Chapter 22

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Everyone seemed to react before Sara. She was left stood on her own as the others charged after their betrayer. She cursed, taking to the sky, fighting with all of her available strength to catch up. The rush of wind past her face was enough to pull her from her fear and bring her into an exhilarating free-fall. Her wings caught the air when she was a matter of inches away from Fox, and she was leading the hybrids once again.

   “Fox,” Sara shouted, “don’t do this.”

   “It’s too late, Sara,” Fox replied, throwing a cruel stare at her from over her shoulder, “you’re as good as dead now anyway.”

   Sara lunged forwards with a sudden jolt of her feathered limbs. She was close enough to reach out and touch Fox, and so she tried, stretching her arms forwards. Her fingers grazed the rough material of her vest, but Fox ducked out of reach before she could grip. Sara’s shoulders were pumping her wings at a rate so quick that her back burned. She was out of breath despite the heavy pants that escaped her lips; soon she would be unable to sustain her flight and fall.

   If she was going to catch her, it was going to have to be another way. She coiled her body up, kicking downwards at a non-existent surface to propel herself into the air. All around her was sky, which was tainted by a small black dot in the distance. Sara settled into a rhythm as she watched it come ever closer, finally beginning to take shape. She squinted, able to make out the wings of some form of plane, along with a shiny, tinted window stretching across the front.

   As it got closer, Sara got increasingly worried. She couldn’t draw her gaze away from the airborne chunk of intimidating metal. It was moving at such a rate that she could almost read an inscription running along the front, underneath the window she’d noticed before. It was in in metallic paint, but stood out against the dark exterior due to the electric blue colouring. She squinted again, ignoring the chaos unfolding metres below as Fox made it to the forest. After all, she was the least of their problems now. Printed clearly, in the metallic blue paint, was the word ‘Justice’.

   Sara’s wings stopped beating, becoming frozen and lifeless. The colour drained from her face as if she’d been destroyed from the inside. Slowly, she fell, as if in slow motion. It was a dramatic scene to witness from those who were waiting on the ground below. Devin whirled around in time to catch her in his outspread arms, crying out her name in a terrified tone. His shaky hands smoothed the curls out of her face as her eyes flickered open, meeting his in a moment of pure recognition.

   “We’re all going to die,” Sara said softly.

   Devin’s eyes widened for an instant before he settled on the fact. He glanced up, fixing his gaze on the aircraft in the distance. Then he nodded in realisation. He took a deep breath as the full force of what was happening settled on him; upon the exhale he had accepted that his life might end in the next few minutes.

   “Hybrids,” he bellowed out, “look to the skies for the real danger.”

   With all thoughts of Fox forgotten, everyone looked up. One by one, the knowledge of what was coming dawned on them. Some glanced around for support, and others held their hands together in prayer, but most simply nodded. They’d been through so much, together and alone, that whether they lived or died made no difference anymore. They just knew that if they were going down, they’d take as much as the enemy with them as they could.

   Sara felt a stab of pride as she watched them brace themselves. The best fighters clenched their fists and tensed their shoulders. The best adapted found positions in which they were comfortable, keeping their eyes on the approaching enemy. Sara lifted herself from Devin’s arms, lightly touching his shoulder in thanks, before dropping into a crouch with her wings outstretched.

   Devin had to admit that she looked lethal. Every muscle in her body was tensed, and she was completely focused on what could happen next. Her balance was perfect despite the uneven ground. Beside her was Erika, who had pulled her hair back into a messy bun. She and Ruby were both poised, nervous and trembling but completely alert. Jay was rigid, with his long claws extending from each finger. His palms were flat, providing a larger surface area for his claws – his only form of defence. As for Callum, he was with Eva who was holding the pistol. She hadn’t fled with her sister, and instead was strapping a knife to Callum’s arm so that he could get to it easily. They were both worried but concealed it behind fake smiles, plastered on their faces like cheap makeup.

   “Good luck,” Sara whispered to the crowd around her.

   “You too,” Ruby hissed back.

   Sara smiled as the almighty craft began to descend, whipping up the dust all around them into a vicious whirlwind. Her wings beat against the tiny flying grains, blasting them away from the group. Without the motion, it would have been a sandstorm, shredding their skin as if it were nothing but paper. Devin sighed gently.

   “If only everything were that easy,” he said.

   The ship landed with a dull, anticlimactic thud. The churning of the engines came to an abrupt stop, leaving the hybrids with a precious moment of complete silence. The calm before the storm. Then, two heavy doors sprang outwards, folding up until they were horizontal, like a second pair of wings. Out of the doors, black figures began to appear, forming row after row of pure fear.

   Each machine was made from black steel with small blue lights for eyes. They reminded Sara of the crystal-like oceans that she’d visited when she was a child – before Calox had taken her. She shook away the thought; now was not the time to be sentimental. Instead, she fixed her eyes on the rows of machines, watching carefully for any sign of the first strike.

   Erika glanced up at her, deep eyes filled with sorrow. Sara knew in that moment that the first strike wasn’t coming from the enemy. With no further warning, Erika ran through the crowd, her light feet dancing across the ground as she ran. Her hair sailed along behind her, billowing in an unforgiving wind. She was heading straight for the first machine on the right, supressing every instinct screaming in her mind to stop. It was a suicide mission, she’d heard the other hybrids say it time and time again. Only now did she think that maybe she’d found her place among them. It had always been leading up to this.

   Within seconds, she was close enough to see the bulbs embedded in the artificial eye sockets. They were more off-putting than she’d imagined, probably put in place to add an essence of humanity to the machine. Erika shook off the idea that such a creature was anything remotely close to a human and leapt, taking off from her left foot. She swung around, angling her right foot straight into the chest of the machine. It crumbled slightly against her weight, falling backwards like a domino.

   The machine behind it acted with an instinct that seemed too real to have been programmed. It reached out with its long, metal arms, and caught the falling machine. Erika perched on its chest, looking straight into the eyes of its saviour. It tilted its head at the sight of her, scanning her body to determine how much of a threat she was. Inside the head of the machine, thousands of impulses fired along a multitude of lifeless cables as it registered that Erika was unarmed and a few years away from adulthood.

   “Teenage mutants,” the machine declared in a cold, robotic voice.

   With one ruthless motion, it released one arm from the half-fallen machine and swept it into Erika’s chest, blasting her away into the dust. The impact was not designed to kill her, but the position in which she hit the ground forced her neck to snap with a sickening crack. Callum gasped at the sound, looking away in disgust.

   Suddenly, Sara’s decision was very easy: “Hybrids, attack!”

   Hesitation was non-existent as the united group charged as one, only beginning to slowly separate into two groups as they got closer to the rounded front of the aircraft. Devin led the team on the right, and Sara took the team on the left – two natural leaders with their own private armies.

   “For Erika,” Devin cried, leaping in amongst the motionless machines.

   “For Erika,” the crowd echoed.

   They were running headfirst into destruction. 

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