Burnt Children – Chapter 2.1

Elaria and the boy slid across the floor and slammed into the wall. Smoke filled the air.

Coughing, Elaria sat up and checked the boy. “Are you all right?”

The boy nodded and looked at the chair. He paled. A huge chunk of the chair had been blown away. The boy trembled and looked at his hands. His hands were fine. It had been close.

“Next time, focus on the stone,” Elaria said. “Trust yourself. If you can feel a shift in the energy when you bring it close to the wood, toss the stone.”

The boy nodded, still staring at the chair. Elaria wondered if he would quit, but she knew he wouldn’t. It was the only real work a Burnt Child could get in Jelam.

Mr. Himmel hurried over and lifted the boy to his feet. “Well then, you survived.” He nodded to another worker. “Go work with Ethay. You need a bit more training before you have your own bench.”

The boy mumbled his thanks and hurried to the other worker’s bench. The rest of the section had already returned to their work.

Mr. Himmel helped Elaria to her feet. “You knew it was bad even from a distance.”

Elaria rubbed the back of her neck. “It was just a feeling.”

“Right.” A pensive look crossed his face. “You okay?”

Elaria examined her arms. Small cuts trailed across her skin, but nothing serious. Dust caked her shirt and tunic. She touched the mass of brown curls piled on top of her head and came back with a few slivers of wood. Untying her scarf, she used it to wipe the dust off her face.

“Yes,” she said. “Lucky, that.”

Mr. Himmel gave her a strange look and turned away. “Just lucky.” He cleared his throat. “Go on to Artifacts. I’ll check in on you after I get this mess cleared. And make sure you get those cuts cleaned up.”

Elaria nodded and gave her skirt a final pat, before walking to the water basin. She tried to ignore the look Himmel gave her. She’d have to be careful. Though she was definitely a Burnt Child, she still had something a little extra from the other Burnt Children. She could see strands. That extra ability had gotten her out of Embedments and into the Artifacts section. Still, no one knew she could see the strands, not even Himmel. If they knew, she wasn’t sure even Himmel wouldn’t turn her into the Purifiers.

She shuddered at the thought and quickly washed off the dirt, giving her cuts a cleaning. She eyed the alcohol next to the basin and decided to forfeit the burning it would cause. They were only small cuts after all.

Elaria felt out of breath. If she hadn’t known better, she would’ve thought a Tongue had spoken her into trouble. She smiled and shook her head. That, of course, just wasn’t possible. The only Melitan Tongues she knew were her father and Korvin and neither one had the inclination or the power.

Ever since the war fifty years ago, neither Tongue nor Hand wielded great magic, though the Tongue Melitan-El might’ve been the exception. No one knew what exactly the Melitan-El could do. Rumors said he didn’t use rokas stones to enchant any of his possessions, but instead spoke enchantments into them. After all, he was the one who had embedded the golden armor of the Champion with both Tongue and Hand powers with just a few words. Without him, the Champion would never have been able to defeat the mad Spirit Queen.

Elaria grimaced. The Champion had saved the world from the Spirit Queen, but in exchange people like her became nothing more than the rats of Meli. She knew it was the right thing to do. People needed to protect themselves from the Spirit people, but she wished there had been another way. Why did Meli keep making Spirit people just for them to become Burnt Children? Elaria pushed those thoughts away. It was an old argument, one without an answer. She couldn’t do anything for the Burnt Children, but she could do something for herself. At the end of the week she would tell Himmel yes. It was time to leave Jelam behind.

Elaria pushed away from the basin and went to the back offices. She stopped in front of the fifth door and fished a small iron key from her pocket. In or out, the door to the artifacts was always locked. She unlocked the door and then closed and locked it behind her.

The air was filled with the heavy tang of energy, like the feeling before a lightning storm. It sent a surge of giddiness through her. She put away the key and grinned when she saw three large crates overflowing with different objects. Crossing the room, she maneuvered around the workbenches and piles of good and discarded artifacts. She peeked inside one of the crates and saw interlocking ivory bracelets and a red bowl with black carvings etched on the inside. Colored strands encircled both objects. She itched to touch them, but she already had a pile of artifacts on her bench. She turned away and went to her station.

Artifacts. It was a dangerous job. While working in Embedments could get her injured, working in Artifacts would send the Purifiers after her. Burnt Children weren’t allowed to handle magical items, with the exception of the rokas stones. Having rokas stones to strengthen furniture or keep a home warm was too important. No one else could use them as well as a Burnt Child could, nor did anyone want to with the possibility of getting their hands blown off. She had been the best with the stones. Himmel had surprised her when he’d offered her a position in Artifacts. They both could lose everything, but since she’d started working in Artifacts, Himmel’s Crafters had sold more artifacts than any other crafter or jeweler in Sanzela. It was because of her, a Burnt Child. She had proven to Himmel she was well worth the risk.

She watched swirls of mist dance in an array of colors around the artifacts on her bench. Some were thick strands that spun slowly across an artifact. Those were heavy with magic, but the enchantment wasn’t strong. Others were thin and wove tightly around an object. Those were better made enchantments, ones meant to last.

She reached for a gold cup on her bench when a loud crash sounded behind her. She whirled and peered at the room. There was something on the floor. With quick steps, she crossed the room and picked up a necklace with a rusted pendant attached to it. It wasn’t one of her artifacts. It must have fallen out of the crates. The pendant was round, rusted, and she could see faint silver strands encircling it. It looked like a sealing. She returned to her station and set the pendant aside on her bench. She would get to it once she was finished with the cup.

The gold cup contained a complex enchantment. She almost had it figured out. She studied the strands. They all braided into one another — green, gold, and red. The red bothered her. She narrowed her eyes and turned the cup in her hands, twisting the strands. It was like picking a lock, wiggling and searching for the right series of actions until…Click! It all fell together. The lock opened and she knew what it was and how it worked. A smile spread across her lips.

“You got it?” Himmel asked.

Elaria jumped. She hadn’t heard him come in, but she grinned up at him. Adrenaline pumped through her.

“The cup has three stra–three settings depending on what you put in it. If you put water in it, one drink and you will not thirst for a week. If you put in milk, you will not hunger for a week. If you put in wine, you will die within a week.”

“Great stuff,” Himmel said. “I’ll never understand how you get it down to the detail.”

Elaria said nothing.

Himmel patted her shoulder. “Let’s test it out. Water or milk?”

Elaria’s eyes widened and she laughed. “Water, please.”

Himmel winked at her and left. Elaria turned back to her bench. The pendant drew her attention. She frowned and picked it up. The silver strands swirled faster. The strands were thin and she could make out something strange about them. They looked like tiny chains. Her brow furrowed as she looked closer and then she saw past the silver chains. It was power, pulsing like a small heartbeat.

A shout rent the air and Elaria jerked up and rushed to the door. Unlocking it, she opened it a crack. White robes. Purifiers! Five of them stood in the Embedment section. She recognized one of them from the group earlier. A Purifier grabbed a girl’s arm, twisting it behind her. The girl’s face was drawn tight with pain and fear.

Himmel hurried over, his face blotchy and red. “What are you doing?”

One of the Purifiers advanced on Himmel, disgust clear on his face. “You have these soulless creatures here.”

Himmel crossed his arms. “I’ve got a license for them to be in Embedments.”

“Yes, for Embedments.”

As though some hidden signal was given, the remaining four Purifiers spread out. Himmel took a step, as though to protest, but the lead Purifier blocked him.

“Now, why don’t you show me your license?”

Himmel nodded. He didn’t look in her direction, but she knew what would happen if they found her. She swallowed and quietly shut the door and locked it. She scanned the room for an escape route. The window! She darted to it. If there were more Purifiers outside, they would see her escaping, but she would have to take her chances. Elaria took a deep breath and pushed the window open. Someone grabbed her from behind, yanking her away from the window.

She started to scream, but a hand clamped over her mouth and she was whirled around. Spring green eyes stared at her from a white heart-shaped face, carrying a wry grin and a sprinkle of freckles. He put a finger to his lips and dropped his hand.

“Korvin. What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Rescuing you.” He brushed at his fringe of strawberry blond hair and winked.

She frowned. “How did you get in here?”

“The same way we’re getting out.” He grabbed her hand and tugged her toward a closet where Himmel kept artifacts he couldn’t sell.

Elaria gave Korvin a quizzical look, but kept quiet. At the door, she could hear the jingle of keys. Korvin pulled her in the closet and shut the door, leading them deeper inside until he stopped at the back wall. He slid open a panel, revealing a crawlspace.

Elaria looked at it and then back at Korvin who simply grinned and mouthed, “Hurry.”

She nodded and ducked into the space. Korvin crawled in after her and slid the panel back into place.

They had to crawl for about half a block before the space widened. Once it did, they ran and didn’t stop until the tunnel ended. Elaria sucked in a breath when they stopped in front of a dead end. Korvin marched past her and pushed against the wall. Another panel opened. They climbed through and found themselves in a small storage room. Korvin took the lead, guiding her outside.

Outside, people milled around, talking excitedly about the Purifiers’ raid. Himmel’s Crafters was only three blocks from where they stood. In the distance, Elaria could see a crowd of people staring at the shop; others carefully took different routes to avoid drawing the inquiring eyes of the Purifiers.

Elaria scanned the area for the best route, when a carriage stopped in front of them. She jerked back in surprise, but Korvin didn’t move. He grimaced as someone pushed open the carriage door.

Her mother, Lady Jenia Corik, sat inside. Dread filled Elaria’s stomach. Jenia didn’t look at her like a worried mother, but with the cold eyes of a woman who was staring down a mistake that she had to live with. It was always like that. On those rare occasions when she wasn’t Jenia, but her mother, it made the cold stare all the worst. What was Korvin thinking bringing her here?

Elaria looked sharply at Korvin, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. He climbed into the carriage and, after a moment, Elaria followed. The carriage stared with a jerk and they rode toward the Corik estate. The silence thickened, nearly choking her.

“This isn’t one of our carriages,” Elaria said.

Her mother’s hand cracked against her cheek.

Elaria’s jaw went slack and she rubbed at her cheek. Jenia raised her hand again and Elaria scrunched back into her seat. Before the blow could land, Korvin grabbed her mother’s wrist.

Jenia glared at him. Korvin paled, but he didn’t let go. Her mother took a deep breath and snatched her hand back. She looked away from them and gazed out the window.

“Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake with you, Elaria.”

Elaria clenched her jaw. This time she did not break the silence. She stared at her hands, folded in her lap. She still held the pendant.

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Burnt Children – Chapter 2.1

Don’t act nervous. Elaria sneaked a look at the Purifiers. They laughed about something she couldn’t hear. Their white robes slide over their armor and caught the sunlight, making her eyes hurt when she looked at them. There were four of them, not five. Everything was fine.

She pressed the back of her hands against her skirt. If they saw the black flame etched on her hands it wouldn’t matter whether she was doing anything wrong or not. She knew that to them a Burnt Child was like a cockroach. You squashed it when you saw one.

Taking a deep breath, she looked around. The streets swelled with the late afternoon bustle. People pushed their way in and out of shops. Some people stopped to call out to friends or haggled with the peddlers on the walk. A dog begged at one of the stands, while small, rodent-like skuivels scampered up trees and into garbage heaps.

No one paid much attention to her or the other Burnt Children that shuffled through alleys and along the back of stores. None of the Burnt Children dared to step into traffic where people would kick and sneer at them. As long as they stayed out of sight they were mostly safe, but Elaria wasn’t lurking in alleys. She walked down the pathways like everyone else. The only thing saving her from harassment was that she didn’t look like a Burnt Child. Unlike the worn and ragged clothes of the other Burnt Children, her clothes were good quality and while her hair wasn’t up in the latest fashion it was clean and neat, giving her the appearance of just a normal worker. The Purifiers shouldn’t even notice her.

