A Sage Unleashed

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Memories seemed jumbled together, rubbing and crashing like stones in a shaken bag. Memories of war and blood, pain and betrayal, some less clear then others. They were presided over by a strong sense of failure.

It had been so quiet, so blissfully peaceful. What had woken him back to this world of pain and confusion, and hollowness? There it was again. A gentle waft of jasmine, strong and delicate. Well balanced. The slight flutter of a sheer curtain to his right. Silk sheets. Someone else's breath.

Slowly, he opened his eyes. It was bright, probably early morning. His gaze roamed the room. A glass case with trophies, several large bookshelves full of classics and thought provokers. A well organized desk set just back of the window. He knew there was an old, well cared for record player on the other side. On his left would be a cherished mahogany violin. His old room? It didn't make sense.

He looked to his left, the sight of his mother causing a quick spike on the heart monitor, even though it was her perfume that he had recognized.

Her head lifted off his bed, and she looked alarmed, then meeting his eyes, they shone with joy. “Sage,” she whispered, taking his face in her hands and kissing his forehead.

“Hello, Mother,” he said. He should have been happy to see her, but the foreign emptiness inside seemed to swallow up any of it.

“I was so worried about you,” she said brushing his hair out of his face, then sitting again by the bed.

“I'm fine,” he said, sitting up. Not as easy as it should have been. Moving with an easy grace, she slid another pillow behind his back to support him. She sat back down, brushing an errant blond lock back from her divine face. She really didn't look Japanese at all. And snorted most unladylike. “You're getting better,” she shook her head. “ 'Fine' is not the word the doctor used to describe your condition when we got the call.” She took his hand, and he felt hers tremble. “Sage, she asked, hoping he would be as honest with her now as he had always been. “What happened? Your friends only said that you had fought honorably against an evil man. Are they your friends?”

“Yes,” he said slowly, trying to unknot and disentangle memories. He remembered that they'd fought together, fought for each other, and a vague echo of a feeling said that he had suffered and bled for them. But hadn't they caused some of this pain, as well? He trusted the older memories, they felt solid, lacking the strange shifting quality of more recent events.

“In truth, Mother, I don't remember everything, but I'm not sure you would believe me if I told you what I did.” Another woman, screaming, brought a queasiness to his stomach. His hand gripped the sheet. “I don't know if I could bring myself to tell you, everything.”

She squeezed his hand reassuringly. “You've always told me the truth, Sage, at least as you saw it. I will believe what you tell me. If you can't explain, or can't say some things now, I accept that. But my dear son, I want very much to understand something of what happened. I hadn't heard from you in over a month, and then a week ago, I found out you were all but dead in a hospital outside Takamodo!” She blinked away tears. “This is the first time you've been conscious. We flew you to a private hospital until you were stabilized. We brought you home just yesterday.”

He let out a long breath.

“I'm sorry,” she said, patting his hand and getting up. “I shouldn't be making you talk. I should let you rest.”

He didn't release her hand. “No, it's okay. Trust me, a little bit of talking won't kill me.” He smiled at her until she sat down again. “Just promise you won't tell father, please?”

It wasn't the first time he'd asked her that. She nodded. “I promise.”

He nodded his head in thanks. “Until I sort everything out, there's not much I can tell you,” he began, relaxing on the pillows and closing his eyes, as much out of fatigue as in concentration. Her touch on his hand told him she was listening. “You've heard about the attacks, especially on the larger cities, with the dark clouds?”

“Yes,” her sweet voice brought him comfort..

“I was there, with the others. The clouds, and the gate lead to the realm of a cruel tyrant. His name is Talpa, and his domain is called the Dynasty. We, the five of us, all came into possession of mythical suits of armor, the only weapons that have any real effect on Talpa, his army, and his generals. We've been fighting them, but they're gone now.”

Her perfume, his books, and the comforts of home were making him drowsy. “There was a, complication with wearing the armors. I didn't know until,” He did a little math. “About ten days ago.” He sighed. It seemed so much longer. “The fighting strengthened a corruption that spread to the wearer. But that's a long story. Some things, happened, and I made the decision to fight alone. There were consequences that I judged inadvisable to expose the others to further. I thought I could face it, Mother, I thought I could be strong.”

She squeezed his hand. “I will not judge you. Whatever it is that happened, you never need fear that I will be ashamed of you, or that I will withdraw my love. Do you understand?”

Tears slid from the corners of his eyes. “Yes, but you don't.”

“Thank you, Sage, for talking to me. “Do you need to rest now?”

He was tired, but not just yet. “Would you let my brothers in? I feel I need to speak to them.”

“Alright,” she said. “Should I let the man in, too? You've only mentioned four others, but he claims to be a friend of yours, as well.”

Anubis. “Yes, he is. Thank you.”

“I know I kept you talking, but you should try to rest soon. You are still weak. I love you.”

“I know.”

He dozed until he heard feet pounding up the stairs and at the landing before his room. Cye opened the door, Kento on his heels. Ryo, Rowen, and Anubis followed close, but with less shining exuberance.

“You're awake!” Cye cried happily.

“Lookin' good, man!” Kento sat carefully at the end of his bed. Cye took the other side.

“How're you feeling?” Ryo asked walking a little stiffly still. He stopped at his bedside.

“I've been worse, I think,” Sage answered, making the effort to keep his eyes open. He received them with mixed feelings, though his spirits were lifted. Yet something still felt missing.

Rowen stood on his other side, a suspicious bulge trying to hide under his sleeve. Anubis hung back, glad to see the young man awake and mending, but unsure he belonged.

“Nice place,” Rowen said. “Your mom's been real nice to us. She's been letting us stay in some of the extra rooms here.”

