I hope you don’t mind

For advanced chapters and other goodies, check out my Patreon.

If you’re wondering why the sudden patreon plug, well, my time as a full-time writer is getting short, since I’m almost through my savings after this month. I would like to continue writing full-time, so anyone that likes my story and is feeling generous I would definitely appreciate the help. If patreon isn’t your thing and you just want to tip me you can always drop a donation through my Paypal.

Besides that, I do want to make it clear that my goal is to never miss a Tuesday/Thursday update and I never plan to abandon Illusion/Core. It’s very close to my heart and I want to see it finish just as much as my readers, so don’t worry, it’s here to stay. So that’s my promise to you – the only way this story will stop is if I no longer have access to a computer or am literally unable to write due to sickness or (god forbid) death. So there you go. 

Thank you all for reading! 

8. Visitors – 4

When she reached them, Jean was kneeling over Mary. Ava was standing close by, nervously flickering in and out of visibility. Cindy’s gaze searched the area, keeping an eye out for attackers or supplies. Another surge of anger went through Raven when she looked at Cindy and she had to work to shove it down. Instead, she focused her attention on Mary. Mary was unconscious but was breathing normally.

Raven’s face scrunched up in worry. “What happened? Did the attackers do this?”

She looked around at the hooded figures on the ground. Each one had a green checkmark hovering above them, only the one Jean had taken down had a red X.

Jean shook her head. “The suppressor. If you push too far against the magic regulator the suppressor will shut you down. She’ll be fine, but what do we do now?”

Raven swallowed. She hadn’t known the suppressor would knock her out if she went too far with her magic. She wondered how close she had gotten.

Jean looked over at Cindy, questioningly.

“Take her back to base. I can look for the rest of the supplies,” Cindy said.

Raven gritted her teeth. Honestly, she wanted to let Cindy go off, but even with her luck, she wasn’t sure if the girl could defend against more attackers. “We should stick together.”

“I don’t care what you think,” Cindy said sharply.

Jean looked between the two girls, but she didn’t seem surprised. It made Raven wonder how much the girl knew about Cindy’s act.

“If we split up won’t we fail?” Ava said softly.

Cindy gave the girl a sharp look. Ava immediately vanished.

Raven watched Cindy struggle with her decision, but got up and went over to Mary. “Jean, help me carry her back. I’m not sure if I should use my magic again.”

Jean nodded and went to Mary’s side, pulling her up. Once they both were on either side of Mary, they began to walk back to the base.

Behind them, Cindy swore but joined them as they headed back. The march back to the base was uneventful. Raven wasn’t sure if it was because Mary had taken most of the attackers out with her magic or because Dr. Davis had pity on them. In either case, Raven was grateful. Once they had Mary settled Cindy turned back to the door.

“I’m going to look for more packs while we still have time.”

Dr. Brite’s voice cut through the air, interrupting. “The scenario will end in ten seconds.”

Cindy growled. “Damn it!”

Raven ignored her and focused on the countdown. In exactly 10 seconds the room shifted back and as it did Raven got a glimpse of different constructs and items slipping back into the floor. At the other end of the room was the Team A. They were too far for her to see how many of the bags they had collected.

The plastic barrier around Dr. Davis and the sponsors lowered. Once it had finished, Mr. Henderson stepped forward. “You kids were a real treat to watch.” His eyes gleamed as he looked them over. “But it’s time for me to get back to work.”

He then turned to Dr. Davis. “You’ll be hearing from me soon.” Then the older man and his staff left the dome with a few ECI guards guiding them out. A few seconds later, Raven felt her suppressor tightened and then the muffling feeling came back as she was once again cut off from her magic. She sighed.

“Suppressors fully activated,” Dr. Brite said. “I’ll leave you to your class.”

Dr. Davis gave the woman a warm smile and nodded. Surprisingly, when Dr. Brite began leaving the room so did the MDE officers. Once again her eyes met Syrion’s, but this time he was the one looking away. He had a slight frown on his lips. It made Raven nervous. She didn’t think she had done anything wrong during the scenario. If she had, Syrion could affect her chances of getting out of ECI. She swallowed as she watched him go, silently hoping that whatever issues he may have had nothing to do with her.

Two ECI guards went to where Mary laid, still unconscious, and took her out of the class. Jean looked after her friend and sighed. “She’s going to be pissed once she wakes up.”

Once everyone had left the room besides the students and their teacher, Dr. Davis stepped forward. “Today, I’m sure, was very intense for everyone, but you all did very well. There are a few things I would like to go over with everyone.”

Raven glanced to her team. Jean and Cindy talked to each other, while Ava hung near them. Even though Raven had just moments ago been part of the team, she suddenly felt like an outsider. The other team was still grouped together.

“One of the things you may have noticed is that some of the attackers had green checkmarks and some had red Xs. These were to show if your disabling technique used lethal force. Green checkmarks meant you disable with non-deadly force and red Xs meant deadly was used.” At this point, he looked over at Jean.

Jean gave a small smile and shrugged.

“Together I hope we can learn how to use our magic in a way that doesn’t hurt those around us,” he turned to look over the entire class. “You all are amazing people with magic that is strong and significant. All we need is a way to take that magic and prevent it from being harmful in our lives.” He smiled. “I know each one of you can do it.”

Raven was surprised. She didn’t expect such an encouraging speech from one of the teachers at ECI. Did that mean not everyone was like Principal Kase? It gave her something to think about.

“Next week we’ll go over your evaluation individually and I’ll give the results of the team who won. Class dismissed,” Dr. Davis said.

A few moments later two ECI guards came into the room and the girls began lining up. Raven turned to join when Cindy purposely shoved pass her. Jean followed after Cindy giving Raven a helpless shrug, while Ava avoided looking at her. It looked like Jean and Ava had decided to stick with Cindy. Raven narrowed her eyes at Cindy’s back. She would definitely have to figure out what to do about that.

Getting into line, she found herself in the back, only followed up by the ECI guard. As they exited the dome, Raven took a moment to enjoy the breeze on her face. Looking outside made her thoughts turn to the sponsors and the students’ bid for freedom. She seriously doubted they would be interested in her, especially with Cindy using her magic to trip Raven up every two minutes. She scowled at the lost opportunity. She would just have to show them she was even better than they expected.

They entered back into ECI’s main building. As the class was lead away, the guard behind Raven grabbed her arm. “Ms. Delias, come with me.”

Raven’s eyes widened and a hint of irritation appeared in her glance. How many times was she going to be singled out? She followed the guard, who didn’t take her far, just down a side hall where a familiar boy stood.

“Syrion,” she said and then bit the inside of her cheek. She wasn’t exactly friendly enough with the boy to be calling him by his first name.

Syrion ignored her familiarity and turned to the guard. “I’ll be quick.”

The guard nodded and left them as he returned back down the hall. Syrion turned his attention back to her. She looked at him, her gaze defiant. She felt she should have been more complacent, but she was just tired. Tired of being picked on, tired of her situation. She didn’t want to sit there and take whatever new thing he was going to throw at her.

“You should be careful,” he said abruptly.

Raven balled up her hands at her side. “Are you threatening me, too?”

Syrion gave her a questioning look. “Too?”

Raven narrowed her eyes. “I’m not just going to keep letting people take shots at me. I-I don’t deserve this.” She felt frustrated tears spring at the corner of her eyes. “I didn’t mean to hurt those people. I’m not a monster!”

She felt tears stream down her cheek and she abruptly turned her back on Syrion. She can’t believe after saying all that she was crying. She quickly wiped away the tears. “So if you’re here to threaten me I already know. I’m not going to do anything. Like I could anyway.”

There was silence behind her and then a hesitant squeeze on her shoulder. “Hey, I’m not here to threaten you. I’m here to warn you.”

Raven spun around with a glare. “That still sounds like a threat.”

Syrion held his hands up in mock surrender. “Don’t lash out at me. I’m not the bad guy here.”

“And I am?” Raven spat back.

“To some people, yeah,” Syrion said.

Raven deflated at that.

“Look, like I said, I’m not here to threaten you. I’m here to make sure you’re safe,” he winced as he said that.

Raven stared at him, confused. “What?”

“There are some people outside that have connections in here. You’ll want to be careful,” he said and his brow furrowed. “They’re going to try to make you break. Don’t let them.”

Raven swallowed. The knowledge that her situation had just gotten worse made her want to scream. It was with a huge force of will that she managed to shove it all down. Instead, she focused on Syrion. He had been someone she attacked during her Awakening and someone who didn’t even know her.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

Syrion looked caught off guard and shook his head. “I’m not sure. I’ve seen what you can do. If anyone should be losing their shit about what happened, I’m definitely one of them.” He shrugged and walked over to her. He reached out and ruffled her hair.

“I guess to me you seem like a scared kid in a bad situation,” Syrion said and then dropped his hand. “I don’t know if there’s much I can do for you, but if you need my help ask Ellis there and he’ll pass it along to me.” He gestured behind her.

Raven turned to see the guard who had brought her to Syrion standing there.

“I have to get her back to the dorms,” Ellis said.

“Wait. Who is doing this? Why are they doing this?” she quickly asked.

Syrion shook his head. “That’s all the information I have.”

Raven nodded slowly, stunned by the unexpected kindness. “Thank you.”

“Sure,” Syrion said, walking away.

“You know, I’m only a couple years younger than you,” she called back at him, flushing. She wasn’t sure what even made her say that.

“Definitely something a kid would say,” Syrion said with a chuckle as he turned the corner.

Despite Syrion’s warning, Raven felt a little better. Now she knew at least one person was on her side. The guard, Ellis, sighed.

“I can already tell this is going to be trouble,” Ellis said and waved her over. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Together, they both headed back to the dorms.

Previous | Next 

8. Visitors – 3

Everyone was still looking around them in wonder and agitation when Dr. Brite’s voice filled the air once more. “Suppressor adjustment starting.”

Raven shifted her feet. She wondered how it would feel to once again be able to use her Illusion magic. The girls in her group seemed tensed, everyone collectively holding their breath.

“Suppressor adjustment complete. You may begin your mission,” Dr. Brite said.

Raven frowned. She didn’t feel anything different, and then it slammed into her. It felt like a vice around her chest had been released and energy surged up her body. She could breathe again. She opened her eyes, not even realizing she had closed them. All around her, the world felt more vibrant, the sounds sharper, like all this time her life had been muted. Now she understood why everyone called it Rush. Her entire body vibrated with her magic, a sweet song that reconnected her to herself.

She raised her hand and concentrated. Water flowed into her hand forming into a ball. She couldn’t stop smiling. “Awesome!”

“Wow, you can summon water too?” Jean said.

Raven nodded. “It’s easier if I have water already, but I don’t need it. Maybe because it’s pretty much everywhere.” She stretched the water out, forming it into the familiar water whips she used in her permit testing.

“What about you? I didn’t get to hear what you can do,” Raven said.

A wide grin split Jean’s face and she reached down, touching the ground. She tapped her finger and then quickly backed away. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”

A small part of the ground exploded and Raven leaped back. “Whoa!”

Jean put a hand on her hip. “Guess I have an explosive personality.”

