Read The Talents Online

Authors: Inara Scott

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Talents (28 page)

BOOK: The Talents
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So many people have supported me through this journey, it's hard to know where to start. I learned an incredible amount about the craft and business of writing from my RWA friends, especially the Romance Bandits and Rose City Romance Writers. Thank you for all your wisdom, love, and support.

I couldn't have written about Delcroix Academy without an incredible high school where there were fantastic teachers to inspire me. Thanks to the faculty and staff at City Honors High School, especially Mr. Duggan, who told me a long time ago to just keep writing.

Thanks so much to the entire team at Disney-Hyperion, who have amazed me with their skill and talent. A huge thank you also goes to Tamar Rydzinski, who pulled this manuscript from the slush pile and turned a dream into a reality, and Emily Sylvan Kim, agent extraordinaire.

Finally, I'd like to say thank you to my entire family, who for some crazy reason seemed to take it as a given that someday I'd get my name on the cover of a book. Most importantly, my love goes out to my mom and dad—two incredible people who never stopped loving and believing in me.

Thank you.

THE WORLD
around us is fraught with danger.” Mr. Judan, Chief Recruiter for Delcroix Academy, gestured broadly as he spoke. His voice, low and sonorous, slid through the cold night air. “Scientists can alter and manipulate the DNA that makes us human. Medical technology can be used to develop lifesaving vaccines—or horrifying biological weapons. Our very earth is threatened by years of abuse and neglect. Civilization stands at the edge of chaos, but the students of the Delcroix Academy Program have the potential to lead it back to peace and security.”

A breeze rustled the branches of the trees overhead and shook loose a few scattered raindrops. I wiped a trickle of water from my forehead. Eight candidates, including me, stood in a line at Mr. Judan's left, each of us wearing shiny white robes over our dresses and suits. The rest of the Program students and teachers watched from wooden benches that formed a rough semicircle around me and the other candidates. Though we were barely five minutes from the Delcroix campus, the secluded clearing felt miles away. Huge torches flared into the sky, sputtering and hissing as the rain fell on them.

“Graduates of the Program work in laboratories and hospitals, teach at the world's greatest universities, and serve at the highest levels of government. Their exceptional talents are used to resolve military conflicts and develop cures for devastating diseases. Their physical powers can be used in developing nations to build life-giving infrastructure, and in police forces to track down dangerous criminals. Everywhere, they labor in secrecy, quietly using their gifts to protect, defend, and serve.

“As candidates, you have the potential to join this force of operatives. You can change lives with your gifts of communication, your physical prowess, and your incredible interactions with the natural world. But before you can do any of these things, you must be trained.” Mr. Judan swept around to face us and fixed us with a steely eye. “Candidates, you stand before us after being tested and watched by your peers. Each of you has been nominated for Initiation. Step forward and offer yourselves to the Program.”

By some great gift of alphabetical fate, I was required to go first. I dragged one foot in front of the other, trying not to shudder as thirty pairs of eyes were trained directly on me. “Dancia Lewis presents herself for acceptance into the Program, sir.”

Mr. Judan turned back to the crowd. “Who will stand for this candidate?”

“I will stand for her.” Cam rose from one of the benches and stepped forward, a candle flickering in his hand. He wore the green robe of the Life Talents. Though it was too dark to make him out clearly, I imagined his deep brown eyes staring confidently at Mr. Judan. Next to him on the bench was Trevor Anderly, Cam's best friend, wearing the red robe that symbolized the Somatic Talents. Anna Peterson sat on his other side, also clad in red. With her dark hair and creamy skin, Cam's ex-girlfriend looked way too much like Snow White for my liking.

“Cameron Sanders, how do you know this candidate?” Mr. Judan stood in the center of the mock stage.

“I was her Recruiter and Watcher,” Cam said, staring at me while directing his words to Mr. Judan.

