This Light of Mine
It was the moon showing them the way when they finally
got past the worst of it. The water was still chasing them higher as
they walked across the sand, but they'd be able to stay above it now.
He realized Sage was breathing hard beside him and stopped. It was difficult sometimes to remember just how weakened Sage had become. The blond young man sank to the sand. After a moment, Rowen sat down next to him. His wet clothes were beginning to make him shiver, but it was okay.
It was growing cold. The moon was full and close, the stars crisp and clear. The sound of waves massaging the shore had a soothing effect on his nerves.
“I didn't want to kill her,” Sage said unexpectedly, his voice only less quiet than the night around them. “I only wanted her to give up her armor, but I failed to stay in control, and butchered her instead.”
From his tone, Rowen realized Sage was not expecting an answer, so he stayed quiet, all but forgetting the wet cold cocooning him.
“Things had gone well with Sekhmet. I killed him
easily. I wasn't even expecting it to happen, my will supplanted by
the armor. It makes me wonder if it really was all Halo's
blood-thirst, or if I am simply naturally monstrous at heart,” he
shifted, startled by the touch of sea water that had just reached his
toes. He pulled his feet back, but the immediate was soon lost
thoughts far from the present. “All those people. I didn't stop to
help any of them. I didn't see how I could. I wish I could say it was
just another act of his, but I know that decision was mine.” His
voice did not rise with emotion, instead keeping to a soft, even
cadence. “How many people could I have saved? I will never know.
When I found the warlords, there were people there. I tried to save
Rowen could hear the tears in his voice, though its tone did not change as his brother put fingers to a healed wound that must once have been on his face. “She was just a little girl. That was what I saw, even as I killed the soldier beneath. They were all just soldiers, but that wasn't what I saw.” He dropped his hand from his face, and the slight emotion from his voice. “I wasn't strong enough to take Kale,” he said, ignoring the ocean as it again probed at his toes. Rowen did not move either. “Not without him. Then you guys showed up.”
There was a sharp intake of breath as Rowen was startled by his words. They'd never been there, how did-Oh, oh no, he thought as Sage went on leadenly.
“I didn't even think it may have been Dais, I was so distressed by your presence. They looked and sounded just like you, and what you said, too. Your encouragement made me glad you were there, and for a moment I was relieved to not be alone anymore. I remember thinking that we could do it, all together. That was this,” a hand to his chest. “And this,” dropping it to his belly. “I failed to see the truth for myself, so it was made clear.”
Rowen stared, horrified. He was beginning, he thought, to understand.
“It's stupid,” Sage said. “But as I was dying, I felt betrayed. Even as Ryo became Dais, I felt betrayed. Halo saved me. When I got too weak to keep him back, he gave me the strength to rise. I almost got Dais, but he managed to escape me.” The water was past their feet now, but neither of the young men acknowledged it. “After using him to heal myself, I pushed Halo back somewhat. It seems so arrogant, thinking I could take on the warlords and retain control. How stupidly arrogant to think I could strike that balance.” His heavy breathing was at odds with his deliberate voice.
“That was when Dais arranged a demonstration, to show
me what would happen with my death, how easy it would be for you all
to turn on each other. You utterly destroyed each other. It started
with an argument, then you hit Ryo and everything fell apart. Cye
lost it first, but in the end Kento beat him to pulp. His Super
Wave-Smasher and Kento's Iron Rock Crusher pummeled you. Ryo burnt
Kento to ashes, and you killed Ryo, then succumbed to your wounds.
All of you dead.” His breath caught. “I could smell Kento,
Rowen. I have felt hate before but this was different. This time,
inside Halo, I felt free to do something about it. As if my
inhibitions were removed by his own, or my own, yearning for action.
“When I went out, Kale was the only thing in sight, but he called more of their soldiers. 'Ronin Warriors to me,' he said, after Dais had offered to 'show' me what it would be like if you guys instead served Talpa. It seemed so possible. After all, hadn't I already murdered Kayura so coldly, and close to doing it again? I was so easily blinded by my rage, it was easy to believe his prediction.”
The water was pooled around them now, gaining depth. They weren't ready to leave. Sage's voice had turned strained. As much as he tried to fight it, the flood of emotion was building, threatening to spill, even as it did not feel his own. “It seemed endless, Rowen. There were so many of you. From how I see you everyday, to your armors, I had to fight you all. I killed you all. The whole time, you were all talking to me. I almost lost it. You'd tell me we could do it together, Ryo would ask me not to hurt him, but you were trying to kill me. Kento would ask me what I was doing, and Cye would say he was there for me. I had to kill them with those smiles on their faces. Saying so many other things too, offering to help me. Dais does his job well. I killed you, and killed you, and killed you, until Cye alone was on my sword, calling me a monster.” His tone turned bitter. “How could I disagree?”
