Warlands of Song

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Chapter Thirty-Four: Saige

Though there was too much to fully absorb, Saige tried her best. She hurried from one display to the next as she had for hours already, exclaiming in awe over the beautiful crafts on display. Namai inhabitants rested at tables and on blankets, enjoying the sunshine and company. A direct contrast to the quiet, strict military base she’d become so accustomed to, she also felt free to stretch and enjoy the sun. It was crazy, though, that despite the heat the sun gave off, it was still freezing. She pulled the sleeves of her thermal sweatshirt down further over her wrists and ignored the pain blooming in her exposed neck. It was the price she’d have to pay for a taste of freedom.

She stopped, her eyes caught by a glint of silver. A low table, hosted by a middle-aged woman, was decorated with an assortment of bracelet that took her breath away. The silver chains gleamed under the blue sun. The orbs that hung from the center looked as though they’d glow in the dark, their brilliance almost too much even in the full light of day.

“Such a beauty,” the woman behind the table commented.

She dipped her head in respect and knelt before the table to look closer.

“Your eyes remind me of the Silver Mistress.”

Saige looked back at Glen. He placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled at the woman.

“She does, doesn’t she? My sister and her husband made some beautiful children. Very unique features.”

She kept her expression neutral and happy as Glen enforced their cover. She was his niece. Not a secret that the military was keeping locked up until the proper time. Luckily, his sister was indeed married to a dark-skinned Namai man, or their cover would not have worked at all.

The woman spoke again, but this time not to them, but at them. She recited a song of sorts, her voice—while not beautiful—steady.

“Once little girl with none to live for

Now has eyes of molten silver

First she lived in constant fear

But soon her powers will appear

Raging, storming, hell-bent frenz

The galaxy won’t test her ’gain

Beware, beware, and have great fear—

The Silver Mistress has appeared.”

Glen’s hand squeezed her shoulder and woke her from her terrified stance. Her skin ran cold even inside the shirt’s pocket of warmth. The nursery rhyme hadn’t been included in her studies. On purpose?

The woman was, thankfully, too busy trying to make a sale to notice the reaction of her customers to her little tune.

“For you, dear, ten diene.”

“Oh no,” she said hurriedly, “I’m afraid I’ve spent all of my allowance for the week. Thank you though, they’re beautiful.”

She moved on, but Glen’s footsteps didn’t follow her. At the booth a couple vendors down, she peeked discreetly back to see him handing over several shiny coins in exchange for the bracelet and tucking it into his bag. Like he’d done at every other booth she’d stopped at. For the supposed best military assassin of his time, he didn’t know how to be very discreet. He started toward her again, wincing. Before they left he’d been given permission to use one crutch only for stability. She felt he needed both, but he wasn’t having it.

“Hello.”

She jumped at the voice in front of her, looking away from Glen and to the man at the booth.

“Oh. Hi. Sorry, I’ll get out of the way—”

“Hey now, there’s no rush. Stay a minute.”

She looked at his table. It was empty, save a long pot that rested in a circle cut out of the center. Some sort of liquid bubbled violently inside of it. She frowned.

“What is that?”

“See for yourself. Stick your hand in.”

The liquid was clear, but the bubbling unnerved her. “I don’t think...”

He stuck a finger into the pot and held it there, smiling.

“See? It won’t hurt you. It looks strange, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“But it does amazing things. Please. As much or as little of your arm as you’d like.”

“You won’t even give me a hint about what it does?”

He remained silent, but withdrew his finger and wiped it on the towel he had around his waist. After a quick wish for her hand not to burn off, she shut her eyes and lowered a finger into the vat. The boiling liquid made her jump and pull her finger back by instinct, but she soon discovered that it indeed did not hurt. It was neither hot nor cold. She sank more and more of her hand in, until her arm was elbow-deep in the pot. She laughed.

“It tickles.”

“That it does. Now just hold your arm still for about two minutes and you’ll see what happens.”

She nodded. Though all she wanted to do was wiggle her fingers in the substance, she refrained. What would happen? Would her arm change colors? That would be interesting to see, though hard to explain later.

“What are you doing?”

She glanced back at Glen as he approached, wearing a deep frown.

“I don’t know yet. He’s going to show me in a minute.”

The seller’s jaw had gone slack.