Raven laughed and shook her head, sending her water to slide over the area in case a fire started. Jean pouted at her, but their attention was pulled away when the ground began to shake. They toppled to the side, grabbing a hold of each other.

“Was that an earthquake?” Raven said, eyes wide as she looked around, wondering if this was part of the Reality therapy.

Jean shook her head and nodded to Mary. “That’s Mary.”

Mary had a satisfied smirk on her lips. “Still the coolest.” She stomped her foot again and another vibration rippled through the ground shaking them.

“Could you quit that,” Jean complained as she nearly toppled over.

Mary just laughed.

Raven shook her head, not bothered by it. She could understand wanting to use your magic after so long. She looked around to see Cindy watching, her eyes narrowed. Raven looked curiously at her, but Cindy turned away. A little confused, Raven let it go. She looked around. What Raven didn’t see was Ava.

“Hey, where Ava go?” Raven asked.

“I’m here,” a voice said behind Raven.

Raven twirled around, her eyes wide. Nothing, and then slowly Ava began to appear again. “Whoa, you can become invisible?”

Ava nodded and then vanished again.

“Someone’s shy,” Mary said.

It was kind of weird to have one of their group invisible, especially since it seemed like Ava was planning to stay that way as long as possible.

“Okay everyone,” Cindy said stepping forward. “Remember, we’re here to get the supplies so let’s focus.”

They all nodded. While they had been all testing out their magic had the other team already started gathering supplies? The girls must have been thinking the same thing because everyone looked at each other worriedly. Only Cindy seemed completely calm.

“Don’t worry guys, because you have me,” Cindy said with a wide grin. “My Core power isn’t as flashy, but it’s the most useful in this type of situation.”

Raven looked at Cindy with interest.

She grinned. “Luck.”

Raven blinked. She had never heard of an ability like that. “Luck?”

Cindy nodded with a smirk and leaned back, gesturing to a small crevice she was standing by. Curious, the girls hurried over and their eyes widen as grins spread across their faces.

“Are you for real?” Mary said.

Right where Cindy had been standing was a backpack with ECI Supplies stamped on it. Jean jumped in the air in celebration and not too far from Raven, Ava’s disembodied voice let out a weak cheer. Raven shook her head.

“Want to do the honors, Raven?” Cindy said.

Raven blinked and then shrugged. She sent her water over to grasp the handles of the bag and tug it towards her. Once it was close she took the backpack and put it on. Surprisingly, it was sort of heavy.

“Are the supplies real or images of the scenario?” Raven wondered out loud.

Cindy shrugged and looked at the other girls.

“It’s a massive mindfuck,” Mary said. “They mix things in with the scenario, so who the hell knows what’s real and what isn’t.”

“Pretty much,” Jean said.

“All right,” Cindy said and started walking. “Enough gabbing and let’s move. Raven, you stay with me.”

Raven nodded and hurried over to Cindy. As soon as she stepped forward she fell down, thrown off balance by her backpack. She tried to catch herself but instead skidded across the ground. “Ow,” she said, pushing herself up.

Cindy shook her head and reached out and helped Raven up, while Jean and Mary giggled behind her. Raven felt heat rise up in her cheeks.

“You’re probably not used to the room,” Cindy said and patted her on her back. “Stick close to me and I’ll help you out.”

Raven nodded, still a bit embarrassed at her clumsiness. They started moving again. It didn’t take them long to find the next supply backpack. On the way, Raven had fallen and skinned her knee, banged her elbow, and run into a pole. Was her balance off because of the illusion around her? But none of the other girls around her seemed to be having trouble. That could have been experienced, but Cindy had only been there a week from what she had told Raven.

As Raven tripped and fell again, she slapped her hands against the ground, catching herself. Cindy reached out and helped her up.

“You’re really bad at this,” the girl said, amusement dancing in her orange eyes.

“Yeah,” Raven said, standing up and with a sheepish smile.

Cindy gave her a reassuring pat on the back before her eyes widened and a wide grin spread across her face. “Oh! Another one.”

She shot forward, climbing across some of the debris to a nook where the strap of a pack rested. Raven watched her distractedly. Something wasn’t right. She turned things over in her mind. She wasn’t the most graceful person, but she had never been this clumsy. Turning over her experience since the scenario started, Raven knew things were a little off. She didn’t feel disoriented or even off-balance, but she kept tripping and running into things. A sinking suspicion started to build in her as she watched Cindy tug the backpack from out of the debris.

“Luck, huh?” Raven said softly.

“You should be careful,” a voice said beside her.

Raven jerked and as she did Ava faded back into view.

“Ava, could you not do that?” Raven said exasperated.

“Sorry,” the tall girl said.

Raven gave the girl an easy smile. “It’s okay. You just took me off-guard.”

Ava nodded slowly but stared at Raven.

“Uh, yes?” Raven asked, prompting the girl to speak her mind.

Ava shifted from foot-to-foot and looked over her shoulder at Cindy then back at Raven. “You should be careful,” she repeated.

Raven automatically followed her gaze, watching Cindy. Something caught her eye as she did. Instinctively, she started running towards Cindy. She shot out a stream of water just as something lurched at Cindy. Her water hit, knocking the attacker into the debris. Cindy stumbled back in surprise.

A flickering green checkmark appeared above the attacker. “One attacker disabled,” a robotic voice stated.

Raven climbed up the debris to Cindy. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just stay beside me,” the girl said, clamping her hand around Raven’s wrist.

Raven’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Are you-“

“All right!” Mary’s voice boomed and there was the sound of an explosion.

Raven’s head jerked up to see that Jean had taken out an attacker who had went for the pack on her shoulders. A red X appeared above the attacker. Raven was too far to hear if another robotic voice said anything. Mary was a few feet away from Jean and flanked by four attackers. The attackers were dressed in jeans and dark gray hoodies that cast most of their faces in shadow. They were big, but didn’t have any weapons.

“We need to help them,” Raven said, looking around to see where Ava was, but there was no sign of her. It was probably for the best. She wasn’t sure what the girl would be able to do in this situation.

“Let’s go then,” Cindy said, jerking Raven forward, but as she did Mary’s voice pierce the air.

“Rumble,” Mary bellowed and slammed her foot on the ground.

The vibrations surge through the room, stronger than they had been before. It knocked down their attackers, but as it did Mary suddenly dropped. Raven’s eyes widened. She was only given a second to worry when the debris under Raven and Cindy collapsed, throwing them from their perch.

Raven only had a moment to act. She called forth a surge of water to wrap around them. Her suppressor tightened around her finger, shoving down her magic as it automatically regulated it. Raven gritted her teeth, struggling to bypass it just enough to finish shaping the water. The water swept underneath them, dragging them over the debris and redirecting their descent in a smooth curve instead of the harsh drop they had been heading in. It didn’t completely cushion their fall, but shifted their momentum so when they hit the ground it was with a soft thump.

Cindy coughed beside her and pushed herself up. “Shit.”

Raven’s entire body felt sore and her clothes were soaked. She pushed herself up. “I hate suppressors.”

Reaching out, she pulled the water from her clothes or tried to. She was only able to remove some of the water, before the suppressor clamped down, shutting off her magic. Well, at least she had gone from soaked to just damp. She glanced over to check on Cindy to see the girl staring at her with a mixture of disgust and anger. Raven’s eyes widened.

“Do you think you’re some kind of hero?” Cindy growled out.

“What?” Raven asked, confused.

“I didn’t ask for you to save me,” Cindy spat out.

Shock ran through Raven. It was like Cindy was a completely different person. “Why are you so angry?”

“Why are you so fucking oblivious?” Cindy snapped back.

Raven stiffened and balled up her fist as more of her suspicions came to the surface. “You’ve been using your magic on me, haven’t you? All the tripping and clumsiness, it was you?”

Cindy smirked. “Looks like you’re not a total idiot.”

Raven felt anger surged through her, but more than that was confusion. “Why? What did I do to you?”

Cindy narrowed her eyes and took a step forward. Then stopped. The girl stared at Raven and Raven stared back, not backing down.

“Hey, guys, I could use a little help here!” Jean shouted.

Cindy shook her head and abruptly turned to head over to Jean. Raven watched her go and she felt her anger grow. What was going on? What did she do to make Cindy turn on her? Or had she singled her out from the beginning? It explained the awkward almost uncomfortable way she acted around Raven.

It was all a lie. 

Rage surged through Raven and she balled up her fist, her nails digging into her palm. Tick Tock’s voice seemed to whisper in her mind. She could teach them a lesson. Show them who they were playing with. The horror of that thought shook her out of her anger.

There’s something wrong with me. 

She swallowed down the fear that swirled around her. The darkness that seemed to curl at the edges of her mind frightened her. She needed to focus on the present, not these thoughts. She shoved it all down and hurried to join her team.

Previous | Next 

8. Visitors – 2

Most of the classes Raven attended were exactly as Ethan said they would be, which was boring. There was a math class, a social studies class paired with a community service workshop activity that involved sorting through recyclables and washing bottles. Finally, the day ended on her last class, Reality therapy. 

Raven was curious to see what Reality therapy was like. From Benji’s description, it sounded like it was pretty cool. Following the map on the back of her pamphlet, Raven was surprised when it led to the school’s back entrance. As she got closer she saw nine students standing at the door with two guards. She hurried over.

“Finally she arrives,” a girl with curly purple hair said and rolled her eyes.

“Sorry,” Raven said, feeling flustered. She had no idea that her class would be waiting for her. 

“Whatever,” she said, turning her back on Raven. 

Raven bit her lip and mentally sighed. That had been the other issue all day. She didn’t seem to get along well with the other girls in her classes. Most ignored her, clustered in their cliques, while other girls just didn’t like her though she wasn’t sure why. 

“Everyone, get in line.”

Immediately everyone got into a single file line, while one guard unlocked the door and the other moved behind them. Then they marched outside. The feel of the sun on her face felt great. Raven hadn’t realized how nice it felt being outside after being cooped up all the time. 

“Hey, don’t bother about Patrice,” the girl in front of her said, looking over her shoulder. “She’s lashing out because she sees you hanging with Lisa.”

Raven looked at the other girl, surprised she was talking to her. The girl had short green hair that looked like it was growing out of its pixie cut. She flashed Raven a strained smile like she was slightly uncomfortable.

Raven was just happy someone had finally decided to talk to her. She gave the girl a warm smile back. “Thanks. Wait? Patrice? The same one Lisa hit?”

The girl snickered. “Very same one. That girl doesn’t know when to back off. She kept challenging Lisa and trying to start a fight. She finally got what she asked for.”

“Hey! No talking,” one of the guards said. 

The girls immediately quieted as they reached an enormous dome structure. The guard scanned into the large front doors and the girls filed in, one at a time. The room was as big as a football field and the ceiling seemed to stretch up forever. 

Immediately, the girls moved into their own personal groups and began chatting and laughing. It looked like the no talking rule was lifted while inside the dome. Raven was looking around the room when the green-haired girl from earlier stepped in front of her. 

“Hi! I’m Cindy,” she said holding out her hand. 

“Raven,” she answered shaking her hand, feeling a little awkward. What teenager introduced themselves with a handshake?

“Okay,” Cindy said, pulling her hand away. “That was a little weird.”

