To Stand Alone
Fully dressed once again, Sage closed the door behind him and allowed the incense and spent candle to vanish from his hands. Don't look back, had been Anubis' advice, and Sage knew he should follow it.
In that room, when he had set all the incense alight at once, his own representation and Halo's had quickly risen above the others, locked in a passive struggle for dominance. It would seen unrelated, but Sage had come to a revelation as he watched in the candle's light. Sooner or later, at the edge of every light is darkness, the boundaries of good will be bordered by bad, the end of peace, war, and lining every destruction is a miracle waiting to be born. A coin and a sword will always have two sides, with very little between them. In this contest of opposites lay the balance that ran the world, and every moment threatened to rend it at its foundations. His own path seemed to tread a terrifying gray zone between victory and disaster.
Balance and control had always been favored by the young man, and he was not one to quail in the face of adversity. A truth was he wondered if he could do it, if his strength and fortitude could carry him through this, the greatest challenge he had ever faced. He was already half way there, and his original reasons for beginning this particular campaign were still a driving force in his mind, and when he pictured the others, he felt he would rather do almost anything than put them through what he had already experienced. He had to try. So he closed the door on the sauna room, and began preparing to meet Kale and Dais.
His fresh resolution seemed to alleviate a numbness in his heart, and refill a growing emptiness in his soul.
Rowen's face appeared in the sky, surprising Sage.
“Sage,” he asked, and it was clear he desperately wished to be answered. “Where are you?”
Sage blocked him out. “Sorry, Rowen,” he said, though the other could not hear him. “But I will do this on my own.”
Trees and buildings turned into darkness, with a tiny sun shining brightly at the center as Sage traveled to a different part of himself. He picked up the sun in his hands, and poured into it every memory, feeling, and thought that he considered defining to himself. All of it, from acts of shame to moments of pure joy. A walk during a spring day, and accepting class presidency. Times he had struggled, and been afraid, and when he'd been fearless and strong.
When he looked up, there was a mirror, its perfect surface reflecting the ever changing light of the sun he held in his hands, flirting with the darkness beyond. At the top was a large indentation, and into this Sage put the sun. As it settled in place, radiant golden light spread along the frame, outlining its simple elegance with an inextinguishable luminance. His reflection stared back, waiting.
Sage concentrated, turning the image into how he wanted to see himself. Dressed fashionably with good taste, a small but happy smile on his quiet lips, looking content with no worry or care burdening his noble shoulders. Try as he would, though, it was both eyes that stared back at him from his barely controlled mane.
He encased the whole thing protectively, then locked it. The reflection was frozen as had satisfied him. This was an experimental technique, and he hoped his sealing measures would be enough in the event things got out of control. If he needed to remember in the future, here was a reminder of everything he was. He hoped Halo would not be able to get in, and he prayed he wouldn't need it.
Finished, he returned to consciousness, rising up through the levels of awareness until he was sitting on the ground, blinking in the low-slung sunlight. Though he hated to take the time, he needed rest. He planned to walk away once the dust and ash settled from all this, and to do that he needed his strength.
Though far from his preferences, Sage saw no alternative, and made his bed in the cave system where two joints met, and every sound was heralded by echoes with plenty of advance warning. He hadn't wanted to place himself where the armor would have such an advantage over him, but here he would know if his enemies came looking for him. An assurance most needed and welcomed. Here, with water dripping melodically throughout the echoing underground, Sage slept.
When he woke, it was to the same slow lullaby that he had closed his eyes to. He felt rested and refreshed. His sleep had been undisturbed, though Sage had felt Halo lurking on the periphery.
He got up, tossing his hair out of his eyes, and rolled up his bed. It was almost surprising they had not come for him during the night, but that didn't mean they weren't waiting for him outside, poised to catch him in an unguarded moment. In anticipation of such a potentiality, Sage dressed as well in the protective sub-armor he had become so accustomed to. His mind clear, his body ready, and his will still his own, Sage tucked the bedroll under one arm and walked steadily out of the cave.
A deer, interrupted in its morning drink, raised her head and regarded him from her large, beautiful brown eyes. Twin fawns peeked around her shyly, but with curiosity, and without fear. Sage was gladdened. They clearly did not view him as a threat. They did not run or flinch when he gracefully moved quietly to the stream, somewhat above them, and drank as well of the refreshing water.
