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The Holders

Allison Depaoli

 

The library was packed. The terrace gardens were—obviously—closed, jamming everyone inside. I wandered between shelves and stacks, but not a table was free on either of the two levels. In my hunt, I passed a set of huge, oak doors guarded by busts of horned owls on the second floor. There was nothing on the outside indicating its purpose, and when I tried the handle, it was locked. I gave up and wandered back to the information desk. The three working librarians were as swamped with students as the gardens through the arched windows were with rain.

“Evelyn, good to see you,” Ms. Kapoor said. Ms. Kapoor was one of the youngest and almost always behind the information desk, so she knew my face. She had an eclectic fashion sense. Today, she wore a yellow-and-white striped dress decorated with oranges, and big, orange wedge earrings.

“It’s busy today,” I commented. She gave me a knowing nod.

“The conservatory that extends over the balcony when it rains got jammed, so everyone’s stuck inside,” she said. “What did you need help with?”

“I was just wondering if you could point out two sections for me?” I asked her.

“Of course!” she beamed.

“I wanted to take some books out on elemental science,” I said. “And Rift geology.”

“Aren’t you a freshman?” she asked. “Sophomores take geology.”

“Someone said I might find it interesting.”

She bounced on her toes. “I love a sense of curiosity,” she said. She had to be a graduate. If I guessed her age, I’d say she was as old as Mr. Theremin. “And you’re in luck. Those sections are close to each other.”

She pointed across the room, past the staircase behind her, around the tables lined up in the reading area, and down the path that followed the arched windows wrapped around the room.

“The harder reading materials are tucked away in the back, where it’s quieter,” Ms. Kapoor said. “Need help finding any titles?”

“No, thanks, I’m really just looking,” I said. “But could you do me a favor?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Do you know Alec Fluvius?” Her face scrunched in uncertainty and her brown eyes floated up, like she was trying to see her thoughts. “Tall, black hair, Waterholder sigils all over his arms?”

“Ah, yes!” she said.

“If you see him, can you please tell him where I went?”

“Sure can,” she said.

“Thanks, Ms. Kapoor,” I said, backing away. She waved and turned to help the next student in line.

I followed the path of mosaic tile. The windows drenched the library in pallid, grey light. Beyond them, a rumbling sky whipped Penumbria’s man-made meadow. Even in the throes of a storm the terrace was enchanting, with its benches and exotic greenhouses, colossal trees that mimicked the feeling of being back on the ground. Arborvitae grew between the colonnades of the outer wall. A ribbon of lightning raced across the sky. Between the electric lights and electric sky, I saw my reflection: ashy, washed-out like the clouds, but with a permanent tint of rose in my cheeks.

The murmurs, the tapping of screens, and page-turning all faded as I wandered deeper into the library. Nothing but rain drumming the glass and a tenor of thunder was audible. The smell of books and coffee persisted. A single bookshelf divided the section from the rest of the library. I rounded it and froze. There, at a table against the window, was Damian, reclined and palming the spine of a book. Of course he managed to find such perfect spot. It overlooked both the gardens and the rolling wilderness of Penumbria. He stroked his bangs back, oblivious, and they settled in a neat part. I disappeared down the aisle before we accidentally made eye contact. I preferred the day remained peaceful.

The first section I hit in the maze of stacks was the geology section. Rift geology was embedded in its shelves, grouped together as its own little niche. I wanted to get this over quick, so I could engross myself in the elemental science section, read about Lightholders and myself. But this was self-discovery, too. I thumbed the spines. Nothing was written by a Lux. There were ones written by a Dante Ignacio, though. If it was the same Dante Ignacio as the one in the history books, he was the Fireholder founder who mapped the Rift and named its eight biomes, bridging both geology and ecology. Other titles rehashed his ideas, or delved into one aspect of the Rift, like volcanic ridges or soil composition. But if I wanted to find anything, I needed recent publications. I started pulling books off the shelve to check them.

