AUTHOR POST: Sorry to get your hopes up

Here come the excuses again, and for that I am really, seriously sorry, but there's just no way a new chapter is going to go up for... a little while. At least a week. I'm being brutally honest, here.

It's about 9:30pm as I' m starting this post, and this is the first time I've had all day to sit down and write. I got up early to go to the clinic and pick up a prescription. I came home, grabbed my work stuff, then changed at work and was there til a little after 6. I grocery shopped, grabbed dinner, ate dinner, did my Wii Fit for the day and... now here I am, at almost 10pm (yeah, got distracted for a few...) about to BEGIN Bernice's story.

Because I didn't use any of my time off to write, of course. I took some notes about plotty stuff, but that's about it. But dudes, I've been busy! Every single day off from work I've had, I've either been out of town, or running around town trying to keep my husband and I fed and in relatively clean clothing. By the end of the day, whether I work my paying job or not, my brain is so dead it can't come up with anything creative. If I try to force it, it's utter tripe.

Tomorrow I work til 4, have a meeting at the college then (I'm starting school again in June), come back to work for a committee meeting, then I get to come home about 7:30 from that and cook dinner. After some Wii Fit and a load of laundry, BAM, it's 10pm again. Saturday is my "catch-up" day, and I'm also meeting my mom for lunch (and driving an hour to do it) since I haven't seen her for about a month, then church that night. Sunday I'm doing nursery for the 9am church service, coming home to eat and change, then working til 8:30. Come home, dinner, Wii Fit, BAM 10pm. I work Monday-Wednesday, too. I can't give up my "girl night" on Wednesday. I need some knitting and chatting to stay sane. So that means it'll be... next Thursday before I can write anything, unless I miraculously find some time on Saturday.

I'm sorry! I'm so so sorry! If I could sit and write for half the day, cranking out chapter after chapter, I soooo would! If you all can somehow pay me as much as I'm making at my full-time retail job, I could quit that and stay home all day making up lovely characters and stories for your (and my) enjoyement. But until that day comes (HA!), I'm going to have to sneak in some writing whenever I can do it.

I'm not sure what this means for my Thursday-Sunday update schedule. As it stands now, I'll be out of town next Friday and Saturday, so there goes that. UGH! Why can't I just not have any social life, right? Darn those pesky friends and family members.

All this to say: I'll keep you posted. I'll write when I can, but I won't be able to get into a normal update schedule for at least a couple more weeks. Belive me, I want to write this story probably more than you want to read it. (Take that as you will.) And if this upsets some of you and you decide to give up on this novel, I don't blame you at all. I've done the same thing with other serial web novels/comics before. It happens, and it's your choice. Don't feel bad about it, and I'll try not to feel bad for disappointing you (even though I do!).

Wish me luck as I try and carve out a few hours here and there when I'm not completely brain dead in order to write more of Bernice's story. And for those of you who still occasionally click over here hoping for an update, thank you for your loyalty and patience.

P.S. Wow, I just re-read that and it was really rambly. What I was trying to say is that I technically have time to write, but when I get to a point where I actually have time, my brain is no longer productive. At least, it's incapable of producing anything anyone would want to read. So there's really no point in forcing the words if it's just drivel. Hopefully that's a little clearer, now.


AUTHOR POST: A Short Break

Okay, here's the plan. I'm going to take off until the 28th of January in order to plot and plan and develop and outline. The next entry from Bernice's diary will go up on January 29th, at which point I'll resume my usual Thurs-Sun update schedule. This past week that I haven't written anything has just been... a vacation. Me being lazy. But I'm going to start working on it now, for real! And if I can't get it outlined all the way to the end, I'll at least get a decent outline (several weeks' worth) and a vague idea of where I want the story to end up. (I never go into a novel knowing how it will end, really.)

If you've been thinking of reading all of Bernice's Grand Adventures, this break would be a good time to get caught up to the present! Then you'll have new entries four times a week to continue reading. If you're already caught up, I'm sorry for the long gap between updates, but I really need to take this time to plan what the heck I'm doing with these poor characters.

Once updates resume, you can look forward to seeing a few familiar faces, and seeing more Illumination in action. (I at least know that much!) Thank you all for your patience!



Is anyone reading this? I'm just feeling rather BLEH about it right now, and I'm wondering if I should take a break to work out some more plot, then just write it when I have time, and not post it on the internet. Having a set schedule does help me crank out the words, but I feel like the plot and characterization suffers somewhat because I'm usually "in a rush" to write the post for the day. I don't and can't take the time to think things through, to plan far enough ahead to insert things that need time to develop, to look forward and steer things in one direction or another. And when/if I do think of such things, everything's already been posted and it's too late to add them in further back in the story.

I do like the story and the characters. I do want to finish it and, at the moment, I do want to edit it and send it out eventually. I think it could make a fun book, and I think people might like it. I just... I don't know. I'm not feeling motivated to make myself write 1,000-2,000 words per day, four days a week, if no one even cares when/if it goes up on the internet to read. Maybe I'll just wait to show it off until it's in novel form a couple years from now. ;)

Sorry to be such a downer. I don't want it to seem like I'm begging for comments or feedback. I really, really appreciate those who've commented or emailed me. Really. And I suppose not that many people know about this in the first place, so I shouldn't expect much. I'm just not in the most bestest of moods, and not loving the story right now. Can anyone offer any help? Ideas? Anything...?


Time Alone and Time Apart

Zebediah and I fought today. I suppose it was nothing more than a little quarrel, but it was the first time we have been anything but kind and polite to each other (since we have been really together, I mean), and so it seemed worse than it really was.

All of yesterday, as I wrote last night, I did not see him but in passing. I spent my meals with Lucas and Ivy, telling them my whole tale, from the time I left Saint Anne's to the night I stepped through the entrance to the cavern. This morning I nearly slept through breakfast (I do not know how I could have stayed asleep through the general commotion of a dozen girls rising and readying for the day, then the noise of the meal in the main cavern!) so I had to eat very quickly to start my lessons on time.

At lunch, my feet took me to the place I had sat for the previous four meals: the edge of the room, which had a view of the whole place, where Lucas and Ivy sat, along with Edwin and Tulia, both from my group. However, I was intercepted before I made it to them; Zebediah stepped into my path and motioned me to follow him. Puzzled, I gave my friends a smile, then stepped into the kitchen with Zebediah. But he kept walking, slipping through the narrow crevasse in the far wall to go down the corridor further into the mountain. This is where we get our water, from the spring that trickles away through some other route. He stopped at the edge of the water, which I could only see dimly. Very little light shone in from the kitchen.

