As soon as Raven walked back into the room, Lisa was by her side. “What happened? What did Principal Kase want?”
Raven laughed bitterly and shook her head. “It wasn’t Principal Kase that called me.”
From there, Raven told Lisa about how she was set up. The more she spoke the darker Lisa’s scowl grew. By the time she finished, Lisa’s fists were balled up at her sides and she was vibrating with anger.
“I’ll teach those girls a lesson,” Lisa growled out, stomping toward the door.
Raven quickly grabbed her wrist. “Wait, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why the hell not?” Lisa asked, pulling her hand away from Raven.
“There’s obviously someone backing those two. I’m already a target. It’s not a good idea to make you one as well,” Raven explained.
“I can handle it,” Lisa insisted.
Raven felt warm at the thought of her friend willing to risk it for her, but she was firm. “What about your sponsor?”
At this, Lisa hesitated.
Finally, Lisa deflated and walked back to her bed. “Shit.”
Raven nodded. “Don’t worry. I can handle this for now.”
“How did you manage to get away from them? Especially Pete. He’s…on a different level.”
Raven turned over what to say. The fewer people who knew about her powers the better, but at the same time Cindy, Patrice, and Pete already knew. She didn’t think they would tell anybody, or at least whoever was backing them would probably keep it quiet for now. After all, it would mean revealing that she had been set up in the hall. She would definitely have to be careful. She wasn’t sure what would happen if people knew she could access her powers even with her suppressor on.
But, Lisa…It was a good idea to have someone she trusted on her side. If only her enemies knew about her being able to access her magic she would be putting herself at a disadvantage. Raven frowned at the thought. Her thoughts felt weird, almost cold and calculated. She shook that away and turned to Lisa.
“I used magic,” she said simply.
Lisa looked at her. “What?”
Raven wavered and then took a breath and walked over to Lisa. She held out her hand. It took her a good while since most of her magic reserves were used up back at the fight in the hall. After a few tense moments, she summoned a small ball of water. It was less than half the size of the water she had summoned before.
Lisa gaped at her. “How? Is your suppressor broken?”
Raven hesitated again. This time she decided to keep how she accessed her magic to herself. She felt a little bad about it, but when she was found out, it would be better if everyone thought it was a broken suppressor. So she shrugged.
“I don’t know,” she lied.
Lisa shook her head. “Wow. You know, I should report this.”
Raven met Lisa’s eyes. “You could.”
For a minute, Raven held her breath, waiting.
Lisa sighed and flopped down on her bed. “Ah, whatever. Let’s pretend I don’t know any of this.”
Raven grinned. “Got it.”
“Yeah, yeah, now hurry up and get ready for bed. It’s almost time for curfew.”
After getting ready for bed, Raven turned off the lights and snuggled underneath the coarse blanket. She yawned. The day had been eventful. She hadn’t expected her first official day of classes to go like it did. She especially hadn’t expected to end her day in the middle of a fight, but it was all worth it to know that she held the key to her freedom. Her eyes began to drift close when she heard Lisa’s voice.
“Raven,” Lisa whispered.
Raven rolled over to face the other girl. She could barely make out Lisa’s face from across the room. “Hmm?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t go and say anything to those girls?”
Raven’s brow furrowed in confusion. She was pretty sure she convinced Lisa not to go, so she didn’t understand what Lisa meant. Raven waited for the other girl to explain.
“I mean having a sponsor is really important to me.” Lisa turned on her back, looking at the ceiling. “I know everyone hates it at ECI, but for me, it’s been a second chance. I don’t know what would have happened to me if not for ECI and getting a sponsor.”
That startled Raven. She frowned. Would she have thought differently about ECI if her life had been more like Lisa or the others? She couldn’t imagine that, but it did make her wonder how many others felt like Lisa. She didn’t know what to say to Lisa, so she said nothing. Raven rolled on her side and closed her eyes and let her exhaustion carry her to sleep.
Moments later, Raven found herself in the familiar training ground of her dreamscape. She frowned. She hadn’t expected or even wished to be here, but her mind had brought her here anyway. She looked around to see if the demon might have been involved, but there was no sign of Tick Tock.
Raven walked around the training field. The dummies from before were no longer broken bits but restored to their original appearance. There was something so strange about the dreamscape. When she came here she felt different and thought differently. She frowned. She wasn’t sure if that was good or not. She felt more confident here, stronger, but was that really who she was?
The door. She turned to look at the door. It was an unassuming plain wooden door. She rubbed her hands nervously over her pants. She took a breath. Was the door the answer to everything or would it lead her deeper into becoming something she could never come back from? Taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and took a step forward.
