacked a smile on to the end of that invitation to show him I meant it.

“Very well, Seven.”

Hmm. I actually liked the nickname more than I’d expected.

“We should get going,” Kato said.

“You haven’t told me which way,” I pointed out. “Or come up with an actual plan to get us out of here.”

I regretted the words as soon as I said them. I hadn’t meant to sound so harsh. It wasn’t fair to place all the responsibility for getting out of here on Kato’s shoulders, even if he was a Knight.

But he didn’t seem to mind taking charge. “When I sent the Cursed Ones into Shadow Fall, it created tears in the veil between this dimension and our own. The plan is to find one of those tears and use it to return to the Garden.”

“Tears in the veil. Got it.” I nodded. “What do they look like?”

“You can’t see them. They’re invisible.”

Of course they were.

“Can you hear them?” I asked. “Or maybe smell them?”

“No.”

“Then how are we supposed to find them?”

“It’s a work in progress,” he said.

“Ok, just so we’re clear—” I ran my hands through my hair. It had long since broken loose from the pretty braid I’d put it in…uh, yesterday. Before facing the Cursed Ones. Twice. It had been way too long since I’d slept. “—so this is a needle-in-a-haystack sort of plan, isn’t it?”

He shifted his weight. And that said it all.

“Is there any way to find these tears in the veil?” I asked him.

“With magic.”

Which he didn’t have right now, and he wouldn’t be getting it back until we got out of Shadow Fall.

I hesitated for a moment before pointing out, “I have magic.”

“You repelled the Cursed Ones.” He shook his head. “I have no idea what kind of magic that’s supposed to be.”

Useless magic. But of course I didn’t say that.

“Maybe if you show me the spell for finding the tears in the veil, I can kind of wing it,” I suggested.

“Wing it?” He sounded horrified. “That spell is highly complex. It takes most people years of study to master, assuming they ever do. You cannot simply ‘wing it’.”

“Ok…so then do you have magic weapons or artifacts or something else that could help us?” I asked.

“I do. But their magic also blew out when my spells collided.”

I was hit with the sudden urge to punch a wall or something. But there were no walls here. Only fog. And monsters.

“There are monsters here!” I realized.

“So?”

“Soooo can any of them find tears in the veil?”

“You want to hunt a monster?”

“Not especially.” I balled my hands into fists to stop the trembles. “But if it’s the only way to get out of here…”

“We’d need to find a monster who is drawn to magic—or, more specifically, drawn to Dreamweaver magic. That’s the type of magic which connects all the realms and the dimensions between them together.”

He made it sound like one, big interdimensional sandwich.

Mmm, what I wouldn’t give for a sandwich right now. I was famished.

“Ok.” I cleared my throat before I started drooling. “Well, how about the fire tiger?”

“No. They’re drawn to blood, not magic. We need something like a fairy.” He tapped his helmet. “Or a dragon.”

I suppressed a shiver. Fairies didn’t sound too bad, but dragons…well, let’s just say there weren’t any fairytales about nice dragons. They sounded even scarier than the Cursed Ones.

The Cursed Ones!

Suddenly, I remembered something about them: they are attracted to Dreamweaver magic.

“How about the Cursed Ones?” I said. “They’re attracted to Dreamweaver magic.”

“They are…but how do you know that?” The surprise in Kato’s voice was unmistakable, even through the helmet.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.” I’d learned that little nugget of magical knowledge from the invisible stranger I met yesterday, but I couldn’t tell Kato that. I’d promised the invisible stranger not to tell anyone about him. “All that matters is we now have a way out of here. First, we find the Cursed Ones. And then we let them lead us home. Easy-peasy.”

“It will be anything but easy. But at least it’s doable,” Kato said in a level voice.

“That’s the spirit! Let’s go hunt some Cursed Ones!” I pumped my fist in the air. “Wait, unless there’s a tear right around here, where I came through the veil?” I squinted at the fog, but of course I didn’t see anything but white, billowy nothingness.

“Unlikely. Once created, the tears constantly hop around. Until…”

“Until what?”

“Until they fade away.”

Great, so not only did we have to find an invisible needle in a haystack inside the fog, we were on a timer. And it was hopping around. Like a bunny…

Kato set off toward the white wall of fog. “Follow me.”

I hurried to catch up to him before he disappeared into the mist. The visibility in this murk was terrible. I stayed close by his side so we didn’t get separated. I did not want to be left alone in here with all those monsters roaming around.

“Do you know where the Cursed Ones are?” I asked him.

“Not exactly. But do you smell that?” He waited while I sniffed the air.

