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Welcome to R. E. Washington’s Books. This site is dedicated to posting my serial novel – Illusion/Core. And hopefully many more in the future.

Illusion/Core
Updates Tues and Thurs

Years ago magic entered our modern world and changed everything. Twenty years later, the world has Access Facilities to help budding magic users and the MDE to help manage, police, and control magic. Raven Delias is a normal teenage girl who is getting her Core magic awakened like everyone her age. She just wants to get into a good school and maybe find love in the process. 

But normal died years ago and everything changes for Raven when chaos erupts throughout the facility. A society already on edge doesn’t want or need something like her. Raven must figure out if she is human or monster. But Raven isn’t the only danger. Something is growing stronger and wants to see the world fall. 

Read from the beginning.

7. Thinking Out Loud – 3

Raven walked slightly behind the guard to the side, so he could see her. The guard’s face looked grim and Raven wondered what she had done or if this had to do with her Awakening. She tugged at the edge of her yellow shirt. 

“Where are we going?” Raven managed to ask. 

“Principal Kase,” the guard said in a clipped tone. 

“Oh,” Raven said. She wanted to ask more, but the guard didn’t seem like he wanted to talk. She kept quiet as the guard led her back to Principal Kase’s office. After her first visit, she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there again. 

The halls she was led down were different from what Raven remembered. She frowned in confusion. They stopped outside a door where the guard knocked once and then stepped inside. Inside, Principal Kase sat at her desk, filling out paperwork. She looked up at the guard and nodded once, before focusing back on her work. The guard left, leaving Raven standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. 

Surprisingly, the office they arrived at was different from the one she had first met Principal Kase. This one was just as large but had a more personal touch. Old records decorated the room and pictures of jazz musicians hung on the wall. There were no pictures of family or friends, just a collection of different musical items. In one corner of the room, a record player spun and a soothing jazz song played. 

“Are you settling in well?” Principal Kase asked. 

Raven was startled by the question. She had gotten the distinct impression from the principal earlier that she didn’t care what Raven thought. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

“Good,” the woman said, writing something on a paper, before sliding it away and finally looking at Raven. 

Principal Kase’s nose scrunched up as if she was looking at something distasteful. She sighed and steepled her fingers together. “Ms. Delias, have you read the pamphlet you were provided?” 

Raven panicked. She wondered if she had managed to break a rule she wasn’t aware of. “N-no, I haven’t, Principal Kase.” 

“I see,” the woman said, her eyes narrowing. Then she leaned back in her chair, folding her arms as she eyed Raven. “I suggest you do, but for now I will make it very clear about one rule that you would do well to remember.” 

Raven nodded. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

“Here at East Cronos Institute, we take great pride in our relationship with the Magic Defense Enforcement. They make sure our school provides a second chance for students with potential that have gone on the wrong path in their lives.” Principal Kase tugged lightly at the cuffs of her blouse, smoothing out the wrinkles. 

Raven watched, not sure what the principal was getting at with her speech. She made sure to keep her expression a careful blank. 

“As such we are afforded a certain amount of leeway in our actions to help provide a better foundation for our misguided youth. Sometimes are methods may appear harsh, but they are necessary. Do you understand?” 

Raven didn’t, but she nodded anyway. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

“Good. During the reeducation we put a level of trust in our students we expect them to honor. Part of that trust is to maintain the privacy of our students and faculty so they may flourish without the negative attention of the public eye.” Principal Kase’s hard purple eyes met Raven’s own. 

Raven waited for her to continue, but it was clear the woman was expecting something else. Raven went over the principal’s words again. Principal Kase wanted Raven to keep quiet about the other students, which Raven could understand. From what everyone has said about sponsors, the students were an investment. Gossiping about someone’s criminal record would be frowned on. 

“I understand, Principal Kase.” 

The principal gave her a searching look, before sighing. She stood up. “Good. We want to continue to make East Cronos Institute a safe place for you and the people around you.” 

There was something about the way Principal Kase said that, which didn’t sit well with Raven. It felt almost threatening. Raven frowned, trying to figure out what she was missing about this conversation. 

“Follow me. Your parents received special permission to see you outside of our normal hours. They have brought you some things from home.” She walked towards the door. 

Raven blinked. Her parents were here? Then it finally dawned on her what was happening. Principal Kase was warning her. If she told her parents about the questionable things they did at ECI, she and her parents could be in trouble. She sucked in a startled breath. 

Principal Kase’s cold eyes turned to her and then she smiled. “Don’t dawdle.” 

Raven hurried and followed after the woman, her mind reeling. She had never been threatened before, but she was pretty sure that’s what Principal Kase was doing. She felt a mixture of anger, dread, and helplessness. She was scared of saying something wrong by mistake. Raven forced herself to stay calm. Before she knew it, they stopped in front of a door to the office Raven now recognized as the one she had originally met Principal Kase in. The woman must use it as a lounge. Before they went inside, Principal Kase turned to her. Reaching out she gripped Raven’s shoulder, her nails digging in. 

Raven winced. 

“Remember what I said,” the principal said. 

Raven nodded. 

This time Principal Kase didn’t correct her for not saying the whole, ‘Yes, Principal Kase.’ The woman gave Raven’s shoulder one more painful squeeze before dropping her hand and opening the door. 

Raven stepped inside and was immediately washed over with warmth at the sight of her family. The anxiety was still there, but seeing their concerned faces pushed the other emotions away. Even though she had seen them this morning it felt more like days had gone by. 

Her mother immediately strode to her side, her heels clicking against the floor in determination. Her blue eyes searched over Raven for anything out of place, then she was tugging Raven in, holding her tight. The soft scent of her mother’s jasmine perfume wafted into Raven’s nose. It reminded her of home and comfort. 

Behind her, she heard the soft sound of a door shutting. When she looked back, she noticed Principal Kase had left them alone. 

Her mother pulled away from Raven, her expression hard, but her eyes filled with worry. “Are you okay? Nothing bad has happened to you?” 

Raven shook her head. “No, I’m fine. I think I even made some friends.” 

Instead of easing her mother’s worry, that seem to make it worse. Her mother glanced at her father. 

Her father let out a sigh, and then put down a box had been carrying. He walked over to Raven and scooped her up in his arms like she was a toddler instead of a teenager. 

“Hey!” Raven said with a laugh. 

Her father spun her around like he used to do when she was a kid. She was a little surprised her father still could. He was a thin man, not bulky with muscles, but his frame hid wiry muscles. 

Raven gently hit her dad’s chest and pouted. “Put me down. I’m not a kid.” 

Her father finally put her back down and ruffled her hair. “I don’t know. You still look like a kid to me.” 

She rolled her eyes. “I’m not.” 

Her father rubbed his chin. His fingers ran over his trimmed goatee. “I suppose you’ve gotten a little older, but you’re still my baby girl.” 

Raven shook her head. “You’re hopeless.” 

“Now you sound like your mother,” her dad said. 

Her mother elbowed her father. “I hope you mean she sounds as intelligent and confident as her mother. ” 

“Exactly that,” her father said, holding his hands out in surrender. 

“You always were a smart man,” her mother said and then turned to Raven, taking her hands and pulling her closer. “Honey, come and talk with me for a moment.” 

“Delores,” her father said. 

“It’s fine, Frank,” her mother said. 

Raven looked between her parents but followed her mother to a cushioned bench. The two sat down, while her mother rubbed Raven’s hand nervously. 

“Honey, you need to be careful,” her mother said. 

Raven nodded slowly, a little confused about what was going on. A chair scraped the floor as her father joined them. Her parents shared another worried look. 

“We’ve been working with people at the MDE and the Access Facility to get you released from here.” 

“That’s great!” Raven said. A rush of hope went through her for the first time since she awakened. 

Her father patted her shoulder. “It’s an uphill battle, but we’re determined to win it.” 

Her mother nodded in agreement. “But we need you to be careful while you’re in here and that includes who you become friends with.”

Raven frowned. “What?” 

“They’re criminals and you’re not,” her father said, straightforward. 

“The ones I’ve met are good people,” Raven argued back, thinking about Ethan and Lisa. 

“We’re not saying they’re not,” her mother said, squeezing Raven’s hand. “We just don’t want things going badly for you because of a mistake. You understand, right?” 

She understood her parents had a point. Though she didn’t think Ethan or Lisa were bad people she didn’t know much about them. Still, she didn’t want to avoid them because of their past. 

“I’ll be careful,” Raven agreed, though she silently made a promise not to judge them. She knew a lot of the students had sponsors, so they were trying to move forward in their lives.   

“That’s all we’re asking,” her mother said. 

Her father nodded. “Sometimes a person might seem like a friend when they’re actually trying to use you,” he said bitterly. 

Raven blinked at her father in surprise. His response was too raw to not be personal. She wanted to ask what happened, but from his expression, she knew this was a conversation that would have to wait. 

For the next 20 minutes, Raven talked with her family about what was happening around them. They steered the conversation away from Raven’s Awakening and instead focused on things at home and the stuff they brought her. Once it had been around forty minutes, a guard came in to escort Raven away. 

She hugged her parents tightly and, with one last wave, headed back to her room. Since she didn’t have a perk to wander around after hours, the guard took her all the way to the dorm entrance and escorted her inside. Back in the dorm halls, Raven let out a deep sigh. The dorms were mostly empty, with a few girls rushing around to do last minute stuff before curfew. The tears Raven had barely held back stung her eyes. Seeing her parents felt like home and that made her even more aware of her situation. 

I could go home now. 

The thought of what Tick Tock had said earlier rushed to her mind. She shook it away. All that would lead to was the MDE coming after her and her family. No, right now, she would be patient and wait. And in the end, if she had to, she would call Tick Tock and see if what he said was the truth.

Determination filled Raven. For now, she would keep her head down and move forward. Just three more months and she would be free. The decision filled her with relief, and for the first time since everything fell into chaos, Raven felt hope. It was a start.

Previous | Next

7. Thinking Out Loud – 2

“How are you doing?” Lisa asked awkwardly.

Raven looked at the older girl and then sighed. “Not feeling completely hopeless.”

The girl slapped her on the back. “There you go. I know this place seems like a prison, but it’s not as bad as you think.” 

