1. Prodigies – 1

Just breathe. Everything is going to be all right. 

Raven could almost hear her mother’s voice. She tried to push down the panic as she stared at her Embud. One half of the skin around her wrist was orange. Curved lines ebbed up and down the orange strip like waves crashing against the shore. Despite the design, her skin was smooth to the touch, as if the image rested underneath the skin. The orange strip ended in the middle of her wrist, stopped by a black line. On the right side of the black line was a steady and plain strip of gray. She glared at the gray skin. It felt like a shackle.

She sighed and flopped back in the plastic bucket chair. Her gaze shifted around the Access Facility, watching as more students wandered around, chatting with each other as they waited for their name to be called. “I’m going to be a dud. I know it.”

“That is literally impossible,” Penny said from the seat next to her. “Everyone has Core magic. If you were going to be a dud then it would be your illusion magic and that’s obviously not the case.” She said gesturing to the orange half of Raven’s Embud strip, before glancing back down at her phone.

Raven eyed her friend’s Embud. Her left half was a soft yellow with a design that looked like gust of winds. The right half, while grey, was already sliding into a soft green.

“You can say that because your Core is already turning green,” Raven said, eyeing Penny’s Embud with envy. “What if I end up not being able to access my Core until I’m sixty!”

“You’ll at least be awakened,” Penny said distractedly.

Raven elbowed her friend. “So mean.” She glanced down to see what had Penny so distracted and saw she was watching the news. “What’s going on?”

Penny handed her one of her earbuds. Curious, Raven slid it into her ear.

“Today, around the world, people are celebrating the 20th anniversary of magic’s arrival. Twenty years ago today, magic appeared in the world changing how our world works and even how we look.” The news anchor fluffed her stylish jade green hair. Her co-anchor blinked his yellow eyes.

“Magic didn’t only bring about an endless new range of hair and eye colors. Now every human in the world has gained a gray band of skin around their wrist. A strip, we named, Embud. With our Embud, we can see how strong a person’s Illusion and Core magic is.”

“Speaking of Core magic,” the male anchor said. “Today they’ll be hosting the Echer Games, right here in Tythion City. The game schedule will be-“

Raven sighed and tugged the earbud from her ear. “Really? That’s what’s got you so distracted?”

Penny looked at her excitedly. “But it’s the twentieth anniversary. I mean, think about it. Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have even looked like this. I mean, can you imagine?”

Raven reached out to tug at her long bushel of blue curls. Despite how untamable her hair tended to be, she was always sort of proud of it. She often received compliments on her hair. Her hair was a dark blue at the roots and shifted down to light bright blue, causing an eye-catching gradient. She was a bit vain when it came to her hair.

“I get it. It would be super weird for there to only be a few hair colors, but we learned all that in history class. Why are you so interested in hearing about it on the news?”

Penny looked at Raven and her orange eyes shimmered in excitement. “It’s not what they said. It’s what they’re not saying. Today isn’t just the anniversary of magic. It’s also the eighth anniversary of Tythion’s lost year. Of course, they didn’t mention that, especially since the Echer Games are being held here.”

Penny obsessed about the lost year. The day everyone in Tythion woke up and realized they have forgotten an entire year of their life. She studied information about it whenever she got the chance. Raven would rather not think about it. Whenever someone brought it up she felt this sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Come on. We were like six back then,” Raven said.

“Yes, I know, but that makes it even more interesting. In almost eight years no one has figured out what happened. Come on, the government must be trying to keep it under wraps or they did it. One day I’m going to figure it out and reveal it to the world.”

Chuckling, Raven nodded. Penny wanted to become an investigative reporter, toppling down wicked governments and evil corporations. Raven admired her for her determination. Raven had no clue what she wanted to do with her life.

“I’m sure you’re going to be great, Penny,” Raven said with a soft smile. “But until then, how about we focus on what we’re doing now. Today we awaken our Core.”

“Well, I guess I’m a little curious what mine will be,” Penny admitted.

“I’m dying to know,” Raven said.

Students from all over the city were entering Access Facilities to awaken their Core Magic and have it registered. Some people’s Core magic had even already started awakening. Raven watched a girl walk by. The girl’s Embud on the Core side was already green. The girl joined her friends who all had varying degrees of green on their Core side. 

The feeling of dread filled Raven again and she glanced back down on her Embud’s Core side. It was still complete gray with not even a trace of green. What if she didn’t awaken? She knew it was rare, but there were cases of people’s Core magic not awakening for years. They might as well be a dud in that case, since most jobs and schools required a certain color level in Core to apply.

“Oh my God!” Penny squealed, jerking Raven out of her depressed thoughts.

“Huh?” Raven said, looking over at Penny. Her friend leaned over, gawking at a guy who a small crowd was gathering around. He wore a black uniform, with an insignia of a snake eating its tail. Raven immediately recognized it as the uniform for West Merrick Academy.

“He’s an elite,” Raven said.

“Not just any elite,” Penny said, grabbing Raven’s wrist. “That’s Micah Kesson. He’s already a member of the Magic Defense Enforcement even though he’s only 15.”

“What? He’s a part of MDE?” Raven asked, stunned. “How is that even possible?”

“His Core awakened on its own when he was ten,” Penny said and began dragging Raven towards the crowd.

“Eh? That’s insane. Hey! Why are you dragging me over there? Are you going to talk to him?” Raven said.

Penny grinned and the next thing Raven knew she was being pushed through the crowd. Right as they broke through the cluster and reached where Micah stood, they both stopped. Raven straightened, trying to get a good look of the elite. Before she could focus on him, someone shoved her.

Her eyes widened as she tumbled forward. Her instinct was to shoot a powerful surge of water to propel herself back. The magic collected in her palm, but she clamped down on it. Magic was not allowed to be used in the Access Facility without a permit.  

Hello, floor, nice to meet you.

She only had a second to brace herself.

But before she could hit the floor, her descent halted. Blinking in surprise, she looked up and right into the face of the hottest guy she had ever met. His face was like a sculptor’s dream, a perfect mixture of angles and contours. His medium length black hair spilled over one side of his face in an elegant fall that highlighted his eyes. And his eyes, they were so blue they seem to almost glow. 

“Wow,” she said.

Those blue eyes widened and then his lips quirked up in amusement. “Thanks.”

For a few seconds, Raven stood there in confusion. Why was hot guy thanking her? She was the one who should be thanking him. Wait, did she say that ‘wow’ out loud?

Immediately, she straightened up. Heat climbed up her cheeks. Raven was immensely grateful that her brown skin hid any telltale signs of her blush.

“Uh,” she said, looking around her for some sort of escape. That’s when she noticed people were staring at her. She looked back at her rescuer. Her gaze drifted to his West Merrick Academy uniform. Then it hit her. She had faceplanted into the arms of prodigy extraordinaire, Micah Kesson.

“Crap.” 

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