"What is the matter?" I asked. Zebediah didn't answer, but took a small lamp from his pocket and shook it, then set it on the floor at our feet. It cast a faint yellow glow, lighting the cavern enough that I could see the still, black water and the slightly damp stone walls near us.

While I was looking around--I had not yet been in this part of the caves--Zebediah took my hand and spelled on my palm, "I miss you."

"I miss you too," I murmured, and stepped a little closer to him. This was the first time we'd been alone since yesterday morning before breakfast.

"I do not see you," he told me, with gestures. "You are always busy, using your Gift, talking with others."

"They're my friends," I said. "And I must practice my Illumination. It's important." I hadn't yet had a chance to tell him what Lucas said yesterday, that Ivy had seen me in her visions, that I played an important part in what was to come.

"Am I not important?"

"Of course you are!" I cried softly, taking both his hands in mine and looking up into his blue eyes. "You are very important to me. I have never felt about someone the way I feel about you."

Zebediah pulled his hands away and looked around the cave, frustrated. "I am useless here," he told me. "I am not Gifted. I carry water, I serve food." He clenched his teeth and shook his head, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "It is what I did for years, but... I am done with that now! I thought I was! I want..."

I watched as he paced away from me and then back. "You want what?" I asked in a small voice.

"I want.... you." he said. "I want to be done with this. Running and hiding. Being hunted and tired and cold all the time. Illumination."

"Illumination is a part of my life now," I countered, frowning at him. "A part of me. You cannot be done with it if you are to remain with me." That hurt me rather deeply, that he did not like my Gift, or being around it. "And you cannot be done with it if you want us to win this war."

He looked at me, confused, wondering what I meant. Briefly, I told him what Lucas had said about Ivy's visions, and what Ivy herself had told me, which was not much.

"I do not like it," Zebediah said, scowling.

"I don't like it either," I said, "but it is going to happen. This war, my part in it. Your part in it. You will be at my side all the while," I assured him. "I want you at my side."

"I do not know that I trust what they say. Lucas," he said, spelling the name on my hand, then pausing half a second before writing, "and Ivy," in addition.

I yanked my hand out of his. "You do not like them because they are not you." But that didn't make sense, didn't come out the way I wanted it. I shook my head, squinting my eyes shut. "You are jealous. Do you want all of my time and attention? I cannot give it all to you! Lucas is young and handsome, yes, I admit it. That is what bothers you."

He flinched, and I saw that I had hit the nail on the head. "He likes you, I see it."

"He is kind and charming, nothing more. He is my friend. Do you not trust me? Is that why you are upset?"

Zebediah stared hard at me and didn't say anything.

"You don't?" I nearly shrieked. It did not occur to me until afterwards that anyone near the kitchen could probably hear most of what I said. (Still, that was only half the conversation.) "Why? When have I ever given you reason to distrust me, Zebediah?" Tears filled my eyes. That hurt more than the fact that he didn't like my Illumination. "They are my friends," I said softly, pleading with him with my eyes to understand. "I have never had friends, but for a little girl at the orphanage. The other girls were merely... there. Let me have this. Please."

He stared at me a moment more; I could see the muscles of his jaw tense over and over as he clenched his teeth. "You are rash. You jump into things without thinking about them."


He went on, ignoring the protestations I tried to make. "You are over-eager. You will hurt yourself, with your Gift, with your friends. I am afraid, Bernice. For you. For us."

"I would never do anything to hurt you," I whispered, my heart breaking, each word he spoke chipping another little piece away.

"Not on purpose," he spelled on his own hand, and took a step toward me, but I turned away and retreated. He did not trust me, he thought I was foolish. The worst part was that I agreed with him, to some extent. Much of what had occurred recently had been my own fault. I wandered alone in Sun City and was kidnapped. I pushed Captain Winters until he snapped at me. This whole adventure began because I wanted too much: to find a family I knew in my heart did not exist. The things I had avoided were merely by luck: the Tourbillion appeared just before we would have landed in Franklin Bay; I was in town when the Erebos came to the school. It is a miracle I have survived as long as I have!

"You are right," I said in a small voice. "I don't... I don't think I have a place here. Or with you."

I didn't look up, but I heard him sigh and shuffle his feet. Then his footsteps sounded and grew more faint as he returned to the kitchen.

I was not alone for long, however. Ivy came into the cave a moment after. "Sorry for eavesdropping," she said softly, reaching down to pick up the lamp, "but the look in his eyes when he came to get you scared me. I did not want anything bad to happen to you."

"I am fine," I whispered, my voice breaking on the last word. "And he would never hurt me."

"Clearly, he has," Ivy said, and stepped close in order to put her free arm around me. I leaned into her just slightly; it had been ages, it seemed, since I had a young woman to confide in, a female friend. A few tears dropped from my eyes, wetting the shoulder of her blouse. "Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked.

I thought for a moment, but then drew back, shaking my head. "It is nothing. Everything he said is true."

"Not everything," said Ivy. "Lucas is not in love with you," she said with a little smirk, "nor do you love him. That much is clear."

I had known as much, but hearing the words from someone who was certain did disappoint me a little. Lucas' attention was nice, and I think some part of me liked that it made Zebediah upset. I had liked feeling wanted and admired. "Obviously," I said, looking out over the water so I didn't have to look at her.

"It's nothing personal," she told me. "You are just... so very claimed."

"What do you mean?"

"He does not let you see it," she said, still smiling, "but your Mr. Miller throws such longing looks your way. He would lie down in front of a train for you. He would go hungry so you could eat, or thirsty so you could drink."

"He has," I murmured, thinking of the days in the forest when he would insist I ate half his share of the bread, claiming he wasn't hungry. "With the food, I mean. I hope he never lays in front of a train for me."

"But he would," Ivy told me, her eyes very serious. "If it would save you, he would. Do not dismiss yourself or your relationship so easily. He looks at you the way my father looks at my mother, and they are two of the happiest people I have ever known, despite the hard work they have to do and all the trials they have endured."

That was comforting, for certain, though I did not think Ivy's parents had been pursued by airship pirates or threatened by murderous Loyalists. Although, now I think about it, perhaps they had been, in the war. "Thank you," I murmured.

"It is only the truth," she said with a smile, then she took my hand. "Come and eat your lunch. It is almost time for lessons to resume." I followed her back through the corridor, through the kitchen, and out into the main cavern. I did not see Zebediah again until supper, when he stayed far away from me, but Ivy urged me to give him time. I was asked to help with a demonstration during the talk after our meal, and now I am lying on my little bed, most of the rest of the girls around me asleep.

Things will be better in the morning. I will find him and speak to him, and we will mend things. I care for him too much to do anything else.