Raven gave her a doubtful look. 

“Hey, I’m not just spewing bullshit. I’m talking from experience,” Lisa said as she glided down the hall like a queen, greeting all the girls as she went. 

Raven still couldn’t wrap her mind around the almost elegant and ethereal look of Lisa, compared to the harsh way she talked. It was like two different people inhabiting the same body. Raven snorted to herself at that thought. After all, she was the crazy person in this situation. 

She still wasn’t sure what to make of Tick Tock. He talked about the impossible, accessing her powers even with a suppressor on, but was he telling the truth or was she falling into a delusion? But something about the whole conversation felt real. It didn’t feel like it had in the Awakening dreamscape. And didn’t Tick Tock say that this was the beginning? Maybe this was a way of her power manifesting itself to teach her. She sighed. Now, even to her, this was sounding crazy. She would have to wait and see. 

“Hey! You all right back there?” Lisa asked, turning around to look at Raven. She had stopped at a set of double doors. 

Raven nodded and hurried to catch up with her roommate.

Lisa looked her over, her gaze scrutinizing, and then pushed the doors open. Immediately the loud murmur of lots of people talking filled the air. Raven stepped inside the cafeteria and looked around in surprise. Everyone was intermingling, talking and laughing as they ate. It wasn’t just the girls, but the boys were there too.

Lisa must have seen her surprise because she reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “See, not all bad. Mealtimes are pretty much the only time we get to hang with the guys. Don’t take it for granted though.” 

Raven looked at Lisa questioningly, but the girl was already moving onto something else. She pointed to a line where several students were getting their food. Surprisingly, the area was sleek and the servers seemed almost professional. 

“I’ll be going over there,” she said and then she pointed to another line. This one had more students cluster together and the food stations looked a bit more run down. The servers looked bored and overworked. “You’ll be over there.” 

“What?” Raven asked. 

“Sponsor,” Lisa said, smiling and waved. Raven sighed and then got in line. 

The wait took forever and the food was dried up corn with a piece of chicken that looked like it had been microwaved to hell and back. She twisted up her face at the food. The only thing that looked halfway decent was the carton of chocolate milk she managed to grab. She looked around the cafeteria, noticing everyone clustered together in their own groups. She felt a mixture of anxiety and relief. Lisa might have thought she was excited to see the boys mixed with the girls, but it wasn’t that. It was just nice to see that at least the cafeteria was like any other school cafeteria. Of course, it didn’t make finding a way to fit in any easier. 

She twisted her head, trying to see where Lisa might be sitting when familiar teal hair caught her attention. Ethan noticed her at the same time and waved his hand, beckoning to her. Raven walked over to where Ethan sat with two other students. 

“Raven! I see you managed to make it this far. Please, join me,” he said, patting the space next to him. 

“Thank you,” Raven said, sliding onto the bench. 

He pointed to the two students sitting across from him. “Ricky and Jessica.” 

Raven waved at the two. The pair ignored her. 

“Okay then,” Raven said. 

Ethan waved his hand, dismissively. “Ignore them. They’re stuck up.” 

Raven glanced at the pair to see what they thought of what Ethan said, but they kept talking among each other like she wasn’t there. Raven shifted in her seat awkwardly. 

“So tell me. Is it true that Lisa sent Patrice flying?” Ethan said, excitedly. 

“Patrice?” She looked at him confused when it dawned on her he must have meant the girl Raven had seen get knocked into the wall. “Oh! Wait, is she okay?” 

Ethan practically chortled. “So she did it. That girl has been asking for an ass whooping for weeks.” He seemed way too excited. 

Raven’s stare must have suggested that, but Ethan stabbed his fork into a piece of beef tenderloin. “Don’t look at me like that. She’s fine. Nothing Old BB couldn’t handle. Of course, she must have been in so much pain.” Ethan cackled.

“Right,” Raven said. 

Ethan slid a piece of beef into his mouth. It looked delicious. Raven looked down at her dried corn, reluctantly choking a bite down. 

“Ah, sometimes I wish I awakened with super strength. That would have been awesome,” Ethan said wistfully.

Raven looked at him curiously. She wanted to ask what his Core magic was, but at the same time, that would invite him to ask her. She really didn’t want to talk about her Core magic. 

Ethan must have caught her curious look because he flashed her a knowing smile. “You want to see?” 

He didn’t wait for her to answer. Instead, he grabbed his cup of soda and held it up. Then he let the cup go. Instead of crashing down, the cup stuck to his palm. Then he shoved his plate off his tray and slapped his hand against the tray. He lifted his palm and the tray stuck to his hand. Across from them, Jessica rolled her eyes. 

“So you can make things stick to you?” Raven asked, hesitantly. 

“Yes, but that’s not even the best part,” Ethan said excitedly and let the tray fall to the table with a clatter. He plucked the cup off his hand, setting it down. Then he grabbed Raven and tugged her out of her seat. 

He led her to the nearest wall and gave her a wink. “Watch this.” Ethan pressed his hands against the wall and then very carefully began to climb up the wall. Raven’s eyes widened as she watched him go up higher and higher. 

“So I see you’re with our little lizard,” Lisa said, making her way towards Raven. 

“I prefer chameleon,” Ethan called down and as if to demonstrate, Ethan’s entire body, including his clothes, shifted to look like part of the wall. 

Raven’s eyes widened. “That’s amazing.” 

“At least someone appreciates my awesomeness.” The camouflage flickered and faded out. “I’m still working on that.” 

Raven and Lisa giggled. 

Ethan climbed down, hopping in front of them. “Tada!” 

Raven clapped her hands. “So, is the camouflage your Illusion magic?” 

Ethan nodded. “I’m getting better at it. If I concentrate I can hold it for three minutes, but it still flickers out from time to time.” 

Raven shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re allowed to use both Core and Illusion magic.”

Ethan raised an eyebrow and looked at Lisa. “Hey, you didn’t share?” 

“I was busy, okay?” Lisa said. “Principal Kase wanted to know what happened with Patrice. She was this close to giving me a penalty.” 

Raven looked between the two, confused. “Share?” 

Lisa grinned and then held out her arm. Before Raven’s eyes, her arm turned into stone. It covered part of her body, before fading away. “I call it stone skin. Still working on it. I started training on it last week.” 

Raven was a little stunned. Being able to use Illusion magic wasn’t a small thing since it required a permit, but both of them were using it, even training in it. “Are all students that get sponsored allowed to use Illusion magic?” 

Ethan shook his head. “No. Only a few of us got picked to use the Advanced stabilizers.” 

“Yeah, I practically had to beg my sponsor to put me on the list,” Lisa said. “I think they were scared I would break it.” 

Ethan leaned into Raven. “Lisa sometimes has trouble controlling her strength.” 

“Telling my secrets, Ethan?” Lisa said, laughing. 

Ethan laughed. “It’s not a secret.”

Lisa laughed harder and slapped her hand on Ethan’s back. Ethan was sent flying to the ground with a crash. 

Raven jumped back. 

Ethan grumbled and pushed himself up. “What the hell, Lisa?” 

Lisa shrugged and gave Ethan a feral grin. “Sorry, I just can’t seem to control my own strength.” 

Raven covered her mouth, trying to hide back laughter. 

Ethan gave Lisa another glare and Lisa batted her eyelashes at him. Ethan turned away, focusing his attention on Raven. “So, what’s your Core magic? I know you can’t show us, but the deets will work.” 

It was the question Raven had been dreading. She stiffened, but surprisingly, so did Lisa. Ethan looked between the two, before holding his hands up defensively. 

“Whoa, got it. Taboo topic. Is it safe to ask what your Illusion magic is or is that off-limits too?” 

“No tact,” Lisa muttered. 

“Says the queen of putting holes in things that disagree with her.” 

“Water manipulation,” Raven said, breaking up the argument. “I can make water move and shape it into objects.”

“Sweet,” Ethan said, eyeing her Embud. “And you’re an Orange too. Maybe you can…” Ethan trailed off as his gaze landed on a guard making his way towards them. 

Immediately, the playful atmosphere vanished. They all stood at attention like soldiers. The guard stopped in front of them and pointed at Raven. “Raven Delias, come with me.” 

Swallowing, Raven nodded and followed the guard, glancing back at Lisa and Ethan. They both looked at her worriedly. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Raven followed the guard, wondering what new hurdle ECI had to offer her.

Previous | Next

7. Thinking Out Loud – 1

Raven shook Lisa’s hand and winced when Lisa’s grip almost crushed her own. She quickly snatched her hand back. Lisa’s eyes widened and then she flashed Raven an apologetic smile. 

“Sorry about that. It takes me a while to calm down once I’m hyped up.” She nodded to the side. “Come on. I’ll show you to our room.” 

Raven followed her and as she did, she took a glance at Lisa’s Embud. She was green in Illusion and orange in Core. That explained why everyone obeyed her. Orange was pretty high up there. Most adults stopped at orange and since Lisa was probably around 15 or 16 and already orange, she was likely to hit red if she didn’t run into a wall. 

They stopped in front of one of the brown doors lining the hallway. Lisa pushed it open and they stepped inside. Raven wasn’t sure what she expected, but the room surprised her. One half of the room was bare. It had a twin sized bed, a small desk, and one dresser. The other half was an explosion of pink – pink pillows, pink stuffed animals, pink satin sheets. It was everywhere. On the walls on Lisa’s side of the room were posters of boy bands and a picture of a unicorn sipping water from a lake with a castle in the distance.

“Wow,” Raven said, stepping into the room. 

Lisa grinned as she joined her. “Lots of pink, right?” 

“Yeah,” Raven said as she walked over to the empty side of the room. Curiously, she noticed that though no one else was in the room there was a very clear divide between Raven’s half and Lisa’s half. It was like there was a hidden line separating the two sides.

Lisa walked over to her pink bed filled with pink stuffed animals and flopped down with a wide grin. She didn’t seem self-conscious about being sixteen and cuddled up with two stuff bears, a wolf, and a very well-loved giraffe. “I just really like pink. The other girls can’t stand it. All my past roommates said it made their eyes bleed.” 

“Past roommates? Should I be worried?” Raven asked, sitting down on her own very plain bed. 

Lisa grinned even wider. “That depends on you.” 

