A Sage Unleashed

Wisdom Of Another

Half an hour later, each minute passing like dripping molasses, and blowing by two other police checkpoints, they finally crested the same hill, and saw the smoking city below. But without the dark clouds and red and gold gates of Talpa's domain dominating the sky, it looked like their vengeance might not be immediate.

Frustrated, Ryo allowed the Jeep to slow, no longer eager if all that lay ahead of them was the work of finding their brother's body.

The slowing of the blur in scenery was the only reason Cye saw a flash of the familiar. “Sage!” He yelled, and Ryo slammed on the brakes, bringing the Jeep to a grinding, eventual halt. It had barely gotten to a half safe speed when Cye jumped out, rolling heavily on the road.

“Cye!” Kento grabbed at him. Missing, he too jumped.

Ryo was the last one out, but close on Rowen's heels. Running hard back up the hill, neither of them even noticed the long black streaks newly impressioned into the asphalt.

“Where?” Rowen asked, breathless with strained impatience as they caught up to where Cye was standing, looking around.

“ I saw him, on the side of the road,” he said, running to the ditch and looking again. “Over here somewhere. He was walking!”

“He's alive?” Ryo gasped.

“But I thought he was gone!” Kento said, searching even harder.

“Does that disappoint you?” Sage's voice said gruffly. He stepped from around a tree he had hidden himself behind.

His appearance caused them all to gasp in both happy shock, and horror at his gruesome visage. His nodachi was streaked with red, his green armor torn and ripped, often correlating with smears and rivulets of the same color. Blood also had trickled down his mouth guard. He walked stiffly, with a little bit of unnatural sway.

“Sage!” Cye cried and went to support him.

“Stay back!” Halo barked harshly and raised the sword. Cye's steps faltered.

“We just want to help you, bro,” Kento said, coming to Cye's side.

Sage laughed mirthlessly. “If that's true,” he said. “Give me your armors. All of them. You don't know how bad they are, what they'll do to you.”

This was all wrong. What had happened to Sage?

“We do know,” Rowen said soothingly, joining Cye and Kento. “The Ancient One explained it all to us. Now just trust us.”

“He doesn't know, he doesn't know it all,” Halo said, defeated misery lowering his voice. “I can't win the war. We can't win.” His eyes, shadowed as they were, sharpened. “But I will protect you. Give them to me!”

“What do you mean, we can't win?” Ryo asked, stepping up with the others. “Are Kale and Dais still out here?”

“No, Kale's dead,” Sage answered. His tone turned uncertain, and he further raised the sword between them. “I thought I killed Dais, too.”

“Everything's okay now, Sage,” Rowen said calmly, as if he were talking to a wounded animal. “We're safe, we're okay. You're hurt, let us help you. Then we'll figure out what to do now, together.” He smiled. “Okay?”

“Something's wrong with him,” Ryo whispered quietly to the others. “Be careful.”

Panic gripped Sage. Ryo whispering? And they refused to let him help them, changing the subject at every juncture. He thought Dais was dead, he'd been so sure. But if these were more illusions, if the Warlord was still out there, didn't that mean Kale could be, too?

Would this never end, would he never be free of them? If they weren't though, if these were the real Ryo, Rowen, Cye, and Kento, how could he tell? If they were, he still had to save them, and if they continued to refuse, if they were that blinded by their armors, then he would have to save them from themselves. They couldn't be allowed to degenerate into the hideous monsters the armor could turn them into. At whatever price, he would save them.

“For the last time,” Sage said, ready either to attack or desist. “Let me have your armors, or I will be forced to take them from you.”

“What are you gonna do with them?” Kento asked.

“Get rid of them,” he snarled. “They'll all be Talpa's tools if I don't keep them out of his hands.”

“Then why don't you remove yours first?” Rowen suggested, taking a step forward, his hands spread in the universal gesture of peace.

He'd felt Dais' neck severe under the sharp edge of his blade. What was the truth? He would have to find out. His disguised constructs had still felt like metal though they bore these same faces. “If you want it,” He said resolutely. “You'll have to tear it off my dead body.”

Rowen stepped back. “We don't want to fight you, Sage.”

He laughed again. “Oh don't you?”

Kento was getting upset. “Look man, I don't know what's wrong with you, but all I know is we've been worried sick about you, and we've spent the last few days looking for you. Hearing you talk, well it's just not you, Sage!”

Heaven help him it sounded like Kento! But remember what happened the last time he'd trusted them. Not this time! Halo charged forward, aiming to slash Rowen. He moved with surprising speed and strength, considering how badly he looked.

“Look out!” Ryo shouted, getting out of the way.

Stunned, Rowen barely threw himself out of Halo's path in time. He was struck, not with Sage's sword, but with a devastating thought. What if this wasn't Sage? Dais, with his devious skills and malicious sense of humor would love to do this to them. Filling them with hope, just to make them fight the one person they'd thought was dead? He remembered the feeling of haunting emptiness perfectly well.

