Hello lovely readers. I’ll be going on a hiatus starting today. Due to my financial situation and health I have to take a break. I really appreciate all the support everyone has given me and I hope to return with more chapters once I get everything settled. Thank you for reading! Until next time.
Elaria and the boy slid across the floor and slammed into the wall. Smoke filled the air.
Coughing, Elaria sat up and checked the boy. “Are you all right?”
The boy nodded and looked at the chair. He paled. A huge chunk of the chair had been blown away. The boy trembled and looked at his hands. His hands were fine. It had been close.
“Next time, focus on the stone,” Elaria said. “Trust yourself. If you can feel a shift in the energy when you bring it close to the wood, toss the stone.”
The boy nodded, still staring at the chair. Elaria wondered if he would quit, but she knew he wouldn’t. It was the only real work a Burnt Child could get in Jelam.
Mr. Himmel hurried over and lifted the boy to his feet. “Well then, you survived.” He nodded to another worker. “Go work with Ethay. You need a bit more training before you have your own bench.”
The boy mumbled his thanks and hurried to the other worker’s bench. The rest of the section had already returned to their work.
Mr. Himmel helped Elaria to her feet. “You knew it was bad even from a distance.”
Elaria rubbed the back of her neck. “It was just a feeling.”
“Right.” A pensive look crossed his face. “You okay?”
Elaria examined her arms. Small cuts trailed across her skin, but nothing serious. Dust caked her shirt and tunic. She touched the mass of brown curls piled on top of her head and came back with a few slivers of wood. Untying her scarf, she used it to wipe the dust off her face.
“Yes,” she said. “Lucky, that.”
Mr. Himmel gave her a strange look and turned away. “Just lucky.” He cleared his throat. “Go on to Artifacts. I’ll check in on you after I get this mess cleared. And make sure you get those cuts cleaned up.”
Elaria nodded and gave her skirt a final pat, before walking to the water basin. She tried to ignore the look Himmel gave her. She’d have to be careful. Though she was definitely a Burnt Child, she still had something a little extra from the other Burnt Children. She could see strands. That extra ability had gotten her out of Embedments and into the Artifacts section. Still, no one knew she could see the strands, not even Himmel. If they knew, she wasn’t sure even Himmel wouldn’t turn her into the Purifiers.
She shuddered at the thought and quickly washed off the dirt, giving her cuts a cleaning. She eyed the alcohol next to the basin and decided to forfeit the burning it would cause. They were only small cuts after all.
Elaria felt out of breath. If she hadn’t known better, she would’ve thought a Tongue had spoken her into trouble. She smiled and shook her head. That, of course, just wasn’t possible. The only Melitan Tongues she knew were her father and Korvin and neither one had the inclination or the power.
Ever since the war fifty years ago, neither Tongue nor Hand wielded great magic, though the Tongue Melitan-El might’ve been the exception. No one knew what exactly the Melitan-El could do. Rumors said he didn’t use rokas stones to enchant any of his possessions, but instead spoke enchantments into them. After all, he was the one who had embedded the golden armor of the Champion with both Tongue and Hand powers with just a few words. Without him, the Champion would never have been able to defeat the mad Spirit Queen.
Elaria grimaced. The Champion had saved the world from the Spirit Queen, but in exchange people like her became nothing more than the rats of Meli. She knew it was the right thing to do. People needed to protect themselves from the Spirit people, but she wished there had been another way. Why did Meli keep making Spirit people just for them to become Burnt Children? Elaria pushed those thoughts away. It was an old argument, one without an answer. She couldn’t do anything for the Burnt Children, but she could do something for herself. At the end of the week she would tell Himmel yes. It was time to leave Jelam behind.
Elaria pushed away from the basin and went to the back offices. She stopped in front of the fifth door and fished a small iron key from her pocket. In or out, the door to the artifacts was always locked. She unlocked the door and then closed and locked it behind her.
The air was filled with the heavy tang of energy, like the feeling before a lightning storm. It sent a surge of giddiness through her. She put away the key and grinned when she saw three large crates overflowing with different objects. Crossing the room, she maneuvered around the workbenches and piles of good and discarded artifacts. She peeked inside one of the crates and saw interlocking ivory bracelets and a red bowl with black carvings etched on the inside. Colored strands encircled both objects. She itched to touch them, but she already had a pile of artifacts on her bench. She turned away and went to her station.
Artifacts. It was a dangerous job. While working in Embedments could get her injured, working in Artifacts would send the Purifiers after her. Burnt Children weren’t allowed to handle magical items, with the exception of the rokas stones. Having rokas stones to strengthen furniture or keep a home warm was too important. No one else could use them as well as a Burnt Child could, nor did anyone want to with the possibility of getting their hands blown off. She had been the best with the stones. Himmel had surprised her when he’d offered her a position in Artifacts. They both could lose everything, but since she’d started working in Artifacts, Himmel’s Crafters had sold more artifacts than any other crafter or jeweler in Sanzela. It was because of her, a Burnt Child. She had proven to Himmel she was well worth the risk.
She watched swirls of mist dance in an array of colors around the artifacts on her bench. Some were thick strands that spun slowly across an artifact. Those were heavy with magic, but the enchantment wasn’t strong. Others were thin and wove tightly around an object. Those were better made enchantments, ones meant to last.
She reached for a gold cup on her bench when a loud crash sounded behind her. She whirled and peered at the room. There was something on the floor. With quick steps, she crossed the room and picked up a necklace with a rusted pendant attached to it. It wasn’t one of her artifacts. It must have fallen out of the crates. The pendant was round, rusted, and she could see faint silver strands encircling it. It looked like a sealing. She returned to her station and set the pendant aside on her bench. She would get to it once she was finished with the cup.