Raven gave her a worried look. 

Lisa’s laughter rung throughout the room like melodic chimes. “Don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to ask you to do anything crazy. Follow the rules. No smoking or drugs. Curfews at nine. No magic unless it’s during rush.”

“Rush?” Raven asked. 

“The teachers call it centering time, but we call it rush. It’s the one time a day we get to use our magic. Fifteen minutes, more if you get an assignment or have perks. Best fifteen minutes of your whole day.” 

Raven blinked, her brow furrowing. “Only fifteen minutes?”

Lisa gave her a pitying look. “Yeah. It’s the minimum MDE decided we needed so we don’t go bonkers.” 

Raven balled up her fist at her side, her nails digging into her palm. The thought of that settled in her mind like a stone dropped into a lake. The ripples of it washed over her. Vaguely, she saw Lisa give her a worried look. The pink-hair girl walked over to her, cautiously patting her on the shoulder. 

“Hey. I know this all seems bad right now, but as long as you don’t do anything stupid things will get better.” 

“You mean as long as I get a sponsor?’ Raven asked, her eyes focusing on the other girl. 

“Oh! You know about that already?” Lisa smiled. “Yeah. That’s the key to freedom in here.” She held out her hand to show off a stabilizer like the one Ethan wore. “Most of the people worth knowing have a sponsor and the ones that don’t I suggest keeping away from. They tend to be high crime or on their way to it. You know, unless they’re new like you.” 

Lisa hesitated as if she was trying to decide whether to say something else. 

Raven waited. 

Lisa shook her head and patted Raven’s back. “You don’t seem like the type to go looking for trouble, so keep following the rules and do your assignments and I’m sure you’ll get a sponsor. It’s the wait that’s the kicker.” 

Raven nodded, looking down at her lap. Her lips creased in a tight line as she tried to shove down her emotions. 

Lisa patted her back. “Why don’t I give you a chance to get settled in? There are blankets and sheets in the closet.” 

“Thanks,” Raven said, not looking up. 

Lisa sighed and then there was the sound of footsteps as she left the room. 

When Raven heard the door shut, she took a deep breath and walked over to the closet. She looked at the blankets and sheets on the shelf. Reaching out, she gripped one of the dark green blankets. Before she knew it she was yanking them down and throwing them against the wall. Anger filled her body. Everything that happened to her came crashing down. She went into the closet and pounded and kicked the wall. 

“This isn’t my fault!” Her eyes squeezed shut as all the anger drained out of her and she sagged to the ground. Tears of frustration leaked from her eyes. “I don’t deserve this.” 

She covered her face, dragging in gasping breaths as her emotions flooded her. She was supposed to go to her Core awakening and wake up with amazing powers, get into West Merrick, and become something. How did everything go wrong? She didn’t mean to hurt those people. The Access Facility was supposed to make sure she didn’t hurt anyone. 

“This isn’t fair,” she mumbled. She hated how whiny she sounded, but she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t fair. 

“Life isn’t fair,” a voice interrupted. 

Raven’s head jerked up and her eyes widened. 

Lounging on the top of her desk like he belonged there was Tick Tock. 

The demon rolled on his back. “It isn’t fair that they locked you away for an accident.” He sat up. “It isn’t fair that all those helpless people are now in comas because of that accident.”

Raven glared at the demon. 

The demon didn’t seem to care even a little bit about her growing anger. Instead, he stood up and stretched. “But more importantly, it isn’t fair that I have to listen to all this drivel.” 

“You’re not real,” Raven gritted out. 

“Ah, then I suspect you shouldn’t be talking to me out loud. What will the neighbors think?” Tick Tock said with a mock gasp. 

Raven clamped her mouth shut. She looked around. There were no obvious signs that anyone would be watching her or listening in. At the same time, she wasn’t sure how exactly things worked at ECI. Was staff even allowed to put cameras in their rooms? Whether they were or not, Principal Kase had already made it clear that ECI played by its own rules. 

[How are you here? Am I going crazy?] Raven tried thinking at the demon. She figured that if he was part of her mind then he would be privy to her thoughts.

“Are you going crazy or have you been crazy all along? Food for thought,” Tick Tock said and then vanished. 

That confirmed it. She had to be going crazy. That’s the only thing that made sense. Was it her Core Awakening? Was the days under a suppressor combined with Principal Kase’s show of power in her office what finally sent Raven over the edge? 

A hand touched her shoulder and she jerked. 

Tick Tock laughed. “Stop worrying about what is or isn’t sane. Just think of me as the devil on your shoulder.” 

[Then where is the angel?”] Raven thought back. She shook Tick Tock’s hand off her shoulder. 

The demon spun away from her, his hands spread out as if he was reaching to the heavens. “Sorry, but it looks like you’re all out of angels. Maybe you’re just not worth their time.” 

Raven rubbed her forehead. She wasn’t sure what people did when they were insane. Should she tell someone? She was sure if she did she would be escorted to the nearest asylum or worst. She looked down at her Embud. It was still green on the Core side and orange on the Illusion side. So she wasn’t a Blue and hadn’t gone insane with power. So was this a side effect? 

Maybe if she ignored him he would go away. 

Settling on that idea, Raven stood up and grabbed the blankets and sheets from off the floor. She walked around Tick Tock and began making her bed. 

Tick Tock watched her curiously and then vanished, before reappearing on top of her pillow. Raven gritted her teeth and continue making her bed, trying to work around the demon.

“What I can’t quite figure out is why you don’t just leave?” Tick Tock said. 

Raven managed to make up half the bed, but with the demon in the way, she couldn’t go much further. [Can you please get your butt off my pillow?]

Tick Tock crossed his legs and began to float, moving to the side. Raven continued making the bed and then eyed the pillow.

“With your power, no one can stand in your way,” Tick Tock said excitedly.

[I don’t want to hurt anyone,] Raven thought back at the demon, and then scolded herself. She wasn’t doing a good job of ignoring him. 

“Booooo. The pacifist route is so boring.” Tick Tock sighed heavily. “Fine, fine, then use that shadow thing you do.”

Raven froze. She hadn’t thought about the new illusion abilities that had appeared back at the Access Facility. She had been so focused on her Core Awakening that she simply hadn’t thought of them. She swallowed at the knowledge that freedom could be so close. She shook her head, letting the though wash away from her mind. 

[You’re forgetting one thing,] she thought to the demon. [I can’t use magic. I have a suppressor.] She pulled the pillowcase off the pillow, tossing it to the floor. No sleeping on demon butt imprints for her.

The demon glided in front of her. His eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There’s a way if you want it.” 

Raven looked at the demon, stunned. There was a way for her to access her magic even with the suppressor. [How?]

Tick Tock leaned closer. His golden eyes glowed and his toothy smile stretched wide. “Do you really want to know?”

The words were eerily familiar to the ones he asked her in the dreamscape. It made her hesitate. If she could release herself from the suppressor then what? Did she walk out of here? She couldn’t control the shadow magic she used before and her Core magic wasn’t an option. Even if she did walk out where would she go? They would hunt her for escaping.

The demon laughed. “It looks like we have a guest. Think about it.” He waved his fingers. “Call me when you’re ready.” Then he was gone. 

“Hey, Raven. Time for dinner,” Lisa said as she walked into the room.

Raven turned, startled. She nodded. “Yeah.” She glanced back to where Tick Tock had been and then followed Lisa out of the room.

Previous | Next

6. East Cronos Institute – 2

Raven took the boy’s hand as he helped her up. “Thanks. Does she do that to everyone or am I getting the star treatment?” Raven said bitterly.

The boy laughed. “Sorry, Ms. Raven Delias, but you’re like the rest of us peons. We all get to suffer it. It’s a warning.”

“Yeah, I gathered that,” Raven said with a sigh. 

“Enough with the doom and gloom. Not everything here is that bad,” the boy said. 

Raven quirked her eyebrow. 

“Completely the truth…okay maybe half-truth, but I’ll give you the low down on how it works,” he said. He walked over to a desk and grabbed a pamphlet out of a drawer. He walked back and handed it to her. 

Raven looked down at it and her mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Welcome to East Cronos Institute. Where we shape you into a better you. Sounds a bit ominous.” 

“Oh it is, but it gives you a rundown of the ‘Dos and Do Nots.’ I suggest reading through it if you don’t want the principal to get on your Kase.”

Raven groan. “Really? You went there?” 

“My puns are divine,” he said. “By the way, I’m Ethan, though feel free to call me Mr. Wilkens instead.”

“I’ll go with Ethan. You can call me Raven.” 

He nodded and then with a flourishing bow. “Right this way, Raven. I will guide you through the mysterious hallways of ECI.”

Raven couldn’t help smiling and she felt a little relieved. Ethan seemed almost normal. Maybe the rumors about ECI wasn’t as bad as she thought. 

“So low or high crime?” Ethan asked as he led her down the hall.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You did something to get in here, right? So low crime or high crime? Low being theft, drug running, and destruction of property. High crime being murder, rape, that sort of thing.” 

Raven gaped at him. Okay, so maybe the rumors were true after all. Raven closed her mouth and shook her head. She didn’t know if she had technically committed a crime. If she did, what did putting nine innocent people in comas rank? She really didn’t want to know. 

At her silence, Ethan shrugged. “Ah, the shy type. Well, I’m low crime myself. Sticky fingers, literally,” he said with a laugh as he wiggled his fingers. 

Raven was somewhat relieved she hadn’t been left with a murderer. Still, she wasn’t exactly sure what to say to that, so she continued following Ethan. They reached a hall where crystals the size of beach balls floated. One of the crystals glided towards them. Raven stiffened in alarm. A blue light slid over them, scanning them and the crystal flashed green. 

A feminine voice came from the crystal. “Hall access granted for Ethan Wilkens and Raven Delias. Please continue your tour.”

Raven blinked. “What was that?”

“A detection crystal. It’s a new prototype. Get used to seeing stuff like that. ECI is the guinea pig for a lot of magic tech testing. Of course, we don’t ever get to keep the good stuff, only the annoying things. ” 

Raven nodded, watching as another crystal moved down a different hallway. They continued walking down the hall, where several classrooms were. Most of the classes were empty though a few had students. Since it was the weekend, Raven figured it was some sort of club activity or tutoring. 

