9. Ringo

A twinge of guilt shot through Syrion as he walked away from Raven. Shit. He really shouldn’t have gotten involved. Syrion shoved his hand through his hair in frustration. His job had been to come here, watch the little practice session and then report back. Talking to Raven hadn’t been on the docket, but there he went anyway. 

“Fucking busybody,” he mumbled to himself. 

He should have learned to keep out of things, but he couldn’t just sit back and watch, not when he was involved. To make matters worse he had lied to Raven and there was no doubt that would come back to bite him in the ass. It was more a matter of when and if he could somehow lessen the collateral damage. He did that a lot, trying to lessen the collateral damage of the bullshit going on around him. It had become a duty of his, one he couldn’t manage to drop no matter how many times he laid in bed telling himself he was going to stay out of it from now on. 

Why did he do it? He could say it was a misguided sense of justice or a deep-rooted kindness. He snorted at the idea. It was guilt. Simple as that. All of this, all these students sent to this place on trumped-up charges to help reform them, was his fault. He mentally shook himself from his thoughts. If he thought too long on it, then it would drive him crazy. 

Syrion continued down the hall until he reached a door with a small insignia of a gun and shield. He raised his hand, a current of magic sliding over his hand like electricity and then surging over the insignia. It lit up and then the door slide open. He stepped inside to find Cole Harrison sitting at his personal surveillance station. All around Cole were multiple floating screens with videos of the school. Students traveled through the halls, some were inside classes or lounged in the dorm common rooms. 

“Look at them. They seem so normal,” Cole said, his red eyes narrowed as he watched them. “Little monsters with a human face.” 

Syrion managed to keep his expression blank. It was easy. He had gotten used to Cole talking like this. 

Cole turned and faced Syrion. “You’re late.” 

Syrion nodded. He managed to keep his gaze from flitting to the screen displaying the hall where he spoke with Raven. He already knew Cole would see them. “I was speaking with Raven Delias.” 

“Hmm,” Cole said and leaned back in his chair and as he did a new screen popped up. 

This screen was one Syrion was intimately familiar with. On it, the images of Raven’s Awakening played out. The black smoke swallowing up those people, his body struggling as he tried to fight her with his neutralizing abilities, Cole played the video constantly. In all honesty, Syrion was surprised it hadn’t been on when he stepped into the room. 

“And what did you and Delias talk about?” Cole asked. 

Syrion knew he had to tread carefully, but he was good at playing this game. Ever since Cole adopted him and Syrion had made the mistake of fully using his neutralizing powers on the man, he knew there were always consequences to what he did and said. 

“There were some students that Delias has made enemies with. I was checking in and seeing where her emotional state stood,” Syrion said like a soldier reporting to his commanding officer. 

Cole nodded and turned back to the screen showing Raven’s Awakening. Whenever the video ended it would loop again, playing the Awakening over and over. “And where does it stand?” 

“She’s agitated, scared and angry,” Syrion said honestly. 

“Dangerous,” Cole said with a dark chuckle. His gaze never turned away from the screen. 

For a moment they both stood there, watching Raven’s Awakening replay on the screen. The images were broken, compiled together from video footage. The video had gaps from when the cameras broke or the feed wasn’t transferred to the main server before the camera, and the wall it was attached to, was wiped from existence by Raven’s magic. 

“She’s quite pretty,” Cole said and his gaze turned to Syrion, searching. 

Syrion felt his insides grow cold as that gaze pinned him. Casually, he shrugged. “I guess. She’s a little young.” 

Cole continued looking Syrion over as if he was searching for the lie. Luckily, there was no lie in that. Maybe in a year or two, but right now Syrion had no romantic interest in the girl. Satisfied, Cole grunted and turned back to the looping video, as he did there was a knock on the door. 

“Enter,” Cole said and the door slid open. 

Syrion stiffened as the familiar figure of Pete Burros stepped into the room. His cold gray eyes looked over the office, drifting over Syrion. Syrion’s skin crawled as the glacier gaze rested on him. His power itched to crawl back up. Finally, the boy’s stare moved past him, resting on the image of the looping video of Raven. For a moment, a flicker of interest glinted in Pete’s eyes, before his attention turned fully to Cole. 

Cole ignored Pete, not bothering to turn away from the screen he was watching. When he spoke next, it wasn’t to Pete. 