“Commander Mykel.” Then he looked between them. “You two—”

“My niece,” Glen said absently, eyes on the pot. “What is this?”

The seller held up a finger. “One more moment and I’ll demonstrate for you both.”

She waited patiently until he instructed her to remove her arm from the pot. The chill of the air hit the substance and her arm went numb from the cold, but she would endure it to see what it would create.

The man behind the table donned a pair of gloves himself. She and Glen watched as he ran both hands down the length of her arm, scraping off excess goop as he went. She was left with a one inch coating of what felt like rubber all around her arm and hand.

“Just a second.”

The man dug around in a bag until he came up with a tool. He slipped it in between the substance and her arm, carefully, and then slid his fingers in, in its place.

“On three, we’ll both pull,” he instructed. “One, two, three.”

She pulled her arm back and he pulled on the substance and the entire thing came off in one piece. Now inside out, she marveled at the change. It almost looked fake. How could such a thing have been done?

“Can I see?”

“Of course.”

He laid the glove in her hands and she gasped when the pattern shifted. On her arm it had been clear, but now it was brilliant and silver, with black marking that moved and almost breathed. The markings literally swirled and moved like they were alive.

“How much?” Glen asked.

“Oh no,” she said quickly, handing the glove back. “I’m fine, really-”

He only raised his brows at the seller, ignoring her.

“For you, Commander, and your lovely niece, only four hundred diene.”

Glen pulled money from his pocket, many coins and bills, but she grabbed his wrist.

“Stop it! I’m fine, I don’t want it. You shouldn’t be...”

He frowned. “Whose money am I spending?”

“Yours, but—”

“Then you can’t tell me what to buy. I want to buy this for you. You deserve it.”

The seller handed the carefully-wrapped parcel to Glen, and he put it in his bag. Still, she argued.

“I just don’t understand why—”

“Saige,” he interrupted softly. He grasped her elbow and led her away from the booth. “If I want to buy you something, I have every right. It’s my money and you deserve much more if I’m being honest. Just let me.”

She jerked her arm from his grasp. How dare he! If she didn’t want him to spend money on her, she had every right as well. The nerve.

“You’ve done enough, bringing me out here to begin with. You didn’t have to. You could have just taken me on a walk through the forest and I would’ve been happy. Anything to get away from that god-forsaken compound.”

She watched a child run through the booths, followed closely by her parents. Her lips curved on their own.

“I missed seeing normal people. People that aren’t soldiers. Kids. I really miss my kids. The ones I would look after on earth. Watching them and caring for them. I don’t have anyone to take care of anymore but myself. I feel useless. I know I’ve been training and growing in my abilities, but that’s not what I want. I never wanted to be scary. A force to be reckoned with. I just wanted to be normal like all of these people and raise a family. But I guess that was never possible. It won’t be possible for a long time. If ever.”

She bit at the pads of her fingers in thought. Maybe Glen wished he could go back and take care of his family too, but he was stuck with her. Stuck being her S.O, whether he’d accepted it or not.

A gust of wind blew between the booths and people grabbed their goods, laughing. She laughed as well, but she also shivered, arms going around her waist.

“Is it this cold all year round? I haven’t been outside enough to tell.”

He didn’t answer. She looked over to see him not at all paying attention to her. She moved over, directly in his path, and he ran into her.

“Excuse me, I—”

He noticed it was her.

“Sorry.”

Her hands rose to her hips.

“Did you hear one word I just said?”

“Sorry,” he repeated.

Her arms fell. “What’s wrong with you? If this is about the glove—”

“No, it’s nothing like that.”

“Because I am thankful.”

“I swear I wasn’t thinking of you at all. There’s a lot going on back on base and my thoughts wander a lot. Tell me again.”

She shrugged, rubbing at her arms. He reached in his bag and extracted another jacket, which he draped over her shoulders. He wore a tank top himself, oblivious like the rest of his people to the cold.

“I’ve seen enough for a lifetime. If you want to go back, that’s fine with me.”

Truth be told, she’d seen more than enough. It was overwhelming. Even if she wanted to keep looking, it was better if she just went back to base and to her room.

“I don’t have to go back to base, but I do need food. I’m starving.”

She wanted to jump for joy. They’d get to try some of the delicious food stands she’d seen. But when she suggested it, he shook his head no.

“I had something better in mind for your first time eating out.”

