The Story of Jace - Savior

Bloodlines of Atmos book 2

by J. P. Edgar

Forced to leave his sister behind when he turned 18, the story of Jace continues after his time in Sanctuary of Orphaned Children. He follows the path he paved to fight for humankind’s survival against the Evolved.

But what can one man do when pitted against magic users, massive stone golems, winged monsters, and other deadly creatures? And if he goes on this dangerous quest, what about his sister? And what about the suspicious activities at the orphanage?

In order to find the truth, he’ll have to call on old favors and see childhood acquaintances. Hopefully, that’ll be enough.


Excerpt

Proloue

 

Drill Sergeant Shepard stood motionless in the desert sun waiting for his new recruits. With his hands behind his back and sweat dripping down his face, he stared off at the distant bus that kicked up dust, thinking back to when he first rode to the isolated boot camp. He remembered the stench of the body odor from dozens of recruits, the miserable heat, and listening to nothing but the squeaking of the bus joints because of the no-talking rule. One of the hottest days on record and the recruits were riding in an old, cramped, and stuffy bus. As soon as they agreed to climb the stairs in to find their seat, they were going to be tested on everything. Even the ride to the camp tested them, simulating a prison in all but shackles to let them know their old lives were over.

Sand pelted his face from the breeze when the bus pulled up. It was time to go to work. It was time to break down these kids and stripping them of their old habits of civilian life and rebuild them into tough, hardcore soldiers.

The doors opened with a creek, and the recruits started to walk out. They seemed to be a healthy mix of rookies—boys and girls, short and tall. Every single one of them would be fine examples of discipline and valor when he was through with them.

Shepard blew hard on his whistle, catching the attention of the kids who poured out of the bus. “Line up!”

One by one, the children stood side by side, each of them standing with their backs straight. Or as straight as they could. He quickly looked them over, then started to pace in front of the line. He looked for the weak link. An example to help break down the spirit of these kids and to turn them into figures of discipline and respect. “My name is Drill Sergeant Shepard. When you address me, you will call me Drill Sergeant.” When he reached the end of the line, he turned around and walked back down the row. “There are only four words you will tell me. And unless I tell you otherwise, I don't want to hear you say anything BUT those words. Those words are 'yes,' 'no,' and 'Drill Sergeant!'“

He stopped at the shortest recruit in the line. The boy couldn't have been more than five and a half feet tall. Worst of all, his features gave him a feeling of uncaring and lack of discipline, like he stared off in the distance and ignoring the world around him. He had found his first example. “Do you understand, recruit?”

The kid nodded.

“What the shit!” Shepard stepped up and got close to his face. “What did you say?”

The kid shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Was 'nothing' something I said you could say?”

“No, sir!”

Though the reply was better than the last, Shepard had a feeling this kid was going to be a problem. “What’s your name, boy?”

“Jace.”

“Not anymore, Tiny. Drop and do push-ups until I tell you to stop!”

Without skipping a beat, Tiny leaped back, dropped to the ground and began his punishment. Shepard knelt, getting closer to Tiny's ear. “Yes, Drill Sergeant! No, Drill Sergeant! I don't want you to say anything else. Is that understood, Tiny?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

“Good!” Shepard stood up, still watching Tiny while he pumped out one push-up after another. “Seems there is hope for you after all.” He continued his pacing in front of the row of would-be soldiers. “Now, you are NOT to speak unless I tell you to. You are not going to sleep unless I tell you. You will not shit! You will not piss!” He spun around and looked a recruit in the eye, a rather chubby-faced kid with a large gut. He would have to work on this kid to get him in shape. “If I see you wipe your ass without permission, I'm going to kick it!” He leaned in closer. “Then you will clean my boot with your tongue!” Shepard spotted a grin at the corner of Chubby's lip. He had found another that needed a severe ass-kicking. “You find that funny?”

“No, Drill Sergeant!”

“I bet you're undressing me with your pretty little eyes. I bet you wish I were a rack of ribs you could bite into.”

“No, Drill Sergeant!”

“Bullshit, Chubby! Drop and give me twenty!”

On command, Chubby fell to the ground and started doing push-ups. Before Shepard continued his pacing in front of his line, Chubby spoke, “The concrete is hot, Drill Sergeant.”

Shepard glared at Chubby, who looked up from his push-up position. “What did you say?”

Chubby's voice gave a painful quiver. “N-Nothing, Drill Sergeant.”

