The Paths Divide
Meditation brought no peace today.
The glorious warmth of the sun's rays gently caressed the young man's bared chest and arms. The effect of this early morning light was invigorating, and he allowed it to seep into every one of his exposed pores. Breathing deeply, he drank in the power of this most innocent form of light, new and wholesome, fusing it with his soul, and feeling himself charged and empowered for whatever lay ahead.
Its purity made him sharply return to his darkened thoughts. A man had died. The weapon that killed him had been, in part, powered by his own strength. When Ryo donned the White Armor, the connection between himself and the other four young men was heightened nearly to the point of being inside each other's hearts. They were, in a sense, since the White Armor drew its essence from each of them and used their strength, the power of their spirits to become.
Saranbo. Thinking the name of the slain man brought a great storm of feelings, sweeping into Sage's usually serene and protected cove of calm during his meditation. Saranbo. Another agent of evil that had tried to destroy the five of them. One of many. But the first living being they had killed. Connected trough the armor as they were, Sage had felt it, though it had been Ryo's hand fielding the blow. Sage had felt his shock, and his horror. Immediately had come the echoes from the others. They had all told themselves they were prepared to to do whatever it took to defend the Earth from the Dynasty, told themselves they were prepared to sacrifice anything to keep humanity safe. But they were still boys, and they weren't prepared. His own soul had cried with theirs. The man had been evil, yes, but he was flesh still, and not one of the empty constructs they were so used to cutting down.
It had only been two days since the death of Saranbo, but Sage had been watching the others, and could easily see it affected them still. It was in the way Rowen stared for too long in the distance. In the way Kento hadn't been eager to again face the enemy. In the way Cye would look startled and shiver unprovoked. The way he himself felt hesitation when he grasped his nodachi. And worst, in the thoughtful look Ryo had in his eyes, and the way he'd subconsciously clench and open his fists in satisfaction. They all pretended they hadn't felt it.
Sage was deeply disturbed. The sun brought little warmth to his heart as it continued its climb towards the heavens.
The Ronin Warriors were not left to longer contemplation. An hour after Sage had redressed and returned to the cabin, the Dynasty's soldiers struck again, led by the beautiful and deadly Lady Kayura.
Cye, staring out over the lake from the cabin's deck, saw them first. “Guys!” He yelled, his British accent strong and clear. “The Dynasty's back!”
From inside Ryo yelled, “Everybody into your armors! Let's take some names!”
They didn't really need to be told, and each was already in the mysterious process of calling their respective armors to them. In moments, the battle was on.
Sage noticed Cye's face had paled with the thought of battle, so he stayed close. He, Cye, and Rowen all found themselves focusing on the empty, armored automatons that the Dynasty's armies consisted of. He could soon see Cye's confidence returning, could see the trident swing and thrust more surely. Rowen's aim was steady, and his actions as focused as ever, yet the indescribable, intangible sense of power began to return. Perhaps he had felt it most acutely, as his Gin was Life. For himself, Sage found a soothing comfort in the rhythm of his swing, and though he was fighting for his life, he felt calm. But something wasn't right.
Though they had their hands quite full, Sage and Rowen could see Kento and Ryo attempting to bring down the female warlord, Lady Kayura. Hardrock and Wildfire were meeting no success. So far, they were only holding their own. The black haired, slender-built woman was dancing the steel like a devil. Her armoring was light, but built for movement, allowing her to make full use of her agility and skill with the twin short swords she favored.
Cye kept strictly to the business at hand. He couldn't think about facing another near-human being. He could not.
“We need to get rid of these soldiers,” Halo called over the din of clashing steel.
“I agree!” Strata replied, rehoming his next arrow through the eye socket of an enemy behind Cye.
“Yeah!” Torrent replied with forced enthusiasm in an effort to cover the strong hesitation behind it. His footing wavered, and he lost balance. He saw an enemy spear-man charging, leveling the wicked weapon even with his body. Saw, and could do nothing. His mental equilibrium was lost to turmoil, and fear gripped him as the weapon made for piercing armor came in line with his heart. A blur of green flashed in front of him and sparks from the meeting of metal to metal danced before his eyes as Sage connected first to turn the blow and disarm, then swiped mightily with both hands on the large sword, delivering a fatal blow. He then pivoted to face something behind Cye's field of vision and thrust the blade forward. Two more tried to take him from behind but they fell forward. Golden arrows sprung eloquently from their backs.
