Amelia lay on the beach, basking in the Spanish sun. A hint of salt in the air tickled her nose mixed with sand and sweat. The sounds of gentle waves lapping the shore penetrated through her worries. Why don’t I do this more? She took a deep breath, for some reason that helped. Tension leaked out, replaced by calm.
Ben laid next to her, breathing heavily. He deserved this too. She didn’t really want to wake him but it was time. Duty called. Taking one more deep breath she watched Ben sleep. He was beautiful. Dark wavy hair, a gorgeous tan, hardened muscles just big enough but not too ridiculous. Why did he choose me? Anyone in the House would have died just to have his attention. The looks were a small part of her attraction though; he was as intelligent as he was handsome. She could turn to him whenever a problem arose and most every time he had the answer.
“Ben,” she nudged his bare shoulder. “Wake up.” He didn’t stir so she pushed him with both hands. “Come on honey, wake up.”
His hands shot out with alarming speed, grabbing both of her wrists. She squealed, first in surprise, then in protest when he pulled her down and wrapped his arms around her. “Young man, what are you doing?” she said in her best trainer’s voice.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Amelia, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Ben grinned, pulled her closer and kissed her. Amelia tried to resist at first but gave herself up to it. His full lips wiped away any memory of why she had woken him in the first place. His kiss became more urgent but she pulled away. “Ben,” she whispered. “We have to go.”
“No more than a few minutes have passed since we left,” he pleaded, not letting go of her wrists.
“We've been here for hours. If I don’t go soon I'll look like a lobster.” Pulling her close, he kissed her again, nearly breaking her resolve.
“Okay you win, but one of these days you will break down and forget your duties for more than an hour or two.”
“Yes, that could happen,” she smirked as she left his embrace to stand on the beach, “and you will most likely be the cause.”
“Ms. Amelia, you can count on it,” he answered.
Pushing Ben away with a playful shove, Amelia looked at her surroundings, telling herself they were not real. The sand, the water, the sun—they were not real. The heat from the sun on her face, it was not real. The smell of the ocean, it wasn't real. Finally she shut her eyes and pictured the book sitting on the table where she had begun reading, she pictured it closing. She felt a warmth all over as her gift pulled her out of the World of Books. She opened her eyes and looked down at the open book on Ben’s desk. He followed her out moments later.
“Will I see you again soon?” he asked, drawing closer to her. The smell of salt water mixed with his wonderful scent caused her knees to weaken.
“Yes.” She nearly fled from the room before he could distract her further.
“Gone to Spain with Mister Wonderful again?” a voice behind her sneered.
“Peter, I’ve told you before it is wrong for you to look at the open books of those have breached. I won’t punish you right now. I don’t have time. But if it happens again there will be consequences. Now, what do you want?” she asked the short boy who stood lurking in the hallway.
Peter had accepted the first offer from Amelia almost before she got the words out. Ever since that day he’d had a crush on her. Six months later and anyone who even appeared to be friendly with her caught his ire, Ben most of all.
Amelia had tried to be nice to him. He had passed the test with ease less than a month ago and showed great skill in all of the necessary requirements. But he was odd. He was often caught listening in on conversations of other Gifted, or worse, reading the open books of those who had breached. That was a major infraction in the House, which is what the Gifted called their large home. The building had formerly been a large warehouse before the founder bought it and hid it from the world.
“No, I don’t need anything, Amelia. I just can’t believe you don’t see through his mask. He isn’t as wonderful as you think.”
“Peter, I don’t want to get into this with you. If you would like, I will talk to you later.”
“Yes, let’s talk later,” he said, slinking away.
Amelia watched him disappear around a corner at the end of the long hallway. She wasn’t sure what she could do to help him fit in with the other Gifted. His training was complete. He wasn’t really her responsibility any more but she was the only one who he would even talk to. She tried to remember that whenever these episodes happened.
