A/N: Finallyfinallyfinally, here is the next chapter. I'm really sorry it took so long :/ But anyway, I hope you like it! Suggestions, criticism, anything would be great (: Thank you, guys!
The next morning, Kiri woke up early, startled out of bed by a strange ringing in her ears.
It was a while before she realized what it was-her Paragon, which was perched on the small wooden desk. The deep violet jewel was still, though; Kiri reasoned that it was sending the strange ringing to her ears. Must be magic, she thought sleepily, shaking her head in amazement.
Kiri paused to glance at herself in the grimy piece of glass she used as a mirror and sighed. Her black hair was a nightmare, piled on top of her head and flying out in all directions. She halfheartedly attempted to flatten it with her hands, but succeeded in doing nothing more than making the frizz worse.
Kiri then remembered she was supposed to check her Paragon for the time and place of the first lesson. It read, in tiny, loopy letters, Fifth and a quarter hour, northern riverbank.
She gasped. Fifth and a quarter hour-that was in less than five minutes!
"Oh no oh no oh no," she muttered to herself, pulling on a scratchy woolen shawl and a pair of pants. It looked cold out there this morning, and Kiri didn't want to freeze to death. She secured her hair back with a small clasp, hoping desperately it would hold.
Kiri grabbed her Paragon and stuffed it in her pocket. It buzzed angrily, as if telling her to move faster.
Halfway down the hall, Kiri ran into her mother. Breathlessly, she said, "Mom-gotta go-to training-"
Her mother smiled understandingly. "Come back here as soon as you can, alright?"
Kiri nodded and raced out the door.
She had been right; it was cold. The crisp morning air woke her up immediately, as did the music of the songbirds that perched high in the trees. Kiri was tempted to pause and enjoy the beauty of the dawn; she was rarely awake this early.
But another furious buzz from the Paragon forced her onwards.
Kiri faced a problem at the gate-it was closed, as curfew prohibited all but the most important villagers to venture outside this early. The northern gatekeeper, Eral Smithson, who reminded Kiri very much of a magpie perched in its nest, scowled down at her.
Frowning, Kiri took out the Paragon, hoping that it might give her an answer. It glimmered playfully, though no sun shone on it.
As soon as Eral Smithson noticed the glittering gem, his small eyes widened. Kiri sighed; he was more of a magpie than she thought.
To her surprise, the gates swung open with a loud creaking sound. She glanced up at the gatekeeper, who was still staring openmouthed at the Paragon.
She walked quickly through the gates, which promptly shut behind her. Kiri began to run and clumsily stowed the jewel back in her pocket.
A few minutes later, a winded Kiri stopped at the river, just in time. The other six Keepers were already there.
"Howdy, Kiri. Thought you'd never come," said Zee, who was balancing on a small rock in the middle of the river. She nodded, still out of breath.
A loud wooshing noise, closely followed by a splash, startled Kiri. She looked around wildly to see what had caused it, and was astounded to see Zifarra standing next to her.
The splash had come from Zee, who had slipped off his rock in surprise.
Zifarra chuckled and snapped his fingers. Zee flew out of the river, landing on the ground. Kiri raised her eyebrows when she noticed he was perfectly dry. He smiled sheepishly.
"Hello, all," Zifarra announced, acting as if he had done nothing out of the ordinary. "Welcome to you first lesson as Keepers. You all have your Paragons, I assume?"
The seven nodded, still amazed by what he had done. "Good, good. Then we will get started. But first, does anyone have any questions?"
Arli asked timidly, "What was that voice we heard last night? The one that came from the sky?"
"Ah, yes. That was what we Keepers call simply The Voice. It appears randomly, teasing the Keepers or giving them advice. No one knows where it came from or what exactly it is. But The Voice has been around for many, many generations of Keepers."
Arli nodded, satisfied. Then Jlanku piped up, "When there's all twenty-four Keepers, do they all have magical powers? Or do just the seven have the Paragons and stuff?"
Zifarra smiled, his eyes bright. "Good question. There have always been only seven Paragons-these seven, the very ones you hold in your hands. The other seventeen Keepers-the ones that are not present in this century-have no Paragons, but they can perform basic magic. They are not as powerful as the leading positions, though."