“Yeah,” Raven said. They both exchanged glances and then started laughing. “Are you new too?”

Cindy nodded. “Sort of. Arrived here last week. I got caught doing some deliveries and so now I’m here.”

“Oh,” Raven said, not really sure what to say to that. “Um, so what exactly are we supposed to do in here?”

“Right now we’re waiting for Mr. Davidson. Once he gets here he’ll have us talk about our feelings.” Cindy made a face. “Then after that, he has us run through different scenarios to see how we act. It can actually be pretty cool depending on what he runs us through.”

“Scenarios?” Raven asked. 

But Cindy’s attention turned as the door opened and several people came filing in. A mixture of excited and curious murmurs when throughout the room. Raven’s eyes widened as she noticed a familiar figure. Standing with several businessmen and two officers was Syrion. 

Queasiness settled in her stomach. The last time she saw Syrion was when he was handcuffing her. It was definitely not a pleasant memory. Was he here to check up on her? She felt her entire body stiffen at the thought. She must have been staring because Syrion’s gold eyes met hers. He raised an eyebrow. 

Raven hurriedly looked down at the floor. 

“You know Syrion?” Cindy asked beside her. 

“Sort of,” Raven said. 

“Hello, class,” a man in a burgundy shirt and black tie started. “For those of you who are new, I’m Dr. Davis.” He smiled over at Raven since she was the only new person in the class. 

Raven squirmed and gave an awkward smile back. 

“Today we have some special guests observing out class. This is Mr. Jon Henderson of Source Constructions. Source Construction is the leading construction company in the reclamation project.” A large man with a shock of blue hair stepped forward looking over the students with interest. 

“With him is, Mr. James and Mrs. Cords,” Dr. Davis stated as both adults nodded. Then he turned to Syrion and the two MDE officers. “And this is Mr. Syrion Harrsion, from the MDE. I’m sure you’ve all heard of him before.” The doctor said with a chuckle. 

Around Raven, the students nodded stiffly. Of course, almost everyone recognized the famous sixteen-year-old MDE officer. Whether they personally knew him or not, anything involving the MDE had the students on edge. 

“Well, let’s get this started,” Mr. Henderson said loudly. “I want to see what sort of potential you kids have. What are you going to have them do? Fight a monster or something?”

Dr. Davis looked nervous. “Maybe we can start with something a little tamer.”

Mr. Henderson frowned. “I didn’t come all the way out here for tame.”

Dr. Davis gave a strained smile. “I see. I’ll see what I can do.” He glanced over at Syrion and the two MDE officers with him, but none of them said anything. 

The sound of the door opening interrupted them as a short woman stepped into the room. She was dressed in a white lab coat and her hazelnut hair was tied up into a bun. Thin wire-framed glasses perched precariously on her nose. At the sight of her, the entire class began to shift with excitement. 

Raven had never seen the woman before, but everyone else seemed to recognize her. “Who is she?” Raven asked. 

“That’s Dr. Brite,” Cindy said with barely contained excitement. “She’s in charge of Rush.”

Raven had yet to get the chance to take part in Rush. On Sunday, when she was supposed to go, she was told they were still working on adjusting her suppressor. Her magic access would be limited to her Illusion magic. But if the person in charge of Rush was here, did that mean they were going to get access to their magic for the class?

Raven’s attention focused on Dr. Brite as she spoke with Dr. Davis, then the woman nodded. She held out her hand and a small hologram appeared in front of her. She typed a few things in and then nodded. 

“Proceed,” she said. Her voice was soft but underlined with steel. 

“Let’s get this show on the road. I don’t have all day,” Mr. Henderson said impatiently. 

Dr. Davis’s smile grew tight and then he looked back at the students. “Everyone we’re going to be doing something a little differently for this class. I’ll be putting you in a more high tension scenario.” He hesitated, his gaze flickering to Mr. Henderson and then back. “If you at all feel uncomfortable or unable to handle the situation I want you to hold up two fingers like this.” He held up his hand with his index and middle finger pressed together. “And someone will retrieve you. You will not get deducted points for signaling.”

“Now please get into two groups of five.”

Cindy immediately grabbed Raven’s wrist, tugging her as if she was a lifeline. “Let’s group together.”

Raven nodded, relieved she didn’t have to stand around and hope someone would pick her. “Okay.”

She and Cindy found another three girls to group up with. They each went through introductions. Jean was a slender girl with tangerine hair that she had in a short ponytail. With her was a chubby girl with freckles named Mary who had the prettiest aquamarine eyes. Lastly, there was an extremely tall girl named Ava. She had long gray hair that she kept pushing out of her face only to fall back again. Like almost everyone in their class, no one was sponsored. 

“Do you think they’re going to let us use our magic?” Jean said excitedly. 

“Of course they are,” Cindy said confidently. “They’re looking for kids to sponsor. They’ll want to see what we can do.”

Jean practically vibrated with excitement. “I hope it’s a scenario that lets us show our stuff.”

“I hope it’s not too scary,” Ava said.

Raven had to agree. For her first day, she sort of hoped to ease into things instead of being dropped into the middle of whatever this was. Still, breakfast had taught her the sooner she found a sponsor the better. 

“Raven Delias,” Dr. Davis called. 

Raven’s head jerked up and she looked over to the doctor who signaled her to come over. Looking questioningly back at the girls who simply shrugged, she trotted over to Dr. Davis. 

“Yes, Dr. Davis.”

“Ah, Raven. It looks like we have your ring’s signal all setup. You’ll be able to access your magic with the other kids once we start.”

Excitement went through Raven. It had been so long since she was able to use magic. 

“Now, I want to point out that you’ll only be able to access your Illusion magic,” Dr. Davis said with a twinge of regret in his tone. “This might put you at a disadvantage compared to the other students who will be using their Core. If you like, you have my permission to sit out.”

Raven didn’t even have to think about that. She shook her head. “I want to do it.”

Dr. Davis sighed, but smiled. “I figured you’d say that. I heard you even got your level 2 permit.”

Raven nodded. “Yes, on the first try.”

Dr. Davis laughed. “Good job. Well, all right. I’ll keep you in, but if you feel like you can’t keep up remember the signal.”

Raven nodded. “I will.”

With that she headed back to her team. The girls were talking excitedly to each other when Raven joined them. 

A wide smile stretched across Raven’s lips. “We’re getting access to our magic.”

Jean bounced up and down. “This is awesome.”

Mary put a hand on her hip. “That was obvious with Mrs. Brite here.” Though her aqua eyes sparkled. 

“All right,” Cindy said, clapping her hands together and bringing the attention back to her. “You missed it Raven, but we were talking about what our Core magic is. So your turn.”

“Actually I’m not allowed to use my Core magic,” Raven said, tugging absently on the hem of her shirt. “I’ll have to stick to my Illusion magic.”

“What?” Mary said. “Oh no, we’re going to lose. Damn it.”

Jean elbowed Mary. “Be nice. It’s not that bad, is it?” She asked worriedly as she looked at where Mr. Henderson stood with his staff. 

“Don’t worry,” Raven asserted. “I can handle it. I actually have a level 2 Illusion permit.”

“Oh! That’s cool,” Jean said, perking up immediately. 

“Still not Core,” Mary mumbled.

“Okay,” Cindy said, taking charge once more. “What’s your main Illusion magic?”

Though Illusion skills could change, most people had a main skill that they considered their Illusion magic. Since Illusion magic wavered a lot, it was often better to focus on one and ignore the others. Splitting your attention could make the Illusion magic more unstable. Raven hadn’t shown any additional Illusion magic until the day at the Access Facility, so she didn’t even have to think about the other ones. 

“Water manipulation.”

Cindy nodded. Then Dr. Davis’ voice broke across the room. “All right, I hope everyone is settled into their teams.”

“Yes, Dr. Davis,” the room chorused. 

The doctor nodded. “Then we’ll begin. The group on the left will be team A and the group on the right will be team B. Please get into your spots.”

A red A and B appeared on the floor. Raven and the other girls moved to the B. Once they were in place Dr. Davis continued. 

“For this scenario, we will be mimicking the aftereffects of a disaster. Your job is to locate supplies and return it to your base. On the way there will be many obstacles. You will be graded on your responses to the obstacles as well as how much of the supplies you return to base. Does everyone understand?”

Everyone nodded their heads and said yes. Raven looked at the determined faces of her team. She wanted to win. She wished she had more time to hear what the other girls’ magic was. She figured she would have to ask once the scenario started. 

“You each will be given partial access to your magic. Since this is limited access be careful how you use your magic. If things get out of hand I will step in. And remember, if at any time you feel the scenario is too much just raise your fingers and one of us will get you.” Dr. Davis pointed to himself and Dr. Brite. 

Once he was sure everyone understood, Dr. Davis pushed a button against the wall and a clear plastic divide appeared between them and Dr. Davis and his guests. Dr. Davis touched the plastic and a screen appeared. All at once, the room began to shimmer and right before Raven’s eyes everything changed. 

Instead of them standing in the empty Reality therapy dome, they were in a devastated city. Broken buildings were strewn everywhere and smoke was in the air. Parts of the ground had been uprooted in large chunks. It looked like a huge earthquake had happened. The sound of distant sirens rung in the air and Raven could even smell the smoke. 

“Wow, this is so real,” Raven said. 

Though the other girls looked just as impressed. 

Raven looked at them in confusion. “I thought you all have done this before.”

Ava shook her head. The tall girl had been so quiet up until this point. Her voice trembled. “Not like this.”

Mary nodded. “Yeah, this is on a whole other level. “

Cindy moved to Raven’s side. “You okay?”

Raven nodded. “Yeah.”

The girl’s face scrunched up and then she smiled. “Make sure you stick by me.”

Raven agreed. She wondered if Cindy was worried about this being Raven’s first time in Reality therapy. 

“Please stay in your designated section,” Dr. Brite’s voice rang out from invisible speakers. “The scenario will begin shortly.”

Raven looked at her teammates. Ava looked freaked out, but the rest had determined expressions on their face. Raven clenched her fist. She was just as determined. She didn’t want to spend her time in ECI as a victim. If she had access to her magic, even only her Illusion magic, she would be safe. She was going to show everyone how strong she could be.

Previous | Next 

8. Visitors – 1

Raven looked down at the schedule in her hand with some confusion. The sounds of the cafeteria danced around her. She was both curious and dreading the classes she was scheduled to be in today. It was frustrating that she had only gotten her schedule this Monday morning so she had no time to really study it except now. 

“Your face is all scrunched up. What’s wrong?” Ethan asked as he crunched on his nice crisp bacon. 

Raven looked on with envy, before turning back to scoop up a spoonful of soggy eggs. “I don’t understand some of these classes. What is reality therapy?” 

Ethan plucked her schedule out of her hand. “Ooh! Reality therapy on the first day. You lucky girl.” 

“I still don’t know what that is,” Raven said, pouting a little. 

A boy across from them, Benji, spoke up. “It’s this room where they can make the scenery whatever they want and you have to figure out how to react to the situation. They even let us use our powers in there sometimes, well as long as you’re sponsored at least.” He gave Raven an apologetic smile. 

