3. Awakening – 5

Raven opened her mouth. “No,” she gritted out. 

She released her hold on the water, unable to drain the root monster any further. She laid there, panting, and unable to move. 

“Pity. How are you going to awaken if you can’t even endure taking down one root monster?” Tick Tock said, floating back to the table and pouring himself a new cup of tea.

Honestly, Raven wasn’t sure. She heard a slurping sound and managed to roll over to see it. The root monster she had almost drained of water, was drinking up the water she had separated from it. As it drank the roots strengthen, no longer brittle.

“Damn it,” Raven said. All that pain for nothing.

Pain still shook through her body, but looking down she saw that she was no longer stretched skin anymore. She pushed herself up and as she did her eyes widened.

Underneath where she had laid was a hole. She frowned, trying to figure out what happened. Did her fall cause this? But a glance around told her that couldn’t be it. There was no spilled over dirt and grass. It was like everything that had been in the hole was gone.

Gone. Slowly, she began to turn that thought over. This world was hers. Even if the creatures wouldn’t obey her, they reacted to her words. So the guards were put there by her mind as a safety measure, but they were still hers. She looked at the guards. Silently there, protecting the entrance to the door, but never attacking unless she attacked or approached too close.

“Could that be it?” she mumbled to herself.

She crouched down and pressed her hand against the ground. She closed her eyes concentrating. She felt energy slid through her body. When she opened her eyes she looked down and a hole rested where her hand was. She grinned and stood up.

Tick Tock had been right. This was her world after all. She set her gaze on the root monster she had fought earlier. Taking a deep breath she began walking towards it. Every step she took she felt her heart race, but she kept walking, never faltering. Her eyes narrowed. As soon as she was a meter away, the root beast shot out its branches.

Raven tensed, her body screaming for her to dodge. She forced herself not to move. She closed her eyes as the branches hit. The branches slammed against her chest, but she didn’t budge an inch.

A surge went through her, like she was being revitalized. She looked down to see swirling black energy. The black energy swallowed up the branches eagerly, like a hungry mouth.

Her purple eyes glowed, the magenta flecks in their depths flickered like tiny flames. The root beast’s body writhed and tried to withdraw, but Raven’s hand snaked out, pulling it towards her. 

“More,” she said. She could barely recognize her voice. It was deeper, sultry, and hungry.

She pulled the root beast closer, the darkness surrounding her swallowing the beast up. Energy pulsed around her body, seeping into her skin. She’d never felt anything like it. The rush of it was intoxicating. Her body thrummed with power. The fine hairs on her skin stood up as the energy grew. And all she could think of was more.

Tendrils of black energy shot forth, dragging the tree towards its greedy depths. The shadows shifted and raised up like a wave. It crashed down and swallowed up the root beast. Another burst of raw power soared through Raven’s body. The black energy swirled around her body, before sinking back into her skin.

She turned to the other root monsters. Their branches withered in fear. Raven felt something inside her bubble up and she started to laugh. It was like something in her twisted and changed. The laughter burst from her uncontrollably. She couldn’t stop laughing. All of it was so funny. 

She ran towards them. The remaining six root beasts attacked her at once. Their branches stabbed at her. For a moment there was even pain, but it didn’t matter. The black energy rose up, wrapping around them, dragging their struggling bodies deep into its mouth. One by one the black energy swallowed the root guardians and more power filled her body. Each one brought a new heady surge. Part of her told her this was dangerous. The energy was coming through her too fast, but she couldn’t stop. She wanted to swallow it all.

“More, more. Give it all to me,” she said, laughing.

The black energy swallowed them all up and still, it wanted more. Raven knew she should control it, but her mind was reeling and so she let it run free. It danced across the island, swallowing up the grass from the ground. Its tendrils wrapped around the cottage, even absorbing it. Everything, every piece of it swallowed up until it could feed no more until all that was left was the single door.

The door, the black energy wanted to swallow it too, but she needed it. Yes, she needed it. This was the key to her awakening. The thought of her awakening made her look around her. She realized she was standing in an endless blackness. She blinked and the blackness glinted with pinpoints of white, like stars dancing around her. As she looked around her in wonder, she felt her mind come back to itself. The laughter trailed off until her voice grew silent.

She blinked again and then spun around her. She had done this. There was no island, no cottage. She couldn’t even sense Tick Tock. Had she also swallowed up the demon? She shuddered at the thought. Her mind reeled at what she had done. The longer she stayed in this dreamscape the more she changed. But if this was part of the Core Awakening, didn’t this mean this was her true self.

A laughing maniac that sucked up everything around her? No, she couldn’t accept this was her true self. She shook her head as if she could shake away what happened. The energy thrummed through her body as a testament of what she had done, of what she was. 

“The door,” she said, looking back at it.

The door would give her an answer. Nothing was set until she looked on the other side of the door. She hurried towards it, her feet gliding across the room of endless stars. She reached for the knob, her hand shaking. She paused, afraid. What would she find pass that door? She could sit here and wait for the injection to wear off, keep locked up whatever was squirming inside her. Part of her knew if she didn’t open these door her Core Embud would remain gray. She would stay a dud, only able to use her Illusion magic. It wasn’t a bad thing. She was good at her Illusion magic, but if she did that her life would change. Opportunities would be shut to her. She would be considered weak, worthless, only worthy of the scraps that society thought to throw at her. 

I don’t want that! Her brain screamed at her. 

Raven knew it was selfish, but she wanted to be strong. She couldn’t walk away from this, not yet. Somehow she would learn to control it. If it got too much for her then she would shut it away. An echo of laughter sounded in her head, but she ignored it. 

She turned the knob. It opened of course. There had never been a need for a key. Raven walked through the door. 

For a moment everything froze.

Tick Tock’s voice brushed against her ear. “So you’ve decided. Don’t regret it. This is just the first door.”

Then she was falling into darkness.

Raven wasn’t sure when she closed her eyes, but she felt herself no longer falling. She sucked in a breath, almost afraid to see what her Core turned out to be. She opened her eyes and gasped. 

All around her was destruction. She was standing in the hall outside of the Core testing room. Part of the hall was gone. The walls and part of the floor had vanished like they had never been there. Around her people were strewn across the ground, their bodies limp. 

She turned and saw the room she had been getting tested in was partly gone. Dr. Briton and the access facility woman were both lying limp on the ground. Behind the reinforced window, people stared at her, their faces contorted in terror. A dread filled Raven. 

Did I do this? 

She heard movement and she turned. Her eyes widened as she saw a familiar figure across the floor, further down the hall. Raven took a step forward.

“Penny?”

Penny froze and turned to her. Her eyes were wide.

“Penny, w-what happened?” Raven asked.

“Stay away from me,” Penny screamed and threw an arm in front of her. 

A burst of wind threw Raven back and she skidded across the floor. Stunned, Raven looked at her friend. Penny attacked her. Penny was scared of her. Raven looked at the unconscious people strewed across the room. She did this then.

Besides her, something moved, but Raven couldn’t bring herself to look. She didn’t want to see another person staring at her in fear. A hand pressed against her shoulder, squeezing it gently.

“It’s okay now.”

She looked up and saw Syrion looking stiffly down at her. “I’ve got you.”

How is any of this okay?

She frowned. A sharp prick pinched her neck. She turned around to see Micah standing at her other side, a needle in his hand. She could see his mouth moving, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. The world grew blurry and Raven slipped into unconsciousness.

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3. Awakening – 4

Raven jerked back. Her mind conjured up a demon!

The demon smiled wider. Its lips stretched impossibly far across his face like it would tear his skin in half. His golden eyes glowed with amusement. Two black arrows spread from the pupil of one of his eyes, ticking across his face with each passing second. Golden ram horns protruded from his silken black hair and spiraled down to pointed tips.

Besides those characteristics, he could have passed for human. He was thin, almost spidery, and wore black dress slacks with a gold vest. A red ascot was tucked into his vest. To finish off the image was a red sleeveless tailcoat. The ensemble felt like a mockery of a Regency gentleman. On his brown arms were several tattoos of gears, clocks, and even a large white sundial. All of them moved.