His head was hung, his shoulders stooped. “Dais caught me in his web, and Kale went to work on me. That was when he told me, about how we could never win. I tried calling, but it didn't look like Anubis was going to come. So I stopped resisting Halo. I didn't want them to win, but even more I didn't want you guys to kill each other, or to lead yourselves to destruction by continuing to use the armors when you had no idea what would happen to you. Sounds pretty hypocritical. If I had just waited, things may have happened differently.
“As it was, that was the moment Anubis freed me from
the web, but I had already given myself to my armor. I killed Dais
and Kale, and I almost killed Anubis, too. I don't know why I didn't,
but I just hurt him and came looking for you.” He sighed. “As he
died, Sekhmet asked me what I would do when 'it' got to you guys.
Dais asked me if I was going to kill you, too, and Kale said I would
make a good warlord. Turns out, they were right. When you found me, I
didn't know if you were real or not, and in the end I decided it
didn't matter.” It was hard for him to say. “In the end, I
decided I could never let the armors have you, even if it meant
destroying you to protect you. That was before I decided you must
have been more of Dais' tricks. I failed to see what was right, and
true. Again, I failed. I failed you when I tried to kill you.
“I came close to it, too. I couldn't stand it, Rowen, hearing you all saying those same things I had heard before, and after I thought I had finally ended it. The same faces, the same voices, the same words. I would have killed Cye, too, and then have tried to finish the rest of you off, if I hadn't seen his shadow. The soldiers didn't have shadows. I had wanted to protect you, instead I become one of your greatest threats.” He looked over his shoulder. “Now do you wish you had let me fall?”
With both hands, Rowen grabbed Sage and pulled him into a fierce, trembling embrace. “Never, Sage. Never.”
Sage's voice was no longer steady. “But what he, I did. I'm horrible.”
“No you're not,” Rowen said with strongest conviction, holding tightly. “You are not horrible, and you did not fail. You were so strong. You say you failed, well listen to me when I tell you otherwise.” He'd had no idea, he couldn't have guessed what he had gone through. He'd known it had to have been terrible, but the atrocities wreaked upon his friend were inhuman, and the emotions he felt for his brother choked him. “I could never have continued on, as you did, I couldn't have reined myself in after Kayura, and I wouldn't have been strong enough to overcome Halo when it mattered most. I doubt anyone could have. You kept yourself from killing Anubis, you kept yourself from killing us. You are nothing but gold at the core. You're nothing like them. Sage, it's a miracle you succeeded. Always, when you most needed to be, you were strong enough. See? You are no failure, Sage, you saved us all.” He thought back to when he had punched Ryo, the tension that had grown so quickly between them, and that mad ride in the Jeep. If any of them had been as close to it as Sage had, the thought did not bear conclusion. “If it had been any of the rest of us, we would have been lost.”
“But I am lost,” Sage moaned. The water was getting deeper, starting to sway them with it as it climbed ashore. “Rowen, I don't know who I am anymore! I feel so hollow, so empty inside. It's as if I sold my soul, and now my heart is just a huge void. I don't know how to beat this, I can't even fight it. I'm not even me, anymore.”
“Trust me,” Rowen said, putting his hands on his shoulders and holding him out to look him in the eye. “You're still in there Sage, you aren't soulless, and you can beat this.”
“I don't know-,” Sage started.
“Stop it! Rowen shook him. “If you were really so devoid of everything, if you really were not the Sage I know, then you would have let me drown with you! Instead you decided to have courage, even if that's not what you think, and you decided to protect me. That is what you did, that is what Sage would do. And I promise you, we will do everything we can to help you see it for yourself. We will help you, whatever it is, whatever it takes, no matter what.”
A larger wave slid up the beach with disguised force. It knocked them over, and pulled them backwards several meters. Rowen and Sage exchanged looks and scrambled to safe ground. Away from the surf, they could hear the others calling their names.
“We're over here!” Rowen shouted. He and Sage stood there, shivering, fully aware now of how cold they were. Sage coughed, the motion shaking him off his unsteady feet. Rowen caught him. “Let's get you home.”
“I'm sorry,” Sage said, as they walked slowly, allowing Rowen to support him.
Rowen knew for what he meant. “It's okay,” he smiled. “I'm just glad you'll be alright.”
