Dr. Kesson clapped his hands together. “Let’s get started. First, you’ll have to officially accept me as your sponsor, of course, verbally agreeing is enough. The hard part is getting your parents to approve.”
Raven frowned. She didn’t want to get her parents involved if she didn’t have to. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure if they would agree for me to get a sponsor.”
Dr. Kesson patted her back. “Don’t worry. I’ve already taken care of that for the most part.”
Raven looked at the man suspiciously. “What does that mean?”
“I have been talking to your parents since the day you were sent to ECI. Most children sent to ECI become wards of the state. I worked with your parents to make sure they maintained legal custody and final say on decisions that are made in ECI. Of course, that doesn’t help much within the ECI framework. But in regards to Sponsorship, the legal guardian must approve it and all activities involved.”
“Okay,” Raven said. “But did my parents approve you as my sponsor?”
“Not quite,” Dr. Kesson said. “I have explained the benefits, but they, like you, don’t completely trust me. Understandable since I’m the head scientist of the group responsible for sending you to ECI.”
Raven smiled, feeling proud of her parents.
“In any case, what I’ll need from you is your agreement on record,” Dr. Kesson said. He tapped his earpiece and then a small digital screen popped up, floating in the air. “I’ll record your agreement and send it to your parents and hopefully that will settle things.”
Raven hesitated. “If I agree to this I don’t want to do it permanently. Only for the three months I’m held at ECI.”
Dr. Kesson chuckled. “You know, your mother said something similar.”
Raven smiled at that.
“That’s fine with me, although I have to say, if you change your mind I would definitely be interested in sponsoring you throughout your teen years. Sponsorship isn’t only for ECI students. It can also work as a mentoring program.”
Raven scrunched up her face and shook her head. “No thanks.”
Dr. Kesson laughed. “Well, I hope I can get you to change your mind. Shall we begin?”
Raven nodded and looked at the screen as it began recording. “Hi Mom and Dad. Dr. Kesson explained everything to me about the Sponsorship. I want to accept on the condition it ends in three months or earlier if I leave ECI sooner.” She paused as a well of loneliness and longing filled her chest. “I’m okay and…I miss you.”
Raven looked away.
Dr. Kesson squeezed her shoulder. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but we’ll get you out of this.”
She looked at him, blinking away the hint of wetness in her eyes. “Okay. It’s a promise.”
Dr. Kesson cringed but nodded. “It’s a promise. Now, there are a few things we need to go over.”
“There’s more?” Raven asked, already feeling exhausted.
“Only a little more, but very important,” Dr. Kesson said. “First, I’ll check in with you as often as I can. You’ll be observing things and you can tell me any details you discover. I’ll piece things together from there.” He hesitated and a cautious look came into his eyes. “I don’t want you to put yourself in any unnecessary danger. The people involved can be ruthless.”
“Who exactly are they?” Raven asked.
Dr. Kesson shook his head. “Many people. Corporation heads, powerful figures in ECI. These are people who are currently running the country and have more power than either one of us. That’s all you need to know.”
Raven frowned. She hated how vague his answer was, but at the same time, she knew it was a security measure. A stupid one in her opinion, since more than likely she would find out anyway if she was playing spy.
“Now, what I’m about to say next is going to contradict everything I said about the danger,” Dr. Kesson said with a wry smile.
Raven looked at him curiously.
“I need you to participate in the arena,” Dr. Kesson said, his eyes gleaming.
“Arena?” Raven asked, bewildered. “What are you talking about?”
“You haven’t been here long enough to notice,” Dr. Kesson said.
Raven blinked and realized that she had been at ECI for only four days. It felt longer. Suddenly, having to stay three months felt like a lifetime.
“The arena is an underground gambling ring right here in ECI,” Dr. Kesson continued. “Sponsors send students to battle it out in a fighting pit, taking bets on the winner.”
Stunned, Raven stared at Dr. Kesson. “No way.”
Dr. Kesson nodded. “Not all sponsors participate and it has a very thin cover if information gets out. All rumors have been explained away as an advanced training sport. They even have a permission slip.” Dr. Kesson laughed darkly.
“And you want me to fight?” Raven asked, still stunned.
“I won’t force you, but it’s our best place to reveal the corruption behind ECI.” Dr. Kesson gave her a serious stare. “It’ll be dangerous. These fights can be brutal and I won’t be able to help you much in there.”
“It’s not some sort of deathmatch, is it?” Raven asked, cautiously.
“No,” Dr, Kesson said with a chuckle. “Even the MDE would have a hard time covering up lots of students dying all of a sudden.”
