Raven opened her mouth. “No,” she gritted out.
She released her hold on the water, unable to drain the root monster any further. She laid there, panting, and unable to move.
“Pity. How are you going to awaken if you can’t even endure taking down one root monster?” Tick Tock said, floating back to the table and pouring himself a new cup of tea.
Honestly, Raven wasn’t sure. She heard a slurping sound and managed to roll over to see it. The root monster she had almost drained of water, was drinking up the water she had separated from it. As it drank the roots strengthen, no longer brittle.
“Damn it,” Raven said. All that pain for nothing.
Pain still shook through her body, but looking down she saw that she was no longer stretched skin anymore. She pushed herself up and as she did her eyes widened.
Underneath where she had laid was a hole. She frowned, trying to figure out what happened. Did her fall cause this? But a glance around told her that couldn’t be it. There was no spilled over dirt and grass. It was like everything that had been in the hole was gone.
Gone. Slowly, she began to turn that thought over. This world was hers. Even if the creatures wouldn’t obey her, they reacted to her words. So the guards were put there by her mind as a safety measure, but they were still hers. She looked at the guards. Silently there, protecting the entrance to the door, but never attacking unless she attacked or approached too close.
“Could that be it?” she mumbled to herself.
She crouched down and pressed her hand against the ground. She closed her eyes concentrating. She felt energy slid through her body. When she opened her eyes she looked down and a hole rested where her hand was. She grinned and stood up.
Tick Tock had been right. This was her world after all. She set her gaze on the root monster she had fought earlier. Taking a deep breath she began walking towards it. Every step she took she felt her heart race, but she kept walking, never faltering. Her eyes narrowed. As soon as she was a meter away, the root beast shot out its branches.
Raven tensed, her body screaming for her to dodge. She forced herself not to move. She closed her eyes as the branches hit. The branches slammed against her chest, but she didn’t budge an inch.
A surge went through her, like she was being revitalized. She looked down to see swirling black energy. The black energy swallowed up the branches eagerly, like a hungry mouth.
Her purple eyes glowed, the magenta flecks in their depths flickered like tiny flames. The root beast’s body writhed and tried to withdraw, but Raven’s hand snaked out, pulling it towards her.
“More,” she said. She could barely recognize her voice. It was deeper, sultry, and hungry.
She pulled the root beast closer, the darkness surrounding her swallowing the beast up. Energy pulsed around her body, seeping into her skin. She’d never felt anything like it. The rush of it was intoxicating. Her body thrummed with power. The fine hairs on her skin stood up as the energy grew. And all she could think of was more.
Tendrils of black energy shot forth, dragging the tree towards its greedy depths. The shadows shifted and raised up like a wave. It crashed down and swallowed up the root beast. Another burst of raw power soared through Raven’s body. The black energy swirled around her body, before sinking back into her skin.
She turned to the other root monsters. Their branches withered in fear. Raven felt something inside her bubble up and she started to laugh. It was like something in her twisted and changed. The laughter burst from her uncontrollably. She couldn’t stop laughing. All of it was so funny.
She ran towards them. The remaining six root beasts attacked her at once. Their branches stabbed at her. For a moment there was even pain, but it didn’t matter. The black energy rose up, wrapping around them, dragging their struggling bodies deep into its mouth. One by one the black energy swallowed the root guardians and more power filled her body. Each one brought a new heady surge. Part of her told her this was dangerous. The energy was coming through her too fast, but she couldn’t stop. She wanted to swallow it all.
“More, more. Give it all to me,” she said, laughing.
The black energy swallowed them all up and still, it wanted more. Raven knew she should control it, but her mind was reeling and so she let it run free. It danced across the island, swallowing up the grass from the ground. Its tendrils wrapped around the cottage, even absorbing it. Everything, every piece of it swallowed up until it could feed no more until all that was left was the single door.
The door, the black energy wanted to swallow it too, but she needed it. Yes, she needed it. This was the key to her awakening. The thought of her awakening made her look around her. She realized she was standing in an endless blackness. She blinked and the blackness glinted with pinpoints of white, like stars dancing around her. As she looked around her in wonder, she felt her mind come back to itself. The laughter trailed off until her voice grew silent.
She blinked again and then spun around her. She had done this. There was no island, no cottage. She couldn’t even sense Tick Tock. Had she also swallowed up the demon? She shuddered at the thought. Her mind reeled at what she had done. The longer she stayed in this dreamscape the more she changed. But if this was part of the Core Awakening, didn’t this mean this was her true self.
A laughing maniac that sucked up everything around her? No, she couldn’t accept this was her true self. She shook her head as if she could shake away what happened. The energy thrummed through her body as a testament of what she had done, of what she was.
“The door,” she said, looking back at it.
The door would give her an answer. Nothing was set until she looked on the other side of the door. She hurried towards it, her feet gliding across the room of endless stars. She reached for the knob, her hand shaking. She paused, afraid. What would she find pass that door? She could sit here and wait for the injection to wear off, keep locked up whatever was squirming inside her. Part of her knew if she didn’t open these door her Core Embud would remain gray. She would stay a dud, only able to use her Illusion magic. It wasn’t a bad thing. She was good at her Illusion magic, but if she did that her life would change. Opportunities would be shut to her. She would be considered weak, worthless, only worthy of the scraps that society thought to throw at her.
I don’t want that! Her brain screamed at her.
Raven knew it was selfish, but she wanted to be strong. She couldn’t walk away from this, not yet. Somehow she would learn to control it. If it got too much for her then she would shut it away. An echo of laughter sounded in her head, but she ignored it.
She turned the knob. It opened of course. There had never been a need for a key. Raven walked through the door.
For a moment everything froze.
Tick Tock’s voice brushed against her ear. “So you’ve decided. Don’t regret it. This is just the first door.”
Then she was falling into darkness.
Raven wasn’t sure when she closed her eyes, but she felt herself no longer falling. She sucked in a breath, almost afraid to see what her Core turned out to be. She opened her eyes and gasped.
All around her was destruction. She was standing in the hall outside of the Core testing room. Part of the hall was gone. The walls and part of the floor had vanished like they had never been there. Around her people were strewn across the ground, their bodies limp.
She turned and saw the room she had been getting tested in was partly gone. Dr. Briton and the access facility woman were both lying limp on the ground. Behind the reinforced window, people stared at her, their faces contorted in terror. A dread filled Raven.
Did I do this?
She heard movement and she turned. Her eyes widened as she saw a familiar figure across the floor, further down the hall. Raven took a step forward.
Penny froze and turned to her. Her eyes were wide.
“Penny, w-what happened?” Raven asked.
“Stay away from me,” Penny screamed and threw an arm in front of her.
A burst of wind threw Raven back and she skidded across the floor. Stunned, Raven looked at her friend. Penny attacked her. Penny was scared of her. Raven looked at the unconscious people strewed across the room. She did this then.
Besides her, something moved, but Raven couldn’t bring herself to look. She didn’t want to see another person staring at her in fear. A hand pressed against her shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“It’s okay now.”
She looked up and saw Syrion looking stiffly down at her. “I’ve got you.”
How is any of this okay?
She frowned. A sharp prick pinched her neck. She turned around to see Micah standing at her other side, a needle in his hand. She could see his mouth moving, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. The world grew blurry and Raven slipped into unconsciousness.