Jlanku frowned and looked at the newly dry Zee. Pondering something, he said, "But…if you don't have the Paragons now, why can you still do magic?"
Zifarra's smile widened. He was clearly pleased with Jlanku's curiosity. "You are correct, we no longer have the Paragons. But because we have had them for so long, a miniscule portion of their power is a part of us. This portion gradually decreases over time, until we no longer are able to do magic. But because the Paragons were only handed down last night, the power is still fresh. This is why I was able to pull Zee from the water.
"Any other questions?" Zifarra scanned his audience.
No others spoke up, so Zifarra straightened up and said, "Let's get started, then."
As soon as he stopped talking, six other adults wooshed into appearance. Kiri recognized them as the same ones from the night before; the six other Keepers.
They each bowed their heads at Zifarra and nodded to one of the teens. The pairs walked off to different parts of the river.
Eventually, only Zifarra and Kiri were left.
"Listen." After settling himself on a rock, Zifarra glanced up at the trees with a peaceful look on his face.
"Listen." He closed his eyes.
Kiri, confused, closed her eyes too and tried to listen. The forest, which had gone silent from the activity of the Keepers and their mentors, was now coming back to life.
Overshadowing all other sounds was the river. It bubbled and babbled, seeming at times almost like it was speaking to her. The rapids that the rocks formed created small waterfalls, splashing and sputtering.
The next things Kiri heard were the birds. She counted at least fifteen different bird calls before she lost count-all slightly unlike each other, some deep, some light and musical. They twittered and chirped, and Kiri could almost feel their frantic, happy energy flowing through her.
Kiri began to listen more deeply. She heard the leaves of the trees rustle in the wind, and small animals scurrying through the underbrush. Gradually, she started to hear even the smallest of noises-an insect crawling over a rock on the ground, a tiny tree frog hopping from leaf to leaf.
Far, far off in the forest, a shuddering groan sounded, followed by a resounding crack and an earth-shaking boom. Kiri identified this as a tree finding its final resting spot on the forest floor, and felt sad as she thought of the majestic tree which would never stand tall again.
She pictured the fallen tree in her mind, and simultaneously a flow of images began. The tree would provide a place of shelter for countless small animals and insects over the time that it decomposed. Its nutrients would be recycled back into the earth-and somewhere in the forest, a seedling would pop out of the ground. The tree would be reborn.
Kiri suddenly felt a sense of wholeness, as if the entire forest was a puzzle and the pieces had all been put together. Kiri also realized that she herself was also one of the pieces, just like the frogs and the birds and the tree. She fit in to the circle of life too.
Slowly coming back to herself, Kiri felt a wave of peace and tranquility wash over her. She finally opened her eyes.
Zifarra was still perched on his rock, looking at Kiri.
"What did you feel?" he asked, returning his gaze once more to the treetops.
Kiri bit her lip, unsure of how to answer. "I felt…calm. And…like I was part of a bigger picture somehow. Like the whole forest fit together."
Her mentor smiled. "That is a wonderful description." He stood up slowly, stretching his back. "This form of observing your surroundings using only one sense is called reflection. It is one of the greatest tools a Keeper can use. Reflecting allows the observer to gain an immense amount of knowledge about the forest and its happenings."
Kiri frowned doubtfully. "You mean I can figure out what's happening on the other side of the forest by listening to the birds?"
"Once you have finished developing your skills, you can figure out much more that just that. For example, while you were reflecting, I learned that Arli has very nearly overcome her fear of spiders. A villager has just succeeded in felling a large buck he will sell at the market, and a family of sparrows was forced to move out of their nest due to the large population of squirrels in their tree."
"Wow. How did you discover all of that just by listening?"
"The forest knows many things, Kiri, and will tell you them if you listen. Though a lot of what we gain through reflections is inferred, it is almost always correct. You, too, will learn to take the sounds you have heard and turn them into knowledge."
"Before, you said a reflection was using only one of the senses. Does that mean that they can be done with smell or sight too?"
Zifarra grinned widely again. "You catch on very fast, Kiri. Yes. Listening is the most common, not to mention helpful, way of reflecting, but sight, smell, touch-even taste-can all be used to acquire awareness. Because you are training, it will be very beneficial for you to practice all five of these reflection methods at least twice a day. You will quickly find yourself able to decipher the sounds, sights, and smells you experience."
