Rain pattered onto the window like drops of crystal, echoing on the thin glass. The grass was inflated with mud, the thick black, unpleasant type of mud that's only produced by soft ground. It had collected in lumps at the corners of the patches of grass, a good accompaniment to the clear puddles that had developed on the gravel paths. The weather outside had been dreary and depressing for at least a week; it was enough to spoil anyone's mood. And anyone included Lara. She stared out the window, perched on the window seat of an empty bedroom, on the fourth floor of St. Avorlina's. She looked around the room, the white plaster walls were marked, grey lines spreading over the uneven but intricate shaping of the plaster. The wooden floor was a vast ocean of burnt orange, which Lara's simple shoes barely touched. Having spent most of her time in the low maintenance part of the college, she wasn't unnerved in the least by the poorly covered decrepitness. Everything from the walls to the wooden bedstead was coated in dust.
Outside, the area was surrounded by fir trees, all lined up neatly like china dolls. There was no wind to make them move, so they hung there, still and silent. The rain had shown no sign of easing off. The unpleasant weather had meant that all the boarding students, whatever their age, had been sent home prior to the storm arriving. This left Lara as the youngest person in the building-except for the maids. There was barely anything to do for a nearly-eighteen-year-old! Luckily, Lara enjoyed exploring, so she'd come to the poorly kept parts of the main building, where all the professors used to sleep, before they fired the majority of them. Now St. Avorlina's ran on a skeleton staff, somehow still managing to teach classes of children from three to eighteen. Floorboards creaking as she went, Lara stood and strolled away from the window seat, perching herself on the bed frame. She cupped her face with her hand, resting her elbow on her knee, and began to think. Although she was soon brought out of her revere by the sound footsteps that weren't her own. The door inched open, and one of the much older maids crept in.
"There you are, Missc" the woman said. She was the gentle and kind type, despite being one of the oldest maids there. "We were starting to get worried."
"But there aren't any lessons, and you don't seem to be all that bothered if I disappear during the holidays," Lara replied.
"You know very well that these rooms are very dangerous, all kinds of dust and...What do you call it again?"
"Bacteria?" the maid nodded her head in confirmation. Then she shook it.
"You should know better...Lara... For goodness sake, you've been here since you a baby!" she scolded. Lara winced at the slight harsh tone that had crept into her companion's voice.
'What if I don't want to know better?' she thought of saying, but quickly decided against it, seeing how immature it would sound.
"Professor Lore would like to see you in the first floor library," the maid informed her, taking it upon herself to keep the conversation going. Although, usually, maids, students, and servants would never interact on the same level, like Lara and the maid had done. But Lara wasn't any rich man's daughter, and she certainly didn't know whose daughter she was, so the maids would usually become caught in a conversation with her while doing their duties. She nodded to the maid, who had resigned to the fact there was nothing to do in this room and swiftly departed, then followed the maid out the door, turning instead in the direction of the first floor library. The journey consisted of a long walk, through three floors of dusty, gloomy corridors. However, this was commonplace for the coming-of-age blonde and she strolled easily along the floorboards, zoning out on the world and allowing her mind to wonder what the Professor could want with her. Professor Lore had been the one professor she had been immediately drawn to, ever since she could speak. He had been supportive and understanding even when it seemed impossible. He could light up her most dreary day. She just hoped this one came under that category.
The musty scent of paper and aged wood hit Lara as she entered the first floor library. The first floor library was a tall, rarely occupied room, with tall columns, creaking floorboards, dusty bookshelves, and tiny lines of windows high up on one wall, from which sunlight danced into the room. Lara looked around for Professor Lore, taking a small step away from the doorframe. She heard breathing and turned to see her friend, and teacher sat by a table, smiling warmly at her.
"Come, sit down," he hummed in his deep, baritone voice. Lara beamed back at him, but the smile slipped from her face as she sat at the chair.
"Was there something you wanted from me, Sir?" she enquired, getting straight to the point.
"Not from you, in fact it's quite the opposite. And please, no need for formalities," he shook his head, forming the starts of confusion in the young girl's mind. "Tell me, Lara, what is tomorrow?" Lara's brow furrowed. Professor Lore was known for his unorthodox ways, but never had he asked her what tomorrow was.
"I-I don't know," she stuttered. Then it dawned on her. "I turn 18. That's what you mean, isn't it?"
"Yes. And I thought," he pulled a piece of paper out of the pile beside him, "you ought to know something," he took a small breath, and was just about to begin once more, when a hand reached down and tapped his shoulder. Lara's eyes followed the delicate fingers of the hand, all way up the slim arm, to see the gentle features of Professor Malin. Her long auburn hair cascaded down her shoulders, standing out against her spotless white blouse. The black skirt she wore hugged her curves, and matched the polished black heels that were on her feet. Behind her stood Professor Gabriel, whose surname was actually Gabriel (contrary to popular belief), though Lara had never been interested enough to discover his forename. He was the exact opposite of Professor Lore-meaning he was something close, in Lara's opinion, to the embodiment of the world's unhappiness. He took great pleasure patrolling the corridors daily, and she'd heard some of the older students calling him 'The Hawk'. Of course, she had never called him that herself.
Professor Malin greeted Professor Lore with a smile, while Professor Gabriel only grunted, completely disregarding Lara.
"We'd like a word," Professor Malin said in her usual, silky tone. "If it's not too much trouble, of course." she added, noticing that Professor Lore and Lara were occupied.
"Of course it's not too much trouble, I'll be a minute," he told the pair cheerfully, and turned to Lara, giving her an apologetic look, and gathering his papers up. He sent one last nod her way, then he was gone. She sat there, lost as to what to do, when a speck of black and white on the floor caught her eye. Striding over, she scooped it up. It was some kind of record. She scanned it. The paragraphs seemed endless, it would take a lot of time to read, what if somebody found her in here? A small section had been circled with ink.
'Avin, Of age, Residence at Avorlina, Arrived 1995.'
The second line was an utter mess, making it almost impossible to decipher.
"What does it mean?" she puzzled. For a moment, the words floated around in her head, refusing to connect to any idea, any chain of thought. She tried and tried, but to no avail. Giving in, she read the next line.
'Operation Experiment 19092'
An experiment or an operation? Suddenly, a switch flipped in Lara's mind, and a not-so-pleasant light came on in her head. She was the person described in the first line, her surname was Avin, and she was going to be some kind of guinea pig for an experiment.