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.
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.