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Chapter Twenty-Three

I stirred when Echo jolted up in bed. His breathing was laboured, like he had gone and sprinted a mile. His fists bunched up the loose sheet under him as he worked to calm himself down. Sweat beaded on his forehead, running down to his chin.

“Nightmare?” Mumbling I pushed myself up and rubbed my eyes of sleep before touching his arm when he still had not answered. “Echo?”

“I...saw him.” His voice was quivering, filled with adrenaline.

“Saw who?” Moving my hand up to his shoulder, I used my other hand to move his head so he would look at me. His pupils were blown wide, body shaking.

“D-Damian. He had you in his arms. He was hurting you and I couldn’t help. He said... He said if I gave you up your punishment won’t be as harsh.”

“It was prob-” A sharp alarm cut me off, spinning lights flooding the room in shades of red. I could barely hear the others as they scrambled out of their beds and came to our area, their appearances haggard.

“This is not a drill, Gifted we are under attack!” Came Tango’s shout as he staggered into the room. “Grab everything you need; we are getting out of here.”

There was little else to say about our situation. Throwing the covers off, I jumped out of bed and grabbed the large military overnight bag we had each been given. Turning, I followed Echo’s lead and started shoving the civilian clothing into it then books and CDs which the others also did. There was no reason, even in this situation, to leave behind something we had just gotten and wanted to keep. There was no time to change out of our pyjamas or put on shoes even though we had tied at least two pairs each to the outside of our bags and had managed to gratefully stick another in our bags.

“Hurry, Alpha team is waiting out back with the Humvees. Come on, come on!” Tango held the door open, ushering out of the only place we knew to call ours. Our bare feet slapped against the tiles before being drowned out by the boots of soldiers rushing past us, rifles in hand and attack dogs right behind them with their handlers. This was real. This was actually happening right then and there and the adrenaline pumping through my veins with each step proved it.

“Who is attacking us?” Victor shouted, dashing behind Tango. We followed suit, forming a tight line behind him. Right then, I felt it, a slimy tentacle trying to dig its barbed hooks into my mind. He was here, but too far to actually sink in.

“Damian, he’s with Evolved,” I shouted, holding the strap of my bag tighter. “We have to run faster. If we get in range of him, we’re dead!”

As we jumped into a sprint down the hallway, I glimpsed a tear-streak face and a bird’s nest of pink hair. Cat was torn from her father, being hefted up into Murphy’s arms as she banged her fists onto his shoulder, a black collar around her neck. Lima watched as we rushed by, cocking his handgun with deft hands and turning to go down the hallway with his soldiers.

When we burst through the back doors, the Humvees were already revving with life. Gunshots could be heard in the distance, bombs sending loud thunder-like booms towards us. Somewhere in the mess of battle, Damian would be there, searching for me. Waiting to see me appear with the other Gifted. Instead, we were running with our tails between our legs, scrambling into the Humvees with trembling bodies.

“Where are we going?” Echo asked Kingston as the tyres kicked up gravel while gaining momentum as the front Humvee took off.

“Everest base. There is only one other person who has been allowed to know its whereabouts besides Lima and Tango. We need to get to her before Evolved,” Murphy explained. “I know it is not ideal but try to relax and rest, it’s going to be a long drive.”

I held Cat tighter at that, her head resting under my chin as I leaned back into Echo’s chest, his arms around my waist.

Cat had fallen asleep, exhausted by her crying. I was drifting in and out of consciousness as Echo brushed his fingers up and down my arm, his head against the window. Kingston and Murphy were locked in mumbled conversation, hints of an argument brewing by the rising of their tones but not enough to wake up Cat.

“How far do you think Evolved will go to get us?” Echo asked, hand squeezing my arm before dropping down to rest around my waist. Turning, I rested my cheek against his collarbone.

“Thanks to your past with them, they know you and Victor are some of the strongest Gifted. Damian will want to drive them into getting Alpha too as they have had dealings with him. I think they won’t stop until you are captured or they are dead,” Kingston answered, his voice strained even though his words seemed carefree.

“Everest base is secure and its location is only known by few that are in the public’s eye. All we can hope for is that you will be able to hone your powers faster there and learn more of hand-to-hand and marksmanship than back at the other base. If you are captured, I rather know that you can deal more damage than what comes at you,” Murphy stated, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Where are we going now then?” I asked, hugging Echo’s side as I felt my eyes closing.

“My sister’s.”
“My girlfriend’s.”

