As we walked, I studied the walls and ceiling of the cavern. A geokinetic, most likely Rook, had made sure the walls were made of solid stone and the ceiling rough like it had been hit with shotcrete. The ground we trod on was well worn, fine dust lifting up as we followed.
“You must travel through this underground system frequently,” Neo noted, voice echoing, hand coming to relax on Cat’s shoulder.
“There are many passages that are linked to here. In the beginning, we lived underground,” Rylan started, words resonating with nostalgia. “We were only five back then, big dreams of wanting to be alive. When we started going out and rescuing Gifted, we knew we needed a bigger place for all of us to hide. We ended up moving upwards.”
“You make it sound like we have been doing this for years,” Rook snorted, head swivelling around as she walked as if she was jotting down any weaknesses in her work.
“How many of you are now living in the compound?” Tango asked. Both Rylan and Rook went silent. The only sound was that of our boots scraping against the ground, small stones clacking around. Only Taylor was willing to break it by clearing his throat.
“That bad, huh?” His words drew a heavy sigh from Rylan.
“Yes. The weather has taken a larger toll on us than I wanted to admit. I wanted us to sound stronger, but at the end of the day, all of us are children fighting an adult’s war.”
“We are twenty-five strong. Ten are children who escaped from the comas and the rest of us are teenagers. As Rylan said, the winter here has slowed us down, but the soldiers have taken several of our people from us, killing them as a warning not to come back to the States.” Rook abruptly stopped, glancing up. “We are here.”
Glancing around, I saw no evidence of a way out or what signified this as the spot to stop. Only when I felt a vague sense of metal above did I realise where we were. The compound was just above us, the dull pulse of electricity becoming stronger the longer we stood there.
“I need you guys to move closer, we’re going to ascend,” Rook stated, spreading her arms out with palms facing down. We all crowded closer as the ground began to shake. Cracks erupted around us before the jagged circle of rock we were on started to rise.
Peering at Rook, her eyes had turned black, concentration clear on her face. Rylan was at her side, his expression that of seriousness. They were used to this, coming back from missions and using their tunnels to find their way home. The pattern was obviously burned into their minds, the difference this time was that we were here and so was Alpha team.
When I looked up, it was to the sound of the ceiling above breaking apart. Fresh air pooled down, the cold hitting us like a wall. Snowflakes drifted down in spirals with the sound of children’s laughter and a young woman’s voice shouting for them to come back inside. Her voice held laughter too. As we crested the top, Rylan spoke, pride clear in his voice.
“Welcome to Camp Dragonfly.”
The change in light forced me to squint until my eyes adapted to the change. We found ourselves in the middle of a cluster of buildings. They were riddled with metal pieces and buzzing with life but the way they were created made me step back. The walls that had been raised were fixed to the ground by the work of a geokinetic, the edge melding with the stone courtyard. Holes for the windows were created seamlessly with glass sitting comfortably inside. The doors were made of wood, also happily placed into doorways.
The next thing to catch my attention was the smell of food. Fresh bread and roasting meat wafted out the building in front of us, the one where the kids had scrambled into as we came up from the cavern below. The sound of cheerful chatter came from inside. It was like they had all forgotten about the threats the world we were in now provided. Even some older kids were making their way to the building, shuffling through the snow too busy in conversation to notice us until one girl did.
“Soldiers!” She screeched, causing her friends to freeze for only a second before they all jumped into defensive positions. The girl, hair a dark green and eyes black like a shark’s, shot out her hand, an arc of electricity zipping towards us.
I moved quickly, throwing out my own wave of electricity. Both attacks clashed, cancelling each other out. When the wave dispelled, the girl was up in the air with her friends, kicking their feet out as their arms were pinned to their sides. Cat stood next to me, gaze glowing with hate at the green-haired girl.
“Easy everyone,” Rylan said, coming out from behind Alpha team with Rook. The group hanging in the air had their eyes wide open as they stared down at him, their tongues tied or maybe Cat was just keeping their jaws shut. “Telekinetic, let go of them, please.”