The gold cup contained a complex enchantment. She almost had it figured out. She studied the strands. They all braided into one another — green, gold, and red. The red bothered her. She narrowed her eyes and turned the cup in her hands, twisting the strands. It was like picking a lock, wiggling and searching for the right series of actions until…Click! It all fell together. The lock opened and she knew what it was and how it worked. A smile spread across her lips.
“You got it?” Himmel asked.
Elaria jumped. She hadn’t heard him come in, but she grinned up at him. Adrenaline pumped through her.
“The cup has three stra–three settings depending on what you put in it. If you put water in it, one drink and you will not thirst for a week. If you put in milk, you will not hunger for a week. If you put in wine, you will die within a week.”
“Great stuff,” Himmel said. “I’ll never understand how you get it down to the detail.”
Elaria said nothing.
Himmel patted her shoulder. “Let’s test it out. Water or milk?”
Elaria’s eyes widened and she laughed. “Water, please.”
Himmel winked at her and left. Elaria turned back to her bench. The pendant drew her attention. She frowned and picked it up. The silver strands swirled faster. The strands were thin and she could make out something strange about them. They looked like tiny chains. Her brow furrowed as she looked closer and then she saw past the silver chains. It was power, pulsing like a small heartbeat.
A shout rent the air and Elaria jerked up and rushed to the door. Unlocking it, she opened it a crack. White robes. Purifiers! Five of them stood in the Embedment section. She recognized one of them from the group earlier. A Purifier grabbed a girl’s arm, twisting it behind her. The girl’s face was drawn tight with pain and fear.
Himmel hurried over, his face blotchy and red. “What are you doing?”
One of the Purifiers advanced on Himmel, disgust clear on his face. “You have these soulless creatures here.”
Himmel crossed his arms. “I’ve got a license for them to be in Embedments.”
“Yes, for Embedments.”
As though some hidden signal was given, the remaining four Purifiers spread out. Himmel took a step, as though to protest, but the lead Purifier blocked him.
“Now, why don’t you show me your license?”
Himmel nodded. He didn’t look in her direction, but she knew what would happen if they found her. She swallowed and quietly shut the door and locked it. She scanned the room for an escape route. The window! She darted to it. If there were more Purifiers outside, they would see her escaping, but she would have to take her chances. Elaria took a deep breath and pushed the window open. Someone grabbed her from behind, yanking her away from the window.
She started to scream, but a hand clamped over her mouth and she was whirled around. Spring green eyes stared at her from a white heart-shaped face, carrying a wry grin and a sprinkle of freckles. He put a finger to his lips and dropped his hand.
“Korvin. What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Rescuing you.” He brushed at his fringe of strawberry blond hair and winked.
She frowned. “How did you get in here?”
“The same way we’re getting out.” He grabbed her hand and tugged her toward a closet where Himmel kept artifacts he couldn’t sell.
Elaria gave Korvin a quizzical look, but kept quiet. At the door, she could hear the jingle of keys. Korvin pulled her in the closet and shut the door, leading them deeper inside until he stopped at the back wall. He slid open a panel, revealing a crawlspace.
Elaria looked at it and then back at Korvin who simply grinned and mouthed, “Hurry.”
She nodded and ducked into the space. Korvin crawled in after her and slid the panel back into place.
They had to crawl for about half a block before the space widened. Once it did, they ran and didn’t stop until the tunnel ended. Elaria sucked in a breath when they stopped in front of a dead end. Korvin marched past her and pushed against the wall. Another panel opened. They climbed through and found themselves in a small storage room. Korvin took the lead, guiding her outside.
Outside, people milled around, talking excitedly about the Purifiers’ raid. Himmel’s Crafters was only three blocks from where they stood. In the distance, Elaria could see a crowd of people staring at the shop; others carefully took different routes to avoid drawing the inquiring eyes of the Purifiers.
Elaria scanned the area for the best route, when a carriage stopped in front of them. She jerked back in surprise, but Korvin didn’t move. He grimaced as someone pushed open the carriage door.
Her mother, Lady Jenia Corik, sat inside. Dread filled Elaria’s stomach. Jenia didn’t look at her like a worried mother, but with the cold eyes of a woman who was staring down a mistake that she had to live with. It was always like that. On those rare occasions when she wasn’t Jenia, but her mother, it made the cold stare all the worst. What was Korvin thinking bringing her here?
Elaria looked sharply at Korvin, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. He climbed into the carriage and, after a moment, Elaria followed. The carriage stared with a jerk and they rode toward the Corik estate. The silence thickened, nearly choking her.
“This isn’t one of our carriages,” Elaria said.
Her mother’s hand cracked against her cheek.
Elaria’s jaw went slack and she rubbed at her cheek. Jenia raised her hand again and Elaria scrunched back into her seat. Before the blow could land, Korvin grabbed her mother’s wrist.
Jenia glared at him. Korvin paled, but he didn’t let go. Her mother took a deep breath and snatched her hand back. She looked away from them and gazed out the window.
“Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake with you, Elaria.”
Elaria clenched her jaw. This time she did not break the silence. She stared at her hands, folded in her lap. She still held the pendant.
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Hi everyone! I’m still not feeling well so there won’t be a chapter this week for I/C. I’m hoping to be back at it again by next week. I think I should have tried resting a bit more before trying to get back into the swing of things. Anyway, I’ll be trying to post the next chapter next week.
Don’t act nervous. Elaria sneaked a look at the Purifiers. They laughed about something she couldn’t hear. Their white robes slide over their armor and caught the sunlight, making her eyes hurt when she looked at them. There were four of them, not five. Everything was fine.
She pressed the back of her hands against her skirt. If they saw the black flame etched on her hands it wouldn’t matter whether she was doing anything wrong or not. She knew that to them a Burnt Child was like a cockroach. You squashed it when you saw one.