Raven frowned, grabbing a hold of the man’s slip. “So, it is the MDE behind this, then?”
Dr. Kesson shook his head. “You really are set on putting yourself in danger, aren’t you?”
“I already am in danger, Dr. Kesson,” Raven said.
Dr. Kesson seemed to struggle with that. After all, he was both trying to protect her from danger while thrusting her deep into it. Finally, the man sighed. “I won’t tell you too much, but yes, there are people in MDE involved, powerful people. Despite what it might seem, not all of the enforcers are involved. The vast majority of MDE are upstanding people that believe in what we stand for. But even so, there is corruption. It would be in your best interest not to trust anyone from there.”
“You and Micah are in the MDE,” Raven shot back.
“You can trust Micah and me, but you’ll still need to be careful,” Dr. Kesson said firmly.
All of this seemed complicated, but Raven knew she had to figure things out quickly. She was sure Dr. Kesson must know who was involved but had a reason why he didn’t want to tell her. Would knowing who was involved put her in even more danger? On top of that, he said to trust no one in the MDE, but Syrion had reached out and tried to help her. Did that also include him? She decided not to bring Syrion up to Dr. Kesson yet. She wanted to figure that out on her own.
“You’re forgetting something,” Raven said with a grimace. “If I tried to use my Core power…” She shook her head.
Dr. Kesson opened his mouth then closed it. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know if they’ll allow you to access your Core magic, but if I could arrange that would you want to use it?”
Raven shook her head. “No.”
Sighing, Dr. Kesson gave her a gentle smile. “I assumed you would say that, but…Raven.” Dr. Kesson met her eyes. “You can’t keep running from your magic. You’ll have to learn to control it eventually.”
Raven’s lips tightened and she looked away. “I know.”
Dr. Kesson reached out and patted her shoulder. “Think about it. It’s better to learn now than be in a situation where it’s too late.”
Raven didn’t say anything. She stared down at her lap, refusing to meet Dr. Kesson’s eyes.
“Even without your Core magic, you’ll be able to handle the arena. Core magic is stronger and more reliable, but I’ve seen you in action and your Illusion magic is on par with any Core magic.”
Raven jerked her head up. “What?”
Dr. Kesson looked amused. “You must have noticed. Illusion magic is unstable and doesn’t have as much strength due to it being excess magic coming from your Core. Yet, during your test, your Illusion magic never faltered and it was extremely powerful. You’re only an Orange. That sort of power and control tends to be a Purple or Red at the very least.”
Raven blinked and thought about what Dr. Kesson said. Her Illusion magic had always been stable. Her parents had called her gifted, her teachers called her talented, but it hadn’t been a big deal. Everyone knew that Illusion magic just wasn’t as important as Core magic. Still, when she thought about Ethan and Lisa, they hadn’t managed to maintain their Illusion magic for more than a few minutes when they showed it to her. Even Patrice’s shapeshifting had only held up for about ten minutes before it fell apart. Raven had never had that happen and she had simply taken it for granted.
“What does it mean?” Raven asked. “My Core, and now even my Illusion magic, is different from everyone’s?”
“It’s fascinating,” Dr. Kesson said. He had a look on his face that made her think if he could he would be dragging her to a lab to experiment on her.
Raven cringed. “You look like you want to dissect me.”
Dr. Kesson blinked in surprise. “Do I? I apologize. I don’t want to dissect you,” he said with amusement. “But, I wouldn’t mind observing your skills. Aren’t you interested in knowing how much you can achieve?”
“Not if it means becoming a lab rat,” Raven said flatly.
Dr. Kesson looked disappointed. “I know you’re not just an experiment.”
“Sometimes I think you forget I’m a person,” Raven countered.
They both knew she was referring to the Illusion test.
“I suppose I deserve that, but if you want my help to learn more about your magic I would be happy to assist.”
“Is there anything else you need from me?” Raven said, changing the subject.
Dr. Kesson chuckled. “Back to the topic on hand then. Are you willing to participate in the arena?”
Raven paused to think about it. The smart thing to do was say no. It was dangerous and anything could happen. She still didn’t completely trust Dr. Kesson, but the thought of an arena caused a thrill to go through her. She wanted to see what the arena would be like and just how strong she was. The feeling disturbed her a little and she packed it away to look at later. In any case, it would help her to practice in case she needed to fight in the future.
“Okay, I’ll enter the arena,” Raven said and there was a hint of excitement in her voice.
Dr. Kesson smiled. “Welcome, Ms. Delias, to the Sponsorship Program.”
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