Chapter 1: Koda's Assignment

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It was cold and windy as Koda stood on the edge of the tallest cliff on all of Katafigo Island, shivering in her bathing suit. Her long, dark brown hair had been straightened for the occasion and she'd spent extra time perfecting her eyeliner and makeup. Not that any makeup would last long after she got wet, but it was still worth it.

This was her graduation ceremony, and possibly the most important moment of her life. In less than an hour, she would be officially an adult and her assignment in the community would be announced. She grinned and flirted with the gathering audience, fluffing her hair and dancing to hide how much she was shaking. 

She knew what position she wanted. She'd spent most of her life hoping to become the Head Elder's apprentice. When he retired his position, she would be next in line to take over and guide Katafigo to greatness. She knew how unlikely that assignment was, though. She'd been a horrible student. She'd spent her time goofing off, playing pranks, and procrastinating. Of course she knew the vocabulary by heart, and she'd worked hard to reach the full potential of her talent, but she'd never been good at taking directions. She'd be an awful pick for somebody who was meant to give orders to the entire community. 

Besides, the current Head Elder was her father. If they gave her the position, the accusations of favoritism and nepotism would never end. 

The wind picked up and Koda scanned the audience again, searching for familiar faces. It was an absolutely gorgeous view. Behind her, the hills were lush with knee-high grasses and fields of purple flowers. In front of her was an inlet where the ocean water had carved into the reddish rock face, creating a deep swimming hole surrounded by craggy cliffs. Over the years, they'd carved steps into the rock, making it an excellent place to address such a large group.

Most of Koda's friends were on a lower cliff nearby, standing rather precariously on a small ledge halfway between the top of the cliff and the deep water below. They whistled and shouted luck to her. Koda shimmied her hips and blew kisses in response. God, but they were lucky. They could wear sweaters and jackets to keep away the cold. If this thing didn't start soon, they might have to call it off before it began. The chill was growing rapidly. Koda didn't know what she would do if the whole thing were postponed.

The smaller kids that had been Koda's classmates all sat on a sturdier ledge with their feet dangling over the water. Elijah was among them, his ruddy cheeks and big eyes glowing with happiness under his mop of brown hair. Koda would never admit it, but when she went to help the younger ones with their lessons, Elijah was far and away her favorite. Now, he was surrounded by his friends, who jumped around like the monkeys they were. They poked at him and he pushed them back, laughing and goofing around before the pomp and circumstance began for real.

The other adults stood at the base of the cliff, right by the water's edge. It was dizzying to look so far down. Her heart leapt to her throat just at the idea of falling so far.

Timothy, Koda's father and head elder, took slow steps to the cliff's edge. It's starting, she thought. She scanned the audience again, doing everything she could to keep up the facade of confidence. Koda was meant to be the calm one, the sturdy one, the show-off. She was born to be in front of a crowd. If any of them down below caught on to what she was actually feeling, her reputation would likely be shattered to bits. And then she'd really have no chance at being the Head's apprentice.

"And so it begins," her father said over the crowd. Koda jumped from the sound of his voice. It echoed naturally through the ring of cliffs, reaching everyone with no need for amplification. "A childhood ends, and we prepare to accept a new member into our ranks. Welcome, my dear people. Today we celebrate Koda Riley, Syndesi."

Koda's heart fluttered at the formal name for her talent. She could see the connections between souls, visible as a tangible thread strung between two hearts. With a single glance, she could understand what things mattered to a person and who they connected most strongly to.  

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