Taking a deep breath, she looked around. The streets swelled with the late afternoon bustle. People pushed their way in and out of shops. Some people stopped to call out to friends or haggled with the peddlers on the walk. A dog begged at one of the stands, while small, rodent-like skuivels scampered up trees and into garbage heaps.
No one paid much attention to her or the other Burnt Children that shuffled through alleys and along the back of stores. None of the Burnt Children dared to step into traffic where people would kick and sneer at them. As long as they stayed out of sight they were mostly safe, but Elaria wasn’t lurking in alleys. She walked down the pathways like everyone else. The only thing saving her from harassment was that she didn’t look like a Burnt Child. Unlike the worn and ragged clothes of the other Burnt Children, her clothes were good quality and while her hair wasn’t up in the latest fashion it was clean and neat, giving her the appearance of just a normal worker. The Purifiers shouldn’t even notice her.
Why are they outside the warehouse?
Quelling the panic threatening to overwhelm her, she kept walking. She kept her eyes fixed on the entrance, where a carved sign proclaimed, Himmel’s Crafters. From the corner of her eye, she saw one of the Purifiers glance at her, but he made no move to pursue her. She was a shop away from the warehouse when her mother stepped out of the shop with Mr. Himmel. Elaria swiftly stepped into a crowd of people in front of a fruit stand. Turning her head slightly and making sure not to stare, she looked back at the two. Her mother was talking to Mr. Himmel with a stern expression as the looked at her with concern. Elaria’s brow furrowed. What was her mother doing there?
Her mother gave Mr. Himmel a short nod and, with a glance at the Purifiers, left the warehouse. Mr. Himmel went back inside, frowning.
Elaria didn’t move until her mother was gone. Still confused and even warier, she walked to the entrance and stepped into the warehouse.
The heavy scent of wood and tong oil assailed her nose. The warehouse was filled with workers carving intricate designs into wood, while others were putting the final coat of varnish on chairs and desks. Elaria adjusted the yellow scarf covering her hair and grinned. Even the rancid smell of the tong oil couldn’t dampen the exhilaration she felt every time she entered Himmel’s Crafters. Here, she was more than a Burnt Child.
Many of the workers looked up when she entered and then looked away with disinterest.
“Elaria! You’re early, girl.” Even with the loud bangs of hammers, Mr. Himmel’s voice carried across the warehouse.
She smiled. Burnt Child or not, Himmel always had a smile for her.
The bulky man ambled over, weaving around roped sections that divided builders and carvers from painters and polishers. None of the workers were Melitan and so they didn’t need the precautions magic users needed. Himmel was always proud of saying woodwork was better when a man’s hands did it. These sections were open so the men could talk to each other, unlike the enclosed sections that segregated the Burnt Children from the normal workers.
Once Himmel reached her, he thumped her on the back. He didn’t even flinch when he touched her. “Good news,” he said. “A new shipment came in.”
Elaria bit her lip. No one knew what they spoke of, but it still made her nervous.
“Promising?” she asked.
“Very. Up from Xhigano University. One of their professors fizzled out.” He shook his head and sniffed. “Even with all their studies, they still haven’t uncovered how to outsmart Meli’s Price.”
Elaria frowned and maneuvered around a basket of brass knobs as they continued across the warehouse floor. “They should ask the Evaion Kings.”
Himmel laughed. “They probably have and came back in pieces.”
She didn’t say anything. She knew the stories about the Evaion Kings – thugs with powers.
They can’t be as bad as the rumors say.
In Evaion Hills a Burnt Child had rights, not like here in Jelam, where the Purifiers made sure to cleanse them. If the Evaion Kings were willing to let the Burnt Children live at least somewhat free, even if they had to work the mines, then they must have some good in them.
“I know that look of yours.”
Elaria jerked and focused on Himmel. He grinned at her. She lowered her head, a blush darkening her light brown skin.
Himmel leaned close and whispered, “So, have you decided to join my scouts?”
Elaria hesitated. If she joined the scouts, she would travel to foreign lands, gather magic artifacts, but if the Purifiers found out…
Himmel squeezed her shoulder. “You don’t have to worry. We’ll keep you safe.”
She averted her gaze. “You said I had until the end of the week to decide.”
“I know.” He sighed and dropped his hand. “I don’t mean to be impatient with you. I’m thinking how much money I’ll save once I have you on board. I’m sure my latest shipment is filled with junk.”
Elaria smiled awkwardly. “At least you know what some of that junk can do.”
He chuckled. “That I do.”
Elaria studied the shop. Large sections of people clustered around their workbenches, working together to build something a person could use to make a home — tables, chairs, doors, and so much more. It was something she longed to be apart of.
She wanted to join Himmel’s scouts. The danger didn’t bother her. If anything, the possibility of perilous adventures made her want it even more. If the Purifiers found out she was a Burnt Child handling artifacts…she shuddered at the thought. But the Purifiers could catch her whether she was in the shops or out as a scout. She had already taken that risk. What made her pause was simple. If she joined Himmel’s scouts she would never be able to return to Sanzela or even Jelam. She would have to give up her family and Korvin. Even so, she knew she had already made her choice. There was no place for her in Jelam, but for just a little longer she wanted to enjoy her last moments with those she cared about.
Himmel turned the corner and they passed through a wide doorway, bringing them to the Embedment section. The Embedment section was enclosed and a safety line ran through to the other side, keeping visitors away from the possible explosions that could happen. Among all the sections within the warehouse, Embedments was the quietest. Only the clink of bowls could be heard as workers lifted rokas stones and gently placed them in the different wooden items lined up for them. One mistake could cause the stone to explode.
Each cautious hand that picked up a rokas stone and placed it into a premade hole bore a black flame. Elaria eyed her flame, brushing it with her thumb. It was smooth, no uprising — a symbol of every Burnt Child’s corruption. Bitterness swelled inside her as she watched them. It only took one stone; one stone that refused to be embedded into the wood and the worker could be killed.
