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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