“You okay?” Halo asked, offering Torrent a hand to his feet.
“I'm alright, thanks to you,”Cye took the proffered hand and stood, surprised and dismayed to find only a handful of enemy soldiers left. He bravely grasped his trident and met them, side by side with Strata and Halo.
As Cye dispatched the last one, Hardrock came flying through the air with a cry and smashed through a cabin wall with a fearful thud.
Sure he would be alright from previous experience, the three turned their efforts to Ryo and Kayura.
Wildfire moved quickly to block the warlord's flurry of attacks, but he couldn't match her speed and ferocity. She sliced him twice across the chest of his armor, then kicked him viciously in the face, sending him sprawling on his back.
With a sound of triumph she dashed forward to finish the job, but at the last moment her twin sabers were deflected by a perfectly shot arrow. Recovering, she tried again, but Halo was standing between her and Wildfire. Deflecting another arrow, she engaged the warrior of Light.
Sage kept her busy, allowing time for the others to move into better striking positions and keeping her from further injuring their leader while he began to struggle to his feet. Cye moved unnoticed behind her, and when her swords were locked with Sage's, came running to drive the trident into her and finish it. Sage saw, and while a small part of him willed Torrent on, the greater part cried out, begging Cye not to do it.
Just as he came to the final steps, Cye's face became contorted in a massive contradiction of feelings, and in his confusion, stopped. Halo's focus was on Cye, and his own heart and mind argued. Kayura took her opportunity. Taking advantage of his slow reaction time, she broke the stalemate and dodged away from his heavier weapon, then came in slashing from the side. Dropping him, she turned to Torrent who fell easily. Strata and the Star Swords met in a dazzling flash of intent, but she bested him as well.
As Rowen was flung towards Kento, Ryo finally gained his feet again. “We need the White Armor!” He shouted through clenched teeth.
“You're right,” Kento groaned as he knelt beside Rowen. “C'mon buddy, Ryo needs us!”
“If it must be done,” the dark blue warrior replied, his Brooklyn accent much thicker than usual.
Sage heard, and his armor began to respond, but his heart rebelled. His mind was beginning to triumph in the conflict when Cye cried out, “No! Ryo, please don't!”
“What do you mean 'no'? Cye, we gotta do it, we have to defeat her!”
“I can't kill anyone else!” Cye screamed.
Kayura, watching them in amusement, giggled. “You're cute,” she said to the light blue warrior. “Maybe I should put you out of your misery first.” She started to walk over to him casually.
“We gotta do it, Cye! C'mon, we can't take her like this!” Kento called in frustration.
Sage understood. He knew that Cye abhorred violence. That he fought beside them still was something Sage had always admired about the young man. He saw the innocent, gentle spirit in the young man, and right then, though he didn't know it, something fell into place inside him. Cye should never have to kill. Never, ever again. None of them should.
“Don't be an idiot, Cye!” Ryo yelled as he tried to come between Kayura and Torrent. “I'm trying to save you!”
“Leave him alone!” Sage growled, simultaneously leaping to cut a gash in the warlord's unprotected arm. It was unclear to whom he was speaking.
Kayura cried in pain and shock, moving away from the Ronin. Seeing the blood running down her arm, her eyes widened further, and with a threatening snarl retreated.
“What was that out there?” Ryo asked as they all sat in the broken living room of Mia's cabin. They were all bruised and cut, something they'd become used to in the past month. So strange it was, how this war had become their life. “You know we can't win this if we're not united!”
Cye's head was hung, and he was resting his arms on his knees. They were all dressed in the under armor of their suits. “I'm sorry,” he said, sounding drained and exhausted. “I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me.” He sighed deeply. “I'll get it together next time.”
“I hope so,” Ryo said, still very angry. “Otherwise we might not all survive.”
Cye's eyes became overly moist.