Elaria scanned the stones, searching for any unstable strands. Her gaze landed on a boy, probably no older than ten. He clutched a green rokas stone and eyed a chair warily. He didn’t see what she saw, no one did. Misty white strands swirled faster and faster around the stone as he lifted it to the wood.
“Wait!” Elaria ducked underneath the safety line and ran.
The boy didn’t hear her. He pushed in the stone just as Elaria reached him. She grabbed his arm and yanked him back. The stone flared. Elaria pulled the boy down and shielded him with her body. The stone exploded.
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Dr. Kesson clapped his hands together. “Let’s get started. First, you’ll have to officially accept me as your sponsor, of course, verbally agreeing is enough. The hard part is getting your parents to approve.”
Raven frowned. She didn’t want to get her parents involved if she didn’t have to. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure if they would agree for me to get a sponsor.”
Dr. Kesson patted her back. “Don’t worry. I’ve already taken care of that for the most part.”
Raven looked at the man suspiciously. “What does that mean?”
“I have been talking to your parents since the day you were sent to ECI. Most children sent to ECI become wards of the state. I worked with your parents to make sure they maintained legal custody and final say on decisions that are made in ECI. Of course, that doesn’t help much within the ECI framework. But in regards to Sponsorship, the legal guardian must approve it and all activities involved.”
“Okay,” Raven said. “But did my parents approve you as my sponsor?”
“Not quite,” Dr. Kesson said. “I have explained the benefits, but they, like you, don’t completely trust me. Understandable since I’m the head scientist of the group responsible for sending you to ECI.”
Raven smiled, feeling proud of her parents.
“In any case, what I’ll need from you is your agreement on record,” Dr. Kesson said. He tapped his earpiece and then a small digital screen popped up, floating in the air. “I’ll record your agreement and send it to your parents and hopefully that will settle things.”
Raven hesitated. “If I agree to this I don’t want to do it permanently. Only for the three months I’m held at ECI.”
Dr. Kesson chuckled. “You know, your mother said something similar.”
Raven smiled at that.
“That’s fine with me, although I have to say, if you change your mind I would definitely be interested in sponsoring you throughout your teen years. Sponsorship isn’t only for ECI students. It can also work as a mentoring program.”
Raven scrunched up her face and shook her head. “No thanks.”
Dr. Kesson laughed. “Well, I hope I can get you to change your mind. Shall we begin?”
Raven nodded and looked at the screen as it began recording. “Hi Mom and Dad. Dr. Kesson explained everything to me about the Sponsorship. I want to accept on the condition it ends in three months or earlier if I leave ECI sooner.” She paused as a well of loneliness and longing filled her chest. “I’m okay and…I miss you.”
Raven looked away.
Dr. Kesson squeezed her shoulder. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but we’ll get you out of this.”
She looked at him, blinking away the hint of wetness in her eyes. “Okay. It’s a promise.”
Dr. Kesson cringed but nodded. “It’s a promise. Now, there are a few things we need to go over.”
“There’s more?” Raven asked, already feeling exhausted.
“Only a little more, but very important,” Dr. Kesson said. “First, I’ll check in with you as often as I can. You’ll be observing things and you can tell me any details you discover. I’ll piece things together from there.” He hesitated and a cautious look came into his eyes. “I don’t want you to put yourself in any unnecessary danger. The people involved can be ruthless.”
“Who exactly are they?” Raven asked.
Dr. Kesson shook his head. “Many people. Corporation heads, powerful figures in ECI. These are people who are currently running the country and have more power than either one of us. That’s all you need to know.”
Raven frowned. She hated how vague his answer was, but at the same time, she knew it was a security measure. A stupid one in her opinion, since more than likely she would find out anyway if she was playing spy.
“Now, what I’m about to say next is going to contradict everything I said about the danger,” Dr. Kesson said with a wry smile.
Raven looked at him curiously.
“I need you to participate in the arena,” Dr. Kesson said, his eyes gleaming.
“Arena?” Raven asked, bewildered. “What are you talking about?”
“You haven’t been here long enough to notice,” Dr. Kesson said.
Raven blinked and realized that she had been at ECI for only four days. It felt longer. Suddenly, having to stay three months felt like a lifetime.
“The arena is an underground gambling ring right here in ECI,” Dr. Kesson continued. “Sponsors send students to battle it out in a fighting pit, taking bets on the winner.”
Stunned, Raven stared at Dr. Kesson. “No way.”
Dr. Kesson nodded. “Not all sponsors participate and it has a very thin cover if information gets out. All rumors have been explained away as an advanced training sport. They even have a permission slip.” Dr. Kesson laughed darkly.
“And you want me to fight?” Raven asked, still stunned.
“I won’t force you, but it’s our best place to reveal the corruption behind ECI.” Dr. Kesson gave her a serious stare. “It’ll be dangerous. These fights can be brutal and I won’t be able to help you much in there.”
“It’s not some sort of deathmatch, is it?” Raven asked, cautiously.
“No,” Dr, Kesson said with a chuckle. “Even the MDE would have a hard time covering up lots of students dying all of a sudden.”
Raven frowned, grabbing a hold of the man’s slip. “So, it is the MDE behind this, then?”
Dr. Kesson shook his head. “You really are set on putting yourself in danger, aren’t you?”
“I already am in danger, Dr. Kesson,” Raven said.
Dr. Kesson seemed to struggle with that. After all, he was both trying to protect her from danger while thrusting her deep into it. Finally, the man sighed. “I won’t tell you too much, but yes, there are people in MDE involved, powerful people. Despite what it might seem, not all of the enforcers are involved. The vast majority of MDE are upstanding people that believe in what we stand for. But even so, there is corruption. It would be in your best interest not to trust anyone from there.”