I nodded. “Wet and earthy with a hint of rot.”

“The distinct scent of the Cursed Ones. It should lead us right to them.” Kato tapped the side of his helmet.

I threw him a sidelong glance. “I hope you’re not planning on performing some mind-control spell on me like you did on that Cursed One back in the Garden.”

“I don’t have any magic right now, remember?”

Of course I did. I was only teasing him.

“And, besides, I’m not supposed to use my magic on humans or Apprentices,” he said. “At least not unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Good to know.” I watched him tap his helmet again. “So if you’re not preparing a spell, then why do you keep touching your helmet?”

“Because it’s hot, and I’m baking inside this armor. I’m trying to wipe the sweat from my brow.”

“But you’re wearing a helmet. You can’t wipe the sweat from your brow,” I pointed out.

“Yes, thank you for stating the obvious.”

I almost laughed. He was so much more fun when he acted human.

“Ok, so at the risk of stating the obvious yet again, if you’re so hot, why don’t you just take off your helmet?” I asked him.

“Knights wear helmets.”

I arched my brows. “More words of wisdom from the Handbook?”

“The Handbook is a comprehensive how-to guide on the Curse, written for a human readership. It includes detailed instructions and step-by-step diagrams and illustrations on what humans should do in the case of an attack by the Cursed Ones.”

I laughed. “I can’t believe you managed to get out all that gobbledygook without stopping to take a breath.”

He ignored my teasing. Again. I guess a sense of humor was not one of the prerequisites to becoming a Knight.

“The Handbook does not include any sections on Knight etiquette,” he added.

“All right, but I’m sure you have a Knights’ Almanac or something like it that talks all about chivalry and heroism and the rules for when exactly you’re allowed to take your helmet off.”

“We have a Knights’ Code of Conduct,” he confirmed.

“A Code of Conduct. Of course.” I smiled at the appropriate name. “So what does it say about helmets?”

“It would be inappropriate for me to discuss the contents of the Knights’ Code of Conduct with you.”

“Why?”

“You are not a Knight yet. And the information contained inside the Code of Conduct is classified.”

“The secret to being a hero is classified?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

I couldn’t believe that.

Then again…the Government had stripped away most of our rights and freedoms after the Curse hit. Freedom of information had been one of the first things to go. Like Mom always said, it’s easy to control people when you keep them ignorant.

“Ok, sure, so I’m not a Knight.” I flashed Kato a grin. “But you should tell me all about the Code of Conduct anyway.”

He let out something that sounded awfully close to a sigh. “Do you always question authority?”

“Yes.” I watched him tap his head again. “Are you always so stubborn?”

“Yes.”

I snorted. “Look, I know you’ve faced countless Cursed Ones and think you’re this tough, intimidating, knuckle-cracking, armor-wearing, sword-swinging magic whiz…”

“Knuckle-cracking?”

I shot him a shrug coupled with an unapologetic smile. “But you’re not in your fairytale castle anymore, Kato. This fog is as thick as cotton candy.” I swiped my hand across my forehead, wiping the sweat away. “And hot enough to melt the armor right off your body.”

“That is impossible,” he said calmly.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve learned to be really careful with that word. After all, only sixteen years ago people thought magic was impossible. And now we have Knights, Spirit Trees, and spells. And I’m stuck in a magical dimension between realms.”

“You are surprisingly astute for someone who can’t go more than two sentences without cracking a joke.” His hands flashed out, catching me when I stumbled over a bump in the ground.

“Thanks.” I blushed.

“You’re welcome.” He released me and dipped into a bow.

It was the smoothest, prettiest, most elegant bow that I’d ever seen. I wondered if I would ever learn to bow like that.

“Seven.”

I jumped at the sound of my new nickname—and the hand on my shoulder.

“Sorry, I guess I got lost in my own thoughts,” I told Kato.

“I know what that’s like.”

I wasn’t half as surprised by his words as I was when he unlatched his helmet in front of me and tucked it under his arm. Concealed beneath that knightly helmet was a real person. A teenage boy with eyes that shone like blue diamonds and hair as black as a raven’s feathers. Handsome and heroic, he looked like a prince straight out of a fairytale.

“So, you’re like, what, seventeen, eighteen?” I asked.

“Eighteen.”

I tried to mask my shock. Of course I’d known the Knights were teenagers. The first Knights had been Chosen four years ago, when they were sixteen. So by now, even the oldest Knights were at most twenty, hardly older than a teenager. And most of the Knights were still teenagers. Simple math.

