Here’s the second Paragons chapter this week.

This is the first chapter where Savannah really gets to experience the Australian natural environment. She finally makes it to the Apprentice Village, which is located in the Fortress district Killfield (real world equivalent: Killara + Lindfield, Sydney North Shore). I actually lived in this area for a few years.

Paragons 1.2.8

Book 1  ♣  Episode 2  ♣  Chapter 8

It’s the weird, special people who change the world. Chapter 8 of the Paragons Episode The White Knight.

Chapter 8

Kato and I walked through the small opening in the Garden’s gate—and right past the gadget-wielding Watchers standing there. The Apprentices brought the grownups forward, one-by-one, presenting them to the Watchers. An instant blood test would tell them if anyone was Cursed.

“Where are you taking me?” I asked Kato after we passed through the Black Obelisk’s checkpoint and entered the Interchange.

“I’m taking you home.”

Home. For a moment I thought he meant Bayshore, but that was just the exhaustion talking.

“You’ve had a long day,” he said.

We were on the train platform now. A train slid to a smooth stop in front of us. The doors whooshed open, and I followed him inside.

“I don’t know where I’m staying. They didn’t get around to telling us that yet,” I said as the train started moving again.

“That will not be a problem. I can look that up.” He removed a coin-sized disc from his armor, and it transformed into a phone.

I gaped at him. “That’s a neat trick.”

“Indeed.” He waved his hand over the phone, not even touching the screen. Somehow, the text scrolled anyway. “Ok, I’ve found your accommodation. I will escort you there.”

We took the train to ‘the Castle’ station. It was only four stops from the Interchange, but that was long enough for me to get used to the gentle air conditioning inside the train—and notice how hot it was outside when we exited.

“Come on. This way.” Kato led me out of the station and to the street beyond.

We walked side-by-side for a while without saying a thing, until a shrill call sliced through the silence. I jumped in alarm.

“Don’t worry. It’s not monsters this time,” he told me. “It’s just a kookaburra.”

“Wait, are you telling me that sound came from a bird?”

He shrugged his armored shoulders. “You’ll get used to it.”

The kookaburra called out again. Its monkey-like cry echoed through the nearby forest.

“It looks like I’ll have to get used to a lot of things,” I commented as an abnormally-large wild turkey darted across the road.

“Just watch out for the drop bears. Especially when you’re walking through the woods. They like to drop on top of unsuspecting Apprentices.”

I gawked at him.

“Just kidding. That one is just a myth.”

“Any chance the poisonous spiders are a myth too?” I asked.

“No.”

I shivered. “Fantastic.”

“You charge into danger when the Cursed Ones attack, and yet you’re afraid of tiny spiders?”

“Yes.”

A snort echoed through his helmet. “You are a very strange girl.”

“I know.”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t run and scream when the Cursed Ones attacked the Garden.”

“Because I’m strange?”

“No, because you see the world differently than most people do.”

He gave my back a good, strong pat—which hurt, but it also felt good. Because it made me feel like he believed in me. A Knight believed in me. That had to count for something.

“I hope the Program Managers appreciate my differentness as much as you do,” I said quietly. “Dante always warns me about being too weird for boring, normal people.”

“Dante?”

“My twin brother. He’s one of the other Apprentices. Not one of the ones who panicked in the Garden,” I added quickly.

But Kato obviously had something other than the Garden on his mind right now. “That must be nice. Having a brother.”

“Sometimes. When he’s not annoying me,” I said.

“I don’t have any siblings. Or even parents.”

“You’re an orphan?”

There were a lot of orphans nowadays. Too many. The Curse had claimed many lives. And it had broken up so many families.

I reached out my hand to give Kato’s shoulder a friendly squeeze, but dropped it to my side when I remembered who he was. What he was. Despite our little adventure together in Shadow Fall, he was still a Knight. And Knights didn’t make friends with lowly Apprentices.

Well, I guess I couldn’t have squeezed him through all that armor anyway.

“I’m sorry about your family,” I told him.

“Don’t be. The Knights are my family. And they can be yours too.”

“I’ve always thought of the Knights as a powerful army, not as one big happy family.”

“Who says we can’t be both?” said Kato.

We fell into silence as we passed through the gates into the Killfield district. The road was lined with tall, thick trees. The shade was a sweet relief from the scorching summer heat. The Australian sun seemed to have a talent for making everything feel ten degrees hotter than it really was. Or maybe my body was still stuck back in winter.