Raven smiled back. Benji was nice. Ethan tended to sit with a different person every mealtime and each person’s attitude towards her varied. Benji was one of the nice ones. What all Ethan’s friends had in common was they were all sponsored. There was a clear divide between the sponsored and the unsponsored and she gathered that if a person didn’t eventually get sponsored they would be sent to a detention center. 

“Yup, what he said,” Ethan said. “One of the few good experiments we got to keep. Supposedly, even West Merrick is using them now.” 

“I heard the guy who designed it based it on an old comic he used to read,” Benji chimed in, excitedly. 

“That’s cool,” Raven said. She didn’t read many comics, but she and Penny used to eat up the romantic graphic novels at their library. The thought of Penny made a twinge of pain go through her chest. She knew Penny had been okay for the most part, but Raven had still hurt her. During all this, she hadn’t seen or heard from her friend. She wasn’t sure if that was because Penny couldn’t see her or didn’t want to. 

Ethan interrupted her dreary thoughts. “Besides the Reality Room, your schedule is pretty boring. You really need to get a sponsor,” he said, handing her schedule back to her. 

She rolled her eyes. “Ethan, it is literally my third day here.” 

“I know, but why does it have to take so long,” he whined. 

Raven laughed and shook her head. 

“Hey, Benji!” 

Raven looked up in surprise as two guys strode towards Benji. Benji stiffened, but Ethan just looked bored as he watched the guys walk over. A thin guy with shoulder-length hair slung his arm around Benji’s shoulder. The other boy with him, a beefy guy with narrowed eyes, grabbed Benji’s tray. 

“Look at this, Jason,” the bigger boy said as he ruffled through Benji’s food. “Man, you sponsor kids get all the good stuff.” 

Jason tightened his grip around Benji’s neck. “You don’t mind sharing, do you Benji?” 

Benji sat there, his body trembling. Raven’s hands fisted in her lap. She hated bullies. A part of her knew she shouldn’t butt in, but she didn’t want to sit there and do nothing. 

“Hey!” Raven shouted, starting to push up from her seat, but Ethan grabbed her arm and shook his head. She looked at him in confusion. 

“Yeah, get a handle on your girlfriend,” Jason sneered and then looked Raven up and down. “Or maybe I’ll enjoy handling her myself.” 

Raven felt her skin crawled. At that moment it really hit her what kind of people were in this school. If someone like that was to attack her with her suppressor on, she didn’t have a way to protect herself. The thought made her shrink back a little. 

“Sorry gents, but she’s off-limits. Matter of fact, all the girls here are off-limits,” Ethan said. 

Jason glared. “You don’t get a say in this.” 

“Oh, I do,” Ethan said with a smile that was all teeth. Ethan stood up and waved his arm dramatically to encompass the entire room. “You’re all my girlfriends from this point on!” 

Laughter and groans filled the cafeteria and a few girls rattled off a, ‘Sure, Ethan.’ Ethan grinned and settled back in his sit. “See. Totally off-limits.” 

Raven stifled a giggle, but it immediately vanished when she saw how red Jason’s face got. A vein at the boy’s temple throbbed and he looked like he was ready to explode. 

Jason growled as he let go of Benji to lean over the table. “Don’t play games with me. From where I’m looking at you’re barely above Benji in the hierarchy.” 

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Benji seems to have things well taken care of.” 

Raven and the other two boy’s attention turned to Benji who was sitting a little further away from the two bullies. His tray was back in front of him and he was munching happily away on his food. 

“What the hell?” Jason shouted and then looked at the bigger bully. 

The bigger bully looked down where the tray should have been. He looked stunned before he shook his head and marched up to Benji, his fist raised in the air. He slammed it down and was met with hard plastic as he smashed his fist into the cafeteria bench. Benji was just a little further down, his tray still in front of him. 

“Damn it! Get him already,” Jason said, starting to push off the table, but Ethan slapped his hands on top of the bully’s. 

“Two against one isn’t very fair,” Ethan said and winked. 

Jason growled and started to pull his hand up, but it wouldn’t budge. His hands were stuck to the table. 

Raven’s eyes widened and she looked at Ethan. Ethan wiggled his fingers. Raven grinned. Guess Ethan’s sticking magic was used more than just for climbing on walls. 

Ethan gestured to Jason. “And this is why you need a sponsor. Otherwise, you end up a target by thugs like this.” 

“Let me go!” Jason shouted followed by a colorful rush of profanity as he tried to rip his hands off of the table. 

Behind him, the bigger bully kept trying to hit Benji, but whenever he tried Benji would blink out of existence and reappear a short distance away from him. 

Raven was both surprised and amused at their antics. The two bullies went from menacing to a pair of fools. A burst of laughter spilled from her lips against her will and she quickly covered her mouth. 

Jason’s face was almost purple at this point. He glanced at Ethan and then at Raven and a vicious sneer curled his lips. 

“Paco, teach this bitch a lesson!” 

The big bully’s head jerked up and he turned away from Benji and his attention focused on Raven. Raven only had a moment to take in that she was suddenly the target when Paco charged towards her. Ethan grabbed her, trying to pull her out of the way at the same time Raven tried to scramble backward. They both ended up tumbling to the floor. Paco didn’t pause in his charge. Raven’s eyes widened, knowing she wasn’t going to make it out of the way of his meaty fist. 

She closed her eyes, wincing as she braced herself for the blow. A second passed and then another. Raven opened her eyes. Benji stood in front of her, his arms spread out protectively, Paco’s fist only an inch from him. 

An even larger hand held Paco’s fist back. Raven followed the hand up to its owner to see Pete Burros. A hush had settled around the cafeteria at his appearance. Pete looked coldly at Paco and then something black slithered over Paco’s arm and wrist. The sickening sound of bones grinding and crunching together filled the air. 

Paco screamed. His voice pierced the silent cafeteria as the boy’s face was clouded in pain. Pete’s expression never changed. He let the boy go and Paco fell to his knees clutching his crushed hand to his chest. 

Pete’s gaze drifted over the boy and then to Benji and Raven. For a moment Pete’s cold eyes met hers before turning their frosty gaze to Ethan. “You and Benji take Paco to the infirmary.” 

Benji and Ethan scrambled over to the bigger boy who was still whimpering in pain. Ethan gave her a quick worried glance before he began leading Paco away. Pete went to the other bully. Ethan must have released the sticky effect, because Jason’s hands were no longer stuck to the table. The bully flinched back. 

“You follow me,” Pete ordered.

Jason nodded and Raven watched as the two walked across the cafeteria to where the guards stood. Raven had forgotten the guards were even there. During the whole fight, the guards had sat back and watched. Raven bit her lip, anger and fear mixing in her stomach. 

The slap of footsteps sounded in front of her and then Lisa was crouching down next to her. “Hey, you okay?” 

Raven nodded and looked at her roommate. “That was intense.” 

“Yeah,” Lisa said. “They must have been Benji’s old bullies before he got sponsored. They were stupid. You don’t mess with sponsored kids.” 

“Pete is…” Raven tried to put into words what she saw. 

“He’s terrifying,” Lisa said plainly as she helped Raven up from the floor. “That boy is a true monster and he’s in charge of the boys’ side.” Lisa shuddered. “I would hate to have to face getting on his bad side.  But don’t worry. It’s his job to make sure all the boys stay in line and none of the sponsored kids get damaged.”

Raven took this in. “Does that mean you have to do the same with the girls?” she asked.

Lisa nodded. “Yeah. One student from the girl’s side and one from the guy’s side watch over everybody. It’s to help teach us responsibility or some bullshit. Anyway, I think I’m a little less terrifying than Pete.”

“Only a little,” Raven teased.

“Hey,” Lisa said in mocked outrage before slinging her arm around Raven’s shoulder. “Ethan’s a bad influence on you. Come on. You can sit with me until breakfast is over.”

Raven nodded. She glanced back to where the guards were. Pete and Jason were gone. What had been the black thing that had come from Pete? Was it like what happened with her? She shuddered and pushed that thought away. Right now, it was better she focused on getting a sponsor like Ethan said.

This entire breakfast fiasco had taught her an important lesson. Without her magic, she was just another weak kid with a target on her back. That would have to change, one way or another.

Previous | Next

7. Thinking Out Loud – 3

Raven walked slightly behind the guard to the side, so he could see her. The guard’s face looked grim and Raven wondered what she had done or if this had to do with her Awakening. She tugged at the edge of her yellow shirt. 

“Where are we going?” Raven managed to ask. 

“Principal Kase,” the guard said in a clipped tone. 

“Oh,” Raven said. She wanted to ask more, but the guard didn’t seem like he wanted to talk. She kept quiet as the guard led her back to Principal Kase’s office. After her first visit, she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there again. 

The halls she was led down were different from what Raven remembered. She frowned in confusion. They stopped outside a door where the guard knocked once and then stepped inside. Inside, Principal Kase sat at her desk, filling out paperwork. She looked up at the guard and nodded once, before focusing back on her work. The guard left, leaving Raven standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. 

Surprisingly, the office they arrived at was different from the one she had first met Principal Kase. This one was just as large but had a more personal touch. Old records decorated the room and pictures of jazz musicians hung on the wall. There were no pictures of family or friends, just a collection of different musical items. In one corner of the room, a record player spun and a soothing jazz song played. 

“Are you settling in well?” Principal Kase asked. 

Raven was startled by the question. She had gotten the distinct impression from the principal earlier that she didn’t care what Raven thought. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

“Good,” the woman said, writing something on a paper, before sliding it away and finally looking at Raven. 

Principal Kase’s nose scrunched up as if she was looking at something distasteful. She sighed and steepled her fingers together. “Ms. Delias, have you read the pamphlet you were provided?” 

Raven panicked. She wondered if she had managed to break a rule she wasn’t aware of. “N-no, I haven’t, Principal Kase.” 

“I see,” the woman said, her eyes narrowing. Then she leaned back in her chair, folding her arms as she eyed Raven. “I suggest you do, but for now I will make it very clear about one rule that you would do well to remember.” 

Raven nodded. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

“Here at East Cronos Institute, we take great pride in our relationship with the Magic Defense Enforcement. They make sure our school provides a second chance for students with potential that have gone on the wrong path in their lives.” Principal Kase tugged lightly at the cuffs of her blouse, smoothing out the wrinkles. 

Raven watched, not sure what the principal was getting at with her speech. She made sure to keep her expression a careful blank. 

“As such we are afforded a certain amount of leeway in our actions to help provide a better foundation for our misguided youth. Sometimes are methods may appear harsh, but they are necessary. Do you understand?” 

Raven didn’t, but she nodded anyway. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

“Good. During the reeducation we put a level of trust in our students we expect them to honor. Part of that trust is to maintain the privacy of our students and faculty so they may flourish without the negative attention of the public eye.” Principal Kase’s hard purple eyes met Raven’s own. 

Raven waited for her to continue, but it was clear the woman was expecting something else. Raven went over the principal’s words again. Principal Kase wanted Raven to keep quiet about the other students, which Raven could understand. From what everyone has said about sponsors, the students were an investment. Gossiping about someone’s criminal record would be frowned on. 

“I understand, Principal Kase.” 