Why are they outside the warehouse?

Quelling the panic threatening to overwhelm her, she kept walking. She kept her eyes fixed on the entrance, where a carved sign proclaimed, Himmel’s Crafters. From the corner of her eye, she saw one of the Purifiers glance at her, but he made no move to pursue her. She was a shop away from the warehouse when her mother stepped out of the shop with Mr. Himmel. Elaria swiftly stepped into a crowd of people in front of a fruit stand. Turning her head slightly and making sure not to stare, she looked back at the two. Her mother was talking to Mr. Himmel with a stern expression as the looked at her with concern. Elaria’s brow furrowed. What was her mother doing there? 

Her mother gave Mr. Himmel a short nod and, with a glance at the Purifiers, left the warehouse. Mr. Himmel went back inside, frowning.

Elaria didn’t move until her mother was gone. Still confused and even warier, she walked to the entrance and stepped into the warehouse.

The heavy scent of wood and tong oil assailed her nose. The warehouse was filled with workers carving intricate designs into wood, while others were putting the final coat of varnish on chairs and desks. Elaria adjusted the yellow scarf covering her hair and grinned. Even the rancid smell of the tong oil couldn’t dampen the exhilaration she felt every time she entered Himmel’s Crafters. Here, she was more than a Burnt Child.

Many of the workers looked up when she entered and then looked away with disinterest.

“Elaria! You’re early, girl.” Even with the loud bangs of hammers, Mr. Himmel’s voice carried across the warehouse.

She smiled. Burnt Child or not, Himmel always had a smile for her.

The bulky man ambled over, weaving around roped sections that divided builders and carvers from painters and polishers. None of the workers were Melitan and so they didn’t need the precautions magic users needed. Himmel was always proud of saying woodwork was better when a man’s hands did it. These sections were open so the men could talk to each other, unlike the enclosed sections that segregated the Burnt Children from the normal workers.

Once Himmel reached her, he thumped her on the back. He didn’t even flinch when he touched her. “Good news,” he said. “A new shipment came in.”

Elaria bit her lip. No one knew what they spoke of, but it still made her nervous.

“Promising?” she asked.

“Very. Up from Xhigano University. One of their professors fizzled out.” He shook his head and sniffed. “Even with all their studies, they still haven’t uncovered how to outsmart Meli’s Price.”

Elaria frowned and maneuvered around a basket of brass knobs as they continued across the warehouse floor. “They should ask the Evaion Kings.”

Himmel laughed. “They probably have and came back in pieces.”

She didn’t say anything. She knew the stories about the Evaion Kings – thugs with powers.

They can’t be as bad as the rumors say.

In Evaion Hills a Burnt Child had rights, not like here in Jelam, where the Purifiers made sure to cleanse them. If the Evaion Kings were willing to let the Burnt Children live at least somewhat free, even if they had to work the mines, then they must have some good in them.

“I know that look of yours.”

Elaria jerked and focused on Himmel. He grinned at her. She lowered her head, a blush darkening her light brown skin.

Himmel leaned close and whispered, “So, have you decided to join my scouts?”

Elaria hesitated. If she joined the scouts, she would travel to foreign lands, gather magic artifacts, but if the Purifiers found out…

Himmel squeezed her shoulder. “You don’t have to worry. We’ll keep you safe.”

She averted her gaze. “You said I had until the end of the week to decide.”

“I know.” He sighed and dropped his hand. “I don’t mean to be impatient with you. I’m thinking how much money I’ll save once I have you on board. I’m sure my latest shipment is filled with junk.”

Elaria smiled awkwardly. “At least you know what some of that junk can do.”

He chuckled. “That I do.”

Elaria studied the shop. Large sections of people clustered around their workbenches, working together to build something a person could use to make a home — tables, chairs, doors, and so much more. It was something she longed to be apart of.

She wanted to join Himmel’s scouts. The danger didn’t bother her. If anything, the possibility of perilous adventures made her want it even more. If the Purifiers found out she was a Burnt Child handling artifacts…she shuddered at the thought. But the Purifiers could catch her whether she was in the shops or out as a scout. She had already taken that risk. What made her pause was simple. If she joined Himmel’s scouts she would never be able to return to Sanzela or even Jelam. She would have to give up her family and Korvin. Even so, she knew she had already made her choice. There was no place for her in Jelam, but for just a little longer she wanted to enjoy her last moments with those she cared about.

Himmel turned the corner and they passed through a wide doorway, bringing them to the Embedment section. The Embedment section was enclosed and a safety line ran through to the other side, keeping visitors away from the possible explosions that could happen. Among all the sections within the warehouse, Embedments was the quietest. Only the clink of bowls could be heard as workers lifted rokas stones and gently placed them in the different wooden items lined up for them. One mistake could cause the stone to explode.

Each cautious hand that picked up a rokas stone and placed it into a premade hole bore a black flame. Elaria eyed her flame, brushing it with her thumb. It was smooth, no uprising — a symbol of every Burnt Child’s corruption. Bitterness swelled inside her as she watched them. It only took one stone; one stone that refused to be embedded into the wood and the worker could be killed.

Elaria scanned the stones, searching for any unstable strands. Her gaze landed on a boy, probably no older than ten. He clutched a green rokas stone and eyed a chair warily. He didn’t see what she saw, no one did. Misty white strands swirled faster and faster around the stone as he lifted it to the wood.

“Wait!” Elaria ducked underneath the safety line and ran.

The boy didn’t hear her. He pushed in the stone just as Elaria reached him. She grabbed his arm and yanked him back. The stone flared. Elaria pulled the boy down and shielded him with her body. The stone exploded.

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11. Sponsor – 2

Dr. Kesson clapped his hands together. “Let’s get started. First, you’ll have to officially accept me as your sponsor, of course, verbally agreeing is enough. The hard part is getting your parents to approve.” 

Raven frowned. She didn’t want to get her parents involved if she didn’t have to. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure if they would agree for me to get a sponsor.” 

Dr. Kesson patted her back. “Don’t worry. I’ve already taken care of that for the most part.” 

Raven looked at the man suspiciously. “What does that mean?” 

“I have been talking to your parents since the day you were sent to ECI. Most children sent to ECI become wards of the state. I worked with your parents to make sure they maintained legal custody and final say on decisions that are made in ECI. Of course, that doesn’t help much within the ECI framework. But in regards to Sponsorship, the legal guardian must approve it and all activities involved.” 

“Okay,” Raven said. “But did my parents approve you as my sponsor?” 

“Not quite,” Dr. Kesson said. “I have explained the benefits, but they, like you, don’t completely trust me. Understandable since I’m the head scientist of the group responsible for sending you to ECI.” 

Raven smiled, feeling proud of her parents. 

“In any case, what I’ll need from you is your agreement on record,” Dr. Kesson said. He tapped his earpiece and then a small digital screen popped up, floating in the air. “I’ll record your agreement and send it to your parents and hopefully that will settle things.” 

Raven hesitated. “If I agree to this I don’t want to do it permanently. Only for the three months I’m held at ECI.” 

Dr. Kesson chuckled. “You know, your mother said something similar.” 

Raven smiled at that. 

“That’s fine with me, although I have to say, if you change your mind I would definitely be interested in sponsoring you throughout your teen years. Sponsorship isn’t only for ECI students. It can also work as a mentoring program.” 

Raven scrunched up her face and shook her head. “No thanks.” 

Dr. Kesson laughed. “Well, I hope I can get you to change your mind. Shall we begin?” 

Raven nodded and looked at the screen as it began recording. “Hi Mom and Dad. Dr. Kesson explained everything to me about the Sponsorship. I want to accept on the condition it ends in three months or earlier if I leave ECI sooner.” She paused as a well of loneliness and longing filled her chest. “I’m okay and…I miss you.” 

Raven looked away. 

Dr. Kesson squeezed her shoulder. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but we’ll get you out of this.” 

She looked at him, blinking away the hint of wetness in her eyes. “Okay. It’s a promise.” 

Dr. Kesson cringed but nodded. “It’s a promise. Now, there are a few things we need to go over.” 

“There’s more?” Raven asked, already feeling exhausted. 

“Only a little more, but very important,” Dr. Kesson said. “First, I’ll check in with you as often as I can. You’ll be observing things and you can tell me any details you discover. I’ll piece things together from there.” He hesitated and a cautious look came into his eyes. “I don’t want you to put yourself in any unnecessary danger. The people involved can be ruthless.” 

“Who exactly are they?” Raven asked. 

Dr. Kesson shook his head. “Many people. Corporation heads, powerful figures in ECI. These are people who are currently running the country and have more power than either one of us. That’s all you need to know.” 

Raven frowned. She hated how vague his answer was, but at the same time, she knew it was a security measure. A stupid one in her opinion, since more than likely she would find out anyway if she was playing spy. 

“Now, what I’m about to say next is going to contradict everything I said about the danger,” Dr. Kesson said with a wry smile. 

Raven looked at him curiously. 

“I need you to participate in the arena,” Dr. Kesson said, his eyes gleaming. 

“Arena?” Raven asked, bewildered. “What are you talking about?” 

“You haven’t been here long enough to notice,” Dr. Kesson said. 

Raven blinked and realized that she had been at ECI for only four days. It felt longer. Suddenly, having to stay three months felt like a lifetime. 

“The arena is an underground gambling ring right here in ECI,” Dr. Kesson continued. “Sponsors send students to battle it out in a fighting pit, taking bets on the winner.” 

Stunned, Raven stared at Dr. Kesson. “No way.” 

Dr. Kesson nodded. “Not all sponsors participate and it has a very thin cover if information gets out. All rumors have been explained away as an advanced training sport. They even have a permission slip.” Dr. Kesson laughed darkly. 

“And you want me to fight?” Raven asked, still stunned. 

“I won’t force you, but it’s our best place to reveal the corruption behind ECI.” Dr. Kesson gave her a serious stare. “It’ll be dangerous. These fights can be brutal and I won’t be able to help you much in there.” 

“It’s not some sort of deathmatch, is it?” Raven asked, cautiously. 

“No,” Dr, Kesson said with a chuckle. “Even the MDE would have a hard time covering up lots of students dying all of a sudden.” 

Raven frowned, grabbing a hold of the man’s slip. “So, it is the MDE behind this, then?” 

Dr. Kesson shook his head. “You really are set on putting yourself in danger, aren’t you?” 

“I already am in danger, Dr. Kesson,” Raven said. 

Dr. Kesson seemed to struggle with that. After all, he was both trying to protect her from danger while thrusting her deep into it. Finally, the man sighed. “I won’t tell you too much, but yes, there are people in MDE involved, powerful people. Despite what it might seem, not all of the enforcers are involved. The vast majority of MDE are upstanding people that believe in what we stand for. But even so, there is corruption. It would be in your best interest not to trust anyone from there.”

“You and Micah are in the MDE,” Raven shot back. 

“You can trust Micah and me, but you’ll still need to be careful,” Dr. Kesson said firmly. 

All of this seemed complicated, but Raven knew she had to figure things out quickly. She was sure Dr. Kesson must know who was involved but had a reason why he didn’t want to tell her. Would knowing who was involved put her in even more danger? On top of that, he said to trust no one in the MDE, but Syrion had reached out and tried to help her. Did that also include him? She decided not to bring Syrion up to Dr. Kesson yet. She wanted to figure that out on her own. 

“You’re forgetting something,” Raven said with a grimace. “If I tried to use my Core power…” She shook her head. 

Dr. Kesson opened his mouth then closed it. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know if they’ll allow you to access your Core magic, but if I could arrange that would you want to use it?” 

Raven shook her head. “No.” 

Sighing, Dr. Kesson gave her a gentle smile. “I assumed you would say that, but…Raven.” Dr. Kesson met her eyes. “You can’t keep running from your magic. You’ll have to learn to control it eventually.” 