“As long as this one knows that the next time, she tries to electrocute us, I will snap her neck like a twig,” Cat growled, squeezing her hand into a small fist and expelling a yelp from the green-haired girl.
“I second that.” Releasing the tension in my shoulders I glared at the Gifted in front of us. Cat dropped her arms causing them to fall onto unsteady legs and land on their arses.
“Rook, can you take these guys to their cabins?” Rylan sighed, rubbing his temples. “I’ll go into the food house and explain things before this happens again.”
Rook nodded, holding her chin high as she gestured for us to follow. We did so but as we passed the fallen Gifted, I let off a burst of steam, scaring the other girl.
Rook took us down a hidden path under the snow, weaving through trees until it opened up again to show scattered cabins under tall trees. Some, that I presumed for underground houses, had antlike openings into the ground, almost like an opening to a mineshaft in some cases. Above the doors were either numbers or surnames making each place known from the other. Only here were there prominent paths branching off a large main one to the cabins. Rook abruptly stopped then, glancing to her right to a much smaller path weaved through the dense trees.
“Would... Would you like to bury your friend now?” Her voice was gentle, careful as if she was stepping around broken pieces of glass. We were all silent, maybe scared to break the calm we had settled ourselves into on our way here.
“Y-yes.” Finally, Echo mumbled an answer, peering at Kingston who nodded. Dropping his bag, Echo took Victor from him and gazed towards Rook.
“Some of my people won’t be happy knowing that soldiers, good or not, came into the graveyard. Can only the Gifted come?”
“Of course. Leave your bags here with us. Take your time and come out when you feel ready, we will wait here,” Tango said, placing a hand on Cat’s shoulder, he gave a small smile. When I looked at Cat, her face was pale and her breathing fast, sweat sat frozen on her red cheeks. Lifting up those Gifted must have pushed her limits.
“This way, please.” Rook started walking again, not waiting for us to slip off our bags. Quickly we did so before rushing to follow her. The trees grew denser than we had encountered, the twisting roots preventing a straight path to be made. Even with the constant curve in our walk, both Echo and Rook walked their heads held high.
I lost myself as we walked, forgetting for a split second where we were until I stumbled into Echo’s back. He had stopped right in front of me. Apologising, I moved to his side. The sight I saw made my jaw drop.
There were large gaps between the trees allowing for the seven graves to be placed apart from each other but still close enough to link them as one. Fairy lights were strung up on branches, hanging down like vines in some patches, giving off a dim light. Sconces were attached to trunks holding lit torches above the graves. On the upturned soil of the graves lay freshly picked flowers ranging from different colours. No plaque marked which grave belonged to which deceased, only those who knew them and were there for the burial would know.
“On our way here, I thought this spot would be best for him. If it were me, this would be my grave spot.” Rook was gazing over an open grave. Tree roots twisted around the top, light blue flowers poking through the snow on its sides. By the tree it was close to was a birdbath elaborately made so it poured over the side into another small pool. The water made a soothing bubbling sound, steam rising above it so the cold would not freeze it.
“He would have chosen the same,” Fox muttered, placing his hand onto his sister’s shoulder. Rooi glanced up at him with a small smile. Echo nodded, slowly lowering Victor into the grave. A stone slate started to form under him as Echo let out a deep breath. The ice around Victor’s body melted away.
His face was still resting peacefully, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. The sides, under his hairline, tinged blue like his lips. His clothes stuck to him, showing off his physique but no bullet wound or blood from that night. If anyone else had seen him right now, they would have thought he was sleeping.
“Would you like to say anything?” Rook stood with her hands clasped in front of her, eyes glassy.
“I... I think Vic knew he would be the first one of us to go, he joked about it, but still kept on a brave face when it happened. Growing up with him, he was the same way. Even in death, he was strong. At least now, he can finally rest in peace knowing that his body did not land up in a lab,” Echo said, breathing raggedly. “He would not have changed anything if it meant we were all safe.”
Rook took her own deep breath when no one else spoke. She slowly moved her hand, the soil around the grave pouring in to cover Victor. She then bent down, making three holes in the middle of the grave. She dropped three seeds before covering them.
“I will get a torch for him later. For now, let’s get you guys settled.”