The principal gave her a searching look, before sighing. She stood up. “Good. We want to continue to make East Cronos Institute a safe place for you and the people around you.” 

There was something about the way Principal Kase said that, which didn’t sit well with Raven. It felt almost threatening. Raven frowned, trying to figure out what she was missing about this conversation. 

“Follow me. Your parents received special permission to see you outside of our normal hours. They have brought you some things from home.” She walked towards the door. 

Raven blinked. Her parents were here? Then it finally dawned on her what was happening. Principal Kase was warning her. If she told her parents about the questionable things they did at ECI, she and her parents could be in trouble. She sucked in a startled breath. 

Principal Kase’s cold eyes turned to her and then she smiled. “Don’t dawdle.” 

Raven hurried and followed after the woman, her mind reeling. She had never been threatened before, but she was pretty sure that’s what Principal Kase was doing. She felt a mixture of anger, dread, and helplessness. She was scared of saying something wrong by mistake. Raven forced herself to stay calm. Before she knew it, they stopped in front of a door to the office Raven now recognized as the one she had originally met Principal Kase in. The woman must use it as a lounge. Before they went inside, Principal Kase turned to her. Reaching out she gripped Raven’s shoulder, her nails digging in. 

Raven winced. 

“Remember what I said,” the principal said. 

Raven nodded. 

This time Principal Kase didn’t correct her for not saying the whole, ‘Yes, Principal Kase.’ The woman gave Raven’s shoulder one more painful squeeze before dropping her hand and opening the door. 

Raven stepped inside and was immediately washed over with warmth at the sight of her family. The anxiety was still there, but seeing their concerned faces pushed the other emotions away. Even though she had seen them this morning it felt more like days had gone by. 

Her mother immediately strode to her side, her heels clicking against the floor in determination. Her blue eyes searched over Raven for anything out of place, then she was tugging Raven in, holding her tight. The soft scent of her mother’s jasmine perfume wafted into Raven’s nose. It reminded her of home and comfort. 

Behind her, she heard the soft sound of a door shutting. When she looked back, she noticed Principal Kase had left them alone. 

Her mother pulled away from Raven, her expression hard, but her eyes filled with worry. “Are you okay? Nothing bad has happened to you?” 

Raven shook her head. “No, I’m fine. I think I even made some friends.” 

Instead of easing her mother’s worry, that seem to make it worse. Her mother glanced at her father. 

Her father let out a sigh, and then put down a box had been carrying. He walked over to Raven and scooped her up in his arms like she was a toddler instead of a teenager. 

“Hey!” Raven said with a laugh. 

Her father spun her around like he used to do when she was a kid. She was a little surprised her father still could. He was a thin man, not bulky with muscles, but his frame hid wiry muscles. 

Raven gently hit her dad’s chest and pouted. “Put me down. I’m not a kid.” 

Her father finally put her back down and ruffled her hair. “I don’t know. You still look like a kid to me.” 

She rolled her eyes. “I’m not.” 

Her father rubbed his chin. His fingers ran over his trimmed goatee. “I suppose you’ve gotten a little older, but you’re still my baby girl.” 

Raven shook her head. “You’re hopeless.” 

“Now you sound like your mother,” her dad said. 

Her mother elbowed her father. “I hope you mean she sounds as intelligent and confident as her mother. ” 

“Exactly that,” her father said, holding his hands out in surrender. 

“You always were a smart man,” her mother said and then turned to Raven, taking her hands and pulling her closer. “Honey, come and talk with me for a moment.” 

“Delores,” her father said. 

“It’s fine, Frank,” her mother said. 

Raven looked between her parents but followed her mother to a cushioned bench. The two sat down, while her mother rubbed Raven’s hand nervously. 

“Honey, you need to be careful,” her mother said. 

Raven nodded slowly, a little confused about what was going on. A chair scraped the floor as her father joined them. Her parents shared another worried look. 

“We’ve been working with people at the MDE and the Access Facility to get you released from here.” 

“That’s great!” Raven said. A rush of hope went through her for the first time since she awakened. 

Her father patted her shoulder. “It’s an uphill battle, but we’re determined to win it.” 

Her mother nodded in agreement. “But we need you to be careful while you’re in here and that includes who you become friends with.”

Raven frowned. “What?” 

“They’re criminals and you’re not,” her father said, straightforward. 

“The ones I’ve met are good people,” Raven argued back, thinking about Ethan and Lisa. 

“We’re not saying they’re not,” her mother said, squeezing Raven’s hand. “We just don’t want things going badly for you because of a mistake. You understand, right?” 

She understood her parents had a point. Though she didn’t think Ethan or Lisa were bad people she didn’t know much about them. Still, she didn’t want to avoid them because of their past. 

“I’ll be careful,” Raven agreed, though she silently made a promise not to judge them. She knew a lot of the students had sponsors, so they were trying to move forward in their lives.   

“That’s all we’re asking,” her mother said. 

Her father nodded. “Sometimes a person might seem like a friend when they’re actually trying to use you,” he said bitterly. 

Raven blinked at her father in surprise. His response was too raw to not be personal. She wanted to ask what happened, but from his expression, she knew this was a conversation that would have to wait. 

For the next 20 minutes, Raven talked with her family about what was happening around them. They steered the conversation away from Raven’s Awakening and instead focused on things at home and the stuff they brought her. Once it had been around forty minutes, a guard came in to escort Raven away. 

She hugged her parents tightly and, with one last wave, headed back to her room. Since she didn’t have a perk to wander around after hours, the guard took her all the way to the dorm entrance and escorted her inside. Back in the dorm halls, Raven let out a deep sigh. The dorms were mostly empty, with a few girls rushing around to do last minute stuff before curfew. The tears Raven had barely held back stung her eyes. Seeing her parents felt like home and that made her even more aware of her situation. 

I could go home now. 

The thought of what Tick Tock had said earlier rushed to her mind. She shook it away. All that would lead to was the MDE coming after her and her family. No, right now, she would be patient and wait. And in the end, if she had to, she would call Tick Tock and see if what he said was the truth.

Determination filled Raven. For now, she would keep her head down and move forward. Just three more months and she would be free. The decision filled her with relief, and for the first time since everything fell into chaos, Raven felt hope. It was a start.

Previous | Next

7. Thinking Out Loud – 2

“How are you doing?” Lisa asked awkwardly.

Raven looked at the older girl and then sighed. “Not feeling completely hopeless.”

The girl slapped her on the back. “There you go. I know this place seems like a prison, but it’s not as bad as you think.” 

Raven gave her a doubtful look. 

“Hey, I’m not just spewing bullshit. I’m talking from experience,” Lisa said as she glided down the hall like a queen, greeting all the girls as she went. 

Raven still couldn’t wrap her mind around the almost elegant and ethereal look of Lisa, compared to the harsh way she talked. It was like two different people inhabiting the same body. Raven snorted to herself at that thought. After all, she was the crazy person in this situation. 

She still wasn’t sure what to make of Tick Tock. He talked about the impossible, accessing her powers even with a suppressor on, but was he telling the truth or was she falling into a delusion? But something about the whole conversation felt real. It didn’t feel like it had in the Awakening dreamscape. And didn’t Tick Tock say that this was the beginning? Maybe this was a way of her power manifesting itself to teach her. She sighed. Now, even to her, this was sounding crazy. She would have to wait and see. 

“Hey! You all right back there?” Lisa asked, turning around to look at Raven. She had stopped at a set of double doors. 

Raven nodded and hurried to catch up with her roommate.

Lisa looked her over, her gaze scrutinizing, and then pushed the doors open. Immediately the loud murmur of lots of people talking filled the air. Raven stepped inside the cafeteria and looked around in surprise. Everyone was intermingling, talking and laughing as they ate. It wasn’t just the girls, but the boys were there too.

Lisa must have seen her surprise because she reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “See, not all bad. Mealtimes are pretty much the only time we get to hang with the guys. Don’t take it for granted though.” 

Raven looked at Lisa questioningly, but the girl was already moving onto something else. She pointed to a line where several students were getting their food. Surprisingly, the area was sleek and the servers seemed almost professional. 

“I’ll be going over there,” she said and then she pointed to another line. This one had more students cluster together and the food stations looked a bit more run down. The servers looked bored and overworked. “You’ll be over there.” 

“What?” Raven asked. 

“Sponsor,” Lisa said, smiling and waved. Raven sighed and then got in line. 

The wait took forever and the food was dried up corn with a piece of chicken that looked like it had been microwaved to hell and back. She twisted up her face at the food. The only thing that looked halfway decent was the carton of chocolate milk she managed to grab. She looked around the cafeteria, noticing everyone clustered together in their own groups. She felt a mixture of anxiety and relief. Lisa might have thought she was excited to see the boys mixed with the girls, but it wasn’t that. It was just nice to see that at least the cafeteria was like any other school cafeteria. Of course, it didn’t make finding a way to fit in any easier. 

She twisted her head, trying to see where Lisa might be sitting when familiar teal hair caught her attention. Ethan noticed her at the same time and waved his hand, beckoning to her. Raven walked over to where Ethan sat with two other students. 

“Raven! I see you managed to make it this far. Please, join me,” he said, patting the space next to him. 

“Thank you,” Raven said, sliding onto the bench. 

He pointed to the two students sitting across from him. “Ricky and Jessica.” 

Raven waved at the two. The pair ignored her. 

“Okay then,” Raven said. 

Ethan waved his hand, dismissively. “Ignore them. They’re stuck up.” 

Raven glanced at the pair to see what they thought of what Ethan said, but they kept talking among each other like she wasn’t there. Raven shifted in her seat awkwardly. 

“So tell me. Is it true that Lisa sent Patrice flying?” Ethan said, excitedly. 

“Patrice?” She looked at him confused when it dawned on her he must have meant the girl Raven had seen get knocked into the wall. “Oh! Wait, is she okay?” 

Ethan practically chortled. “So she did it. That girl has been asking for an ass whooping for weeks.” He seemed way too excited. 

Raven’s stare must have suggested that, but Ethan stabbed his fork into a piece of beef tenderloin. “Don’t look at me like that. She’s fine. Nothing Old BB couldn’t handle. Of course, she must have been in so much pain.” Ethan cackled.

“Right,” Raven said. 

Ethan slid a piece of beef into his mouth. It looked delicious. Raven looked down at her dried corn, reluctantly choking a bite down. 

“Ah, sometimes I wish I awakened with super strength. That would have been awesome,” Ethan said wistfully.

Raven looked at him curiously. She wanted to ask what his Core magic was, but at the same time, that would invite him to ask her. She really didn’t want to talk about her Core magic. 

Ethan must have caught her curious look because he flashed her a knowing smile. “You want to see?” 

He didn’t wait for her to answer. Instead, he grabbed his cup of soda and held it up. Then he let the cup go. Instead of crashing down, the cup stuck to his palm. Then he shoved his plate off his tray and slapped his hand against the tray. He lifted his palm and the tray stuck to his hand. Across from them, Jessica rolled her eyes. 

“So you can make things stick to you?” Raven asked, hesitantly. 

“Yes, but that’s not even the best part,” Ethan said excitedly and let the tray fall to the table with a clatter. He plucked the cup off his hand, setting it down. Then he grabbed Raven and tugged her out of her seat. 