Raven’s lips tightened and she looked away. “I know.” 

Dr. Kesson reached out and patted her shoulder. “Think about it. It’s better to learn now than be in a situation where it’s too late.” 

Raven didn’t say anything. She stared down at her lap, refusing to meet Dr. Kesson’s eyes. 

“Even without your Core magic, you’ll be able to handle the arena. Core magic is stronger and more reliable, but I’ve seen you in action and your Illusion magic is on par with any Core magic.” 

Raven jerked her head up. “What?” 

Dr. Kesson looked amused. “You must have noticed. Illusion magic is unstable and doesn’t have as much strength due to it being excess magic coming from your Core. Yet, during your test, your Illusion magic never faltered and it was extremely powerful. You’re only an Orange. That sort of power and control tends to be a Purple or Red at the very least.” 

Raven blinked and thought about what Dr. Kesson said. Her Illusion magic had always been stable. Her parents had called her gifted, her teachers called her talented, but it hadn’t been a big deal. Everyone knew that Illusion magic just wasn’t as important as Core magic. Still, when she thought about Ethan and Lisa, they hadn’t managed to maintain their Illusion magic for more than a few minutes when they showed it to her. Even Patrice’s shapeshifting had only held up for about ten minutes before it fell apart. Raven had never had that happen and she had simply taken it for granted. 

“What does it mean?” Raven asked. “My Core, and now even my Illusion magic, is different from everyone’s?” 

“It’s fascinating,” Dr. Kesson said. He had a look on his face that made her think if he could he would be dragging her to a lab to experiment on her. 

Raven cringed. “You look like you want to dissect me.” 

Dr. Kesson blinked in surprise. “Do I? I apologize. I don’t want to dissect you,” he said with amusement. “But, I wouldn’t mind observing your skills. Aren’t you interested in knowing how much you can achieve?” 

“Not if it means becoming a lab rat,” Raven said flatly. 

Dr. Kesson looked disappointed. “I know you’re not just an experiment.” 

“Sometimes I think you forget I’m a person,” Raven countered.

They both knew she was referring to the Illusion test.

“I suppose I deserve that, but if you want my help to learn more about your magic I would be happy to assist.” 

“Is there anything else you need from me?” Raven said, changing the subject.

Dr. Kesson chuckled. “Back to the topic on hand then. Are you willing to participate in the arena?”

Raven paused to think about it. The smart thing to do was say no. It was dangerous and anything could happen. She still didn’t completely trust Dr. Kesson, but the thought of an arena caused a thrill to go through her. She wanted to see what the arena would be like and just how strong she was. The feeling disturbed her a little and she packed it away to look at later. In any case, it would help her to practice in case she needed to fight in the future.

“Okay, I’ll enter the arena,” Raven said and there was a hint of excitement in her voice.

Dr. Kesson smiled. “Welcome, Ms. Delias, to the Sponsorship Program.”

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Burnt Children – Chapter 1

“You’re good company for an abomination.” Colis raised his hand and a cream teapot with painted blue swirls floated across his office. A matching teacup hurried after it, passing through the ghost sitting on his desk.

“Abomination?” she asked and leaned against the desk.

Seven thick, black braids — a symbol of her status among her people — fell down her translucent shoulders. Even in death, she was a striking figure. She wore her signature red and black with a belt of gold disks around her hips that jangled eerily. 

“If that’s what I am, you’re no different. You have a great deal of Spirit magic for a Hand.”

“I know it has been a long time since you’ve walked across Meli’s fields, but I would caution you to be careful with your words, Nila. I am no Spirit.” Colis plucked the teapot out of the air and poured tea into his awaiting cup. The spicy scent of the gano herb rose into the air. Hopefully, it would take care of the fever he battled. He sighed and took a sip. The price of a long life was the eventual sensitivity to the difficulties of age.

He glanced at Nila. Her posture was relaxed, as though she was sitting comfortably on her throne instead of hovering over his cluttered desk with quills and stacks of papers passing through her. 

His robes whispered across his skin as he raised his cup. “I would offer you some, but…”

Nila glared at him. “After everything you’ve told me…what they have done to my people…the Burnt Children.” Her body trembled and blue tendrils of light pulsed around her. “How can you deny to me you’re a Spirit?” 

“I’m a Hand. That is the truth.” He sipped his tea once more, ignoring her display of temper. 

“Liar,” she growled. 

Sighing, Colis placed his teacup in the air, leaving it floating, and raised his hand. A bronze pendant slid out of a pile of smooth, brown stones on his desk. Several stones fell on the burgundy rug while the pendant drifted toward him. Where it went, so did Nila. She hovered over it with her arms crossed. She and the pendant stopped an arm’s length away.

“Nila.” Colis looked into her eyes. It was like focusing on a window, instead of looking through it. “Despite all this time, you have learned very little.” 

Blue light swirled in her eyes, glowing brighter at Colis’ words. She straightened her back. “You know nothing about what I’ve experienced. I have learned much.”

“Not what is important.” He snatched the pendant from the air and snapped it shut.

Nila vanished. Light flared around the pendant, sending a shock through Colis’s fingers. He jerked his hand back. The pendant fell and thumped against the wooden floor. 

“As vengeful as ever.” He crouched down and scooped up the pendant. He turned it over, looking at the faint broken lines that came together in a swirl of tiny symbols in its center. There had been more of them this morning. “I’m sorry, Nila, but we’re running out of time.”

“Yes, you are,” a man said.

Colis jerked and slid the pendant into his pocket. He stood up and turned to face the new arrival. “You’re here late, Demeri.”

The younger man walked into the room, confidence in his stride. He gazed around, glancing over Colis’ shelves with unusual interest. Colis followed his gaze. His office was covered with books. Books about the symbols of Meli and the myths and histories of the Evaion Hills were strewn across any surface that would allow it and some that wouldn’t. A stack of books tumbled across Demeri’s path. 

Demeri didn’t pause but merely stepped over them. He brushed his fingers over a large silver mask propped against a bust of an owl with twisted horns. It was one of many trinkets Colis owned. A multitude of oddities cluttered the room. They were items from different lands and cultures, each vying for attention. Though Demeri had been in the office many times he seemed to gaze at them with new eyes. 

“Don’t you think it’s time for you to retire, Colis?” Demeri ran a hand down a bookcase, collecting a layer of dust on his palm. He wiped it on a blue and gold tapestry that had been gifted to Colis during his visit with the distant tribes of the Oriklin shore. 

Colis shoved the pendant deeper into his pocket. “When have you started calling me Colis?” The Elder pushed up from the ground and stood. “It seems you have forgotten your place.” 

Demeri tensed and then relaxed.

Colis watched Demeri carefully but made no other move.

Leaning against Colis’ desk, Demeri smiled. “There’s no one else here and, as I said before, you don’t have much time.” 

Colis plucked his teacup out of the air and raised it to his lips. “What do you mean?”

Demeri’s smile grew wider. “Have you been enjoying your tea?” 

Colis looked at the teacup. His hand trembled and he laughed. “Poison? You have much to learn if you think a cup of poison will kill me.” 

“Not a cup. Ten years worth of cups.” Demeri pushed away from the desk. He crouched in front of Colis and touched his cheek. “It isn’t old age that weakens you.”

Colis’s mind scrambled over his symptoms: trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, and the fever. All signs of a bad cold or the rising heat as his magic began to melt his insides. “Hakir leaves.” 

Smiling, Demeri rose to his feet. “I just have to wait.”

Colis’s brow furrowed. “I can attack or call for the authorities.” 

Demeri shrugged. “Feel free. Use that level of magic and you’ll die before you finish.”

They both knew the effects hakir leaves had on Melitans. For a moment, Colis wondered if Demeri was bluffing. He doubted it. Demeri could see the weaknesses of the body and mind with a touch, so he would know the exact moment Colis’ body would collapse from the poison. Colis raised his hand to his cheek. It still felt warm from Demeri’s touch.

“All these years and you finally mastered your magic.” Colis rose to his feet and walked toward a plush burgundy chair. After hefting a stack of papers out of it, he plopped down. “Well done.” 

Demeri watched him but said nothing.

“One question remains.” Colis leaned back in his chair with a soft sigh. “Why?”

For a long time, Demeri looked at him before shrugging. “Make something up. I’m sure whatever conclusion you reach will have some truth to it.” 

“Ah.” Colis put his hands in his pockets, one hand clutching around the pendant. “Ambition, hatred, some secret plot between you and the university. The possibilities are endless.” Colis slid one hand out of his pocket and rubbed at his beard. “None of that explains why you took ten years to do it. I’m sure you could have found a quicker way.”

Demeri chuckled. “You have never been an easy man to kill.” 

Colis smiled. “True.”

For a moment the silence was comfortable between them. Demeri looked at him. His eyes darkened, flickering with a mixture of determination and defiance. At that moment Colis knew he had brought this upon himself. He had failed Demeri. Colis looked away. 

“I needed you alive,” Demeri said.

“Why?” Colis forced himself to look at Demeri again. 

Demeri shrugged. “Perhaps I wanted you to suffer.” He glanced at the hand stuffed in Colis’ pocket then quickly looked away.

“I have suffered more than you know,” Colis said. 

The words seemed to trigger something in Demeri. His face grew red and he marched across the room and glared at Colis. “Not nearly enough.”

Beads of sweat ran down Colis’ skin. The metal of the pendant dug into his palm. If he were to do it, he would have to do it now. He only hoped his power would last before the poison from the hakir leaves took him. He pulled his hand from his pocket and swung it to the side. Tendrils of red light spilled from his hand and twisted around the pendant. Demeri reached for the pendant, but it was already flying through the air. The pendant crashed through the window.

Go to the one who will reveal the truth. Across Jelam, across all the lands of Meli if need be,Colis thought. He could taste blood in his mouth as the poison reacted to the magic.

“No!” Demeri grabbed Colis by the collar, dragging him from his chair. “You stupid old man.” 

Colis smiled at him. “What a thing to say to me.”

Demeri tightened his grip on Colis and reached for something at his side.

Colis coughed, tasting blood, but a different heat began to build in his hands that had nothing to do with the hakir leaves. There was still one last thing he needed to do. One last bit of magic. The world began to shimmer around him, rays of blue surrounded him. A dawning realization came over Colis.

“Nila was-” 

He gasped as his son shoved his sword deep into Colis’s gut.

“You won’t escape,” Demeri said and twisted the blade, determined to stop the magic Colis had started. But it was too late.

Blue light wrapped around Colis and the old man vanished. Colis was left with the image of Demeri’s twisted face, a mixture of rage and agony, as Colis escaped him.

I’m sorry, Demeri. 

Light flared as Colis reappeared in one of the university’s dorms. He had only a moment to see the nearly bare room before he slammed against the floor. Pain smashed across his face and along his side. Sweat slid down his body, soaking through his robes. He gasped for breath and managed to push himself to his knees. Colis clutched at his stomach. Blood seeped over his hands.

Someone gripped his shoulders. “Master Colis! What happened?”

“Don’t scream.” He looked up at Mefina and for a moment he could see the beauty underneath the severe features. He wanted to say something to her, to tell her she was too young to be so serious, but he didn’t have time. Instead, he gave her a weak smile. “I need your help.”

Mefina’s gaze drifted to his wound and she paled. “You’re bleeding.”

Mefina pushed him on his back as she scanned his wound. “This-I can’t-We have to get help.”

He shook his head. “No time.” His entire body trembled and he began to cough up blood.

“Who did this to you?”

He should tell her, but he couldn’t. It would break her to know. “You must go after it. After the pendant.”

She narrowed her eyes. “It was her. That demon did this to you! I knew she couldn’t be trusted.” 

Colis shook his head. “The pendant…you must go…now.”

“I won’t let her get away.” Her face was hard and determined. 

He tried to grab her hand, to make her understand, but he couldn’t move. “Please Mefina, only you. I can only trust you.”

