Warlands of Song

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Chapter Thirty-Seven: Glen

“Glen, are you even listening to me?”

He clenched his jaw, fingers at his temples.

“I couldn’t hear anything else but you if I wanted to, with how you’re screaming,” he growled.

Carter eyed him.

“I’m not talking lou—”

“Just shut up.”

It was too much. Everything was too much. He could hear every thread of fabric on his body as he shifted, and every breath Carter took. Footsteps in the hallway, despite the soundproofing. Then there was his vision. His sight had always been exceptional, like all Namai, but he swore he could see the overwhelming sound. After all these years, his mind was slipping. Just what he needed right now.

“I’m going to get the doctor.”

“Don’t. I’m fine.”

“Is that why you won’t let go of your head?”

He wanted to argue and fight and pull his hands away from his temples, but the truth was that if he did, he felt as though his scull would split apart and fall in chunks to the floor. It was only when Carter left that he attempted to do so.

The first time, his fingers barely left his skin before he was grabbing his head again. His breathing increased, and he laughed shakily. It was like learning how to exist. How to just be, without freaking out.

Deep breaths... deep breaths... One... two... three. In and out. Like Saige. Just like he’d told her. If this was how she’d felt as she learned to control her powers, no wonder it took so long.

He shut his eyes in an attempt to focus on one thing at a time. His ears felt too sensitive to touch, but every sound in his room attacked them anyway. His refrigerator buzzed, along with anything else that used electricity. He’d never noticed how his oven hummed. His bed, filled with water, made an entirely different sound from the electricity. The water flowed smoothly underneath him. He rocked back and forth and listened to the sound, focusing just on it. The more he focused, the quieter everything else became.

Slowly, he lowered his hands from his head. They hovered beside his ears for a while, just in case he needed them again, but he kept his eyes shut and his attention on the water in his mattress to ground him.

“Okay... I can do this,” he whispered to himself.

His voice sounded different. Smoother, less scratchy.

One deep breath to the next, he kept himself calm and focused. Soon he could single out individual sounds and categorize them according to object, function, proximity, and danger. Only then did he open his eyes.

Now that he knew what sound everything made, the visuals clicked into place. There was still too much input, but he was no longer drowning in stimuli. He could deal with this.

At least he could until the emergency lock down began.

The lights turned red and the sirens blared. He covered his ears with two pillows as pain sliced through his head. As many times as he’d heard the alarm blare, he’d never had such a strong reaction. It made him angry at the pain, the volume, how it wedged deep inside of his psyche. It took a moment for him to notice the absence of the commands that normally flickered before his eyes and filtered into his ears.

The true sense of the words “relieved of duty” set in. He was no longer Commander. He was no longer even part of the military. It wasn’t his job to watch out for the grunts and the rest of his soldiers. Whose job was it then? His mind pictured Carter wearing his old uniform, freshly tailored to fit the smaller man’s frame. Surely Carter would have told him about this if it’d happened. No, it wasn’t his friend. Then who?

When his ears adjusted to the insulting siren, he uncovered them. What was the siren for? Or, maybe, who. Saige? But Saige was scheduled for execution. Had she escaped? Stupid, stubborn girl. She never wanted to wait for him to help her. He shook his head. Of course not. She was Saige.

There was also the possibility that it had nothing to do with her at all. Maybe Fey had finally snapped. Or the eerily-defiant grunts had attempted a coup. None of those possibilities felt exaggerated in the slightest.

He was expected to stay in his room and wait for whatever threat everyone else was responding to. But once a soldier, always a soldier. And why the heck wasn’t he a soldier anymore? He refused to turn on his eye-screen to watch the news. Someone would give him a straight answer, sooner or later.

When he keyed in his exit code, it flashed red. The second attempt initiated warning mode, and it began to buzz in threat.

“They did not...”

But the buzzing continued.

Yes, they had.

“I swear ,” he muttered.

A couple minutes later, the door crumbled to the floor like an accordion. He reabsorbed the Matter responsible and rolled his neck, stepping past the crumpled remains.

“Now what don’t you want me to see?”

The hallways were deserted as he traveled down them. His only company were the alarms and the silver flashing lights, tinting the white hallways the color of Saige’s blood. He wished someone would show up and try to stop him. He needed to punch someone.

His chance came sooner than expected when one of the grunts rounded the corner. He expected to receive a look of surprise, but got nothing. Was he expected?