“Well, well, well. You finally decided to come around. I was starting to get bored.” The demon picked up a teacup. Long red claws clinked across the delicate porcelain. “Let’s have a chat, shall we?”

“You’re not real, are you?” Raven said her voice breaking at the end.

“I wonder,” the demon said. He sat cross-legged and began to float. “But if you’re asking me if I’m a figment of your imagination I’m certain that I am.” He snickered in amusement, before floating over to a dainty table set up with tea and cakes.

“But the imagination is a powerful thing. Look at you, pretending to be this pitiful timid creature.” He tilted his head and looked at her with a secret smile. “But we know the truth. You’re not even a little afraid of me.”

Of course, she was afraid. She was talking to a demon, but…she didn’t feel afraid, not really. Maybe it was because she knew none of this was real.

“You’re very good at lying to yourself,” the demon said. “I suppose you have to be.”

A wave of irritation went through her. “I’m not lying to myself,” Raven said. She squared her shoulders, walking to the table and sitting across from the demon.

“Now, now, no need to pretend,” the demon said. “We both know what you really are deep inside.”

Raven narrowed her eyes and something in her burned with anger. She wasn’t sure why, but every time the demon spoke she felt the anger inside her burn hotter. “And who am I? Who are you?”

The demon laughed and spun until he was hanging upside down, still drinking his tea, which seemed to be content with defying gravity. “Who I am? That’s simple. I’m Tick Tock, a figment of your imagination. As to you…” The demon was instantly pressed nose to nose with her. His smile stretched off his face in a contortion that seemed to come out of a nightmare.

“Do you really want to find out?” Tick Tock asked mockingly. “You might not like the answer.”

Raven felt like she should be afraid. It made sense for her to be afraid, but that’s not how she felt. She shoved her hand in the demon’s face, pushing him away from her. “I want to know.”

The demon seemed unbothered and clapped his hands, the teacup mysteriously disappearing. “Oh, I’m glad. This will be so fun!” He twisted upright and bounded through the air to the cottage. He stepped in front of the wall and before Raven’s eyes a door appeared. Tick Tock gestured to the door. “Right this way.”

Raven stood up, but as she stepped forward, roots and branches shot up from the ground. With wide eyes, she watched as the branches twisted together to form seven large hunched over beasts made from gnarled roots. Thick arms hung from their bodies and dragged on the ground. They had what appeared to be heads, but they looked as though they were collapsed into their body. Where a mouth should have been was more roots and branches. But what disturbed her the most were the empty caverns that were their eyes.

“Oh dear,” the demon said. “It looks like the guards have shown up. I suppose it’s a good thing. You can’t get through the door without a key. Which one of them has it?”

A key. It made sense, but why did she have to fight to access her powers? She frowned. Was it like training? Did how well she did in the fight mean the higher her Embud color would be? 

“What are the rules?”

The demon started to laugh so hard he began shaking. “Rules? Do you think this is a test? There are no rules.”

Raven grimaced. For it being her mind she didn’t understand this at all. Instead, she focused on the monsters in front of her. None of them attacked her, they simply waited. It got her thinking. It was her mind after all.

“Move,” she said. The strength of her words surprised her. She sounded confident like she was meant to be obeyed.

The root beasts shook, but they didn’t move. She took a step forward and spoke again, yelling this time.

“I said move!”

The monster branches wiggled and then she felt the ground shake. She tumbled backward. The root beasts stayed where they were. Behind them, Tick Tock was laughing even harder.

“Did you think that would work?” he asked.

Raven ignored him. Her command had some sort of effect, but she wasn’t sure what. She sighed impatiently. She didn’t know how long the injection would last. Once it wore off she would probably wake from this dreamscape. She needed to get through those doors and awaken her Core.

She held out her hand. There was one thing the people in the Illusion test didn’t know about her. She concentrated and water began to form in her hand. She didn’t need a canteen of water to summon it to her. She closed her hands around the water and it reformed into a water blade.

“You had your chance,” she said to the root beasts.

She ran towards the first beast. The beast raised its arm. Branches stretched from its arms, shooting towards her. She twisted to the side as the branches pierced the ground. She didn’t pause, instead, she rushed towards the monster and raising her water blade. She slashed down on the beast’s arm.

Immediately pain racked through her body and she started to scream. The beast’s arm flopped to the side, but Raven couldn’t even move. She fell to the ground, clutching her arm as searing pain went through her. It felt like her arm had been chopped off.

She looked at her arm, but it was still there, still whole, but it flopped uselessly at her side. The water blade dispersed as Raven used her good arm to push herself off the ground. She took a shaky step up and as she did she noticed movement. She whipped around to see the root creature’s body twist and a new arm of twisted branches formed. The root creature returned back to his spot and waited.

Her arm hurt, but the feeling returned. The panic she felt earlier ebbed away. She frowned. So what she did to the guardian was reflected back at her. Why? How were they connected? It clicked and she felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner. This was her mind. She was only hurting herself when she attacked. She eyed the monsters. This was a puzzle.

“Did you figure it out?” A voice whispered at her ear.

She swung her arm back, but Tick Tock jumped back with a laugh. He twirled around with his arms spread. “You did, didn’t you? This is your world and this world is you.”

Raven folded her arms then glanced back at the root beasts. None of them moved. They watched her with their hollow eye sockets. She turned back to the demon. “Any hints?”

The demon grinned. “I already gave you one.” 

Okay, so she was on her own, even her mind didn’t want to help her out. That’s if the demon was a figment of her imagination like he claimed, which she wasn’t exactly sure was true.

She eyed the guardian monsters. They wouldn’t attack unless she did, but they weren’t going to let her pass either. She had an idea, but she wasn’t sure if it would work or be like the arm attack. She touched her arm, the pain was gone, but the memory stayed strong. 

Gritting her teeth, she would just have to endure it. She tried to brace herself for what would happen next and raised her hand. She summoned the water, but this time she didn’t try to pull it from thin air. Instead, she pulled it from the closest root monster, sucking the moisture from them. As she pulled it from the one beast it began to writhe. It shot its branches at her. Raven rolled out of the way, the ground scraping against her skin. It hurt more than it should have, but it was working. The root beast began to grow dry and brittle. She started to smile, but it hurt too much. She looked down at herself. Her skin was stretched and dry, like all the nourishment in her body was being eaten away. 

“This is all in my head,” she muttered and kept draining the root beast.

More roots and branches shot at her, but she twisted out of the way. She felt her skin on her shoulder tear, too tight and drawn to completely bear the movement. The branches of the monster scrapped across the ground, breaking into pieces. Raven screamed. She fell to the ground as new agony hit her. It was like chunks of herself were breaking off. The pain was even worse than before, like torture.

She felt a breath by her ear, followed by Tick Tock’s honeyed words. “I can take the pain away. All you have to do is ask.”

She struggled against the pain. The demon’s words were a sweet temptation. She wasn’t sure if she could win against the monsters if everything she does caused her pain like this. Tears seeped at the corner of her eyes.

“Just say the word,” Tick Tock said and his voice burned with anticipation.

A choice. She had to make a choice, but what option did she have? The pain was excruciating, but if she gave up now she might never open her Core magic. She closed her eyes and decided.

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3. Awakening – 3.

3. Awakening – 3

It was like a bomb erupted. The auditorium filled with the sound of students talking over each other. 

‘What does that mean?’ ‘So if we have a magic that blows things up does that mean we’re a bad person?’ More and more questions filled the auditorium. 

Raven’s gaze followed Dr. Kesson who seemed pleased with the discord he caused. Besides her Penny whistled and leaned back. 

“He sure knows how to rile things up.”

Raven turned to her friend, her brow scrunched up. “I guess so. I mean, our Core magic is who we are? What does that mean?”

Penny shrugged. “It could mean a lot of things. It could mean a person who uses fire is abrasive and aggressive. And a person who uses earth magic is grounded and reliable. Or it could tie not to the magic type but how it appears. A sound ability to make an ear-piercing wave or a sound ability to sing and calm people are very different.” She tilted her head. “If what he says is even true.” 

Raven frowned. “What do you mean?” 