Colis closed his eyes. His body burned as though his insides were bursting.

Or maybe it was the fireworks. 

Beautiful fireworks. He glanced down at his son. Red and gold shone in the air. Colis placed his hand on Demeri’s shoulder. The celebration of the Great Union already in full swing.

You too will do great things, Demeri.

I know, Father.


11. Sponsor – 1

Raven immediately began pelting Ellis with questions, but Ellis refused to tell her more about the sponsor she would be meeting. “You’ll see soon enough.”

She knew that, but she would have liked to be prepared. Excitement and anxiety battled inside her. Who wanted to sponsor her and why? Did she even want a sponsor? Part of her still held onto the possibility that her parents would get her out of here. At the same time, even if she ended up only having to stay for three months, she wanted to have a stabilizer. A stabilizer would give her more access to her magic. With her bullies and some unknown person targeting her, having a larger pool of power was an advantage she could use.

Settled on at least considering the possibility of getting a sponsor, Raven mentally prepared herself to meet them. Ellis stopped in front of a door near where she met with her parents during their visit. This door was right next to that office. Ellis gave a short knock and then opened the door, nodding for Raven to step in. Taking a calming breath, Raven walked inside. Before she could take things in, a man’s voice called out to her.

“Ah, there you are Ms. Delias.”

Raven blinked as she looked up at the familiar face of Dr. Kesson. The older man wore a gray turtleneck over khakis. It was almost like he was on a casual day out. His bright blue eyes glinted in excitement at the sight of her. Immediately, Raven was wary.

“You’re the one who wants to sponsor me,” Raven asked, peering behind him. There was an empty table with two chairs and a stack of papers, but otherwise, there was no one else in the room.

“Yes,” he said with a wide smile. “If you’re looking for Micah, he’s not here. He’s with his mother at the dojo. Perfect timing, otherwise he would have insisted on coming.

Raven flushed. “I wasn’t looking for him.”

Dr. Kesson gave her a knowing smile. “Come, sit down. There is much I want to discuss with you.”

Raven’s guard came back up and she nodded slowly as she took a seat at the table. Dr. Kesson slid into the seat across from here with a wide smile. For a moment, he simply looked at her and Raven shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“There. Now we can talk privately,” he said.

Raven looked at him in confusion, but her confusion turned to surprise as Dr. Kesson stood up from his chair. A copy of Dr. Kesson remained in his seat. The real Dr. Kesson waved her over and she stood up nervously. Surprise lit her face at the sight of a copy of herself sitting in the chair she left behind.

“Are these illusions?” Raven asked in wonder.

Dr. Kesson nodded. “Yes. Whoever is spying on us will see you and I chatting over there. There’s even audio.”

Raven’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know Illusions could go that far.”

Dr. Kesson laughed. “I specialize in pushing the limits and I suspect you do too.”

She wasn’t so sure about that. She felt like she was dragged across the limits instead of pushing them. Today was the first day she actually done things, even if it only had been a prank on Patrice. It felt good to be the one doing something.

“Then the reason you’re here isn’t to sponsor me?” Raven asked as she looked from Dr. Kesson to the copy of him talking animatedly to her double. She couldn’t hear what they were saying. It was like the copies were in a bubble.

“I am,” Dr. Kesson assured her. “Raven, I’m not sure how to say this, but events were manipulated so that you would end up here.”

The first reaction was to let Dr. Kesson know she already was aware of that, but instead, she thought better of it. This was a good time to get information and she wasn’t sure how much she could trust Dr. Kesson.

“Manipulated? You mean someone sent me here on purpose?”

Dr. Kesson watched her carefully but nodded. “Exactly. What happened at the Access Facility was unfortunate, but in the end, you weren’t at fault. Awakenings are very dangerous and the results can be unexpected. After all, that’s what Access Facilities are for.”

Dr. Kesson began to pace. “You were sent here due to someone manipulating the fear of those around you. You see, Raven, during an Awakening there is a special magical device that gives us information about a person’s Core ability. In your case, the reading came up as unreadable. “

Raven blinked. “Unreadable?”

An excited nod came from Dr. Kesson. “You were even tested again while you were unconscious, twice in fact, but you still came up as unreadable. Of course, this was terrifying, especially with what happened with that smoke of yours. The unknown always scares people.”

“You don’t seem afraid,” Raven said.

“My job is discovering the unknown,” Dr. Kesson said, giving her a bright smile.

It wasn’t reassuring. She felt that if Dr. Kesson had his way she would be his personal experiment.

“So is that why you want to sponsor me, because I’m unreadable?”

“Yes,” he said. “But that’s not the only reason. I want your help in revealing the people involved in you being here.”

“What?” Raven asked, shaking her head in disbelief.

Dr. Kesson laughed. “Sounds very heroic, doesn’t it? Very unlike me.” He shook his head. “But I’m sure you’ve figured out that ECI isn’t all that it seems and neither is the Sponsorship Program.”

“I had a suspicion,” Raven said dryly, crossing her arms.

“There is a lot wrong with the Sponsorship Program, but at its core, it was a program to help with rehabilitation. Unfortunately, it’s easily corruptible and can force students into a sort of indentured servitude,” Dr. Kesson said with a wave of his hands like this was a given.

“Wait,” Raven said. “If you know all this why haven’t you done anything?” Her face scrunched up. “A-and why me? Shouldn’t you be revealing this in the news or something?”

Dr. Kesson frowned. “That would be ideal, but I lack proof. No, more, I lack the right kind of proof. What I have will at most lead to a few scapegoats and sweeping things under the rug. You, Raven, are the key.”

Raven shook her head. “I’m 13, what can I even do?”

“You’re inside of it all,” Dr. Kesson said, stepping towards her.

“No. What you’re asking is that I become some sort of spy? Everyone already has it out for me. And I…” She took a step back. “I don’t trust you.”

Dr. Kesson’s eyes widened and then he looked at her sadly. For a moment, she felt like she had kicked a puppy. But it was true. She didn’t trust Dr. Kesson. Ever since she met the man, he always seemed to be in the midst of every bad thing that happened to her.

An awkward silence surrounded them, but Dr. Kesson straightened. “I want to show you something.”

The scientist pulled up his sleeve showing his wrist. His Embud band was red on the Illusion side and orange on the Core. Then before her eyes, it changed. The Illusion side stayed red, but the Core side shifted to a deep purple. Raven’s eyes widened.

“You’re a Purple!”

“One of the very few,” Dr. Kesson said. “And it’s a well-kept secret.”

“Why?” Raven asked.

“Purples are restricted and used when found out. I quite enjoy my freedom,” Dr. Kesson explained.

Raven blinked. It didn’t go over her head how much Dr. Kesson was trusting her with such information.

“Ms. Delias, I know our first meeting hadn’t been the best. I let my excitement get the best of me, but I know you’re the key to this.”

“How?” Raven asked a little overwhelmed.

Dr. Kesson grinned. “You know, you never asked what my Core power was. So let me show you. Maybe then, you can start to trust me a little more?”

Raven nodded, unsure. “I’ll try.”

“Good enough,” Dr. Kesson said. “Okay, stand right there and watch.”

Dr. Kesson held out his hand and before them, a large map appeared. Next to it was a scrolling list. On the map were hundreds of lines leading to dots. Raven looked at it all in confusion.

“I don’t understand,” Raven said.

“A mess, isn’t it?” Dr. Kesson said proudly. “But this is my ability. I call it Discover. It’s the ability to be in the right place at the right time. These points are people or places that are important pieces to new discoveries or mysteries.”

Suddenly, the map zoomed in and there were pictures of triangles in various colors. “The triangles indicate how large the risk is to delve into the discovery. Danger level would be a better way to explain it. Of course, there is more to it, but what’s important here is your part.”

The map zoomed in and a tiny image of her showed up with a line connecting to it. “Raven, you are a key to revealing what’s going on in ECI and showing it to the world.” Dr. Kesson met her eyes. “It’s not just a guess or a game of chance. It’s a fact. You have an undeniable role to play in all of this.”

Raven stared at it all, not sure whether to be horrified or in awe. “This is too much.”

“It can be,” Dr. Kesson said and waved his hand. The map and all its information vanished. “Even I can get overwhelmed by it, but finding you when you were taking your Illusion test was not an accident. Even when I’m not actively looking, Discover will lead me instinctively to an event or person. It led me to you.”

“Because of ECI?” Raven asked.

Dr. Kesson hesitated. “At the time I didn’t know how you were connected. My ability isn’t always clear in what sort of discovery I might find, just its importance. It’s my job to connect the dots.”

Raven tried to grasp everything, but it felt so big. Nothing had been an accident after all. Dr. Kesson’s magic led him to her and now she was supposed to unravel the corruption involving ECI. It all felt unbelievable but here she was, living it.

Dr. Kesson spoke hesitantly. “I know it might be hard to trust me after everything that has happened, but I’m still asking you to, even if only a little. Do you think you can?”

A leap of faith was what Dr. Kesson was asking of her. She still wasn’t sure if she could trust him, but she was alone with an unknown enemy after her. To finally have someone on her side, someone who had so far been upfront with her meant something. She swallowed and hoped she wasn’t about to make a huge mistake.

“Okay,” she said. “What do we do next?”

Previous | Next 

10. Chosen – 5

The next morning, Raven woke up groggy. Even if her sleep had been dreamless, everything that had happened to her since the Awakening was starting to tire her out. She forced herself to keep pushing through it all. And that ended up being most of her day, a sense of pushing through. Even so, she managed to summon up the energy to continue collecting the wisps of magic and wrapping them around her suppressor.

During her last class of the day, she could barely keep her eyes open as Mrs. Kriley went over Magic History.

“As you can see, the day magic first arrived all around the world, people sixteen years and older had their Awakenings simultaneously. Billions of people all at once,” Mrs. Kriley said

A large white globe floated down the aisles of the classroom, and tiny explosions began to appear on it. Each explosion bled into the other until the globe was covered in flames and smoke.

“As you can imagine, the destruction was massive. Back then, there were no Access Facilities to have Awakenings in a controlled environment. Instead, it was utter chaos. And it wasn’t only the Awakenings causing damage.”

These were things Raven had heard before, but looking around she noticed that many of her classmates watched with wide eyes. It surprised her. Had most of them never learned this in school? The burning globe of the world shifted and turned into a small airplane. The airplane zoomed over their heads.

“What we didn’t know then was that magic and technology didn’t mix. Anything that used electricity or a circuit board malfunctioned around magic or simply exploded,” the teacher explained.

The airplane suddenly began shaking in the air and smoke rose from its side as it tilted off course. It went diving towards Mrs. Kriley’s desk, smashing into it with a loud explosion. The class jumped up in surprise, while other students exclaimed in excitement.

Raven grimaced. Mrs. Kriley’s demonstration was very different and a lot more graphic than how she was taught about Magic History. The teacher smiled proudly. She held out her hand and the plane shifted back into a white cube that floated through the air and landed in her hand.

“Can anyone tell me what happened next?”

There was a knock on the classroom door and in walked two guards and Dr. Brite. The teacher looked startled, but Dr. Brite gave her a patient smile.

“Sorry for the interruption, Mrs. Kriley. We’ve come today for two special reasons.” Dr. Brite looked over the classroom. “The first is to announce the students that have been chosen for Sponsorship.”

Immediately, the class straightened. Raven sighed. She already knew she hadn’t gotten chosen, but she had a good idea who had. After all, last night, she hadn’t been the only one who had suddenly been able to use magic during the fight.

“Patrice Everson and Cindy Farris. Please come to the front of the class.”

Both girls rose from their seat. Cindy was closest to the front of the room and reached Dr. Brite first. Dr. Brite smiled at the girl and she pulled out a small device and began typing on it as the guards stayed close by, on alert. The entire class watched as Dr. Brite replaced Cindy’s ring with one of the Advanced stabilizers. Around her, Raven’s classmates looked on with envy and Raven had to admit she was a little envious too.

