Following her troop as they hiked north, Kelly debated whether or not she should have insisted on being moved to the front of the line, or been relieved that she could see everything happening from the back. While being in the back did give her the clearest view of what was going on as the troop hiked, it also meant that she was the farthest away from the main problem facing the squadron - the relationship between Leandra and Tirzah.
Though her cousin was behaving (for the most part), it was clear to Kelly that Leandra couldn't hold out much longer. Tirzah had been doing nothing but bitch or make fun of Perry's guiding abilities since she had joined the troop. The fact that she took the spot right behind her cousin seemed to add to the likelihood that Leandra would eventually lose her cool and attack the Rean. Mealtimes were the worst time for the two of them. Just like it had been with Jude and Redding when they were fighting over Leandra, Kelly's cousin and Tirzah seemed much more relaxed when they had something else to occupy their minds, like hiking or sleeping.
It didn't matter that they had only been hiking for a day and a half. Just like it didn't matter yesterday that it was the first day of hiking for their newly formed troop. Seeing that it was just about time to call the squadron to a halt for lunch, Kelly braced herself for the impending argument. Spotting Perry's glance back to her, Kelly nodded and stopped as soon as he announced, "Lunch!"
So far, Kelly didn't have any real problems with Perry, though the biggest disappointment was the fact that he exuded an ultimate sense of defeat. Although, Kelly supposed that if what Jones had said was true, then it wasn't hard to understand where that attitude came from. If she had led more than fifty people and every single one of them was dead now, she would probably exude a sense of defeat, too.
Once he handed a canteen to Kelly, she headed off to join Leandra, as she did the day before. Ashia and Jones were sitting by her cousin too, but Kelly got the sense that Ashia wasn't really there. She seemed to be staring off in the direction that Stephen and Jay were sitting. Making a mental note to ask her about that later that night, she sat down next to the pair of them. Leandra gave her a tight smile and took a drink from her canteen. A second later, she was choking down the gulp. Turning her attention to Kelly once more, Leandra said tightly, "He's not very good at making fihae."
"Just give the kid some time, Leandra. I'm sure he'll get the hang of making the drink soon," Kelly said hopefully as Jones sat down with the three of them. Taking a drink, she quickly realized that she honestly couldn't taste any difference between the drink that Perry made her and the fihae that Aerlene made.
"You can't taste the difference?" Leandra repeated skeptically.
"I think you are the only person that can taste the difference," Jones said plainly. Giving a strange look to Leandra, Jones continued, "You're the only person that I've ever met that actually likes the standard meal."
"You're kidding," Kelly said plainly, shocked by Jones's statement.
"No, Lieutenant. I've never met a single person that liked the drink."
"Seriously?" Leandra asked, looking wildly between the three other girls. "So, what, you're saying that I am the odd one in this group because I can tell a difference?"
"Maybe it's a good thing," Kelly said, hopeful to find a way to curb Leandra's shock, "maybe it means you can taste things that normal people can't."
"Are you saying I'm not normal?" Leandra asked, lifting her eyebrow slightly.
Though it may have been a poor decision, Kelly replied steadily, "Yes, that is what I'm saying."
For once, Leandra took the criticism well and let the matter drop. Instead of carrying on with that subject, she instead asked her cousin in a low undertone, "What do you think of the Rean girls - Tirzah and Annette?"
Kelly considered that question for a moment before saying, "I'm not sure. I don't think we've had a lot to form an opinion on. Why? Do you have a sense about them?"
"I don't like them," Leandra said flatly, taking another drink.
This did not entirely surprise Kelly; Leandra had always been quick to form opinions about people. Kelly, though, felt that even this claim was too quick for her cousin to come to. "Why are you so hasty to write them off, Leandra?"
"They are not our allies, Kel, and it would serve the troop well if you would remember that," her cousin said darkly.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
The question came from Tirzah, who was standing a couple of feet away from the four of them. Looking over lazily at her, Leandra took another drink and said steadily, "Even Rogues have their loyalties."
"It's nice to see that one of these Xamalians knows what is going on," Tirzah scoffed, laughing to Annette.
That comment didn't go well with Leandra. Before Kelly could comprehend what her cousin was doing, Leandra rose to her feet and closed the distance between her and the Gaines.