*_*_*_*_*

She moaned when the first bite touched her tongue. Glen kept his face still, but his eyes lit up.

“Good?”

“What is this?”

“Mallow bread. Mallow is a fruit here.”

She licked her fork clean. Glen didn’t even scold her.

“There’s nothing on earth I can compare this to.”

She tried to slow down, but she couldn’t. Glen laughed as he watched her.

“You call this bread, but it’s like cake. Almost pie. I can’t even.”

For a second, she wanted to laugh at the childish, earthly phrase. But when she looked at Glen, he was leaning with chin in hand, smiling at her.

What was his problem? He’d been acting strange ever since they left base. Sure, he’d agreed to treat her like a friend instead of an enemy, but this was too much.

He’d mentioned a soldier who was in love with her, but—no, he was far too old to ever think of her that way. Of course, he wasn’t old, but far older than she. His daughter was one third her age.

He signaled for the waiter and ordered another serving of the amazing dessert. She had no desire to turn it down. Two forkfuls in, she paused.

“Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome.”

She finished eating in silence. But it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. It gave her time to consider the other men who could possibly be in love with her. It couldn’t have been Carter. He and Glen were close to the same age. Was any other soldier she knew close to her age? She had no idea. It was urgent she figure out who it was so she could kill the infatuation at the roots.

After dinner they ended up on the beach. Somehow. For some reason. She couldn’t fathom any good reasoning for the change of scenery this late at night. She’d seen plenty of beaches back on earth, and this one wasn’t that different. The sky and moons were different colors, and the shells were different. But really... why was she there?

Glen asked her what was wrong, but she acted like she hadn’t heard him. As though she couldn’t hear anything within half a mile. The second time, though, she had no excuse.

“Nothing.”

He wouldn’t take the lie at face value.

“I’m not blind. I can see something is bothering you.”

“I’m not blind either,” she mumbled.

“What was that?”

She’d hoped he wouldn’t be able to hear her, but he could. Of course he could.

“I said I’m not blind either. And I’m not stupid. There’s something you aren’t telling me.”

They’d stopped walking, and she stared him down.

“I thought we were having a good time, but what...”

“This isn’t about me having a good time with you. I’ve had a great time. But you’ve been acting weird all day, and now we’re here. Why? Why aren’t we back on base?”

“I thought you’d want to milk your first free day for all it’s worth.”

He wasn’t giving in easily. She couldn’t just keep talking, or they’d be there all night. And she needed answers.

“Give me your bag.”

“What? No.”

“Why not? Do you have something to hide?”

“I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t appreciate being accused of things I didn’t do.”

Boo hoo. No one did, he was no exception. But she wasn’t crazy.

“Hand it over.”

“I will not.”

She moved to take it, but he swung it out of her reach. She lunged at him, knocking him over. They wound up sprawled in the sand, wrestling for the bag. He had the upper hand until she decided to do something unexpected. She bit his arm. He dropped the bag, shock outweighing pain—she hadn’t bit him hard. She still straddled him while she tossed the bag behind her and grabbed his wrists, immobilizing them above his head with a band of matter. He panted beneath her, looking incredulous.

“Did you just bite me?”

She settled back on his thighs and reached back for the bag. He tried to stop her, but she upturned it over his torso. Trinkets of all shapes and sizes rained down. Things she remembered looking at, things she’d barely glanced at, expensive things she’d been too nervous to even touch. He’d bought every single thing she could’ve asked for, but didn’t, and more. Where had he gotten all the money to do so to begin with? And why—what—how...

She lifted a few of the items and turned them around in her hands. Her mind spun as she tried to figure out the puzzle she was faced with. The beach, the gifts, the man beneath her. Everything she’d been able to do that day. Her eyes watered before she reached her final conclusion. She swiped at her nose, sniffing, and set down the trinket she held.

“I don’t understand. I—you’re so much older than I am. I’m too young for you. I... what...”

“Well... we aren’t that far apart...”

His words, lacking an excuse or attempted denial, officially flipped the switch in her tear ducts, and she dissolved. Still seated on his lap, surrounded by amazing gifts and the beautiful scenery of the beach, she found herself unable to stem her tears.

“Hey,” Glen started weakly.

