Close Your Eyes, For Night Shall Come
It was a cold early morning at the coast line a month later. Mia and Yulie had wanted to come, but the Ronin had all agreed. This was for them.
In the dawning light, Anubis stood with his back to the ocean. Five small white boxes lay at his feet. Here was proof Sage had won this war. Here was proof he was a killer. The wind was strong and chill, carrying a taste of the salty sea. Its voice a deep, bittersweet tone, crying across the rocky shore they stood on.
“Are you ready?” Anubis asked.
They all nodded. He had already explained what they needed to do. They called their armors. Instead of donning them, they were set in front, facing their bearers.
Sage couldn't take his eyes off of Halo. The blood was gone, but its damage was still evident. So this was what they'd seen. Sekhmet, Kayura, Dais, and Kale. This was the weapon that had almost killed the people close to him, the ones he stood with now. If he had slaughtered them, where would it have ended? Would he have stopped? Seeing it now, inanimate like this, the questions he'd suppressed surfaced again. Had it truly twisted him? Or had the power it granted merely given him an outlet for a darkness he had not before seen in himself? It was hard not to reach for that power, for the strength he had once come to rely on. Especially now, when he was about to send it away, forever. Talpa would not return in his lifetime. Even if he did, Halo would choose someone younger, fitter.
With the others, he went through the short process of releasing claim, severing the connections between them. Even as Halo shimmered, disappearing into its own white box, Sage was almost sure he could hear its mocking laughter, remembering his weakness. Was that it also, mourning over the things they would not do together, or his own voice? His shiver had nothing to do with the cold.
Kento put a hand on his shoulder, misunderstanding. “We'll be done soon.”
Sage nodded. Stooping, he picked the box up and handed it to Anubis. “Thank you,” he said and stepped back.
Ryo, Rowen, Kento, and Cye followed his lead. Their faces reflected confusion as to how exactly they felt, but relief seemed predominant.
“Will we see you again?” Cye asked as Anubis prepared to leave.
“I very much doubt it,” he answered with a touch of sadness. “I have much to do, and a great deal to learn. You have your lives to live, and I hope it will be far from all of this. But I will always remember each of you.” He smiled. “I owe you much. Thank you for setting me free. Thank you for trusting me to help you, as limited as it sometimes was. Serving you has been my greatest honor.”
“The honor was ours,” Ryo responded, and the five of them bowed in respect.
Anubis returned the gesture. “Sage,” he said, surprising the distracted young man. “It is hard to say how things would have turned out if you had not followed your heart, but it is very likely a great deal more damage would have been done, to your world and your loved ones, if you had not so bravely placed yourself on the line. We may not have won at all, and all five of you may have been lost. I know you must be struggling with the costs of your sacrifice, but believe me when I say you are honorable, and rare is it to find a more noble, courageous heart.”
Half a heartbeat, and Cye's trust would have thrust him upon that blade, stopping only one of four hearts that deserved this praise far more than he. “Thank you,” he said, bowing again. “But I did nothing to deserve your words. I am no greater than the men with me. I should thank you, for having the courage to face yourself, and the strength to fight with us. Not every man could overcome your circumstances. The mantle and responsibilities of the Ancient One fell to good shoulders, and I thank you for the sacrifice you make in retaining it.”
“It is a pleasure,” Anubis bowed. He had managed to repair his staff, and, finishing the ritual, with each of the boxes arranged on a spoke around the circle in which he stood, he brought it down three times. On the third, he and the armors disappeared, leaving the ringing echo to resound one last time in the little caves and crannies the ocean had carved into the rock face. It seemed to last an extra long moment in the breeze, a sweet, sweet sound they were not to hear again.
Taking Anubis' place, the sun continued to rise steadily, growing brighter, a little warmer. As curtains opening to the main attraction, the pink and orange of the sky around it receded, growing dimmer and melting into the daily blue. Its touch didn't bring the same rejuvenating tingle as it fell full on Sage's face. It was something he would miss. If he could ever feel loss again.
Cye inhaled deeply. “Hey guys, it looks like we've got our lives back.”
“It'll be strange,” Ryo said. “With no Dynasty and no armor. It seems that's all our lives had become.”
“Yeah,” Rowen agreed with a smile. “It will be even harder trying to not be bored at school now.”