Patrice came up from behind her and Raven tensed. The girl has been saying snide remarks and bumping into her all day. Cindy had mostly ignored Raven, so at least it was only one bully she had to endure. Sure enough, as Patrice passed her, she slapped Raven on the back of her head – hard. Raven jerked forward and glared at Patrice’s back, but then an idea crept into Raven’s mind.

Maybe her inhibitions were down because she was tired or she was fed up with being a target, in any case, she began summoning a stream of water. Raven pressed her hand to the desk and the water slid down the side of her chair and slithered across the floor until it reached Patrice’s foot. The water slid under her shoe.

Now, Raven thought. Patrice reached the front of the room and took a step forward to get her ring. Raven wrapped her stream of water around the girl’s ankle and jerked. Patrice’s arms flailed in the air as she was thrown off-balance. She tried to catch herself, but the slick floor under her shoe made her lose her balance and she went surging forward, arms outstretched towards Dr. Brite.

Startled, Dr. Brite jerked back and the guards surged forward to grab Patrice. Before they could reach Patrice, the air shifted in the room and Patrice was smashed into the ground like something heavy had slammed her down. For a moment everything was quiet. Then the class let out a cheer while others started laughing.

“Did Dr. Brite use her gravity magic?” a student in front of Raven asd.

“That was awesome,” someone else said.

Dr Brite can use Gravity magic?Raven thought. She watched with wide eyes at the chaos. One of the guards was checking on Patrice who seemed only mildly injured. Patrice was explaining that she hadn’t tried to attack Dr. Brite that she had tripped. Raven felt a flash of satisfaction and held back a chuckle.

A few moments later the class had calmed down and a flustered Dr. Brite stepped forward. “The second reason we are here is to check everyone’s suppressor. We’ve been getting some unusual signals and we want to make sure everything is working properly.”

A confused murmur went through the class and Raven frowned. She wasn’t sure if this was about unusual signals or about her fight last night. In any case, she couldn’t let them discover the magic around her suppressor. Raven considered her options. She didn’t want to lose the magic she had obtained, but it was likely she would get discovered if she went up there.

She watched as students were called up alphabetically by last name. It gave her only a minute to decide. She quickly glanced around the room. All she needed was a place to hide the magic and then she knew her answer. Since Patrice and Cindy had got new stabilizers then that meant theirs wouldn’t be checked.

Cindy and Patrice were walking back to their seats. Though the fall looked like it had hurt, Patrice had insisted she was fine and refused to go to Old BB’s for treatment. As Patrice passed Raven’s seat, she glared and hissed down at her. “I know it was you.”

Raven gave her a blank stare and shrugged. As she did she let her magic slid off her suppressor and wrap around Patrice’s stabilizer.

“Don’t think I’ll let this slide,” Patrice hissed as she continued on to her seat.

“Raven Delias,” Dr. Brite called out.

Raven stood up and made her way to the front. A small bracelet was clamped around her wrist. A quick glance showed three silver lines indicating that it was a criminal suppressor. Even without looking she would have known by the stifling feeling going over her. Unlike with Principal Kase, Dr. Brite quickly slid the suppressor off her finger. Immediately the suffocating feeling was gone. The doctor gave her an apologetic look.

“Sorry, but we have to do that when we do a ring transfer.”

Raven was a little surprised that the woman would even apologize, but nodded. “I understand.”

Dr. Brite gave her a warm smile, kinder than any of the adults she had met in ECI.

“Okay, we’re going to be putting a new suppressor on you. The feeling will only be temporary. Ready?” Dr. Brite asked.

Raven nodded.

A ring was slid onto her finger and the suffocating feeling hit her again. But as quickly as it came it was gone as the bracelet was removed from her wrist.

“There,” Dr. Brite said. “Now, if you notice any changes again with your suppressor, please make sure to report them. It can be dangerous for you and the other people around you.” She flashed Raven a smile.

Raven gave her a hesitant smile back. She wondered if that was a threat or if Dr. Brite really was concerned. She seemed nicer, but Raven couldn’t trust any of the adults in ECI. She went back to her seat confused. As she sat down she looked at her suppressor. Dr. Brite hadn’t inspected her old one, just given her a new one. That was a pretty big sign that they knew she had used her magic. She would have to keep things quiet then.

She glanced back to see Patrice smirking at her. If her new bullies thought she couldn’t do magic anymore then more than likely there would be more attacks. She grimaced and started to call back the magic from Patrice, but stopped. An idea occurred to her. There was only so much magic she could store before her suppressor was triggered, so what if she stored her magic in other places. This way she could grab it from anyone and summon larger amounts of magic. A slow smile curled her lips.

Patrice frowned at her. Raven turned back around in her seat. It looked like she now had a plan. As more students were called up to get their new suppressors, Raven began collecting the fumes once again.

By the time class ended, Raven had gathered enough to curl around one more student. It was a little frustrating. The magic wisps that leaked out were so small it wasn’t like she could gather enough to put on every student in her class, though she had secretly hope. Still, her ability to gather the wisps of magic was growing.

The next roadblock she ran into was distance. It became clear that her magic had a range, at least in its raw form. She had tried to send the magic to wrap around Cindy’s stabilizer, but the girl was sitting in the furthest seat away from Raven. When Raven tried to push it towards her the magic started to disperse in the air the further it got from Raven. She had to call it back and rebuild it.

That had worried her, but at one point Patrice had gotten up from her seat and went over to Cindy’s desk to say something to the girl. When she sat back down Raven could still feel the magic around Patrice’s ring. As long as the magic was already settled, it wouldn’t dissolve despite the distance. She also felt a connection to her magic. She got the feeling she could call it to her no matter the distance, of course, she would have to try and make sure. She decided to try once she wasn’t in class.

As class ended, Raven waited until Cindy was walking to the door. She hurried to follow. Once Raven was close, she slid the magic towards the girl and let it wrap around Cindy’s stabilizer. There. Now if her two bullies attacked they would be carrying her magic reserves on them. Though Cindy had left her alone for most of the day, she couldn’t be sure the girl wouldn’t attack her later when she had the chance.

Once again, Raven began gathering up the wisps. Her concentration was so focused, she didn’t realize that outside the door someone was waiting for her.

“Raven Delias.”

Jerking her head up, Raven was surprised to see the familiar face of the guard Syrion had introduced to her. Ellis gave her a tired smile. “You have a visitor. Come with me.”

Raven looked at the guard in surprise. She glanced back to see her classmates leaving. Patrice was with them, so it was clear she wasn’t doing her shape-shifting trick again. She turned back to Ellis.

“But we’re only allowed visitors on the weekend.”

“Yeah,” the guard said and started walking. “But this is a special case.”

Raven followed after him. “Special case?”

Ellis nodded and smiled. “There are always exceptions when it comes to sponsors.”

Previous | Next 

10. Chosen – 4

As soon as Raven walked back into the room, Lisa was by her side. “What happened? What did Principal Kase want?”

Raven laughed bitterly and shook her head. “It wasn’t Principal Kase that called me.”

From there, Raven told Lisa about how she was set up. The more she spoke the darker Lisa’s scowl grew. By the time she finished, Lisa’s fists were balled up at her sides and she was vibrating with anger.

“I’ll teach those girls a lesson,” Lisa growled out, stomping toward the door.

Raven quickly grabbed her wrist. “Wait, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why the hell not?” Lisa asked, pulling her hand away from Raven.

“There’s obviously someone backing those two. I’m already a target. It’s not a good idea to make you one as well,” Raven explained.

“I can handle it,” Lisa insisted.

Raven felt warm at the thought of her friend willing to risk it for her, but she was firm. “What about your sponsor?”

At this, Lisa hesitated.

Raven waited.

Finally, Lisa deflated and walked back to her bed. “Shit.”

Raven nodded. “Don’t worry. I can handle this for now.”

“How did you manage to get away from them? Especially Pete. He’s…on a different level.”

Raven turned over what to say. The fewer people who knew about her powers the better, but at the same time Cindy, Patrice, and Pete already knew. She didn’t think they would tell anybody, or at least whoever was backing them would probably keep it quiet for now. After all, it would mean revealing that she had been set up in the hall. She would definitely have to be careful. She wasn’t sure what would happen if people knew she could access her powers even with her suppressor on.

But, Lisa…It was a good idea to have someone she trusted on her side. If only her enemies knew about her being able to access her magic she would be putting herself at a disadvantage. Raven frowned at the thought. Her thoughts felt weird, almost cold and calculated. She shook that away and turned to Lisa.

“I used magic,” she said simply.

Lisa looked at her. “What?”

Raven wavered and then took a breath and walked over to Lisa. She held out her hand. It took her a good while since most of her magic reserves were used up back at the fight in the hall. After a few tense moments, she summoned a small ball of water. It was less than half the size of the water she had summoned before.

Lisa gaped at her. “How? Is your suppressor broken?”

Raven hesitated again. This time she decided to keep how she accessed her magic to herself. She felt a little bad about it, but when she was found out, it would be better if everyone thought it was a broken suppressor. So she shrugged.

“I don’t know,” she lied.

Lisa shook her head. “Wow. You know, I should report this.”

Raven met Lisa’s eyes. “You could.”

For a minute, Raven held her breath, waiting.

Lisa sighed and flopped down on her bed. “Ah, whatever. Let’s pretend I don’t know any of this.”

Raven grinned. “Got it.”

“Yeah, yeah, now hurry up and get ready for bed. It’s almost time for curfew.”

After getting ready for bed, Raven turned off the lights and snuggled underneath the coarse blanket. She yawned. The day had been eventful. She hadn’t expected her first official day of classes to go like it did. She especially hadn’t expected to end her day in the middle of a fight, but it was all worth it to know that she held the key to her freedom. Her eyes began to drift close when she heard Lisa’s voice.

“Raven,” Lisa whispered.

Raven rolled over to face the other girl. She could barely make out Lisa’s face from across the room. “Hmm?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t go and say anything to those girls?”

Raven’s brow furrowed in confusion. She was pretty sure she convinced Lisa not to go, so she didn’t understand what Lisa meant. Raven waited for the other girl to explain.

“I mean having a sponsor is really important to me.” Lisa turned on her back, looking at the ceiling. “I know everyone hates it at ECI, but for me, it’s been a second chance. I don’t know what would have happened to me if not for ECI and getting a sponsor.”

That startled Raven. She frowned. Would she have thought differently about ECI if her life had been more like Lisa or the others? She couldn’t imagine that, but it did make her wonder how many others felt like Lisa. She didn’t know what to say to Lisa, so she said nothing. Raven rolled on her side and closed her eyes and let her exhaustion carry her to sleep.

Moments later, Raven found herself in the familiar training ground of her dreamscape. She frowned. She hadn’t expected or even wished to be here, but her mind had brought her here anyway. She looked around to see if the demon might have been involved, but there was no sign of Tick Tock.

Raven walked around the training field. The dummies from before were no longer broken bits but restored to their original appearance. There was something so strange about the dreamscape. When she came here she felt different and thought differently. She frowned. She wasn’t sure if that was good or not. She felt more confident here, stronger, but was that really who she was?

The door. She turned to look at the door. It was an unassuming plain wooden door. She rubbed her hands nervously over her pants. She took a breath. Was the door the answer to everything or would it lead her deeper into becoming something she could never come back from? Taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and took a step forward.

The sound of her steps thudded against the packed dirt. She was only a couple of steps from the door when she heard her.

“Raven, what are you doing?”

Raven whirled around and her eyes widened. Standing in front of her with a curious smile was the familiar figure of her best friend. “Penny?”

Penny tilted her head, her orange bob brushing against the caramel skin of her cheek. “Uh, yeah, who else would it be?”

Raven took a step towards her friend and then stopped. “You’re not real.”