“You and Micah are in the MDE,” Raven shot back.
“You can trust Micah and me, but you’ll still need to be careful,” Dr. Kesson said firmly.
All of this seemed complicated, but Raven knew she had to figure things out quickly. She was sure Dr. Kesson must know who was involved but had a reason why he didn’t want to tell her. Would knowing who was involved put her in even more danger? On top of that, he said to trust no one in the MDE, but Syrion had reached out and tried to help her. Did that also include him? She decided not to bring Syrion up to Dr. Kesson yet. She wanted to figure that out on her own.
“You’re forgetting something,” Raven said with a grimace. “If I tried to use my Core power…” She shook her head.
Dr. Kesson opened his mouth then closed it. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know if they’ll allow you to access your Core magic, but if I could arrange that would you want to use it?”
Raven shook her head. “No.”
Sighing, Dr. Kesson gave her a gentle smile. “I assumed you would say that, but…Raven.” Dr. Kesson met her eyes. “You can’t keep running from your magic. You’ll have to learn to control it eventually.”
Raven’s lips tightened and she looked away. “I know.”
Dr. Kesson reached out and patted her shoulder. “Think about it. It’s better to learn now than be in a situation where it’s too late.”
Raven didn’t say anything. She stared down at her lap, refusing to meet Dr. Kesson’s eyes.
“Even without your Core magic, you’ll be able to handle the arena. Core magic is stronger and more reliable, but I’ve seen you in action and your Illusion magic is on par with any Core magic.”
Raven jerked her head up. “What?”
Dr. Kesson looked amused. “You must have noticed. Illusion magic is unstable and doesn’t have as much strength due to it being excess magic coming from your Core. Yet, during your test, your Illusion magic never faltered and it was extremely powerful. You’re only an Orange. That sort of power and control tends to be a Purple or Red at the very least.”
Raven blinked and thought about what Dr. Kesson said. Her Illusion magic had always been stable. Her parents had called her gifted, her teachers called her talented, but it hadn’t been a big deal. Everyone knew that Illusion magic just wasn’t as important as Core magic. Still, when she thought about Ethan and Lisa, they hadn’t managed to maintain their Illusion magic for more than a few minutes when they showed it to her. Even Patrice’s shapeshifting had only held up for about ten minutes before it fell apart. Raven had never had that happen and she had simply taken it for granted.
“What does it mean?” Raven asked. “My Core, and now even my Illusion magic, is different from everyone’s?”
“It’s fascinating,” Dr. Kesson said. He had a look on his face that made her think if he could he would be dragging her to a lab to experiment on her.
Raven cringed. “You look like you want to dissect me.”
Dr. Kesson blinked in surprise. “Do I? I apologize. I don’t want to dissect you,” he said with amusement. “But, I wouldn’t mind observing your skills. Aren’t you interested in knowing how much you can achieve?”
“Not if it means becoming a lab rat,” Raven said flatly.
Dr. Kesson looked disappointed. “I know you’re not just an experiment.”
“Sometimes I think you forget I’m a person,” Raven countered.
They both knew she was referring to the Illusion test.
“I suppose I deserve that, but if you want my help to learn more about your magic I would be happy to assist.”
“Is there anything else you need from me?” Raven said, changing the subject.
Dr. Kesson chuckled. “Back to the topic on hand then. Are you willing to participate in the arena?”
Raven paused to think about it. The smart thing to do was say no. It was dangerous and anything could happen. She still didn’t completely trust Dr. Kesson, but the thought of an arena caused a thrill to go through her. She wanted to see what the arena would be like and just how strong she was. The feeling disturbed her a little and she packed it away to look at later. In any case, it would help her to practice in case she needed to fight in the future.
“Okay, I’ll enter the arena,” Raven said and there was a hint of excitement in her voice.
Dr. Kesson smiled. “Welcome, Ms. Delias, to the Sponsorship Program.”
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While I’m releasing Illusion/Core I decided to remaster one of my previously published books. So on top of the regular Thursday update of Illusion/Core, there will be weekly updates of my already finished book, Burnt Children. Burnt Children is a high fantasy book. Here’s a blurb:
In Meli, if you’re born with the wrong magic the Purifiers rip it out, labeling you a Burnt Child. Elaria is one of those Burnt Children.
But Elaria has a secret. She can see magic. This rare ability draws Elaria to a strange locket that holds a dangerous mystery. Befriended by a murderer, and haunted by the ghost of the very woman who doomed the Burnt Children, Eliria is thrust on an adventure to find a place she can belong. The only problem is the Purifiers will do anything to stop her and the secrets that she holds.
Since Burnt Children is already completed and is just going through minor edits, it will not affect I/C releases. I hope you’ll enjoy it. ^^
“You’re good company for an abomination.” Colis raised his hand and a cream teapot with painted blue swirls floated across his office. A matching teacup hurried after it, passing through the ghost sitting on his desk.
“Abomination?” she asked and leaned against the desk.
Seven thick, black braids — a symbol of her status among her people — fell down her translucent shoulders. Even in death, she was a striking figure. She wore her signature red and black with a belt of gold disks around her hips that jangled eerily.
“If that’s what I am, you’re no different. You have a great deal of Spirit magic for a Hand.”
“I know it has been a long time since you’ve walked across Meli’s fields, but I would caution you to be careful with your words, Nila. I am no Spirit.” Colis plucked the teapot out of the air and poured tea into his awaiting cup. The spicy scent of the gano herb rose into the air. Hopefully, it would take care of the fever he battled. He sighed and took a sip. The price of a long life was the eventual sensitivity to the difficulties of age.
He glanced at Nila. Her posture was relaxed, as though she was sitting comfortably on her throne instead of hovering over his cluttered desk with quills and stacks of papers passing through her.
