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"Anything?" I shake my head. Ollie and I have been running down hallways and searching areas for any sign of Linda, but we've found nothing. We couldn't even pick up a scent trail which is frustrating, especially since we were running out of time. Although well hidden from plain sight, it's a surprisingly large hideout, housing many empty rooms. The walls were a mix of metal sheeting and natural rock while the floor was inlaid with long wooden planks. It seems to only have the bare necessities, meaning this must be a back-up base they don't use often. Sister wolf. Find. Now.
I take another whiff, picking up many different scents, but not the one I want. We've dodged most of the action when we first entered. Group A successfully took the brunt of their focus and manpower, leaving group B the freedom to move about with somewhat ease. Every now and then we would have to duck behind something or step over a body, but definitely nothing major. Ollie did try to go after a guy, but one reminder of our goal and she begrudgingly left him alone for another wolf to deal with.
"Ollie," I whisper-yell. "We need to split up!" She halts, mid-run and I almost plow into her. She narrows her eyes at me.
"Like hell that's going to happen!"
"Listen!" I say quickly, talking over her. "This place is huge and we have about five minutes or less left to look around. We will cover more ground if we split up!" She doesn't say anything, precious time ticking away. "For Linda."
"Dammit, Lia! That's a low-blow." She hesitates. "Argh! Fine! But your ass better meet me back here when we're called to retreat, got it? And avoid Colton at all costs. He's going to fucking kill me!" I nod, heading down a random corridor while she went the other way. Sister wolf.
I look in more rooms, again each one bare, taunting me. Linda, where are you? I'm sweating, my legs tired and my lungs on fire, but I can't afford to slow down. Go! Run. Find. As I round another corner, something hits me square in the chest, making me fall flat on my butt. I look up, freezing. Fear shoots through me as I lock eyes with a hunter. Crap.
I scramble to my feet, but he's quicker, throwing a punch. He hits my cheek so hard, my eyes water. Fight. Strong. My wolf growls, teeth seething and fur raised. Win. Fight. He throws another punch, but this time I dodge, kicking my leg out. It connects with the back of his knee and he falters, cursing at me. I recoup quickly, turning so I'm facing him. Everything Dodd crammed into me during our training sessions explodes, my mind racing to find the next best move.
He's a beefy guy, maybe late twenties. His brown hair is slicked back into a ponytail while his blood-shot eyes are looking at me with disdain. He's wearing a tight-fitting tank top, revealing arms covered in scars of different sizes. In other words, he's trouble. He spits at me, eyebrows drawn. "Come over here, bitch!"
I have to do something fast or I won't have any more time to search for Linda. Dagger. Hit. My wolf gives me a nudge of encouragement and I instinctively pull it out of my pocket. I really didn't want to use this, but it may be my quickest option. "Well, well," the hunter says, eyeing my weapon of choice. "Looks like they let you play with some toys a little above your...skill." He laughs. "Don't cut yourself, sweetie. Would hate to have you die by your own hand." I ignore him, sprinting forward while he's a little distracted.
He sees me, reaching out to stop me, but at the last second, I crouch. Do it. Sister wolf. Needs us. I aim for his foot, but he reacts faster than I expect, shifting it slightly to the right. My blade grazes the side and I jump away, missing my opportunity.
"Gold star for effort," he says mockingly. Again. Hunt. Kill. I watch him, waiting for an opening. He sneers, impatient. "Die, bitch!" He pulls out what looks to be a dart and throws it my way. I move, angling to the side and then quickly advancing forward before he can do anything more. In a rapid succession, he continues to pull these darts out of what seems to be thin air and throws them at me. Luck is on my side and I manage to avoid all of them until he's out of stock. He swings his arms instead since I'm basically upon him, connecting with my shoulder hard, but I keep going. Do it. I nick his leg, continuing down until finally hitting my true aim. The dagger goes through his foot with unsettling ease. He screams in pain, falling back and I make my getaway.