Breakfast Made and Breakfast Shared

I asked Lucas today, "What of your parents, your family? Do they know you have fled the school and are hiding out in the mountains?"

Chores rotated between students, and today I was awoken early, and in charge of making coffee for breakfast. However, I had never made coffee before, so Lucas was showing me how.

"I hope not," he said, measuring out spoonfuls of dark, fragrant grounds. "I don't imagine the headmaster would be able to keep it quiet, though, if two dozen of his students were accused of Illumination and then suddenly vanished."

"So they have been notified?"

"I would assume so, yes." He took the big ladle from the nearest barrel of water, and started measuring out how much to put in the coffee pots. "Five in this one," he told me, apparently not wanting to discuss it further, "four in these, and just three in this one." The pots were all different sizes, having seemingly been gathered from scrap heaps. Then he showed me how to build up the fire, and where to place the pots on the grate above it. But when we were through, he didn't leave me there to watch the coffee percolate. He sat back on his heels and said, "Here, let's have a bit of a treat. I won't tell if you won't." He got an apple from one of the crates, then poked around for a while until he found a long, metal skewer and speared the apple with it. "Careful not to scorch it," he said, slipping it between the grate above the fire and the walls around it, and holding it near the flames. Then he handed the end of the skewer to me.

I watched the flames for a minute, rotating the apple slowly. The girls and I used to do the same thing at Saint Anne's, on our Saturday off. When we had the apples, at least. We never went hungry, but depending on who was donating and when and how much, we had either bread and water with a little hard cheese, warm beef stew with lots of vegetables, or anything in between.

"Bernice." I realized I had been lost in my thoughts, and looked up at Lucas when he said my name. "Last night when Ivy had her... episode. She saw you."

"What do you mean?" I asked. "I spoke to her and waved my hand before her face, but she did not even blink."

"No," he said. "She saw you." He looked at me with intensely hazel eyes, and I understood. She had seen me in the future.

"Ye-es?" I prompted, a little nervous because of the way he was looking at me. It seemed I was about to receive some bad news.

"The apple," he said, and I looked over to see it had almost dipped into the ashes. I righted it quickly, resting the skewer on the edge of the wall of the little fire pit.

"Mr. Jenkins," I said, calling him that to get his attention. "Please tell me what she saw. At this point, I think very little would shock me." I managed a small smile.

He rubbed the back of his neck, ruffling the dark hair at his nape and staring into the fire. "She... You..." He sighed. "You need to be prepared," he said, looking up at me. "You need to hone your Gift quickly and well. Whatever's been coming, it will be here soon. And it seems you are to play a large part in it."

"What... what is coming?" I asked nervously.

"The war." He looked surprised, as if I should have known this already. "Didn't Professor Eberhart tell you?"

"He kept referring to a 'conflict,' and he told me about... well, about our parents, the Libertists, and the Loyalists. But I know about all that from school."

"There is another one on the horizon," Lucas said grimly. "'Conflict' sounds somewhat better, but it is what it is: a war. Only this one will be fought with Illumination instead of swords and bullets and bombs. Ivy saw it coming years ago."

"I don't understand." Without thinking about it, I was still rotating the apple slowly. "We are here--I am here--training to fight in a war?" The professor had told me as much back at the academy weeks ago, but I suppose I didn't realize what he meant. I suppose I thought I would be on the sidelines, if such a thing were to happen, doing... I know not what.

"Yes, Bernice," Lucas said softly. "All of us will be."

"But why... children? Many here are not yet past the age of majority. How can anyone send children into battle?"

His expression grew still more grim. "We need the numbers," he said quietly. "The professor has been in contact with many of our parents, as many as have agreed to help. Those who knew what was happening could chose to send their children to be trained, or not. That's where there are so few of us here. There are as many out there as there are in here, whose families have not been willing to lend them to the cause. I suppose I can't blame them," he shrugged, looking sad. "I don't think I would want to send my son or daughter into battle, either."

"What about your parents?" I asked.

"My mother is too frightened to do anything, and my father must never know of my Gift, or hers, which of course she keeps hidden. He'd want to use us for his own benefit, us and anyone else he knew was Illuminated."

I watched the apple spin slowly, flames licking over its sides. It had grown a darker red; we should test it soon to see how far inside it had cooked. "So we are to fight? All of us here, and some of those who were in the first war, who came out of the cave with Illumination?" He nodded. "That means the fate of the country could rest upon... fifty or sixty people?"

"It's not that bad," Lucas was quick to say. "Ivy's seen that the other side--the Britannians and the Loyalists here--have only a dozen or so. And there's another little group on the far coast, I think near Chester, North Jefferson. Something similar happened there a couple years before the end of the war. Some Libertists came across a Sacred Crystal and Illuminated themselves. Not as many of them survived, but... Well, Professor Eberhart told us the whole story once, and I can't remember all of it. But they--the Gifted--all ran off together to hide away, and they've been working on their powers since then. They're very strong, very skilled. And their children, too. So that's another two dozen, I think."

I turned the apple slowly, thinking. "Why not make a whole army of Illuminated people?" I asked after a moment. "We found the crystals once, right? Why not use them again?"

"No one knows where they are," Lucas said sadly. "They were entrusted to someone at the end of the war, and hidden away.

"And no one knows where to find them, or who hid them?" I asked skeptically.

"Well, I certainly don't. I'm sure if their keeper saw that they were needed, he--or she, I suppose--would put them to use. But we've just got to trust that whoever it is that has them is wise and careful." He shrugged. "Let's check our apple, shall we?"

I let him take the skewer from me. He drew it up out of the pit, then lay the apple on top of a crate and used a knife to slice into it. "Perfect!" He cut it in half, causing it to fall off the skewer. "Too bad we don't have any butter or sugar. Ohh, or cinnamon! But anyway." He picked up one half, using the very tips of his fingers. "Cheers," he said as he handed me the other half, and bumped them together like champagne glasses.

I took a careful bite of mine, sucking in air at the same time to cool it in my mouth. The tang of the apple was certainly present, but if I used my imagination, it almost tasted like the inside of an apple pie, warm and soft with spices. I used to play this game with Maggie, during the harder times when all we had for supper was the same bread we'd eaten for a week. We'd tell each other what we wanted it to be instead, and share how it tasted.

It must've shown on my face, how much I missed her, for Lucas tried to distract me. "You're doing really well with the rope thing," he said. "And you're the best I've seen at forming earth. The people you make are so realistic! And I've never seen anyone make them move the way you can."

"Thank you," I said with a small smile.