Penny met her eyes. Instead of seeming weirded out like the other students she looked fascinated. “How do they know magic reflects who you are? How do you even confirm something like that?”

Raven turned that thought over. How did they know Core magic was a reflection of who a person was. How do you measure that? Yet, the confident way Dr. Kesson had said that didn’t sound like he was lying. “It could be a working theory.”

Penny grinned. “Look at you, sounding so smart.”

Raven pushed her lightly. “Hey, don’t underestimate my brain.”

“Please settle down everyone,” the woman from earlier said. “As Dr. Kesson said Core magics reflect a person’s true self, due to this Core Awakening can be quite intense. Please be aware that you and your fellow students will be going through a stressful change today. In that vein please be respectful of each other. Once the Awakening process has ended, you will receive your new suppressor. You must immediately wear it before leaving the facility. Removal of your suppressor is a punishable offense by the MDE.” 

The woman looked over the auditorium to make sure her words sunk in. 

“After Core Awakening, and suppressor fitting, you will be escorted to your guardian. We recommend resting after the Awakening to make sure your Core settles. Too much strain can cause disruptions in your Core magic. Understood?” 

The students all sounded their agreement. Raven wondered how many people would actually listen. Two girls in front of her whispered about going to the mall afterward. It made her think about her shopping trip with Micah tomorrow. 

“You’re grinning way too much. Suspicious,” Penny teased. 

Raven shrugged but didn’t stop smiling. “I’m just excited.”

“Excited about what is the question,” Penny said.

“Raven Delias,” a woman called out. 

Raven turned to see a line of students and a woman in a lab coat waiting for her. A wave of nerves hit her. This was it. She was about to find out what her Core magic was. She took a step forward and Penny grabbed her hand. Raven turned to her friend.

“You’ll be fine,” Penny said and there was the slightest tremble in her voice.

Raven had been so focused on herself she hadn’t wondered how Penny felt. She turned to her friend and hugged her tight. “You will be too. I’ll wait for you after we get out. We can talk our parents into taking us out to dinner.”

Penny seemed to relax at her words. “Good and then you can tell me all about what’s up with you.” 

Raven pulled away and twirled around. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she teased. 

Without waiting to hear what Penny would say to that she hurried towards the woman in the lab coat. The woman was frowning, annoyed at Raven for delaying.

“Sorry,” Raven muttered and joined the line of students. 

There were at least ten students. They were lead down several hallways until they reached a hall with five doors on each side. A red light shone above each door. Raven fidgeted while the others around her shifted and stared around them. The woman in the lab coat tapped her foot impatiently. 

There was a sharp ding and one of the lights turned green. The door below it opened and a boy stepped out, guided by a man in a dark green Access Facility uniform. The boy looked drained, with bags under his eyes and a worn but pleased smile on his lips. Raven glanced down at his Embud to see it was bright orange. Orange was pretty high to awaken at. Raven couldn’t help a stab of envy go through her. She looked up to see that she wasn’t the only one by the way the other students were staring.

The woman in the lab coat gestured to a boy to step forward and guided him into the recently vacant room. One-by-one they each watched as the red lights turned green. Another student whisked away. Raven ended up being the last called forward. She supposed it was only fair since she had been the last to get in line.

As she went in she caught sight of a new line of ten students being lead towards the door to wait their turn. She searched to see if Penny was with them, but there was no sight of her. They were probably calling students in alphabetical order by last name. It was a little disappointing. It would have made her feel better to know Penny was waiting outside the door. She mentally braced herself and stepped into the room.

It wasn’t that different from the Illusion Testing room. Except, where the Illusion room had been empty, in this room a single chair sat in the middle. A large window covered half the room. Several people peered at her from the reinforced glass. Most she didn’t recognize, but she saw Dr. Kesson and Micah among them. She started to wave at Micah and then thought better of it.

Inside the room with her was a man in a lab coat with his back to her and a woman in an Access Facility uniform. The woman led Raven to the chair while the man continued adjusting his tools. She sat down. She swallowed, feeling very much like a rat in a lab. 

The man in the lab coat finally turned to her and for a moment he froze. Raven blinked, not sure what was wrong. Whatever had caused the doctor to pause he shook it off.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Briton.”

Raven was a little stunned to realize it was Dr. Kesson’s research partner. Why was he doing her Awakening? She expected him to say more, but when he didn’t she figured he was waiting for her to introduce himself. It was a little strange since he probably already knew her name. “Raven Delias.” 

“Of course,” the doctor said absently. 

Raven was starting to be a little concerned. She studied the doctor. He was relatively normal looking. He had soft curly brown hair, a square jaw, and deep brown eyes that reminded her of a friendly golden retriever, even if they seemed a bit lost at the moment. 

Her doubts must have shown on her face because Dr. Briton gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s fine. You reminded me of someone. Shall we begin?”

She nodded. She wondered who she reminded him of to freeze up like that, but didn’t dwell on it. She was already nervous enough.

“I’ll be giving you an injection to help the process of your Awakening,” he said. He began putting small white electrodes at her temples and over her chest. “All I want you to do is relax and the shot will do the rest.”

“Will it hurt?”

Dr. Briton reached out and gave her shoulder a pat. “It might, but you’re strong. You can do it.”

Raven gave a shaky nod. Even if his words weren’t exactly what she wanted to hear they felt reassuring. 

Dr. Briton picked up a needle filled with a lime green fluid. Raven closed her eyes, not wanting to see. She felt a slight prick. For a moment nothing happened. She wasn’t sure how long it would take. If nothing happened did that mean she was a dud after all? Her earlier fears started to rise up again like a wave.

A wave that slid over her skin and pulled her down. And she was drowning, thoughts rushing through her heads.

You’re a dud.

He doesn’t like you. He pities you.

She’s your friend until she gets bored with you.

So superficial.

Deeper and deeper she sank. It was an endless drowning darkness. Air seeped from her lungs. Deeper and deeper. She clawed at her throat.

You’re pretending.

You’re a fake. 

You should have died.

Are you even human?

She opened her eyes. 

There were trees everywhere. She turned to see a cottage like one from a storybook. It had a thatched roof and a chimney with white puffs of smoke coming out of. It was nice and homey and totally confusing. On top of that, the cottage didn’t have a door from this side. Frowning, she began walking around the cottage in hopes of finding an entrance. 

She froze as she turned one corner. Straight ahead was darkness. Right where there should have been land was a steep drop. She crept a little closer and looked down. More darkness.  Looking to the sides made her realize that the drop off continued in both directions. It was like she was standing on an island in the middle of nowhere. 

The clink of dishes grabbed her attention. Someone was here. She took a deep breath. She was a little creep out by the darkness thing, but this was her dreamscape. At least she thought it was if she was supposed to gain her Core magic through discovering her true self. 

She wondered who exactly her mind had conjured up. She rounded the corner and came face-to-face with glowing gold eyes and rows of sharp pointy teeth.

“Hello Raven,” the demon said.

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3. Awakening – 2

After twenty minutes, Raven forced herself out of bed. She headed to the door Micah had pointed out earlier. She figured it was a bathroom. Opening it, sure enough, it was a bathroom. Stepping inside, the automatic lights came on and she looked around. She had secretly hoped for a shower, but there wasn’t one. She sighed and took a look at the mirror. She cringed. 

There was no way around it. She looked terrible. Her hair was fried and danced across her shoulder like a halo of blue fluff. Her purple eyes looked murky, the usual bright magenta flecks were almost nonexistent. She had smudges of ash on her face, though it looked like someone had attempted to clean her up. Did Micah flirt with her looking like this? Maybe it was a pity flirt since his Dad almost killed her. She sighed deeply and looked around.

A basin with soap and towels sat on the back of the toilet. This would have to do. Quickly stripping, Raven gave herself a ten-minute scrub down. She didn’t have the luxury of shampoo to wash her hair, so instead she attempted to contort her body enough to rinse her hair in the sink. She needed to get the smell of smoke out and attempt to relax her natural curls. She’d pay for not doing something better with her hair later, but it was the best she could do on short notice. 