The doe walked off, trailed by her fawns, though they threw glances back at the young man. He watched them go, then went his own way. His adequately appropriated sports car was waiting for him, just as he had left it. He brushed a spiderweb from the steering wheel, and another from the driver's seat. None had touched the boxes in the passenger's.
Sage wondered where to go, since Kale and Dais had not come to him. He thought for a moment, then on impulse turned on the radio. It was static. Strange. He knew he was close enough to the major city of Takamodo to get reception, in fact was within a forty-five minute drive. Frowning, he adjusted the knob, searching for a station. He found a few, fuzzy from his location and the distance traveled. None from any of the Takamodo stations, those were still singing white noise. It was as good a place as any to start with, and quite possibly better. Sage started up the smooth engine and eased it out of the woods and towards the main road.
Shortly, he crested a steep hill, the last of the visual barriers the the city, and what he saw caused him to stomp on the accelerator, sending the car rocketing eagerly down the slope. The Dynasty gates hovered hungrily in their gloom above Takamodo, and its evil essence starved the sky of its own natural light. With only minimal regards to safety, Sage was still twenty minutes away, each mile stretching longer as the smoke curled in mourning against Talpa's distant laughter.
“I saw him,” Rowen repeated. “But he shut me out.” He hit the side of the Jeep with his fist. “Why won't you let us help you, Sage? You don't need to be alone!”
“Easy, buddy,” Kento said. “We'll find him, whether he wants us to or not.”
“Did you see anything else that might help locate him?” Ryo asked.
“No,” Rowen answered, taking his hand off the Jeep and shoving it back in his pocket. “Nothing.”
“So do we just drive around and hope we find him?” Cye asked. “Or does someone have a plan?”
“If he took the road, and since we know he has a car it's likely, then he could only have gone on or back, and we didn't pass him anywhere. At least, not that we noticed,” Rowen offered.
“We'll go forward,” Ryo said, opening the driver's door and stepping in. “If we don't find any trace of him by nightfall we'll stop and rest. Won't do any good otherwise, either missing something in the dark or being no help when we catch up to him if we've had no sleep.” He strapped up, and waited for the others to do the same before he backed the Jeep out of the woods. “We'll take it slow, and keep your eyes open.”
“You bet!” Cye said, his gaze already glued to the world outside the window.
“We'll have to eat sometime, too,” Kento said, sounding a little guilty.
Ryo's stomach rumbled at the suggestion. “Yeah.”
Some hours later, they came to a fork in the road. The sign marked the right as leading to Takamodo, while the left the small town Hibeosho. Day was also beginning to retire, giving way to her brief lived sister Dusk, who looked eager to dance tonight. Ryo slowed down to a crawl as they approached, trying to decide.
“Which way would he go?” Cye asked, looking anxiously down both roads.
“He wouldn't want to fight the Warlords among a bunch of people,” Rowen said.
“But they might be drawn to a larger population,” Ryo said, creeping the Jeep closer to decision. The car behind them honked impatiently.
“It's getting dark,” Kento said, eyeing a sign further down the left road advertising a diner. “And Hibeosho's closer.”
At the last moment Ryo swung the car to the left, to one last long blare of the other's horn. “If Sage even came this way, he'd try to keep the fighting as far from the city as possible. Out of the small town, too, but there's more back roads and less attention.”
“You're probably right,” Rowen agreed. The truth was he didn't know where Sage had gone. None of them did. It was possible he was no longer the same person they had known, and might now act in ways unpredictable to them. He shook his head. These were no thoughts to be having. They had to trust his fortitude and character. But should they prepare for the worst? Or was that being traitorous to their brother in arms? Remembering Kayura, there seemed a dire possibility that even more difficult questions may lay in their future.
“Maybe he thought the food looked good,” Kento said, leaning forward in excitement. Trying to lighten the mood.
Ryo chuckled. “Yeah, it does to me.”
“Yeah, man!” Kento offered Ryo a high-five, who took him up on it.
Cye smiled, though he couldn't bring himself to join in. He knew they were simply trying to keep some normality, and find some comfort in routine. The truth was they each carried Sage in the forefront of their thoughts, and saw some reminder of him in most moments, his absence a perpetual ragged hole in their lives.
The question weighing heavily on them all was, did this road lead them closer to the quiet young man, or farther? Was this in the hands of Fate?