“Alpha, wake up, time to stretch.” Someone shook my shoulder until I groaned before leaving me alone. Stretching, I blinked my eyes open. My back ached from the curled-up position I had managed to get myself into, my right foot tingling with pins and needles. Echo was still next to me, his eyes closed and breathing slow.

“Echo,” Mumbling, I sat forward, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes before turning to him again, smiling. “Wake up Sleepy Head, let’s go and stretch.”

His eyelids fluttered open, bones cracking as he stretched. When his eyes focused on me, he pouted, acting like we weren’t in a Humvee running for our lives.

“What, no kiss?” Smirking, I leaned forward and pressed my lips to his, enjoying the way he gently kissed back, the softness of his lips taking my breath away.

“No, you’ll have to give me another.”

Rolling my eyes, I opened the Humvee door and jumped out, knees almost buckling if it were not for Echo grabbing me and helping me to stand upright. Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to drink in the cool breeze shifting through the leaves of the trees around us and the feel of the grass on my bare feet before opening my eyes and taking in the new environment.

The Humvees were parked in a line on the curb. Houses sprawled out in front of us from left to right with neatly trimmed yards and pristine flowerbeds adding their scents to the wind. The house we had stopped in front of had its lights on, the carved oak door wide open as a dark-skinned woman stood in front of Kingston in a light pink robe. Her arms were crossed, dyed lilac hair swept up in a messy bun as Kingston rapidly waved his hands around as he explained. Murphy was next to him, something furry squirming in his arms as he allowed a small smile onto his lips.

“Taylor, who is that?” I asked, not remembering what Kingston said back in the Humvee.

“That’s Magnolia Jones, Kingston’s adopted baby sister and Murphy’s love interest,” Taylor explained with a smirk before turning his attention to his mode of transport. Following his gaze, I watched as Axel pulled himself out of the Humvee and sank to the ground like goo and vomited. “He hates long drives. Despises it actually.”

“You mean he has car sickness. How has he managed to get this far in his military carrier when you guys travel so much?” Echo asked, looking unimpressed as Axel rolled over onto his back and stretched out, a large smile on his pale face.

“It’s a miracle really,” Neo answered, coming to join us. “He was so scrawny in high school and wore baggy clothing so much we thought he would chicken out on signing up. But when he did, I guess we saw a different side of him come out, including this one. Our first training exercise with long-hour driving gave our Drill Sargent a day to remember.”

Turning my eyes away from him, I looked for Victor, Rooi, Cat and Fox. When I found them, I felt relieved. They were standing near the first Humvee, throwing something between them. It was round, white and small but I never picked up what it was until it fell into the grass near us. It was a cricket ball. Picking it up, I felt its rough texture scrap against my palm from overuse. Before I could throw it back to them, there was commotion from the house.

Magnolia had disappeared, her house still lit up and the door wide open. It was not long until she appeared again now dressed in jeans, boots and a big, fluffy jacket. Behind her she pulled a large suitcase barely able to keep hold of the clothing inside and a low-hanging satchel over her shoulder, laden with unknown objects. She had switched off the lights and locked the door before coming to stand by her brother.

“Everyone back in the Humvees, we are off to the airport!” Tango called, emerging from the Humvee Victor and them were by. His head slightly tilted down as his gaze turned to Axel. “Someone pick up the sorry case too.”

“No, leave me be,” Axel groaned, curling into a ball. “You’ve tortured me for three hours already, is it not enough for you?”

“Sadly, you are just going to have to suffer a little bit more,” Taylor said amusedly, forcing Axel to stand up and move around the mess he had left. Begrudgingly, Axel allowed himself to be nudged back into his Humvee followed by a silent Cat.

“Magi is sitting in the back with you two, don’t be too lovey-dovey,” Kingston joked, smiling as he helped his sister load her suitcase in the back with our bags before closing the door once she was in.

“Magnolia Jones, combat journalist. A pleasure to be working with you.” She extended her hand which both Echo and I shook. “And that little furball in Ernest’s arms is Mistletoe. But we call him Missile for short. He doesn’t bite so feel free to pet him.”

“Ernest?” Echo gave Murphy a slow blinked glare before smiling, turning his head to face the window. “As long as the dog stays upfront, I don’t care.”

“Oh, Missile isn’t a dog...” Magnolia began but all it needed was for the pet to pop his head up from where he was hiding it for me to understand. Two bright-brown eyes were ringed by black which formed a bandit mask and creamy-brown fur that wrapped around his muzzle. Mistletoe was a raccoon.

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