“Classes start at 8am sharp,” Ethan said, bring Raven’s attention back to him. “If you’re late then you get a penalty. Too many penalties lead to a shutdown.” 

“Shutdown?” Raven asked. 

“The entire magic suppression thing you got a taste of.” 

Raven shuddered. Another question went through her mind. “What are the other penalties?”

“They change,” Ethan said. “Mostly it depends on what new toys have been sent for Principal Kase to try out. When I said we’re the guinea pigs, we really are the guinea pigs. Believe me, you don’t want a penalty if you can help it.” 

“It sounds like torture,” Raven mumbled. 

“Bingo,” Ethan said, turning around and facing her, walking backward as he did. 

“How is that even allowed? And the shutdown I’m sure is illegal.” Raven shook her head.

Ethan tucked his hands behind his head. “Yeah, a lot of things here are toeing the line or outright crossing it, but good luck trying to do anything about it. ECI is under MDE and most people are going to believe them over a bunch of kids with records.”

Ethan stopped walking and met Raven’s eyes. “One thing you better learn now is that life isn’t fair. Accept it. You’re better off focusing on getting a sponsor.”

Raven frowned, her brow furrowing at what Ethan said. She chewed on her lip as question after question went through her mind. Ethan turned away and started walking when he abruptly jerked to a stop. Raven almost ran into him, barely catching herself in time. 

“What you doing out here?” a boy ask. The boy was big. He was corded with thick muscles. He was at least 6ft if not bigger. His face looked like it was carved out of granite and his eyes were a cold gray that held a sharp intelligence. His hair was an inky purple that was almost black and trimmed in a neat stylish cut. Though he was handsome, there was something off-putting about him. Raven found herself taking a step back. 

Ethan stood stone still. The smaller boy seemed to shrivel underneath the bigger boy’s gaze.

“New student. Principal Kase wanted me to give her a tour,” Ethan said stiffly. 

“Hmmm,” the boy said and looked over at Raven. He pushed pass Ethan and strode forward until he was standing in front of Raven. 

Raven swallowed. Part of her wanted to duck her head, but she stayed straight. She knew that showing weakness in front of someone like him was asking for the sort of special attention she could do without. 

The boy studied her and then held out his hand. “Pete Burros.”

Raven blinked, a little surprised. “Raven Delias. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand, wondering if she was setting herself up from a hand crushing.

Pete took her hand and shook it. His grip was firm, but no trying to crush her or even linger. His touch was cold and dry. He dropped her hand and then looked back over his shoulder at Ethan. “Once you’re done come see me.”

“Yes, Pete,” Ethan said. 

Pete didn’t say anything else, he continued down the hall. When he was out of sight, only then did Ethan relax.

“That, right there, was Pete Burros. He’s the student in charge of the boys at ECI. Not someone you want to mess with. He usually leaves the girls alone, so nothing to worry about unless you get on his bad side.”

Raven looked back where the boy had gone. She frowned and then looked down. She realized she was rubbing the hand he had shook against her leg as if trying to wipe off his touch. She stopped. What was wrong with her? But the feeling of something cold and foreign still lingered on her skin. 

Ethan had begun walking, returning to his jaunty attitude. “There’s a girl’s side and a boy’s side. Make sure to keep to the girl side or penalty. Unless of course, you have a perk like me,” Ethan said and flipped the gold coin he gotten from Principal Kase. He tossed it to Raven. 

Raven caught it. She looked it over. It was a gold plastic coin with a three etched on it. 

“Those right there are your perks,” Ethan explained. “Perks give you special privileges and if you get enough perks you can buy things around here. But I’m going to give it to you straight. Getting perks requires a humongous amount of ass kissing, either that or you have to get yourself a sponsor.” 

“That’s the second time you mentioned sponsors. What is that?” Raven asked curiously.

Ethan turned and raised his hand. Raven frowned. She looked at Ethan’s hand and then her eyes widened. The ring on his hand was different. It had four lines instead of three. The lines on the far left glowed yellow while the one on the far right glowed orange. The two in the middle were silver. “You’re not wearing a suppressor!” 

Ethan grinned. “That’s right. This is an Advanced stabilizer. It’s a prototype to help train my Illusion magic and gives me access to my Core magic. A pretty sweet ass gift from my sponsor.” 

Raven looked at it with wonder, but then her brow furrowed in confusion. “But we’re not allowed to use magic. How are you even allowed to have this?” Raven asked.

“Things are a little tricky around here. Build perks, get noticed, and you might get the chance to show off your skills. Showing off your skills means one of the sponsors might notice you. Get a sponsor and you’re living the easy life. You’re no longer a criminal, but a future investment. Get me?”

Raven nodded slowly. She thought she got it somewhat. Was ECI a display case of talent? Is that why the judge decided to send her here instead of a detention center? She wasn’t sure she wanted to sell herself to some corporation to be their tool. Her brows shot down in a deep frown. But she also didn’t want to be labeled a criminal for the rest of her life. 

Ethan continued explaining to her about how the school worked. Raven got the gist of it. Boys and girls were kept separate except during meals. Everything was on a schedule and being late was not an option. Everything you did wrong had a penalty and those penalties varied by the offense. Still, there was one thing she was curious about.

“We’re not allowed to use our magic, right?” 

“Yeah, well, except for class assignments,” Ethan said.

“Then how do we show off our skills to get a sponsor?” Raven asked. 

Ethan leaned in with a wide grin. “That’s a surprise.” 

Then they turned the corner and stopped in front of a guarded door. When the guard saw Ethan she smiled. He showed his perk and she nodded.

“Here to bring Raven Delias to Lisa,” Ethan said. 

The guard held out a small handheld crystal, similar to the floating ones in the hall. The crystal scanned them and a small holographic screen popped up in front of the guard. She looked it over and nodded. “Clear.” 

Ethan turned to Raven with a smile. “This is my stop. Remember what I said. Collect as many perks as you can. And don’t worry, Lisa is awesome. Good luck!” 

Raven didn’t have a chance to say anything else before Ethan was walking away. The guard led her down a long hall to the girl’s dorm. It was quiet and Raven was too nervous to try to start up a conversation. The hall came to an end and there was a buzz then the door opened and the guard pushed her in.

Surprised, Raven turned, but the guard was already closing the door and walking away. Raven turned back to see girls walking around the halls, talking with each other. A crowd of girls milled around a large room further down the hall. Raven figured she would try her luck there to see if she could find the Lisa Ethan had mentioned.

Raven took a step forward when suddenly a girl flew through the open doorway the girls were cluster at. The girl slammed into the wall and then crumpled to the floor. Thin cracks appeared in the wall from the impact. Hurrying forward, Raven ran to the girl, seeing that she was unconscious. 

She turned back to the girls standing by the door. “We need to get help. She might have a concussion.” 

Some of the girls chuckled while others rolled their eyes. No one moved to help. Raven bit her lip, not sure what she should do. 

Everyone grew quiet when a slim older girl walked gracefully out of the room they had clustered around. The girl was beautiful. She had long pink hair that was up in a high ponytail and cascaded over her shoulders. It gave her a soft almost fairytale look. She had sky blue eyes framed by long lashes and a delicate porcelain face.

The girl’s attention swept past everyone to settle on Raven. “Who the hell are you?”

Raven blinked, too stunned to do anything but blurt out her name. “Raven Delias.”

The girl frowned and stared at Raven intently as if she was trying to figure something out. Then she tilted her head and snapped her fingers. “Oh my gosh. I completely forgot. You’re the new girl.” She shook her head. “Well, this is a mess.”

She walked pass Raven to the unconscious girl. She looked down at the girl with annoyance. “Terry, Michelle.” 

Two females behind the pink-hair girl stepped forward. 

The pink-hair girl reached down and grabbed the unconscious girl by her shift with one hand. She lifted her off the ground like she was picking up her purse. She tossed the unconscious girl to Terry and Michelle without even a hint of strain. 

Terry and Michele tumbled backward when the body smacked into them. They recovered quickly like they were used to it. 

“Get her to Old BB,” the pink-hair girl ordered. 

The girls nodded and together they carried the unconscious girl away. Raven almost wished she could go with them. Staying here seemed crazy. Raven turned back to the pink-hair girl. A sinking feeling began to stir in her gut. She got the feeling she knew, by how the girls obeyed the pink-hair girl, who she might be. 

The pink-hair girl grinned at Raven and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Lisa Marie Baker, head of the ECI girls, and your new roommate. Nice to meet ya.”

Previous | Next

6. East Cronos Institute – 1

Raven spent three days in a holding cell before they decided what to do with her. After a hearing and many sleepless nights, she was guided to a room where her parents and lawyer waited. Suppressor handcuffs still adorned her wrists. She sat down between her parents as they listened to her lawyer. 

“Due to the complicated nature of everything that has happened, the judge has decided to divert the case. Raven will be sent to East Cronos Institute where she will attend reform classes. During this time she will be observed. After three months, the judge will revisit her case. If everything goes well, no formal charges will be issued.” 

Raven swallowed.

“Three months?” her mother said angrily. “She’s going to be spending the summer in a detention center for an accident?” 

“ECI is a reform school, not a detention center,” the lawyer corrected. 

Raven’s father balled up his fist. “They’re criminals, no matter how you spin it.” 

The lawyer adjusted his glasses. “I understand how you feel, but given the circumstances, this is the best solution offered.” 

Raven nodded numbly. It might have been an accident, but it didn’t change that there were nine people in comas because of her. Four students and five staff members, including Dr. Briton, might not ever wake up. She was lucky she hadn’t killed them. 

“How are they able to do this?” her mother asked, her arm tightening around Raven’s shoulder. “She isn’t the first one to have their Awakening cause damage?” 

“That’s true,” the lawyer said, shifting in his seat. His gaze drifted nervously to Raven’s handcuffs. “But your daughter’s case is… unique.” 

The room grew quiet. Everyone had seen the surveillance video at the hearing. What they had seen had been terrifying. Raven’s stomach curled at the memory. 

“I will give you a moment alone.” The lawyer stood and left. 