His robes whispered across his skin as he raised his cup. “I would offer you some, but…”
Nila glared at him. “After everything you’ve told me…what they have done to my people…the Burnt Children.” Her body trembled and blue tendrils of light pulsed around her. “How can you deny to me you’re a Spirit?”
“I’m a Hand. That is the truth.” He sipped his tea once more, ignoring her display of temper.
“Liar,” she growled.
Sighing, Colis placed his teacup in the air, leaving it floating, and raised his hand. A bronze pendant slid out of a pile of smooth, brown stones on his desk. Several stones fell on the burgundy rug while the pendant drifted toward him. Where it went, so did Nila. She hovered over it with her arms crossed. She and the pendant stopped an arm’s length away.
“Nila.” Colis looked into her eyes. It was like focusing on a window, instead of looking through it. “Despite all this time, you have learned very little.”
Blue light swirled in her eyes, glowing brighter at Colis’ words. She straightened her back. “You know nothing about what I’ve experienced. I have learned much.”
“Not what is important.” He snatched the pendant from the air and snapped it shut.
Nila vanished. Light flared around the pendant, sending a shock through Colis’s fingers. He jerked his hand back. The pendant fell and thumped against the wooden floor.
“As vengeful as ever.” He crouched down and scooped up the pendant. He turned it over, looking at the faint broken lines that came together in a swirl of tiny symbols in its center. There had been more of them this morning. “I’m sorry, Nila, but we’re running out of time.”
“Yes, you are,” a man said.
Colis jerked and slid the pendant into his pocket. He stood up and turned to face the new arrival. “You’re here late, Demeri.”
The younger man walked into the room, confidence in his stride. He gazed around, glancing over Colis’ shelves with unusual interest. Colis followed his gaze. His office was covered with books. Books about the symbols of Meli and the myths and histories of the Evaion Hills were strewn across any surface that would allow it and some that wouldn’t. A stack of books tumbled across Demeri’s path.
Demeri didn’t pause but merely stepped over them. He brushed his fingers over a large silver mask propped against a bust of an owl with twisted horns. It was one of many trinkets Colis owned. A multitude of oddities cluttered the room. They were items from different lands and cultures, each vying for attention. Though Demeri had been in the office many times he seemed to gaze at them with new eyes.
“Don’t you think it’s time for you to retire, Colis?” Demeri ran a hand down a bookcase, collecting a layer of dust on his palm. He wiped it on a blue and gold tapestry that had been gifted to Colis during his visit with the distant tribes of the Oriklin shore.
Colis shoved the pendant deeper into his pocket. “When have you started calling me Colis?” The Elder pushed up from the ground and stood. “It seems you have forgotten your place.”
Demeri tensed and then relaxed.
Colis watched Demeri carefully but made no other move.
Leaning against Colis’ desk, Demeri smiled. “There’s no one else here and, as I said before, you don’t have much time.”
Colis plucked his teacup out of the air and raised it to his lips. “What do you mean?”
Demeri’s smile grew wider. “Have you been enjoying your tea?”
Colis looked at the teacup. His hand trembled and he laughed. “Poison? You have much to learn if you think a cup of poison will kill me.”
“Not a cup. Ten years worth of cups.” Demeri pushed away from the desk. He crouched in front of Colis and touched his cheek. “It isn’t old age that weakens you.”
Colis’s mind scrambled over his symptoms: trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, and the fever. All signs of a bad cold or the rising heat as his magic began to melt his insides. “Hakir leaves.”
Smiling, Demeri rose to his feet. “I just have to wait.”
Colis’s brow furrowed. “I can attack or call for the authorities.”
Demeri shrugged. “Feel free. Use that level of magic and you’ll die before you finish.”
They both knew the effects hakir leaves had on Melitans. For a moment, Colis wondered if Demeri was bluffing. He doubted it. Demeri could see the weaknesses of the body and mind with a touch, so he would know the exact moment Colis’ body would collapse from the poison. Colis raised his hand to his cheek. It still felt warm from Demeri’s touch.
“All these years and you finally mastered your magic.” Colis rose to his feet and walked toward a plush burgundy chair. After hefting a stack of papers out of it, he plopped down. “Well done.”
Demeri watched him but said nothing.
“One question remains.” Colis leaned back in his chair with a soft sigh. “Why?”
For a long time, Demeri looked at him before shrugging. “Make something up. I’m sure whatever conclusion you reach will have some truth to it.”
“Ah.” Colis put his hands in his pockets, one hand clutching around the pendant. “Ambition, hatred, some secret plot between you and the university. The possibilities are endless.” Colis slid one hand out of his pocket and rubbed at his beard. “None of that explains why you took ten years to do it. I’m sure you could have found a quicker way.”
Demeri chuckled. “You have never been an easy man to kill.”
Colis smiled. “True.”
For a moment the silence was comfortable between them. Demeri looked at him. His eyes darkened, flickering with a mixture of determination and defiance. At that moment Colis knew he had brought this upon himself. He had failed Demeri. Colis looked away.
“I needed you alive,” Demeri said.
“Why?” Colis forced himself to look at Demeri again.
Demeri shrugged. “Perhaps I wanted you to suffer.” He glanced at the hand stuffed in Colis’ pocket then quickly looked away.
“I have suffered more than you know,” Colis said.
The words seemed to trigger something in Demeri. His face grew red and he marched across the room and glared at Colis. “Not nearly enough.”
Beads of sweat ran down Colis’ skin. The metal of the pendant dug into his palm. If he were to do it, he would have to do it now. He only hoped his power would last before the poison from the hakir leaves took him. He pulled his hand from his pocket and swung it to the side. Tendrils of red light spilled from his hand and twisted around the pendant. Demeri reached for the pendant, but it was already flying through the air. The pendant crashed through the window.
Go to the one who will reveal the truth. Across Jelam, across all the lands of Meli if need be,Colis thought. He could taste blood in his mouth as the poison reacted to the magic.