Penny rolled her eyes. “Whatever, but were you really going to open that door?”

Raven turned to look at the door. “Shouldn’t I?”

“What? Don’t you remember what you did to me?”

Raven looked back at Penny to see her friend’s face contorted in anger.

“You strangled me and started draining me of magic. How could you even think of opening that door again?”

Raven took a step back. “I-I-“

“What did you forget?” Penny took an angry step forward. “I didn’t.” She yanked back the edge of her shirt revealing bruises around her neck. “You’re a monster.”

Raven took another step back, shaking her head. “No!” She turned away from Penny and the door. Guilt welled up through her body and she pressed her palms to her eyes as if trying to block out the world. “I didn’t mean it.”

The sound of clapping sounded in front of her. She jerked her hands away from her face. Her cheeks were wet. Not far from her, Tick Tock lounged in the air with a bowl of popcorn. “Now, that was quite the show.”

Raven quickly brushing the tears away. She glanced back to see the door standing there and Penny was gone. She looked back at Tick Tock, glaring.

“Did you do that?” she asked angrily, taking a threatening step towards the demon.

“Oh no. That was all you, my dear Raven. You really good at making yourself suffer.”

She frowned and looked back at the door, confused. “I did that?”

Tick Tock floated across the field. “I’ve told you before. Everything here has a cost.”

Raven gave a sidelong glance at the demon. Penny’s words rattled through her brain. She pushed them away. “Just how many doors are there?”

“Hmm let me see,” Tick Tock said, counting on his clawed fingers. “There was the first one, and then this one. Including this tantalizing one awaiting you, there are six unopened doors, each with its own special lock.”

Raven frowned. “The first door didn’t have a lock.”

“Oh, it did. What did you think those little plant guards were?” Tick Tock said with a laugh.

Raven turned it all over. “So the locks are actually obstacles I have to face. Is this so I can get stronger?”

Tick Tock began swimming in the air, circling her. “You’re asking the wrong question.”

Raven concentrated, letting her thoughts go over everything she knew so far. She figured unlocking the door gave her deeper access to her power. Tick Tock had told her she could access her Core even with a suppressor on if she opened the door. But Tick Tock was often misleading, so more than likely she would have to open all the doors. It made sense that they were there to test her and make sure she was strong, but Tick Tock said she was asking the wrong question.

“Why are the locks even there?” she grumbled.

“Because someone put them there?” Tick Tock said. As soon as the words left his mouth a large slash split the air severing the demon’s arm. Tick Tock tumbled out of the air, landing with a crash on the ground.

Raven jerked back in surprise.

“Oops,” Tick Tock said. “It looks like I said too much.” The demon picked himself off the ground and retrieved his arm. He pressed it against his shoulder and Raven watched as the arm reattached.

“What was that?” she asked, her eyes wide.

Tick Tock gave her a tight smile. “That was a warning, my dear. I believe you’ll have to figure out the door puzzle on your own.”

Raven felt disconcerted and she looked around her. “This place is my dreamscape.”

“Undoubtedly,” Tick Tock said.

Still, it worried her. What had attacked Tick Tock? She didn’t like it. Was there something else in her head, something that even Tick Tock was afraid of?

“There’s only you and me here, right?” Raven asked.

Tick Tock laughed. “I can guarantee you, Raven, that everything here is meant to be here.”

“That wasn’t exactly an answer,” Raven mumbled but didn’t push the demon. Instead, she thought about it on her own. “Then that means if it’s meant to be here, then it’s part of me. This is my mind after all.”

Tick Tock hummed in agreement.

She frowned. “But then that means…” She looks at the door. “That the locks were put here by me.”

“Well done! You figured it out and I didn’t have to lose any more limbs in the process,” Tick Tock said with a clap.

Raven shook her head. “So you’re saying I’ve created these obstacles on purpose? But why would I do that?”

Tick Tock’s eyes gleamed. “Only you can answer that.”

Raven felt overwhelmed with the information. “I…need to think about this.” As soon as she decided that, the dreamscape melted away and once again she was back in her dorm. She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. It felt like even her mind was against her.

“Nothing is ever easy.” She sighed and closed her eyes. This time she fell into a dreamless sleep.

Previous | Next 

10. Chosen – 3

Before Raven could respond, Lisa stepped in front of Raven, blocking Cindy from her. “I don’t think so.”

Cindy sighed deeply and then shoved a paper towards Lisa. “Principal Kase wants to see her. It’s about her skipping study hall. There’s a guard waiting at the end of the hall.”

Lisa squinted at the note. “Why is she sending you?”

Cindy shrugged. “She wants to talk to me too. Can we go? I don’t want to get in trouble for holding her up.”

Lisa opened her mouth, obviously not satisfied, but Raven reached out and patted her friend on the shoulder. “It’s all right. “

Raven was already gathering wisps of magic and storing them around her suppressor. She wasn’t sure what was going on, especially since she already received her penalty. Unless this was another threat or what happened in the cafeteria was only part of her penalty. Or it could have been about the food that her friends had snuck to her. There were a ton of possibilities. Whatever was going on, it was better to get it over with.

Cindy glanced at Raven and abruptly turned and walked out of the room. Lisa’s frown deepened, but Raven gave her friend a reassuring smile, before heading out of the room. A guard was waiting at the end of the hall as Cindy had said. Cindy was already halfway down the corridor. Raven hurried to catch up.

Once they reached the guard, they were led out of the girl’s dorm. Raven glanced over to Cindy who wouldn’t quite meet her eyes. She wasn’t sure if it was guilt or just that Cindy hated her that much. Raven still didn’t understand why Cindy had decided to pick on her. And from what Lisa said earlier, Cindy hadn’t bullied anyone besides her. But maybe Lisa just didn’t know about it.

Halfway down the hall, something strange happened. The guard leading the way, suddenly knelt over in pain. “Fuck.”

Raven hurried over. “Are you okay?”

The guard shoved her away and Cindy reached over, grabbing Raven’s arm tightly. Raven looked at Cindy in confusion and yanked away from her.

“Damn Illusion magic,” the guard grumbled.

Then before Raven’s eyes, the guard’s body began to morph and instead of the guard, there stood one of the girls from the dorm, Patrice. She was the same girl Lisa had fought on Raven’s first day at ECI. Raven’s eyes widened.

“Oh well,” Patrice said with a grin.

Cindy grabbed Raven from behind and put her in a headlock. The girl pinned Raven’s left arm to her side, not being able to do the same to her right. Raven grabbed at the arm around her neck, digging her nails into Cindy’s skin. Cindy swore but tightened her grip, refusing to let go. Patrice straightened up and started stalking towards Raven, a wicked gleam in her eyes. Panic surged through Raven. She looked around her, searching for help, but the halls were deserted, not even any of the floating crystals were around.

It began to seep in that it couldn’t have just been Cindy and Patrice trying to get her alone to beat her up. There was no way the school wouldn’t have spotted them or that the crystals would be conveniently missing. It had to be tied to whoever was targeting her.

Patrice stopped in front of Raven. “I don’t know whose bad side you got on, but that’s how it is.” The girl grinned and pulled her fist back.

She struck at Raven. On instinct, Raven raised her hand. Water rose up and splashed straight into Patrice’s face. The girl jerked back, mostly in shock than from any real damage. Patrice wiped the water from her face.

“What the hell?” Patrice shouted.

Raven didn’t wait for the girl to recover. She bit down on Cindy’s arm. The girl flinched and her grip loosened. Raven slammed her head backwards. Cindy managed to pull back before Raven’s head butt could land, but Raven wasn’t planning to let go of the upper hand. She shoved her body backward, using her momentum to slam Cindy into the wall behind them.

Cindy grunted and finally let Raven go. Raven jerked away, but before she could move very far, Patrice lurched at her. Raven wasn’t sure how much water she could call at this point, but she twisted to the side and shoved all the determination she had at using the limited supply of magic she had access to. A ball of water shot from her palm and slammed into Patrice’s shoulder. Patrice was thrown to the side, but from the corner of Raven’s eye, she could see Cindy getting back on her feet.

Raven called the water back to her and ran down the hall. She could keep reusing the water like a ball to slam against them, but the impact seemed to only throw Patrice off balance. She wasn’t sure how effective it would be. She wracked her brain for what she could do. Those thoughts came to a halt as a black gaping hole swallowed up the ground in front of her. She tumbled back, staring down as an all-encompassing blackness with no end split the floor.

Raven twisted around to see a familiar figure walking down the hall.

“Looks like you got distracted,” Pete said as he moved down the hall. Half his arm was covered in the same inky blackness of the ground in front of Raven.

“My morph broke. I told you it doesn’t work for long,” Patrice said.

Pete grunted and then looked at Cindy. “Even with luck?”

Cindy seemed to scrunch up under Pete’s gaze. “It’s limited, plus she has magic.”

Pete’s eyes widened fractionally as he turned back to Raven.

Raven had listened to the conversation, trying to figure out what she should do next. Three of them against her, and Pete was a lot bigger and stronger than her. Raven had wanted to keep her magic a secret for a little longer than a day, but the way things were going she had no choice. None of them knew how much magic she had access to, so maybe it was time to bluff her way out.

She glared at the three of them and raised her water, making a show of shifting it into a short blade. It wasn’t that impressive, but at least it was something. She narrowed her eyes and tried to sound menacing.

“Don’t make me fight you,” Raven said coldly.

Patrice started laughing. “I’ll handle this.”

Patrice took a step forward, but Cindy grabbed her.

“Don’t,” Cindy said.

“Are you serious?” Patrice asked, irritated.

“If she can use magic…” Cindy said nervously.

“Come on,” Patrice said. “Is this about your brother and the whole black smoke thing?”

“Shut up!” Cindy growled.

Raven blinked in surprise. “What?”

Cindy glared while Patrice gave a smug grin.

“You didn’t know? Why do you think our Lady Knight here decided to come to the dark side? You fucked up her brother during your little Awakening.”

Cindy whirled on Patrice and punched her in the face.

Patrice jerked back, clutching her nose. “You little bitch.”

Patrice punched her fist forward. Right before it hit Cindy, brass knuckles formed around Patrice’s hand and she smashed it into Cindy’s cheek. The girl was thrown back and crumpled to the floor.

“Next time you hit me, I’ll bash your face in,” Patrice said. She turned her attention back to Raven.

Raven stiffened, she gripped the water blade in front of her. Her mind was swirling with the information Patrice had revealed. All this time, Cindy had hated her because her brother was one of the people Raven had put in a coma. She felt guilt churn in her gut, but she shoved it down. She couldn’t stand around feeling bad. She needed to concentrate on her fight.

Patrice’s eyes gleamed and she took a step forward. “Let’s see who breaks first.”

Pete grabbed Patrice’s shoulder before she could go further.

“Wait,” he said. Then his cold gray eyes pinned Raven.

Raven would have taken a step back if the gaping blackness behind her wasn’t waiting to swallow her up.

“Show me,” Pete said. “The black smoke.”

Raven’s eyes widened. Was he calling her bluff? She felt her heart thrum in her chest and she shook her head. “I can’t.”

“See,” Patrice said. “Cindy was over exaggerating.”

Pete frowned. “No.” His gaze never left Raven. “Show me.”

Raven scrambled to come up with an answer. She couldn’t access her Core and even if she could she didn’t want to see what would happen if she released it. “I-I can’t control it.”

“She’s bluffing,” Patrice said, growing impatient. “Let me just -“

“Okay,” Pete said calmly.

Both Raven and Patrice looked at him questioningly.

Pete held up a small metal box and tapped it. A hologram screen popped up with a countdown. Three minutes slid down the clock. “Time’s almost up. Head back.”

Patrice sighed. “Waste of time.”

Patrice marched forward. Raven tightened her grip on her blade. But Patrice didn’t attack, just walked pass her. Raven whirled in surprise. The black hole behind her was gone. Patrice kept walking without looking back.