“This is ridiculous,” her mother said. Her grip on Raven’s shoulder was almost painful, like she could somehow force Raven to stay by her side. “First they refuse to let her come home for three days and now this.” 

Her father clenched his jaw and his eyes looked tired. His fist stayed balled up at his side. It worried Raven how angry and defeated he looked. 

Her mother’s agitated voice continued on. “Don’t you worry. We’ll get you out of there. You shouldn’t be punished for this. They’re all just…” She trailed off as if hesitant to finish that sentence. 

But Raven already knew. Everyone was scared. They were scared of what she had done. Sure, she was a Green according to her Embud, but if she was only a Green then how had she done so much damage? If Micah and Dr. Kesson’s theory was true, then what happened was a short window into her potential magic. There was hope she could control it as it developed. The only problem was that no one had ever presented with their Core abilities and then regressed to a lower level. She was an unknown phenomenon.

Raven forced herself to smile. “It’s okay, Mom. Besides, at least it’s ECI. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the MDE school I wanted to get into, but it’s something.” 

Her mother looked at her, bewildered, and then frowned. 

Raven’s father snorted and unfurled his fist. “That’s a strange silver lining.”

Her mother shook her head and hugged Raven again. Then her father was also hugging her. Feeling their warmth pressed against her, trying to support her, tears began to well up in Raven’s eyes. A sharp sob spilled from her mouth and before she could stifle it she began to cry. Her mom and dad held her tight until the officers came to get her. 

A few hours later Raven was boarding a bus with several other juvenile delinquents. She wondered if they were all going to ECI. Since there were only six of them, Raven was able to grab a window seat. The windows were tinted to prevent anyone from seeing who was on the bus. The other students didn’t try talking to each other. Each one seemed focused on their own issues. 

The guard walked to each seat, making sure the handcuffs were secured. Satisfied, he took his seat and pushed a small button. A prism bubble surrounded each of the teens. Raven looked at it in surprise. She had seen these used on young children to keep them safe in case of a car crash, but never like this. Though when she thought about it, it made sense. If a crash happened, their handcuffs stifled their ability to protect themselves. The safety bubble helped with that. 

“Move out,” the guard said. 

The bus jerked forward as it rose up from the ground. The wheels of the bus rotated until they were lying flat, and then they slid underneath the bus’s frame. With another jerk, the bus began to glide forward. Raven stared out her window. 

Buildings passed by as they drove through Tythion’s main sector. The city was a fusion of magic and technology. Cars hovered through the streets as people dashed around town. She saw a few people tap their necks before talking. They likely wore t-discs on their necks. T-discs were still new. The only people who had them were government employees and the wealthy. Not having being in either category, Raven made due with her normal smartphone. Or she would have if she still had one.

She sighed as she watched the city go by. They reached the end of the main district. The neighborhoods they now passed were a mixture of broken buildings and street construction. Luckily, the hover function on the bus kept the ride smooth. They floated over most of the debris.

Though Tythion was one of the few reclaimed cities, it was still recovering from the chaos of the first Awakenings. Living closer to the main districts made it easy to forget that outside of Tythion the world was still a mess of broken cities and overgrown forests. 

The bus turned and finally stopped in front of a detention center. The wheels rotated back out and the bus lowered and parked. The bus doors opened. The guard went to each teen, one-by-one, releasing them from their safety bubbles. Raven watched them go. She was the only one left behind. Once everyone was off the bus, the guard re-checked her handcuffs. Satisfied, he called for them to move out. Raven sighed and looked out the window. 

She jerked back, biting down on a startled scream. 

Outside the window, hanging upside down, was a familiar demon. Tick Tock waved at her. She stared at him then quickly looked at the guard. The guard narrowed his eyes like he was angry she was even looking at him. He didn’t seem to notice the demon hanging outside her window. She looked back at Tick Tock, but he was gone. 

Am I losing it? 

She twisted in her seat to get a better look outside, but there was no sign of Tick Tock. The rest of the trip Raven felt tense, but there Tick Tock never showed up again. The demon was part of her dreamscape so it didn’t make sense to see him outside of it. Did her Awakening damage her mind? A sinking dread filled her gut. 

The bus stopped and the guard led her off. She took a look at ECI. It was on the edge of the city, near the woods. Most of the woodlands were cleared away, but the forest was still a lot closer than she expected it to be. A tall barbed wire fence surrounded the area like a warning. Behind its coils sat what looked like an almost normal school. It was larger than her junior high. There were two buildings on either side of the main campus and Raven suspected it housed the students. 

Raven had only a moment to take it in when she was led inside the main building and brought to the front desk. The guard signed her in and then a female guard with an ECI badge took custody of her. From there Raven was patted down and inspected before she was handed clothes and told to change. She changed into loose jeans and a yellow ECI t-shirt. Afterward, the guard led her to a large office, leaving her with the ECI principal. 

The principal of ECI was a bulky woman with bright red hair that she wore in a bun. Thin black wire frame glasses rested on the bridge of her nose. An easy smile curled her lips, which didn’t match the hardness of her purple eyes. The woman wore a white blouse with a dark purple skirt and sensible black flats.

Standing to the side with his hands behind his back was a teenage boy with deep cocoa skin. He was around Raven’s height with teal hair and bright pink eyes. He wore jeans and the same yellow ECI t-shirt. He gave her a quick smile and a wink before his features were schooled into a neutral expression.

“Raven Delias,” the principal said. 

Raven nodded. 

“You will answer me with, ‘Yes Principal Kase.’ Is that understood?” 

Raven started to nod again but quickly corrected herself. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

The principal nodded. “Come here.”

Raven stepped forward.

“Hold out your hand.”

Raven did. Principal Kase slid a ring on her finger. The ring constricted around her fingers, unremovable. 

Instantly, the world became less. Every sound was muffled and dizziness overwhelmed her. Her skin felt pulled and stretched. Raven fell to her knees, tears seeping from her eyes. She sucked in breaths, but the air was too thin. She clawed at her throat; trying to somehow, open her lungs. Her body spasmed in a desperate plead for survival as if it has been cut off from life itself, with just a teasing trickle to prevent her from falling into darkness. 

“Please, there’s something wrong with me,” Raven managed to choke out between gasps. 

“That is the feeling of your magic being completely cut off,” the principal stated. The woman reached into her pocket and pulled out a key. She grabbed Raven’s wrist, yanking the girl towards her. Principal Kase unlocked the handcuffs.

As soon as the handcuffs fell away Raven could breathe again. The relief was so strong, Raven’s leg gave underneath her and she plopped to the ground. She looked down at her finger. The ring had been a suppressor like the handcuffs she had worn. The combination of both the ring and the handcuffs must have had the same effect as a full suppressor. 

“Ms. Delias, remember that feeling,” the Principal said, her eyes cold. “Misconduct at my school will be met with discipline. The worst offenses will end with a complete cut off from your magic. Is that understood?”

Raven reeled in disbelief. Completely suppressing a person’s magic was illegal. Raven looked at the principal’s hard eyes and she knew to say as much would get her nowhere. She swallowed down her complaints.

“Yes, Principal Kase,” Raven said, hating the way her voice shook. 

“Good,” Principal Kase stated. “Your new suppressor will allow you to access the minimum amount of Illusion magic. Your Core will be closed off completely. In certain situations, once earned, you may be able to access larger amounts of your Illusion magic. Until then, follow the rules and do as you’re told, and your stay here will be tolerable.”

The principal turned, directing her attention to the teal-haired boy. She handed him a small plastic coin. “Mr. Wilkens, please explain to Ms. Delias the rules of the facility and bring her to Ms. Baker.”

“Yes, Principal Kase.”

The principal nodded and walked away.

The boy crouched down in front of Raven and held out his hand. A sympathetic smile curled his lips. “Welcome to ECI.”

Previous | Next

5. Aftershocks

It was the sound of people talking that woke her. She felt her mind drift to the surface in a fog. She couldn’t understand why it was so hard to wake up. Raven considered letting herself fall back to sleep, but a sense of urgency nagged at her.

“Did you have to go this far?” That was Micah. He sounded agitated like he was barely containing his temper.

“It’s the procedure, besides…you saw what she did,” another voice said coolly. The voice was familiar, but it took her a minute to place it. 

Syrion. Then she remembered everything. The Core Awakening. The people strewed on the floor, the damage, and then Syrion and Micah appearing. Micah must have drugged her. It explained the thick fog that had been so hard to wake up from. She considered opening her eyes but decided it was best if they thought she was still asleep. 

“Yes, but everyone knows Core Awakenings can be violent. Her Embud is-” 

“That doesn’t matter,” Syrion cut Micah off. “She drained those people and left them unconscious. None of them have woken up. It doesn’t matter what color her Embud is if she can do that.” 

The room grew quiet and Raven felt her heart beating so loud she wondered if the other two could hear it. She drained the other students. What did that mean? Was it like what she had done to the root monsters in her dreamscape? 

A phone rang and Syrion started talking to someone. She could hear lots of, ‘Yes, Sirs.’ As Syrion spoke, she heard footsteps and then someone came over to her right side. She guessed it was Micah since Syrion’s voice stayed in the same place. Raven’s breathing sped up. Forcing herself to relax, she continued to feign being sleep. Micah paused once he reached her and then there was a scrape of a chair as he sat down.

Syrion’s conversation came to an end and she heard more footsteps. “I have to take care of some things. I’ll be back. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.” Then there were more footsteps and the door shut. 

Silence filled the room. Then Micah’s deep voice spoke. “I know you’re awake.”

Of course, he did. Micah was a healer, he probably could tell if someone was sleeping or not. Reluctantly, Raven opened her eyes. She turned to look at him and he smiled gently down at her, but his blue eyes were filled with worry. 

“We really need to stop meeting this way,” Micah said with a wry smile. 

Raven wanted to laugh, but she couldn’t. “You drugged me,” she said instead and winced at how accusatory it sounded. 

“Yeah,” Micah said, his shoulders stiffening.

“I don’t blame you,” Raven said quickly. Then she spoke quieter. “I hurt people.”

He frowned and his eyes flashed. “It was an accident. Core Awakenings are often violent.”

Raven nodded. She knew that, but… “The room had magic reinforcement, didn’t it?”

He swallowed and nodded.