“Move,” he ordered.

But the boy didn’t move, instead stopping directly in front of him.

“Mr. Mykel? Is that you?”

"Commander Mykel. And who else would it be, my evil twin?”

The boy looked him up and down, frowning.

“I know you’ve been discharged. Everyone does. But we have other things to worry about.”

Before he could question the boy, he found himself surrounded by the rest of the grunts. Male and female, they surrounded him, ushering him into an empty room.

“Hey, what—”

None of them paid any attention to his protests, instead speaking to one another.

“They probably deactivated his stone.”

“I can get that back up and running.”

Hands poked and prodded at the stone behind his ear, and menus flickered in his eyes faster than he could process them.

“Make sure he’s invisible on the network though. We don’t need them aware that he’s on the move.”

“And give him access to everything.”

“I’ll try to find Madam while we’re at it too.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary. She obviously has her own exit plan.”

“What in the world is going on,” he asked at last, nearly shouting to be heard. They all shushed him harshly, the combined noise bouncing around in his head.

“We’re getting you out of here,” the first boy said. “But you have to listen to us.”

He honestly didn’t know what to do, think, or say to that. He just laughed.

“You’re getting me out of here? Is this a joke? This whole thing has been one big prank on me, hasn’t it? That’s why you lot won’t tell me what’s going on. Everyone has decided to get me back for acting stupid, right? Well I get it. I acted stupid. But you can give up the game now.”

Most of the idle grunts stared at him blankly. There was a click and a beep in his head, and the menus disappeared.

“I’m in, and he’s good. Let’s go.”

The first boy nodded grimly, then met his eyes head on. Suddenly he seemed a lot older than he was.

“Mr. Mykel, your life is in danger. As are all of ours. This is not a game, a joke, or a prank. In fact, for the first time in your life, there’s absolutely no one who cares if you live or die. Not in this base.”

“What are you—”

“We don’t have the luxury of story time right now. All you need to know is that we’re the only ones on your side. If you want to live to see your family, you’ll follow us. And we could actually use your help.”

“So that’s it? You just want my help?”

“No. We could escape on our own. In fact, we planned to. No one expected your little complication.”

The boy slashed a hand through the air when he tried to speak.

“Are you in or out?”

He planned on saying no. He had no reason to trust them. He knew no more than when he’d started. Then the first spoken alert filtered into his head.

“All personnel are to report to sectors three and five. All Commanding officers are to report to the briefing room. Again, all personnel...”

He muttered a sharp word. They weren’t lying.

“What’s happening out there?”

“We just set up a few distractions.”

He stood. “Let’s go.”

“Hold on, we have to fix your side first.”

“What?”

They physically moved him back into a sitting position and removed his shirt. Then something hard and cold was wrapping around his middle. It clicked, and they returned his shirt. The next time he stood, he couldn’t feel his waist at all. And the cast they’d wrapped around him kept his back straight.

“The heck did you—”

“Come on.”

They began to filter out. Half went left, and he was dragged along with the group that went right.

“We’re going to be subduing hostiles, not killing them,” the first boy, who seemed to be the leader of the group, said. “Keep yourself in check.”

“Excuse me?”

They didn’t answer him, muttering among themselves. A soldier rounded the corner, but one of the girls threw out a hand and the next thing he knew the soldier hit the wall and slumped to the ground. He looked at the girl, who ignored him completely.

Who were these kids?

“Our only goal is to get out of here. What way will offer the least resistance?”

“If everyone is going to their station, the halls should be clear.”

“I’m sure there are still guards and lookouts, so again: what’s the path with least resistance? Preferably a route that’s secret.”

He opened his mouth to answer the boy, but before he could, someone else rounded the corner. The girl from before raised her hand, but he grabbed it.

“Wait.”

Fey stopped at the sight of them, a large box in her arms. She looked shocked, and glanced back behind her. Then her back straightened and she continued toward them.

“What are you doing here,” he asked, blocking her way. “Shouldn’t you be helping the others?”

She shook her head. “I don’t belong to this base anymore, remember? I’m being transferred, so I’m moving my things—”

“Why are you sweating?”

“I’m fine. Excuse me.”

He grabbed her arm, and she sighed.

“Look, I’m sorry about earlier, okay? I know you don’t want that, and I was wrong to try to force you. Please just let it go now. I’m being transferred just like you wanted.”