I don't know where I am going at this point, just running. I have to get as far away from the hunter as possible. Everything blurs past me until I hear or see nothing. When I finally slow to catch a breath, I'm in a dank hallway with several ominous looking doors. Scanning my surroundings, I'm a lot further into the base than I had planned on going. The noise from the raid is a mere whisper over here, so I will have to take caution on listening for the retreat call. I take a sniff, sorting through all the new scents. My nostrils flare when I finally find her.
Sister wolf. My head snaps over to one of the end doors. I rush over, feeling my pockets for the thin lock-picking key we were all given at some point in time before the raid. Colton had given me a quick practice session yesterday after my evening spar. It was pretty easy to learn and I got the hang of it after my fourth try. I slide it in, wiggling my hand in different motions and listening for the master click. Hurry. Sister wolf. It feels like an eternity, but the lock finally gives and the door swings open.
"Linda?" I'm not prepared for what I see. She's huddling in the corner with a young pup. The girl peeks at me through her hair with scared eyes and as I get closer, I can see she's shaking. However, Linda is the opposite...she's not reacting to me in the slightest. "Linda?" Her blue eyes are glazed, her long blond hair now a mismatched afro, she's covered in fresh wounds, and she seems thinner, if that's even possible, than the last time I saw her. I bite back tears as seeing her like this is overwhelming. This is not the strong, gentle, and optimistic Linda I know. To distract myself, I focus on the girl. Maybe she can help me.
"Hi," I say softly. "Don't be afraid. I've come to rescue you. My name is Talia and I'm a friend of Linda's." She cocks her head to the right, getting a better look at me. I can see recognition in her eyes, meaning she must have heard of me before. "We don't have a lot of time, but I think I'm going to need your help." I motion towards our dazed friend. "Can you do that?" She slowly nods, relaxing a little. She turns and reaches up a small hand, gently touching Linda's cheek.
"L-linda. It's time to go. Your friend came to save us." The girl looks back at me. "Talia is here." Linda blinks, frowning.
"No, no. Lia is far away from here." Her voice is light and airy as if she's half-asleep. "She's safe."
"Linda, look! She's right there!" Linda doesn't even blink. Help. Sister wolf. Go now. My wolf's right. Despite everything, the best way we can help is to get Linda out of here. We'll work on everything else later. I cautiously come closer, trying not to spook them and wrap Linda's arm over my shoulders. The girl understands what I am trying to do and does her best to help on the other side. Despite my aching muscles and my short little helper, it's not hard to move Linda along.
I strain my ears, listening for the raid that's far away. I try not to think about the other doors next to Linda's. I know some of them are empty...but not all. I just don't have enough strength or time to try and rescue them as well. Sister wolf. Matters. Go. We back track, walking down hallways that I don't even recall running in, but each step gets us closer and closer to where we need to be. About halfway, I hear the bird calls. The girl perks up, looking over to me.
"That's our cue to hurry. Can you go a little faster?"
"I'll try!" We awkwardly pick up the pace and even though we're not going as fast as we probably should be, it's better. Ollie is probably freaking out right now, but hopefully when she sees I've found Linda, all will be forgiven. Hurry. Run. We keep trekking along, turning corners, passing fallen bodies, down long hallways, and even up a set of stairs. I don't know how late we are, but when I finally spot Ollie, I let out a huge breath of relief.
"Ollie!" She turns, finding us.
"Shit!" She yells out before running over to help. "Why does she look like the living dead?" She looks up at my face, narrowing her eyes. "Why do you look like that?"
"I'll explain everything later. Let's go!" Ollie takes over for the girl and we easily carry Linda the rest of the way out. I guess fate really is on our side today. When we're far enough away, shrouded by some thick forest, we all just crumble to the ground - exhausted. Sister wolf. Ours. United. We had done it. We rescued Linda. I break out into a smile and I can see Ollie following suit.