Raven grimaced and sat up. That’s when she realized she couldn’t move her right arm. When she looked down she saw a handcuff chaining her to the bed. Not only that, it wasn’t a regular set of handcuffs. Three silver energy lines glowed on the handcuffs. These were criminal suppressors. It explained why she felt sluggish and the fog in her brain hadn’t quite lifted. Panic went through her. She stared at the handcuff, trying not to freak out. Her gaze shifted to her Embud. On the Illusion side, it was still bright orange, but on the Core side, the gray had made way for spring green. 

“Green?” she said in shock. It was the lowest level to be awakened as. If she was a green how could she have possibly done all that damage? “I don’t understand.”

Micah was also looking at her Embud. “We’re not sure what it means,” he said. “My dad thinks what happened earlier was a sign of your maximum potential. Then your body shut it down since you were unable to control it.”

Raven blinked. “You mean that what I did before I won’t be able to do again?”

Micah hesitated and nodded. “At least that’s what my father and I think. What happened at your Awakening was more a preview if you were to reach Red level.” 

She blinked, stunned and then frowned. “Is it normal for a person to show a preview of their magic potential?” 

Micah scratched the back of his head. “None of this is exactly normal.” 

They both sat in silence. Raven’s mind swirled at everything. She would have felt disappointed at being a green level, but instead, she felt almost relieved. She wouldn’t be able to do whatever it was that she had done to all those people. She chewed on her bottom lip. Still, what had she actually done? She didn’t know for sure how her Core ability had manifested though she suspected. Was her Core ability the dark energy she had used in her dreamscape? 

A thrill went through her at the thought and she immediately felt guilty. She shouldn’t want a power like that, but she couldn’t help remembering the rush. She had felt invincible. She balled her hand up. Maybe if she learned to control it then it wouldn’t be so bad. She swallowed and frowned. Was she really willing to risk hurting people to become powerful? A wave of disappointment went through her.

What am I thinking? 

“What happened?” Raven asked timidly.

Micah cringed. It was clear he didn’t want to answer, but he did anyway. “This black smoke began to form around you. The doctors thought it might have been some sort of storm or fog ability, but when you looked at it…It felt like looking into an abyss.” Micah shook his head and there were small beads of sweat on his forehead. “One of the Access Staff put up a barrier, but the smoke covered it and the barrier was just gone. It…” 

He trailed off as if searching for words to describe what happened next. The sound of arguing came from outside the room.

Micah looked relieved that he had an excuse not to continue. “I’ll go check.”

She nodded and watched him leave. She felt cold. Her Core magic hadn’t completely manifested as it had in her dreamscape, but close to it. Raven caught sight of a guard standing outside dressed in an MDE uniform as Micah left. The sight of the guard shocked her. Micah closed the door and Raven laid back. 

“A guard,” she muttered. 

She looked back at her handcuff. She should have guessed it, but still, the thought disturbed her. Her gaze drifted to the green half of her Embud. None of this made sense. Raven lay back on the bed, her thoughts churning. Micah kept referring to the black smoke as ‘it’ like it was something separate from Raven. Is that how he was able to talk to her like a normal person? What would he do once he realized this wasn’t a separate entity, but part of her?

She shuddered. That black smoke, the tendrils, those were all part of her, something dark and terrifying. A part of her absorbed the things around her, leaving a husk or nothing at all.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Raven said, grateful for the interruption. She was sure if she said nothing, someone would have entered regardless. After all, she was a prisoner. 

The door open and she saw a glimpse of Micah before he was gently pushed aside as a tall elegant black woman stepped in. Raven couldn’t help the smile curl her lips at the sight of her mother. 

“Mom,” she squeaked out and the relief at seeing her mother made her feel like a little girl.

Her mother rushed to her side, trying to scoop Raven up in her arms, but was held back by Raven’s handcuff. When her mother saw it she glared, before whirling around to face Micah. “Why is she handcuffed?” 

“It’s for her safety,” Micah said diplomatically. “And those around her.”

Her mother’s eyes narrowed. Her dad stepped in, putting a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Honey,” he said in warning. 

Her dad leaned down and hugged Raven. When he pulled back, he looked her over. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay. I’m tired.”

Her mother was still glaring at Micah.

Raven reached out and grabbed her Mom’s hand. “Mom, it’s not Micah’s fault. My power sort of went haywire.” 

Her mother turned back to her and the sharpness in her eyes softened. She reached out and patted Raven’s cheek. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Raven wasn’t sure, but she nodded anyway. 

“Let’s get you out of here,” her mother said, anxious. “I’ll feel better once we’re at home. We’ll figure things out from there.”

Raven nodded. Even if things were crazy she felt better now that her parents were here. 

“Sorry, but that won’t be happening.” A voice cut in.

Everyone turned to the new person who had entered the room. A muscular blonde man stepped inside. He had a strong presence about him, which was made even fiercer by his sharp red eyes. He stepped deeper into the room. His lips thinned into a tight line at the sight of Raven.

Raven instinctively cringed backward. She knew who this man was, everyone in the room knew who he was. Lieutenant Cole Harrison, Juvenile Crimes Division. Lt. Harrison might not have been the Captain of Juvenile Crimes, but he was often sent as the spokesman. He was even in charge of the two MDE schools in Tythion. He was also known for being ruthless in his verdicts.

“Raven Delias, you are hereby under arrest. From this point on you are in the custody of the Magic Defense Enforcement Juvenile Division.”

Raven’s mom jumped up and marched towards Lt. Harrison, fury in her every step. “What’s the meaning of this? What crime has she committed?”

“She has attacked several students and personnel,” Lt. Harrison said coldly.

“It was her Awakening! If anyone is at fault it’s this facility. You ensured us that Access Facilities are supposed to make sure things like this don’t happen.”

“Your daughter has put several children in comas,” Lt. Harrison bit out. 

Raven’s mother flinched.

“We will take responsibility for our actions. We expect her to do the same.” Lt. Harrison nodded. Syrion walked towards Raven. Two MDE officers went to her parents and guided them out of the room. Syrion unlocked her cuff from the bed.

“Don’t try to fight this. It’ll make things worst.”

Raven stared at him stunned. Fight? Did he think she was planning to attack the MDE? She looked around, noticing everyone around her was tense. They did expect her to fight. Raven gawked. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She was being treated like some violent criminal.

She searched over the faces until her gaze landed on Micah. Part of her hoped he could explain that she was a Green. That whatever happened at her Awakening, she was no longer capable of doing it. 

Micah gritted his teeth and then stormed away.

Raven was alone.

Syrion pulled her hands behind her back and began reading her rights as he refastened the handcuffs. Just like that, Raven was no longer a student with a bright future in front of her. A day filled with hope and excitement ended with her as a prisoner. She took a long breath as she was led out of the room.

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Update Party!

-gaspu- It’s not Tuesday or Thursday, but there’s an update.  Yes, that’s right. -pops collar- I’m doing an update party. From Mon-Fri I’ll be posting an update, if I’m able I might even post two a day. hahaha Dream big or go home.  Next week I’ll be going back to our regularly scheduled program of Tue and Thurs updates, but for this week only the sky is the limit. 

Now, there is one tiny, itty bitty favor I want to ask. Please rate or review Illusion/Core on Royal Road – https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/24348/illusioncore

Rating Illusion/Core, especially if lots of people rate it, will help it get on trending. I would really love to hit that list so more people can see my story. So please, if you can, drop me a rating I would deeply apreciate it. *coughsfivestarsarethebestcough*

4. Black Smoke – 2

This was a waste of time. Then again the whole day had been. Syrion figured he should have felt lucky to even get MDE duty at the Access Facility. But he would have preferred playing video games at home or even better, napping. Still, it was an easy job and it had the benefit of riling up Micah Kesson. He didn’t have much contact with Micah since the ‘golden boy’ tended to be kept sheltered. Syrion, on the other hand, was often on the field. Still, they ran into each other often enough For Syrion to know the guy needed to lighten up. They were only a year apart, but Micah acted like he was already in his forties.

Micah wasn’t a bad sort, but he was constantly trying to take on the burdens of the world. It sucked being a teenager surrounded by adults. Syrion knew that from personal experience. Still, it was better to not let yourself get absorbed in their world. The way Micah was going, so hell-bent on proving himself, he was never going to enjoy being a teenager. Syrion liked to spend every free moment he got living his life to the fullest. Fieldwork had shown him how short life could be.

An alarm beeped insistently as the girl’s vitals spiked. The doctors stood around, looking stupidly at each other. ‘Should we or shouldn’t we,’ hung like question marks over their heads as the girl struggled to live. The doctors tend to say interrupting a person Awakening would damage her or stunt her growth. Syrion scoffed. She won’t grow at all if she’s dead.

Syrion caught the eyes of one of the doctors. The man stiffened and turned around, nodding to his colleague. Finally, they were getting their shit together. Of course, that all changed when Dr. Kesson opened his mouth.

“Not yet,” Dr. Kesson said.

Syrion gritted his teeth. He glanced at the doctor whose attention was set on the blue-haired girl. Though his voice was pleasant it held a steely command that made Syrion stiffen. Dr. Kesson might not be a bad guy, but Syrion didn’t like him. The man was dangerous and he took people’s lives for granted. Syrion tended to avoid him when he could. He had once, after all, been part of the man’s little experiments.

Turning his attention to Micah, he noticed the boy was barely holding onto his temper. It was obvious that Micah had some sort of thing for the girl. Clearly, watching her being tortured in some bid for power wasn’t on Micah’s ‘fun things to do’ list. Syrion turned back to the girl. His eyes narrowed.

If push came to shove he could neutralize the girl’s power. He wasn’t sure if it would help much, but if anything it might buy her some time. Dr. Briton would at least try to save her. He studied the defense magic that covered the window. It was to keep magic from coming in, but strong enough to prevent magic from going out. There were pockets he could use to seep his power through, but it wouldn’t help much. Of course, it would be easier to neutralize the whole thing, but if the girl did pop off that would put them all in danger.

Syrion let his magic trickle through the holes in the barrier. The beeping stopped before he could reach her. A collective sigh went through the medical officers. “Vitals are returning to normal.”

Syrion retracted his magic. Guess he wasn’t needed after all. As he watched the girl he noticed something strange happening.

