The Professor was right. I shouldn’t have returned to the Institute. But I thought they’d be glad to see me again they’d treat me better they’d give me a voice.
I was wrong.
“Be rational, Professor. She will not transform. I know she can do it, but she refuses to do it on command. She refuses to obey even simple nothing commands. She’s a failure. The Institute has no use for failures.”
“Sh—sh—she is n–not a failure. Sh—she is a human b—b—being.”
He shrugged. “After everything we’ve done to her, can you really call her human? Besides that, she doesn’t matter. We can make a better XQ. One who will do everything out clients will tell her to do.”
“G—g—give her t–to me. L—l–let me t—t–take her.”
“If I don’t, what will you do, Professor?”
“I’ll t—t—t—take m—m—my g—glasses off.”
He shoved MIssy closer to the edge of the cliff. “If you take your glasses off, she will die.”
Missy looked down. The edge was just a narrow, rounded corner. If she took a step left, right, or back, she’d surely fall.
I should turn into fire. I need to turn into fire. I’m scared I’m scared I’m scared I’m scared!
“Ant–t–tioch. I’m w—w—w—warning you.”
He smiled kindly. “I’m done with warnings.” He forced Missy to take that last step back.
Her mouth dropped open in shock as her feet touched open air.
There was one perfect moment when she could have reached out and grabbed him.
The moment passed.
Spiraling to her death.
I wish I could scream.
Her body obeyed the Professor.
Missy landed in a hard tumble. Her flames scorched the bare ground.
She rose to all fours and looked up.
Professor Hrashna let out a shrill cry.
Then, there was a moment of silence.
Something small fell from the cliff. It caught the daylight and shined sharp as it fell.
Missy stalked over to where it landed.
It was a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.
Antioch appeared on the cliff’s edge. The sunlight reflected in his mirrored sunglasses.
Missy didn’t wait for him to issue a command.
She was fire and she ran.
Missy woke up with her nose pressed against bare skin and hard bones. Arms circled her, holding her close.
On a bed.
She pulled her head back and everything became clearer.
She admired his bare skin.
“Yes. He is so pretty. Pretty to look at.”
She laid her hand right above his heart.
“Very pretty to touch.”
He startled awake.
She smiled at him. “Hi!”
He focused on her hand.
On her face.
His red eyes turned black as his pupils widened.
He released her and sat up in a big rush.
He covered the white marks on his neck with his hand. “I’m…I…I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean. I didn’t…I meant no harm, miss.”
She sat up and looked puzzled.
“If I…if I…if…I didn’t. I…I swear I didn’t. I…”
“What are you upset about?”
“I…I was tired. I didn’t mean to…You were so upset. I just wanted to hold you. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t. If I did anything untoward. If I behaved in a manner unfit for a gentleman…If I took advantage of you…”
“You didn’t do anything to me. You just slept and so did I.”
Raven got off the bed. He stood there, anxiously rubbing the white marks.
“Besides, if you did anything ‘ungentlemanly’ to me, I imagine we’d both know for sure.”
His hand went still. “I beg your pardon, but you do know of such matters? How? Who told you?”
Her smile faded as she dug deep for that memory. “Someone told me.” She saw a fleeting image of a woman’s face, but she had no voice. Her image came and went too fast to create an impression. “Maybe it was Professor Hrashna but she always wore her special glasses that kept her powers in check and the woman who told me stuff about stuff didn’t wear glasses I know that much for sure so it couldn’t have been Professor Hrashna.”
“Please hold on, miss. I’m not sure I fully understand. Was Professor Hrashna like you, then?”
“No. She was a success. I’m a failure.”
“Who was she?”
“A weaponized human. She had to wear special glasses. If she took them off and she looked right at you, she could fill your heart with the darkest kind of despair. You would have to kill yourself even if you didn’t want to even if you were completely against killing yourself you’d just do it because she looked at you. The Institute people had respect for her and her abilities. That’s why she had a name and I didn’t which I think isn’t really that fair but that’s just me thinking out loud.”
“But I liked her.” She looked down at her hands. “Professor Hrashna was my friend.”
“What happened to her?”
“I don’t know.” She watched the last traces of her fire’s orange glow fade from her fingernails. “I think Antioch killed her.”
“I’m terribly sorry, miss.”
She looked up at him. “Can you hug me again?”
He smiled gently and held out his arms.