It was so easy to forget about simple math when hearing about all the heroic, magical things the Knights had done. Especially since no one ever saw them without their full armor on. No one ever saw the young faces of the planet’s heroes.

“You’re speechless,” Kato observed.

“No, as my friends like to say, there is no force in this world that can shut me up,” I laughed.

It was a forced laugh.

It was all starting to sink in now. Without that helmet distorting his voice to make it so deep and echoey, he sounded so normal. And without his helmet to cover his head, he looked so normal. Like he was more than just a nameless, faceless, super-scary Knight. Like he was a normal teenager, just like me.

Well, as ‘normal’ as someone with all those crazy powers could be.

“Something about my face disturbs you.” His sharp jawline seemed to grow even sharper.

“Yes,” I admitted. “Somehow, the human face beneath your helmet is scarier than the mysterious, faceless Knight.”

“Why?”

“I guess because this is the first time I’ve thought about Knights as real people—real teenagers—instead of as paragons of perfection. Soon, I’ll become a Knight too. And I’m not very good at being perfect.” I slouched over.

“Practice makes perfect,” Kato told me.

He didn’t laugh, so I couldn’t tell if he’d meant that to be a joke or a serious statement.

I cleared my dry throat. “I thought a Knight wasn’t supposed to be seen without his helmet on?”

“These aren’t normal circumstances. It’s an emergency. The visibility here is terrible, particularly when I’m wearing my helmet. And, besides, someone once warned me that this fog is hot enough to melt the armor right off your body,” he said, the tiniest hint of humor in his eyes.

I chortled. “I like you better this way, without your helmet on.”

He blinked those pretty blue-diamond eyes, like my bluntness had surprised him. “Why?”

“You’re so normal.”

“I have magic,” he reminded me.

As if I needed a reminder. I’d witnessed firsthand how effortlessly—how mercilessly—he’d handled the Cursed Ones.

“I wasn’t talking about magic,” I said. “Your magic isn’t the issue. It’s your armor. It’s like a shield, a mask. You Knights wear it to cover yourselves up and pretend that you aren’t real people. And that’s dangerous.”

“How so?”

“Because if you pretend for long enough, then you begin to believe the lie. You start to believe you aren’t a person. You should try going around without all the armor on more often.”

His dark brows drew together. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as crazy as you.”

I flashed him a grin. “I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

“Why would you?”

“Well, you’ve probably seen most of our realm and a bunch of other realms too. And still, in all your journeys, you’ve never met anyone like me. It feels nice to be special.”

His severe facade cracked, and he laughed. “You’re crazy.”

“So you’ve told me.” I winked at him. “Better keep your distance. It might be contagious.”

“I hope your behavior is contagious.”

I looked at him, confused—and a bit embarrassed.

“The way you acted back there in the Garden,” he explained. “Most people lose their head when they see the Cursed Ones. But you didn’t panic; you remained calm and tried to help the humans. If people could ‘catch’ your common sense, everyone would be safer.”

“So…then you think I’ll make a decent Knight?” I asked cautiously.

“No, I don’t think you’ll make a decent Knight. I think you will make an excellent Knight.”

“I guess you haven’t seen where I sit on the Scoreboard?” I said quietly.

Even though we hadn’t finished the Assessment, I could tell I hadn’t performed well.

His brows lifted. “The Scoreboard is…imperfect.”

I had to wonder if he’d been about to use a different word. A stronger word. From the look on his face, it was clear what he thought of the Scoreboard.

“Motive is more important than merit,” he added. “Don’t forget that, Seven.”

I’d heard those words before.

Those exact words.

Yesterday.

In the Forbidden Zone.

He couldn’t be.

Or could he?

His voice was different.

But magic could distort a person’s voice.

“Say…you wouldn’t happen to have the power to turn yourself invisible, would you?” I asked him.

“I can’t do any magic right now,” he reminded me.

“I know. But when you can do magic, can you make yourself invisible?”

A perplexed crinkle formed between his eyes. “Is this your way of making conversation?”

“No. I was just curious.”

He studied my face, and I was sure he knew I was holding back. But all he said was, “No. I can’t make myself invisible.”

“Oh.”

I tried not to sound too disappointed, but I was. I’d really been hoping that Kato was the invisible stranger. Even though their personalities were pretty different. And their voices too. But magic could do a lot of things. I bet it could change a person’s voice.

“Seven, have you met someone who could turn themselves invis—”

An ear-splitting shriek cut off Kato’s question. And a moment later, four pairs of glowing crimson eyes pierced the fog.

We’d found the Cursed Ones.

Well, actually, they’d found us.

Copyright © Ella Summers

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