The Draoi Chronicles, Book 1
"Unrealistic. Completely and utterly unrealistic."
Izzy had expected this. He had never disguised his dislike of her or her writing. Trivial mush he'd called it on many occasions. She used to feel anger when he panned her, but now it just made her laugh. She tried to stifle her reaction, but the momentum was too great to stop a snort. His black eyes bored a hole into her skull. He'd terrified Izzy two years ago when she first joined the writer's group, but Eric no longer threatened her. She'd read his work. Snotty, pretentious, esoteric drivel. It was crap, but everyone seemed to worship him.
Meeting his stare across the table, she refused to back down. "It's fantasy, Eric. It's supposed to be unrealistic."
He raised an eyebrow and leaned forward, his boney arms straightening as he spread his hands on the table. "This writer's group focuses on true literature. Not fantastical imaginings that have no depth. It's fluff. If you want to write this shit, go find a game to DM. Those DnD freaks would love your trash." A slow smile snaked across his face.
Izzy tried to keep the humor she felt moments before, but it slid away and anger replaced it. What I wouldn't give to fireball his ass. But that would be unethical. Wouldn't it? Locking down her anger, she gave the most angelic smile she could muster. "Part of what makes this group unique is we all write in different genres. Just because you don't like anything besides Camus doesn't mean we all have to write existentialist bullshit."
In truth, Izzy did like Camus. The Stranger was one of her favorite novels in high school, but she was beginning to question her taste because of Vulcan man. Yeah, ironic, eh? The man who hates anything sci-fi could be Spock's long lost emaciated brother. If he knew what could be real, it might wipe that smirk off his face. But setting him on fire wouldn't help her cause and would land her in jail or the loony bin. "I've been an active member of this group for two years. I deserve a fair critique."
"Are you finished?"
Izzy nodded, a wayward curl falling into her eye.
"Fine. Here are my notes." He slid the manuscript across the table before withdrawing his hand and wiping his fingers on his pants leg. "That's all I have to say on the subject. Anyone else?"
No one said a word. No one even raised their eyes.
"It appears your piece has been critiqued."
He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his too thin chest, his smile a challenge. He was baiting her.
The bowed heads told her all she needed to know. Two years and not one person had the guts to say anything. Pathetic. She didn't need this shit. She wasn't ever taken seriously anyway. Did she enjoy getting dismissed on some weird masochistic level? Shaking her head, she scanned the room one final time. Eric's face said it all. He'd won. The smug bastard had won.
The door shut behind her, but it failed to silence his chuckle. One hand remained on the doorknob, and she prepared to unleash hell on him, but another sound stopped her. The others. The room filled with amusement. The laughter wiggled through the cracks, floated up and burned her ears. Glancing in both directions, she took off down the hall, exiting the frigid confines of the English building and emerging into the wet Texas heat. She was lucky. No one was around. Only the second week of August, summer classes were over, and the madness of incoming freshman had yet to begin.
She sucked in a steadying breath and glanced down at the manuscript in her hands. Bad, bad idea. Rivers of red marred the surface where her tears mixed with the correction ink and ran down the page.
Two years of work for nothing. She watched as the lines of red ink turned blue and orange and smoke began to rise. The phenomena never failed to momentarily stun her as flames licked benignly at her skin. It wasn't until smoke entered her lungs and a flame jumped from the page to catch a tendril of blond hair that she snapped out of her stupor. If she didn't get her power under control, it wouldn't just be the paper burning.
Her heart raced as she took off toward the reflection pond in the courtyard. Letting the manuscript fly from her burning hands and into the water, she stepped back. The wings of flame extinguished. She tried to take a deep breath, to fill her lungs with air, but the humidity made it a struggle. The air was thick, moist, and did little to cool the fire raging inside.
She searched the area again. Empty.
Relieved to be alone, she started towards her car, hoping a brisk walk would do the trick. She wanted to take out her iPod, but she wasn't stable enough. She was too afraid she would melt the damn thing, having ruined two this year alone. She could still feel the prickles of heat roiling through her body as she fought to tamp them down. Once she brought the fire, smothering it was hard. With time, she'd hoped it would go away or she could at least develop a modicum of control. No such luck. Soon, she'd have to join a sideshow circus as "Fire Girl."
She made it to the parking lot when the air changed, no longer muddy with thick lazy heat, but sharp and antiseptic. Cold. The shiver raced under her skin from the tips of her fingers to the now rigid line of her shoulders sending jolts of electricity down her spine. Bad mojo, Yadira would say. With one shaky hand, she reached in her bag and began to dig for her keys.
Her Sentra appeared in the desolate parking lot behind the stadium, her heart leaping to the safety it granted. Someone was following her, she was sure of it, but there was no sound. No footsteps. Was this all her imagination?
Then she heard it.
A rustle in the leaves.
Except none of the trees moved.
The night was quiet, but still the wind whispered danger.
She fought the urge to glance over her shoulder. Get to your car, Izzy. Primary objective, number one.
Finally, the cool metal kissed her hand, and she drew out the tangle of keys. Her elation lasted a second, before something slammed into her skull and the pavement rushed up to greet her.