Chapter 6

The Disconnect in the Unity

We managed to get quite a distance away from the village in the dead of night when the elder sage decided to set up camp. I stood idly by, watching the sages as they started a campfire and gathered some provisions for supper. Not knowing what to do, I went off to tend to my one and only friend among strangers. After relieving Oakley of his saddle and saddlebags, I placed it on the ground and tied him off so he wouldn't stray into the night.

I gathered up Oakley's saddle once more, along with the blanket spread across his back, and moved a little ways away to set up my makeshift bed. Laying the blanket flat on the ground, I placed the saddle at one end before I sat down to rest my back against it. From my spot, I watched the sages as they worked in unison.

As a female sage with pink trimmings tended to the fire, the elder sage - the master sage, I believe that one sage called him - stirred the contents of a pot just as another female sage with yellow and golden orange hems gathered earthenware bowls from one of their many saddlebags. Meanwhile, in the background, Astrea set about to collect firewood, and two male sages - one with trims as the color of the ocean; the second with white and a shade of blue lighter than the midday sky - tended to the seven horses together. The final sage being a man with black and midnight blue trimmings made beds for everyone.

I marveled at their efficacy, each worrying about their tasks and trusting the others to do the same. How can they easily do that? I found myself pondering. How come they aren't being ordered to do these things by that master sage? How do they know what they have to do without being told?

That's what a true team looks like. The voice answered me.

But Nathaniel, Viola, and I have always been a team and we always tend to bicker with each other.

You guys were never a team and so you didn't trust each other. You will never trust one another.

That's not true! Indignation filled my entire being.

We shall see. The voice simply replied with disdain. We shall see.

I closed my eyes and took deep breaths to let the anger flow out of me. My eyes snapped open when I heard rustling getting closer to me. I found myself seeing the yellow and orange sage walking towards me with one of her bowls.

"I doubt you had anything to eat since this morning." She said with a kind smile. "Here." She handed me the bowl which I hesitantly took from her.

"Um, thanks." I expected her to go back to the other sages but instead, she sat down next to me.

"I'm Zarah, by the way." She introduced herself.

"Sarah?" I questioned back to her, pretty sure I misheard her or something.

"No- no. It's Zarah. Zarah." She repeated, emphasizing the first letter.

"Ah, okay. I see. I'm Thaddeus."

"Nice to meet you, Thaddeus." At that, she turned her head to look at the other sages. I, too, faced them as I brought the soup filled bowl to my lips. However, from the corner of my eye, I observed her.

She looked to be no more than a few years older than me yet gave off an air of untold wisdom. Her golden hair, long and straight that it was, was brushed back from her face and hooked behind her ears. Despite being in the dark, her fair skin somehow managed to make her amber eyes stand out like rays of light. After a moment, Zarah returned her attention to me, making me quickly shift my eyes away from her.

"How's the soup?" She asked just as I took a sip of it. I hummed out a response before gulping down the contents.

"It's good. Really good actually." I managed to say.

"Well, if you think that's good, just wait until we get to the temple. The cooks there are amazing." She informed me with a smile but as if reminded of my situation, she became serious. "Listen, about that. I know it's scary leaving behind everything and everyone you knew and loved just to go with some strangers said to be chosen by the gods themselves and stay at their fabled temple that no outsider has ever seen-"

"Is this suppose to make me feel better?" I queried with a raised eyebrow, interrupting her little speech. She simply laughed and nodded before continuing.

"If you ever need to talk to someone, a friend, I'll be happy to lend an ear or two."

A friend? She wants to be my friend?

Don't trust her. She just wants to find out what your weaknesses are so they can turn it against you later. The voice warned.

"I will keep that in mind if the need should ever arise," I told her, remaining cautious of her.

"Good." She simply replied, her smile returning. With a sigh, she stood up and straightened out her robes. "Anyways, sleep well, Thaddeus. Things," Zarah stopped mid-sentence as if rethinking her words. "Things are going to look up."

I quietly watched as Zarah made her way back to the other sages. The sages, with their tasks finished, gathered around the campfire with bowls in hand as they talked amongst themselves in hushed tones. As soon as Zarah re-entered the group, they clustered around her and feverishly continued whispering with each other. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as Zarah's eyes quickly flicked towards me before twitching away several times.

They are talking about you! She's telling them how pathetic you are. The voice said, inciting mistrust within me.

I don't know how long I watched the sages for when one-by-one they started going to sleep, leaving one alone to keep watch. I was determined to keep a watchful eye on the sages but my traitorous body demanded rest as my eyelids became heavy with exhaustion.

My eyes couldn't have been closed for more than a minute when I heard a twig snap in the early morning light. I looked around the campfire to find who made the noise but I came up empty. In fact, I didn't see the sages either. Walking towards what used to be the fire, I hold a hand over the blackened firewood.

"It's cold," I said out loud, looking for where they could have possibly gone. "Their horses are gone yet the beds are still here? They couldn't have abandoned me, could they?" Just then, I heard rustling a few feet away, spooking Oakley in the process.

Oakley frantically tried to break away from where I tied him off the night before. I attempted to calm him down as I cautiously approached him. Somehow, Oakley settled down long enough for me to quickly strap his saddle back on. Though the second I untied his reins, he bolted.

"Oakley! Come back!" I called out to him. The moment he was hidden within the foliage of the forest, heavy footsteps followed Oakley before he let out a sharp whinny and the forest fell completely silent. As if having a mind of their own, my feet turned around and began running in the opposite direction.

I don't know how long I ran for but my eyes frantically searched for a haven. Behind me, I heard the heavy footsteps following me and almost felt whatever it was breathing down my neck.

