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.

Previous | Next

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.”

Previous | Next 

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.

Next 

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 – 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 – 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.”

Previous | Next 

9. Ringo

A twinge of guilt shot through Syrion as he walked away from Raven. Shit. He really shouldn’t have gotten involved. Syrion shoved his hand through his hair in frustration. His job had been to come here, watch the little practice session and then report back. Talking to Raven hadn’t been on the docket, but there he went anyway. 

“Fucking busybody,” he mumbled to himself. 

He should have learned to keep out of things, but he couldn’t just sit back and watch, not when he was involved. To make matters worse he had lied to Raven and there was no doubt that would come back to bite him in the ass. It was more a matter of when and if he could somehow lessen the collateral damage. He did that a lot, trying to lessen the collateral damage of the bullshit going on around him. It had become a duty of his, one he couldn’t manage to drop no matter how many times he laid in bed telling himself he was going to stay out of it from now on. 

Why did he do it? He could say it was a misguided sense of justice or a deep-rooted kindness. He snorted at the idea. It was guilt. Simple as that. All of this, all these students sent to this place on trumped-up charges to help reform them, was his fault. He mentally shook himself from his thoughts. If he thought too long on it, then it would drive him crazy. 

Syrion continued down the hall until he reached a door with a small insignia of a gun and shield. He raised his hand, a current of magic sliding over his hand like electricity and then surging over the insignia. It lit up and then the door slide open. He stepped inside to find Cole Harrison sitting at his personal surveillance station. All around Cole were multiple floating screens with videos of the school. Students traveled through the halls, some were inside classes or lounged in the dorm common rooms. 

“Look at them. They seem so normal,” Cole said, his red eyes narrowed as he watched them. “Little monsters with a human face.” 

Syrion managed to keep his expression blank. It was easy. He had gotten used to Cole talking like this. 

Cole turned and faced Syrion. “You’re late.” 

Syrion nodded. He managed to keep his gaze from flitting to the screen displaying the hall where he spoke with Raven. He already knew Cole would see them. “I was speaking with Raven Delias.” 

“Hmm,” Cole said and leaned back in his chair and as he did a new screen popped up. 

This screen was one Syrion was intimately familiar with. On it, the images of Raven’s Awakening played out. The black smoke swallowing up those people, his body struggling as he tried to fight her with his neutralizing abilities, Cole played the video constantly. In all honesty, Syrion was surprised it hadn’t been on when he stepped into the room. 

“And what did you and Delias talk about?” Cole asked. 

Syrion knew he had to tread carefully, but he was good at playing this game. Ever since Cole adopted him and Syrion had made the mistake of fully using his neutralizing powers on the man, he knew there were always consequences to what he did and said. 

“There were some students that Delias has made enemies with. I was checking in and seeing where her emotional state stood,” Syrion said like a soldier reporting to his commanding officer. 

Cole nodded and turned back to the screen showing Raven’s Awakening. Whenever the video ended it would loop again, playing the Awakening over and over. “And where does it stand?” 

“She’s agitated, scared and angry,” Syrion said honestly. 

“Dangerous,” Cole said with a dark chuckle. His gaze never turned away from the screen. 

For a moment they both stood there, watching Raven’s Awakening replay on the screen. The images were broken, compiled together from video footage. The video had gaps from when the cameras broke or the feed wasn’t transferred to the main server before the camera, and the wall it was attached to, was wiped from existence by Raven’s magic. 

“She’s quite pretty,” Cole said and his gaze turned to Syrion, searching. 

Syrion felt his insides grow cold as that gaze pinned him. Casually, he shrugged. “I guess. She’s a little young.” 

Cole continued looking Syrion over as if he was searching for the lie. Luckily, there was no lie in that. Maybe in a year or two, but right now Syrion had no romantic interest in the girl. Satisfied, Cole grunted and turned back to the looping video, as he did there was a knock on the door. 

“Enter,” Cole said and the door slid open. 

Syrion stiffened as the familiar figure of Pete Burros stepped into the room. His cold gray eyes looked over the office, drifting over Syrion. Syrion’s skin crawled as the glacier gaze rested on him. His power itched to crawl back up. Finally, the boy’s stare moved past him, resting on the image of the looping video of Raven. For a moment, a flicker of interest glinted in Pete’s eyes, before his attention turned fully to Cole. 

Cole ignored Pete, not bothering to turn away from the screen he was watching. When he spoke next, it wasn’t to Pete. 

“Syrion, take a seat.” 

Syrion sat down, while Pete remained standing. 

“When I was a boy, I often went hunting with my father and uncle. This was before magic came, so there were only a man, his wits and his gun.” 

Syrion listened patiently, a little confused. Why had Cole decided to tell him a story? He had obviously called Pete into the office for something. 

“In our case, we also had Ringo. Ringo was my uncle’s foxhound. He was a great dog, loyal, sharp, could sniff out game from 40 feet away. On that day, good old Ringo had found himself a raccoon and was determined to take the beast down. We went chasing after him. We actually had been there to hunt fox, but Ringo was set on that raccoon. My uncle let him go after it with a laugh. And sure enough, Ringo took down the raccoon and brought it back to us. After that, we continued our fox hunting and packed up for the day.” 