Black smoke began to seep from the girl’s skin. Something about it made him instinctively step back. He turned to see Dr. Kesson lean forward, his gaze intent. Syrion turned away from the man. Of course, the good doctor wasn’t creeped out. His attention shifted to Micah to see what the guy was thinking about his crush oozing out black smoke. Micah’s attention, like his father, was riveted. Syrion mentally sighed. He supposed he should have expected those two were more alike than he thought. But then he realized Micah’s expression was different. Micah looked frozen, and his breathing was speeding up. Pure fear flashed in Micah’s eyes.

“Manifestation forming,” one of the doctor’s said.

At the same time, Micah spoke. “Something’s wrong?”

Syrion’s attention turned back to the girl. She was standing. Syrion blinked, surprised. The straps that had been around her were gone like they had never been there. The black smoke curled around her, building and building. Nancy, the Access Facility defense officer, immediately raised her arm up. The floor literally rose up, surrounding her and Dr. Briton in a protective barrier.

It was a maneuver made to protect them without interfering with the Awakening. From this angle, it was hard to see, but it looked like Nancy was arguing with Dr. Briton. Syrion frowned. Something was off and a quick look at Nancy’s face explained why. Nancy was panicking.

“What the hell is going on?” Syrion mumbled to himself.

Nancy was an old MDE field officer who decided to take on work at the Access Facility as a form of early retirement. She had the experience, but right now she was panicking like a newbie on their first assignment.

Then, as if to answer his question, the black smoke around the blue-haired girl surged forward. It engulfed the ground shield. The smoke shifted and moved. He couldn’t see what was happening, but then the smoke pulled back. Syrion was stunned to see that the shield was simply, gone. There was no trace of it and all that was left was a gaping hole where the floor used to be. Nancy and Dr. Briton had fallen back, their eyes wide in fear.

Syrion tapped a small metal disc on his neck. “Need back up at East Corridor 2 – Room 8. CA break. Neutralizers and stuns at ready.”

Syrion turned to the door and froze. The girl’s smoke had wrapped around Nancy and Dr. Briton. The two entire bodies went stiff and their eyes rolled back behind their head.

“Shit,” Syrion said and rushed out of the room. As he stepped out he saw two guards already rushing down the hall towards Room 8. Syrion ran down the corridor and turned. Straight in front of him were six students and an Access Facility staff. They were waiting for a new door to open to guide the next student in.

One of the guards noticed Syrion and nodded in his direction. It was a silent request to handle the students.

“Clear the halls, head back to the auditorium,” Syrion said, hurrying to the group. He tried to stay calm. He didn’t want to cause a panic.

The kids looked at him in confusion, but most were paying more attention to the guards. The guards were preparing to enter Room 8 but were hesitating with the students so close.

Syrion gritted his teeth. He must look like a crazy sixteen-year-old to them. He took out his badge and waved it. “Clear out!”

The sight of his MDE badge seemed to work, but slowly. The woman in charge of the students began herding them back down the hall. The two guards turned back to Room 8. As one of them reached for the door, he jerked back. Both guards scrambled backward as the door and part of the wall disintegrated into nothing. No ash or crushed plaster and steel, just nothing.

The blue-haired girl stepped out of the room. Her eyes were distant as if she wasn’t seeing what was going on around her. The black smoke swirled around her body and curled out as if searching. Syrion wanted to turn, to tell the students to run, but an overwhelming presence filled the hall. Deep, gut-wrenching fear filled him. He couldn’t move and his heart slammed in his chest frantically. His brain was screaming at him to run away. From the corner of his eyes, he could see students fall to their knees whimpering. Even the guards were struggling to move. Was this part of her ability? A paralyzing fear that scrambled the brain. No. Something inside him recognized the hungry being coming towards him. It was something primal telling him there was nowhere to run.

One of the guards managed to lift his arm, shooting his stun gun. A bolt of electricity shot towards the girl, but the smoke rushed in front, swallowing it up. The other guard was quick to follow up with neutralizers. The darts zipped through the air but never met their target. The black smoke engulfed them.

He had to help them. Syrion bit down on his tongue, focusing on the pain and the taste of blood in his mouth. He forced his mind to focus on that instead of the fear.

One of the guards shouted. “Pulse!”

A vibration shot forward, clipping Syrion and causing him to fall to the side. The sound wave disrupted the black smoke, finally reaching its target. The blue-hair girl jerked back, her face twisted in confusion.

The other guard slapped his hand against the ground. “Freeze!” Ice rushed across the floor and surge up and around the girl’s legs, quickly encasing her body.

The wave of fear vanished. It was like a weight lifted off Syrion. He fell back, his body exhausted from the struggle of moving against the paralyzing fear. He wasn’t sure how the guards were able to fight it. He pushed himself up as one of the guards pushed a tiny silver disc on his neck.

Whatever words he was about to say were choked off. The ice around the girl dashed into a million pieces. The black smoke dissolved the ice shards before they even hit the ground. The smoke darted out, cocooning the guards.

A sharp scream came from one of the men, but the scream ended as soon as it started. The guard was sucked dry and tossed aside. The other guard struggled in the smoke’s grip, shooting out ice in a desperate attempt to get free.

The primal fear was back, but this time Syrion was able to push through it. He reached out his hand. He pushed a wave of energy towards the girl. It rushed forward, but it was like hitting a wall. He would need to use something stronger.

“Binding chain,” Syrion called out. A gold chain appeared in his hand. He swung it overhead before releasing it as it looped around the girl’s body. Immediately her body stiffened and the smoke curled backward.

“Neutralize!” Syrion shouted and energy flowed through the chain and encased the girl.

The black smoke writhed as if in agony and it dropped the guard. Syrion could only glance at him for a moment, but what he saw made sweat trickle down his face. The guard’s cheeks had grown hollow, his skin taut, as if he was starved. Syrion trembled, but held fast, pushing more of his magic into the chain.

“We have to get them out of here.” It was Micah. It sounded like he was talking to the woman with the students. Syrion knew they had been too scared to move and get to safety.

“What the hell is he doing out here?” Syrion muttered as he strained to keep the chain pumping out neutralizing magic. Additional backup should be on the way after the aborted call from the guard. If he could hold off until then.

At that moment the girl started to laugh. The laughter was soft and eerie and echoed through the room. It sent a chill through Syrion. He pushed his magic harder but as he did something changed. The smoke began to rise up and he could feel it. It began to eat his magic. The black smoke gobbled up link after link.

“How?” Syrion said, dread sinking into his bones. His neutralizing abilities were strong even at orange rank. He had been tottering on hitting red for months. But even higher ranks found it hard to deal with his neutralizing chain, but this girl’s magic was eating it.

He tried to push more magic forward, but before it could reach the girl the chain broke. His magic hit him like whiplash, tossing him backward. He skidded across the floor and rolled once before stopping. Coughing, he pushed himself up from the ground. He caught sight of Micah hurrying more of the students out.

Unfortunately, the girl and her smoke noticed. The black smoke surged forward, unwilling to let its meals escape. The woman in charge of the students saw the smoke rushing towards them and she raised her hand. Plants shot from her palm, forming an intricate barrier of vines and thorns.

The smoke hit the barrier, sliding over it and sucking it dry. The vines barely slowed it down. The woman looked on in horror as the smoked wrapped around her. A student near her screamed, but the student’s voice was cut off as the smoke slid over her as well. The smoke grew with every person it drank from. It rushed out, taking down another two students.

Syrion gritted his teeth. He had to get closer. The chain wasn’t enough, so he needed to use something stronger, but to do that he had to reach her. Sweat trickled down his body at the thought, but he had to do it now.

The girl laughed as the smoke grabbed another student. It drained them and tossing them aside.

Syrion inched closer to her, trying to reach her without somehow getting sucked in by the black smoke.

“Raven!” Someone shouted. Syrion turned and saw a girl with orange hair rushing down the hall.

“Penny, stay back,” Micah shouted as he helped the remaining two students.

Syrion cursed. What the hell was another student doing down here? How did she get here before backup? His thoughts halted as he noticed something change. The blue-haired girl, Raven, had stopped moving. The black smoke around her floated in the air as if waiting. Then the smoke surged forward. It ignored Micah and the students and headed straight towards Penny.

Penny stumbled back, fear danced across her face. The smoke curled around the girl. It didn’t drain her. Instead, it swirled over her like it was inspecting her.

Syrion gritted his teeth. Part of him wanted to shout at the girl to run, but he couldn’t waste this opportunity. He crept closer to Raven, now that most of the black smoke was focused on Penny he had a chance.

Raven was still, her eyes staring off into something only she could see. Syrion was almost there. One more step.

Raven lips moved. “More.”

Penny screamed. The smoke tightened around Penny and began to feed on her. At the same time, Syrion called out.

“Binding chain.” The chain wrapped around Raven once more. “Neutralize!”

Raven shuddered. The smoke recoiled, letting go of Penny to attack the gold chain.

Syrion surged forward, letting more power rush through the chain as he stepped closer to her. It felt like moving through molasses. The fear effect grew stronger the closer he got to the girl.

The smoke was quickly accumulating, eating at the links of his chain. He was almost there. He reached out his hand. The smoke pushed out with a monstrous shriek. The chain broke and Syrion was thrown to the ground.

Black smoke engulfed Syrion and he could feel something sucking at his core. He lashed out, strands of his power cutting through the smoke. His magic repelled it, but the black smoke recovered quickly and fed off his magic, draining him.

Then everything stopped.

The smoke retreated, sliding back into Raven’s body. Her back arched and then the girl stumbled forward, blinking.

Syrion rolled on the ground, gasping. His body felt weak as he pushed himself to his knees. He turned his head as he watched Raven look around her. Her eyes were wide and terrified as she took in the bodies. A sound came from down the hall. Raven looked towards it. Penny was crawling, some survival instinct telling her to get away.

“Penny?”

Penny froze and turned to face Raven. Penny’s eyes were wide.

“Penny, w-what happened?” Raven asked.

“Stay away from me,” Penny screamed and threw her arm in front of her.