We were spared further awkward conversation by Zebediah's entrance to the room. He stopped just inside the doorway when he saw the two of us sitting before the fire, frowning a little, but I put his concern to rest. "Come here," I said softly, and he crouched next to me. I held the apple out to him. "Careful, it's hot."

He held my hand in both of his, just his fingertips touching, and leaned forward to take a bite of the apple, his eyes on my face the whole while. I do not know why, but the sight of him leaning over my hands and looking up at me sent a shiver down my spine, in a good way. Then he sat back and chewed, also inhaling through his mouth to cool it. "Good?" I asked, and he nodded. "After days of raw apples, this is a welcome change." He nodded again, then pointed at the coffee pots. "Are they finished yet?" I asked Lucas in his stead.

He checked on them, then pointed to the smallest one. "This is," he said. "Would you like a cup?"

"Zebediah would," I answered. "I'm content with my apple for now." Lucas poured a tin mug full of the dark coffee and handed it to Zebediah, who accepted it, but did not exactly give a kind look to Lucas. Seeming to sense this, he stood. "If you wouldn't mind filling the cups when those are finished, that would be swell," Lucas said to me. "Set them out on the table." He was referring to the planks laid across the tops of two barrels out in the main cavern, from which everyone picked up their meals. "Ivy will come and help you with the rest of it in a bit." He gave me an encouraging smile, then left Zebediah and I alone.

I gave him a few more bites of my apple as he sat and sipped his coffee. Now and then the fire would pop, but since no one else was awake yet, we were in a companionable silence. "Missed you," he spelled on my palm.

"Missed you too," I murmured. "We've been so busy."

He moved around to sit beside me and put his arm around my shoulders; I leaned against him, glad for these few minutes in private with him. He kissed the top of my head, then leaned his cheek there. I don't think I could have been more content were we in a palace surrounded by every luxury.

Then we heard footsteps behind us, and Ivy sang out, "Good morning! My, don't you two look cozy." She leaned right in between us to pick up one of the coffee pots with a spare rag, so as not to burn her hand. Zebediah and I had no choice but to lean apart as she lifted the lid and peeked inside. "All done!" she declared, and set the pot down. "You're on coffee duty this morning, aren't you, Bernice? Zebediah and I can help you set the cups out."

We had no choice but to stand up and do as she said; she and Zebediah took the cups out to the table two by two as I filled them. Then I began cutting up the stale bread while Ivy did the apples, and Zebediah carried out the stacks of each on big trays. Once that was done, nearly everyone was awake and it was time for breakfast. Unfortunately I was not able to be alone with Zebediah for the remainder of the day, as we were both kept too busy to do more than smile at each other from across the room.


One Entwined and A Remarkable Gift

Two interesting things happened today. By "interesting," I mean out of the ordinary routine from what is usual here in the caverns. Luckily neither incidence was life-threatening, as has been almost normal for "interesting" events in my life lately.

The first came during our morning practice session. Miss Means was just telling me that I was still pulling too hard, as she put it, when trying to build the stick house with my group members when there was a commotion from the other side of the room. The already-shaky foundation of our house collapsed as all four of us lost our concentration on our Gift and looked away. A boy was screaming and a crowd had gathered around him. Wide-eyed, Miss Means rushed toward him, and I saw Mr. Jenkins hurrying over from another side of the room. Slowly, everyone was drifting toward the boy, who was obviously in pain. I heard murmurs, but could not tell what anyone was saying.

"Patrick!" Miss Means shouted, pushing her way through the crowd.

From the other side, Mr. Jenkins was yelling the boy's name as well. "Pat!" I was used to having to fight for my view, growing up with so many other girls at Saint Anne's, so I managed to slip between shoulders and hips and elbows until I was on the inside edge of the ring of onlookers. "Come on, it's all right, it was an accident," Mr. Jenkins said. "You've got to let go now. Let Oliver go." It seemed they were not talking to the boy who was screaming, but another boy who was pale and trembling, standing near the other boy and staring at him as though entranced. The boy named Oliver was wrapped tightly with the rope we had all been using for practice; I could see it cutting into his wrists and leaving red burn marks. He was trapped, from his ankles to his shoulders. "Pat." Mr. Jenkins shook the young man's shoulders. He had longish brown hair and his clothes, though they were the same school uniform that all the other boys wore, looked somewhat shabbier.

"Patrick!" Miss Means patted his cheek hard, then drew her arm back and slapped his face! Finally he blinked and looked up at her. "Patrick, stop this now." She pointed at the screaming boy. "Let him go."

He stared at Oliver for a moment, then took a deep breath. As he exhaled, the ropes slackened and fell to the ground. Panting and wild-eyed, Oliver stepped out of the coil. Mr. Jenkins caught him just as he lost his legs and would've crumpled to the floor.

"This way," Miss Means told Patrick, putting an arm around his shoulders. Despite her violence a moment ago, she looked nothing but kind and caring now as she led him into the kitchen, the only place they could be alone without going into one of the "dormitory" rooms.

Gradually, the other students began to drift back to their stations. "Everyone's fine!" Mr. Jenkins shouted. "Back to your lessons!" He helped Oliver limp across the room and sat him down so he could lean against the wall. I followed them at a slight distance, and waited until Mr. Jenkins looked up and noticed me before speaking.

"What happened?" I asked softly, coming a little nearer.

As Oliver seemed content to sit with his eyes closed for a while, Mr. Jenkins stood. "An accident," he said again. "None of us know the full extent of our powers, and sometimes... something goes out of control. Pat got the rope too tight, and when Oliver began to panic, so did Pat. He drew the ropes tighter and tighter, and couldn't focus enough to stop."

"Will he be all right?" I asked, looking at the wounds on Oliver's hands, only able to imagine the bruises on his legs and ribs and arms.

"He will," answered Mr. Jenkins. "We have a box of medicinal supplies for emergencies. Mostly I just think he's frightened."

I nodded. I couldn't blame him.

"Thank you for your concern, but you should go back to your lessons, Bernice." His use of my given name made me stop short and give him a puzzled, displeased look. "There is no need to stand on ceremony here, don't you think?" he asked with an easy smile. "Out here in the wilderness, far from civilization. Besides, we all must work together, and to do that, we must all be friends. So... friends?" He held out his hand.

I took it without hesitation, though it did take me another second or two to echo him: "Friends."

"That's better," he grinned, squeezing my hand once before letting go. I wandered back to my group a little puzzled, and more than a little concerned for... well, for several things. The rest of the day passed uneventfully but for the second incident.