He led her to the nearest wall and gave her a wink. “Watch this.” Ethan pressed his hands against the wall and then very carefully began to climb up the wall. Raven’s eyes widened as she watched him go up higher and higher. 

“So I see you’re with our little lizard,” Lisa said, making her way towards Raven. 

“I prefer chameleon,” Ethan called down and as if to demonstrate, Ethan’s entire body, including his clothes, shifted to look like part of the wall. 

Raven’s eyes widened. “That’s amazing.” 

“At least someone appreciates my awesomeness.” The camouflage flickered and faded out. “I’m still working on that.” 

Raven and Lisa giggled. 

Ethan climbed down, hopping in front of them. “Tada!” 

Raven clapped her hands. “So, is the camouflage your Illusion magic?” 

Ethan nodded. “I’m getting better at it. If I concentrate I can hold it for three minutes, but it still flickers out from time to time.” 

Raven shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re allowed to use both Core and Illusion magic.”

Ethan raised an eyebrow and looked at Lisa. “Hey, you didn’t share?” 

“I was busy, okay?” Lisa said. “Principal Kase wanted to know what happened with Patrice. She was this close to giving me a penalty.” 

Raven looked between the two, confused. “Share?” 

Lisa grinned and then held out her arm. Before Raven’s eyes, her arm turned into stone. It covered part of her body, before fading away. “I call it stone skin. Still working on it. I started training on it last week.” 

Raven was a little stunned. Being able to use Illusion magic wasn’t a small thing since it required a permit, but both of them were using it, even training in it. “Are all students that get sponsored allowed to use Illusion magic?” 

Ethan shook his head. “No. Only a few of us got picked to use the Advanced stabilizers.” 

“Yeah, I practically had to beg my sponsor to put me on the list,” Lisa said. “I think they were scared I would break it.” 

Ethan leaned into Raven. “Lisa sometimes has trouble controlling her strength.” 

“Telling my secrets, Ethan?” Lisa said, laughing. 

Ethan laughed. “It’s not a secret.”

Lisa laughed harder and slapped her hand on Ethan’s back. Ethan was sent flying to the ground with a crash. 

Raven jumped back. 

Ethan grumbled and pushed himself up. “What the hell, Lisa?” 

Lisa shrugged and gave Ethan a feral grin. “Sorry, I just can’t seem to control my own strength.” 

Raven covered her mouth, trying to hide back laughter. 

Ethan gave Lisa another glare and Lisa batted her eyelashes at him. Ethan turned away, focusing his attention on Raven. “So, what’s your Core magic? I know you can’t show us, but the deets will work.” 

It was the question Raven had been dreading. She stiffened, but surprisingly, so did Lisa. Ethan looked between the two, before holding his hands up defensively. 

“Whoa, got it. Taboo topic. Is it safe to ask what your Illusion magic is or is that off-limits too?” 

“No tact,” Lisa muttered. 

“Says the queen of putting holes in things that disagree with her.” 

“Water manipulation,” Raven said, breaking up the argument. “I can make water move and shape it into objects.”

“Sweet,” Ethan said, eyeing her Embud. “And you’re an Orange too. Maybe you can…” Ethan trailed off as his gaze landed on a guard making his way towards them. 

Immediately, the playful atmosphere vanished. They all stood at attention like soldiers. The guard stopped in front of them and pointed at Raven. “Raven Delias, come with me.” 

Swallowing, Raven nodded and followed the guard, glancing back at Lisa and Ethan. They both looked at her worriedly. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Raven followed the guard, wondering what new hurdle ECI had to offer her.

Previous | Next

7. Thinking Out Loud – 1

Raven shook Lisa’s hand and winced when Lisa’s grip almost crushed her own. She quickly snatched her hand back. Lisa’s eyes widened and then she flashed Raven an apologetic smile. 

“Sorry about that. It takes me a while to calm down once I’m hyped up.” She nodded to the side. “Come on. I’ll show you to our room.” 

Raven followed her and as she did, she took a glance at Lisa’s Embud. She was green in Illusion and orange in Core. That explained why everyone obeyed her. Orange was pretty high up there. Most adults stopped at orange and since Lisa was probably around 15 or 16 and already orange, she was likely to hit red if she didn’t run into a wall. 

They stopped in front of one of the brown doors lining the hallway. Lisa pushed it open and they stepped inside. Raven wasn’t sure what she expected, but the room surprised her. One half of the room was bare. It had a twin sized bed, a small desk, and one dresser. The other half was an explosion of pink – pink pillows, pink stuffed animals, pink satin sheets. It was everywhere. On the walls on Lisa’s side of the room were posters of boy bands and a picture of a unicorn sipping water from a lake with a castle in the distance.

“Wow,” Raven said, stepping into the room. 

Lisa grinned as she joined her. “Lots of pink, right?” 

“Yeah,” Raven said as she walked over to the empty side of the room. Curiously, she noticed that though no one else was in the room there was a very clear divide between Raven’s half and Lisa’s half. It was like there was a hidden line separating the two sides.

Lisa walked over to her pink bed filled with pink stuffed animals and flopped down with a wide grin. She didn’t seem self-conscious about being sixteen and cuddled up with two stuff bears, a wolf, and a very well-loved giraffe. “I just really like pink. The other girls can’t stand it. All my past roommates said it made their eyes bleed.” 

“Past roommates? Should I be worried?” Raven asked, sitting down on her own very plain bed. 

Lisa grinned even wider. “That depends on you.” 

Raven gave her a worried look. 

Lisa’s laughter rung throughout the room like melodic chimes. “Don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to ask you to do anything crazy. Follow the rules. No smoking or drugs. Curfews at nine. No magic unless it’s during rush.”

“Rush?” Raven asked. 

“The teachers call it centering time, but we call it rush. It’s the one time a day we get to use our magic. Fifteen minutes, more if you get an assignment or have perks. Best fifteen minutes of your whole day.” 

Raven blinked, her brow furrowing. “Only fifteen minutes?”

Lisa gave her a pitying look. “Yeah. It’s the minimum MDE decided we needed so we don’t go bonkers.” 

Raven balled up her fist at her side, her nails digging into her palm. The thought of that settled in her mind like a stone dropped into a lake. The ripples of it washed over her. Vaguely, she saw Lisa give her a worried look. The pink-hair girl walked over to her, cautiously patting her on the shoulder. 

“Hey. I know this all seems bad right now, but as long as you don’t do anything stupid things will get better.” 

“You mean as long as I get a sponsor?’ Raven asked, her eyes focusing on the other girl. 

“Oh! You know about that already?” Lisa smiled. “Yeah. That’s the key to freedom in here.” She held out her hand to show off a stabilizer like the one Ethan wore. “Most of the people worth knowing have a sponsor and the ones that don’t I suggest keeping away from. They tend to be high crime or on their way to it. You know, unless they’re new like you.” 

Lisa hesitated as if she was trying to decide whether to say something else. 

Raven waited. 

Lisa shook her head and patted Raven’s back. “You don’t seem like the type to go looking for trouble, so keep following the rules and do your assignments and I’m sure you’ll get a sponsor. It’s the wait that’s the kicker.” 

Raven nodded, looking down at her lap. Her lips creased in a tight line as she tried to shove down her emotions. 

Lisa patted her back. “Why don’t I give you a chance to get settled in? There are blankets and sheets in the closet.” 

“Thanks,” Raven said, not looking up. 

Lisa sighed and then there was the sound of footsteps as she left the room. 

When Raven heard the door shut, she took a deep breath and walked over to the closet. She looked at the blankets and sheets on the shelf. Reaching out, she gripped one of the dark green blankets. Before she knew it she was yanking them down and throwing them against the wall. Anger filled her body. Everything that happened to her came crashing down. She went into the closet and pounded and kicked the wall. 

“This isn’t my fault!” Her eyes squeezed shut as all the anger drained out of her and she sagged to the ground. Tears of frustration leaked from her eyes. “I don’t deserve this.” 

She covered her face, dragging in gasping breaths as her emotions flooded her. She was supposed to go to her Core awakening and wake up with amazing powers, get into West Merrick, and become something. How did everything go wrong? She didn’t mean to hurt those people. The Access Facility was supposed to make sure she didn’t hurt anyone. 

“This isn’t fair,” she mumbled. She hated how whiny she sounded, but she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t fair. 

“Life isn’t fair,” a voice interrupted. 

Raven’s head jerked up and her eyes widened. 

Lounging on the top of her desk like he belonged there was Tick Tock. 

The demon rolled on his back. “It isn’t fair that they locked you away for an accident.” He sat up. “It isn’t fair that all those helpless people are now in comas because of that accident.”

Raven glared at the demon. 

The demon didn’t seem to care even a little bit about her growing anger. Instead, he stood up and stretched. “But more importantly, it isn’t fair that I have to listen to all this drivel.” 

“You’re not real,” Raven gritted out. 

“Ah, then I suspect you shouldn’t be talking to me out loud. What will the neighbors think?” Tick Tock said with a mock gasp. 

Raven clamped her mouth shut. She looked around. There were no obvious signs that anyone would be watching her or listening in. At the same time, she wasn’t sure how exactly things worked at ECI. Was staff even allowed to put cameras in their rooms? Whether they were or not, Principal Kase had already made it clear that ECI played by its own rules. 

[How are you here? Am I going crazy?] Raven tried thinking at the demon. She figured that if he was part of her mind then he would be privy to her thoughts.

“Are you going crazy or have you been crazy all along? Food for thought,” Tick Tock said and then vanished. 

That confirmed it. She had to be going crazy. That’s the only thing that made sense. Was it her Core Awakening? Was the days under a suppressor combined with Principal Kase’s show of power in her office what finally sent Raven over the edge? 

A hand touched her shoulder and she jerked. 

Tick Tock laughed. “Stop worrying about what is or isn’t sane. Just think of me as the devil on your shoulder.” 

[Then where is the angel?”] Raven thought back. She shook Tick Tock’s hand off her shoulder. 

The demon spun away from her, his hands spread out as if he was reaching to the heavens. “Sorry, but it looks like you’re all out of angels. Maybe you’re just not worth their time.” 

Raven rubbed her forehead. She wasn’t sure what people did when they were insane. Should she tell someone? She was sure if she did she would be escorted to the nearest asylum or worst. She looked down at her Embud. It was still green on the Core side and orange on the Illusion side. So she wasn’t a Blue and hadn’t gone insane with power. So was this a side effect? 

Maybe if she ignored him he would go away. 

Settling on that idea, Raven stood up and grabbed the blankets and sheets from off the floor. She walked around Tick Tock and began making her bed. 

Tick Tock watched her curiously and then vanished, before reappearing on top of her pillow. Raven gritted her teeth and continue making her bed, trying to work around the demon.

“What I can’t quite figure out is why you don’t just leave?” Tick Tock said. 

Raven managed to make up half the bed, but with the demon in the way, she couldn’t go much further. [Can you please get your butt off my pillow?]

Tick Tock crossed his legs and began to float, moving to the side. Raven continued making the bed and then eyed the pillow.

“With your power, no one can stand in your way,” Tick Tock said excitedly.