"Well," she says. "You almost made me shit my pants when you didn't show for a while, but you did it! You got our girl back!"
"I promised, didn't I?" We both start to laugh hysterically, our nerves fried and adrenaline running its course. It takes me awhile to remember the girl's presence, but when I finally do, she's leaning against a tree trunk with her eyes closed. "Hey!" She cracks her eyes open, meeting my gaze. "I never did get your name."
"Thank you for your help, Anna." She shakes her head, brushing off my words.
"No, no. I should be thanking you. Linda said people were looking for her and I'm so grateful that she was right. Thank you for rescuing us."
"Anytime, kid" Ollie says. "Anytime."
Colton immediately comes over when we reach the rendezvous point, his face angry and concerned. Ollie gives me an "uh-oh" look before taking Linda and walking towards the make-shift infirmary. There are a lot of wounded wolves around, some with fresh bruises and small cuts while others are missing whole limbs. I look Colton over, but don't see any obvious injuries. Mate. Safe. Strong.
"Lia," he says tightly. I can tell he's trying to reign his temper in. "For the love of-" I don't let him finish, flinging myself into his arms. He instinctively wraps his arms around me, holding me as I hug him. From his posture, I can tell he's surprised and if I wasn't in such a good mood - I would be mortified.
"We found her," I half whisper, half shout in his ear, excited. "She's safe." He lets out a breath, eventually putting me down so he can look me in the eyes again.
"I'm glad," he says. "But don't scare me like that. I was about to run back in there with everyone causing World War III. You had me worried sick."
"I'm sorry," I reply. "I really am, but I did say I could handle myself. I think you need to have a little more faith."
"Lia, I could have all the faith in the world, but that doesn't negate the worry at the back of my mind when everyone's been accounted for except you and Ollie. Brother wolf was on edge and I may have snapped at some others unintentionally. I just-" He pauses, trying to finish his thought. "I just didn't know. You've been through a lot and everything has been crazy since we've met. It hasn't been lost on me that we still have a long way to go." I don't know what to say. I'm kind of in shock that he would even admit such a thing. Is this the power I have of being an alpha's mate? He can be….normal? How do I respond? I open my mouth, saying the first thing that comes to mind.
"Mhm. Take me on a date, Mr. Alpha. I may be behind on social cues and etiquette, but I believe that's a good place to start."
"Is that an order?" I give a small, coy smile. I don't know where this is all coming from, but it felt good. My wolf yips in agreement. Strong. Us.
"Yes." I can see his eyes flash gold real quick before returning to blue. It should scare me, but instead, it's kind of thrilling.
"As you wish." We don't get a chance to keep talking or flirting or whatever we're doing as Collin comes barreling over, almost falling over his lanky self. He's a little banged up, but all major limbs are still intact. He gives me a look, already knowing she's here by my scent. I motion towards the open tent where Ollie took her and Collin makes his way over.
I quietly watch him approach, his face transforming from the usual stoic nature to a raw tenderness anyone would die for in a partner. Linda is sitting on a small stool, still unresponsive. Collin doesn't seem to notice or care and kneels next to her. He whispers something to her before pulling Linda into a gentle hug. His face is buried in the crook of her neck, but looking close enough, you can tell he's crying.
Linda's head is limp, leaning against his. She blinks occasionally, but her eyes are staring off into nothing. I don't know if she really understands what's happening in the present time, but I hope she at least unconsciously processes that she's safe. No hunter can hurt her now. Look.
I don't see anything afoot, but my wolf keeps my attention. Look. I squint, trying to focus more. I'm staring at them so long that my eyes start to ache. I'm about to give up when I see it. Linda's right arm gives a very noticeable twitch. I take a breath, holding it. Moments tick by and I don't know how long I'm waiting in anticipation, but finally, she slowly raises her arms, returning Collin's embrace. And although she is further away, I can hear the next three words perfectly as if she is saying them directly to me: "You found me."