“Sage!” Cye pleaded, dodging a hefty swipe from Halo. “It's your armor, don't give in to it! You're stronger than this!”

Sage swung again, and upon missing, lashed out with a foot, knocking the auburn haired boy down.

“No!” Kento roared, slipping between and, with crossed forearms, blocked a blow to Cye that would have been bad. “Stop it, Sage! We're not your enemies!” Halo knocked him aside.

“It might not be Sage,” Rowen called still crushed by the possibility. “That might be Dais!”

Behind his mouth guard, Sage smiled bitterly. You won't take me with that, he thought. Hearing Ryo's quick, medium step behind him, he turned, locking eyes with his leader, and reflex bringing the nodachi up in time to lock with Ryo's twin swords.

“Now that's something I can fight!” Ryo hissed, wearing the armor of Wildfire.

Sage pushed hard with his arms, forcing the other back. Behind him gathered the other three, with varying expressions. From Cye's eyes clouded with worry, up to Ryo's, eager to fight. Fine, he thought. He was weary, and convinced that despite the healing and the fact most of his wounds were essentially stitched, he was probably half dead. Didn't matter. If it's a fight you want, I've still got some in me! He almost used his Thunderbolt Cut, but he still wasn't sure if they were real or not. If he could just cut one of them, if he felt flesh, then he could know whether or not to kill them. Holding his nodachi across his chest, he took a step forward, enforcing his stance. Waiting for them to make a move.

“I don't believe he's Dais,” Cye said.

“Think about it, Cye,” Kento said. “Would the real Sage attack us?”

“Because everyone's been acting so normally,” Cye answered sarcastically.

Rowen looked at Ryo. “We shouldn't kill him, just in case.”

“We'll see about that,” Ryo said, and ran to meet Sage, making their metal sing.

Kento joined, and Rowen prowled the edge, looking for an opening where he could halt, without maiming.

Sage had his hands full. His movements and reaction were slowed, despite the pounding strength pouring from his armor. An advantage he still held over them, being completely attuned and fully part of Halo.

Kento swung hard, Ryo fast, and he had to avoid the frequent arrow. He couldn't always keep them in front of him. Ryo ran behind and slashed him across the back. Kento caught him in the ribs with a jarringly hard blow. He rolled before the golden arrow could pin him to the ground. He came up, breathing hard. Ryo cut him again, biting into the already exposed flesh left unprotected where his armor was torn. Kento caught his leg with the staff, and this time an arrow lodged in the shoulder joint of his armor, missing the actual bone. His sword hand.

Kento and Ryo came and stood over him.

“Finally gotcha,” Ryo gloated. His eyes glittered.

“Now what do we do with him?” Kento asked.

“We give him what he deserves,” Ryo answered with a strong note of finality.

Dais. It had to be. Sage's eyes narrowed to slits. Enemies, all of them! He'd made it this far, he wouldn't succumb to this last cruel trick. Sage gathered his strength, honed his focus. They would not kill him. He would not let them beat him! With a surge of adrenaline, wringing every last drop of power from Halo, he snapped the arrow, got his feet under him, and, directing his sword, pushed up hard with his legs.

Surprised, Ryo tried to evade, but it still caught his side, ripping through the armor and slicing through the muscle beneath. Spinning, Halo swung with brutal strength, cutting deep through Kento's breastplate. With cries of pain, they both fell to the ground.

With a wordless shout of anger, Rowen shot at him again. This arrow flew straight and lodged itself deep in the muscle of his off shoulder.

Halo shrugged off the pain and walked purposefully towards the warrior in the dark blue armor, wielding the sword one handed. Rowen backed slowly away from him, shooting arrow after arrow at the approaching menace, but Halo knocked them all away.

Until he backed up against the Jeep. With a grim smile Halo closed the gap and sliced, up slashing a tire, gouging the bow and scoring Rowen's arm, both of which he'd raised to protect himself. Rowen slid down the Jeep, holding the wounded arm with his good one and staring up at his executioner in defiance.

“No!” Cye shouted, drawing Sage's attention. He was behind them, standing up from Kento's side. “I won't let you do this, Sage.”

“Cye, don't,” Rowen groaned.

Halo took a few steps forward.

Cye closed his eyes and dismissed his armor, leaving himself in his shirt and pants. “Sage,” he said, and his voice rang strong and clear with sincerity. “I trust you.” Then he ran.

Halo placed the nodachi in front of him, poised so the young Brit would impale himself if he continued on this course.

“No!” Rowen shouted. “He'll kill you!” Cye did not stop, only kept his eyes locked on Sage's. His arm could barely respond, but Rowen drew back the bow again. As it fired, the bow that had served him so faithfully, broke in his hands.

The last arrow, glinting gold in the strong sunlight, bore into Sage back, causing the tortured soul to fall to his knees. His sword still waited eagerly for the taste of another's blood.

Sage, the words echoed through him. I trust you. It seemed his deeper consciousness floated on a wave of dim light, and his brother's words had woken him. He wondered for just a moment what was going on. Half a glance of the area reminded him. He hadn't really been able to take it, hearing them again. We'll help you, they said. This part of him had shut down then and there. Those tens of Kentos and Cyes, Ryos and Rowens, all saying the same things, all after his life.

