I found myself holding onto Echo as we huddled in the cabin of the boat with the others while Rook and Kingston navigated the treacherous waters above. Rylan stood in front of us, a map spread on the table facing him. I could see how he and Echo were related. They both had the same stern nose and high cheekbones as well as held themselves reservedly when talking seriously.
“This has been troubling me. How have you managed to keep this base of yours functioning during the harsh winter? The placement of your HQ is far from any town, so supplies must be hard to come by, right?” Axel muttered. “You are either a genius or a moron.”
“Rook said the same thing in the beginning, but the forests of Canada are nice and dense, giving us perfect cover. As for the supply situation, many of the parents who have children with us keep in contact, sending supplies as often as possible, including warm clothing. Thanks to certain Gifted though, we are able to grow our own food,” Rylan explained, chestnut-brown eyes glancing over us. They seemed to linger on me before he continued. “The problem is, we are an illegal homestead and are starting to receive more notice by the government. We desire protection, but they won’t listen to us unless...”
“Unless we speak to the president for you,” Tango muttered, crossing his arms over his chest as another choppy wave bashed against the boat, water rising over the portholes in its attempt to find a way in.
“Yes.” A tic formed in Rylan’s jaw as he turned to Tango, bowing his head in mock surrender. “We want them to help, but we have no one to represent us and show we mean no harm.”
“The news has already placed you in a bad light with your attacks in Chicago, Seoul and Cape Town. How are you gonna change their minds that you don’t mean harm with how reckless you have been?” I asked, feeling Echo’s arms tighten as another harsher wave hit us. Rooi banged her head on the wall behind her, Fox bringing her closer to him as she whimpered.
“We were getting our kind back, thank you,” Rylan stated with a simple shrug before lowering his chin. “Some of us have been sold, scattered around the world in abusive homes. You obviously did not know that that was happening to us, I’m sure since you’ve been with these boys not being raped or forced to kill.”
At his words, I raised an eyebrow and started laughing. I could feel Echo’s own anger before he began cooling the temperature of the cabin. Rylan glared at me, Tango watching with a calculative stare.
“Just because we all ended up with the good guys does not mean we were always with them, asshole. Evolved dealt us some shitty cards, but being saved from your abusive owner before he does something, I know that feeling well. So, do me a favour, don’t jump to conclusions when you play that card with the president,” I growled, standing up and pressing my palms on the table, smoke rising from between my fingers. “You got it?”
“Point taken, no need to burn the boat,” Rylan muttered as the smell of gasoline filled the room. “Please, fire won’t help us any if you burn a hole into the boat and we flood.”
Snorting, I sat back down, eyeing the singed handprints in the table. For someone who wanted a fight, Rylan backed down pretty fast. Shaking my head, I leaned into Echo, allowing his cool body to bring mine back down. Tango cleared his throat before continuing the brainstorm for the best way to the Canadian base.
Sighing, I stared out the porthole opposite me. The waves were chaotic, tossing us around as we fought our way to land. If Victor had been alive still, he would have tested his gift against the wild currents. He would have been grinning as sweat beaded his forehead, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
The plane shuddered as we hit turbulence, Carlos’s voice crackling out the speakers as he reassured us that the flight would be steady soon even though the plane’s skeleton complained about the struggle to stay in the air. From Fox’s expressions, the wind was not in agreement either.
We had been lucky to find him refuelling at a private airport in Durban and he was happy to smuggle us out of the country amongst his newly acquired cargo crates. Though, we did have a scare when security did a surprise check on the hold, forcing us to climb into the crates. Victor’s body, thankfully, was left alone under the tarp Kingston had placed him under. When it was all clear, we crawled out, choosing to stick close to the crates.
“Babe, I think you need to sleep,” Echo whispered, bumping my shoulder with his. Glancing at him, I saw the dark circles under his eyes and the tired smile he wore. Nodding, I snuggled into his side, his arm coming around me as we rested against the crate. In a way, I half expected Damian to show up sitting in front of us but I couldn’t imagine what his eyes would hold... Would it be menacing with the thought that I had left him or encouragement that we were trying to form a new life for ourselves and our kind?
When I woke up, Kingston was crouched in front of us. His face was grim as he touched our ankles before sending a glance towards the waking group. When he turned to us again, his dark eyes held sadness.
“Rook has offered to help us bury Victor with some of their dead outside the compound. He was closest to you, Echo, what would you like us to do when we get there?”
Echo stared at the floor, the whites of his eyes turning light pink as he held back tears. His hand squeezed mine as he swallowed hard against the lump forming in his throat before looking up at Kingston.
“We can bury him when we get there, give him a proper send-off, y’know?” Echo tried to smile but it wavered. Kingston nodded, giving his ankle a squeeze before looking at me.
“You should start getting ready, put on some warm clothes and shoes, it’s snowing outside. Powers or not, I don’t want either of you getting sick, got it?”
We both nodded at his words, standing up on unsteady legs and opening up our bags. As we threw on our jackets and laced up our boots, Rook came to our side of the plane. She was wearing a borrowed jacket from Rooi, her hair hanging loosely around her face. Her eerie purple eyes were trained on a spot behind us as she tucked her hands into her jean pockets.
“Thank you for the rescue back there, I don’t think I really said that yet.” Her mouth twitched as if she was deciding if she wanted to smile or not. She chose the latter. “I heard Kingston told you about what I offered, I hope you don’t mind. I thought it would be good since you have a new place to call home.”
“A new place to call home?” I asked, standing up straight. She nodded with a shrug. “What... What is it like?”
“You’ll fit right in, but I’m worried about the soldiers. Some of the younger ones have not had the best experiences with soldiers,” Rook said, puffing out her cheeks. “But there is enough space for everyone to have their own cabin at least, so they can hide if needed. You guys, I guess, will stay in one of the big cabins, altogether?”
“If we can, we rather not be split up any time soon if you ask me,” Echo stated, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “Let’s get going before the weather gets worse.”
Rook nodded, looking grateful at the end of the conversation. Slinging my own bag onto my shoulders, I followed as everyone hobbled down the ramp where Carlos and Tango were waiting. He acknowledged us as we passed him, following Kingston who carried Victor. Magnolia kept close to her brother, arms holding onto Missile while Murphy walked next to her. Axel, Taylor and Neo huddled together, whispering about our new destination. Fox, Cat and Rooi walked behind us, Rylan seeming to look over our group before whistling.
Rook, at the sound, stopped in her tracks before stomping her left foot down and thrusting her hands in front of her. The snow-covered ground folded like tinfoil, forming a gaping hole in the ground. With a wave, Rook descended into darkness.
“This is the fastest and warmest way to the compound unless you want to test your metal against our winter,” Rylan called as he edged to the hole. At our reluctance, he smirked. “Don’t tell me you’re all chicken?”
“We aren’t, we just don’t all like cramped spaces,” Magnolia stated, hugging Missile closer. “We’ll be right behind you, so go.”
Rylan did not need another word before sidestepping into the hole. With a grudging step, Echo and I were next. The earth swallowed us whole, attacking our senses with scents of soil and racking our bags with stones. Someone above me shouted before going silent. When the tunnel stopped, my feet hit gravel and I collapsed onto my knees. Glancing around, I saw we had entered a well-lit cavern.
“Just a little further and we will be home,” Rook stated, brushing soil off her shoulders.