[I don’t want to hurt anyone,] Raven thought back at the demon, and then scolded herself. She wasn’t doing a good job of ignoring him. 

“Booooo. The pacifist route is so boring.” Tick Tock sighed heavily. “Fine, fine, then use that shadow thing you do.”

Raven froze. She hadn’t thought about the new illusion abilities that had appeared back at the Access Facility. She had been so focused on her Core Awakening that she simply hadn’t thought of them. She swallowed at the knowledge that freedom could be so close. She shook her head, letting the though wash away from her mind. 

[You’re forgetting one thing,] she thought to the demon. [I can’t use magic. I have a suppressor.] She pulled the pillowcase off the pillow, tossing it to the floor. No sleeping on demon butt imprints for her.

The demon glided in front of her. His eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There’s a way if you want it.” 

Raven looked at the demon, stunned. There was a way for her to access her magic even with the suppressor. [How?]

Tick Tock leaned closer. His golden eyes glowed and his toothy smile stretched wide. “Do you really want to know?”

The words were eerily familiar to the ones he asked her in the dreamscape. It made her hesitate. If she could release herself from the suppressor then what? Did she walk out of here? She couldn’t control the shadow magic she used before and her Core magic wasn’t an option. Even if she did walk out where would she go? They would hunt her for escaping.

The demon laughed. “It looks like we have a guest. Think about it.” He waved his fingers. “Call me when you’re ready.” Then he was gone. 

“Hey, Raven. Time for dinner,” Lisa said as she walked into the room.

Raven turned, startled. She nodded. “Yeah.” She glanced back to where Tick Tock had been and then followed Lisa out of the room.

Previous | Next

6. East Cronos Institute – 2

Raven took the boy’s hand as he helped her up. “Thanks. Does she do that to everyone or am I getting the star treatment?” Raven said bitterly.

The boy laughed. “Sorry, Ms. Raven Delias, but you’re like the rest of us peons. We all get to suffer it. It’s a warning.”

“Yeah, I gathered that,” Raven said with a sigh. 

“Enough with the doom and gloom. Not everything here is that bad,” the boy said. 

Raven quirked her eyebrow. 

“Completely the truth…okay maybe half-truth, but I’ll give you the low down on how it works,” he said. He walked over to a desk and grabbed a pamphlet out of a drawer. He walked back and handed it to her. 

Raven looked down at it and her mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Welcome to East Cronos Institute. Where we shape you into a better you. Sounds a bit ominous.” 

“Oh it is, but it gives you a rundown of the ‘Dos and Do Nots.’ I suggest reading through it if you don’t want the principal to get on your Kase.”

Raven groan. “Really? You went there?” 

“My puns are divine,” he said. “By the way, I’m Ethan, though feel free to call me Mr. Wilkens instead.”

“I’ll go with Ethan. You can call me Raven.” 

He nodded and then with a flourishing bow. “Right this way, Raven. I will guide you through the mysterious hallways of ECI.”

Raven couldn’t help smiling and she felt a little relieved. Ethan seemed almost normal. Maybe the rumors about ECI wasn’t as bad as she thought. 

“So low or high crime?” Ethan asked as he led her down the hall.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You did something to get in here, right? So low crime or high crime? Low being theft, drug running, and destruction of property. High crime being murder, rape, that sort of thing.” 

Raven gaped at him. Okay, so maybe the rumors were true after all. Raven closed her mouth and shook her head. She didn’t know if she had technically committed a crime. If she did, what did putting nine innocent people in comas rank? She really didn’t want to know. 

At her silence, Ethan shrugged. “Ah, the shy type. Well, I’m low crime myself. Sticky fingers, literally,” he said with a laugh as he wiggled his fingers. 

Raven was somewhat relieved she hadn’t been left with a murderer. Still, she wasn’t exactly sure what to say to that, so she continued following Ethan. They reached a hall where crystals the size of beach balls floated. One of the crystals glided towards them. Raven stiffened in alarm. A blue light slid over them, scanning them and the crystal flashed green. 

A feminine voice came from the crystal. “Hall access granted for Ethan Wilkens and Raven Delias. Please continue your tour.”

Raven blinked. “What was that?”

“A detection crystal. It’s a new prototype. Get used to seeing stuff like that. ECI is the guinea pig for a lot of magic tech testing. Of course, we don’t ever get to keep the good stuff, only the annoying things. ” 

Raven nodded, watching as another crystal moved down a different hallway. They continued walking down the hall, where several classrooms were. Most of the classes were empty though a few had students. Since it was the weekend, Raven figured it was some sort of club activity or tutoring. 

“Classes start at 8am sharp,” Ethan said, bring Raven’s attention back to him. “If you’re late then you get a penalty. Too many penalties lead to a shutdown.” 

“Shutdown?” Raven asked. 

“The entire magic suppression thing you got a taste of.” 

Raven shuddered. Another question went through her mind. “What are the other penalties?”

“They change,” Ethan said. “Mostly it depends on what new toys have been sent for Principal Kase to try out. When I said we’re the guinea pigs, we really are the guinea pigs. Believe me, you don’t want a penalty if you can help it.” 

“It sounds like torture,” Raven mumbled. 

“Bingo,” Ethan said, turning around and facing her, walking backward as he did. 

“How is that even allowed? And the shutdown I’m sure is illegal.” Raven shook her head.

Ethan tucked his hands behind his head. “Yeah, a lot of things here are toeing the line or outright crossing it, but good luck trying to do anything about it. ECI is under MDE and most people are going to believe them over a bunch of kids with records.”

Ethan stopped walking and met Raven’s eyes. “One thing you better learn now is that life isn’t fair. Accept it. You’re better off focusing on getting a sponsor.”

Raven frowned, her brow furrowing at what Ethan said. She chewed on her lip as question after question went through her mind. Ethan turned away and started walking when he abruptly jerked to a stop. Raven almost ran into him, barely catching herself in time. 

“What you doing out here?” a boy ask. The boy was big. He was corded with thick muscles. He was at least 6ft if not bigger. His face looked like it was carved out of granite and his eyes were a cold gray that held a sharp intelligence. His hair was an inky purple that was almost black and trimmed in a neat stylish cut. Though he was handsome, there was something off-putting about him. Raven found herself taking a step back. 

Ethan stood stone still. The smaller boy seemed to shrivel underneath the bigger boy’s gaze.

“New student. Principal Kase wanted me to give her a tour,” Ethan said stiffly. 

“Hmmm,” the boy said and looked over at Raven. He pushed pass Ethan and strode forward until he was standing in front of Raven. 

Raven swallowed. Part of her wanted to duck her head, but she stayed straight. She knew that showing weakness in front of someone like him was asking for the sort of special attention she could do without. 

The boy studied her and then held out his hand. “Pete Burros.”

Raven blinked, a little surprised. “Raven Delias. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand, wondering if she was setting herself up from a hand crushing.

Pete took her hand and shook it. His grip was firm, but no trying to crush her or even linger. His touch was cold and dry. He dropped her hand and then looked back over his shoulder at Ethan. “Once you’re done come see me.”

“Yes, Pete,” Ethan said. 

Pete didn’t say anything else, he continued down the hall. When he was out of sight, only then did Ethan relax.

“That, right there, was Pete Burros. He’s the student in charge of the boys at ECI. Not someone you want to mess with. He usually leaves the girls alone, so nothing to worry about unless you get on his bad side.”

Raven looked back where the boy had gone. She frowned and then looked down. She realized she was rubbing the hand he had shook against her leg as if trying to wipe off his touch. She stopped. What was wrong with her? But the feeling of something cold and foreign still lingered on her skin. 

Ethan had begun walking, returning to his jaunty attitude. “There’s a girl’s side and a boy’s side. Make sure to keep to the girl side or penalty. Unless of course, you have a perk like me,” Ethan said and flipped the gold coin he gotten from Principal Kase. He tossed it to Raven. 

Raven caught it. She looked it over. It was a gold plastic coin with a three etched on it. 

“Those right there are your perks,” Ethan explained. “Perks give you special privileges and if you get enough perks you can buy things around here. But I’m going to give it to you straight. Getting perks requires a humongous amount of ass kissing, either that or you have to get yourself a sponsor.” 

“That’s the second time you mentioned sponsors. What is that?” Raven asked curiously.

Ethan turned and raised his hand. Raven frowned. She looked at Ethan’s hand and then her eyes widened. The ring on his hand was different. It had four lines instead of three. The lines on the far left glowed yellow while the one on the far right glowed orange. The two in the middle were silver. “You’re not wearing a suppressor!” 

Ethan grinned. “That’s right. This is an Advanced stabilizer. It’s a prototype to help train my Illusion magic and gives me access to my Core magic. A pretty sweet ass gift from my sponsor.” 

Raven looked at it with wonder, but then her brow furrowed in confusion. “But we’re not allowed to use magic. How are you even allowed to have this?” Raven asked.

“Things are a little tricky around here. Build perks, get noticed, and you might get the chance to show off your skills. Showing off your skills means one of the sponsors might notice you. Get a sponsor and you’re living the easy life. You’re no longer a criminal, but a future investment. Get me?”

Raven nodded slowly. She thought she got it somewhat. Was ECI a display case of talent? Is that why the judge decided to send her here instead of a detention center? She wasn’t sure she wanted to sell herself to some corporation to be their tool. Her brows shot down in a deep frown. But she also didn’t want to be labeled a criminal for the rest of her life. 

Ethan continued explaining to her about how the school worked. Raven got the gist of it. Boys and girls were kept separate except during meals. Everything was on a schedule and being late was not an option. Everything you did wrong had a penalty and those penalties varied by the offense. Still, there was one thing she was curious about.

“We’re not allowed to use our magic, right?” 

“Yeah, well, except for class assignments,” Ethan said.

“Then how do we show off our skills to get a sponsor?” Raven asked. 

Ethan leaned in with a wide grin. “That’s a surprise.” 

Then they turned the corner and stopped in front of a guarded door. When the guard saw Ethan she smiled. He showed his perk and she nodded.

“Here to bring Raven Delias to Lisa,” Ethan said. 

The guard held out a small handheld crystal, similar to the floating ones in the hall. The crystal scanned them and a small holographic screen popped up in front of the guard. She looked it over and nodded. “Clear.” 

Ethan turned to Raven with a smile. “This is my stop. Remember what I said. Collect as many perks as you can. And don’t worry, Lisa is awesome. Good luck!” 

Raven didn’t have a chance to say anything else before Ethan was walking away. The guard led her down a long hall to the girl’s dorm. It was quiet and Raven was too nervous to try to start up a conversation. The hall came to an end and there was a buzz then the door opened and the guard pushed her in.

Surprised, Raven turned, but the guard was already closing the door and walking away. Raven turned back to see girls walking around the halls, talking with each other. A crowd of girls milled around a large room further down the hall. Raven figured she would try her luck there to see if she could find the Lisa Ethan had mentioned.

Raven took a step forward when suddenly a girl flew through the open doorway the girls were cluster at. The girl slammed into the wall and then crumpled to the floor. Thin cracks appeared in the wall from the impact. Hurrying forward, Raven ran to the girl, seeing that she was unconscious. 