Amelia walked down several flights of steps to the first level. She passed through the lobby and stopped at the great fountain. Streams of water spouted from the top of a rearing horse’s head in the middle. Each stream had its own color and hit the pool at a different point. Directly below those points at the bottom of the pool were “remembrances,” an item of significance to each of the Gifted who lived in the House. Without their remembrance in the pool, the Gifted would not be able to see the House. They would instead see a deserted piece of ground. Only one did not need a remembrance; the Master of Books could see the warehouse without it. It had been years though since the Gifted had a Master of Books.
Amelia loved staring at the fountain. She had placed her remembrance in the pool more than a year and a half ago when she accepted the first offer from Ben. Since then the House had been her home, five floors of never-ending wonders. She never got bored of exploring the spacious old building. The entire fifth floor was a library: the largest collection of books Amelia ever laid her eyes on.
It took years to gain control and learn the lessons required to pass the tests to be a teacher. Many of the Gifted didn’t want to be teachers. They were content to learn the use of the gift so they could do their own thing. Amelia couldn’t understand how anyone could not want to teach. Ben had literally opened a new world to her. He had given her a new life through the discovery and mastery of her gift.
She still remembered her test more than six months ago to become the youngest teacher in the history of the Gifted. Administered by Wilfred, the Keeper of Books or head of the Gifted, the test could be as long or as short as he wanted it to be. Until he was satisfied, it continued. Wilfred once breached six times with a tester and still failed him. Wilfred was tough, but fair.
The Gifted were under the constant strain of trying to find the quickened (those who had used their gift the first time) before they hurt themselves or before Mephitis got them first. No one knew how the dark wizard left the World of Books but in the years since he had been set loose, his primary goal had been the destruction of the Gifted. He especially loved to kill the teachers without mercy. He and Kaleb, a former member of the Gifted who had betrayed them, hunted down any with the gift, eliminating them without mercy. Two teachers had been killed in the last year alone. No one knew how Mephitis found out who the teachers were or when they left the House, which was seldom. She and Ben were the only teachers remaining. If she lost him, she would be truly alone.
Amelia thought back to the first time she met Ben. He showed up at her door the night after her first breach. He didn’t look to be much older than her but there was something about his eyes and the way he carried himself. He had a maturity about him, like he had seen many years more than his sixteen years. He offered her the chance to leave home and learn more about her gift.
Her life before Ben rescued her was horrific. Amelia’s parents divorced early in her childhood, which sent her mother drowning her sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Her father didn’t care enough about her to find out what was happening. In fact, she couldn’t even remember what the man looked like.
Her mother liked to throw parties that ended with all sorts of drunken men wandering through her house. Amelia turned to books and the double lock that she personally installed on her bedroom door to escape from everything else in her world. Her memories of childhood were locked away safely now behind the doors in her mind.
The Gifted who accepted the offer were required to leave behind their home and friends and immerse themselves in the intense, but short training. Amelia left behind nothing that she ever cared to return to. Once trained, a full member of the Gifted could pretty much do what they liked. Most decided to stay at the warehouse and be active in the group in some way.
Fewer and fewer Scripts were found each year. Boys and girls were turning away from books to TV and video games and each other. More than any other generation, those born with the gift were not reading enough to activate it.
No one knew when the gift was first given but the first to discover it and learn to control it was Frederick Von Flett. He found he not only had the gift, but the ability to sense others who newly acquired it as well. He began to seek out these young men and women. He wrote that he felt a need to teach them what he learned and pass on his knowledge. Thanks to Von Flett and his tireless efforts, the Gifted were found, taught, organized and survived to this day. The numbers had never been so scarce as they were now. Amelia feared that in another generation there might be no need for trainers.
Von Flett also discovered that he possessed a special ability above that of the other Gifted; He found he could bring objects from the World of Books into this one. The legend was that he found the object which Amelia now stood before.
The Liatope, a long cylinder-shaped object, stretched the length of the table upon which it rested. A hole in one end accepted the name Thomas Travers which she whispered to begin the procedure. She looked at the silver sideplate. It read, Breach Occurred June 28th 7:30 PM. She stared at the plate a few seconds more. Nothing else appeared. If he had returned from the book a second date and time would be listed as well.
