Warlands of Song

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Chapter Eight: Glen

“We need a plan. We can’t just keep running and moving for our entire lives. We have the home-court advantage at this point, but that won’t hold us for long. They can’t conduct as big a search as they want to without alerting the humans, but what they lack in speed, they can quickly make up for with resources. And who knows the powerful people they’ll recruit for this mission.”

Glen nodded. His fingers continued to run over Saige’s scalp as she slept beside him on the bed. They’d ended up a couple states away after driving for two days, but even that wasn’t far enough. They had little time to formulate a plan.

“You’re right. I think we need to move farther away.”

“It doesn’t matter where we go at this point. We won’t get far before they catch us, and then what? It’s not a simple crime we committed. We illegally detained an officer and an entire battalion, and are harboring a fugitive. And we’re on the run, on earth, so they can do whatever they want to us without the fear of charges on themselves. We can’t go farther away at this point, unless you want to go to another country.”

“I was thinking another planet, actually.”

Robert’s expression didn’t shift at all. In fact, he looked increasingly sour as the moment stretched on. “I’d be happy if I didn’t know you meant to take her with us.”

“But—”

“What do you think this is? A game?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what do you think it is? What do you think will happen when this is all said and done? She’ll get to come back here and live her little life like nothing ever happened? We’ll get to go home and see our families? You get to go back and be the famous General again? As soon as you used your powers against those officers, you screwed us over. Well, yourself. I don’t have anything to go back to. But you’ll never be able to see your daughter again. Or any of your family.”

“I—”

“You always had a problem with split-second decisions. I know this. But this is absolutely...”

He looked up at his friend’s sudden silence. Robert wore a look of defeat.

“It’s useless to tell you any of this. You already know. What’s going through your head right now?”

He opened his mouth, shut it, and opened it again. “Honestly?”

Robert nodded.

“I remember how nosy I was when she first showed up. She was all alone, and obviously young—”

“You heard Lieutenant Luther. She’s not as young as she looks.”

“Still. She looked young. In her eyes, she looked so lost. Every time I look at her, she looks the same way. Even when she’s standing up for herself and acting in a way far older than she looks, there’s that lost look in her eyes. No one, at any age, should have to look like that. I don’t know what will happen, but I honestly didn’t plan on going back to my family anyway. I’m sorry for dragging you into this, but other than that, I don’t regret anything. I’m going to try my best to help her, and hope that when all is said and done, the truth is revealed. For better or worse.”

His words hung in the hotel room for a while. He shifted, scooting to rest his back against the headboard, and stilled when Saige moved. She rolled over, to face him, and her head landed on his thigh.

“I don’t think that’s all. Are you sure there’s nothing else you’re not saying?”

Robert’s words made him look away from Saige. “Like what?”

His roommate raised his brows. “Like you’re going through some sort of midlife crisis and are actually attracted to her.”

He smirked. “It’s not that, don’t worry. She’s far too young for that to be an option.”

“Really.”

Glen didn’t answer, as he hadn’t been asked to clarify. But then Robert spoke again.

“And you didn’t drag me into this. You gave me a chance to back out, and I could’ve stopped you at any time, or just left. So you can stop saying that.”

“Fine.”

Robert walked toward the bathroom. “She’s different than the girls you usually like anyway. Too small. Too stubborn. Siren...”

Alone for a minute, he looked down at her. Robert was right, she was stubborn. But he wondered if that was her true nature, or her survival instinct. In her sleep she seemed starved for affection, as she’d gotten closer and closer as the night had gone on. Much different from when she was awake, staying as far away from him as possible. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was on top of him when he woke. If he slept at all.

He brushed a piece of lint from her cheek. Before his fingers left her skin, he paused. The contrast between their skin was almost harsh. Pale near-white against near-black with purple undertones. But under the instinct to think it harsh was the realization of beauty. If she hadn’t shaved her head, she would be beautiful. But as it stood, she just looked stark and bold in an attention-seeking way.

“So you want to go to Tulca,” Robert asked, sitting back on the other bed.

“I think it’s the best way to get our footing the proper way.”

Robert sighed, lying back on the bed.

“I’m with you. But you should ask her. She might not be keen on going to the planet she’ll probably be killed on.”

“We won’t let that happen.”

The look he received spoke volumes. And none of it calmed his nerves. But he’d started a chain of events that couldn’t be stopped. They had to continue, or give up.

“I’ll ask her after I make a call. Would you mind?”

Robert nodded and stood. “Just let me know when you’re finished. But before you wake her.”

He made a face. Robert shrugged.

“I don’t trust her. I mean it: tell me first.”

“Fine. Get out.”

When his roommate was gone, he took a few fortifying breaths. Then he listened to Saige’s breathing, letting it calm him further. Her body was almost alarmingly cold, so it was no wonder that she was always cold. But for him, she was actually comfortable to rest an arm over, since he’d turned the heat up for her. Hadn’t he read about that in school, centuries before? Siren body temperature rested naturally low, so they settled in hot climates. Then why had she moved to the mountains? She was truly odd.

