Isaac stared, wide-eyed, at the strange girl. Her features were unnatural, exotic… not human. He watched the flames rise, licking at her feet.
“Please, save me!”
Isaac took a couple of horrified steps back, not sure what to do. He stared at her and her slit-pupil eyes trapped his. They began to glow and he could read the agony she felt behind them, could see her desperation, her need, in the furrow of her delicate spike-adorned brow. He looked around to see if he could find any way to stop the fire and found nothing.
His attention returned to the woman’s pleading eyes before feeling the cold water against his feet. Looking down, he discovered a child's sand bucket. He snatched it up and filled it with water, then threw the water on the fire. The flames were magnified.
The girl screamed.
A deafening gasp and the darkness of the room reassured Isaac that it had only been a nightmare.
3:00 glowed at him in red from his alarm clock and, without a second thought, he rolled out of bed and padded to the small kitchen in the dorm. He checked his personal coffee maker to make sure he'd filled it the night before, then hit the on button to start the brew. The coffee maker gurgled as Isaac pulled the box of leftover pizza out of the fridge.
An unregistered set of footsteps trudging down the hall provided a backbeat to Isaac's distracted breakfast.
"You know that sneaking a peek at your birthday presents is cause for bad luck."
Isaac jumped at Raphael's unexpected warning. Or, more accurately, he jumped at the unexpected sound of Raphael's voice.
"That excited about turning seventeen, huh?" Raphael asked, grabbing a slice of pizza.
Isaac shook his head. "It's just another year," he replied, grabbing his own slice of pizza.
"Dude," he heard Raphael say with urgency.
Isaac looked up at him.
"Your last set of finals is this week. The fact that you're getting your Master’s degree and turning seventeen at the same time should make this a birthday worth celebrating."
“Obtaining a piece of paper to prove to the rest of the world what I already knew hardly makes this birthday any more worth my time than it would have been without the degree.” His eyes narrowed. "If mom had emancipated me before she'd died, it would've been more worth it. My mutant brain gave her the brilliant idea of sending me here to keep me occupied for the remainder of my teenage years, but apparently didn't give her any confidence that I would be able to take care of myself."
“Dude, at that time you couldn’t! You know as well as I do that you were too young, plus the grief was too much. I’m sure you could get approval from the court to go and live your life on your own now.”
“Psh. By the time they make the decision, I’ll be eighteen! What a waste of time that will be!”
“Oh, please, I’m sure they won’t take that long. Besides, if you were so worried about being stuck having to deal with surrogate units until you were eighteen, why did you cram it all in? You could've taken it at a more leisurely pace and not had to worry about your final year of minorship."
Isaac stared at him, his eyes trying to stay frozen. He could feel them thawing a bit around the edges, but hoped that Raphael wouldn't notice.
Raphael sighed. "Distraction."
Isaac took a bite of his pizza and as grateful for his coffee maker's cheerful beep that gave him a new task to focus on.
"If that's the case, are you thinking of pursuing your doctorate next semester?"
"Waste of money," he said, pouring a cup of his green addiction.
He could almost hear Raphael blink in response.
"Dude, with a brain like yours I'll bet you could get a free ride. Do you realize what graduating a genius would do for the school's reputation?"
"I have more important things to be concerned with. Graduating me at seventeen with a Master’s should do enough for San Francisco State University’s beloved reputation," he responded dramatically. He grabbed his cup and moved to get a plate.
"I still can't figure out how you can drink that stuff," Raphael remarked. "Coffee's not supposed to be green."
"It helps me keep my boyish figure," Isaac replied dryly as he dropped a few slices of pizza onto the plate and picking it up with his free hand. "I've got some last minute studying to do," he said and turned to go back to his room.
He was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
"Dude, are you mad at me or somethin'?"
Isaac turned to face Raphael, but refusing to look directly at him.
"No. Just want to make sure I do well on my finals. It would be ridiculous to have come this far only to have to repeat this semester because I didn't bother studying."
"Dude, you never study. And even if you did fail your finals, which I don't think you're capable of doing, you'd still graduate. What's going on in that head of yours?"
"Even the most accomplished psychiatrist in the world wouldn't be able to tell you that," he replied, finally allowing his eyes to look at Raphael, their stone wall back in place to support them. A slight grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Isaac could see the question behind Raphael's calculating eyes. And, after that remained for a long moment, he could see its dismissal just as clearly.
"Just so long as we're cool, dude. Hey, I'm taking you out for your birthday tonight. Where do you wanna go? Watcha wanna do?"
Isaac's grin broadened. "I was thinking we could go bar hopping."
Raphael smiled in response. "Sorry, my fake ID guy is out of town."
"Anything that doesn't involve pin the tail on the donkey or musical chairs is fine by me. And, please, if we must celebrate, don't make it a big party. You know how I am with people."
Lillaithian’s clawed feet hit the dirt path in the forest that hid the torture chamber she’d been trapped in for the past… 'How long?' Only Talna knew.
Her heart raced, her one and only focus to make certain she didn't return to what they had referred to as their facility, as she ran through the woods faster than she had ever run before. Her strength had to have been adrenaline induced considering the poor conditions she had been kept in.
Where her ability to escape had come from, she had no clue. The building had been labyrinthine, a tactic she presumed worked for the benefit of the beings that had referred to themselves as scientists. She was certain her escape had been unfathomable and would serve as a great disappointment to her captors.
Her adrenaline began to die down far too soon. Her legs felt flimsy and her breaths were short. She pressed on, even though her lungs felt like they were on fire. She knew that, if she stopped, her escape would have been for nothing. She focused on the path ahead, determined to ignore the pain it completely as she got deeper into the forest.
She turned her large ears back, listening for the footsteps of her pursuers. They were slowing. She did not take that as permission for her to rest, though. She had to keep ahead of them.
She subconsciously noticed as the trees began to thin, opening up into a clearing. It was not until the very edge of the clearing that she realized she had reached the end. She stood on a cliff that hung over a vast body of water. Lillaithian’s heart pounded as she looked down at the waves crashing angrily against the rocks below.
She looked behind her. Though slowed, the men were still after her. Her short breaths were no longer from exhaustion. Her burning lungs forgotten, she felt the uncontrollable tremors that her fear caused course through her. She was trapped between two forms Ande, a true sign that Talna had left her for good.
She stared down at the water again and pushed her mind to think logically. If the men caught her, she would be stuck living through anguish for Talna only knew how long. If she jumped, it would be no time at all. A mere heartbeat or two before her release. And afterwards? She was sure damnation to the true Ande could not be anywhere near as agonizing as the facility or the pains she would feel briefly if she chose to end it in the waters below.
She looked back to see that the men had reached the cliff and one of them pulled out a tranquilizer gun and aimed.
Lillaithian didn’t even look at the water before she dove in, pushing off the cliff to get as far out into the water as possible, making certain that, if they found her, she would no longer be of any use to them.
The cool breeze that caressed her as she sailed through the air brought a small bit of comfort to her, relaxing her before she hit the water. Once the water embraced her, however, all calmness vanished. Her screams were muted by the liquid fire as it burned her skin. Just as expected, however, it was only for a few seconds. She welcomed the blackness that engulfed her.