The sound of her steps thudded against the packed dirt. She was only a couple of steps from the door when she heard her.
“Raven, what are you doing?”
Raven whirled around and her eyes widened. Standing in front of her with a curious smile was the familiar figure of her best friend. “Penny?”
Penny tilted her head, her orange bob brushing against the caramel skin of her cheek. “Uh, yeah, who else would it be?”
Raven took a step towards her friend and then stopped. “You’re not real.”
Penny rolled her eyes. “Whatever, but were you really going to open that door?”
Raven turned to look at the door. “Shouldn’t I?”
“What? Don’t you remember what you did to me?”
Raven looked back at Penny to see her friend’s face contorted in anger.
“You strangled me and started draining me of magic. How could you even think of opening that door again?”
Raven took a step back. “I-I-“
“What did you forget?” Penny took an angry step forward. “I didn’t.” She yanked back the edge of her shirt revealing bruises around her neck. “You’re a monster.”
Raven took another step back, shaking her head. “No!” She turned away from Penny and the door. Guilt welled up through her body and she pressed her palms to her eyes as if trying to block out the world. “I didn’t mean it.”
The sound of clapping sounded in front of her. She jerked her hands away from her face. Her cheeks were wet. Not far from her, Tick Tock lounged in the air with a bowl of popcorn. “Now, that was quite the show.”
Raven quickly brushing the tears away. She glanced back to see the door standing there and Penny was gone. She looked back at Tick Tock, glaring.
“Did you do that?” she asked angrily, taking a threatening step towards the demon.
“Oh no. That was all you, my dear Raven. You really good at making yourself suffer.”
She frowned and looked back at the door, confused. “I did that?”
Tick Tock floated across the field. “I’ve told you before. Everything here has a cost.”
Raven gave a sidelong glance at the demon. Penny’s words rattled through her brain. She pushed them away. “Just how many doors are there?”
“Hmm let me see,” Tick Tock said, counting on his clawed fingers. “There was the first one, and then this one. Including this tantalizing one awaiting you, there are six unopened doors, each with its own special lock.”
Raven frowned. “The first door didn’t have a lock.”
“Oh, it did. What did you think those little plant guards were?” Tick Tock said with a laugh.
Raven turned it all over. “So the locks are actually obstacles I have to face. Is this so I can get stronger?”
Tick Tock began swimming in the air, circling her. “You’re asking the wrong question.”
Raven concentrated, letting her thoughts go over everything she knew so far. She figured unlocking the door gave her deeper access to her power. Tick Tock had told her she could access her Core even with a suppressor on if she opened the door. But Tick Tock was often misleading, so more than likely she would have to open all the doors. It made sense that they were there to test her and make sure she was strong, but Tick Tock said she was asking the wrong question.
“Why are the locks even there?” she grumbled.
“Because someone put them there?” Tick Tock said. As soon as the words left his mouth a large slash split the air severing the demon’s arm. Tick Tock tumbled out of the air, landing with a crash on the ground.
Raven jerked back in surprise.
“Oops,” Tick Tock said. “It looks like I said too much.” The demon picked himself off the ground and retrieved his arm. He pressed it against his shoulder and Raven watched as the arm reattached.
“What was that?” she asked, her eyes wide.
Tick Tock gave her a tight smile. “That was a warning, my dear. I believe you’ll have to figure out the door puzzle on your own.”
Raven felt disconcerted and she looked around her. “This place is my dreamscape.”
“Undoubtedly,” Tick Tock said.
Still, it worried her. What had attacked Tick Tock? She didn’t like it. Was there something else in her head, something that even Tick Tock was afraid of?
“There’s only you and me here, right?” Raven asked.
Tick Tock laughed. “I can guarantee you, Raven, that everything here is meant to be here.”
“That wasn’t exactly an answer,” Raven mumbled but didn’t push the demon. Instead, she thought about it on her own. “Then that means if it’s meant to be here, then it’s part of me. This is my mind after all.”
Tick Tock hummed in agreement.
She frowned. “But then that means…” She looks at the door. “That the locks were put here by me.”
“Well done! You figured it out and I didn’t have to lose any more limbs in the process,” Tick Tock said with a clap.
Raven shook her head. “So you’re saying I’ve created these obstacles on purpose? But why would I do that?”
Tick Tock’s eyes gleamed. “Only you can answer that.”
Raven felt overwhelmed with the information. “I…need to think about this.” As soon as she decided that, the dreamscape melted away and once again she was back in her dorm. She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. It felt like even her mind was against her.
“Nothing is ever easy.” She sighed and closed her eyes. This time she fell into a dreamless sleep.