Everyone was finishing their supper and preparing for the debriefing to come. Each night, a different person speaks on something they have learned about Illumination that day, or something they had read about in one of the books Professor Eberhart had sent with them. Tips to help the rest of the students, or encouraging stories of people from the past who were Illuminated. Every few days, I was told, they would also read a letter from the professor which he had somehow managed to get up here. (I should ask about the method; do they have carrier pigeons I have not seen? Does a student meet him halfway down the mountain in the middle of the night?

Before the talk for the night began, I returned to the girls' side of the cavern to quickly retrieve my coat, as I was rather cold now my coffee had been drunk and we were getting ready to settle down for the evening. The room was empty but for one bed, which was odd, as everyone should have been in the main cavern.

The figure on the bed was Ivy. She appeared to have fallen, as her legs were tangled in her skirt, and one arm was trapped beneath her body in what looked like a very uncomfortable position. She was whispering unintelligibly, staring straight ahead like she had seen a ghost. Her gaze was so intense that I actually turned around to see what she was looking at, but there was nothing there. "Miss Means?" I asked, creeping closer. "Ivy?" She did no respond, even when I waved my hand in front of her face.

My only thought was that she was having some sort of fit, and needed help. I threw back the curtain in the doorway and shouted for Lucas, who appeared a moment later. Zebediah was right behind him, no doubt having heard my shout as well. "I came in and saw her like this," I told Lucas.

He dropped to his knees beside her, then turned to look at me. "Paper!" he demanded. "And a pen. Quickly!"

I dithered where I stood for a moment, thinking that a bizarre request, given the circumstances, but Zebediah reached into one of the pockets on his trousers to bring out a small notebook, the pages of which were bound together by some rough twine, and a smudgy pencil. (Later he told me he had asked for both items and made a book from the paper, so as to always have some way of communicating with people who did not understand his hang gestures.)

Lucas yanked both from his hands, then leaned down to listen to Ivy. He started writing as fast as he could, simply ripping off the top page when it was full and going on to the next. When Ivy paused for breath, he took a second to stack the papers on the next bed in the order in which they had been written, then he was back to writing. It seemed he was copying down what she said.

"What are you--" I began to ask, but he shushed me and shook his head, eyes never leaving the paper and pencil. I moved closer to Zebediah and he put his arm around my shoulders. I have seen him only at meals for the past few days; after having spent nearly every moment with him, day and night, for weeks before that, I have found myself missing him, and was glad for his nearness.

A few minutes later, Ivy trailed off seemingly in the middle of a sentence, though I could not hear what she was saying. Lucas waited at her side a moment more, pencil poised, but her eyes drifted closed. Whatever had happened, it was finished now.

Lucas took his time gathering up the scribbled-on papers. He shifted Ivy so she was lying on her back, and even tugged at the hem of her skirt so it lay flat over her legs. He gave her one last, rather sad look, then came over to where Zebediah and I stood. "Sorry about that," he said softly, as if he might wake her. "She is fine. You did well to come and get me, Bernice. If that ever happens again, call me. Or better yet, do what I did, and take down what she says."

"Why did you do that?" I asked, also in a soft voice. "What was she saying? And why did she not respond when I spoke to her?"

He hesitated, shuffling the papers in his hands. What was left of the notebook, he returned to Zebediah, as well as the pencil. "Ivy... sees the future," he said slowly. "I know it is difficult to believe, but you have absorbed quite a lot of new information in the past few weeks, and have witnessed things most people think impossible. So believe me," he urged. "She sees the future. Professor Eberhart says it is unusual, but not unheard of, in those who are Illuminated. It just... happens. She collapses and goes into a sort of trance. When she was small, her family thought she was having seizures, and tried to hide it. She wouldn't be marriageable if that were the case; no one would want to risk her having children with the same affliction, not to mention the disgrace of one of her 'episodes' occurring in public. Heaven forbid," he scoffed, rolling his eyes, obviously thinking her family's concern was misplaced. "But once we got to the academy, the professor recognized it for what it is."

"So she was... giving predictions just now?" I asked.

"Exactly. It seems like gibberish at first, but when she wakes up, we'll go over it together. She even has a special book she keeps everything in, so we'll copy it down there. Or rather, she will," he smiled. "My handwriting is atrocious."

"Then what?" I felt the gentle pressure of Zebediah's fingertips on the small of my back and looked up at him, but his eyes were on Ivy's prone figure, a little ways away from us.

"We... decipher them. As best as we can. For example, if she does not know the name of the person she 'sees,' she will describe him. Once in a while, Professor Eberhart will recognize someone, but not often. He'll be here in a week, at least, so we only have that long to wait to show him this."

I, too, was watching Ivy. She looked peaceful, like nothing had happened. "Is there anything I may do?" I asked, my eyes still on her.

"Thank you, but no," said Lucas. "Everyone else here knows, so you needn't worry about keeping a secret. I would just rather you didn't go out there and blab that Ivy had another bout of prophecy," he told me with a small smile. "We need a little time alone to sort out the latest batch."

"Understood." I gave a small curtsey, then Zebediah and I left to hear what was left of the debriefing.

Can you imagine, Dear Reader, seeing the future? Falling into a trance and muttering strange things, only to wake up and.... I wonder if she remembers these episodes, or if she awakens entirely ignorant of anything that had happened. How awful it would be to wake alone, finding yourself on the floor with no recollection of the past few minutes! I know that Lucas assured me she was all right, but I still cannot help but worry for her. She is blunt and odd, but we are all here together, as Lucas keeps saying. We are friends, and I do not want anything bad to happen to her.


Practice Had and Histories Learnt

Today was spent much like yesterday, and so I shall not bore you, Dear Reader, by repeating myself. Instead I shall relate the events of last night.

After supper (which was exactly like breakfast except that the coffee was more bitter) everyone gathered in the main cavern, sitting on the stone floor and facing the rear of the room (that is, the side opposite the entry). Mr. Mason got up in front of everyone and began speaking of something I did not know, naming off locations and people that did not sound familiar. I was at the back of the group with Zebediah, and did not notice that Miss Means had snuck up behind us until she put her hand on my shoulder. "Come with me," she whispered. Though we were silent, and the light in the cavern was dim, I still felt nearly every pair of eyes in the room follow us as we headed toward the far end, through a short passageway and into what served as the kitchen. Miss Means lit a candle, then used it to light one more; those served us well enough for light in the small room. There were barrels and boxes stacked against the walls, and a fire pit with nothing inside but warm coals. A couple of kettles sat on the grate over the pit, and there was a large basin filled with water in which sat all the used coffee cups from dinner. Had she brought us here to do dishes while the other students learned important information?

