Warlands of Song

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Chapter Twenty-Five: Glen

Staring up at his ceiling, Glen pondered his he could possible avoid what he was about to have to do. He didn’t want to go. For the first time in so, so long, he considered acting ill to get out of his job. He didn’t have to go to war. He didn’t have to go rescue an innocent and destroy a trafficking ring. No, all he had to do was go and teach a young, extremely confused little girl who had more power than sense. He had to pretend to hate her, putting on an act both for the people who employed him and the girl herself. But it was time for him to go, so he peeled himself off the bed and went to change into his training gear.

The walk to the facilities he’d been granted access to, specifically for Saige’s training, was long. It was made even longer by his dread and reluctance. Why couldn’t Carter have been allowed to come with him? His friend would at least keep him in check, as Saige would no doubt attempt to push him to his limits and beyond. That was just her nature, even when she wasn’t trying. It was something he’d liked about her, but now it would simply be a nuisance.

When he reached the gym he was meant to be in, he paused and lay his head against the door. Did he really have the strength to do this? To train someone he cared about yet act as though he loathed her? He had to. Robert no doubt would have scolded him for how he’d responded to her admission. His partner had always been better at reading people. He’d never quite learned the skill from him.

He entered the room with an air of arrogance and impatience, only to find the room empty. Hadn’t they sent Saige ahead of him? Was he meant to go and get her himself? He waited, but just before he was about to go and find her himself, the doors opened and a young solder dragged her inside by the arm. As she was much smaller than the man, she had to run to avoid being literally dragged across the floor.

The man stopped with her, right in front of Glen, and shoved her away.

“Sorry for the delay, Commander,” the kid snapped, glaring at Saige, who openly glared back. “She was slow getting dressed. We had to wake her up and all.

Glen nodded, looking Saige over. She wore no bruises that he could see, but then again he wouldn’t have seen even if there were any. She was far too dark for him to notice. The way she’d been dragged, however... there had to be bruises left by the young soldier.

“Stay here,” he ordered Saige. She didn’t respond, not even looking at him, instead choosing to continue glaring hatefully at the soldier.

Glen gestured for the young man to follow him out of the room and all the way to the opposite end of the corridor, where Saige wouldn’t be able to hear them. He looked around and made sure no one was around before slamming the young soldier against the wall and leaning in close.

“I want you to listen very closely, because I will not repeat myself,” he said under his breath.

“You will not touch her again. Your job is to simply escort her to me. Not drag her like a doll. She is a person, and no matter how despicable her race may be, you do not have the clearance to treat her that way. If I hear of this happening again, I will make sure you are discharged in the most horrible way possible. Understood?”

“Y-yes sir. I apologize, sir.”

Glen released the young man’s uniform jacket and stalked back the way he came without another word. He burst into the gym to find Saige exactly where he’d left her, eyes on the ground this time, staring blankly at nothing. He walked over to her and resisted the urge to grab her arms and ask if she was hurt. He was supposed to hate her.

“Next time you’ll dress faster,” he said. “I don’t want to wait for you again.”

“Yes sir,” she whispered.

“Ten laps for being late. Go.”

She took off immediately, and he blew out a steady stream of air, leaning against the wall. He had to get his emotions under control before she finished running, or they’d never accomplish anything.

As she rounded the perimeter for a fourth time, he found his eyes sweeping her frame. She’d only began training a month before, but her body had adapted to the planet and her routine very well. She was no longer skinny and sickly looking, but plump with a good bit of muscle. Thicker than the average Namai soldiers he saw around base. Her Siren blood, most likely. Being back on her planet, no longer in hiding, had been good for her. But she still looked sad and exhausted.

“Stop,” he said, when she was on her eight lap. “That’s enough. I don’t have all day.”

His chest hurt at the harshness of his words, but he forged on.

“We’re starting with deep breathing. In, count to ten, out, count to ten. Go.”

Her struggle was obvious right away. He made her extremely nervous. He would even dare to say that she was scared of him. He stepped closer, into her space, like she’d told him not to on their first day on the planet. He stood behind her and reached around to place one hand on her abdomen and the other lightly on her throat. She tensed, stiff as a board.

“Breathe slowly.” He pressed his fingers more firmly against her throat. “So slowly that even with my fingers here, you’re comfortable.”

The first time he’d attempted to instruct her, she’d freaked out and they got nowhere. This time, she actually followed his instruction and her breathing slowed, evening out. He released her and leaned back enough that he could see her face. Her eyes were closed and she looked completely tuned out.

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes sir.”

“What else do you hear?”

She was quiet, but when she spoke he had to strain to hear her.

“Everything. Too much.”

“Okay. Focus on tuning all of it out. Even me. Focus your hearing inward. Your blood flowing, your heart beating. Can you hear it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Now go deeper. Listen for that sound that isn’t like the others.”

“I... I can hear it. I don’t know what it is, but—”

“Good. That’s all you need to listen to from now on. That sound is your power. The Matter flowing through your veins alongside your blood. The more you listen to it, the more you’ll become accustomed to it, and the more you can use it.”

He stepped out from behind her, where she could see him.

“You can stop your breathing exercise now.”

Her eyes opened and she blinked, looking everywhere but at him.

“Our lessons will prepare you for everything you’ll have to face where you Namai power could be involved. Do not get comfortable. I am not your friend. I’m going to attack you when you least expect it, and if you don’t defend yourself, I’ll hurt you. Say you understand.”