Shepard watched Chubby for a moment while he struggled to pull himself off the ground, then took a step back to look over the recruits. “Everything you think you know, forget it! You are mine! And until I tell you otherwise, you're nothing but maggots. Is that understood?”

The battalion answered in unison, “Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

The single reply from a mass of people always sounded so good to his ears. Then a whimper sounded from Chubby, who visibly trembled. “You're not done, Maggot?” He knelt and put his face close to his ear. “How many have you done, Maggot?”

His reply came after a struggling gasp. “S... Six!”

“Six? Holy shit! You're no longer a maggot. You're a piece of shit!”

Chubby's reply was barely audible. “Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

“What did you say?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

“Better. Now get back up, you piece of shit, and get back in line!”

Chubby pushed himself to his hands and knees, then struggled to get to his feet. Tears ran down his red cheeks, and he panted heavily. Shepard looked at him once more, noting the shaking hands. The pavement was hot, and he should probably dismiss the line soon to get some ice on his palms.

Shepard turned to continue his pacing. “From this moment on, if one of you gets in trouble, all of you get in trouble. There is no 'you.' There is only your unit.” Shepard paused when he noticed Tiny, who still did push-ups. His back was straight, and he continued at a good pace. Still, he had a schedule to keep, and he needed to get Chubby something to put on his burns. “Get up, maggot!”

Tiny quickly got to his feet and stood up straight. Though he breathed deeply, he still seemed to have his breath. Sweat poured down his face, and his soaked shirt. His hands weren't trembling, regardless of the apparent burn marks on his palms. At first, Shepard was pleased with the potential of Tiny, but the kid's gaze—uncaring and uninterested—started to make him angry, as if nothing had happened. This kid was going to be trouble.

Shepard paused for a few heartbeats. “You rested up, Tiny?” He didn't care about the reply. Shepard blew on his whistle and announced to the line, “Let's go for a run, Maggots. Grab your shit and keep up!” He turned and started jogging toward the dunes to the base.

* * *

The following week, Shepard went to check on his recruits. More importantly, to check on Tiny. His attitude and his passive-aggressive defiance was something Shepard couldn't stand. It constantly undermined his authority, making his recruits less like soldiers every day. So every time Shepard saw Tiny doing the smallest thing, he would make Tiny an example.

When he walked in the door to the barracks, he saw Tiny doing sit-ups. “What the hell are you doing, Tiny?”

Tiny quickly got to his feet and stood straight.

“Did I say you could exercise?”

“No, Drill Sergeant.”

His arrogance was aggravating. The discipline he tried to teach this child went over his head, and that would put him and his unit at risk. He couldn't allow that to happen. “Then it's your turn to clean the bathroom. I want to see my face in the porcelain. I want the floor so clean I can eat off it. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

Tiny marched off, but Shepard decided to give him a bit of motivation. “Move, move, move!” After Tiny was out of sight, Shepard turned to the rest of the recruits. “As for the rest of you...” He eyed each of them for a moment, especially locking his gaze at Chubby. “I told you to keep an eye on him. The next time he does something, I'm going to make you all clean the shit tank! Now drop and give me twenty!”

In unison, everyone in the room fell to the floor for their push-ups. Discipline. Synchronization. Perfect harmony once more. He calmed down almost instantly, then turned and left the recruits to their punishment.

* * *

Training recruits hand-to-hand combat was always Shepard's favorite time in boot camp. The last strands of defiance were beaten out of the recruits, and it marked when the kids could be turned into soldiers.

The third recruit fell on the mat with a loud thud. Shepard stood victorious, staring at the three who rolled and moaned on the floor mat. He started to pace as he continued the introduction to his next lesson.

“Being faced against a powerful force is something you all will have to deal with in your lives. Your opponent on the battlefield won't care if you're down or not. They won't care if you're a mother or a father. A son or a daughter. If your enemy overpowers you, you need to find a way to win, or go down fighting!” He turned to Tiny, eager to finally break the last defiant member of his crew. “Tiny, get up here.” As Tiny stood and approached, Shepard continued, “Next, I want you maggots to see how to block and counter any given attack. It doesn't matter if it's against a human or those magical creatures who call themselves 'Evolved' or whatever. Urban combat will have a high chance of hand-to-hand combat. So you must be prepared for anything.” He turned to face Tiny. “Okay, Tiny. Try to hit me. Do whatever you want. Just try to—”

A sudden, sharp pulse of pain shot through his entire body. His head violently jerked back. Before he knew it, he felt himself swept off his feet and crashing hard on the mat. Then, he knew nothing.

