Warlands of Song

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Chapter Twenty-Four: Saige

She’d never been a fan of school, but she was so excited to sit down and give her body a rest that she didn’t mind the setting. At least it wasn’t an actual classroom. Instead, she’d been dropped off by Carter at the library with a simple warning to behave before he left her to wait for her teacher. She could only hope her teacher wouldn’t hate her guts. A small hope.

A few people sat scattered throughout the room with her. Many had left when she’d arrived, but the others just gave her wary looks and moved short distances away. That they hadn’t all left gave her some hope. Things were changing.

She’d been out and about on the base for about a week. At first everyone avoided her like a pariah, save the undercover bullies who spoke about her under their breath. But now, no one talked about her while she was around. They either left, or they stayed. But they didn’t approach her either.

She rubbed at her arms. Why they had the air conditioning on was beyond her. It was already in the negatives. And they all wore short sleeves, if any. The jacket she’d been issued did little to protect her from the frigidity. In hindsight, she should have taken the coat offered. Why did she have to be so stubborn?

The library door opened behind her—why did Carter force her to sit where she couldn’t see oncoming threats—but she didn’t turn around. She refused to show fear. Everyone in the room stared at whomever it was. She could swear they looked shocked. Still, she wouldn’t turn around. If someone had a sword and was about to kill her, so be it. They’d be doing her a favor.

But no one assaulted her. She remained as still as possible, listening for whomever was behind her. They weren’t moving. Barely breathing. Her muscles wound themselves tight in anticipation. Of what, she didn’t know. But finally, after several minutes of stillness, they moved.

A small figure—a woman who was even shorter than she was—passed by. She slowed, then turned abruptly to set her things on the table. Her movements were strange, as if she wasn’t sure where she was going.

“You are Saige Glade?”

“Yes ma’am.”

They shook hands.

“My name is Eavan Colette. I’m going to be your teacher. You may call me what you wish. It makes no difference to me. Your education is far more important. Do you have any knowledge whatsoever about Tulca, Euphora, Namai, or Siren?”

“No ma’am.”

“Good, there are no myths and stereotypes already in your mind. Nothing for me to debunk. These are your textbooks.”

She slid two spiral notebooks across the table with a couple of pens. Saige raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t understand.”

Eavan gestured for her to open the notebook. There were nine words printed in the bottom left corner.

I am on your side. You are not alone.

Saige stared at the words, neatly printed in cursive English, then at their author. Eavan didn’t smile, but there was a softness to her gaze that backed up the written words.

“I don’t believe in tons of textbooks you memorize. That isn’t learning. I’ll recount what you need by mouth and you’ll take notes. Do you think you’ll have a problem with that?”

That sounded heavenly.

“No ma’am.”

“Good. You must be a smart girl to have made it so far.”

The woman looked around and her nose wrinkled.

“Our first lesson will not be here. We’ll be leaving the base.”

A field trip? They wouldn’t agree to that—

“They have already agreed,” the woman said, reading her mind. “Are you prepared enough to leave?”

“Now?”

“Yes.”

“I—okay.

*_*_*_*_*

Saige interrupted her while she explained something about the forest they stood in.

“The note—”

“No, pay attention.”

She fell silent, and Eavan’s eyes went hard. They’re listening, she mouthed.

“This forest is the first landing site of both your peoples. Siren and Namai alike. Each and every group who traveled from earth to Tulca touched down in this exact spot.”

The spot looked no different from any other forest she’d been to in her lifetime. Besides the large area clear of trees and logs, everything was as it should have been. For an alien forest, that was.

Saige walked to the closest tree and placed a hand on the trunk. It was thicker than any of earth’s trees. The trunk swirled in a large spiral toward the sky, the leaves pale gray and slightly shimmery. Something vibrated under her fingertips, and she pressed her ear to the bark.

A sound, small but noticeable, traveled up and down through the tree’s trunk.

“What is that sound?”

Eavan approached and lay her palm upon the tree as well, but didn’t press her face to it. Saige gestured for the woman to do so, but she hesitated before doing so. Together they listened until Eavan drew back.

“I’ve never listened before. I didn’t notice.”

“So you don’t know what it is?”

“No. The plant life absorbs sunlight all throughout the day and sends it back throughout the night. It glows. But the sound inside, I’m not sure of.”

Glowing forests. The things earth’s fictional stories were made of. Because why not?

“I never asked you what you are,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

You don’t look Namai. But why would they hire a—”

Eavan’s shoved her against the tree, a hand over her mouth. Her violet eyes flashed in anger.

Not until I say you can question me, she mouthed. It’s not safe. Not now. Until I say, you will act like my student, and I will be your teacher. That is it. Do you understand me?