She shook as she held the box, eyes cast down toward the ground in shame. Guilt hit him hard.

“Mr. Mykel?”

He looked up at the leader of the group who accompanied him.

“We have to go.”

“Right. Just...” He moved out of Fey’s way. “Take care of yourself, okay? Don’t let this stop you from becoming Commander of your new base. You’ll make a good one.”

She nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

She continued on her way down the hall, and he joined his own group. It took focus to remember which hallways lead to which. His thoughts kept going back to Saige. He stopped.

“I can’t do this. I have to go get Saige.”

“No. You can’t. We already went to her, but she was gone. She obviously had her own escape plan.”

“What do you mean she was gone?”

“Her room, the one they were holding her in, is empty. She was gone. We don’t know where she went, and this is the only chance we’re going to get to get out of here. We have to leave her.”

But Xenia had sent him the signal. Wasn’t the who alarm the—wait—

“Wait, you guys set off the distractions. Not someone else?”

“Yes, this was Eavan’s signal. We just assisted.”

“So you’re working with Eavan?”

“Yes. Which way do we go from here?”

They’d come into a large common area, and he looked around. He lead the way out of a blue door.

“The exit is just past a couple more hallways.”

The grunts were working with Eavan? And Eavan had wanted Saige to escape as well. Who were they all working for? Why were they so worried about Saige? And now him. He’d been included. What was going on?

They burst from the base into the courtyard and he raised his hand at the blinking sunlight. He turned in a slow circle, searching for an enemy to be following them. But there was no one around. Far too easy.

“Come on, let’s go,” the main boy yelled, and they all made a run for it. Running past the tables and the big tree, they made their way down the hill. At the bottom, he turned and looked back up at the base. Smoke floated up from somewhere deep inside the building. The soldiers would be frantic trying to get it out. Or, rather, get them out. There was so much smoke, more than one fire had to be going at once.

“Where are we going now,” he asked.

“Madam told us to find a secure meeting place for the night, and that she’d meet us in the morning after she found Saige. Do you have any good spots, Mr. Mykel?”

With a laugh, he ran both hands through his hair. Why did his chest feel so tight? He took a big, gasping breath, and leaned over, hands pressing into his stomach. He couldn’t breathe. The air whistled through the branches of the forest they’d run into, accompanied by the sounds of several animals. The scent of smoke reached his nose and burned. Too much...

“He’s having a panic attack,” someone said.

“Glen, you need to calm down.”

How was he supposed to calm down when there was so much happening? He was expected to take the grunts and go to safety, but he still didn’t know where Saige was. What if they’d found her and were about to kill her? What if they thought she’d done the things the grunts had down? And who were these kids he was following? Saige couldn’t die for their mistakes. He had to get back to her—

“Glen! Get up, we can’t stay here.”

“I can’t breathe,” he gasped. “I can’t leave her here—”

“Saige can take care of herself much more than you can right now, sir. We need to work on getting you to safety, and then we’ll worry bout her.”

Getting him to safety? He wasn’t some damaged little flower. He could take care of himself just fine. Of course, he was having a panic attack on the ground...

“Hey. Hey, look at me.”

It was a new voice. A gentle, female voice. He opened one eyes just enough to see a smiling, green-eyed girl looking at him, face to face.

“Take some deep breaths with me. Good. I know this is a lot to take in. And there’s so much you don’t know. But as soon as we get you to safety, we’ll explain everything. Okay? Every single thing. I promise on my life, I will personally tell you what’s happening. Okay?”

He nodded. Her voice was so smooth. It washed over him like honey, flowing through his ears and over his skin in a soothing fashion.

“Saige will be fine. She can take care of herself. It’s all going to be okay. Eavan is out looking for her as we speak. They wouldn’t execute her without warning. They give time. It’s okay. We have time to get to her.”

She repeated the words over and over, solidifying them in his head. They had time. It would be okay. They had time...

“Okay... Good. You’re good now, right?”

He stood on shaky legs. That hadn’t happened to him, since he was young. It was as though he was reverting back to his child self. The child who jumped at the slightest noise and ran from strangers. The little Glen who didn’t want to go anywhere without his mother. Back when he felt so alone and different and his child self couldn’t figure out why.

He needed to get a grip.

“Mr. Mykel? Do you know a safe place we can go?”

He nodded, blowing out a harsh breath.

“Yeah, I do.”

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