Warlands of Song

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Chapter Twenty-Nine: Saige

She’d expected to be scolded and harshly punished upon arriving late. Instead, Saige found herself under intense scrutiny by Glen as she approached.

“You haven’t slept.”

She didn’t respond. It wasn’t a question, so she didn’t need to. And she wouldn’t let him dictate what she did.

“The one day you need to be rested, you decide not to sleep.”

“Maybe it’ll work in my favor.”

“It won’t.”

He stood, but she stopped and backed up. He nodded.

“I’ll send someone to program your stone for the test.”

And so he did. A woman arrived soon after he left, and Saige remained still while a wire was attached to the stone behind her ear. The woman sat before her, on a computer of her own. She didn’t speak at all, just typed like mad. When she finished, she removed the wire and beckoned Saige to follow her out of the room.

Saige walked with a heavy heart, and her body reacted accordingly. Every single step took all of her energy. They traveled through hallway after hallway, until she lost count and stopped trying to keep track of where they were going. It didn’t matter. She was going to face some sort of crazy test. She’d be fighting Glen. She had to win, or he would hurt her. That was all she needed to focus on.

The room she ended up in looked no different than any other room on base. Small, white and empty save seven chairs. These held Glen and six other stone-faced individuals. Council members, maybe.

“Have a seat, Ms. Glade,” one of them said.

There were no other chairs. She felt her body grow hot with anger as she realized they meant for her to sit on the floor like a dog.

“I will stand, thank you.”

“That isn’t an option,” another said.

She started to argue, but Glen cut in.

“She’s fine as she is. Let’s get on with it.”

She didn’t look at him. She wasn’t thankful or grateful. He was the sole reason she was in this mess to begin with.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“To be tested,” she answered the stranger.

“Yes, but are you aware of the details?”

“No.”

The sole woman in the room straightened her jacket.

“The purpose of this test is to see how you react in high-stress situations without a team. Our purpose for drafting you-”

“I agreed to join.”

“-was so that one day you could be used on single-person missions for the betterment of both of our people.”

She frowned.

“I joined so that I could stop my people from being killed. Whatever that takes.”

“Yes. Well then, we won’t say any more. We’ll just let you begin your test.”

All six council members stood and nodded to her.

“We will be watching. Good luck.”

The six individuals left the room, leaving her alone with Glen. He watched them leave before he stood and approached. Slowly. She wanted to run the opposite way, but held her ground. She couldn’t conceal her hurried, loud swallow though. He stopped a safe distance away and stared at her. She held her balled fists at her sides.

“Do you have something to say, or are you just here to drown me?”

“This is all their game,” he said. “Don’t let them break you, Saige. This. Today.”

This was not what she expected. She’d expected a threat. Physical harm or attack. Not a warning. And a confusing one at that.

“These people do not have your best interests in mind. You don’t have to do this.”

Now she rolled her eyes.

“Again, you’re trying to get me to quit. You really just want me barefoot and in your kitchen, don’t you?”

“This isn’t about you being a woman! This is about your life and your state of being. They couldn’t care less if you keeled over after this test-”

“And you’re sure going to try your best to make that happen, won’t you? If I don’t quit, you’ll make my life a living hell, won’t you?”

He advanced and slammed a fist into the wall beside her head. She shrunk down when he leaned down. His breath was warm on her face as he stared deep into her eyes, his own flashing in a random pattern.

“I am sorry,” he said, “that I’ve hurt you so much. I made a mistake. I can’t explain right now, but I had reasons. And I also can’t guarantee that I won’t hurt you again. Because I’m going to have to hurt you again today, since you refuse to give up and quit this stupid test. And I’ll show you just how little these people care about you.”

“But you do, right Commander?”

Their foreheads pressed together as he grew more agitated.

“My name is Glen. I don’t want you calling me that.”

“Why not? That’s all you are to me.”

“I am still the man who saved your life on earth, and the one who brought you here and let my partner die to save you. Yes, I care about you. But the moment you joined the military I’ve been a part of for the last century, the rules changed. Your wellbeing was no longer in my hands and I couldn’t protect you.”

“I don’t need your protection.”

He shook his head, sliding their noses together. Her legs began to cramp from the uncomfortable shrunken position.

“I’ll show you just how wrong you are.”

“Hurt me, to show me how much you care about me.”

“To show you how much they don’t.”

She shut her eyes and willed her power forth until it bubbled under her hands and pushed him away. He stumbled in surprise.

“You can push all this self-righteous, ‘I’m doing this for your own good’ crap as long as you want. But anyone who can hurt me, intentionally, is not someone I want in my life. You don’t care about me. All you care about is your wounded ego. I’m not a damsel in distress anymore, and you hate it. Well get over it.”