Wind surged from Penny, slamming into Raven. The blue-haired girl was knocked back, skidding across the ground. Syrion winced, waiting for the smoke to rise again, but it didn’t. Raven stayed on the ground, looking at the floor, stunned.

Syrion pushed himself to his feet. His legs wobbled, but he forced himself to move. Slowly, he walked towards Raven. As he did he saw Micah stepping out of the destroyed Awakening room. He held a syringe in his hand with a grim expression. Syrion nodded to the healer and continued walking towards Raven. Once he reached her, he put a hand on her shoulder. His hand glowed with golden light. “Contain.”

It was his strongest form of neutralizing magic, but it required physical contact to be used. He could feel his magic seeping into her, locking down her power. A sigh of relief went through him.

“It’s okay now.”

She looked up at him and he could see the desperate plea in her eyes. The desire for this not to be her fault was plain on her face.

“I’ve got you,” Syrion said. He was too worn to feel anything, but the need for this to be over. Micah stepped on her other side. Syrion nodded. Micah injected the needle into Raven’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” Micah said as the girl collapsed.

Behind Syrion the sound of boots filled the hall as backup finally arrived.

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4. Black Smoke – 1

Micah watched as Dr. Briton injected Raven. His gaze immediately went to the monitors reflecting her vital signs. Body temperature, normal. Pulse rate, a little fast, but within range. Blood pressure, normal. Micah’s attention returned back to Raven. Dr. Briton was checking her respiration rate and keying in information. The information reflected back on the monitor the nurse was keeping tabs on.

Everything looked normal, but Micah knew things could change quickly during an Awakening. Micah took in the faces of two other doctors. They were talking among each other while giving furtive glances towards his dad. One of them noticed Micah looking at them and muttered something to their colleague. They both turned their attention back to observing Raven.

Micah sighed. He understood why the doctors were acting like a bunch of gossips. His dad had demanded to observe Raven’s Awakening. On top of that, his dad insisted that Dr. Briton oversee it. Dr. Briton was used to his dad’s antics and often ignored them. But when his dad was truly set on something Dr. Briton tended to indulge his friend. Sometimes, Micah though Dr. Briton indulged him too much. When Micah pointed this out to him once, Dr. Briton just laughed.

“Your father is brilliant, unbalanced, but brilliant. Sometimes you have to indulge that type of genius. It’s how great things happen.” 

Micah pointed out that Dr. Briton was also a genius, but the man only smiled. To this day, Micah couldn’t understand how the two men were friends. He would have tied it to them being work partners, but they had been friends back in their University days.

“What was Tyrese thinking?” his father asked, thoughtfully.

Micah looked up at his father, confused. “What do you mean?”

His father glanced at him and then back at Dr. Briton who was strapping Raven down. “He hesitated before giving her the injection.”

“It was probably because of her earlier electrocution. Maybe he’s worried the stress will be too much,” Micah said with an edge to his voice.

His dad laughed and pointedly didn’t look at him. “Perhaps.”

Micah still had the urge to punch his dad, well more than usual. He loved his dad, but it didn’t change that sometimes he acted like a child with too much power. Sometimes he forgot that people weren’t toys he could play with. In a way, Micah found it lucky that he ended up Awakening as a healer, though he wasn’t exactly thrilled about cleaning up his father’s mistakes.

He glanced back at Raven. It bothered him that his dad had a special interest in her. As much as he cared for his dad, he didn’t trust him around her. Whenever his dad’s attention was on Raven there was a strange light in his eyes, like he had come across a new favorite toy.

Micah cringed at the thought. He was being too harsh, but something inside him wanted to protect Raven. He knew he could be a bit overprotective of people in general, but with Raven it was different. Micah felt heat rise up his neck unbidden. Okay, maybe he had a bit of a crush on her. She was beautiful, but more than that, there was this special something that made him want to get to know her.

“I remember that expression. It’s the same expression I had when I met your mother,” his dad said, patting his shoulder.

Micah felt his cheeks burn and he folded his arms. “I don’t know what you mean.”

His dad chuckled. “Sometimes I forget you’re only fifteen, but moments like this remind me.”

Micah frowned and tried not to roll his eyes and give his dad even more reason to treat him like a child. From beside him, there was the sound of a sharp beep. Micah turned and saw that the monitors showed a spike in Raven’s heart rate.

His dad squeezed Micah’s shoulder. “It’s started.”

Micah turned back to the window where he could see Raven’s body twitching. As she began to spasm, the Access Facility employee moved to Dr. Briton’s side. “Protective Shielding activating.”

A prism bubble molded around Dr. Briton and the Access Facility woman. The protective covering helped to neutralize the effect of wayward magic and protect them from debris. It gave them a first line of defense while not hindering Dr. Briton’s movements to help Raven if needed. The woman next to Dr. Briton was also trained in using her Core magic as a protective measure. An Access Facility staff with defense magic was always with the doctor administering the Awakening serum in case a student Awakened in one of the higher Embud levels.

It was very rare for Micah to see an Awakening in action. Usually, Micah’s work with the Access Facility was only for high-end cases or people who had undue stress on their bodies. Otherwise, he spent his time in recovery, unless the MDE had him at the office or on the rare fieldwork case. Otherwise, due to his age, they liked to keep him where he would be at less risk.

Micah watched the proceedings with interest. He and the others in the observation room didn’t have to worry. The walls and window were reinforced with defensive magic. They were specially made to withstand high magical force up to a level red. Anything stronger than red would trigger the neutralization cores. The cores activated if the magic in the Awakening area hit above purple level, forcing the person down to a lower magical output. It was a last resort. Trying to neutralize a person’s magic during an Awakening could stunt their growth, and even cause physical and mental damage.

Micah usually would have been excited to be able to be involved in an Awakening, but he found himself twitching every time Raven’s body jerked. His gaze darted to her vitals, which were steadily going up. He tensed. He wished he could help her, but he knew it was part of the process.

As soon as he thought that, Raven’s vitals spiked and an alarm went off. Micah’s eyes widened and his attention went to Raven. She was shaking, her face stretched in agony. Micah’s attention returned to the two doctors in charge, but they shook their heads, their attention never leaving the screen. Their call must have been accurate because soon, Raven’s vitals began to stabilize.

“Don’t worry,” his dad said beside him. “Those type of spikes are normal.”

Micah nodded. He knew that. He had read about this but seeing it was different. Raven’s body stopped spasming, but her face was still twisted in distress. He sighed.

The sound of someone entering the observation room grabbed Micah’s attention.

“Ah, there you are,” his dad said, waving the person over.

Micah tugged his gaze away from Raven to see Syrion make his way over. Micah straightened in surprise. Why was Syrion there? He glanced at his father then back at Syrion. Syrion shrugged.

“Back up,” his dad said.

“What?” Micah asked even more confused.

“I don’t get it either,” Syrion said with a half smile. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Her Core Embud is still gray.”

Micah and Syrion both looked at Micah’s dad.

Dr. Kesson smiled. “Let’s just say it’s a feeling. Indulge me.”

Syrion nodded.

Micah knew the boy didn’t have much of a choice. Dr. Kesson was the highest ranking MDE staff here. An order was an order.

“Besides, I’m kinda interested,” Syrion said, his attention drifting to Raven.

Micah frowned and any kinship he felt towards Syrion immediately disappeared. “Keep it professional.”

Syrion tilted his head, amusement flitting in his eyes. “What else would it be?”

Micah flushed and looked back to Raven. Behind him, Syrion sniggered.

Another spasm shook Raven, keeping Micah’s attention on her. Her vitals spiked again, but this time the doctors in charge grew worried. The spike continued going up and was lasting longer than before. Dr. Briton hurried and grabbed a syringe filled with a silvery liquid that seemed to glow. He looked to the observation window, waiting for approval. The doctors started to speak, but his dad cut them off.

“Not yet,” he said, his voice firm.

The doctors looked at each other but deferred to his father.

Micah glared at his dad. “What are you doing? Her vitals are at a dangerous level.”

His father’s eyes gleamed. “Not yet,” his father repeated.

Micah’s fist balled up at his side. He stared hard at the window. Raven was shaking and twisting in the chair. Her face contorted in intense pain. Micah’s nails dug into his palm as he watched her. He glanced at the doctors who were looking worried and then back at Dr. Briton who was inching closer. Silently, he begged for Dr. Briton to give Raven the injection, but the doctor hesitated.

Then, like the last time, the spasms stopped. Dr. Briton lowered the syringe. He stepped forward, putting it back on the tray as he checked over Raven’s vital. “She’s stabilized.”

Micah’s dad smiled, pleased with himself. Micah wondered if it had been a mistake to come and watch Raven’s Awakening. He felt tensed and sick to his stomach. If it was going to be observing Raven seize up over and over, he wasn’t sure how much of that he could watch.

He looked at her and his vision flickered. Suddenly, all around him, he saw ley lines of energy. He rubbed at his eyes and the vision vanished. It wasn’t the first time this had happened to him. It was probably triggered by stress. The flickering was tied to his Illusion ability. It allowed him to sometimes see the makeup of a body. It helped improve his healing ability, but ever since he hit red level in Core the flickering had started. Since his Core and Illusion ability seemed to be intricately tied together, he figured it had to do with an imbalance between the two. It was something he would eventually need to manage.

He looked back at Raven. She seemed calm. He started to glance over to the monitor to see her vitals when the flicker happened again. Micah frowned. The flickering vision was more persistent than usual. Around him, he could see the lines of light surging through people’s bodies. The light coursed through everyone, brighter in certain parts of the body than others. Right in the center, under the ribs, was a ball of light that thrummed, fueling the rest of the body’s system. The light varied in color based on a person’s Embud, but Micah knew instinctively this was their Core magic.

Micah frowned. The vision lasted longer than the other times. He turned back to Raven and his eyes widened. Right in the center, was a large ball, larger than any he had ever seen. But instead of pulsing with an Embud light, it was deep and black, swirling faster and faster. Looking at it made a feeling of dread stir in Micah’s stomach. Unlike how the magic surged through the body, the black Core pulsed and pushed like it was trying to seep out of her. Primal fear rushed through him. Something in his mind was telling him they needed to stop, hurry and stop, but he was frozen.

“Something’s wrong,” Micah struggled out. His vision flickered and in an instant chaos erupted.

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