A New Offer
“Please sit,” the man said, motioning to the couch. He looked to be about fifty with strands of long grey hair combed straight back, accenting his long sloped forehead. I couldn’t tell whether he was fat or muscular due to the long overcoat he wore which was odd considering it was the middle of the summer. His eyes followed me to the chair where I sat. He didn’t even acknowledge my mother when she left.
“My name is Kaleb.” The man’s tone made it clear how much he thought of himself.
“My name is Tommy.” I waited for him to reply but he leaned back in his chair. An awkward silence followed before he finally spoke again.
“I am here to talk to you about your new gift,” the man began, watching me with an intensity that was unsettling. After a brief pause he smirked and continued, “I assume you have had one or perhaps a few experiences by now with your new power?”
When he saw my reaction his smile widened. He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, “You have done well to survive your first breach unaided and perhaps, your second?” Again he chuckled to himself.
I hadn’t said a word but felt like I had given away everything.
“So you have breached twice and lived to tell about it? I like your spirit boy!” He leaned forward, with a glint in his eye, “Many of the quickened breach the first time and are never heard from again. Some are so frightened by the experience, they never try again. For you to have entered twice and returned unscathed is quite a feat.”
Unscathed? I should show him my scars and bruises.
“So who are you and why are you here?” I asked. I didn’t like this guy, no way was I telling him anything.
“You do not deny that you have had two experiences in books then? Good, I’m glad we’ve gotten that out of the way.”
How the man figured it out I didn’t know. When my mother read me like that it was annoying; what this man did was unsettling. Seeing my troubled look, his grin faded.
“I have come because the world you are entering has real consequences. You have no doubt been approached by others offering you training?” He waited. Again I didn’t answer, again he seemed to know the answer anyway. “They have probably done so with little to no information about why you should accept. I’ll bet they sent a girl about your age just to make the offer more … enticing.” He leaned even closer, which made me lean back.
“What you don’t know is what will happen if you don’t accept.”
Kaleb looked to the doorway to make sure we were still alone. “They will kill you.” The words sent a feeling of dread through me. I closed my eyes, rubbing my head. The conversation in the woods took on a whole different light.
After a few moments of silence Kaleb spoke again, “Open your eyes, Tommy. I’d like to know what you are thinking.”
“Why would they want to kill me?” I looked at the man again.
Kaleb’s smile returned. “They believe they are in a war against others who have the power, or “Gifted” as they call themselves. If you were to join their enemies the consequences would justify taking your life. What do you think about that?”
“It sounds a little hard to believe, to be honest.”
Kaleb watched me. “But you do believe it, don’t you?”
I’d had about enough of the man. Information was more important at the moment than ending an uncomfortable conversation, though.
“Okay, so why are you here, just to warn me?” My tone was short, not very polite.
“I’m here for so much more than that, Tommy.” For once he didn’t read my growing irritation. “I’m here to offer you real training. Not the methodical piece-by-piece method they use. I’ve streamlined the training so you can make use of your power immediately.” His eyes sparkled as he continued. “I’ll teach you how to do things they will say are impossible. You have no idea the power that has been unlocked inside of you.”
“What do you get out of this?” I asked, skeptically.
“What do I get out of this? I get the pleasure of teaching. All of those blessed with the gift feel the urge to teach and pass on their knowledge to the recently quickened. That is the term we use for a person who comes to their powers. When a boy or girl is quickened they are in immediate danger. They need guidance before they are lost forever in the pages of a book. That is why each of the Gifted can sense the presence of the newly quickened until they accept training. Then the signal, if you will, is gone.”
“You mean every Gifted can sense where I am right now?” I asked, getting worried. “How many are there?”
“To answer your first question, the farther away you are the more difficult it is to sense you. As for how many Gifted there are, hundreds are scattered throughout the world but many are not active. When members get older, many of them leave the society behind and retire. They still have the gift but they do not actively participate in a group. They desire a home and their books and to live out the remainder of their lives as normal people. Some even choose a book towards the end and never return.”
“Is it possible to go back to a book I have already been in? Also, will the characters there be the same way I remembered them the last time I was there? One more thing, is there a way to get myself out instead of waiting for my mother to call me?”
The man laughed. I couldn’t tell if he was mocking me or just amused. “Okay, you want to start the training right away. I will answer these three questions but then you must agree to training before I will answer any more. First, you can go back to a book you have already breached as many times as you like. There is no limit. Your second question is related to your first. The characters there will remember you the same if you enter the same copy of the book each time. If you enter a different copy of the book then the story will be a little different. The theme is always taken from your current experiences at the time you breach. Because you are always changing, the characters and your experiences will be different. When you enter the same copy the characters will be as you remember them but the story goes on while you are away so you will not return to the same precise moment you left. Does that make sense?”