Kiri stared in wonder at her surroundings. How could a concept so deceivingly simple-merely using the senses to obtain information-be so complicated? Wondering why she hadn't tried it before, a thought came to her.
"Is the reason the Keepers can do this because of the Paragons?"
Shaking his head, Zifarra replied, "No. It is all you-it does not require anything more than the five senses. Reflecting is the only tool that ex-Keepers still possess after they have passed on the Paragons."
"So why isn't reflecting taught in training then, if it doesn't need the Paragons?"
The bearded man's face darkened slightly. "Like any seemingly innocent tool, reflection can also be used as a weapon. Though I would like nothing more than to tell you that these villages are free of spies and black-hearted rogues, that would be a lie. We cannot trust just any person with this valuable knowledge."
Standing up, Kiri nodded slowly. "That makes sense, I guess. Better safe than sorry."
Glancing at the sun's position, Zifarra said, "Take out your Paragon, Kiri."
She obliged, removing the violet gemstone from a pocket on the inside of her shawl. It winked as it caught the dappled sunlight.
"Good. Now, call your Keepers." Zifarra sat down once again on his rock, watching his student.
He only smiled and beckoned at the Paragon.
Kiri sighed and grasped the gem firmly in her right hand. Closing her eyes, she felt its electric buzz of energy flowing into her. She imagined the other six Keepers-her other six Keepers-and tried to mentally call out to them. Some of the energy left her hand. She called again, louder this time.
Kiri kept calling until she could barely feel any of the Paragon's power left in her hand. She hoped that her mental summoning had been heard by the others, or she would have to wait for the Paragon to get its energy back.
Her eyes snapped open, and Kiri found herself surrounded by the Keepers, who were staring at her with vague expressions of confusion on their faces.
Her face reddening, she said, "Oh. Hi. Zifarra told me to call you…"
Nikolas, who had been the one to speak to her before, answered, "Yeah, we heard it through the Paragons. Somehow."
The rest of them nodded in agreement. "It's like they were calling us, telling us where to go," Arli added.
Jlanku, suddenly very excited, cried, "We could play hide and seek! In the forest and stuff, with the Para-whatsits, and we'd never get lost! Can we, you guys? It'd be fun!"
Kiri smiled and was about to mention that this was probably not the intended use of the Paragons when Zifarra interjected and said, "That is an excellent idea, Jlanku. A good, old-fashioned game of hide and seek is the perfect way for you all to become accustomed to the Paragons."
Jlanku was practically jumping up and down in happiness. "I'll count first! You guys go hide, and I'll count to a hundred! ReadysetGO!"
The others glanced at each other, unsure, but Jlanku's rapid counting spurred them onwards. They each took off in separate directions.
Kiri rock-hopped over the river, jumping onto the opposite bank as Jlanku reached forty-five. She walked a little further, coming across a large, leafy tree with many branches. Perfect, she thought.
By one hundred, Kiri was perched behind an impenetrable wall of leaves. She heard Jlanku run off in the opposite direction of her hideout and smiled.
Her small victory did not last long, though; within two minutes, Jlanku had found all the others and was heading towards her tree. "Found you!" he yelled in delight. "You guys really need to hide better. That was too easy."
They played seven more rounds of the game, giving everyone a turn to find the others. Jacen proved to be the best, with a time of one minute, thirteen seconds. Jlanku, who was determined to beat him, was allowed to count once more, but was still six seconds above Jacen's time.
The rest of the day passed by quickly, filled mostly with practice communicating with one another over increasingly larger distances. By the end of the day, Kiri could determine the exact location, physical and mental well-being, and safety of each of her Keepers.
Finally, when the sun lay low in the darkening sky, Zifarra bid them goodbye.
"Wonderful job today. And Jlanku, thank you for that hide and seek recommendation. Come back tomorrow-same time, same place. You are dismissed."
Each of them bowed to Zifarra and walked their separate ways. Kiri didn't pay attention to the journey home; she was tired and just wanted to rest.
When she arrived home, a bowl of steaming potato soup was waiting on the table for her. It was past dark now, and she knew her mother would probably be sleeping.
Kiri downed the soup and trudged to her room. Not even bothering to change her clothes, she collapsed onto her bed and fell fast asleep.