For the first time that day, her eyes met his. She looked hurt, betrayed. Sad. Even a little angry.

“Yes sir. I understand.”

He stepped up and leaned down into her face.

“What is that attitude?

Her eyes flashed.

“Nothing. Sir.”

His blood boiled and he held up a hand, a black dot of Matter in his palm.

“I don’t like the way you’re talking to me.”

“That’s funny, because I don’t like the way you’re talking to me.”

She raised her hand. His brows rose at the translucent film across her entire hand.

“Are you threatening me?”

“Of course not. Just showing my awesome S.O how fast I’m learning. Are you impressed, sir?”

The sarcasm was real. He lowered his hand, amused despite his best efforts not to be. At least she wouldn’t go down without a fight. He didn’t need to feel too bad. She’d give him as much trouble as he’d give her.

“Our lesson is over for today. Next time I see you, I expect you’ll be able to materialize a wall of Matter and hold it for at least ten seconds on command. If you can’t, you’ll be punished. Practice hard.”

She blocked him from exiting the gym, and he raised an eyebrow. When she spoke, her voice was almost too low for him to hear.

“So this is how it’s going to be from now on? You’re going to treat me like you never helped me? Like we’re enemies?”

“As far as I’m concerned, we are. You sabotaged everything I and Robert did for you.”

She moved until her body brushed his. Her head tipped back so she could look him in the eyes.

“I would have died for you two. I turned myself in because I wanted to clear your name, and so they could kill me. So you could go back to your family. Because, apparently, I care more about them than you do and I’ve never met them. I had no intention of joining these people. But when the offer was made, I thought it made sense. I can’t believe you’re mad at me for trying to take my life back.”

He didn’t answer, and her eyes flashed again. Then they softened, and she sighed.

“Treat me however you want, but it won’t bring him back.”

Maybe not, but it might send her running out of the military. He’d do his best. When she came to her senses, he’d be waiting to carry her off, but for now she was in the dog house.

He brushed by her and left without answering her soft words.

*_*_*_*_*

“How was your first lesson?”

Glen sat beside Carter in the lounge, throwing an arm over his eyes.

“I can’t do this.”

“That bad?”

“It was short. Nothing really happened. I taught her how to feel her power and access it, told hr to practice, and left. And I threatened to discharge a grunt.”

“You what?”

He uncovered his face. “He literally dragged her into the room. I flipped. But I did it where she couldn’t hear me at least. Shut up.”

Carter was laughing so hard, his face was tinged black with blood.

“I know you’re having a hard time, but I’m having the best time. The two of you are hilarious.”

He glared at the man, who held up a hand and calmed himself down.

“You two are total opposites. But really the same. If she wasn’t a grunt—If she was in your position—she would act just like you. As it is, every ‘yes sir’ I get from her is laced with a threat. She’s scared of me, but I’m actually scared of her too because I know if I push her the wrong way, I’m going to get hurt. Like if I mess with you. Except you’d kill me. She has a little more compassion.”

“I have compassion.”

Carter rolled his eyes.

“You’re a mess. Robert was the only thing holding you together. But lucky for you, she’s a mess too.”

“Stop comparing us. I want nothing to do with her.”

“Says the man who told me to look out for her.”

“I don’t want people trying to kill her. They’ll think I had something to do with it.”

“I’m going on a field trip with her and her teacher tomorrow. We’re going to train off base. Come with us.”

“No.”

“I want to see how she reacts under extreme pressure. She’s great in this controlled environment, but outside in the field? You can help me evaluate her.”

He remained silent.

“Why are you acting like this? Something else happened.”

“Nothing else happened. I’m going to see the grunts.”

Now he had his friend’s attention.

“The grunts? Why?”

“I need to focus on someone other than myself right now. And they need all the help they can get.”

“But that’s so random. Is there a real reason besides to get away from me?”

“I want to see what the future generation has to offer. Are there any bright students you’ve seen so far?”

Carter followed him out of the room and down the hall.

“Actually, the whole class is a bit strange.”

“Strange? I asked if any were bright, not strange.”

“No, but that’s why I said it. They—Look, you’ll see for yourself. There’s something different about all of them.”

And as soon as Glen walked in the room, he could see how right Carter was. In all previous groups of grunts, the soldiers would have leapt to their feet and waited for him to set them at ease. These stood, but they weren’t at attention. It was as though they rose for a judge.

He took a look around. Every last one met his eyes head on and dipped their heads in respect.

“Attention! Show some respect,” Carter snapped at the grunts, who quickly obeyed. Glen waved his friend off.

“At ease.”

Some hesitated before relaxing. He took a seat at the front of the room, gesturing for them to follow suit. Then he looked them over again. Their lack of traditional respect amused him. But somehow he could tell they didn’t do it to be disrespectful. Though they’d surely been taught how to address their superiors. And they knew who he was.

They reminded him of Saige. But he at least knew her. Somewhat. These children had never met him. What gave them the right to treat him like an equal?

“Continue your tasks,” he said, despite his irritation.

Most did as they were instructed, save one familiar face. It was the boy who’d escorted him from his chambers when he was finally released. The one he’d nearly ordered to resign from the service. The boy stared at him unflinchingly, and he dipped his head in recognition and acknowledgment. The young soldier didn’t react, but slowly lowered his head and eyes to look back at his task. Glen glanced at Carter, who looked increasingly upset with the group. Without another word to the group of soldiers, he left the room, his friend following behind him.

“I told you. Strange.”

He kept walking.

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