Candidates for the Program were recruited for Delcroix based on their potential Level Three Talents. During their freshman year, they were expected to prove that they had both the talent and the—I don't know, the
goodness
, I suppose, to be worthy of joining the Program. If they did, they were nominated for entry into the Program, usually by their Watcher. Nominations were made in the fall of sophomore year, and if the nominations were accepted by the school board, students were told the truth about the Program and prepared for Initiation.

Cam had been my Watcher, but he had short-circuited the usual process when he told me about the Program back in November. That meant I was the only freshman among the candidates. Just another addition to the long list of ways I didn't quite fit in.

“And do you believe this candidate will have the courage and integrity to do what is right? To sacrifice her own needs for the needs of others?”

Cam nodded. “I believe this candidate will do all these things. I believe this candidate will be an honor to the Governing Council and to Delcroix Academy.”

I knew this was the ritual response given for every candidate. Still, when Cam said it about me, it felt different. Goose bumps sprang up along my spine, as the weight of the Initiation suddenly came crashing down on me.

I was committing myself to the Program. My throat squeezed closed. There was no going back now.

I walked the ten steps to Mr. Judan's side. The fire reflected off his black hair with its snowy white wings at the temples, and he smiled his movie-star smile.

“Dancia, once you join the Program, you will forever be part of an organization dedicated to the promotion of peace and stability throughout the world. You will be carefully trained to maximize the potential of your talent, and you will be expected to serve humanity with your great power.” He lowered his voice dramatically. “Are you ready to offer yourself to the Program?”

I stole a glance at Cam, because looking at Mr. Judan made my knees feel as if they were about to buckle. Cam nodded encouragingly—a tiny, almost imperceptible movement. He knew I was nervous. Mine wasn't the usual Initiation.

The problem was, I knew more about the Program than any candidate should. The sophomores standing next to me had been taught that the Program was about spreading peace and happiness. Sure, they knew there were bad guys out there—serial killers, kidnappers, bank robbers, all the usual suspects—and they knew that part of the Program's purpose was to fight those bad guys and protect the innocents who might get hurt along the way. But the candidates were also told that graduates of the Program could serve humanity through medicine, art, or even politics. The new students knew about Watchers—the student kind and the professional ones—but they had never seen them in action.

I had. I had watched those professional Watchers come after a friend of mine with guns drawn, and only my talent had saved him.

I understood why Mr. Judan didn't spend a lot of time talking about that side of things. It wasn't like you
had
to be a Watcher if you joined the Program, or even that the Watchers were the most important part of the Program. The Governing Council, which ran the Program, did a whole lot more than oversee the Watchers.

Still, the fact was that I knew about the dark side of the Program, and the rest of the candidates didn't. I told myself I understood why the Watchers went after Jack. They were just doing their jobs. They thought he was a threat. They thought he could hurt people. They didn't care about him or understand him the way I did. But that didn't stop the taste of bile from rising in my throat every time I pictured Jack's face—scared, hunted—as he jumped over my fence and disappeared.

Cam nodded again, more noticeably this time, and his eyes flicked from me to Mr. Judan. I straightened. After Jack ran away, Mr. Judan talked me through all of this. He explained how the Watchers were peacekeepers, and how worried they were that Jack might use the books he had stolen from the Program library to make himself an even bigger threat than he already was. Jack had made choices, Mr. Judan said, and those choices were what had sent him over the fence. Not the Watchers.

“I am ready,” I said.

Really?
a little voice in my head asked mockingly.
Are you sure about that?

Mr. Judan frowned, as if he could hear the voice. I silenced it quickly, just in case he really could read my mind. Cam said he was a persuader, not a mind reader, but with the people at Delcroix, you never knew.

“Then let us begin the Initiation. Dancia, you have been given a great talent, the talent to manipulate the forces of nature. You can alter gravity with the mere force of your will. Already a strong Level Three, you have the potential to someday move mountains. Do you pledge to use this talent to benefit others?”

I ignored the bit about moving mountains—I assumed that that was an exaggeration—and focused instead on the pledge. They'd given us the pledges weeks ago, before Christmas, and we had been told to study them carefully and be ready to commit ourselves to them without reservation. The first was the easiest. The one thing I'd wanted all my life was to use my talent to help other people. In the past I'd been too scared to try. I had thought the power was out of my control, and that if I used it, people would get hurt. But now I knew I could control it and harness it for good. The Program would teach me how.