“No!” Demeri grabbed Colis by the collar, dragging him from his chair. “You stupid old man.”
Colis smiled at him. “What a thing to say to me.”
Demeri tightened his grip on Colis and reached for something at his side.
Colis coughed, tasting blood, but a different heat began to build in his hands that had nothing to do with the hakir leaves. There was still one last thing he needed to do. One last bit of magic. The world began to shimmer around him, rays of blue surrounded him. A dawning realization came over Colis.
He gasped as his son shoved his sword deep into Colis’s gut.
“You won’t escape,” Demeri said and twisted the blade, determined to stop the magic Colis had started. But it was too late.
Blue light wrapped around Colis and the old man vanished. Colis was left with the image of Demeri’s twisted face, a mixture of rage and agony, as Colis escaped him.
I’m sorry, Demeri.
Light flared as Colis reappeared in one of the university’s dorms. He had only a moment to see the nearly bare room before he slammed against the floor. Pain smashed across his face and along his side. Sweat slid down his body, soaking through his robes. He gasped for breath and managed to push himself to his knees. Colis clutched at his stomach. Blood seeped over his hands.
Someone gripped his shoulders. “Master Colis! What happened?”
“Don’t scream.” He looked up at Mefina and for a moment he could see the beauty underneath the severe features. He wanted to say something to her, to tell her she was too young to be so serious, but he didn’t have time. Instead, he gave her a weak smile. “I need your help.”
Mefina’s gaze drifted to his wound and she paled. “You’re bleeding.”
Mefina pushed him on his back as she scanned his wound. “This-I can’t-We have to get help.”
He shook his head. “No time.” His entire body trembled and he began to cough up blood.
“Who did this to you?”
He should tell her, but he couldn’t. It would break her to know. “You must go after it. After the pendant.”
She narrowed her eyes. “It was her. That demon did this to you! I knew she couldn’t be trusted.”
Colis shook his head. “The pendant…you must go…now.”
“I won’t let her get away.” Her face was hard and determined.
He tried to grab her hand, to make her understand, but he couldn’t move. “Please Mefina, only you. I can only trust you.”
Colis closed his eyes. His body burned as though his insides were bursting.
Or maybe it was the fireworks.
Beautiful fireworks. He glanced down at his son. Red and gold shone in the air. Colis placed his hand on Demeri’s shoulder. The celebration of the Great Union already in full swing.
You too will do great things, Demeri.
I know, Father.
Hello everyone! Sorry I wasn’t around last week. I was very ill and so unable to write and haven’t even been on the computer at all. Sorry about that. Updates will continue as normal for this upcoming week.
Raven immediately began pelting Ellis with questions, but Ellis refused to tell her more about the sponsor she would be meeting. “You’ll see soon enough.”
She knew that, but she would have liked to be prepared. Excitement and anxiety battled inside her. Who wanted to sponsor her and why? Did she even want a sponsor? Part of her still held onto the possibility that her parents would get her out of here. At the same time, even if she ended up only having to stay for three months, she wanted to have a stabilizer. A stabilizer would give her more access to her magic. With her bullies and some unknown person targeting her, having a larger pool of power was an advantage she could use.
Settled on at least considering the possibility of getting a sponsor, Raven mentally prepared herself to meet them. Ellis stopped in front of a door near where she met with her parents during their visit. This door was right next to that office. Ellis gave a short knock and then opened the door, nodding for Raven to step in. Taking a calming breath, Raven walked inside. Before she could take things in, a man’s voice called out to her.
“Ah, there you are Ms. Delias.”
Raven blinked as she looked up at the familiar face of Dr. Kesson. The older man wore a gray turtleneck over khakis. It was almost like he was on a casual day out. His bright blue eyes glinted in excitement at the sight of her. Immediately, Raven was wary.
“You’re the one who wants to sponsor me,” Raven asked, peering behind him. There was an empty table with two chairs and a stack of papers, but otherwise, there was no one else in the room.
“Yes,” he said with a wide smile. “If you’re looking for Micah, he’s not here. He’s with his mother at the dojo. Perfect timing, otherwise he would have insisted on coming.
Raven flushed. “I wasn’t looking for him.”
Dr. Kesson gave her a knowing smile. “Come, sit down. There is much I want to discuss with you.”
Raven’s guard came back up and she nodded slowly as she took a seat at the table. Dr. Kesson slid into the seat across from here with a wide smile. For a moment, he simply looked at her and Raven shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“There. Now we can talk privately,” he said.
Raven looked at him in confusion, but her confusion turned to surprise as Dr. Kesson stood up from his chair. A copy of Dr. Kesson remained in his seat. The real Dr. Kesson waved her over and she stood up nervously. Surprise lit her face at the sight of a copy of herself sitting in the chair she left behind.
“Are these illusions?” Raven asked in wonder.
Dr. Kesson nodded. “Yes. Whoever is spying on us will see you and I chatting over there. There’s even audio.”
Raven’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know Illusions could go that far.”
Dr. Kesson laughed. “I specialize in pushing the limits and I suspect you do too.”
She wasn’t so sure about that. She felt like she was dragged across the limits instead of pushing them. Today was the first day she actually done things, even if it only had been a prank on Patrice. It felt good to be the one doing something.
“Then the reason you’re here isn’t to sponsor me?” Raven asked as she looked from Dr. Kesson to the copy of him talking animatedly to her double. She couldn’t hear what they were saying. It was like the copies were in a bubble.
“I am,” Dr. Kesson assured her. “Raven, I’m not sure how to say this, but events were manipulated so that you would end up here.”
The first reaction was to let Dr. Kesson know she already was aware of that, but instead, she thought better of it. This was a good time to get information and she wasn’t sure how much she could trust Dr. Kesson.