Raven turned back to see the black strands sinking back into Pete’s hand. Seeing it reminded her of her black tendrils, but she could tell Pete’s abilities were different from her own. At least she thought it was. Pete gave her a thoughtful look before tossing a coin towards Raven. Raven watched the coin fall to the ground before Pete turned and walked away.

She wasn’t sure what was going on. She walked over to the coin and picked it up. It was a perk. She frowned, not sure why Pete had left this for her. It was clear he had been part of this set up to beat her up. It confused her, but right now the thought of the timer crossed her mind. She wasn’t sure if that meant if she was still out in the hall she would be faced with another penalty.

Movement caught her eye and she saw Cindy pulling herself up from the ground.

“Are you all right?” Raven asked, taking a step forward.

“Stay away from me,” Cindy said, straightening up, slowly.

“You’re hurt,” Raven said, taking another step forward.

“So what?” Cindy said.

Raven shifted awkwardly. “I’m sorry…about your brother.”

“Do you think I give a shit about how sorry you feel?” Cindy asked and began shuffling down the hall.

Raven followed, keeping pace with the girl. She didn’t apologize again. Instead, she kept an eye on Cindy. The girl looked like she had gotten hurt a lot worse than Raven thought. She was limping slightly.

But even if she was hurt, the girl kept going, never once allowing Raven to get near enough to help.

“Stop meddling,” Cindy growled out.

“Can’t,” Raven said stubbornly. “Got to stay close in case you faint or something.”

“I’m not going to faint,” Cindy said, annoyed.

Raven shrugged and they continued down the hall. At some point, the crystals came back out and Raven figured their time limit was up. She held out her perk, hoping against hope, it would be enough. The crystal scanned it and turned green then bypassed them.

Cindy glanced at Raven with a frown and then continued down the hall. She didn’t complain again. Once they reached the entrance to the girls’ dorm, the guard that had been suspiciously gone when they had left was back. Raven held out the perk, which the guard scanned and then took.

“What’s wrong with her?” The guard asked, nodding to Cindy.

“I tripped and feel wrong,” Cindy said quickly.

The guard looked her over and then shrugged. “You need Old BB’s?”

Cindy shook her head. “I’ll be fine once I’m off it.”

The guard nodded and opened the dorm door. The girls continued down the hall. Once they were back in the dorm, Cindy turned to head to her room, but Raven grabbed her arm.

“I know you don’t want to hear it, but I am sorry for what happened to your brother,” Raven said quickly. “I didn’t want to hurt him or anyone.”

Cindy frowned and jerked her arm away. “Like I said, I don’t want your apologies.”

Raven watched as Cindy walked away, before turning and heading to her own room.

Previous | Next 

10. Chosen – 2

When Raven opened her eyes, Lisa was standing over her, shaking her shoulder. Her face scrunched up in worry. “Hey, are you all right?”

Raven nodded and gave her a bright smile. She was way more than all right. She had a way to connect to her power again. In all honesty, she wanted to try it out right away, but she couldn’t do that in front of Lisa. “I’m fine.”

Lisa frowned. “If you’re not sick, why the hell you skip study period? You’re going to get a penalty.”

“Oh. That’s probably not good,” Raven said. Especially if someone at this school was out to get her.

“Yeah, but nothing you can do about it now. Let’s head to dinner before we both end up late.”

Raven stood up and they both quickly hurried to the dining hall. Once there, they both split up to get into their specific lines. Even the thought of her future penalty and the lackluster meal ahead of her didn’t dampen Raven’s spirit. Instead, she began focusing like she had done in the dreamscape. She concentrated on the magic fumes that the suppressor released and curled them around the ring. It was a lot more difficult to do with all the noise around her and most of it she ended up wasting. She sighed a little in frustration but didn’t give up. If she could focus on doing this in the middle of a busy cafeteria then she’ll be able to do it anywhere.

She moved up in the line, grabbing the first thing available, more intent on her magic gathering. As she almost finished through the line she was interrupted by a guard stepping in front of her. She blinked in surprise, abruptly stopping as she reached for a juice box.

“Raven Delias,” the guard said.

Raven looked up and swallowed. “Yes?”

The guard reached out and took her tray. “You’ve been given a penalty. You are banned from eating dinner today.”

Raven blinked. “Seriously?”

The guard quirked an eyebrow at her and Raven sighed. She ran a hand through her hair in frustration. She hadn’t eaten much during breakfast and lunch she could barely remember. Even though she didn’t think much of the food, now that she had access to her magic again she knew she would need the energy. As if agreeing with her, her stomach growled.

“Can I go back to my room?” Raven asked. At least if she couldn’t eat then she could go back to the dreamscape and practice.

Those thoughts were immediately dashed as the guard shook his head. “Follow me.”

He led her to a chair near where the guards kept watch, facing the cafeteria. “Sit here until dinner is over.”

Sighing again, Raven sat down. She looked across the cafeteria, catching the sight of a familiar face. Ethan was giving her an exaggerated sad face and waving. She smothered a laugh and rolled her eyes. He mouthed something to her, but since Raven wasn’t all that good at reading lips, she just shrugged at him. Ethan let out a dramatic sigh and sat down.

Raven figured that was the end of that and tried to figure out what she was going to do for the next hour. In a way, it was a relief to know that her penalty was one missed dinner. She wasn’t sure if she would be as lucky next time. She would have to set some sort of alarm, so this wouldn’t happen again.

Still, it did mean she could focus on gathering more of the magic. For a half an hour she concentrated on pulling more of the magic around her. She mostly circled it around the suppressor, but she also tried pressing it against her skin. She felt nervous about doing that. She didn’t want the suppressor to go off and suddenly be surrounded by guards. Still, she had to test the limits. She pulled more against her skin, dispersing it evenly, but she quickly realized she didn’t have enough gathered to make much of a difference. Gathering the magic was a slow process and she wasn’t sure how much she could do with it.

Raven glanced over at the guards. They were looking around the room and every once in a while they looked her way, but they weren’t paying her any extra attention. Of course, why would they? She was supposed to be cut off from her power. Deciding to take a small chance, Raven concentrated on pulling a small gathering of magic and pooling it into the palm of her left hand.

Curling her hand, she concentrated on summoning a small ball of water. She could feel the magic in her palms swirling as it fought to form. She closed her eyes focusing on it, pushing it to grow. Something in her tugged and she felt sweat begin to form on her brow and then it pushed and she could feel it. A small ball of water swirled in her palm.

“Yes,” she said opening her eyes.

As she did she saw the guard staring at her with a frown. She swallowed and quickly looked down at her lap. She pushed the water to slither up the back of arm in a small drizzle. When she looked up again the guard was back to looking over the cafeteria.

Her shoulders sagged in relief. She didn’t want to get caught, especially not on her first try. A rush of excitement flowed through her as she felt the water climb up her arm. She had done it. She actually was able to use magic with a suppressor. Then it hit her. No one should have been able to do something like this.

A chill went through her. What exactly am I?

She shook that thought away. It felt dangerous to start thinking like that. Everyone’s power was unique and hers was a bit unusual from the norm. Even as she thought that it felt like a weak excuse, but even if she was different for some reason, what did that matter? She was still human. She was just a human with really kickass abilities. She grinned.

For the rest of the dinner, she let the water move around her arm, trying to figure out what was the best way to keep it hidden. She tried hiding it under her sleeve, but the sleeve grew damp and that was pretty suspicious. Instead, she tried spreading it thinly over her skin. That worked better, though it gave her skin a slight sheen. She figured that wasn’t too noticeable. Right now, she wanted to see how long she could keep the magic going once it’s formed.

Dinner came to a close and one of the guards nodded to her in a signal that she could leave. She slid in with the rest of the students when she felt someone grab her hand. She turned to see Ethan beside her and she realized very quickly he was pressing a wrapped up napkin into her palm. She glanced down, and sure enough, the napkin and whatever was inside was camouflaged by his ability. 

“Don’t be so obvious,” Ethan whispered. “Hurry up and hide it.” 

Raven wasn’t exactly sure how she was supposed to hide it, but she shoved it underneath her baggy ECI t-shirt. She pushed her magic down to wrap around the napkin and press it against her skin. Eventually, the water was going to dampen both the napkin and her shirt.

“How exactly am I supposed to hide this?” she whispered back.

“I don’t know,” Ethan said. “Tuck it into your waistband.”

Raven shifted the water to slide down her stomach, pulling the napkin underneath the waistband of her pants. She wasn’t sure how Ethan had expected her to hide this without it being obvious to everyone standing around her. Luckily, she had her magic to help.

Ethan leaned in, pressing his hip against hers and then slung his arm around her shoulders. “Did you miss me at dinner?” he asked with a laugh while giving her a meaningful look.

Ah, she was supposed to do it now. Not a very good strategy, but she knew Ethan was trying. She pretended to straighten her shirt, which had a few damp spots, but nothing too noticeable, or at least she hoped it wasn’t too noticeable. At least it would make Ethan think she had tucked the sandwich away, since he didn’t know it was already hidden thanks to her water manipulation.

She gently pushed Ethan away. “It wasn’t as noisy,” she said.

Ethan gave a dramatic gasp. “Are you saying I’m noisy?”

“Are you saying you’re not?” Raven teased him.

“I’m starting to re-evaluate our friendship here,” Ethan said with a mock pout.

Raven laughed and then bumped against his side. “Thanks.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said with a wink. “Off to the boy’s side. Don’t get in trouble again. Dinner is boring without you.”

“I’ll try not to,” Raven said as Ethan moved back over to the boys. As he did, she caught Pete watching them. The cold gray eyes lingered on her longer than usual. It disturbed her. She hurried down the hall and towards the girl’s dorm.

Once she was in her room, she took out the napkin but shoved it under her pillow when Lisa came in shortly after. Lisa marched over and dropped a fruit cup in her lap. Raven’s eyes widened in surprise.

“You got me this?”

Lisa shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s just a fruit cup.”

“I thought you were the rule enforcer,” Raven said with a small smile.

Lisa folded her arms and looked away. “I am, but sometimes the rules are stupid.”

Raven grinned and then reached out and took the napkin from under her pillow. Lisa watched her with surprise. Raven unfolded it to see it was bits of a sandwich, cut up to fit in the napkin.

“Who gave you that?” Lisa shook her head. “Wait, I think I can guess.”

Raven laughed. “It looks like I have two generous benefactors.”

Lisa plopped down on her bed with a grumble. “Don’t get used to it. I mean, for real, getting penalties is asking for shit to rain down on you in here.”

“Sorry,” Raven said as she stuffed a piece of sandwich into her mouth.

“What were you even doing?” Lisa asked curiously.

“Meditating,” Raven said quickly.

As much as she wanted to share with someone about what she could do, she wasn’t sure if she could trust Lisa. Plus, she was still not sure if people weren’t watching or listening in to her while in her room. That did mean her sitting back and eating this food was a big no, but she figured that if they were trying to be sneaky about listening in or watching her, making a big fuss over some food would be stupid.

“Next time you decide to meditate, set an alarm,” Lisa said, annoyed, but there was concern in her eyes.

“I will,” Raven agreed. “Believe me, I don’t want a penalty.”

Raven opened up the fruit cup. She would have liked a spoon, but if Lisa could have snuck one out, she would have given it to her when she gave her the fruit cup. She tilted it back, drinking it and munching on the fruit.

“So what happened in Reality therapy?” Lisa asked. “I heard some sponsors came in.”

“How did you know that?” Raven asked curiously as she grabbed another piece of sandwich.

“When sponsors come to the school it’s pretty big news.”

Raven could understand that. After all the sponsors had even forced their teacher’s hand to give them a more dramatic Reality scenario. Though she got the feeling that Dr. Davis had still gone easy on them. Raven began telling Lisa about what happened and her encounter with Cindy.