“Syrion, take a seat.” 

Syrion sat down, while Pete remained standing. 

“When I was a boy, I often went hunting with my father and uncle. This was before magic came, so there were only a man, his wits and his gun.” 

Syrion listened patiently, a little confused. Why had Cole decided to tell him a story? He had obviously called Pete into the office for something. 

“In our case, we also had Ringo. Ringo was my uncle’s foxhound. He was a great dog, loyal, sharp, could sniff out game from 40 feet away. On that day, good old Ringo had found himself a raccoon and was determined to take the beast down. We went chasing after him. We actually had been there to hunt fox, but Ringo was set on that raccoon. My uncle let him go after it with a laugh. And sure enough, Ringo took down the raccoon and brought it back to us. After that, we continued our fox hunting and packed up for the day.” 

Cole leaned back in his chair as he looked away from Raven’s video and back to the surveillance cameras. “A week or so later, I went to visit my uncle. He was sitting in his chair, watching the game while drinking a nice cold one. My cousin, around six at the time, was climbing all over Ringo. Now that was a pretty normal sight. Ringo loved my cousin and let her do about anything to him.” A cold smile curled Cole’s lips. 

“I had just walked in and was about two steps away from my niece when I saw something change in Ringo. His eyes were a little wild and the corner of his lip curled. I didn’t know what was going on, but some instinct took me and I grabbed my cousin off Ringo. Just as I did Ringo lunged at her. I had never seen my uncle move so fast. Grabbing Ringo, my uncle held him down. The dog calmed down right away.” 

With a sickening feeling, Syrion got the feeling he knew where this story was going. It was the reason he had warned Raven, but to hear his fears being confirmed made bile rise in his throat. 

“Now, when a wild animal attacks a person most people will put it down, but we have a soft spot for our pets. Instead, some people will try to fix them, train them.” He nodded to the kids in the surveillance camera. “And sometimes that works, but not in old Ringo’s case. Well, they took him to the vet and found out Ringo had got bit. Rabies. Now it wasn’t Ringo’s fault he got rabies. My uncle always kept his rabies shots up-to-date, but there was a mistake with the dosage, or something like that. In the end, Ringo wasn’t going to get better, just worse. So what do you think my uncle did?” Cole asked, turning back to Syrion. 

“They put him down,” Syrion said, barely managing to keep his expression blank. 

“That’s right,” Cole said and then he finally turned his attention to Pete. “You’ve already met Delias?” 

“Yes, sir,” Pete said 

Cole nodded. “Good. I want you to show Delias our special brand of hospitality. Think you can manage?” 

“My access to the girl’s side is limited.” Pete tilted his head and then nodded. “I know some girls who can help.” 

“Then get to it, but don’t go too far. We want her to retaliate. Dismissed.” 

Pete glanced back at the looping video of Raven briefly, before nodding and leaving the room. 

After the door slid shut behind Pete, Cole turned back to Syrion. “I know you pity her, Syrion.” Cole stood up and walked over to Syrion, resting his hands on his shoulders. “But when a dog has rabies there is no curing it. You simply have to put it down.” He squeezed his shoulders. “You understand?” 

Syrion swallowed and nodded. 

Cole smiled and gave his adopted son a soft pat. “Good.” He stepped away from Syrion, turning back to the screen. “I know many in the MDE might not agree with my methods. Even the Corporations want to use her.” Cole sneered at the mention of the Corporations. “But what I’m doing is showing them that sometimes extreme measures are called for. It’s a sad, but necessary, truth.” 

He turned back to Syrion, his voice growing gentle. “You look a little pale, son. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” 

Syrion stood and he realized his hands were shaking. He quickly forced them to still. “Yes…Cole.” 

“Still set on calling me that.” Cole chuckled and shook his head. “Go on.” 

Syrion nodded to Cole and walked out of the room. It wasn’t until he was out of ECI and riding on his hovercycle that he could no longer hold the nausea back. He pulled off to the side of the road and threw up. The acidity burned his throat and his eyes watered. He heaved again and again until nothing came back up. Then he stood there, trying to control the guilt that rose through his body.

He was sixteen and alone with the knowledge that it was his actions that had made Cole this way. The man had become the monster he had tried so much to conquer. Syrion squeezed his eyes shut. What could he do? 

Syrion took a deep breath and climbed back on his hovercycle and drove home.

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