The arrow hit him, and he heard Rowen's anguished warning. He didn't want to show the weakness, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to rise again, but he dropped to his knees despite it. These had hurt him, too.

He risked another real look through his eyes. Cye was still coming. The road was wide, four lanes with a large space between the inbound and outbound directions, and they'd been on opposite sides, but he'd be here soon. Did Dais think he wouldn't do it? That he wouldn't let this one fall on his sword? The Warlord probably thought he'd chicken out at the last moment, and that's when he would be cut down.

But those three, the thought snapped in his head. Hadn't he felt flesh beneath the armor? Hadn't there been something other than an empty metal skin?

You smelled burning flesh, a different voice seemed to suggest. That wasn't real, either.

Sage looked again. The lad was still coming, fast. Still looking at him with those innocent blue eyes. And there! Sage almost sobbed. Running alongside Cye, step for step in the strong, pre-noon sun, was a shadow. He tried to lower the sword. Halo wouldn't budge.

“He's not an enemy!” Sage shouted internally.

“Wrong,” The other voice said. “They will only keep you weak. Together we will always be strong. Without me,” it whispered. “You would be nothing.”

Sage tried to send it away, something that had always been easy.

It laughed. “Oh no you don't. We're together now. You finally accepted me, and I won't let you push me away again.”

Sage flashed back to that horrible night with Kayura. The first time he'd lost control. It had happened again, and this time it was Cye whose life would drench that hateful sword.

Do something! He had to do something! He became acutely aware of how weak he was. Halo was the only thing that had sustained him this far, and now he was paying the price. Cye was almost to him! So close to death. Sage started sliding back into his body, taking possession, but when he tried again to move his sword, Halo fought back.

“You really want me gone?” Halo snarled, tangled in Sage's will. “You know you will die without me!”

Cye was only a few steps away now. And he took another.

It was likely true. Without the armor, his wounds might well claim him. A wave of peace swept through Sage. He became calm, and still. That's okay, he thought. It would be better than living with my brother's blood on my hands. He let the feeling grow. He stopped struggling. With a deep breath, he willed Halo away.

Breeze ruffled his hair, and he could feel the warmth of the sun. It only emphasized the growing cold behind his closed eyes.

He won't hurt me, Cye thought as he ran to Sage. He believed it. He heard Rowen, how could he not? No, he won't. Then Rowen shot him again, and it tore at Cye's heart. In just a few seconds, he would prove it. This was not Dais, and none of this, the pain, the blood, the suffering, was an illusion. He saw a flash in the dull eyes. Yes! He willed Sage on. He was almost there, betting his life on Sage.

He saw the sword quiver. You can do it! He was close enough now to see that the other's eyes were stricken with fear. Don't be afraid. I know you won't hurt me. The pale purple eyes closed. Cye refused to waver, refused to be afraid as he came within meters, then centimeters of the blade waiting for him. It was angled up so that if he hit, it was sure to kill him. Three steps away, two. One.

The point pierced his breast, then disappeared. The familiar blond hair replaced the pointed, intimidating helmet. Instead of armor, Sage's standard slacks and nice shirt, bloodied and tattered now. His empty hands fell to his sides, and he began to fall backwards.

Cye slid to a stop, catching him before his weight drove the arrows deeper. “I've got you,” he held him fiercely, and tears welled freely. “I've got you.”

Rowen walked over and stared, shocked. It really was Sage. Shame welled up inside him, and he dismissed Strata. He looked at what they had all done to each other, what they had done to their lost brother. Two signs of his own handiwork waved proudly in the zephyrs.

He looked up to see Kento stagger over and drop beside Sage. His armor was gone, too. He was bleeding. It would take time for his chest to heal, and it would scar, but he was tough.

Ryo made it over, too, holding his side. He couldn't say anything, looking down at Sage, sending Wildfire away. If Sage wasn't dead, he didn't know if anything could save him. He couldn't accept it, he couldn't believe that, in the end, they would be the cause of his death. His eyes met Rowen's.

“I'll try to get help,” Rowen said, his accent thin.

“Isn't it too late for that?” Ryo asked doubtfully, eyeing Sage's unnaturally pale complexion and ashen lips. The only color on his face, it seemed, was the drying stain of his own blood.

“No,” Kento said, holding Sage's hand tightly. “He's still alive.” He turned to Rowen. “We'll keep him here.” When he still hesitated, he said urgently, “Hurry!”

Rowen jumped and started running back up the hill they'd come down. With its destroyed tire, the jeep was useless.

“Stay with us, Sage,” Kento said, stroking the blond hair with his other hand. “We're here now, and we want to see you again.” His voice was soft and tender. Years of practice as an oldest brother. “We all love ya, man.”

“Yeah,” Cye croaked. “We won't let you go.”

Sage continued to breathe shallowly, each passing moment a miracle.

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