“How did you know?”
“Are you guys okay?” They could hear Kento's worried voice challenge and defeat the roaring waters.
“Yeah!” Rowen called back. “We're okay.” His teeth were chattering, but he was still quite understandable as he talked quietly to Sage. “I didn't, not really. If I had I wouldn't have let you go as far as you did. I just knew something wasn't right with you all day, and I'd promised myself and you mother I wouldn't let you out of my sight. I got the feeling you might have had something stupid in mind when you left the house, but I didn't really think you'd do it.”
“I never knew you were there.”
“You weren't supposed to. Still, I guess we got a beautiful sunset out of all that, and something much more important.”
Sage's feet were numb, causing him to stumble clumsily. It seemed a long way back to the house in the dark like this. Something nagged at him, something Rowen had said. Beautiful sunset. Yes, it had been, especially the way it had reflected gently off the water, surrounded by the darkness as if it were framed. He gasped.
“Are you okay?” Rowen asked quickly.
“I remember,” Sage said. “Let me down.”
“You're going to freeze if we don't keep moving,” Rowen said, pausing.
“I hid it from him, just in case,” Sage said. “I need to find it.”
Rowen could tell his lips were blue. “I don't know what it is you're talking about, but hang on to that thought, buddy. I can't let you stay here.”
“The mirror,” Sage said to himself. “Where did I put the mirror?”
Rowen hoped Sage really did know what he was talking about, and that this wasn't some half mad babbling. He was still deeply shaken by the events of the day, making him overly glad to see Kento and Cye as they caught up to him.
“Where's Ryo?” He asked.
“He went looking in the other direction,” Cye answered. Then shocked, he quickly took his coat off, putting it around the blue haired boy. “You guys are soaking wet. What have you been doing? Is Sage alright?”
Kento had taken his off, too, and wrapped it around Sage, taking the young man from Rowen. “You guys have been gone for hours,” Kento said, carrying Sage gently in his big arms as they all went back, more quickly now, to the beach house. “What happened?”
“Sage tried to jump,” Rowen said indistinctly between the clattering of his teeth. “But he's okay now.”
“What?” Cye exclaimed incredulously. “Why?”
“I'll explain later,” Rowen promised. “Right now we need to get him warmed up.”
Getting into the Date's beach house, Rowen hit the shower, while Kento and Cye dumped Sage, clothes and all, into a warm bath, gradually increasing the temperature until finally, twenty minutes later, he was suitably warmed. At Sage's request, they left him alone. They met Rowen outside the door and followed him downstairs, where he explained everything to both them and and Ryo, who had returned.
In the bath, Sage closed his eyes and relaxed. He hadn't practiced meditation in too long a time, but it was not hard to ease into the deeper layers of his consciousness. He had remembered the path and now stood before the mirror and the image he had left.
He saw himself fully, both eyes open. His own smile seemed to reassure him, to say everything was alright. Looking upon himself as he had been, it seemed right. He was ready, eager, actually, to reclaim himself, and become again, all that he should be. Reaching up, he took hold of the sun, and clutched it tightly to his chest, allowing the warmth to soothe his troubled soul. Then he opened it, and the blazing light engulfed him in its illuminating brilliance, reminding and filling him until he was full almost to bursting. Here was real truth. Life was fleeting, and truth subject to perspective, and he held himself again in his rightful places.
When he emerged from the bathing room, he was again the Sage Date of old. Changed, yes. A great deal had happened that would take time and effort to work through, but now he felt up to the challenge. In his heart beat the determination to conquer mountains, and in his mind quiet pools of peace where both had been forgotten. Slighter, scarred, and still haunted, he walked down the stairwell with grace. Shoulders squared and strong, the light of hope in his eyes.
When he reached the room, conversation stopped, and all four sets of eyes looked to him.
“Sage?” Cye asked, searching his face for some sign.
Sage gave a small, genuine smile, and nodded his head. “Yeah.”
Ryo walked over and clapped him on the shoulder. “Good to have you back, Sage.”
“Here,” Rowen tossed something through the air.
Sage caught it and looked it over. He recognized the sea shell he had rescued. Small, perfect, and a sweet reminder of the value of such things in this world.
“You'll be wanting that,” Rowen stated.
“Thank you,” Sage clutched it gently in his palm. He looked up at them, standing hopefully in the room where such anxious conversation had taken place. The echo of concern for him was already slipping out of the air. “I should have told you guys before, but you mean the world to me. I've come to rely on you all.”
“You don't need to get sappy man,” Kento grinned broadly. “We already know.”
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