Chapter 3:

Cortisol Rising

Tetraprisma: Chromatic

“Vitals look fine for the both of them,” someone said. “You’re clear to do screening questions.”

I looked around the room. Pristine, white-tiled. It looked like it’d never been used. I looked to my side, and Kori was there, but he was turned on his side, drooling into a pillow. I wondered what those two girls had talked to him about.

The padded door opened, and Marissa entered, now in full uniform. Whereas before she wore basic protective gear, she now had on a sleek white-and-red outfit with various runes engraved on it. If they had any effect, I certainly couldn’t tell.

“Hi, Shiera! Are you ready for the screening?”

“The hell is a screening? Magic shit?”

“I thought screenings were a normal Earth thing! Did Aubrey lie again?!”

I shrugged under the sheets of the mattress. “They probably are. I just don’t go to the doctor much.”

“So, we’re just going to ask you a few questions to see what your status is, okay?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Great!” She pulled a clipboard from under my mattress. “First, what’s your full name? Last, first, middle initial, please!”

“Beta, Shiera M. I know it’s a weird last name.”

She had a stunned look on her face, but quickly smiled and looked back to her clipboard. “Alright, when’s your birthday and how old are you?”

“June 1st, and I’m sixteen.”

“Uh… I need the year…”

“Oh, 2000.”

“Do you have any medical conditions we should know about?”

“Unless I have any undiscovered magical powers, no.”

“You don’t.”


“Okay, next section!” She flipped a page. “I’m going to list some diseases and events. You’re gonna tell me if you know what they are, got it?”


I wondered what she would ask me about. Was it testing my knowledge? Was this for magical evaluation? I almost wanted to say yes to everything- that’d make me look like a genius.


“Why are you starting off so dark?”

“I’ll take that as a yes! The Great War’s up next.”


“You might call it World War I. I know a lot of people do.”

“Oh, yeah, I know both of the World Wars.”


“Yeesh, don’t remind me of that.”

“Got it. Influenza?”

I scoffed. “We’ve all had the flu before.”


“Uh, isn’t that a whole type of virus? I think that’s what SARS was.”

Marissa shuffled. “Oh, sorry. It’s a sort of nickname. COVID-19 is a better term.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Han Hito?”

“Is that a movie?”

“The Great Recovery?”

“Recovery from what?”


“The hell?”

Marissa set down her clipboard. “That’s all for those questions! Thank you for your patience!”

She left the room with the paperwork, and I contemplated. Those seemed like historical events and diseases, until about halfway through, when it stopped being sensible entirely. Was it possible that it was a logic test? Or did they just know more than I did?

It only took a few moments for another man to walk in the room. He still wore his protective gear; he didn’t seem to be on the hospital wing staff. In contrast to my bed-ridden body, he was tall and muscular. It was intimidating, which I didn’t like. Intimidation was my thing.

“Ms. Beta, do you know why you’re here?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here, dumbass.”

“Well, ma’am, this is Dianoct. And if you managed to get here from Earth, it means someone opened a rift. Since you’re clueless, it wasn’t you, and it probably wasn’t the idiot sleeping over there either.”

“No, duh.”

“I’m a commander, you’re some human from Earth. Show some respect.”

“Only thing I respect about you is that you insulted my brother without meeting him.”

“Ma’am, I presume you have some understanding of where you are, based on your lineage.”

I blinked. “No, I just know it through stories.”

“Stories. Alright. And what’s your father’s name?”


“Answer the question. I swear it’s relevant.”


“I see.”

“See wha- hey, what are you doing?” I questioned. He was motioning with his hands like Aubrey had, but his were glowing magenta.

“I’m going to trigger your brain’s cortisol production. You’re going to feel very stressed for a moment, but be aware, nothing’s wrong.”

“What do you mean, nothing’s wrong? You can’t just tell me you’re gonna trigger my cortisol production and tell me not to worry! What the hell! You son of a bitch, stop it! Stop–”

“It’s done. You’re fine.”

I sighed. “Why did you…?”

“Basic genetic lycanthropy testing. You’re perfectly fine. I just had to check because of your lineage.”


“Don’t worry about it, ma’am. We’ll explain in due time. Now, though. I’m sure Unit General Sumisu told you about the choice you have to make. You can stay here and fight for the army as compensation for our saving you, or you can return home and forget about all of this.”

The door opened behind his imposing figure, and Marissa leaned through. “Aaron, you know Aubrey forgets to tell everyone that.”

“Shut it, Kyona. You’ll refer to me only by Head Commander DeAndrick, understood?”

“Whatever you say, Aaron,” she said, closing the door.