She pushed off the wall and shoved him again.

“I am taking this test, and I am going to beat it. And you. You think you’re going to hurt me? Watch every move I make, or I swear I’ll kill you.”

She left him staring after her with steady glowing eyes.

*_*_*_*_*

As soon as she stepped through the doorway, her world went black. She froze, but all was silent and still. She’d glimpsed another door, right across the room, so she tried to get there. Tried to walk in a straight line toward the door. Her hands waved through the air, searching for the doorknob. At last, her fingers made contact with smooth, cold metal. She turned, pushed, and stepped forward, the last step.

Her eyes turned back on, accompanied by a large menu of some sort. Words filled the space before her eyes, and a voice spoke them aloud. Female, cold and matter-of-fact.

“A group of Siren school children have been abducted from the schoolyard by a rogue Namai terrorist organization. Your mission is to rescue them, or destroy the group responsible. Use any means necessary, save destroying the facilities.”

No more information was relayed. Was she supposed to ask questions? Would the program-Could the program answer her?

“How many are there?”

“Please clarify your question.”

“How many hostile are there?”

“There are approximately one hundred hostiles in the building.”

“How many children?”

“There are five children in the building.”

“Are they together? The children.”

“The children are being held in varying rooms of the building. Each is being guarded by twenty Namai soldiers. Each soldier has a different ability. All are deadly. To achieve mission success, you must rescue two out of the five children, or kill all hostiles. If you can make it away from the building with two children, the mission will be named successful.”

Two children? No, she had to rescue all of them. Two was far too few.

The room she stood in branched off into twelve hallways. Any way she went, she’d have to maneuver boxes, trash and furniture. But there were more important things for her to worry about. The terrain would remain the same. She needed to get to the children.

She crouched down behind a bookcase and shut her eyes, straining her ears for any human sounds. A cry from a child, a shout from a hostile. Anything. Right away, she crossed out four of the hallways as completely empty. But the rest were confusing. She would have to travel each of them.

She rolled her neck and set out on her mission. Moving quietly and carefully around all of the debris was difficult, to say the least. All of her training had been on solid ground, with a single goal in mind. They expected her to click out of that and into soldier, mission mode just like that? What did they expect of her? A miracle?

Glen’s words filtered into her mind as she traveled down the first hallway. Was it all a game? No, they wouldn’t have recruited her just for another soldier. They had more than enough soldiers. Surely they had to be irritated at the state of events concerning the Xinaan population. All would benefit if the problem was taken care of. So it all rested on her shoulders. She would be the first accepted Xinaan. Eventually.

No pressure.

As she rounded the corner, a hand shot out and struck her in the abdomen. She fell back with a grunt, hitting the ground hard. Her assailant didn’t wait for her to get back up, but attacked while she lay on the ground. She brought both feet up into his groin, and he dropped like a stone. She covered him with a thin layer of Matter and continued down the hallway. Surely the noise would alert the rest of the terrorist operatives of her arrival.

As if summoned verbally, another grouping of assailants emerged from thin air and converged on her. She used everything both Carter and Glen had taught her to incapacitate most of them. A couple lay so still on the ground, she knew they were dead. Something shifted inside her chest, but she shook it off and stepped over the still forms. They were just sleeping. She hadn’t killed them. That wasn’t part of her mission.

Her reasonings were cut short as she rounded another corner and was attacked by two more men, who she made short work of. A cry rang out to her left, and she whirled in time to see a man jerking an elementary school child to their feet.

“She’s here,” he mumbled into an unseen mic. “Do better on your end.”

Saige threw a hand up in his direction, careful not to aim in the child’s direction, but she was too slow. There was a bright orange flash, and then two bodies hit the ground.

Her hand lowered. She blinked quickly. Too quickly. Her footsteps were soft in the small room as she approached the bodies, but each one made her wince. No emotion registered in her mind. It was as though she couldn’t comprehend what she was looking at. What she had just seen. What had she just...

“There are forty-five minutes remaining in the mission,” the voice from her stone reminded her.

“This is all their game. They couldn’t care less if you keeled over...”

She shook her head and turned, heading back the way she came. This time as she passed the still figured, the reality sunk in. The men were dead. She’d killed them. Just like she’d killed that child.

At the beginning room where she started, she eyed the entrance. If she walked out that door, it would all be over. She could go back to her room and mourn the child she’d failed to protect. But there were four more children who waited for her to save them. She couldn’t let them down.

So she tried again. Fought, made it to the room where the next child was being held captive. Two gunshots and two bodies resulted. She stumbled, falling to her knees beside the little girl’s body.

This was no test. This was torture.