* * *

Shepard leaned heavily on his crutch all while trying to keep the pressure off his torso. The uncomfortable neck brace made his skin itchy in places he couldn't scratch, and the bandages around his chest made the hot days hotter. Though no official medical released had been signed, Shepard insisted on getting back to his battalion to teach that little bastard a lesson. He had never been so embarrassed, and the damage to the recruit's discipline, as well as to his own reputation, was severe.

Tiny sat in an awkwardly shaped chair cleaning and polishing every boot in the base. The sun turned his skin red, and polish covered his hands. Still, the pain that bastard went through was nowhere close to being enough.

When Lieutenant Westmen's special forces recruits marched by, Tiny looked up, his head turning as he stared at the progression.

Shepard hobbled up to the table and picked up a boot, carefully scrutinizing the leather. Not a scuff mark on it. “You missed a spot!” Shepard threw the boot back in the dirty pile, then tipped the table over. Though the movement stung his chest and shoulder, his anger overrode the pain. “Do it again. Do it all again and do it right this time!”

Tiny stared hard at him.

“You eyeballing me, boy?” Shepard leaned forward, challenging Tiny's stare.

Finally, the undisciplined recruit replied in a quiet, humbled tone, “No, Drill Sergeant.”

Shepard stared hard at Tiny, closely looking over the red skin that already started to peel. Though he wanted this punk to pay, he knew if the captain saw Tiny in such a poor state, a possible court-martial would be in order. “Take a few minutes and put some lotion on your skin, maggot. Be back in ten, then get back to work.” He turned and slowly made his way toward the barracks. When he turned back, he saw Tiny staring at the Westmen's group. Shepard scoffed, then entered the air-conditioned building, getting out of the intense desert heat.

* * *

Unable to run with his squad, Shepard sat in the back of an ATV, watching the recruits jog up and down the sand dunes. It was especially pleasing because the sun beat on Tiny's sunburnt skin, and knowing wind blew sand into his wounds. And if he couldn't teach Tiny respect and discipline, then turning the group against him would.

Shepard called out, “Come on, maggots! Don't make me come to you.”

Chubby had improved quite a bit over the many weeks they have been in his care, and the weight had gotten more manageable. Still, his lagging behind was inexcusable.

Shepard had the ATV slow and pulled up beside Chubby. “Move it. Keep up, shit head!”

The amount of moisture Chubby had dripping down his face and neck made it look like he just got out of the pool. He put everything he had into his training. Shepard silently commended his commitment and dedication. Still, he was out of breath and was barely able to reply.

“Y-Yes, Drill… Sergeant.”

“Thank Tiny for your wonderful run in this cold afternoon. You should have checked to see if there were any spots in the bathrooms!”

Though recruits groaned, no one protested.

A glance at Chubby showed that he was about to collapse. Shepard decided it was time for a break, but not before reaching the top of the dune. “Okay, maggots. That's enough.” He stopped the ATV, then hobbled out of his seat. “Line up! It's time to hydrate.” The driver got out and carried a large ice chest, staying a step behind Shepard. He reached down and grabbed water bottles from the cooler, handing them to each of his recruits. He took an extra moment when he got to Chubby. After nodding his approval, he gave him the bottle. Chubby gave a slight smile, grabbed the bottle, and put it on the back of his neck.

When he got to Tiny, he paused, staring the little shit in the eyes. That cocky bastard hardly seemed out of breath, unlike everyone else. Shepard took a swig from the bottle, swished the cold water in his dry and sandy mouth, then spat it back into the bottle.

“Hydrate!” Shepard ordered as he shoved the slosh in Tiny’s chest. He paced down the line of recruits as they drank. After a couple of minutes, the break was over. “Present bottles!”

Each recruit held their arm out, showing empty bottles. All except Tiny, who hadn't touched his water.

“I said hydrate, maggot.”

The disgust in Tiny's eyes made the day in the heat worth it. When he brought the bottle to his mouth, each gulp was a forced swallow.

“That's right, boy. Stay hydrated.”

After Tiny finished the disgusting slosh, he presented the near-empty bottle. Only a thin part of spit and sand remained.

Shepard grabbed the bottle, then showed it to the group. “Bad news, maggots!” He tilted it upside down, showing everyone the water that poured out. “Tiny here didn't do as ordered.” He tossed the bottle on the ground, then returned to the ATV. “No more breaks until we're done! Move, maggots!”

After some glances toward Tiny from the squad, Shepard knew his plan was working. He can't punish Tiny, but the team will.

 

"Bloodlines of Atmos: The Story of Jace" - J. P. Edgar

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