She turned back to the girls standing by the door. “We need to get help. She might have a concussion.” 

Some of the girls chuckled while others rolled their eyes. No one moved to help. Raven bit her lip, not sure what she should do. 

Everyone grew quiet when a slim older girl walked gracefully out of the room they had clustered around. The girl was beautiful. She had long pink hair that was up in a high ponytail and cascaded over her shoulders. It gave her a soft almost fairytale look. She had sky blue eyes framed by long lashes and a delicate porcelain face.

The girl’s attention swept past everyone to settle on Raven. “Who the hell are you?”

Raven blinked, too stunned to do anything but blurt out her name. “Raven Delias.”

The girl frowned and stared at Raven intently as if she was trying to figure something out. Then she tilted her head and snapped her fingers. “Oh my gosh. I completely forgot. You’re the new girl.” She shook her head. “Well, this is a mess.”

She walked pass Raven to the unconscious girl. She looked down at the girl with annoyance. “Terry, Michelle.” 

Two females behind the pink-hair girl stepped forward. 

The pink-hair girl reached down and grabbed the unconscious girl by her shift with one hand. She lifted her off the ground like she was picking up her purse. She tossed the unconscious girl to Terry and Michelle without even a hint of strain. 

Terry and Michele tumbled backward when the body smacked into them. They recovered quickly like they were used to it. 

“Get her to Old BB,” the pink-hair girl ordered. 

The girls nodded and together they carried the unconscious girl away. Raven almost wished she could go with them. Staying here seemed crazy. Raven turned back to the pink-hair girl. A sinking feeling began to stir in her gut. She got the feeling she knew, by how the girls obeyed the pink-hair girl, who she might be. 

The pink-hair girl grinned at Raven and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Lisa Marie Baker, head of the ECI girls, and your new roommate. Nice to meet ya.”

Previous | Next

6. East Cronos Institute – 1

Raven spent three days in a holding cell before they decided what to do with her. After a hearing and many sleepless nights, she was guided to a room where her parents and lawyer waited. Suppressor handcuffs still adorned her wrists. She sat down between her parents as they listened to her lawyer. 

“Due to the complicated nature of everything that has happened, the judge has decided to divert the case. Raven will be sent to East Cronos Institute where she will attend reform classes. During this time she will be observed. After three months, the judge will revisit her case. If everything goes well, no formal charges will be issued.” 

Raven swallowed.

“Three months?” her mother said angrily. “She’s going to be spending the summer in a detention center for an accident?” 

“ECI is a reform school, not a detention center,” the lawyer corrected. 

Raven’s father balled up his fist. “They’re criminals, no matter how you spin it.” 

The lawyer adjusted his glasses. “I understand how you feel, but given the circumstances, this is the best solution offered.” 

Raven nodded numbly. It might have been an accident, but it didn’t change that there were nine people in comas because of her. Four students and five staff members, including Dr. Briton, might not ever wake up. She was lucky she hadn’t killed them. 

“How are they able to do this?” her mother asked, her arm tightening around Raven’s shoulder. “She isn’t the first one to have their Awakening cause damage?” 

“That’s true,” the lawyer said, shifting in his seat. His gaze drifted nervously to Raven’s handcuffs. “But your daughter’s case is… unique.” 

The room grew quiet. Everyone had seen the surveillance video at the hearing. What they had seen had been terrifying. Raven’s stomach curled at the memory. 

“I will give you a moment alone.” The lawyer stood and left. 

“This is ridiculous,” her mother said. Her grip on Raven’s shoulder was almost painful, like she could somehow force Raven to stay by her side. “First they refuse to let her come home for three days and now this.” 

Her father clenched his jaw and his eyes looked tired. His fist stayed balled up at his side. It worried Raven how angry and defeated he looked. 

Her mother’s agitated voice continued on. “Don’t you worry. We’ll get you out of there. You shouldn’t be punished for this. They’re all just…” She trailed off as if hesitant to finish that sentence. 

But Raven already knew. Everyone was scared. They were scared of what she had done. Sure, she was a Green according to her Embud, but if she was only a Green then how had she done so much damage? If Micah and Dr. Kesson’s theory was true, then what happened was a short window into her potential magic. There was hope she could control it as it developed. The only problem was that no one had ever presented with their Core abilities and then regressed to a lower level. She was an unknown phenomenon.

Raven forced herself to smile. “It’s okay, Mom. Besides, at least it’s ECI. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the MDE school I wanted to get into, but it’s something.” 

Her mother looked at her, bewildered, and then frowned. 

Raven’s father snorted and unfurled his fist. “That’s a strange silver lining.”

Her mother shook her head and hugged Raven again. Then her father was also hugging her. Feeling their warmth pressed against her, trying to support her, tears began to well up in Raven’s eyes. A sharp sob spilled from her mouth and before she could stifle it she began to cry. Her mom and dad held her tight until the officers came to get her. 

A few hours later Raven was boarding a bus with several other juvenile delinquents. She wondered if they were all going to ECI. Since there were only six of them, Raven was able to grab a window seat. The windows were tinted to prevent anyone from seeing who was on the bus. The other students didn’t try talking to each other. Each one seemed focused on their own issues. 

The guard walked to each seat, making sure the handcuffs were secured. Satisfied, he took his seat and pushed a small button. A prism bubble surrounded each of the teens. Raven looked at it in surprise. She had seen these used on young children to keep them safe in case of a car crash, but never like this. Though when she thought about it, it made sense. If a crash happened, their handcuffs stifled their ability to protect themselves. The safety bubble helped with that. 

“Move out,” the guard said. 

The bus jerked forward as it rose up from the ground. The wheels of the bus rotated until they were lying flat, and then they slid underneath the bus’s frame. With another jerk, the bus began to glide forward. Raven stared out her window. 

Buildings passed by as they drove through Tythion’s main sector. The city was a fusion of magic and technology. Cars hovered through the streets as people dashed around town. She saw a few people tap their necks before talking. They likely wore t-discs on their necks. T-discs were still new. The only people who had them were government employees and the wealthy. Not having being in either category, Raven made due with her normal smartphone. Or she would have if she still had one.

She sighed as she watched the city go by. They reached the end of the main district. The neighborhoods they now passed were a mixture of broken buildings and street construction. Luckily, the hover function on the bus kept the ride smooth. They floated over most of the debris.

Though Tythion was one of the few reclaimed cities, it was still recovering from the chaos of the first Awakenings. Living closer to the main districts made it easy to forget that outside of Tythion the world was still a mess of broken cities and overgrown forests. 

The bus turned and finally stopped in front of a detention center. The wheels rotated back out and the bus lowered and parked. The bus doors opened. The guard went to each teen, one-by-one, releasing them from their safety bubbles. Raven watched them go. She was the only one left behind. Once everyone was off the bus, the guard re-checked her handcuffs. Satisfied, he called for them to move out. Raven sighed and looked out the window. 

She jerked back, biting down on a startled scream. 

Outside the window, hanging upside down, was a familiar demon. Tick Tock waved at her. She stared at him then quickly looked at the guard. The guard narrowed his eyes like he was angry she was even looking at him. He didn’t seem to notice the demon hanging outside her window. She looked back at Tick Tock, but he was gone. 

Am I losing it? 

She twisted in her seat to get a better look outside, but there was no sign of Tick Tock. The rest of the trip Raven felt tense, but there Tick Tock never showed up again. The demon was part of her dreamscape so it didn’t make sense to see him outside of it. Did her Awakening damage her mind? A sinking dread filled her gut. 

The bus stopped and the guard led her off. She took a look at ECI. It was on the edge of the city, near the woods. Most of the woodlands were cleared away, but the forest was still a lot closer than she expected it to be. A tall barbed wire fence surrounded the area like a warning. Behind its coils sat what looked like an almost normal school. It was larger than her junior high. There were two buildings on either side of the main campus and Raven suspected it housed the students. 

Raven had only a moment to take it in when she was led inside the main building and brought to the front desk. The guard signed her in and then a female guard with an ECI badge took custody of her. From there Raven was patted down and inspected before she was handed clothes and told to change. She changed into loose jeans and a yellow ECI t-shirt. Afterward, the guard led her to a large office, leaving her with the ECI principal. 

The principal of ECI was a bulky woman with bright red hair that she wore in a bun. Thin black wire frame glasses rested on the bridge of her nose. An easy smile curled her lips, which didn’t match the hardness of her purple eyes. The woman wore a white blouse with a dark purple skirt and sensible black flats.

Standing to the side with his hands behind his back was a teenage boy with deep cocoa skin. He was around Raven’s height with teal hair and bright pink eyes. He wore jeans and the same yellow ECI t-shirt. He gave her a quick smile and a wink before his features were schooled into a neutral expression.

“Raven Delias,” the principal said. 

Raven nodded. 

“You will answer me with, ‘Yes Principal Kase.’ Is that understood?” 

Raven started to nod again but quickly corrected herself. “Yes, Principal Kase.” 

The principal nodded. “Come here.”

Raven stepped forward.

“Hold out your hand.”

Raven did. Principal Kase slid a ring on her finger. The ring constricted around her fingers, unremovable. 

Instantly, the world became less. Every sound was muffled and dizziness overwhelmed her. Her skin felt pulled and stretched. Raven fell to her knees, tears seeping from her eyes. She sucked in breaths, but the air was too thin. She clawed at her throat; trying to somehow, open her lungs. Her body spasmed in a desperate plead for survival as if it has been cut off from life itself, with just a teasing trickle to prevent her from falling into darkness. 

“Please, there’s something wrong with me,” Raven managed to choke out between gasps. 

“That is the feeling of your magic being completely cut off,” the principal stated. The woman reached into her pocket and pulled out a key. She grabbed Raven’s wrist, yanking the girl towards her. Principal Kase unlocked the handcuffs.

As soon as the handcuffs fell away Raven could breathe again. The relief was so strong, Raven’s leg gave underneath her and she plopped to the ground. She looked down at her finger. The ring had been a suppressor like the handcuffs she had worn. The combination of both the ring and the handcuffs must have had the same effect as a full suppressor. 

“Ms. Delias, remember that feeling,” the Principal said, her eyes cold. “Misconduct at my school will be met with discipline. The worst offenses will end with a complete cut off from your magic. Is that understood?”

Raven reeled in disbelief. Completely suppressing a person’s magic was illegal. Raven looked at the principal’s hard eyes and she knew to say as much would get her nowhere. She swallowed down her complaints.

“Yes, Principal Kase,” Raven said, hating the way her voice shook. 

“Good,” Principal Kase stated. “Your new suppressor will allow you to access the minimum amount of Illusion magic. Your Core will be closed off completely. In certain situations, once earned, you may be able to access larger amounts of your Illusion magic. Until then, follow the rules and do as you’re told, and your stay here will be tolerable.”

The principal turned, directing her attention to the teal-haired boy. She handed him a small plastic coin. “Mr. Wilkens, please explain to Ms. Delias the rules of the facility and bring her to Ms. Baker.”

“Yes, Principal Kase.”

The principal nodded and walked away.

The boy crouched down in front of Raven and held out his hand. A sympathetic smile curled his lips. “Welcome to ECI.”

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