After finishing up, she turned to the door where her new clothes hung and balked. Hanging from the door was a beautiful white sundress. Blue butterflies danced around the hem. It was simple and pretty and so not her style. She liked dresses, but she rarely wore them. She hated having to worry about how she was supposed to sit and move in them.

“Oh well, better than being naked,” she mumbled and grabbed the dress. She pulled it on and looked around her. “Shoes would be good.” 

She didn’t see any. Frowning, she stepped out of the bathroom and looked around. After some searching, she found her tennis shoes, a little singed, but wearable and socks. Putting them on, she laughed to herself. Not exactly the greatest fashion statement, but it would do. 

She plopped down on the bed and glanced at the clock. Another five minutes before Micah showed up. She glanced around her, wondering where they put her stuff. Besides her socks and shoes, she hadn’t seen a sign of any of her things. She knew her clothes were goners, but where were her phone and wallet? She started to get up, grabbing the edge of the bed when she stopped. There was a weird indention in the metal bed frame.

Taking a closer look, Raven’s eyes widened at the bent metal. There was the barest imprint of fingers. Swallowing, Raven slid her hand into the grooves. It matched her fingers perfectly. 

I did this? How? When?

She remembered grabbing the edge of the bed when she first saw Dr. Kesson. She had been furious to see him and…was that what caused the indentions?

A knock sounded on the door. Raven hurried and threw the blankets over the edge of the bed, before standing up. “Come in.” 

Micah opened the door. “Raven…” He stared at her.

Raven shifted nervously. Micah continued to stare at her with an intense expression. 

“You’re staring,” she blurted out.

He blinked as if coming back to himself. He put his hand behind his head and looked to the side. “Yes, I was. Sorry. Are you ready?”

She nodded, wondering what that had been about. She picked up her new badge and stabilizer ring and walked to Micah’s side. “Lead on.” 

He nodded and led out of the room and down the hall. They walked in silence. Raven felt uncomfortable and wasn’t sure if she might have done something wrong. Micah seemed more distant than before. “Do you know where they put my things?”

Micah didn’t look at her. “Unfortunately, your phone was destroyed. My dad is going to replace it. Sorry about that. The rest of your things are in a locker. You can pick them up after the Core Awakening.”

“Oh,” she said. “That sort of sucks.” She couldn’t even remember the last time she backed up her data. Her shoulders drooped a little.

They continued their walk in silence. Raven feeling more down than before. It wasn’t just her phone. Micah wasn’t saying a word to her. Did something happen?

They reached two double doors and she could hear the sound of people laughing and talking inside. She took a step forward.

Micah grabbed her arm. “Wait,” he said.

She paused, looking up at him questioningly. 

“You look nice,” he said.

This time it was Raven’s turn to stare. “Thank you.” 

Micah smiled at her as if her response encouraged him. He reached up and rubbed the back of his head. “Tomorrow… would you like to go shopping for that new phone together?”

Joy and hope shot through Raven. “Yeah, that would be fun,” Raven said, grinning. 

Micah nodded and his smile grew wider. “Great. I should go, but good luck.” 

She waved and turned and opened the door to the auditorium. Had that entire awkward walk been him building up the courage to ask her out? Was this a date? She couldn’t stop smiling. The sound of her name woke her from her daydreaming. She turned to see Penny waving her over. Raven hurried over to her friend and sat down in the seat Penny saved for her.

“So it’s true,” Penny said, her eyes glinting.

“What’s true?” Raven asked, confused.

“Something went down in your Illusion test,” Penny said leaning closer. 

Raven pushed her face away. “How did you even know that?” 

“I have my sources, besides why else for the wardrobe change?” Penny looked pointedly at the dress she was wearing before her gaze settled on her tennis shoes. “Are those scorch marks?” 

Raven held out her badge and new stabilizer ring. Penny snatched them. “For real? Do you even know what this means?” 

“I passed,” Raven said, satisfied.

“You didn’t just pass, you’re the only person to have ever passed on the first try.”

“Seriously,” Raven said.

“Wait! You’re a level two! What happened back there?” Penny said sounding a little stunned. 

“Attention students,” a woman’s voice boomed across the room.

Raven leaned over. “I’ll explain later.” 

Penny didn’t seem happy with that answer but turned to the front of the room as a slim blond woman in a pencil skirt spoke. 

“Before we begin the Core Awakenings we will hear a few words from the MDE Director of Research, Dr. Kesson.”

There was a round of applause and some sounds of awe. Dr. Kesson was well known. He and his partner, Dr. Briton, had been the ones to make the most development into understanding magic. Without them, it would have been decades before society managed to get this far in controlling magic. Dr. Kesson’s department made constant movements into understanding magic and researching its usage. Under other circumstances, she would have been in awe too.

Dr. Kesson stepped in front of the microphone. “Welcome to your Awakening!” He flashed a smile. “I’m sure you’re excited, honestly, so am I. I can’t wait to see what your awakenings will bring. But before that, I hope you don’t mind if I yammer at you all.”

Some students laughed while others groaned.

“Hey. I’ll try to keep it interesting. So let’s start with a little special something.” He twirled his finger in the air. The room morphed into an elaborate forest. Fairies danced in the air and rabbits and deer walked through the grass. A gasp went around the room as everyone turned around in wonder.

“As you know Illusion magic isn’t about Illusion unless you’re like me.” Dr. Kesson grinned. “So why do we call it Illusion magic?”

He reached out and caught a fairy in his hand. “The reason we call it Illusion magic is because it’s a fragile magic based on a limited perception of ourselves.”

He leaned forward and blew. A whirlwind spilled from his lips, tearing away the forest. Raven flinched. When she looked around her, they were once again in the Access Facility auditorium. 

“Since our perception of ourselves is always changing so does our Illusion magic. Not only that, but Illusion magic is affected by our emotions and confidence. It’s hard to control and extremely unreliable, but it has its own appeal.” He opened his hands and the fairy flew out, leaving a trail of sparkling dust before disappearing.

“Once controlled, it can be useful. But controlling it can take years of training and even then intense situations can cause it to go haywire. This is why we use stabilizers.”

He walked across the stage. “Of course stabilizers are replaced with suppressors after Core Awakening. Why is this?” 

Several students raised their hand. Dr. Kesson pointed to a boy with white dreads. “Isn’t it because we don’t need it?”

“I suppose you’re right,” Dr. Kesson said with a smile. “Once your Core magic is awakened there is no need for the more unreliable and potentially dangerous Illusion magic. The only reason Illusion magic is not suppressed right away is because the body needs to have a magic outlet. Without the Core awakened, Illusion magic is the only way to release it.” He looked pensive as he said that, before dismissing whatever thoughts he had with a wave of his hand.

“So what makes Core magic stable?” Dr. Kesson asked, looking around.

Raven frowned. She had never thought about what made Core magic stable, she just knew that it was. Looking around, she noticed that the rest of her classmates looked as confused as she was.

“Well, that’s the secret about awakenings,” Dr. Kesson said in a stage whisper. “Core magic is stronger and more stable because Core magic is who you are deep inside. And who we are at our core never changes. It develops into a stronger and firmer aspect of ourselves. So today, everyone, you get to find out who you are deep down in your core. Good luck!”

And with that, Dr. Kesson walked off the stage.

Previous| Next

3. Awakening – 1

She scowled at him and turned to look at Mr. Rosco. Mr. Rosco looked annoyed, but he nodded. “It was a test, but the last task was for a specialized rank of Illusion magic. One that a young teenage girl who was trying to get a Level 1 permit shouldn’t have to take.” 

The man in the lab coat cringed and rubbed the back of his head. “I might have been a tad overzealous. But who could resist testing out a subj- a girl with such extraordinary potential.”

Raven glared at the man. She still wanted to hit him, preferably multiple times. Her hand tightened on the bed and for a second she could hear the creak of metal.

“Ah, I see. Maybe I went too far,” the man admitted and he took a step closer.

Raven flinched back.

He paused, frowning. “Oh.” He looked helplessly at Micah then back at Raven. Looking perplexed, he looked between the two of them as if searching for an answer to a very complex question. Finally, he seemed to come to a solution. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an ID card and a small silver ring.

