A Guiding Light -- Chapter 9

A Guiding Light

An After Talpa Story

By Melissa "Akemi" Ho

Author's Note: This is part of a 9 chapter story plus author's notes. It is COMPLETED. To best view this story, please visit my Ronin Warrior Wing on my web site -- http://www.geocities.com/libraryoflegends/

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Chapter 9 -- In a Field of Irises

Sage sat on the veranda, watching the landscape around him with forlorn eyes. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there for he'd lost all track of time, nor was he really in the mood to care. The scenery was familiar, one he'd known all of his life. Sunlight played on the trees below, dancing off the lush green foliage. From this height, two stories above the ground, he could see a shimmering lake, just beyond the edge of the trees. Turning his eyes to the northwest, Sage could see the massive outline of Mt. Fuji, a cap of snow on its summit. A wind rattled the boughs the sound whistling over the landscape. Sage sighed and leaned his arms against the railing. His eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep, not that he'd wanted to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he could see the face of a young girl with deep violet eyes and long lavender hair smelling of lilacs in spring bloom . . .

Sage could feel the tears begin to well up again at the mere thought of Michie. He had an image of her face fading of pain lines as his healing powers closed the wound. He could almost see her face, the delicate features glowing as she watched the sun rise on the distant horizon. He remembered her laughter when she commented on his friends' antics. He remembered wanting to protect her, ready to protect her with his life. And he remembered how she'd held him, in that one single moment when she said she was ready to die. Sage clenched his fist on the white wooden rail, his grip so hard his knuckles were turning white. It's not fair! Why did you have to die Michie?! Why did you have to sacrifice yourself?! Why did I let you?! He continued to gaze out, seeing yet unseeing while his soul was in turmoil of emotions. Emotions of guilt, regret, and anger at himself. His eyes dropped only to see his hands and he started with horror. He imagined he saw blood staining his palms; Michie's blood. Sage groaned. He saw it again. Michie lying on the stone altar, lavender hair spilling over the stones and her breast slowly moving in time to her breathing, and then his no-datchi slashing downward through skin and flesh . . . Michie! I was supposed to heal you and instead I killed you! Sage bit his lip to keep the tears from resurging. He hadn't felt like this since the time he had thought Ryo had died in order to give them a chance to destroy Talpa for the last time. And he'd wished he hadn't ever had to feel that way again.

Peering through the glass door on the other side, four Ronins looked to each other in concern, joined by a sorrowful Mia and a downcast Yulie.

"He hasn't moved from there all day," Cye said softly, sea blue eyes regarding the blonde haired figure on the veranda with worry.

"I know," Ryo sighed, "Was it worth it I wonder? Surely we could have found another way. Surely . . ."

Rowen shook his head, midnight eyes trained on Sage's form, "No, she knew it was the only way. And she knew our duty to this, our world, took precedence over her own life. But for Sage to have to make a decision like that . . . It must be unbearable."

"It's not fair," Kento said finally, "He sacrificed a lot to rescue us. He nearly wasted himself getting us back. He doesn't deserve to have this added weight. It's just not right."

Mia bowed her head. "When I think that it was my insistence that led us to the shrine in the first place . . . If we had never gone, none of this would have happened!"

"You can't blame yourself Mia," Rowen sighed. "We had no idea what would happen when we agreed to go with you. No one could have."

"Sage is really upset isn't he," Yulie pointed out unnecessarily, his demeanor subdued, "Isn't there anything we can do to help him? Ryo?"

But Ryo was already sliding back the glass door, letting himself outside. The brisk air ruffled his black hair as he approached the solitary figure leaning on the railing. He placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Sage, I know how you feel but what's done is done. You can't change that."

"Do you Ryo? Do you know how it feels?" Sage's voice was scratchy. "I killed her Ryo. I killed her just so we could get back. She had her whole life ahead of her and it was ended just like that." He turned his head away, unable to look into the face of his friend.

"We are Ronin Warriors," Ryo answered quietly, "We live out every day of our lives, knowing that it may well be our last. We know that we may be called upon anytime to defend our world. The road we travel is not an easy one and we may lose those we love along the way, but we must keep going for there is always more at stake." He paused then continued, "We all feel as badly as you, but Michie knew what our duty was. She knew we had to return to our world or risk the lives of thousands who are not equipped as we to deal with the dangers that may threaten. She gave her life in the hopes that it may save many. We should honor that so her life was given not in vain."

Sage gave him no answer but silently digested Ryo's words. Ryo bent closer. "You are the Warrior of Wisdom," he said in a near whisper, "And the one among us who can heal. Let those two help you through this. And know that if you need any of us, you have only to ask." Ryo straightened and was about to depart when Sage finally lifted his head.

"Ryo? What would you have done?"

Ryo turned slowly on his heel, "I really don't know, and to be honest, I'm glad that I didn't have to make that choice," he said softly, blue eyes filled with remembered pain. "I remember being faced with such a decision once, that time when you and the others were absorbed by Talpa and paralyzed him so that I could strike him down." He shook his head, "I blew it, I couldn't do it, and it was only my good fortune that it was the right decision. But there's no telling what would have happened if you hadn't done what you did. The most we can do is just move on." He turned finally and left, leaving Sage to reflect on his words, staring out into the distant forest.