When he knew he couldn’t wait any more, he tapped behind his ear and dialed the number he needed. His heart pounded while he listened to the beeping in his ear. Then her face appeared before him in the air.

“I was starting to think you totally forgot me,” she said, eyes narrowed.

Everything he’d planned to say flew out of his head. He smiled as best he could.

“I’m sorry, Denine... Lizzie...”

She frowned, and the music in the background shut off. “Dad? What’s wrong?”

He wanted to assure her that nothing was wrong and that he was just tired. If he was a good father, that’s what he would’ve done. But he was on earth to begin with because he wasn’t a good father, so why should he start acting like one now?

“Are you alone,” he asked.

“Yes. What’s wrong? Do I need to get mom?”

“No. In fact, I don’t want you to tell your mother anything I’m about to tell you. No matter what happens, you act like you don’t know anything. Do you understand?”

His poor little girl looked ready to panic, so he made a calming gesture with his hands.

“No, nothing like that. Relax, Lizzie. Are you calm?”

“I would be a lot calmer if you would tell me what’s happening. Where’s Uncle Robert? Is he okay?”

“We’re both okay. He’s getting some air. But I’m not going to be able to talk to you for a while.”

“Why?”

“I’m in a little trouble, sweetheart. You might hear a lot of alarming things. You might not hear anything. But no matter what happens, I needed to tell you that I’m trying to do the right thing. And this feels right to me.”

He watched Elizabeth’s mind work, her emotions displayed in her deep blue eyes. But then she nodded.

“Okay. But you’ll come home when it’s over, right?”

“Of course I will. There’s no question about that.”

Good father or not, he couldn’t let her go around for however long his mission would last, wondering if her dad would come home. And one way or another, he would go home one day. Alive, or in a casket, he’d return.

“But I’m not gone yet, so tell me about what’s been happening.”

She was hesitant at first, obvious lingering worry and fear clouding her stories. But soon, as pre-teens had a habit of doing, she forgot all about his news in favor of relating her own. He smiled and asked questions at appropriate times. Meanwhile, he kept stroking Saige’s skin. He found the gesture calming to himself as well as her. She moved closer and closer every few moments.

“What are you looking at that’s so great?”

He glanced back up, shocked to realize that he had been staring at Saige.

“Nothing. Nothing, just my phone.”

Her brows almost left her face, they raised so high. “Your phone? You’re turning into a human teenager, dad.”

He laughed, but lowered his voice when Saige stirred. “No, I was just checking something.”

“That’s always their excuse too. I see it on TV. You need to hurry back here before there’s no return.”

Saige wasn’t just shifting this time. She was waking up. So he hurried to end the call, trying to seem like he wasn’t rushing.

“I have to go, Denine. Lizzie, I love you.”

“I love you too. I know you said you wouldn’t be able to talk for a while, but could you try? I’m worried.”

“Hey,” he said, heart breaking, “your Uncle Robert is keeping me safe. He has my back. And when all of this is over with, the first thing I’ll do is come see you. I promise.”

“Okay. Goodnight.”

He said goodnight and ended the call just before Saige yawned, loudly. She stretched, her arms sliding across his torso, and when she relaxed she was half sprawled across his lap. She lay still for a few seconds before she practically leaped from his lap and the bed both. He remained where he was while she acclimated herself to the situation. All she forgot to do, it seemed, was brush herself off. Like he was contaminated.

Affectionate in her sleep, wary and frightened of people while conscious. What had made her this way?

“Where are we,” she asked.

“Alabama. We stopped for the night.”

Her mouth opened, a familiar fire in her eyes, but it died just as fast. Her body released from its defensive pose, and she became a soft, almost embarrassed young woman. All of this happened in less than a second, leaving him with a confused frown.

“Okay,” she said.

Was she about to kill him? He looked her up and down, wary. “Okay?”

She nodded, and eyed the spot she’d lain in moments before. But she moved to the bed next to him now, lying down there instead. He notified Robert to come back to the room, and turned to Saige.

“Are you hungry? They serve dinner downstairs around this time. I can’t go, but you’ll attract a lot less attention.”

“I’m fine. But...”

She looked like she wanted to say something else, but she struggled against something. Finally, she shut her mouth and said nothing else.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

He almost asked her again, but Robert returned before he could. The other man leveled an irritated glance on him before he looked to Saige, speaking to her directly for the first time ever.

Robert pointed to him. “This is my best friend. If he wants to help you, then I want to help you. But I expect full disclosure. Being his friend means I look out for him when he’s acting stupid. I keep up the sensible part of things, while he follows his emotions. I want to know everything about you. Everything that can be used against you, everything that can be used against us. Give us that, and we will give you full disclosure in return. This isn’t a game.”

“Robert—”

“Shut up,” Robert snapped at him. “I’m not hurting her, I’m letting her know the facts.”

Robert pointed to him again. “Glen has a family. A family that loves him and wants him to come home. A daughter. She’s not even a teenager yet. He wants to get back to her, but honestly I don’t think it’s possible. He’s going to end up imprisoned, executed, or simply dead because he was protecting you. And there’s no reason for it.