“You passed!”

Raven blinked in surprise. “I did?” 

The man hurried forward, holding out the badge and ring to Raven. Raven looked at them, not sure if she should take them. Finally, she grabbed them. She looked over the badge. It had the picture she took when she filled out her application for Core awakening. Next to it was information stating that she had the right to use illusion magic, but…

“It says I’m a rank two,” she said in disbelief.

The man nodded in excitement. “Honestly, you should be a rank three after the demonstration you pulled off. But since the test wasn’t exactly approved, this is the best I can do.”

She stared at the badge with a mixture of happiness and anger. She wasn’t sure how she should feel. With not only having passed the exam but also becoming a rank two in Illusion magic she had a good chance of getting into a specialized school, even if her Core magic didn’t turn out as strong as she hoped it to be.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, sheepishly.

She looked up in surprise. The man’s face creased with worry, and his blue eyes no longer held the zeal they did before. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She had almost died and he had been responsible. Yet, at the same time, he had given her some leverage she could use.

“Who are you?” 

The man’s eyes widened in surprise and then he smiled. “That’s right. I never did introduce myself. I’m Dr. Kesson. I’m the Director of Research at the MDE.”

Raven blinked. “W-what?”

He laughed. “I guess you’ve heard of me.”

She nodded slowly and then something else clicked. She looked between Micah and back to Dr. Kesson.

Micah nodded. “Yes, he is my father, something I’m currently not too proud of.”

“Micah, don’t be that way,” Dr. Kesson pouted.

“I’m tempted to report you myself,” Micah said flatly.

Raven couldn’t help feeling the son seemed more mature than the father. Her thoughts swirled around her as she trying to make sense of the situation around her.

“Look, Raven has forgiven me, so you should too.”

“I haven’t,” Raven said.

The room filled with an awkward silence. Raven wondered if she shouldn’t have blurted that out, but she couldn’t muster up the energy to care. She could still remember the feeling of being paralyzed on the floor. If she closed her eyes she knew the sensation of her body shuddering as she struggled for air would be there.

“It would be a good idea if you all let her rest for a little longer,” Micah said. 

“Understood. In the meantime we should report this incident,” Mr. Rosco said, giving Dr. Kesson a pointed look.

“I guess you’re right,” Dr. Kesson said looking like a kicked puppy. 

Raven felt a twinge of sympathy, but it quickly vanished. Mr. Rosco and Dr. Kesson left, leaving her with Micah.

“I’m sorry for my Dad,” Micah said. “There’s no excuse.” 

“Yeah,” Raven said, leaning back in the bed. She stared at the ceiling before turning to him. “They listen to you. Is that because you’re part of the MDE?”

Micah nodded. “My Dad still outranks me and he’s of course, my Dad, but in this situation, I’m in charge.”

She frowned in confusion. “Why’s that?”

“You’re my patient,” he said simply.

They both stared at each other, and Raven felt heat creep up her neck and settle on her cheeks. She looked away from him. For the second time today she was grateful that her brown skin helped to cover up her blush.

“You’re a healer?” she asked, fiddling with the blanket.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s my Core skill.”

Raven nodded and then stiffened. “The Core Awakening! Please tell me I didn’t miss it.” 

Micah shook his head. “It won’t be for another hour.”

Raven relaxed. “Good.” 

Micah looked concerned. “You’re not thinking of going, are you? I don’t think that would be a good idea. Your body has been through a lot of trauma already and Core Awakenings are very stressful.”

“You healed me, didn’t you?” she insisted. “I’ll be fine.”

Doubt was clear on Micah’s face. “Yes, but you still need to rest. We can always reschedule it.”

Raven immediately shook her head. She had been waiting for months. She didn’t want to have to wait even longer when it would delay her applications for school. “Please. I can do it. You can even be there for my Awakening to make sure I’m okay.” She reached over and took Micah’s hand. “Please.”

Micah looked surprised at the touch and a faint blush dusted his cheek. He pulled away and crossed his arms, trying to look stern. “Okay, but I’ll have to be there.”

“Deal,” Raven said, smiling brightly.

Micah looked at her like he was thinking of saying something else, before deciding against it. Instead, he turned to a door to the far right. “There are some clothes for you to change into. Your clothes were pretty damaged.”

Raven looked down and realized she wasn’t in her jeans and favorite shirt. Someone had changed her clothes. Her eyes widened in terror. Did he see her naked? Of course, he was a healer, so it made sense he would need to check her over, but…Inside her brain, she started to scream.

“The nurse changed you,” Micah said, not quite looking at her. “If you’re worried.”

“Oh,” Raven said.

The room fell into an awkward silence.

“Um, I should go, check on my patients.”

“Yeah,” Raven said, wishing she could think of something better to say, but her brain had already given up for the day. “Will you be back?”

Micah turned to her, looking a little surprise. “Do you want me to come back?”

“Yes,” Raven said quickly. “I mean. I need someone to show me where to go for the Awakening.”

“Oh, yeah,” Micah said. “I can walk you there if you like.”

“Yeah, if that’s not a bother,” she said, fidgeting with the blanket.

“I want to,” Micah said firmly and that made Raven’s heart beat faster.

“Okay.”

He smiled and there was a spark in his eyes. “I’ll see you in 45 minutes. Rest until then.”

She nodded and watched as he walked away. As soon as the door closed, she flopped back in the bed. “Did that just happen?” She twisted around in the bed and screamed into the pillow. She turned on her side. “This is too much.”

She almost died, got a Level 2 Illusion permit, and Micah Kesson was flirting with her. At least she thought he was flirting with her. Ah, she had too much to think about, especially the whole ‘almost died’ part.

“I could have died,” she said softly, the words echoing in the room.

She placed her hand against her chest. She let herself sink into the reassuring feeling of her heart beating.

Previous| Next

2. Illusion Magic – 3

Raven watched as several people dressed in dark green came into the room and began cleaning the debris. Once they finished they walked out of the room, shutting the door behind them. As soon as the door shut the walls once again opened up. Raven tensed, but relaxed when she saw that it wasn’t the miniature helicopters this time. Instead, ten floating targets flew into the room. They were discs with an outer white ring that led to black, blue, and red rings until reaching a yellow bullseye. The targets bobbed gently up and down.

“Your next task is a simple one,” Mr. Rosco said, his voice filling the room from the speakers. She glanced up at him, watching him speak from the window. “You must hit all the targets. Anywhere on the target is sufficient, but you must do it without destroying or breaking at least nine of the ten targets. Superficial damage is fine. Once hit, they will light up. Do you understand?”

Raven’s brow furrowed, but she nodded.

“Good. You have ten minutes. Begin.”

The targets began to move. Raven’s eyes widened in surprise. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to her that they wouldn’t be stationary targets. This was supposed to be simple? She sighed and unscrewed the cap on her canteen. One minute for each target.

She couldn’t help a grin spreading across her lips. “Easy,” she muttered.

Raising her hand, a stream of water rose out of the canteen and formed into a floating ball. She pressed her finger against the cool surface. The ball of water split at the touch, dividing into multiple smaller globes. Satisfied, she looked at the targets.

“Go.”

The water scattered at her words. Each sphere rushing through the room as it slid towards the targets. Some lagged behind, but they each gave chase. Raven didn’t even have to move. One-by-one, the globes splashed against their target, most hitting the bullseye. In under a minute, each of the targets lit up, not a single one damaged.

Raven looked down at her shoes, trying to hide the smirk she knew was on her face. She pretended to concentrate on putting the cap back on the canteen.

Yes, Raven, you are the woman.

Once she felt she could control her inner gloating, she looked back up at the window. She frowned. Mr. Rosco was talking adamantly to a tall man in a lab coat. The man shook his head and pointed at her, before saying something. Mr. Rosco frowned and leaned forward, obviously angry about something as he spoke to the man. The man in the lab coat said something and folded his arm, his face set. Mr. Rosco frown deepened and then almost reluctantly he nodded. He turned back to the window, glancing at her and then back down to his microphone. 