“I do.”

“As a member of the Program, you will be a part of something larger and more important than any single person. Do you pledge to sacrifice your selfish desires and dedicate yourself to achieving the goals of the Program?”

This was much harder, because while I agreed with the goals of the Program, every time I got a little distance from Delcroix, doubts kept popping up. Like, if the Watchers were so powerful, why had they been scared of Jack? Why hadn't they helped him when he was a little kid getting beaten up by his dad? Why were they ready to kill him just because they thought someday he
might
be a threat? Most chilling of all, how many people like Jack had they killed along the way?

I couldn't say any of this to Cam. He was intimately involved in the Program, perhaps more so than any other student at Delcroix, and I knew he believed in the Program one hundred percent. In part, it was his conviction that spurred me on.

I struggled in vain to force the words from my mouth. In desperation, I dropped my eyes toward Cam, and this time he smiled at me. Just like that, the answer came, without any thought on my part.

“I do.”

“And finally, Dancia, as a member of the Program, you will be a part of a family, a team dedicated to protecting its own. Do you pledge yourself in support of your new family?”

My shoulders relaxed. This was easy. Though I didn't particularly like the idea of being Anna's sister—after all, she was Cam's ex-girlfriend, and I had the impression she was ready to step back into that role at a moment's notice—I
did
like the idea of having a family. I'd always been jealous of kids who had cousins and aunts and uncles to hang out with at holidays and school breaks. My parents died in a car crash when I was three. I had a few relatives on my dad's side, but they didn't think much of me. The only one I really had was Grandma.

Even if the Program wouldn't have been like a real family, I knew from my friendship with Jack the previous semester that the bonds I had formed with people who were like me could run deeper and stronger than anything I'd ever imagined. It was something about having a shared secret, or knowing you were different from everyone else around you. That, more than anything, kept me going when the doubts sprang up.

“I do.”

“Earth Talents, rise,” Mr. Judan intoned.

Only two members of the crowd rose. I saw Mr. Anderson, the gardener at Delcroix, and a guy named Barrett, who I guessed was a senior.

Gesturing grandly, Mr. Judan said, “Earth Talents, you have the power to see and understand the forces of nature. You have the extraordinary ability to manipulate the very ground on which we walk, the air we breathe, and the relationship between energy and matter. Those who share your gifts are few and far between. They must be carefully instructed and their gifts nurtured. Do you pledge to welcome this new member to your group? To help her grow in wisdom and in power?”

Barrett stepped forward. He was tall and lanky, with long black hair that he wore loose around his shoulders. Shadows wreathed his face and obscured his eyes, but I could see that he had heavy brows and a beaky nose. He pointed toward the torch at Mr. Judan's left and then to the one on his right. “The Earth Talents receive you into the Program, Dancia, and pledge our assistance and energy to help you in whatever way you may need.”

Then he turned his palms to face up, and the flames of the torch shot high into the air—geysers of fire that illuminated the entire circle and the trees around us in a bright yellow glow. All of the candidates gasped, and Barrett nodded in satisfaction.

I froze, my heart racing. We stood there for a moment, watching the fire gushing into the sky, until Mr. Judan nodded and Barrett sat down. I stared at Barrett, awed and humbled. Sure, I could make sinkholes and drop branches on people. But creating flamethrowers? That was totally out of my league.

Then Mr. Judan leaned forward and unhooked the cloak from my neck. “Dancia Lewis, you have pledged yourself in service and selflessness. The Earth Talents have welcomed you, and your sponsor, Cameron Sanders, has stood in testament to his faith in your abilities. This is a height few achieve, and you should be proud to have come so far.”

With a dramatic swirl, he turned my cloak inside out and draped it back around my shoulders, the brown fabric marking my Earth Talent now exposed to the air. The white satin was cool and damp, and a chill stole across my shoulders.

BOOK: The Talents
7.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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