Mr. Jenkins appeared after a moment, seeming very cheery as usual. "There you are," he said, and sat down cross-legged on the floor. As Miss Means followed his example, so did Zebediah and I. "We just wanted to fill you in," he told us, "since you kind of got here in the middle of things."

"Might I say one thing first?" Miss Means interjected, looking both apologetic and defiant, if that is possible. "The others think you're stuck up, keeping to yourselves like you've done. I just thought I'd let you know."

I think my jaw dropped open out of pure shock. How could she speak to us in such a way? "I... beg your pardon?" I asked, hoping I didn't sound too rude, though she would've deserved it.

"I'd like for you two to get along here all right," Miss Means went on as if she had done nothing more than remark upon the weather. "And if that's going to happen, we need to work together. All of us."

"What Ivy means to say," Mr. Jenkins interrupted, winking comically at Miss Means over the pun he thought he had been clever to make, "is that the other kids--er, young adults, or what-have-you--aren't too sure about you. But we would like for everyone to be friends, so... don't be shy, all right?" He flashed me a smile. I felt Zebediah tense next to me, and lean ever so slightly closer. "We don't bite."

"I... shall try. We shall," I said. I reached down to take Zebediah's hand. "It's just that... we have been so used to relying only on ourselves for weeks. Indeed, we had no other company but each other for almost a week straight. And we have... come to understand that we cannot trust everyone--or anyone--at first sight."

"Why do you say that?" asked Mr. Jenkins.

I hesitated, looking at Zebediah. He met my gaze and shook his head very slightly. "It is... a long story," I said, trusting him in that we should wait to tell our tale.

"It's going to be a long night," Miss Means countered, drawing her knees up to wrap her arms around them.

Again, I hesitated. Mr. Jenkins must have noticed, for he said, "Let's tell her our story first, Ivy. The whole story. So she knows she can trust us."

I know now that even if a person tells one "the whole story," that doesn't mean one can or should trust them. The whole thing could very well be a lie. But I was at least willing to listen.

"I don't know where your Gift came from," Mr. Jenkins began, "but ours, almost all of us in this place, got it from our parents. And they got it from a cave very like this one."

"In the war," I said, thrilled at the thought that I actually knew something he was talking about.

"That's right," Mr. Jenkins said, looking a little puzzled.

"Professor Eberhart told me. That's where I got it, too. My parents... must have been with your parents! In the cavern, trapped by the Loyalists!" I suddenly felt an odd sort of kinship with Mr. Jenkins and Miss Means and everyone else here with us. We were related, in a way, through a common past. I'd never felt like I was related to anyone but the people I made up in my head, relatives that never were and never would be.

"Right," said Mr. Jenkins, looking a little disappointed that he hadn't been able to tell me the whole tale in what, I am sure, would have been a very exciting and amusing way. He is a very charming young man (and if I guess right, I think that is probably why Zebediah does not like him), and I am sure he would have told it splendidly.

"How did you all come to be here?" I asked. "Well, the professor told me that. How you came to be here, in this cave. But how did all you who are Illuminated get to be in one place, at the academy?"

"Ahh, that's the interesting bit," said Mr. Jenkins, his previous smile lighting back up. "Because some of our parents had different names than when they were involved with the war, or some had a different name during the war, then went back to their real name afterwards." This was exactly what happened to me! But I said nothing, allowing him to continue. "Professor Eberhart managed to keep tabs on them all, though, through coded letters and wires, and secret gatherings--"

"Stop it," Miss Means sighed, rolling her eyes. "He is speculating about all of this. All we know is that Professor Eberhart helped to get us all here, one way or another."

"But that makes for a much more interesting story!" Mr. Jenkins protested. He sighed and turned his attention back to Zebediah and me. "Regardless, here we are. Some of us were at the academy on scholarship, having come from less than prosperous families. I think there might've been a fund set aside years ago to help with anything that might come up concerning the Illuminated families and their childr--"

"Speculation," sang out Miss Means, examining her nails.

"Anyway," Mr. Jenkins went on, "he gathered us all at the academy, a couple at a time so as not to raise suspicion. He is close with the headmaster, who, by the way, was totally ignorant of there being any Illuminated students at his school. Ivy and I have been here since we were twelve, which is when they start out at the academy. Some other students have just begun this term. So our levels of skill at Illumination are greatly varied."

"I only learned of my gift a few weeks ago," I said softly.

"But you are doing quite well already," said Miss Means, rather unexpectedly. She had been rather brusque with me up until that point, but her voice and expression were earnest. "I watched you today, and you have surpassed many of the students that have been practicing for years. How old are you?" she asked, squinting at me as if she could see inside me and calculate my age, like counting the rings on a tree stump.

"Eighteen," I answered.

She thought a minute more, and her lips moved as if she were speaking to herself. "Your parents were probably Illuminated right before your conception, so you got a full dose--Ow!"

Mr. Jenkins had elbowed her in the ribs. "I do not think that sort of talk is entirely appropriate," he muttered.

"I was only thinking aloud," she argued.

"Yes, that seems to be your problem."

Miss Means elbowed him back; he shoved her shoulder so she nearly fell over, but she reached up to pinch his ear between two fingers, then twisted. Mr. Jenkins' face contorted with pain. "Mercy, mercy," he whispered, holding his hands up in supplication. She gave one more tweak, then let him go.

I watched all this, aghast, having never seen or heard of a young man and a young woman acting thusly. My shock and wonder must have shown on my face, for Mr. Jenkins explained.

"Cousins," he told me. "Supposedly estranged. My father was furious when he found out we were going to the same school, but he was too stubborn to pull me out."

"I'm from the disgraced side of the family," Miss Means said cheerily. "My mother married a man who didn't lord his money over everyone else and think himself the better for it. He refused to buy her--and my siblings and I--the latest fashions, and take us to the fanciest parties. Terrible, terrible."

"Terrible," Mr. Jenkins agreed. "My mother was almost disgraced for taking up with those awful Libertists," he smirked, "but then her sweetheart was killed in one of the ambushes--this was right after they came down from the mountain, mind you, and awful bad luck--and she was hurriedly married to my father, too grief-stricken and prospect-less to argue. Seven months later, I was born." He winked at me, and I am sure I turned bright scarlet, though for the wink or the insinuation, I am not sure. How could these people speak so bluntly? I had never heard anything like it.

"You just chided me for talking of conception," Miss Means said, prodding him in the ribs once more.

"Well, it is different when I do it." Mr. Jenkins adjusted his shirt collar (which was still very nicely starched, if rather grungy from a week's wear in the mountains) and stood up. "I figure they're about done by now," he said, and sure enough, as soon as he was standing there came the sound of talking and stretching and walking about from the main room. "I'm good," he grinned, and reached down to help up Miss Means.