Again and again she tried, each attempt growing more desperate and rage-driven than the last. As terrorists fell, less of them were breathing. And she didn’t care. The more died, the better. When the last were dead and gone, and the last child rest in her arms, skin turning blue as his life drained away, she felt the last of her soul leave her body.

She couldn’t save them. Not even one. The last two had cried to her for help, and she’d promised it. But not one remained for her to carry to safety. She’d failed.

“There are fifteen minutes remaining in the mission.”

“It’s over,” she said quietly, no emotion in her voice. “Everyone is dead.”

“The mission is not complete. The leader is waiting at the exit. Destroy him, and your mission will end.”

“I’m finished.”

“Are you abandoning your mission?”

She looked down at the beautiful child she held. He had died in terror, the threat of death imminent. She could not prevent his death. Would she also decline the vengeance of his murder?

“No.”

“Very well. Fourteen minutes remain.”

Saige set the child on the cold floor and stood, making her way to the exit. Rage rendered her vision white, and all she craved was death. It took seemingly forever for her to reach the exit, and she burst through expected an immediate attack. But none came. Instead, the attacker she’d expected to converge at once was standing a good twenty step away. Or a couple running bounds if she moved quick enough.

He was a plain enough man. Brunette, tall and muscular. Nothing like she expected. Except for the smirk he wore on his face. Not just a simple smirk either, but a pitying smirk. A smirk that meant he was amused by her anger and torment. He loved her pain. The children’s pained final moments. He was a monster.

She would kill him.

No one had taught her how to kill, but at that very moment, everything she’d need filtered into her mind. Matter flowed down her wrist and solidified into a stubby staff, and she smashed it against the ground, shattering it. Removing the sharpest piece, she then formed a handle out of more Matter and charged. The man moved smoothly and easily, dodging every attack she threw his way. Still with that stupid smirk on his face. He moved faster than she did once, and her weapon of choice flew out of her hand and so far away, she’d never get it back.

Then he lashed out, and she dove backward to avoid him. He rubbed his hands together and black Matter formed between his palms. He had the same powers as Glen. Concern filled her for the first time. The black Matter was no joke. She’d always lost to Glen when he used it on her.

The man threw his arms out wide and a giant sheet of Matter spread throughout the air, landing over her and holding her down. It burned her skin. She screamed as the imaginary flames covered her. But her cries were cut short when the man began to attack from above, through the Matter. She couldn’t see through the opaque, black sheet, and thus was completely helpless against it.

If she used her own Matter, the two would draw to one another and form a bomb of sorts. She would only succeed in blowing herself up.

She felt liquid drip down her face as she cowered under the assault. The man wasn’t going to stop. This wasn’t simple training on base. This was different. This was real. If she didn’t fight back, he’d kill her.

A booted foot smashed into her head, and she saw bright flashes. She’d already failed the main test. She would fail this one too. She wasn’t ready. Would she not fit in here as well? She’d never fit in on earth, but this was the one place she didn’t need to hide, and she couldn’t cut it here either. No.

A burst of energy went off inside her and suddenly she was standing, straining against the black Matter covering her. She formed a Dagger of her own Matter and used the momentum it brought about trying to fly toward the black Matter to slice the net holding her back and jump out of the way before the glowing white mass exploded.

The man was distracted by the display she’d left behind, and she took the moment to wrap her own net of translucent Matter around his head, sealing it at his throat. He pulled at the barrier limiting his air supply, and she attacked from behind, tackling him to the ground. She dug elbows and knees into his pressure points, and he groaned in pain. She formed another knife and jabbed it into his side, leaving him on the ground and standing to kick him.

He struggled and gasped. Her see-through Matter allowed her to see it all. She bent down into his face and sneered.

“This is for all of those children you murdered.”

She jerked the knife from his side and raised it to finish him off.

“Wait, Saige!”

The voice didn’t come from him, but behind her, and she whirled around. Chief Luther walked quickly toward her.

“You passed,” he said. “There’s no need for that.”

“I-what?”

He passed her by and knelt beside the man. When she turned around, her stomach dropped to her feet. No, that wasn’t right.

She’d been fighting a brunette man. A stranger. But somehow he had morphed into Glen.

A medical team ran past her and started tending to her S.O’s wounds. Wounds she’d inflicted. His black blood flowed from the open hole in his side, and he groaned as they put pressure on it.

She backed away from the scene, and suddenly his eyes flew to her. There, behind the pain, she saw a compassion and pity she wasn’t prepared for.

This is all their game... I’ll show you just how little these people care about you.

Her own wounds were ignored. The blood running down her face didn’t matter. They were all solely focused on Glen, their golden boy. Reality hit her like a brick in the face, and slowly, everything went black.

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