“I sure didn't expect that,” Kento said, hands in his pockets. “When I went to the store to pick up bread for Mom. That box was just sitting there on a big rock I always passed on the trail home. I somehow knew it was for me.”
The wind blew again sharply, creeping under their coats. Sage shivered slightly. Four weeks in bed had left him thin and relatively weak.
“We should go back inside,” Rowen suggested, noticing.
'Inside' meant the comfortable beach house owned by Sage's family. Being off season, they had it to themselves with no argument. Sage's mother seemed willing to give them almost anything they wanted, and treated the other boys second only to her son.
“I'd decided to go swimming in the river,” Cye said as they wandered slowly back across the rocks. “My aunt that I was staying with told me not to. She said the current was too strong.” He laughed. “I got tired of her saying I couldn't do it, so one day when she was gone, I jumped in.”
“You little rebel!” Rowen elbowed him. “Who knew?”
“Yeah well, the current was a bit stronger than I'd bargained for. I got sucked down to the bottom, and guess what I found?”
“A rock!” Kento joked.
“A mermaid,” Rowen guessed.
“No,” Cye said slightly exasperated.
“A teapot,” Sage said forcing a smile. The others laughed. It was so hard to keep this up.
“A whale,” Ryo said to more laughter. “You could tell because of the tall tail.”
“Very funny you guys,” Cye rolled his eyes. “I did make it back up, even with the box. How about you, Rowen?”
“Yeah, seriously. I was looking through my telescope during our Honor Student tour of Japan, when I noticed a meteorite. It actually fell right to me. Somehow I never really thought to question it. Your turn, Ryo.”
“I was walking White Blaze through his old forest home where I'd found him as a cub. There'd actually been a fire at the time when I rescued him. So I took him back to see the new growth. It was sitting there, waiting for me.”
The talking stopped for a minute. Sage finally realized they were hoping he would share his story, too. “It's not very interesting,” he said.
“Come on man, spill!” Kento prompted.
“I remember thinking that morning, as I was tuning my violin, that my life felt empty, in a way, as if I hadn't accomplished anything worthy. I went to the garden to meditate, as usual. It was just there in the sunlight when I'd finished, sitting among the,” He stopped suddenly. The others looked at him in concern. Swallowing hard, he finished. “In with the kale.”
“Violin, huh?” Kento said, trying to turn Sage's mind from unpleasant thoughts. “And here my bet was on piano.”
“That's what my Mother plays,” Sage said. He really didn't want to talk anymore. Couldn't they leave him alone so he could drop this act?
“Is she really good at it?” Cye asked as they reached the house, though they had all heard her play.
It was good and warm inside. The fireplace in the main room was fake, but realistic. The boys shrugged out of their coats, and Cye put the pot on to make hot chocolate. Rowen had introduced them to the stuff and it had been a big hit. They gathered in the main room, taking up the big couch and stuffed chairs.
On a pretense, Sage went upstairs to the room he and Rowen shared. He would have preferred a room to himself, but there weren't enough rooms for each of them. It would have sounded out of place if he had asked for an arrangement different from what they'd settled for in the past. He didn't want them to see him as different.
Raucous laughter bellowed up the stairwell, and he
closed the door on it. The smile left his face and he closed the
curtains, drawing no pleasure from the seeking brightness. Sage
slumped to his bed. He couldn't keep doing this, lying to everyone,
and to himself. He no longer knew who he was. Every night he woke up,
drenched in sweat from unrepeatable dreams. Since he'd first been
drug from the wonderful wallow of unconsciousness in his room back
home, he could seem only to feel the numbness. It was as if he had
turned, overnight, into a brittle, hollow shell, filled only with an
The others, the four below, his Mother, other friends and acquaintances had all tried so hard to help him recover, especially the ones who had a small idea of what had really happened. After all of their love and attention, trying to make him feel happy and comfortable, nothing had filled that void. He, again, was only wasting their energy and efforts, no one could help him. Sage was sure he couldn't be helped. There was nothing to him, anymore. He appreciated their efforts, and so tried hard to make them think it worked.
At first, he'd hoped that maybe, living the lie would restore some part of him, something he could hang onto. Instead, he was lying to his Mother for the first time since he was four years old, and misleading the people who were determined to stick it out with him.