A part of me feared I’d find nothing. Still another worried I’d find something more malicious. My motions were robotic: pull book, flip open, slide it back if it was older than 2095. Most were. After skimming most of the shelf, I found one, out of order, published in 2103 by a James Hylander. It was a greyish-brown text with an image of a cloudy quartz crystal on the cover, titled “Rocks, Minerals, and Periodic Elements of the Rift”. I clutched it close, as if someone was about to steal it from me, and moved on. I’d check it out, read it later in private, just in case.

The elemental science section was much larger. It took up three whole bookcases in the back corner that reached the ceiling. They held books bound in blue, and in green, yellow, and red. There were some with purple spines, plain looking ones with gilded or metallic text, some with leather as white as clouds. Copies of Founder Magnus’s Elemental Compendium filled up two whole shelves near the bottom. I grabbed one to check out, so I could keep up with Mr. Theremin’s readings. It joined Hylander’s book in my arms. Just above the Compendiums, taking up an equal amount of shelf space, were copies of Rector Kaine’s Anthology. I toyed at the spine of one. His full name was on it: Jude Kaine.

“Rector Kaine’s book, huh?”

I jumped. Everything in my arms tumbled to the ground, the heavy tomes fell open and bent their pages. Damian tried his best to loom over me. He grabbed the Anthology I was debating off the shelf.

“What do you want with it?” he asked.

I wasn’t in the mood to deal with him and his haughtiness. “Most people read them.”

He squinted in annoyance. A flash lit up the room and thunder thrashed with a vengeance. The books on the floor caught his curiosity amidst the quaking. “That’s funny. I didn’t know we were in geology. What’s with that?”

“It’s really none of your business,” I said.

He closed his eyes; an act of thinly-veiled annoyance. When they peeled back open, he flipped to a predestine page at the back of the Anthology and read aloud. “Shall I? An introduction to Light. Light, considered by some as the element of life, is raw aether from the heavenly bodies. There is one, small, rare Class able to wield aether without conversion: the Lightholder Class. The raw aether inside their relatively unspecialized animuli is the cause for the extreme effects this element seems to have on the creatures of the Nethersphere.”

“Why are you-”

“Just letting you know what to expect when you read this,” he said. He slowly pinched the last couple dozen pages together with his thumb and index, about an inch-worth of text. “I know this book like the back of my hand. This is all there is about you. I don’t know how helpful you’ll find it.”

Was this because of what I said on Friday? I quickly bent to gather my fallen materials. A sudden, primal urge to run, to find Alec or Lexi, coursed through me. It was some funky pack mentality. They meant safety.

“Listen, I’ve got my own research to do, so why don’t you leave me alone, since I’m such a non-generational anomaly-”

Damian slammed the Anthology closed with a crack. It echoed through the library, and what followed was a still, eerie silence. I stood back up. He was inches from my face. I could make out each individual hair in his neat brows, every drop of mercury in his eyes. And there, in the shadow of his bangs, was his sigil; one silver ring embedded inside another. I stared at it like a third eye. The way his forehead wrinkled made it appear to glare back. He spoke and I smelled cinnamon gum.

“I’ve learned to ignore the redhead,” he said. “I won’t tolerate the same from you.”

He pressed the Anthology into my chest, then used it to steer me into the bookcase. I hit with a thud that sent yet another ache through my muscles. He kept me pinned there with a strong arm. Or maybe I was too scared to move. My heart beat so fast I swore the vibrations traveled through the hardcover and he could feel them. What was happening. I expected this sort of thing from Jasper, not Damian.

“I want to make one thing clear, Evelyn Lux,” Damian said. “I don’t like you. At all.”

I couldn’t stop staring at his sigil. “Glad we’re on the same page.”

His hand retracted. I fumbled to catch the Anthology with all the books in my arms. “Just don’t get in my way. And don’t think your special. No matter what you are, there will always be people here who are greater than you.”

Damian turned on his heels. Just as quietly as he appeared, he vanished among the oak furnishings like a phantom. I was left in a state of surrealism. I couldn’t believe that just happened. In the way of what? We’re in the same Unit. We’re supposed to work together. And special definitely wasn’t how I’d describe myself.

There was thunder. It shook the panes. A crescendo of rain followed, the windows beaten with more decisive percussion as the sky opened.

Making an enemy out of Jasper was one thing. Making enemies with Damian was a whole different story.