“I don’t have a family without him, so my death will mean nothing. But this isn’t some elementary school gang we’re up against. We’re up against the entire military force of Tulca. The odds aren’t in our favor. Do you even understand what’s happening?”

He looked to Saige as well for her reaction. He was shocked to find her staring at him. The intensity in her eyes was almost frightening.

“You have a daughter?”

He nodded, uncertain about where she was going to go with it. The intensity in her eyes was replaced then, with a certain kind of anger. Nearly rage. He expected her to ask a question he could answer. Or maybe express surprise over the new fact she’d gained. But her next question chilled him to the bone. The words themselves weren’t significant, but her voice delivered it with slow, precise, almost-choked graveness. She sounded like she wanted to hurt him.

“What are you doing?”

He didn’t know how to answer her. He didn’t think she wanted an answer. She stood, and even Robert remained quiet. She moved a step toward him, stopped, then finished the few steps to reach him. Her fists balled at her sides.

“You stupid, stupid man,” she said. She shook her head, still looking intense. But now there were added notes of sadness and horror now.

“You have a daughter. A daughter who wants you to come home—how could you do this to her?”

He blinked, still stunned into silence. She lashed out, shoving him.

“Answer me!”

She hadn’t influenced him. She hadn’t even attempted to. But she’d yelled it quite loudly. Robert moved toward them, but he held up a hand to stop him and spoke to her.

“Because this is the right thing to do—”

“No.”

He silenced himself at her statement. Half exclamation, half plea. Though what she was pleading for, he didn’t know.

“No, it’s not the right thing to do. You should never have helped me. Now you’re going to die. We’re all going to die and your little girl will be left without a father.”

She shook her head, backing away from him. “You have no idea what you just dragged yourself into. Robert was right, you never should have bothered me. Wherever I go, people die. It doesn’t matter that you mean well. They don’t care. All they care about are themselves and what they believe. And they believe that I’m dangerous, and I’m a threat, and I’m going to die one way or another.”

She moved with a speed and strength he didn’t know she possessed, pulling at him until he stood and shoving him toward the door.

“You need to go. You need to go and leave me here. Both of you. They’re coming for me. You don’t have to get dragged any further into this. Robert, please,” she said, turning to his friend. “Take him and go. This is what you wanted anyway, right? So it’s fine.”

Robert looked to him, alarm foremost in his eyes. But his friend didn’t move. Glen found himself being released so Saige could latch onto the other man, whose eyes grew wide at her desperation. Her last plea was so heart-wrenching, he wanted to kill everyone who wished her ill. How could anyone want such a passionate soul dead?

“Please don’t let him do this. I can’t be the reason why another child never sees her father. I can’t tear another family apart. I can’t.”

Robert approached her when she began to truly freak out. His friend hesitated before he touched her, hands on her shoulders.

“Hey. Hey, look at me. Look at me. You’re having a panic attack. You need to breathe.”

Glen stood back for a moment, letting Robert coach her through her attack. But he grew worried as she seemed unable to regain control of her breathing. He stepped in, finally, and forewent touching her to simply bend down to her level.

“Saige,” he said calmly, “does this happen to you often?”

She shook her head no, her movements jerky and quick.

“Okay. Is it okay if I touch you?”

She looked him over, but didn’t object in any way. He raised his hand, slowly, to her shoulder, the other moving to rest on her throat. He used a gentle touch, but she still jerked in surprise.

“You’re breathing too much at once. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. I’m going to press down a little on your airway. Try to breathe slow enough that it’s comfortable. Focus.”

He did what he said he would, watching her eyes for any sign of increased panic. But she listened to him. In through her nose, out through her mouth.

“Good,” he murmured. “Just breathe.”

A few minutes in, her breathing calmed and she took a self-conscious step back, away from him. He dropped his hands.

“Better?”

She nodded, silent. Her arms came up to wrap around herself like she was cold. It was a protective and defensive position if he’d ever seen one. She needed a minute to herself.

“Robert and I will go get some dinner from downstairs. Get some rest, we’ll be right back.”

“I’m fine, really. Don’t do that, you already said—”

“We’re going. I’m starving. Relax.”

She stood. “No, I’ll go.”

“Saige.” He let a bit of edge seep into his voice, the tone he used on his soldiers. “You’re going to sit down and stay put, and we’ll be right back. This is not up for discussion.”

He could’ve sworn her eyes flickered, but it was such a quick moment he wasn’t sure. In the end, she returned to the bed, pulling the covers over her. Before he and Robert left, he caught a glimpse of movement. She was wiping her eyes, almost too quick to catch.

In the elevator, he met Robert’s eyes. In that moment he knew that his friend was on board. If the murderous tint captured in Robert’s literally-glowing irises was any indication, he wanted to kill the bastards behind the girl’s panic as well.

“We’ll find to whoever did this to her.”

His attempt to comfort his friend was lost under the other’s man’s rage.

“I won’t stop at just finding them.”

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