He remained that way for a long while and the others left him to his thoughts, knowing that Sage would have to deal with this crisis himself, as did each of them. Michie's sacrifice affected all of them; her courage and her bravery made them feel inadequate. Would they be willing to make the same choice? Could they have dealt with choosing as Sage had? None of them knew the answers, and it was an introspective air that took hold of the household.

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What is this? Were Sage's eyes deceiving him? But no, he really was in a field. A field of deep purple irises that stretched far into the distance. His gray eyes flicked back and forth in astonishment, drinking in the sights of the surreal landscape. The sky above was painted in the pastel hues of sunrise. A bright sun sat on the horizon, seemingly frozen in place while its rays reached out among the field, brightening the colors. A gentle breeze caused the iris blossoms to dance, the delicate stems waving gently to and fro as if to an unheard melody. Sage stretched his senses and felt amongst the energy patterns crisscrossing the landscape; there was nothing really amiss, just the natural energy whorls. Blinking in disbelief, Sage glanced down at himself and noticed with surprise that he was wearing his armor. The green samurai armor of Halo, minus his helmet. This is decidedly odd. He had no idea where he was or how he'd got there. The most he could theorize was that he was in a dream. The dream world. Only this time it's just my subconscious. How different it looked, yet decidedly the same. As his eyes narrowed in speculation, a familiar scent drifted past his nose. It was the sweet smell of lilacs in bloom on a spring morning. Sage whirled, the scent triggering memories he really didn't want to remember. His mind perceived that though the place looked harmless, danger may very well be lurking. Automatically, he reached his hand behind his back for the hilt of his no-datchi.

The smell of lilacs intensified and the wind picked up, blowing petals of irises past him in a flurry of violet. Gay, girlish laughter floated to his ears on the wind, soft at first then growing in volume. "Ah Sage," and the feminine voice registered a hint of amusement, "Always prepared for anything. But I suppose that is why you are a Warrior."

Sage's gray eyes widened in astonishment as his mind recognized the voice. For a moment, he was too surprised to speak but he managed to get out a single word even beside his constricted throat.

"Michie . . ?"

The voice laughed again and the swirling iris petals parted to reveal a young girl wearing a shimmering white silk dress with pastel pink and purple patterned blossoms. Her hair hung freely and danced in the wind in a flurry of lavender. From the soft complexion shone two eyes the color of the surrounding irises. Her thin rose-colored lips split into a smile that made her whole face light up.

"Michie!" Sage cried in both happiness and relief. His hand withdrew from where it had been hovering over his no-datchi and instead spread his arms wide to catch Michie in a fierce embrace as she threw herself into him.

Sage swung her about before clasping her in a hug. He kissed her lightly on her cheek and Michie giggled at his touch.

"Michie . . . How . . . What . . ?"

Michie pressed her finger to his lips to silence them while her violet eyes were filled with mirth. "Shush. That's too many questions at once," she laughed, "But since I know you won't be satisfied until I say, I'll go ahead and explain." She laid her head against his chest before continuing. "I'm no longer alive in the sense of flesh and bones but the spirit never dies." She smiled at him, "We're in the dream world again, only this time it looks the way I want it to look." Her expression was one of amusement.

"Ah," Sage said in sudden understanding, "The dream world provides and excellent medium to communicate with spirits."

Michie grinned, "That's right! I knew you'd get it!" Her violet eyes danced, "And I'm here to thank you for everything you've done."

"Thank me . . ?"

Michie nodded, "It was because of your efforts that my world has returned to its former glory. You brought hope back to our lost world and for that I will be eternally grateful."

"But Isao and the others don't they . . ?"

"Miss me?" Michie finished for him. "Isao understands. He has our parents to take care of him still and I imagine Chiye has taken care of any loose ends I may have left behind."

Sage shook his head, "Michie, I know that words cannot atone for what has happened but I am truly sorry . . . for everything. I shouldn't have accepted your offer. We could have found another way. I'm sorry . . ."

He noticed Michie shaking her head at him and waggling a delicate finger at him. "Don't be ridiculous," she admonished. "I offered myself for your cause. You should not feel bad." Her gaze grew thoughtful, "In any case, it is better this way. I am finally with my friends now, and all the others that perished with the coming of the darkness. Death is not the end, it is merely a new beginning. The land of spirits is as diverse a world as those of the mortal realms, a new world I will happily explore to its fullest." She reached up a hand and caressed his cheek, her fingers straying to the golden strands that fell over his right eye. "We have a saying in our world," she continued gently, "'We do not mourn those who die fulfilling their destinies.' It was my destiny to die so that you and your friends could return home. I have gladly filled it and I may rest in peace knowing my life was given to a noble cause."

"Michie . . ," and Sage's voice was on the verge of breaking.

Michie's smile grew broader, "Your friends call you Sage of Halo and you have a duty to fulfill as well, a duty that is not yet finished." Her expression grew thoughtful, "Do you remember? You asked me once, 'Who heals the healer?' And I say this in answer, 'Those he heals, giving back what he gave.'" Suddenly, she reached up and kissed him gently on his lips. Caught off guard, Sage could only start in surprise when he surrendered himself to that kiss. Petals of iris swirled around them but Sage noticed only the vibrant body beneath his arms and his body taut with the sensations running through it.