“I hoped it wasn’t you,” she choked out. She continued through hiccups. “Even when you started acting weird, I thought—I hoped—that you were just being nice or you felt guilty for the last few months. Even when I knew—when I saw you buying these things and then you took me to the restaurant, and the way you looked at me...”

“It’s not what you think. I—”

“Stop treating me like I’m stupid! Like I don’t know you’re the soldier who’s ‘very much in love with me.’ Don’t act like I’m such a child that I can’t read between the lines, because if you really thought that you wouldn’t feel this way towards me. You wouldn’t have these ridiculous feelings!”

She sighed, still sniffing. Her tears still flowed, but they no longer hindered her speech or breathing.

“I hoped it wasn’t you,” she whispered. “Because if it was, I’d be losing the only friend I’ve got.”

“No you aren’t. It’s the opposite—I—” He gestured to his bounds wrists. “Let me go?”

She liquefied the band of matter, but didn’t bother trying to reabsorb it just then. He sat up when she tried to move away, one hand on her waist to hold her in place.

“I didn’t want you to know,” he admitted at last. “I wasn’t going to tell you. I knew you’d act this way. You don’t have to avoid someone just because they love you.”

“Do you have any idea what happens to the people who love me? They’re all dead now.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Like Robert?”

“I’m stronger than he ever would have been.”

She laughed dryly.

“You don’t know anything about me. How could you possibly even...”

She couldn’t even say it, the concept was so foreign.

“But I do know you. You moved to the mountains where you had no one, and despite how deadly the cold is to you, to keep humans out of the crossfire. You’re caring. You did the wrong thing for the right reason by influencing that family to adopt the boy. You’re compassionate. You tried to convince me and Robert to leave you where you were because you’re selfless. You care about others more than yourself.

“After Robert died you tried to protect me. You still do. I notice. Your entire being is filled with love for everyone but yourself. The very thought of someone else loving you throws you into this panic that I don’t understand.”

“The same way you don’t understand my feelings, I don’t understand yours. I’m a monster who could make your brain literally explode with a simple hello if you didn’t have those plugs in.”

He reached up and plucked the plugs from his ears, chucking them at the ocean behind her. She stared at him, stunned into silence. He leaned forward.

“I am not afraid of you. Were it up to me, I never would have put those in. You’re no danger to me or anyone else, if they’d just let you live your life. You’re not a monster. If anyone is a monster, it’s me. You don’t know anything about me, but I know a lot about you. And anyone who knows you is lost to you. Not just me. Trust me.”

Still she didn’t speak, frowning at him. He pulled her forward until he could kiss her forehead.

“You’re right,” he murmured against her skin, “about one thing. My feelings are ridiculous. Because I am too old for you. I have an ex-wife and a child. I’ve lived out many of my fantasies and dreams. I’ve traveled and explored the galaxy. I’m not an old man by any means, but I’ve been able to live. You haven’t. You don’t even know yourself. How can you begin to know and become involved with someone else? It would just confuse you.

“You’ve barely scratched the surface of your abilities, your personality—Your world! Acting on my feelings would be selfish and wrong. So you don’t have to worry. Yes, Saige, I have fallen in love with you but no, nothing has to change. You don’t have to push me away, because I’m pushing myself away. Just let me treat you the way you deserve to be treated. All of this”—he gestured to the trinkets she’d dumped in the sand—“is yours. Please take it. I wanted to do something good after all the bad I’ve done toward you.”

“Glen...”

He shook his head.

“I don’t care that you don’t love me. That’s for the best. I’m glad. But make no mistake: you are an incredible girl who deserves to be loved. And I won’t stop just because you’re scared. Even if you push me away and never speak to me again.”

Her tears soaked into his shirt, but she only let him hold her for so long. When she pulled back, she kept her face as neutral as she could. After a moments’ hesitation, she reciprocated his caste kiss, but her lips only reached his temple. She smiled as best she could, though it didn’t reach her eyes and wobbled at the corners.

“You make me happy,” she said. “Even when you hated me, I loved learning from you. Even when you were rough and angry. I don’t want that to go away.”

“It doesn’t have t—”

She placed a finger over his lips. Her throat tingled before she spoke.

“So you aren’t going to love me anymore.”

He frowned, and his eyes flashed.

“Saige-”

“I’m your student and that’s all,” she continued. Her voice was pitched as far as she could get it without hurting him.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I do love you.”