“What the hell? What’s her issue with you?”

Raven shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

Lisa looked thoughtful. “It’s sort of weird. She didn’t seem like the bully sort.”

Raven frowned. “I guess that makes me special then.”

Lisa’s brow furrowed and her frown deepened. “I don’t know.”

There was a knock on the door and Lisa sighed. “Come in!”

The door opened and in stepped the very person they had been talking about.

“Speak of the devil,” Lisa said.

Cindy frowned and then turned to Raven, meeting her eyes. “I need you to come with me.”

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10. Chosen – 1

By the time Raven reached her room, she had gone over everything that happened at least three or four times. Each time she felt a mixture of anger and helplessness. Today she had been attacked twice by other students and learned that someone powerful was targeting her. She had wanted to ask Ellis about it, but the guard seemed hesitant enough about being involved. Raven didn’t want to push too far. 

Stepping into her room, Raven was relieved to see Lisa was still in class. Even though it would have been nice to see her, Raven needed time alone to think. So many things kept happening to her and she only had a chance to react instead of taking the initiative. Her face scrunched up in determination. 

No, this time, she had her own plans. 

Raven’s schedule for the day ended after Reality therapy so she had free time before her study period. She sat down on her bed and focused. 

[Tick Tock, are you there?] She pushed the thought out. It made her feel insane, but she didn’t want to dwell on that. The world felt like it had gone crazy, so it wasn’t her fault if she went along with it. 

Immediately the demon was in front of her with a wide grin. “You rang?” 

The mild irritation she felt every time she saw the demon came to the forefront, but she shoved it down. She still wasn’t sure if Tick Tock was real or a sign of a mental breakdown, but right now he was all she had. 

[You said there’s a way to access my magic even with the suppressor?] 

Tick Tock grinned even wider and rubbed his hands together. “Finally! We get to have some fun.” 

Raven hesitated but pushed forward. [Is there a way to do it without destroying the suppressor?] 

Tick Tock frowned and rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Are you still planning to be civilized?” 

[Just answer the question.] Raven said, letting her thoughts drip with annoyance. 

Tick Tock sighed and lay down in the air, floating as if he was resting on an invisible bed. “Yes, yes, there’s a way, but you’ll only access a very small amount of your power that way.” 

Raven nodded. [Show me.] 

Tick Tock let out a drawn-out sigh. “Fiiine.” The demon flicked his wrist and the entire room disappeared and Raven was back into her dreamscape. 

This time it was different. There was a large field with dummies and weapons, like some ancient combat training room. Next to the field was what looked to be a medieval stone barracks with a plain wooden door leading inside. Raven eyed the door warily. 

“Lovely door, isn’t it?” Tick Tock said, materializing to her right and leaning against her shoulder. 

She shook him off before purposely turning her back on the door. [So how does it work?] 

“So impatient,” Tick Tock said, floating over to one of the dummies and sitting on its head. “You can speak. In the dreamscape, no one can hear you.” 

Raven narrowed her eyes. “And what am I doing out in the real world?” 

“Worried you’re going on a rampage?” he asked as he swiped the head off the dummy’s shoulders and settled back in a more comfortable position on top of its headless body. “Don’t worry, it looks like you’ve fallen asleep sitting up.” 

Raven relaxed. She took a minute to really absorb the landscape. Here she felt more confident, more in charge. It felt similar to her Awakening dreamscape. “How am I able to be here?” 

“It’s your mind,” Tick Tock said with a shrug. “You’ve always had access to it, you just had to remember how to get here.” 

“I don’t know how I got here,” Raven said, returning her attention back to Tick Tock. 

“You do. It’s just that you like to pretend that you don’t,” Tick Tock said. The demon twisted around on the dummy, hooking his legs over its shoulders and hanging upside down. 

“What does that even mean?” Raven asked, frowning. 

He wagged his finger. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. If you want to know that, you’ll have to go through the door.” 

Raven looked at the door. “If I do, what happens in the outside world?” 

“Who knows,” Tick Tock said and then flipped off of the dummy, landing lightly on his feet. “But that’s what makes it exciting.” 

“Do I have to go through the door to be able to access my power with the suppressor on?” Raven asked and turned back to Tick Tock. 

The demon hesitated and tapped one clawed finger against his cheek. “Hmmm, there’s a way without going through the door, but you’ll be weaker and unable to access your Core.” The demon looked thoughtful. “Not as fun, but it could be interesting.” 

Raven turned that over in her mind. She wanted to access her magic, but if she could avoid using her Core and just use her Illusion magic that would be safer. But there was one thing. “How much weaker?” 

“Pathetic, but I suppose any magic is better than none,” Tick Tock said as he walked towards her and leaned in. “Shall I show you?” 

Raven looked at the gleaming eyes of the demon and nodded. “Show me how to do it without breaking the suppressor.” 

Tick Tock clapped his hands excitedly. “Baby steps, but I’ll take it.” 

The demon snaked out his hand, grabbing her and dragging Raven towards him. 

Raven tried to pull away, but Tick Tock’s grip was tight as he danced with her around the field with a laugh. “Finally, I get to play.” 

“What are you doing?” Raven demanded as she pushed and pulled. 

“Whatever I want,” Tick Tock said. 

Raven shoved and pushed against the demon, but he held her tightly and spun and danced. Anger and panic had her clawing at him, but still, he danced and danced, faster and faster. The world blurred. 

Tick Tock laughed. “Around and around we go.” 

Faster and faster they spun, impossibly fast. Friction and heat climbed up her skin. Still, Tick Tock wouldn’t let her go. 

They had stopped dancing and continued spinning as Tick Tock held her in an iron grip. Smoke began to rise around them, tendrils of steam and heat pressed against her skin, burning her. 

She screamed. “Let me go!”

Raven pushed Tick Tock and water sprung between them. The water slammed into Tick Tock, shoving him to the ground. Raven’s eyes widened. She looked down at her hands. The water lingered around her before fading away. 

On the ground, Tick Tock laughed, slapping his hand against the packed dirt. “There it is.” 

“What? It’s because I’m in the dreamscape?” Raven asked, looking down at her skin. The burns were fading away. 

“Yes and no,” Tick Tock said. He rocked forward, tucking his knees under his chin and smiling up at her like a child in front of his favorite TV show. “You do have more freedom here, but your mind is still stuck in reality. And of course, there are limits.” He gestured to the door. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather try it? It’ll make things oh so much easier.” 

Raven ignored the question and looked over her body. “Did you have to burn me to prove your point?” The burns were already gone, but tendrils of steam still lingered over her skin. 

“Most definitely,” Tick Tock said and then he was at her side. “Something you’ll do well to keep in mind, my dear Raven. Nothing you achieve here will ever be without a cost.” 

Raven shuddered. The words hung around her like a noose. She glanced back at the door silently waiting for her. She looked away and focused on the tendrils of what she was starting to think was smoke instead of steam now. It made her nervous. “Why is the smoke not going away?” 

“It’s what you wanted,” Tick Tock said. “Your little suppressor, as they call it, doesn’t actually keep all the magic tucked away, now does it?” 

Raven frowned. “What do you mean?” 

“Come now,” the demon said with a sigh. “I can’t give you all the answers.” 

Raven looked down at the small tendrils of smoke dancing across her skin. Her mind turned over everything she knew about suppressors. It wasn’t that much, but slowly she began to piece it together. “It’s not a full suppressor.” 

Tick Tock gave her a slow clap. “She finally uses her brain.” 

She glared at him, turning the information over in her head. “Even if it’s not a full suppressor it completely cuts me off from my core. I’m basically living off fumes so I don’t go crazy.” 

“True, you can’t get the full amount without destroying the suppressor. That requires you going through Door #2.” He grinned. “But even a car can move on fumes given the right equipment. And you, my dear, are a superior product.” 

Raven looked down at the fumes of her power climbing up her arms and felt something like hope. “But how do I access it outside of here? I can’t just go spinning in a circle every time I want to use magic.” 

“Now that’s the tricky part, out there they won’t be nice little smoke flames for you to see and use. You’ll have to feel for it and gather up those little bits of fumes until you have enough to do something with it.” 

“But how?” Raven asked. 

“All these questions are getting boring,” Tick Tock said. “It’s your power, figure it out.” 

Raven rubbed her forehead. The demon was the most annoying thing she ever encountered, but he was right. She couldn’t depend on everyone to come to her rescue or tell her what to do. She had to save herself. Even if she could only access a little of her power, then she could do something. After all, she earned an Illusion Level 2 permit. 

If she couldn’t do things completely by force then she would have to use her brain. So Raven closed her eyes and felt the magic around her, focusing on the tendrils on her skin. The fumes would have to be small and pretty negligible enough for the MDE to not consider it a danger. That meant, unlike in her Dreamscape, it wasn’t going to be a burst of magic spitting from her hands, at least not like how it was now. 

She turned that thought over. So that meant she would have to gather the fumes up and save them. The fumes were still her magic, so even if they were wisps she could control it. She would have to spend time focusing on it and building it up. Of course, completely absorbing it back would likely trigger her suppressor. The little magic she had gained would be cut off from her. She couldn’t afford to build up too much. That meant she would have to put it somewhere else. 

A thought clicked with her. Her phone and other household items were triggered by magic and most people had little battery storages to save magic in to help charge their devices. Her mother told her that in the past everyone used electrical devices, but after magic entered the world most electrical devices were incompatible and would simply stop working and in some cases even caused explosions. Engineers and scientists had to find a way to merge magic and technology so that it could function. It was part of the reason the world had taken so long to recover from the Awakenings chaos. Of course, those objects were specialized and she didn’t have anything like that lying around.

A grin spread across her lips. Actually, maybe she did. 

She looked opened her eyes and looked down at her suppressor. It was a specialized device to keep a person cut off from their magic, but it also had a regulator to help store and disperse magic. So what if she layered the magic on top. After all, the device was used to stop her from accessing her magic, but it took a signal from outside, like when Dr. Brite adjusted their magic access. 

She would have to be careful with it, just enough to not interfere with its regular process. It did mean the amount of magic she could store would be limited but it was better than nothing. Maybe she could store some extra magic as a layer on top of her skin, just enough to spread across her skin without triggering the suppressor. She would have to test it out. 

With her plan in mind, she began to work.

It took Raven hours before she was able to get the hang of feeling the fumes. They were so small it didn’t even seem worth it to gather the excess magic, but she continued at it. It was a tiring process and by the time she was finished she had built up a very thin layer around the suppressor ring. Not enough to do much, but it was something. 

She opened her eyes and stood up. Raven looked around to see Tick Tock throwing daggers into a dummy. Several other dummies had been torn apart while she had been lost in her magic gathering. She frowned. She felt like she should be worried, but all she felt was irritated. 

“Okay…” She straightened. “I can’t use my Core magic with these fumes, right?” 

Tick Tock whirled around, balancing a dagger on the top of his nail. “That’s right,” he said and tossed the blade in the air. The hilt landed on the tip of his nose. “You’ll have to make do with the Illusion magic, but we both know that’s not a problem for you.” 

She nodded. “I can use my water manipulation, but if my power is limited I need to learn more than that. I want to learn the shadow thing I did and…” She hesitated, but then continued going. “Back in the hospitals, I’m sure I bent the bed frame somehow. That means I have another ability.” 

“Oooh, now things are getting interesting,” Tick Tock said gleefully. Then the demon tilted his head. “But our time is up for now. It looks like you have company. Another time.”

“Wait,” Raven said quickly as she felt the dreamscape start to fade. “Is there a limit to how often I can come here?” 

“Come here as often as you like,” Tick Tock said. “But time doesn’t stop because you’re here.” 

Raven grinned. That’s exactly what she needed to know. As she began to return to reality she heard Tick Tock laugh. 

“And, remember, the door will be waiting for you.”

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