“She's beautiful!” Kento said.

“I haven't seen your dad,” Cye said. “But it's not hard to guess who you take after.”

“Show me,” Sage said quietly. For some reason he couldn't stand this small talk. Beneath the jovial surfaces, everyone seemed tense and nervous, barely comfortable with each other, and they seemed almost completely unsure of where they stood with him. So much had happened between them all. Maybe he was going about things the wrong way, but right now, seeing them, all he could wonder was how badly he had hurt them.

“That's not necessary,” Rowen said, glad he was wearing long sleeves. “You shouldn't worry about that.”

“I need to know,” Sage insisted, not quite able to meet their eyes.

Ryo believed he understood. He lifted his shirt up, exposing the ugly gash. The flesh was purplish, and still slightly swollen around the stitches. It was actually healing well, and he had been assured it would all be fine. “It's not as bad as it looks,” he said self consciously, letting it back down. His eyes flitted to Sage's bandages.

Kento rolled his shirt up. “They won't take the stitches out yet,” he complained. It covered almost the whole breadth of his chest, angling slightly. It had gone deep, but clean, and Kento was muscular, saving him from worse damage.

Sighing, Rowen slid his shirtsleeve up. Being an arm, he hadn't had as much protection. It was in a cast from his wrist to his elbow. “Got into the bone a little. It'll take a while, but I'll get full mobility and strength back.”

Cye pulled his shirt up, over his heart. “You can't even see it,” he said, an odd look on his face. He put a finger on the spot. “Just a nick.”

Sage shuddered. “I almost killed you.” His voice sank to match his spirit. “All of you.”

“We put worse hurt on you,” Rowen said, ashamed. “We came close to finishing you off. After all you did.”

Sage shook his head slowly. “No, it was my fault. I don't remember much of that last day, but enough to know. The lack of memory is indicative in itself.” He raised his head, subconsciously squaring his shoulders. “I am sorry. An apology is not enough to atone. I understand this, but at the moment, it is all I can offer.” He sighed. “I understand if you cannot be around me. You don't have to stay, I will not blame you.”

“I'm not going anywhere,” Cye said, grabbing Sage's foot, since it was the closes thing.

“Count me in!” Kento gave him a thumbs up and a grin.

“I let you go once,” Rowen said, gently putting a hand on Sage's shoulder. “If this is what happens, I better keep a closer eye on you.”

“Me too,” Ryo smiled.

Sage was satisfied. It may not be that he was forgiven, but they had decided, at least for the time, to accept it. It was getting hard to stay awake. “Anubis?”

“”Yes, young wa-Sage?” Anubis answered, coming also to his bedside.

“Your staff?”

“Broken, as you fear. But, just as your weapons can be reforged, and your armors repaired, I have great hope it also can be restored.”

“What about the armors?” Sage asked. “I did not have the presence of mind to take them.”

“I found them all,” Anubis assured him. “I have them in a safe place.”

Sage sighed in relief. “There is still an important matter,” he said, and relayed what Dais had told him. What he had called the truth. It dismayed everyone in the room. Speaking over their lamentations and protests, which wasn't easy, Sage asked, “What do you think, Anubis? Was there truth in what he said?”

Anubis seemed to hesitate. His face looked pained, and he eyed those around him as in fear of retribution. Another moment of indecision, then he spoke, committing himself to the truth. “Yes, he did not give you lies.” His regret was unquestionable. “I helped create the abominable plan.”

Ryo came the closest to angry. For a moment, it looked like he would sling either words or fists, but instead, he sat in the chair Sage's mother had left, and held both back.

Anubis felt encouraged to continue. “When under Talpa's control, there's very little on your mind besides wreaking havoc and pleasing him. I have since become quite ashamed of myself. I planned, once this was all over, to see what I could do to remedy the situation.

“ I don't have all of my predecessor's knowledge and wisdom, but I do have an understanding of how Talpa works, and the tools he uses. Perhaps I can find a way to reverse the effects, or at least to slow the process. I have much to learn.” He inclined his head. “It had been my hope, and the hope of my predecessor that keeping you together, encouraging you to function as a group would prevent you from becoming afflicted by the malady.”

“Why didn't you tell me earlier, by the stream?” Sage inquired, wondering if it would have made a difference.

Anubis sighed. “I have no questions on your courage, Sage, but I did not see how it had bearing worth illuminating on your situation. It seemed that such a communication would serve only to dishearten you, and perhaps make you distrust me, in a moment where you needed support. Also, my time with Talpa, and the things I have done do not make me proud, and I often want nothing more than to atone for it, however I can. Perhaps I did the wrong thing, and if I did, then I am most sorry.” His eyes turned inwards. “We all have our sins.”

“I'm glad you are with us,” Sage said, relaxing back into the pillows.

“Thank you,” Anubis took his leave. “So am I.”

“ I guess we should let you rest,” Ryo said, rising. The others quietly rose, too.

Sage's words were slightly slurred as his body called him to slumber. “How much do you know?”

The others looked at each other, unsure whether this was a question that should wait to be answered.

“We found Sekhmet's grave,” Rowen answered. “And buried Lady Kayura.”

“So, then, you saw?”

“Yes.”

“And do you now see, a monster?”

“No, Sage,” Rowed said. “You're a hero.”

“But I, failed,” Sage said thickly, unable to overcome his need for sleep.

“Why do you say that?” Cye asked, but Sage didn't hear him. The blond's hands opened, relaxed, his head tilted to the side, and his chin drooped. Perfectly natural.

“We'll find out later,” Kento said, patting Cye on the shoulder.

Quietly, they left his room, and closed the door softly behind them.


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