“You will not.”

He winced. But even as his eyes watered, he smiled at her.

“Your voice doesn’t work on me. It never has.”

Her heartbeat sped. Her voice trembled when she repeated her command, but when he countered it yet again, she nearly yelled at him.

“You will not love me anymore!”

His eyes, previously glowing as if fending off her attempts at control, went dark. Almost black. Then he began to convulse. His entire body jerked of its own accord, like he was having a seizure. She scrambled off of him and leaned over his convulsing frame in the sand.

“Glen! Oh my god, oh my god...” She jabbed at her teilu stone behind her ear and rushed to call Carter. He answered quickly.

“Carter! Please come quick, Glen needs help! Oh my god... I don’t know what to do. He’s shaking, and I think he’s having a seizure.”

“I’m on my way. Can he hear you?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know... I didn’t mean for this to happen. Please don’t be gone, please don’t be... oh my god...”

Carter had hung up a while before, leaving her completely alone, completely helpless. As she watched and exclaimed in horror, Glen began to melt before her eyes. His body literally flattened and expanded over the sand. His skin thinned until she could see his veins and then darkened to black and liquefied. He’d turned into the negative matter he controlled daily, right there on the beach. She screamed now, her voice traveling who knew how far.

Only when the liquid began to sink into the sand did she remember: she’d gone through the same ordeal. How long had it been? It didn’t matter. She forced her emotion down and thought back to her own experience. She could still hear, despite the fact that she wasn’t solid.

“Glen? Glen, if you can hear me, you have to fight back. You have to solidify. I know you can’t feel anything, but you have to try. I don’t know how this happened, but please don’t give up—I’m so sorry...”

But still, the matter was sinking slowly into the sand. She had to do something. She couldn’t feel anything when she was in the same state, but what if there was something physical for her to grab onto? Something to ground her. She hesitated for a second. This could either hurt her badly and help him, or hurt her for no reason whatsoever. But she had to try.

She took a deep breath and thrust her hand into the negative matter. Pain flared up her entire arm, like she’d touched acid. It took every ounce of self-control that Glen and Carter had taught her to keep her hand in the puddle instead of jerking away and running to the ocean to cool her skin. What started as a bearable pain soon grew to an intensity she wasn’t prepared for. She cried out again, hand bunching into a fist.

Sirens and voices approached from down the beach, and she shut her eyes. Help was coming. She wouldn’t have to do this for much longer.

Carter was first to arrive, and he fell to the sand beside her.

“What...”

“He has to solidify,” she cried, tears once again streaming down her face. But this time, it wasn’t sadness, but pain that caused them.

Only after saying this did she notice. The matter was beginning to take shape again. Carter noticed too.

“It’s working! Keep going, you’re doing it.”

She shook her head, taking a deep breath to keep her consciousness.

“No. He is.”

A new pain started up in her fingers, and she started to sob, leaning down until her face pressed into the sand. The pain of the sand in her eyes at least distracted from the torture of her hand. It took forever, but Glen solidified, bit by bit, until his coloring returned and his skin became skin again. Her hand was pushed from the matter by force as he took shape, and she jerked it back with a wail that sounded horrible even to her own ears.

She held her hand in front of her face and immediately wished she hadn’t. The flesh of her hand and wrist had been worn down to almost nothing, and in some places, white bone showed. She couldn’t move her fingers at all for fear of the agony that would result.

“It’s going to be okay, Commander. I’m going to put you to sleep now, but you’ll be good as new when you wake up.”

She didn’t look at the person that spoke to Glen, eyes on her decimated hand. But she didn’t receive long to observe it, as she found herself tackled to the ground, her hand pinned underneath her, raw flesh and bone grinding into the sand.

“Get her locked up ASAP! Maximum security!”

“But Chief, her wounds—”

“Let her die if you have to, but lock her up.”

“Sir—”

“If you want your job come morning, you’d best get moving.”

“Yes sir...”

She may had blacked out, as next thing she knew, she was on her back in a bright white room, no trace of sand anywhere. She didn’t feel like moving, or calling out for Glen. If she hadn’t achieved anything else, she knew one thing for certain. Glen wouldn’t love her anymore. Not after what she’d done to him.

And even if he did, she’d be dead, soon enough. He wouldn’t even get the chance.

At least she had that as a comfort in her last moments.

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