Cole leaned back in his chair as he looked away from Raven’s video and back to the surveillance cameras. “A week or so later, I went to visit my uncle. He was sitting in his chair, watching the game while drinking a nice cold one. My cousin, around six at the time, was climbing all over Ringo. Now that was a pretty normal sight. Ringo loved my cousin and let her do about anything to him.” A cold smile curled Cole’s lips. 

“I had just walked in and was about two steps away from my niece when I saw something change in Ringo. His eyes were a little wild and the corner of his lip curled. I didn’t know what was going on, but some instinct took me and I grabbed my cousin off Ringo. Just as I did Ringo lunged at her. I had never seen my uncle move so fast. Grabbing Ringo, my uncle held him down. The dog calmed down right away.” 

With a sickening feeling, Syrion got the feeling he knew where this story was going. It was the reason he had warned Raven, but to hear his fears being confirmed made bile rise in his throat. 

“Now, when a wild animal attacks a person most people will put it down, but we have a soft spot for our pets. Instead, some people will try to fix them, train them.” He nodded to the kids in the surveillance camera. “And sometimes that works, but not in old Ringo’s case. Well, they took him to the vet and found out Ringo had got bit. Rabies. Now it wasn’t Ringo’s fault he got rabies. My uncle always kept his rabies shots up-to-date, but there was a mistake with the dosage, or something like that. In the end, Ringo wasn’t going to get better, just worse. So what do you think my uncle did?” Cole asked, turning back to Syrion. 

“They put him down,” Syrion said, barely managing to keep his expression blank. 

“That’s right,” Cole said and then he finally turned his attention to Pete. “You’ve already met Delias?” 

“Yes, sir,” Pete said 

Cole nodded. “Good. I want you to show Delias our special brand of hospitality. Think you can manage?” 

“My access to the girl’s side is limited.” Pete tilted his head and then nodded. “I know some girls who can help.” 

“Then get to it, but don’t go too far. We want her to retaliate. Dismissed.” 

Pete glanced back at the looping video of Raven briefly, before nodding and leaving the room. 

After the door slid shut behind Pete, Cole turned back to Syrion. “I know you pity her, Syrion.” Cole stood up and walked over to Syrion, resting his hands on his shoulders. “But when a dog has rabies there is no curing it. You simply have to put it down.” He squeezed his shoulders. “You understand?” 

Syrion swallowed and nodded. 

Cole smiled and gave his adopted son a soft pat. “Good.” He stepped away from Syrion, turning back to the screen. “I know many in the MDE might not agree with my methods. Even the Corporations want to use her.” Cole sneered at the mention of the Corporations. “But what I’m doing is showing them that sometimes extreme measures are called for. It’s a sad, but necessary, truth.” 

He turned back to Syrion, his voice growing gentle. “You look a little pale, son. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” 

Syrion stood and he realized his hands were shaking. He quickly forced them to still. “Yes…Cole.” 

“Still set on calling me that.” Cole chuckled and shook his head. “Go on.” 

Syrion nodded to Cole and walked out of the room. It wasn’t until he was out of ECI and riding on his hovercycle that he could no longer hold the nausea back. He pulled off to the side of the road and threw up. The acidity burned his throat and his eyes watered. He heaved again and again until nothing came back up. Then he stood there, trying to control the guilt that rose through his body.

He was sixteen and alone with the knowledge that it was his actions that had made Cole this way. The man had become the monster he had tried so much to conquer. Syrion squeezed his eyes shut. What could he do? 

Syrion took a deep breath and climbed back on his hovercycle and drove home.

Previous | Next 

8. Visitors – 4

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

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

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

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

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

Jean looked over at Cindy, questioningly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cindy growled. “Damn it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean gave a small smile and shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You should be careful,” he said abruptly.

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

Syrion gave her a questioning look. “Too?”

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

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

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

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

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

“And I am?” Raven spat back.

“To some people, yeah,” Syrion said.

Raven deflated at that.

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

Raven stared at him, confused. “What?”

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

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

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” Syrion said, walking away.

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

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

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

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

Together, they both headed back to the dorms.

Previous | Next 

8. Visitors – 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary just laughed.

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

“Hey, where Ava go?” Raven asked.

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

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

Ava nodded and then vanished again.

“Someone’s shy,” Mary said.

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

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

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

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

Raven looked at Cindy with interest.

She grinned. “Luck.”

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

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

“Are you for real?” Mary said.

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

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

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

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

Cindy shrugged and looked at the other girls.

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

“Pretty much,” Jean said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Luck, huh?” Raven said softly.

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

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

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

“Sorry,” the tall girl said.

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

Ava nodded slowly but stared at Raven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Raven asked, confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was all a lie. 

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

There’s something wrong with me. 

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

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8. Visitors – 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everyone, get in line.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scenarios?” Raven asked. 

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

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

Raven hurriedly looked down at the floor. 

“You know Syrion?” Cindy asked beside her. 

“Sort of,” Raven said. 

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

Raven squirmed and gave an awkward smile back. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now please get into two groups of five.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Raven Delias,” Dr. Davis called. 

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

“Yes, Dr. Davis.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raven nodded. “I will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still not Core,” Mary mumbled.

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

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

“Water manipulation.”

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

“Yes, Dr. Davis,” the room chorused. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow, this is so real,” Raven said. 

Though the other girls looked just as impressed. 

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

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

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

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

Raven nodded. “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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