"I don't care that Ella assigned you to our troop, Tirzah. I swear if you do not stop causing problems that I am going to be the first to cause a problem that you have to deal with."
Of course this challenge did little to placate the situation. Narrowing her eyes and taking a step towards Leandra, Tirzah growled, "You better get out of my face real quick, Deluvia, or I will fucking tear you apart."
And just like that, Leandra snapped. Swinging her clenched right fist, she punched Tirzah squarely in the jaw. The troop did not take long to respond. Immediately, everyone lunged forward, half of them pulling Tirzah back and the other half with Leandra.
"Tirzah, knock it off," Annette pleaded, trying to restrain her sister from punching Leandra.
Kelly's cousin, for her part, looked more than ready to continue her fight with the Rean. Leandra was eyeing the girl like a hawk, as she had been doing since they were assigned to the troop. Though half of them were restraining Leandra, there was no doubt about the fact that everyone, with the exception of Annette, was squarely on Leandra's side. Not that Kelly could say that she was surprised by that fact. After all, everyone except for Ashia were originally from Xamalie. It was like Leandra was part of their family and Tirzah was nothing but an outsider.
"Damn it! Let go of me, Annette!" Tirzah growled, rounding on her sister. "I am not going to do anything to hurt the fucking Deluvia! I promise!"
"Not right now, anyway, right?" Leandra challenged, her body still completely motionless although her eyes were speaking volumes.
Stepping forward, Kelly threw her arms up and out to hold off Leandra and Tirzah. Glaring at each of them for a solid ten seconds, she snapped, "I want you both to listen to me very carefully right now - there will be no more fighting between anyone in my troop. I don't care where either one of you is from - your families, your countries, your anything. You fight for me now. And I fight for Xamalie. So that is who you are fighting for. Is that understood?"
The two of them looked at each other once more, but finally said tightly, "Yes."
"Annette, I want you to stay between Leandra and your sister any time we are hiking. Preferably, one or two other people will help you out in separating them. Am I being clear?" Kelly asked, staring hard at everyone standing around her.
"Perfectly," Annette said shakily.
"Let them go," Kelly commanded. Instantly, Leandra and Tirzah were released. "Leandra - I want you hiking with me at the back for the rest of the day. Tirzah - I want you right behind Jones at the front of the line."
The troop scurried to where Kelly commanded and once they were hiking again, Kelly stopped walking to allow the troop to hike a bit further ahead of them, to create more space.
"I don't know what the hell is wrong with you, Leandra, but so help me I will make you hike every day right here by my side if I have to."
"She is not our ally, Kel," Leandra growled in a forced whisper. "It would do all of us a lot of good if you could remember that."
"I don't care if she is a distant relative of the Temoragun royal family - she is in our troop now and I need to be able to count on her not to let any of us die."
Leandra glared at her cousin and scoffed, "Then I guess we're pretty well fucked then, aren't we?"
"What the fuck is your problem?" Kelly demanded quietly.
"My problem is that Tirzah is a Rean. She is not a loyal Xamalian Warrior. That bitch would rather watch us die than help keep us alive. The best way to deal with her is to kill her and move on. Keeping her with the troop is going to do nothing but endanger us."
"Is that you or Redding talking, Leandra?"
Her eyes narrowed at Redding's name. Of the four Rogues from Mor that their troop enlisted for their last mission, he was one of only two that survived. The other one was Ashia, hiking not three feet from where the Deluvia girls were. While Ashia could still fight in the war, Redding was not nearly so lucky. Both he and another Rogue had been poisoned by one of Kendrick Kavich's creations, and Redding was the sole survivor. During that last mission, Redding and Leandra became a sort of item, and though Kelly didn't know the exact details of their relationship, she could tell that her cousin was not happy with the current state of their relationship.
After a very long silence, Leandra said stiffly, "He wouldn't trust them either."
Recalling that Redding didn't really trust anyone, Kelly thought that was a pretty fair statement.
While there was more that could have been said between the two Deluvia girls, Kelly let the matter drop for the time being. She could tell that her reference to Redding had hurt her cousin, because Leandra was entirely too quiet. Her expression, as odd as it sounded, was silent. Kelly knew that Leandra would return to her normal volume in good time, but for the time being, she let her cousin recompose herself, and turned her attention to the trail.