I understood, but the news was a blow. The Aoki and Unbar and Mardel I knew were lost to me forever.
Kaleb continued, “In answer to your last question: it is not only possible to call yourself from a book, it is the desirable method. What you have done up to now is called ripping. It requires someone you trust implicitly and that you love without condition to call you from the book. The longer you are in a book, the harder it is for you to heed their call. The better way and your first priority in training, is to learn how to remove yourself properly. We call it closing. It is really quite easy and with a proper teacher you will have it mastered in no time.”
I closed my eyes, trying to process the new information. My day had started in camp with Aoki and Unbar, entering the tunnels to the golden cave. So much had happened since then that it all came crashing down on me at once.
“I can’t decide right now.” I said, opening my eyes. “I need time to think it over. I’m sure you understand.”
It was clear from his expression he didn’t understand. Kaleb tried unsuccessfully to hide his anger but I could see my answer wasn’t expected.
He recovered quickly. “I understand. Here is a card with my phone number. When you have made up your mind, call me and I will return.” Then he added, his grin returning, “Remember, the difference between me and them is, I probably won’t kill you if you turn me down.”
He intended it as a joke but I hardly saw the humor. My life was in danger again and this time there was nowhere to escape to.
As the man stood to leave, my Mother poked her head into the room, “Tommy, you have a friend over to see you. I put her in your room since you were occupied in here.”
When her words registered I said goodbye to Kaleb and flew down the hall to my room, throwing open the door. Turning from reading the titles on my book shelves, Amelia forced a smile as I entered. She looked worn out.
“I didn’t want to be put in your room but your mother said you were with someone. She said you wouldn’t mind if I waited here.”
“No, I don’t care,” I lied, pointing to my desk chair. “Go ahead and sit down.”
“I have no time to waste, Thomas.” She didn’t make a move toward the chair. “You have entered another book and stayed for quite some time. In this second visit I can tell you that the Gifted know each time you enter a book because you are newly--”
“Quickened?” I finished. I felt like giving her a little of what she had given me on her last visit.
“How do you know that word?” she asked, looking if possible more tired and a little frightened.
“Let’s just say I’ve figured out a few things since we talked last time.” I had no intention of giving her any more information considering her group’s plans for me.
“The Gifted have watched over the newly quickened or scripts as we call them, for more than a century. Helping them learn control over their new power so they could use it the way it was intended.”
“How was it intended?” I asked, trying not to snap, but feeling a growing hostility towards her.
“I told you yesterday when we visited. The gift was given for wisdom.”
“Okay for wisdom. Why do I have to accept all without knowing all? You’re asking me to sign up for a class without knowing the course. For all I know you could be teaching me the wrong way. You could be a gang of thugs who go around killing people.”
Amelia didn’t react to my question; she seemed to regain her composure a little before replying, “Some questions I cannot answer before you accept. I leave it to you to judge in your encounters with me whether we are a band of thugs or not. As for your question, you will never know everything so you must accept without knowing. I can say no more; in fact I cannot answer any more questions before your training.”
“Just one more,” I said, watching her eyes closely. “What happens to me if I don’t accept?”
Amelia turned pale, swallowing hard before turning away. When she looked back she said in a hoarse voice, “No more questions.”
I didn’t need words, I had my answer. Kaleb was right. She didn’t look happy about it but that didn’t make me any less dead.
"Thomas Travers, I offer you what was offered long ago this second time to you. Training that you may have control, control that you may have knowledge, knowledge that you may have wisdom. It is for wisdom that the gift was first given and passed down to the Gifted. If you accept you must agree to all without seeing all. Do you accept?”
The words hung in the air. The intensity of her gaze threw me off. There were so many questions I had and she had the answers. Amelia didn’t move—she hardly blinked. The conversation I overheard kept coming back to me. How could I join a group of people who would kill me for something as stupid as not signing up?
“No.” The word was out before I could take it back. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing but there it was.
As before, she flinched as if somebody had hit her. Her eyes filled with tears, “I’m not supposed to speak after your answer but I must tell you this. You might think I am here for my own good. I don’t care if you believe me or not but the only reason I do this is to help people.” She said nothing more, closing my door as she left.
I dropped onto my bed, her final words playing in my head. For some reason I felt guilty. She seemed to be genuine. I didn’t get the same feelings of trepidation with her that I had with Kaleb. The urge hit me to catch up to her and accept right then. I would have, except a sudden realization struck me. I was far too comfortable. Sitting up, I threw away my pillow, looking at my bed. The book and the gauntlet were gone.