By now, he remembered everything. He couldn't seem to see the connection between that Sage, and the one he struggled out of bed with in the morning. He didn't know how he had done those things, all those criminal, abominable acts, and, with all things accounted, he didn't see that he'd done anything good. All he could see was when he was trying to kill the very same people he'd claimed to protect. When he'd allowed himself to fall to the siren lure of another's will, and had willingly butchered men, and a woman.
He hadn't talked about it to anyone, after first waking up. Not to his friends, not to his mother. The more he remembered, the less he could bring himself to discuss. And then he just couldn't care. He knew the others were giving him space, not asking. Waiting for him to be ready.
He wasn't going to be ready. Ever. The Sage that had
done all those things, that wasn't him. But those memories... Those
things he had done were starkly pressed permanently behind his eyes,
visible whenever he blinked. Horrible. He was too horrible. The Sage
from before might have been able to overcome this. He might have been
able to find meaning in what came after, reached within himself to
tap depths of strength untouched.
But he was not the Sage this man saw in the mirror. The old Sage would never have considered what he now had resolved on. Sage could not live with this, anymore. If the others could look inside him, he was convinced they would see how little was being lost. For just a little longer, he would try his hardest. He'd leave them with some good memories.
Sage readjusted his smile, and went back downstairs. It didn't matter he didn't know who he was, it only mattered they believed he was who they wanted him to be.
Cye pressed a steaming cup into his hand when he came into the main room. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” Sage smiled.
“Hey, Sage!” Kento called from the couch. “We ordered out for some pizza, hope you don't mind.”
“Pizza sounds great,” Sage said, taking a deep, overstuffed armchair.
“You really don't mind pizza for breakfast?” Rowen asked, surprised.
“Hey, why not? I need some more meat on these ribs.”
“Just don't complain when you start to look like Kento,” Ryo joked warningly.
“There's nothing wrong with this body,” Kento flexed. “Why I'm stronger than any of you!”
“Yeah,” Cye waved his hand in front of his nose. “Tell me about it.”
“Why you!” Kento grabbed at him, but Cye ducked, laughing, out of the way.
“Little slow there, buddy,” Rowen said from his seat on the back of the couch. “Sure you want that pizza?”
Kento's smile turned mischievous. Quickly, he grabbed the couch and tipped it over backwards, tumbling Rowen to the floor. “Pretty sure, yeah.”
“Easy guys,” Ryo said, chuckling. “We don't want to trash the place.
“Yeah,” Cye agreed, helping Kento put it properly back in place. “We don't want to upset Mrs. Date.”
“Sage would get yelled at, too, huh?” Kento said, plopping back onto the righted furniture. “How much does she yell at you, man?”
“Not often,” Sage obliged. “We usually see eye to eye.”
“I knew it!” Kento shouted. “Sage always stays out of trouble.”
Is that what you'll call all this? “Not exactly what I meant. We've had plenty of discussions.” He didn't want to talk about it, so he changed the subject. “She seems to like you guys.”
“I wouldn't say she approves, necessarily,” Rowen said. “She keeps looking at my hair like its unnatural.”
“She tells me to sit straight in my chair,” Kento lamented.
“She offered to buy me new clothes,” Cye plucked at his horrid plaid pants. “What's wrong with what I wear?”
“Sometimes I wonder if she thinks there's something wrong with me,” Ryo said. “But she hasn't said anything. She's actually very kind.”
“She could be a queen,” Cye said.
“I heard she almost was,” Kento said. “I heard a prince liked her, and her family was reconsidering her pre-arranged marriage to Date, but he ended up with someone else.”
“Where did you hear that?” Ryo asked disbelievingly.
Kento glanced away self consciously. “One of her maids.”
“Oh,” Cye jabbed at him. “Did Kento see a pretty face?”
“Most girls are,” Kento said defensively. “Is it true, Sage?”
“I've heard the rumors as well,” he stated. “She's never said anything to me about it.”
Rowen saw the clouded look in his friend's eyes. “Come on guys, you sound like a couple of gossiping maids yourselves.”
There was a knock on the door. “Food!” Kento leapt off the couch.
“At least his priorities are still straight,” Ryo laughed and got up to help him.