Zebediah stood and helped me up as I asked, "What now? More lessons?"

"Bed," Miss Means told me. "We've all worked hard today. You may not think you are tired now, but trust me. The moment your head touches your... er, coat, you'll be out like a light." As if to punctuate her words, she leaned over to blow out both candles, and the four of us made our way back into the main cavern mostly by feel and the splinter of light coming in through the narrow doorway.


Surrounded by People and Strangely Alone

The entryway to this cave is quite interesting. (I am starting at the beginning again! Hurrah!) By the light of only the moon and stars, Zebediah helped me over a particularly rough patch of large rocks last night, and suddenly we were there. Just to the right of a very large boulder were two spindly, bare trees, two flat rocks stacked between them, as Professor Eberhart had told us. The trees appeared to sit right against the face of the mountain, but if one looked closely one could discern a slender crevasse in the stone. Zebediah went first, holding my hand and sliding his body between the bare branches and the rock, taking slow, careful steps. I heard a sound like "Psst!" from within the cave's entrance, but simply hurried on my way, as Zebediah could not call out that we were friends and not foes.

"Hello?" I asked softly. Then again, a bit louder, "Hello? Professor Eberhart sent us. I am Bernice Sophronia Philomena Greenwater, and Zebediah Miller is with me."

I heard scuffing footsteps, then a lamp was held up practically in my face. I winced and squinted my eyes nearly shut, huddling close to Zebediah, who had put his arm around me. "What's the password?" a gruff female voice asked.

My heart thudded within my chest. Password? "He gave us none," I said, beginning to panic, wondering how we would ever get in if we did not know the password.

There was a pause. "Do you know who's in here?" the voice asked. Feet shuffled, and I began to make out a shape. The girl had her hair pulled back in a tight braid, and was rather short and stout.

"I... St-students," I stammered. "From the academy. Eastern Madison Academy. Um... the professor told me... to listen to what, um, Lucas Jenkins and... and Ivy Means said. Are they here? Might they allow us entry?"

Another pause. I heard whispering, and made out another shape, this one of a small, girlish figure and large, bright eyes. "Wait," the first voice told us, and the other girl scurried off down what seemed to be a tunnel.

Zebediah, I saw, had his hand in his pocket; no doubt his hand was closed around the handle of a knife or gun. I hated to think what could happen if we were attacked, or even if it seemed like we could be in danger, as I knew he would not hesitate to protect me. Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened.

A few minutes later, a young man appeared next to the first girl. He leaned forward, peering at Zebediah's face, then at mine. I recognized him as Lucas Jenkins, with whom the professor had left that night our lesson was interrupted. "We weren't expecting anyone," he muttered, but then his expression changed to one of surprise. "Oy, I know you! You're that girl the professor called his niece, the one he said I shouldn't menti--oh. Err, come on in, you two, sorry for the fuss. Can't be too careful. Thanks, Gertrude." They both turned and started down the passage. After a second, Zebediah started forward as well, taking me with him. It soon became too narrow for us to walk abreast with his arm around my shoulders, so he went first and held his hand out behind so I could hold onto it, both for comfort and balance, as the floor sloped down in the middle, like a channel had at one point been dug out of the rock.

A few moments later, we emerged into a cavern at least as large as the dining hall at the academy. I could only tell by... well, by feel, I suppose. A sixth sense, perhaps, of spatial awareness. Seeing it today, with a sliver of sunlight making it down the "corridor" to illuminate the cave, as well as the light of a couple of fires and a couple of lamps, I knew my estimation to be correct. "I'll bet you're tired," Mr. Jenkins said as he turned to face us. The girl he'd called Gertrude was already walking back toward the entrance with the slender girl, taking the lamp with her and leaving us in almost total darkness. "Whoops, sorry." Mr. Jenkins said, and a moment later there was a little blue flame hovering over his cupped palm, giving just enough light so we could all see each other's faces. "That's better."

"How do you..." I stopped myself before I could finish my question, however. He was Gifted, of course. Everyone in this cavern was, and so was I. "Can I do that?" I asked, wide-eyed.

"I dunno, can you?" he grinned. "Someday soon, I'm sure." His eyes flicked to Zebediah, then our clasped hands. "Your... brother?" he asked me.

"No," I replied simply, not wanting to explain everything at the moment. "He cannot speak, though we have a way of communicating. Please, Mr. Jenkins, I'm very sorry to cut off proper introductions, but we have been walking half the night, and we're very cold, so if--"

"Of course, of course," he said eagerly, nodding his head. "Sorry, I'm such a dolt. Girls this way, boys that way." He pointed to his right, then his left, with his free hand. I couldn't see anything but inky blackness, but I assumed he meant that each sex slept on their own side of the cavern. "Ladies first," said Mr. Jenkins, and walked us to his right.

There was a curtain of some thick material hung across a crude doorway at the end of another short corridor; it seemed boys and girls had their own rooms. "Be quick, this helps keep the body heat in," Mr. Jenkins whispered, referring to the curtain. Having no chance to bid Zebediah a private goodnight, I simply squeezed his hand, then slipped inside, letting the curtain fall back into place behind me.

I could see nothing, even after I stood there for a moment to let my eyes adjust. After talking myself into for a few minutes, I cupped my palm, then tried to call forth fire, as Mr. Jenkins had done. A flame flashed into being, but it was right atop my palm, and it burned my skin! My concentration broken, it disappeared as quickly as it had come, and I was left to clutch my injured hand to my chest and bite my tongue to keep from crying out.

The curtain was still just behind me; once I had recovered from the burn somewhat, I reached out to feel it, then stretched my hand out further to feel the rough stone wall. Inch by inch, I crept along the edge of the "room," sliding my feet lest I encounter any obstruction. Soon enough, I felt something soft with the toe of my boot; a sleeping girl, I supposed. How would I get around? Better to go across, I thought, than risk losing track of the wall. I steeled myself, then raised my right leg and stretched forward...

...only to plant my foot firmly on top of someone's arm. She gasped and raised her head, knocking into my leg, which caused me to lose my balance and fall on top of her. I was mortified! "Sorry, sorry," I whispered, trying to get to my feet.

A golden light appeared then, and I saw it was cupped in the girl's hand. "Be still," She said softly, studying my face. "You're new."

"Yes. I'm Bernice Greenwater. Um. Mr. Jenkins let us in?"

"Lucas." She rolled her eyes. "He didn't think to give you a light? Typical." She sighed and sat up, then extended her free hand to help me sit up as well. Somewhere behind me a girl stirred and murmured in her sleep, but otherwise all was quiet. "I'm Ivy," the girl with the light said, and extended her left hand, as the flame sat in the right.