“Never mind,” she said when the woman uncovered her mouth, as though she’d simply paused. “I don’t care. Keep going with your lecture.”

“Sit down. This is our classroom for the time being. Look around as you like, but I will expect your full attention.”

“Yes ma’am.”

So they sat, and Eavan began her tale. The lesson lasted much longer than expected, as the woman seemed intent on teaching her everything about the origins of both Namai and Siren, their journey to the adjacent planets, and more. She stopped just before Saige felt overwhelmed, as though she knew exactly how much was too much.

“Questions?”

Saige just stared at her.

“I’ll repeat most of it the next time I see you. Today was a trial run, so you could see exactly how our sessions will go, and how you’ll be expected to listen, question, and examine. Do you truly not have at least one question?”

“If Siren and Namai were created the way you say, and for the reasons you say, then why am I illegal? Why was I hunted my whole life for being like this? Why is everyone scared of me, and trying to stop Siren and Namai for creating more like me?”

Eavan smiled her first genuine smile since they’d met.

“And that is what I’ll answer in our next session. Come, it’s time we head back to base.”

Saige picked up her notepad and pen to follow after her teacher. Eavan slowed, and soon she found herself catching up. Without speaking, the woman slipped the notebook from her arms and write something in it. Then she handed it back, gesturing for her not to open it.

They parted ways at the base, and Saige returned to her room. The first thing she did was open the notebook to read the note Eavan had left in it.

I am proud of your accomplishments. You do not know how happy I was to learn of your survival. And one day soon we will get a moment alone to talk. Truly talk, the way we need to if you’re ever to understand what is happening. I love you, child. Stay strong and learn quickly. You have little time to absorb all you can. But I will be with you every step of the way.

“What does that even mean,” she asked her empty room.

An unbearable frustration washed over her, and she found herself leaving her room willingly for the first time since she’d turned herself in. She had free time, but rarely used it. But now, nothing was making sense. She was receiving training, and now knew another person who claimed to know her. How many people knew her in her past? She remembered none of them, but they seemed to remember her very well. And all of them were friendly.

Something wasn’t right. The probability of everyone from her past being a friendly, non-hostile was—Wait, but there had been Xenia. She wasn’t truly friendly.

She strode into the equipment room, ignoring the hostile glares of her fellow soldiers. Some of them left, but she no longer cared. She needed to work off the nervous energy coursing through her veins. In the virtual room, she set the panels to simulate a long, harsh run through the strange Tulcan forests she’d explored with Eavan earlier in the day. It was night in the simulation, and to her surprise, every single tree and plant was lit like an amusement park, in a rainbow of colors. Pinks, blues, greens, yellows, white... As she ran over the healthy brown grass and through the illuminated foliage, she felt her thoughts straighten themselves out.

Dr. Trev had told her that she couldn’t trust anyone. That included the people who claimed to know her. That included those who seemed nice enough at first. She couldn’t trust any of them. Except Glen. Even though he hated her, she knew that he’d never do anything to hurt her. Not after he’d gone through so much to keep her alive. She just had to convince him that her joining the military was for the good of them all. Not just her. She was protecting him, still. As long as she cooperated, they wouldn’t think twice about Glen.

She drifted out of her mind with the realization that the world had become too bright. Her eyes stung, and she shielded them the best she could. She stopped running and looked around at the unfamiliar landscape. Had she changed the program by mistake? Now she was in a snowy, blizzard landscape. She could only see a foot in front of her. A couple steps in, it was clear she wouldn’t be navigating her way through the storm with her eyes. Her eyes shut, and she switched all of her focus to her hearing.

“Want to race?”

She spun around at the voice, but as her eyesight was useless, no one came into focus.

“Who are you?”

Was it the program? She’d never thought that it could simulate people as well.

“Come race us,” another voice called, a bit further away.

“Just follow the sound of our voices. We’ll guide you to safety. And it’ll sharpen your eyesight. It’s a useful skill to be able to see in the snow like this.”

This was a trick. No way would she be following any of them. No, it was time to turn off the simulation. Too bad she couldn’t find her way to the control panel, the snow was throwing her sight off so badly. One of her hands was enveloped in a fiery grip, and she found herself being dragged along after a giggling girl. Her orders for the girl to let her go fell on deaf ears. But as she ran behind the girl, she could indeed feel her eyesight improving. Now she could see a couple feet ahead of her, and she made out white-blond hair on the girl pulling her along. Not much else, but it was a start.

Then they were stopping, and the girl’s hand disappeared. She looked around, but saw no one. Hands out before her, she felt for the wall and control panel, and just before her hands made contact with it, she heard the door to the simulation room open and close. She turned the simulation off and looked around, but the room was empty.

She ran back to her room and vowed to avoid the simulation room for the time being.

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