The speakers in the room crackled to life. “Well done! We will be moving to the final task.” The walls opened up again and the targets flew inside. “In this task, you will be once again facing the miniature helicopters. This time there will be one red helicopter. It is your job to capture the red helicopter without destroying it or causing major damage. The other helicopters will be guarding it.”

Raven took a step forward. She noticed the man in the white lab coat was still standing there, watching her. “Am I allowed to destroy the enemy helicopters?”

“Yes,” Mr. Rosco said. “Only the red helicopter should remain undamaged. Superficial damage is acceptable.”

Raven nodded. She wasn’t particularly excited about dodging electric bolts. Even so, she was determined to get her Illusion permit. “I’m ready.”

She uncapped her canteen, waiting to hear the buzzing of the miniature helicopters. Nothing happened. Confused, she looked back at the window. Mr. Rosco stood in front of the microphone, not moving. The man in the lab coat sighed and stepped forward, nudging Mr. Rosco out of the way. He reached out and typed into something Raven couldn’t see, but guessed had to be a computer.

The buzzing started. Raven turned her head to see the miniature helicopters spilling out of the wall. Her eyes widened as more and more filled the room. There were more than before. Thirty? Thirty-five. Raven turned back to the window. The man in the lab coat stared at her with a warm smile that didn’t quite match the almost fanatic zeal in his eyes.

He leaned towards the microphone. “You have 15 minutes. Good luck!”

“Wait you can’t-” Mr. Rosco’s voice cut in, but the speakers turned off.

She turned to the window to see Mr. Rosco’s face red with anger and shouting at the man in the lab coat. The man in the lab coat’s attention never left hers. He reached out and tapped the window and then pointed. Raven turned, almost afraid to look.

The helicopters started moving. This time they weren’t just shooting little bolts of lightning. This time the helicopters had entire spheres of electricity around them.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Raven said, gaping. There was no way she could attack them with the whips without being electrocuted.

A bolt of lightning shot towards her. She threw herself to the side, slamming against the floor. Water splashed out of her canteen. She twisted around, as another shot of electricity zipped towards her. This time the helicopters could shoot her from any direction. She rolled away, spilling more water out of the canteen. Scrambling to her feet, Raven ran.

Panic surged up through her. She needed to get away, but as she turned, more helicopters began moving in her direction. Looking around her, she realized helicopters had circled her while she was recovering from the shock of the situation. She raised her hand and the water from the canteen rose up. Fear slid through her, but she swallowed it down. Maybe she could short-circuit them?

If you do it, you’ll be electrocuted.

As long as she didn’t touch the water she would be okay. Right? But she was covered in water and there was water all over the floor. The helicopters didn’t wait for her to find an answer. Several jolts of electricity shot at her from every direction. She only had a second to react. She raised her arms, summoning up the water as she jumped to the side. Electricity hit her, and her body seized up from the hit. She clenched down hard, her teeth feeling like they would crack, as she flopped on the ground.

High above her, a bubble of water floated. It was the remains of the water that had been on her clothes and the floor. She didn’t even want to imagine what would have happened if the water had still been there when the electricity had hit her.

“This is definitely child abuse,” she panted as she pushed herself off the ground and stood up. Her body ached from the movement. Part of her wanted to give up, but a stronger more stubborn part of her wanted to show them she could do this. 

From behind her, she could hear a humming sound that grew in pitch, like something charging up. Her eyes widened. She quickly whirled around and she saw a helicopter moving towards her. From the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of red.

I’m going to win.

Using the floating water, she slashed at the oncoming helicopters with as much force as she could muster. She hoped that not being in physical contact with the water would be enough to keep her from being electrocuted. When the water hit, she could hear it sizzle. The helicopters slammed backwards. The electrical current flowed through the water, but Raven was too close. She only had a moment to realize her mistake when the electricity jumped.

A lance of lightning hit her, tossing her through the air. The pain was so intense it was like her brain turned into static. Her throat closed and she couldn’t breathe. Her entire body clenched up and she shook uncontrollably, before dropping to the ground like a rag doll.

Everything stopped.

She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t move. Was her heart even beating?

I don’t want to die.

Sound rushed through her ear. She blinked and suddenly she was gasping for air. Everything hurt, but somehow she could move. Distantly, the smell of ozone and smoke filled her nostrils. She wondered if she could walk. A flash of red passed by her. Gritting her teeth, Raven pushed up from the ground.

There was a slight ringing in her ear and her body was screaming at her to stay still. Her heart felt weird, but she couldn’t tell if it was beating too fast or too slow. Warning bells went off in her head, but she ignored them and began walking towards the red helicopter.

The other helicopters were there. She could sense them around her, readying up their bolts.

No. 

The buzzing stopped. All across the room, water swallowed up the helicopters. A perfect sphere, almost a mimic of the electric spheres, surrounded them. Simultaneously, she pressurized the water. The water crushed the helicopters like tin cans and discarded them. Raven felt a twinge of satisfaction, but her attention was still set on the red helicopter.

The red helicopter didn’t have the electric sphere like the other helicopters. It was a relief. She didn’t have to worry about being shocked. Still, she was concerned about damaging it if she used her water abilities. Her water magic felt unstable, like she was barely controlling it. She peeled off the raincoat from around her waist. Parts of it had melted to her, but she tried not to think too hard about that.

The red helicopter started to zip away. Instinctively Raven shot a stream of water forward, catching it by the tail. The water’s grip tightened and Raven felt her control shaken a little. She wasn’t sure if she could pull the helicopter in without damaging it.

She walked as fast as her body would allow and tossed the raincoat over the helicopter. She dragged it down, letting the water slid away from it. She gripped the helicopter and wrapped her arms around it. She held it tight against her chest, but a thought crossed her mind. How much time had passed? She couldn’t be sure how long she had been lying on the ground with the world muted earlier.

“Did I win?” she asked, waiting to hear the booming of the speakers.

If the speakers came on, Raven didn’t know. At that moment, her body gave up and she passed out.

Previous| Next

2. Illusion Magic – 2

Raven stepped into a large empty room. At the far end of the room was a wall with a reinforced window. Mr. Rosco and the nurse watched her from behind it. It felt weird to be studied like a rat in a cage. Deciding to ignore that comparison, she walked deeper into the room.

Crackling filled the air right before Mr. Rosco’s voice echoed through the room. “Welcome to the Level 1 Illusion Permit Exam. This exam is about completing a series of tasks in the allotted time. During each task, you must demonstrate your Illusion magic to achieve your goal. The key to passing this exam is about control.”

“Control. Got it,” Raven said.

“Excellent,” Mr. Rosco’s voice boomed.

A mechanical sound caught Raven’s attention. One of the floor tiles rose from the ground revealing a small crate. Raven walked cautiously towards it.

“Inside are a few items you may need based on your skills. You may use or not use the items as you deem necessary.”

Raven opened the crate revealing two canteens and a raincoat. She chuckled a little at the sight of the raincoat. She grabbed it and one of the canteens, deciding to leave the other one behind. She didn’t want to get too bogged down. Opening one of the canteens she checked it. It was filled with water. She couldn’t help smiling at this. Well, it looks like she had one trick up her sleeve they weren’t aware of.

She closed the crate and stepped back. As the crate lowered back into the floor, she tied the sleeves of the raincoat around her waist. She wasn’t sure if she would need it, but might turn out useful.

“I’m ready,” she said.

At her words, there was the sound of clicking followed by an insistent buzzing. All around the room panels on the wall opened and out came several miniature helicopters. There had to be at least twenty of them. Raven looked at them warily.

“Your first task is to disable the helicopters so they are no longer able to fly. While you are doing this, they will shoot out a light electric shock. It won’t cause any major damage, but it will not be pleasant. You must disable all helicopters in the allotted time. If even one remains you fail the test. You have five minutes. Begin.”

Five minutes! No wonder no one passed this test on their first try. Her brow furrowed. Well, she would have to show them that she was going to be the first-

Pain shuddered through her body. It couldn’t have lasted more than five seconds, but it was overwhelming. Her entire body froze up and her nerves constricted as if they were trying to curl away from the pain. Then it was gone. Raven fell to her knees, panting.  She turned around to see one of the miniature helicopters fly away. 