I glanced off to the side of the road, where a team of adults and older teenagers had gathered at the forest’s edge. They were dressed in bright orange jumpsuits, the kind of outfit that prison crews used to wear. Or so I’d read in books.

I wasn’t sure what prisoners wore nowadays. I’d never seen a prisoner. If anyone, child or adult, misbehaved badly enough, the Government exiled you beyond the town walls. And no one ever saw you again.

The orange jumpsuits meant those people off to the side of the road were Cutters. The Cutters fought a never-ending battle against nature. Their tools were simple shovels and scissors and saws. They weren’t allowed to use pesticides. Humanity had learned our lesson the hard way that pumping the planet full of poison only made nature fight back harder.

The Cutters watched us with wide eyes. A few of them talked in hushed, hurried whispers. Knights didn’t take evening strolls with Apprentices, so the sight of me walking side-by-side with one of the planet’s heroes must have come as quite a shock to them. My torn and dirty clothes probably didn’t help either.

“I like talking to you,” Kato said quietly, once we’d passed out of the Cutters’ sight.

“That’s definitely several steps up from where we started today.” I threw him a sidelong smile. “When you scolded me.”

“You aren’t like anyone else I know,” he said. “When I talk to you, it’s like you’re a real person. And it’s like I’m a real person too.”

“So you don’t feel like a real person the rest of the time?”

“No. Not really,” he admitted. “My life is very different the rest of the time. It’s all about responsibility. Perfection. Destiny.”

“It sounds like you have a lot on your plate.”

“I do.”

“And yet you took a break from responsibility and even destiny to walk me home.”

“You’re someone worth knowing.”

“Thanks. That means a lot to me.” I sidestepped a eucalyptus branch that had fallen onto the road; it was at least as tall as I was. “Kato?”

“Yes?”

“Why do the Cursed Ones freeze when they see me? You said you’ve never seen them do that before. So I’m wondering, why are they so afraid of me? What’s wrong with me?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Seven. There’s something right with you. You have a gift. Embrace it.”

“A gift?” I chewed his words over. “But what kind of magic is this gift?”

“I believe it’s fear magic.”

“Fear magic?” I asked. “The power to make people afraid?”

“Essentially, yes. It works on humans and even supernaturals. But I’ve never seen it work on a Cursed One. They’re not supposed to experience real emotions.” He brushed his hand across my back. “You’re unique, Seven.”

I sighed. “Just for once, I wish I didn’t have to be so unique.”

He snorted. “I know just how you feel. But just remember: you are special. And it’s the weird, special people who change the world.”

We crossed the road, entering a forest enclave. The large wooden sign at the entrance read ‘Apprentice Village’.

“It’s the weird, special people who change the world,” I repeated.

Kato nodded. “Keep saying those words to yourself. Trust me. It will help you feel less like a freak of nature.”

I threw a glance over my shoulder at him. “You sound like you’re speaking from personal experience.”

“You sound surprised.”

“Yeah, well, you always seem so confident, so sure of yourself. The perfect Knight.”

His helmet buzzed a little. It took me a moment to realize that he was chuckling. And another moment to realize he was laughing at me.

I felt my cheeks flush and my hackles rise. “Is there something funny about what I said?”

“I wasn’t laughing at you, Seven. I was laughing at myself, at how horribly I’ve fallen short of achieving my biggest goal. From my very first day at the Castle, I’ve always tried to be the perfect Knight. But I’m far from it.”

“I don’t know about that. It seems like you’re doing a pretty good job to me.”

“You’re very kind, but I think you know the truth about me. You’ve seen beneath my helmet. You know that I’m far from perfect.”

Actually, Kato seemed pretty perfect to me. He had powerful magic and a moral compass.

“So…”  He stopped at the edge of a driveway. “This is your place. At least for the next few weeks.”

I looked past the red brick path, to the matching brick house beyond. It looked cozy. “Thanks, Kato.” I racked my brain for some excuse to make this day go on forever, but I couldn’t think of a thing. “Well, I guess I should go inside now.”

“Goodbye, Seven.” He bowed to me. “And good luck.”

“Thank you.”

Kato walked off to fulfill his magical destiny, and I turned down the driveway, wondering about my own destiny. As I moved toward the house, I thought about what he’d said: it’s the weird, special people who change the world.

It was a good motto to live by. And I was going to prove it was true. I was going to change the world. Somehow I was going to end the Curse, no matter what it took.

Copyright © Ella Summers

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