It was Michie who finally pulled away, while Sage ran a caressing finger down her cheek. "You are wise beyond your years, Sage of Halo, and I know you will always light the way and guide those who are lost." Again, Michie pressed herself into his arms. Sage clasped her in that tight embrace, stroking the long lavender hair.

"Michie, will I ever see you again?"

Michie smiled into his armor, "Surely. I will be watching you always and when your duty is done I will be waiting here for you."

"Then learn all you can about this world of spirits," Sage smiled back, "So you can teach me when I arrive."

"Oh I will," Michie laughed.

They stood for a long moment, amidst the flurry of iris petals, each loathe to break that loving embrace. But finally, they each felt the pulling of the conscious reminding them of where they ought to be.

Sage looked up, eyes sorrowful, "I guess . . . this means goodbye."

"No, think of it as 'Hello' for that is the greeting I will give you when we see each other again," Michie corrected him.

Sage smiled at that, "Then I say 'Hello' until we meet again."

Michie laughed at him and they enjoyed one more lingering kiss before parting, she back to the land where spirits tread and he back to the mortal realm where his body lay sleeping. Michie's figure dissolved among the falling purple petals and soon the field of irises began to fade as well.

"Michie," Sage whispered, "'Hello,' 'Hello' . . ."

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Sage was humming to himself as he walked up the steps to his room. Rowen, who had beat him there looked up from his computer with an expression of bewilderment on his face.

"Well you're awfully happy, something good happen in school today or what?" Rowen quirked an eyebrow at him.

"Nah, nothing more than the usual," Sage answered with nonchalance, but his steps were light as he settled himself at his desk.

"Oh? Then what . . ."

"I might be eligible to go to Los Angeles for a couple weeks on a short exchange program," Sage grinned.

Rowen laughed at his expression, "Uh huh, that's grounds for happiness, I suppose. Not that I'm jealous mind you."

Sage quirked an eyebrow at that, "Mmm hmm, now I know what you're REALLY thinking." His gray eyes danced.

"You know what? I'm not talking to you anymore," Rowen pretended to grumble and turned back to his computer.

Sage couldn't stop smiling. It felt so good to be able to laugh and banter with his friends and to enjoy a life where there was no harder choice than deciding which college to go to.

"Hey guys! Dinner's ready!" Cye's voice floated from the downstairs kitchen and Rowen and Sage exchanged a look of glee. Cye's cooking was to be enjoyed whenever possible and the two didn't waste any time rushing downstairs where the sweet aromas of sautéed meat and spices greeted their nostrils.

Kento, Ryo, and Mia were already seated at the table, passing around the dishes and Cye emerged from the kitchen a moment later, carrying a bowl of freshly cut salad.

"Deeeeeelicious Cye!" Kento chortled as he dug into his food.

Cye laughed at him, "Thanks. But coming from you that's normal."

Kento made a face back at him and Ryo was laughing on the other end of the table.

Mia permitted a smile to spread across her face, "Perhaps, but your food IS always wonderful. I get a little envious of your talent sometimes." Cye blushed a deep pink and Sage had put his chopsticks down as he was taken over by mirth at Cye's expression.

"But you know, I've been wondering," Mia's voice grew thoughtful.

"'Bout what?" Kento said casually, biting into a piece of meat.

"That mural back at the shrine," her eyes strayed to Sage to check his reaction before continuing, "After you five came back through the gate, I remember seeing the mural on the ceiling and it was . . . different."

"What do you mean?" Ryo asked curiously, leaning forward slightly in his seat. And the others stopped eating long enough to here Mia's reply.

"Well . . . I could have sworn that the mural changed. The forest was painted in bright green and the ground was dotted with grasses. The sky was a bright blue with white clouds. There were pictures of people walking with leather packs and children playing outside, rolling on the ground with small puppies, all wearing smiles on their faces. And . . ."

"And what?" Rowen prodded her.

"And I thought I could have sworn I saw an image of a young girl with violet eyes and lavender hair smiling at someone in green samurai armor, holding a glowing no-datchi." Mia's gaze stole to Sage who was staring at her wide-eyed.

"Are you sure?" Sage asked.

Mia nodded, "There's no question, it was you Sage. I didn't mention it sooner because of . . . well," Mia trailed off awkwardly.

"And Michie," Sage whispered quietly, ignoring Mia's tone. He closed his eyes. But there were no tears, not this time. I promise Michie. I will do my duty as the gift you gave to me. And someday we'll meet. Perhaps it will be in a field of irises that stretch into the horizon . . .

When despair covers men's hearts

A face wreathed in gold

He who brings the gift of healing

Be the light to guide the lost and deliver them from darkness

Bearer of the wisdom

Beware the evil that lurks in realms of chaos

When earth, fire, wind, and water align

Yours is the sacrifice to me made

Wise one, open the gates with your wisdom

Let your spirit flow on the breath of heaven

~El Fin~

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