“That's more than enough, Ryo,” Sage said, with an unconscious toss of his hair. “Cye's doing all he can.” He almost added, 'we all are', but somewhere in there was a lie.
“Yeah, Ryo,” Rowen said from his spot on the couch. “Cye just needs some time. You know Saranbo's death was hard on him.” His voice turned quiet. Sage could barely hear him. “It's hard on all of us.”
“It's okay, Cye,” Kento gave him a big thumbs up and a smile. “You'll be alright in no time!”
Cye tried to smile back. “Thanks, Kento. You're probably right.”
“I don't see why this is such a problem,” Ryo continued to storm. “They're evil, we were chosen to stop them! They won't stay down when they're beaten, so what else are we supposed to do besides beat them permanently!” A desperate tone slipped into his voice, choking him. In his agitation he punched the wall, leaving a large hole. “There's nothing else we can do!”
Rowen got up and touched his arm. “Calm down, Ryo. We know that.” His voice was resigned, yet profoundly sad. “We know.”
Sage left the room and went to the deck. As usual, the bodies of the soldier constructs had disintegrated, leaving little trace of their having been there. He breathed deeply of the fresh air. Bathed his face in the light that had not yet reached its zenith.
He had come to understand a few things. Kento would not be able to process the guilt. Eventually, it would fester and turn into uncontrollable anger, or a seething hatred. Irretrievable parts of Cye would be lost, and the rest of his life would be full of ghosts and nightmares if he continued on this path. He would, too, out of his loyalty and sense of duty. Rowen would cope, but he would never be the same, and the harder edges of his character would only be sharpened perhaps beyond curbing. Ryo? Sage sighed. He'd seen similar cases before. Sometimes, a good man gets put in a hard situation. He will deal with it out of responsibility, and sometimes he finds that it comes easily, killing. Being a good man, they hate what they see happening inside themselves, but push on, out of the selfless desire to help others. Eventually, the become deadened people, if they don't destroy themselves. He was afraid he saw it beginning in Ryo.
A strong gust of wind whipped his hair around and brought the scents from the forest nearby. He felt so attuned, so much a part of the living things around him, even though he found the expression of such things difficult.
And himself? A maple leaf drifted in front of him and he caught it in his hand gently and let his gaze wander over it and take it in. It was starting to turn color, and early indicator of the coming season. His other hand dropped to caress his sword hilt. He remembered the horrid feel of Saranbo's life slipping so quickly away, and then gone. To be honest, the guilt hung strong around his neck. He would not be unscathed. Far from it, but to what degree and how exactly he would be affected was hard to predict.
An eagle glided above the silver blue lake. In an instant, he dove towards its surface. Breaking his fall, he pulled up, grasping a large fish in his sharp talons. The hunter would eat today.
Sage watched him return victoriously to his nest and mate. Ryo was right. Something did have to be done. Sage of Halo wondered if he had the strength. But only for a moment. Soundlessly, he left to prepare himself, mentally and physically. He did not have much time.
They had lied, to themselves, and each other. They had not done all they could to stop the evil of Talpa and his Dynasty.
In a small, secluded glen, not far from the cabin, Sage began his meditation. Strengthened by his resolve, the clarity reached was a new experience for the young warrior. Yet it was some time before he could bring his heart and mind into agreement.
It was his intention to destroy the Warlords. His heart cried out against murder. He knew that next time, he himself would have to deliver the final blow. His heart quivered. Both were distressed by the certainty of his new beliefs.
Sage sat still, and quiet, allowing the conflicts within him to meet, to flow and ebb, and come together. He allowed his entire being to take in all feelings, all emotions, allowed them all to burn within him until all was consumed in a blinding blast of white fire. He was left with unity in spirit and heart and mind, and the warrior of Halo felt as if he had the sun itself burning inside him. He felt unstoppable.
He spent the remaining daylight with his nodachi, practicing the familiar movements again and again, bringing his body into alignment with his spirit. Mastering his sword as never before.
As the last of the day's colors lingered like a man's breath on a cold day, Sage left the glen. He was more tired, and more energized than he had ever felt before. His connection with the armor was more alive, stronger, as well. He knew he was ready.