Put off for a moment by facing the wrong hand, I held out my left and shook hers. "Miss Means?" I asked, for clarification.

"If you must," she said with a shrug. "I don't suppose you can do this?" she asked, gesturing to the flame in her hand.

"Sorry, no." I felt terribly inadequate. Likely all the students here were far more practiced with their Gift than I was, and I would be of no use at all to them.

"We'll soon fix that," Miss Means said cheerily. "Come on, let's find you a bed." I saw as she kicked off the blankets that she was lying on a thin pallet; I supposed it was better than the ground. She seemed to be fully-dressed, sans shoes, but there probably was not time to get a nightgown from her dormitory, fleeing in such haste as they had done. Miss Means picked up a tiny lamp from the other side of her bed and shook it, then handed it to me. The little spheres inside began to glow, and I stood up, then followed her down the wall to the end of it, where a pile of pallets similar to hers sat, as well as some blankets. "No pillows, sorry," she said as she dragged a mattress off the top of the stack.

"That's all right," I whispered back. "I'm used to using my coat." She gave me an odd look, but said nothing more until my makeshift bed was ready.

"Let me know if you need anything. The WC, such as it is, is back into the main cavern," she pointed toward the curtain, "and straight ahead from where the entrance is. It's got a curtain, too, but I'd, um... knock first, just in case."

I nodded, then sat down to begin unlacing my boots. "Will anyone mind if I keep this on for a while?" I asked, pointing at the lamp.

"Should be fine," she replied. "See you in the morning." She picked her way back between sleeping girls, then extinguished the flame in her hand. I wrote the previous entry here, then fell asleep myself.

This morning I awoke to the familiar but nearly-forgotten sound of many other girls waking up: stretching, yawning, unplaiting hair, searching for shoes and such. It brought a reminiscent smile to my lips for a moment as I thought about Saint Anne's, but then I recalled my actual situation, and sat up. I took my time putting on my boots and pinning my hair up (without a mirror, though I'd grown used to it during my stint in the forest) so I would be the last one to leave the room. Many of the girls watched me from the corner of their eyes, but said nothing. Miss Means seemed content to let me be, and they apparently took their cues from her.

When I emerged into the main cavern, students were splitting up into small groups of three or four. A couple were already practicing Illumination. One group worked together to stack a pile of sticks into a crude miniature house. Another had a box of dirt between them, and were taking turns shaping the earth into little animals or other figures.

"Miss Greenwater," said a voice at my side. I turned to see the brilliant blue eyes of Mr. Jenkins smiling at me. "You're with these three," he said, placing his fingertips very lightly on the small of my back to guide me toward a group at the edge of the cavern. "Since you seemed so fascinated with it last night." He winked at me, then hurried away, toward some other group which he began to help as they coiled and uncoiled a rope around a rather nervous-looking boy.

"Hello." The quiet greeting drew my attention back to my own group. The slender, large-eyed girl I had seen at the entrance last night was speaking to me.

"Hello. I... I'm not quite sure what I am supposed to do." I scanned the room for Zebediah, wondering what he was doing, but did not see him.

"Lessons," she said. "I'm Tulia Laurel."

"Bernice Greenwater," I replied, still somewhat distracted.

"I know. I met you last night. Sort of."

"Oh, yes. Right."

"Miss Greenwater." A tall, sturdy-looking boy with violently red hair called my name and, unsurprisingly, got my attention. "If you please." He cupped his hand, and in it appeared a little flame. It was harder to see with all the other light in the cavern, but it was there, hovering an inch over his palm. "Miss Laurel," he prompted.

She held out her hand and concentrated. A weak light flickered in her palm, then disappeared. This happened twice more before she sighed and dropped her arm to her side. "You'll get it," the boy said, then nodded to the other young man in our group, one with very short black hair and square spectacles.

We went around the circle practicing for a little over an hour. Though at the end of that time, I still could produce nothing more than a faint yellow-orange flicker of flame (and even that was warm enough and close enough to my skin to nearly burn me again), I did learn the names of my group-mates. The redhead is James Mason, the other boy is Edwin Standish.

At breakfast, which consisted of a mug of black coffee (the taste of which I dislike, but the warmth I welcomed) and a hard roll with a single slice of apple, I saw Zebediah. He told me, after drawing me to the edge of the room where we would be somewhat less easily observed, that he had spent the day so far carrying water from the spring at the back of the maze of caverns. Apparently a "kitchen" sits further back from the main cave, and beyond that, through a twisting tunnel, is a dark cave from which water springs up and drains away in another direction. It used to drain out the entrance we came in, but had been stopped up and made to go another way in order to clear this space for use.

We drew many strange looks because of the way we communicated, but no one approached us. I think they did not trust us, as newcomers, but had to endure us because of what Mr. Jenkins and Miss Means said.

The rest of the morning was spent in more lessons, each group rotating through the stations set up throughout the cavern. In addition to Mr. Jenkins and Miss Means, a couple of the older students circled the room, helping groups or individuals now and then and overseeing the whole thing. I was quite successful with the rope (though it horrified me, to a degree, to be wrapping it around little Miss Laurel), though I did less well working with the others to build the stick house. Both Mr. Mason and Miss Means told me I was trying to do too much of the work myself, but I could not stop wanting to do it all. That is how I was accustomed to doing things with my Gift! I did not see why we had to work as a team for this exercise, but did not ask questions.

Lunch was slightly more substantial than breakfast in that a bit of cheese and a hunk of tough, dried meat (leather, more like) was added to the roll, sliver of apple, and cup of coffee. And then more lessons.

We are on a break now. I am sitting with Zebediah in the part of the cavern that is most like an actual corner. He is watching me write while keeping an eye on the games, conversation, and laughter going on in the rest of the cavern. I know I should not keep to myself so much, but I am frightened, Dear Reader. This seems so odd to me, students governed by other students, and none of us doing real lessons but practicing Illumination instead. I feel that something terrible could happen at any moment, whether someone blows us up from overexertion of their Gift, someone finds us all here in this cave, or Mr. Jenkins and Miss Means think the better of it, decide we are useless, and kick us out into the snow and cold.

Zebediah has put his arm around me and I feel better. Yes, I know that you are reading this, you sneak. (He is laughing now, in his quiet way.) I suppose it will be supper time soon, and then perhaps more lessons. Hopefully someone can explain to Zebediah and me what we are all doing here, and how there came to be so many Gifted young people all in one place, but I am too nervous to approach anyone. And there is the bell which Miss Means uses to demarcate the various portions of the day. Goodbye until later, Dear Reader.
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