The sound of more buzzing grew closer. Raven turned to see two helicopters flying towards her. No way was she planning to sit around and get double shocked. Pushing off the ground, Raven sprinted across the room. She dodged the helicopters as they shot what looked like miniature lightning bolts. She twisted, skirting another approaching helicopter as a bolt barely missed her. This had to be some sort of child abuse. 

I can’t keep running.

Running meant she would fail. She wasn’t even sure how much time had passed since she started. She had to get these things down. She unscrewed the top of her canteen. Another tiny bolt shot past her, hitting the floor right by the edge of her shoe.

“I’m so done with this,” she growled.

She spun around and whipped her arm through the air. The water swooped out of the canteen, following her movement and cutting through the air in an arch. The water sliced into the helicopters. The machines fell to the ground in pieces.

She grinned. “All right. Let’s really get started.”

The water floated around her as if waiting for her command. She stretched out her arm. The water slid forward, swirling around her forearm and down into her palm like a cat begging to be petted. She reached over with her other hand, grasping the water as if it was solid. It parted and forming into two long streams.

She flicked her wrist and the water streams shaped themselves like whips. If someone asked her how she did it, she wasn’t sure she could explain it. It wasn’t so much that she was focusing on controlling the water. Instead, it was like controlling an extension of herself. It was like an old friend you knew so well you could finish each other’s thoughts. And right now her thoughts were telling her she had some helicopters to destroy.

She ran towards a row of helicopters, abruptly twirling to the side to get behind the machines. Once she was behind them and out of the way of their electric bolts, she spun one of the water streams around her head. She flicked the stream forward. It smashed into the back of the helicopters, taking three down at once.

Pleased, Raven turned to another group of helicopters. She ran towards them. Just as they shot at her, she slid across the ground like a batter sliding towards home. Her momentum carried her underneath them. She flicked the two water streams up. They shot up like geysers and smashed into the helicopters, slamming them into the ceiling. She pushed herself off the ground as pieces of the machines rained down. Fifteen more to go.

As if her attacks were a battle cry, the helicopters began to converge. She didn’t waste time panicking. Raven swung one of the water streams. The water stretched forward, catching the tail end of one of the helicopters. She yanked it back and twisted her arm, swinging the helicopter through the air. She spun it right into the converging helicopters like a flail, bashing them to pieces. They all fell to the ground in a crunch of metal and plastic.

Nine more. 

With them all clustered together it was easier to take them down. Keeping that in mind, Raven rushed towards the next group of helicopters.

Six.

She made sure to stay away from the front of the helicopters where the electric bolts came from. She had no desire to find out if she could survive a mix of water and electricity.

Are they trying to kill me? Who decides to have a water user fight against electricity? 

She didn’t have time to dwell.

Two.

Keeping to her strategy of attacking from behind and underneath, soon all the helicopters littered the ground.

As the last one fell, she looked towards the window. She felt slightly winded, but a surge of exhilaration when through her at what she had accomplished. “Did I finish in time?”

“Four minutes and two seconds. You passed the first task.”

Raven grinned and then pointed her fingers to the canteen. “In you go.”

The water streams floated up, swirling around her once, before sliding back into the canteen. She twisted on the cap.

“Let’s move on to the next task,” Mr. Rosco said.

“I’m ready,” Raven said, confidence brimming in her voice. There were a lot of things she was unsure about, but her skill with her Illusion magic wasn’t one of them. It had been dangerous, but there was a certain thrill to it all.  If this was how the tests were going to be then she was sure she had it in the bag.

Let’s see what they throw at me.

Previous| Next

2. Illusion Magic – 1

The man called two more names. A boy with purple hair shaved into a buzz-cut walked towards them with an easy swagger. Behind him, a girl in round glasses with lemony hair pulled up in a bouncy ponytail, joined. The man with the clipboard led them down the hall to the testing zone. They all walked in silence, an anxious excitement surrounding them. The man guided them into another room that looked like a pediatric office. There was even a poster with a cartoon apple talking about keeping you and your magic healthy. The atmosphere felt like it was more fit for a five-year-old than a group of teenagers. 

“Hello, I’m Mr. Rosco. I’m going to go over a few things about what we’ll be doing today. I know some of you might already be aware of the things I’m going to tell you, but we want to make sure that the process is clear. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Raven and the others muttered their agreement.

The man smiled. “Good. Please sit down.”

The three of them walked to the four empty seats against the wall. The boy sat next to Raven, while the girl took the seat furthest away. Once settled, Mr. Rosco walked to the right side of the room where a diagram with colored bars hung on the wall. Raven recognized it as the Embud ranks. Beside her, she heard buzz-cut boy groan.

“Seriously, this is grade school stuff.”

The blonde girl giggled. Raven kept quiet, but she had to agree. Were they really going over this?

Either Mr. Rosco didn’t hear the boy’s comment or chose to ignore it. He pulled out a pointer.

“This is probably familiar to each of you, but it is necessary to clear up any misunderstandings about Embuds,” he said.

He pointed to the diagram and then dragged his pointer to the bottom bar. The bar displayed a gray stripe with a black line down the middle.

“This is an unawakened Embud. Unawakened Embud bars are gray when your magic is still dormant. An Embud is divided into two parts by a black line.” He pointed to the left side. “The left side is tied to Illusion magic. While the right side,” he said, while sliding his pointer over it, “is tied to Core magic.”

Raven shifted in her seat, forcing herself not to glance down at her Embud.

Mr. Rosco slid his pointer up the diagram. “As magic awakens and grows, the colors of your Embud will change. Going from gray to green to yellow and so forth.” He slid the pointer up the diagram. Gray, green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and finally blue. “Usually people tend to stop magic growth around the yellow and orange range. Though there have been people that have delved into red range.”

“What about Purple and Blue?” the blonde girl asked, leaning forward.

“Purples and Blues do exist, but they are rare. There are only six purple range types in the world and only ten documented since magic’s arrival.”

“I hope I awaken as a Purple,” the boy said excitedly. “Even better, a Blue.”

“That wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing,” Mr. Rosco said with an indulgent smile.

The blonde girl spoke up. “There’s only been one documented Blue in the world and he went crazy.”

Mr. Rosco nodded. “That’s right. The rush of so much power was too much for his body and mind to handle. Having strong magic is not always a good thing.”

Raven shuddered at the thought. The boy slumped back with a pout.

“Well, I hope I’m a Purple,” he said stubbornly.

“That would be extremely rare, but if you become a Purple special opportunities are offered by the MDE.”

Raven had heard a lot about that. If a person reached purple there were a lot of opportunities. People from all over the world courted you in hopes of bringing you on their team. Almost all Purples worked for the government or special sanction corporations. Basically, Purples were guaranteed an easy life. Almost everyone dreamed of being a Purple, but almost no one reached that level.

Mr. Rosco cleared his throat, bringing their attention back to him. “Whatever range you awaken into, remember, you can develop to something higher. Though many may not have the capabilities to become a Purple, you can still aspire to become a Red through hard work and training.”

All three of them nodded. They had all heard this before. After graduating from middle school they could sign up for magic training. Many people took supplementary magic classes once their Core awakened, but the best way to train was to enter a specialized school. Schools like West Merrick Academy, trained students in magic while providing basic courses. Of course, getting into West Merrick was hard. Only the best of the best, or in some cases, the richest of the rich, were accepted.

Raven dreamed of going to West Merrick Academy. She sighed. With not even a hint of green on her Core side, it wasn’t likely she would awaken with a high enough color to get in. Her Mom and Dad were far from rich, so if she wanted to get in she would have to stand out from the crowd. That was where the Illusion magic test came in.

“I know you are all excited to awaken your Core, but before that, we’ll be taking a test for a Level 1 Illusion permit.”

The boy sighed. “Man, do we have to? Almost no one passes that.”

“People pass,” the blond girl interrupted. “But usually after training. It does seem sort of pointless to take it now.”