“Manipulated? You mean someone sent me here on purpose?”
Dr. Kesson watched her carefully but nodded. “Exactly. What happened at the Access Facility was unfortunate, but in the end, you weren’t at fault. Awakenings are very dangerous and the results can be unexpected. After all, that’s what Access Facilities are for.”
Dr. Kesson began to pace. “You were sent here due to someone manipulating the fear of those around you. You see, Raven, during an Awakening there is a special magical device that gives us information about a person’s Core ability. In your case, the reading came up as unreadable. “
Raven blinked. “Unreadable?”
An excited nod came from Dr. Kesson. “You were even tested again while you were unconscious, twice in fact, but you still came up as unreadable. Of course, this was terrifying, especially with what happened with that smoke of yours. The unknown always scares people.”
“You don’t seem afraid,” Raven said.
“My job is discovering the unknown,” Dr. Kesson said, giving her a bright smile.
It wasn’t reassuring. She felt that if Dr. Kesson had his way she would be his personal experiment.
“So is that why you want to sponsor me, because I’m unreadable?”
“Yes,” he said. “But that’s not the only reason. I want your help in revealing the people involved in you being here.”
“What?” Raven asked, shaking her head in disbelief.
Dr. Kesson laughed. “Sounds very heroic, doesn’t it? Very unlike me.” He shook his head. “But I’m sure you’ve figured out that ECI isn’t all that it seems and neither is the Sponsorship Program.”
“I had a suspicion,” Raven said dryly, crossing her arms.
“There is a lot wrong with the Sponsorship Program, but at its core, it was a program to help with rehabilitation. Unfortunately, it’s easily corruptible and can force students into a sort of indentured servitude,” Dr. Kesson said with a wave of his hands like this was a given.
“Wait,” Raven said. “If you know all this why haven’t you done anything?” Her face scrunched up. “A-and why me? Shouldn’t you be revealing this in the news or something?”
Dr. Kesson frowned. “That would be ideal, but I lack proof. No, more, I lack the right kind of proof. What I have will at most lead to a few scapegoats and sweeping things under the rug. You, Raven, are the key.”
Raven shook her head. “I’m 13, what can I even do?”
“You’re inside of it all,” Dr. Kesson said, stepping towards her.
“No. What you’re asking is that I become some sort of spy? Everyone already has it out for me. And I…” She took a step back. “I don’t trust you.”
Dr. Kesson’s eyes widened and then he looked at her sadly. For a moment, she felt like she had kicked a puppy. But it was true. She didn’t trust Dr. Kesson. Ever since she met the man, he always seemed to be in the midst of every bad thing that happened to her.
An awkward silence surrounded them, but Dr. Kesson straightened. “I want to show you something.”
The scientist pulled up his sleeve showing his wrist. His Embud band was red on the Illusion side and orange on the Core. Then before her eyes, it changed. The Illusion side stayed red, but the Core side shifted to a deep purple. Raven’s eyes widened.
“You’re a Purple!”
“One of the very few,” Dr. Kesson said. “And it’s a well-kept secret.”
“Why?” Raven asked.
“Purples are restricted and used when found out. I quite enjoy my freedom,” Dr. Kesson explained.
Raven blinked. It didn’t go over her head how much Dr. Kesson was trusting her with such information.
“Ms. Delias, I know our first meeting hadn’t been the best. I let my excitement get the best of me, but I know you’re the key to this.”
“How?” Raven asked a little overwhelmed.
Dr. Kesson grinned. “You know, you never asked what my Core power was. So let me show you. Maybe then, you can start to trust me a little more?”
Raven nodded, unsure. “I’ll try.”
“Good enough,” Dr. Kesson said. “Okay, stand right there and watch.”
Dr. Kesson held out his hand and before them, a large map appeared. Next to it was a scrolling list. On the map were hundreds of lines leading to dots. Raven looked at it all in confusion.
“I don’t understand,” Raven said.
“A mess, isn’t it?” Dr. Kesson said proudly. “But this is my ability. I call it Discover. It’s the ability to be in the right place at the right time. These points are people or places that are important pieces to new discoveries or mysteries.”
Suddenly, the map zoomed in and there were pictures of triangles in various colors. “The triangles indicate how large the risk is to delve into the discovery. Danger level would be a better way to explain it. Of course, there is more to it, but what’s important here is your part.”
The map zoomed in and a tiny image of her showed up with a line connecting to it. “Raven, you are a key to revealing what’s going on in ECI and showing it to the world.” Dr. Kesson met her eyes. “It’s not just a guess or a game of chance. It’s a fact. You have an undeniable role to play in all of this.”
Raven stared at it all, not sure whether to be horrified or in awe. “This is too much.”
“It can be,” Dr. Kesson said and waved his hand. The map and all its information vanished. “Even I can get overwhelmed by it, but finding you when you were taking your Illusion test was not an accident. Even when I’m not actively looking, Discover will lead me instinctively to an event or person. It led me to you.”
“Because of ECI?” Raven asked.
Dr. Kesson hesitated. “At the time I didn’t know how you were connected. My ability isn’t always clear in what sort of discovery I might find, just its importance. It’s my job to connect the dots.”
Raven tried to grasp everything, but it felt so big. Nothing had been an accident after all. Dr. Kesson’s magic led him to her and now she was supposed to unravel the corruption involving ECI. It all felt unbelievable but here she was, living it.
Dr. Kesson spoke hesitantly. “I know it might be hard to trust me after everything that has happened, but I’m still asking you to, even if only a little. Do you think you can?”
A leap of faith was what Dr. Kesson was asking of her. She still wasn’t sure if she could trust him, but she was alone with an unknown enemy after her. To finally have someone on her side, someone who had so far been upfront with her meant something. She swallowed and hoped she wasn’t about to make a huge mistake.
“Okay,” she said. “What do we do next?”
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