Aaron turned back to me. “Ahem. So. Make your choice.”

“Can you give me a few days here to find out if I want to stay?”

“That’s not how the rules work.”

“You could make an exception.”

“Why would I make an exception for you?”

“Isn’t it fair to let people see what they’re getting into before blindly choosing?”

Aaron pondered this.

“Fine. You and your mongrel brother get two days to accustom yourselves to Dianoct. If you end up hating it, fine by me. If you don’t, I guess I’ll have to tolerate you.”


He was about to walk out of the room, but I sat up and called, “Wait.”

“What now?”

“Marissa said I had to stay here for a day. Does that still apply?”

“No. Get out of bed, and wake your brother up. You want to be an exception so badly, you’re going to have to learn how we work around here.”

“…And that about wraps it up! Any questions?” Marissa asked the both of us. She had just finished the test on Kori, who was half-asleep, but still as confused as always.

“No, I’m just a little weirded out by why you didn’t wake me up…”

“I’m not sure you have the brainpower to wake up on your own,” I said.

Marissa smiled, embarrassed. “Hey, let’s not insult anyone. He just sleeps more heavily, that’s all.” She clearly did not understand our dynamic.

“No wonder, since he gets a full twenty hours of sleep, counting all his classes.”

Kori turned groggily. “Explain that 64 in history, Shiera.”

“I was counting in binary.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“You don’t even make sense.”

“Hey, guys, Aaron’ll be ready in a few moments, so if you could collect yourselves…” Marissa said.

That reminded me. “Hey, what’s up with Aaron and using all official names and stuff? Is he a military geek?”

“Head Commander DeAndrick is his title, so he’s always like ‘call me by this-that-whatever, Kyona’,” she said. “Oh, Kyona’s my last name!”

“I figured.”

“He wasn’t like this before he became Head Commander. When he was Sector 1, he was a lot more friendly,” Marissa sighed.

Kori was still flabbergasted. “Commander? Is this a military camp? Am I gonna die?!”

Marissa put a hand on his shoulder. “You won’t die if you listen to Aaron. He knows what he’s doing.”

The door opened behind her, and out walked Aaron, armor and all. “Kyona, remember your training. You’re to call me by my title.”

“Aaron, come on! I’m not in boot camp! We know each other!” Marissa whined.

“That doesn’t change the fact that I’m your superior, and I’m the one who enforces protocol.”

Marissa groaned and dropped her head. “Fiiine.”

Aaron made his way past her as she left and looked down at the two of us. Now that I was standing up, I found he wasn’t actually as tall as I’d thought— he only seemed about five centimeters taller than me. Suddenly, I felt a lot more confident about talking back to him.

“Look who’s here, muscle man,” I sneered.

“Shut up.”

“Ooh, feisty today, are we? Here to prey on some children’s dreams?”

“I’ll give you the cortisol check again.”

“Go ahead, pussy. You won’t.”

He reached out a hand to my forehead. Maybe I made a mistake. I started breathing quicker, and everything began to feel overwhelming.

“Are we done yet?”

“I get it!”

“Good.” He lowered his hand, and I began to calm down. “By the way, you noticed I didn’t use any of that magic this time, right?”

I hadn’t. “Uh… yeah.”

“Do you know what a placebo is?”

“Oh, you bitch.”

Kori tilted his head. “What just happened?”

“I told your sister I would activate the stress chemicals in her brain, and just saying that activa-”

“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”

“Uh… what did you come in here for?” Kori asked.

Aaron fixed his posture. “I’m here to get you accustomed to this world. I’ll get someone else to work with her. Preferably someone from the Special Needs department.”

My eyebrow twitched. “Wha–”

“Right through the door, sir. Ma’am, you stay here until someone comes and gets you.” He took Kori through the padded door and slammed it shut in my face. It didn’t make much of a sound, but the gesture wasn’t dulled.

I grabbed the handle to yank the door back open, but as soon as I touched it, a splitting headache shot through my brain. I nearly collapsed, but it faded fairly quickly. The door creaked open.

“Don’t try to leave,” Aaron hissed before closing it again.

I stomped over to the bed and slammed my fist on it. Why couldn’t the other world have been nice? I was more angry at his taking Kori than anything else. What had Kori done to deserve that that I hadn’t?

After waiting for what seemed to be at least ten minutes, the door opened again. I was ready to clock Aaron in the skull, but I found that he wasn’t the one at the door.

“DeAndrick sent me over. How’re ya holdin’ up? Kinda sucks bein’ alone for a while, don’t it?”

Slashed Ink.
Steward McOy
Taylor Victoria