When we emerged from the forest, we saw an awaiting Alpha team, tired Cat and anxious Tango, Missile and Magnolia. Rook did not waste time to hurry us along the stone path to where we would be staying. No one spoke as we walked, rather letting the crunching snow do all the talking instead. Even Missile stayed obediently silent as his fluffy head swivelled from side to side, black nose twitching with the new scents.
When Rook stopped, we were standing in front of a large log cabin. Its door carved with a growling wolf head in its middle and a deer skull mounted above it.
“Are you sure we can stay in one of these?” Kingston asked, glancing at the cabin, eyes calculating. “We don’t want to take up a warm space if the kids need it.”
“No one wants to stay in this one. The owner... He was a rough piece of work.” Rook eyed the door before turning her eerie gaze on us. “I will leave you to get comfortable. Rylan will most likely be the one who brings you supper.”
Rook touched Echo’s hand before leaving, her head lowered. When he opened his hand, there was a small precious stone gleaming with an etched V in its surface. Echo swallowed hard, keeping his glazed eyes forward.
“What are we waiting for?” Magnolia said softly. “Let’s go in, explore and stamp the snow off our boots.”
“Magnolia has a point. We don’t really have a home right now and this might be the first place that will welcome us all eventually,” Tango sighed, eyes portraying his exhaustion. “We’ve been given an opportunity, let’s not waste it.”
Gingerly, Tango took hold of the door handle, pulling it down. It clicked open before he pushed it in. Stale air greeted us as we shuffled in down two stone steps to the creaky wooden floor. Dropping my bag out of anyone’s way, I stood up and studied the interior.
Old furniture hid under yellowed sheets layered with dust. Above, spiderwebs decorated a chandelier made of horns. Another deer skull was mounted above the fireplace. The walls were of large logs, no sign of the elements outside coming in. At the back of the main room was the kitchen with thick layers of dust on its countertops and stove. A door near this led into the only bathroom, spiders scuttling away when I moved the shower curtain. Lastly were the wooden stairs leading to the second floor where all the bedrooms were.
Whoever the old owner was, his family was large. There were six in total. The two main were slightly bigger than the other four and kitted with queen-sized beds, musty smelling cupboards and unsteady bedside tables. Three rooms contained two single beds with both a cupboard and dresser. The last bedroom, the smallest, had one single bed and desk with a dresser acting as a bedside table. All the mattresses were also covered by yellowed sheets.
“The two main rooms will go to the two couples. I’ll take the room with the desk. The rest of you can sort it out. Everyone in agreement?” Tango, already halfway up the stairs, stared down. When no one said anything, he continued up with a failed attempt to hide his yawn.
Listening to him, I followed Murphy up the stairs with mine and Echo’s bags. Echo was sat outside in the cold still, wanting to be alone. When we came to stand by the first main room, Murphy strolled in, throwing his and Magnolia’s bags onto the bed, sending up a cloud of dust.
“The other one has a good view, you and Echo should take it,” He said before sneezing. He opened one of the windows quickly. Nodding, I continued to the end of the hallway, slipping into my new room.
Pulling off the sheet, I pushed the window open to allow fresh air to chase away the musty odour before ruffling through my bag to my sleeping bag. I laid it onto the side of the bed I claimed before sitting down. My stomach growled, it would have to wait for Rylan to swing by.
Sighing, I leaned my elbows onto my knees, resting my cheeks in the palms of my hand as I stared at the floor, allowing my mind to finally let the thoughts in my head to be heard and the images to play.
The last couple of days had been a whirlwind of emotions. There was no room for sorrow until now when there was no need to run and hide yet I found myself unable to show the emotion. Even though my heart felt like a weight in my chest, I found myself unable to cry, could not cry any more over Victor’s death. There were no more tears wanting to be shed just the continuous playing of the scene of him screaming, collapsing and dying. Then there was the rage and the screams of the men turning blood-curdling as their own bullets turned on them followed closely by jagged ice.
“Where’s your little soldier plaything?” Snapping my head up, I saw Damian in the doorway, hands in his pockets, hair dipping into his eyes. His mind brushed up against mine, no hooked tentacles trying to grab hold. Almost like he was trying to calm my rising panic.
“O-outside,” Muttering, I stood up slowly. “Are you really here this time?”
“No.” Damian’s face dropped with disappointment. “I sadly cannot escape this post Evolved has shoved me into. If I tried, they’d kill me.”
“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.” I came to stand in front of him as he rolled his eyes. “You could just control them and make the guards let you go, stop them from killing you even.”
“On the contrary.” Damian’s image flickered, revealing a dirty face, cheeks hollowed and cuts and bruises scattered over his body. His clothes were torn and his feet bare. Around his neck was a black collar. His silver eyes were dull, lifeless but the small smile on his lips brought a tiny glint of what they were back. Gulping, I found myself reaching out to touch his cheek.
“What’s happened to you?” My fingers phased through his cheek, but he still closed his eyes as if he could feel my touch.
“The new tech that’s being pumped out thanks to those scientists I told you about is beginning to give the nonpowered an advantage over us. It has caused quite a ruckus actually. Gifted in hiding are constantly being found and brought here.” Damian winced, eyes opening. “They are hurting us, torturing us until they get the reaction they want. I’m thankful your sensitive ears can’t hear the screams.”
“W-where are you, do you know?”
“Underground in the- Fuck, I can’t remember.”
“Can you smell anything?”
“The air here is salty, definitely by the sea. One of the guards complained about climbing through a hatch full of fish.”
“Did you see any landmarks?”
Damian flinched; his image distorted. When he came into focus, he was curled up, hands hiding his face. He whimpered as something hit him forcing him to curl further in on himself.
“Damian!” His eyes, fear clear in them, locked with mine before he melted away.
My knees gave out from underneath me and I fell heavily on my rear, eyes still fixed to the spot where Damian’s had stared up at me. Murphy came skidding into the room, Tango behind him. Murphy was the one to come crouch in front of me where Damian’s body had fallen.
“Kid, you okay?” My mouth opened but nothing came out.” What happened, you’re crying.”
Crying? Lifting my hand, I touched under my eye. Sure enough, it was wet with tears. Glancing again at the spot where Damian had been, I felt a lump form in my throat. Why was I acting like this? Damian was finally getting what he deserved so why was I crying? Why was I feeling like this?
“Hunter, seriously, answer. We’re worried.” Peering up at Tango’s worried face, I worked my jaw, trying to unglue my tongue from the roof of my mouth.
“D-Damian was here.”