Mr. Rosco smiled patiently and Raven was pretty sure he heard these complaints often. “While it is true that people rarely pass on their first try. It is still required to test and register your Illusion magic. This is both for your safety and those of the people around you. And who knows, you might even one day enter a field that specializes in Illusion magic.”

The boy rolled his eyes. “Who would want to specialize in Illusion magic?”

“I do,” Raven said, annoyed.

“Huh?” the boy said, turning his attention to her. “Why? No one uses it.”

Raven shrugged and crossed her arms, hiding her Embud. “I just do.”

“Ah, Raven Delias,” Mr. Rosco said while flipping through the papers on his clipboard. “You’ve already reached orange in Illusion magic and you’re only 13.”

She nodded her head. “I’ll be fourteen in a month and a half.”

“That’s quite the achievement for someone your age. I assume you are trying to get your Illusion Level 1 permit.”

“I am,” Raven said. It was one of the ways she was hoping to stand out and get into a specialized school.

Mr. Rosco clicked his tongue in approval. “Excellent. Shall we start with you first?”

Raven nodded and stood up.

“It’s still lame,” the boy said, tucking his hands behind his head.

Raven ignored him. The blonde girl gave her an encouraging smile and Raven smiled back. Mr. Rosco led the way through a small brown door that opened into a little lab. Inside a nurse waited. As soon as the nurse saw them, she escorted Raven to a seat where she began taking her vitals.

“I have a few questions before we begin. I see here that your Illusion magic is strictly water based?”

“Yes. I haven’t had many shifts in my magic besides different water types.”

“Interesting. It’s uncommon for Illusion magic to stabilize as one type without intentional focus. Have there been any signs of new magic types recently?”

Raven hesitated. The shadow sinking was definitely a new magic ability, but if she mentioned it she would have to test it. There was no way she would be able to learn how to use it right now. Gulping down her guilt, she shook her head.

“No, only water-based magic,” Raven lied.

Mr. Rosco nodded and wrote on his clipboard. “What about your Core? Any signs of new magic?”

“It’s still gray,” Raven muttered.

“Oh,” Mr. Rosco said, not quite hiding his surprise before his face soften. “Don’t be too concerned. It’s uncommon, but not rare. After all, that’s the reason why you’re here today. Since you have already achieved an orange range in Illusion, I’m sure your Core will awaken into a nice range. For now, focus on the Illusion test.”

Raven let out a sigh of relief.  “Thank you.”

“Good. All ready?” Mr. Rosco asked the nurse.

The nurse nodded. “Vitals are good.”

“Excellent. Let’s begin the Illusion test.”

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1. Prodigies – 2

Mouth – 2 Raven – 0

Right about now, Raven wanted to disappear. Not only had she embarrassed herself in front of Micah, but she also managed to do it in front of future classmates.  Lots of people from different schools were doing their Core awakening today. She can see it now. The beginning of her brand new high school life.  She would be that weird girl who threw herself at Micah Kesson.

She could feel herself sinking into the pits of despair or just sinking. She glanced down to see herself falling into a shadow. Before she could react, Penny was at her side and yanking her up.

“New power?” Penny muttered, before focusing her attention on Micah. “Sorry about my clumsy friend here. I’m Penny Rodriguez.”

Raven glared at Penny. She was pretty sure Penny was the one who pushed her. She would get her back later, but right now she was more interested in what happened. When she glanced down, her feet were no longer sinking into the shadows. Instead, she was on solid ground. She glanced at her Embud in excitement. Was it turning green?

One glance showed her that it was still a boring gray. What had changed was the design on her Embud’s left side. An image of a stick figure halfway through a black shadow was etched on the orange part of the band. It was not unusual for people to have their Illusion magic shift. It was unusual for Raven. Raven actually had pretty good control over her Illusion magic. She even planned to get an Illusion permit today. Her teachers had suggested she go for it. It was pretty rare for someone at her age to pass the test, but her control over her Illusion abilities was fantastic. It was strange for it to change now of all days.

Lost in her thoughts, it took a while to realize someone was talking to her. Penny gave her a sharp elbow to the ribs, bringing her back to reality. She looked up and met intense blue eyes. She had almost forgotten about hot- uh, Micah.

“Yes?”

His eyes shone with amusement. “I was wondering what your name is?”

“Oh, it’s Raven Delias.” Yeah, that’s lame. This was her time when she should have redeemed herself by saying something charming.

Come on, think! Ah, I got it.She opened her mouth.

Micah reached over, catching a lock of her hair in his hand.

Raven froze, mouth hanging open. Her gaze locked on his hand. Her hair slid between his fingers before it fell from his hand.

“You have beautiful hair,” Micah said.

Raven didn’t move. Did he just feel up her hair?

“Sorry,” Micah said, straightening up, he looked almost embarrassed. “That was inappropriate.”

Raven blinked owlishly at him, not sure if at some point she had walked into a weird dream sequence.

“Well… Raven and I are going to go. Nice meeting you Micah!” Penny said as she hooked her arm in Raven’s and began dragging her away.

“Raven, you should close your mouth. You don’t want a bug to fly in,” Penny muttered when they were a safe distance away.

“Did that just happened?” Raven asked, still not sure she believed it.

“Yup.”

“No, I’m serious, did this insanely hot and extraordinarily talented guy feel up my hair?” Raven asked again.

“Yeah, among other things,” Penny said.

Raven turned to her friend and looked her dead in the eye. “Should I be flattered or offended?”

“I’m not sure,” Penny said. “How do you feel?”

“I’m not sure. I mean I think I should be offended, but…” Raven covered her face. “I think I must be shallow or something because I’m not offended and…is that because he’s hot or because he’s a prodigy?”

“You’re sinking again?” Penny said.

Raven dropped her hands from her face and sure enough, she was sinking.  She looked down to see she was sliding deeper into a shadow. “Help please.”

Penny grabbed her arm and dragged her up, but as soon as she let go Raven started sinking again.

“What is up with this?”  Raven exclaimed, lifting her foot up just to sink again. 

Behind her, someone snickered. Raven turned her head, glaring at the offender. Leaning against the wall, watching them in amusement, was a guy with messy olive colored hair and a bored expression in his honey eyes. He was only a little taller than Raven, probably around 5’8, compared to her own 5’6. His lips quirked into a smirk that fit with his impish face. Something about him irked her. Maybe it was his blasé attitude to her struggles.

“You could help us, you now?” Raven said pointedly.

He shrugged. “I know.” He didn’t move.

Raven glared at him and then turned away. “Jerk.”

He snickered and she was about to snap at him when suddenly the floor solidified.

“Finally,” Raven said. She turned to Penny, but Penny’s attention was completely fixated on the guy behind her.

Raven turned back to the guy. He pushed off the wall and shoved his hands into his jean pockets.

“You’re welcome,” he said as he walked away.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Raven called back at him, even more annoyed. She huffed and turned back to Penny. “What was that about?”

Penny didn’t respond, she was still staring after the guy.

“Penny?” Raven called. “Are you okay? Please don’t tell me he’s your type.”

Penny whipped around. “Do you even know who that was?”

“Should I?” Raven asked with a shrug.

Penny clutched Raven’s shoulders and shook her. “Why are you never caught up on anything?”

Raven swatted her hand away. “Okay, okay. I get it. So who was it?”

“That was Syrion.”

Raven froze. She might not have recognized him, but she knew the name. Syrion. The famous sixteen-year-old who was adopted by MDE Superior Cole Harrison. Syrion, who had taken down some of the more infamous magic-based criminals. He was the only known person who could neutralize magic.

“Are you kidding me? Is this prodigy Tuesday?” Raven said, exasperated.

“Look at you,” Penny said, grinning. “You managed to embarrass yourself in front of not just one prodigy, but two.”

Raven sighed. “This is my life. Can someone just hide me away?”

As if some higher power heard her request, a man with a clipboard entered the room. “Raven Delias.”

Raven perked up. “Here.”

The man nodded and marked something off on his clipboard. “This way please.”

“Good luck,” Penny said giving her a quick hug.

Raven nodded and then began walking towards the man. Her attention returned back to the reason she was here at the Access Facility. Today was the day she awakened her Core magic. Today would determine her future.

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