He is still in the book. I hope he is okay. Amelia checked the Liatope every hour as prescribed by the edicts. She knew shortly after Thomas breached the World of Books and would know within moments when he returned. For the first time since becoming a trainer she dreaded her visit. If he rejected the second offer he would have only one more. And if he rejects that? She shuddered, knowing his chances of survival were slim.
An acrid smoke filled the room, spawned from a glass beaker on one of several tables set up for his experiments. The wizard waved it off. He stood watching, fuming. Another try, another failure. Just a cup of dragon blood would have made the difference. The smoke began to turn from grey to green and then to red. Wrong, all wrong. He hurled the beaker against the wall, the glass shattered, spraying its still smoking contents in every direction. The wall now appeared to be spewing red mist.
“Temper, temper.” A voice startled him from behind. He whirled around, the words of a killing spell forming in his mind.
“Come now wizard, you don’t really want to do that, do you?” Kaleb seemed to take pleasure in his failures. One day Mephitis would snap, consequences be damned.
“I would think you’d be more disappointed by another failure, Kaleb. This is your doing.”
Kaleb’s eyebrows raised, a look of incredulity flashed across his features. “You still blame me after all of these years.”
“If you had told me I couldn’t find the same components in your world, I would have brought them with me. I spent weeks planning the events that brought me here.”
“Thanks to me, you gained your knowledge of this world: the real world. If I had not come, you would still be there, ruling a subjugated nation that doesn’t exist.”
“Yes, I owe you Kaleb." The wizard eyed the short man. "The question is what I owe. All these years of slinking around in shadows. Killing Gifted lest they grow too powerful. I begin to wonder though, Kaleb: Do we kill them because they are a threat? Or for revenge?” Kaleb made no effort to answer.
“I was created to rule the world! Here I rule an old empty jail with little hope for better. If I could have two or three components from my world I could create thousands of monsters to sweep away the armies of the earth and bring it under my rule.”
“If you are going to start this again, I am leaving. I have heard it far too many times.” Kaleb turned to leave.
Mephitis wanted nothing more than to let him go but Kaleb wouldn’t have come to his room to socialize. He had something important to tell.
“Okay, what is it?”
Kaleb smiled. “At times I almost believe you have my ability.”
“I don’t need a Gift to read you, Kaleb. Your face is an open book to me!”
Kaleb chuckled, “I do have news from our little messenger.”
“What is it?” asked Mephitis, trying not to sound too interested. Kaleb knew better.
“The Keeper is all excited over their latest find. From Covington, with the lineage. They are hoping he is the one.”
“This has happened countless times before. Why do they believe this one is any different?” Mephitis asked eagerly. He didn’t care if Kaleb saw his excitement. This could be what they were waiting for.
“The boy has shown no signs so far if that is what you mean. He has breached once and rejected their offer. But they believe it is long past time for a Master. There is another reason they believe. It has been six months since the last quickening.”
“Why does that matter? I would think they would be worried,” Mephitis asked, confused.
“There has always been a large gap before the Master appears. It was so with the last and all who came before him. So the Master can receive training without dilution.”
“So after all of this time the Master may have finally appeared?”
“Maybe, but we will know for sure when he joins us.” Kaleb flashed an evil grin. Someday the man’s confidence would lead to his ruin. Mephitis only hoped to be there when it happened. Maybe he could even be the cause of it.
“Where is he? Can you sense him?” asked Mephitis.
“He has breached again. Until he returns I won’t be able to find him. When he does, we must act swiftly. They will not wait to make the second offer.”
“And what if he doesn’t accept our offer?” Mephitis asked.
“I think he will when I am done with him. If not, we can afford to be patient. Better to ally him willingly; if he is forced we can never trust him.”
Mephitis nodded his head in agreement. “Is that all?”
“There is one more thing. I believe it is time to start confiscating the outstanding editions of your book. With a Master possibly reappearing it may be dangerous for us if he gets ahold of a copy.”
Mephitis thought for a moment. “Good idea.”
“I will handle it,” Kaleb’s face split in a wide grin. Mephitis knew that look. It never meant well for their enemies.