"I need to get out of the forest. That's all I need." I huffed out, still looking for a way to escape. Gradually the footsteps faded away though before they disappeared into the silence of the forest, a roar erupted from the creature behind me just as I stumbled into a clearing. I quickly steadied myself and looked for the right path to take. However, when I found a familiar figure standing ahead of me, I froze in my place.

"Nathaniel?" I questioned as he turned around to face me. "Nath, it's not safe here. There's something in the forest." I inform him while walking over to him in an attempt to get him to move but it seemed like he couldn't hear or understand me for he just stood there... with a weird smile on his face.

"Nathan, I'm serious. There's a monster after us." I persisted, gently pushing him forward. Still, he didn't budge. When I opened my mouth again, a roar and scream erupted from behind me. I quickly turned around as worry latched itself into my bones for fear that the scream belonged to Viola. Just before my feet could take me towards the scream, a sharp pain exploded in my back.

"Long live the king." An unfamiliar gravelly voice whispered in my ear. Reaching a hand to the pain in my back, I felt a wet spot and something sticking into me. With the force of the object pulling away from me, the strength in my legs gets sapped out forcing me to fall onto my knees. I pulled my hand back to find it dripping in blood. The remaining blood in my face quickly drained away and my heart beat even faster as a bloody dagger dropped down next to me.

I frantically looked up to see Nathaniel walking away. My mouth dried up with my pleas of mercy upon my tongue and my world tilted on its side as I fell to the ground. Nathaniel disappeared into the forest's depth, taking my vision and any hope of being saved. However, the last thing I see is a set of feet walking into my line of sight, stopping before me.

"You have a role to accomplish." A kind and vaguely familiar voice said. "It's time to accept it, Thaddeus. It's time to accept your fate and wake up."

•~•~•~•~•~•~•~•

"Wake up, Thaddeus." I bolted up with a start and my face came within an inch of another. It's while scrambling backward against the saddle that I finally realized that face belonged to Zarah. "Whoa, easy, Thaddeus. It's alright. You're okay." She said with shocked concern written all over her face. Taking deep breaths, I willed my heart to slow down. When Zarah saw that I was more settled, she sat down next to me and watched me with worry in her eyes.

"You looked like you were having a bad dream." She simply stated. When I didn't respond, she continued. "You want to talk about it?"

"No," I said quickly, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

"Well, okay then. I'm here if you change your mind. We are about to head out so you better get ready." Zarah abruptly stood, dusting off her robes, and left me before I could say anything else. As I watched her return with the other sages who are all packing up, a chill ran up my spine and the hair at the back of my neck stood on edge. Stretching out my tired muscles, I casually scanned our surroundings in the hopes that my nightmare wasn't going to come to fruition. Fortunately, nothing seemed amiss and my fried nerves calmed down.

With the sages close to finishing packing their belongings, I quickly got Oakley ready for the incoming travels. Luckily for me, I didn't have a lot to begin with so getting Oakley saddled up took only a minute. I was looking through my saddlebags when I heard one of the sages call out.

"Hey, Nemo!" Turning to see what the commotion is, I found that the sage with ocean color trimmings was staring at me. Satisfied that he had my attention, he continued. "Catch." By instinct, I raised my hands to stop whatever he threw at me from hitting my face. With my eyes closed, I somehow caught it and found that it's an apple.

"Name's Thaddeus. Not Nemo." I told him with a confused expression on my face.

"You're from that village, Nemesia, right?" He asked.

"Yeah?" I scratched my head, wondering where this line of questioning was heading.

"Then that makes you a Nemo. Simple as that."

"Benjiemin." The master sage called out with a warning tone. "Behave."

"Yes, Master. Sorry." The scolded sage hung his head in shame causing the sage with pale blue trimmings to smirk at him. The smirk didn't go unnoticed by Benjiemin, though, for he pushed the other sage and muttered something under his breath.

"I've got to admit, Benji. I have never found your jokes and antics funny before but that was hilarious to watch." The pale blue sage laughed out.

"That is cold, Ryder. Even for you." Benjiemin rebutted lamely.

"Yeah, well, that is why they call it the cold hard truth, don't they?" Ryder replied as he mounted his horse. Benjiemin followed Ryder's lead and climbed onto his horse as well, grumbling the entire time.

Not knowing what happened exactly, I stared dumbfoundedly at the apple in my hands. I looked up at the sages in search of… I don't know what. Direction I guess? However, seeing how the sages were still working in unison despite the scolding and teasing, only made me feel so out of place and lost.

Absentmindedly, I bit into the apple as I stared at the group. It's only when I've eaten half of the apple that I come back to my senses. I, suddenly, lose my appetite altogether and give the remaining apple to Oakley, who happily munches it up. After checking that everything was safely secured one last time, I hop onto the saddle just as the last sage does the same.

With the master sage leading the way, we continued our journey to the Temple of Seven. I rode near the back of the group, just contemplating how on earth I ended up here.

You know exactly how we got here and our death is upon for sure! The voice exclaimed.

We don't know for sure that going with the sages means death. I argue back at the voice, physically shaking my head.

Exactly. We don't know what their real intentions are. All we have to go off with is a legend that we heard from a girl still living in a fantasy world.

Don't talk about her like that. Or I swear I'll- I try to threaten but get interrupted.

You'll what? I dare you to finish that sentence. What will you do if I continue talking about your precious oblivious Viola? The voice taunted.

I-I don't know. I surrender easily to the voice.

That's what I thought! You are as naive as Viola, quickly believing everything others say. Taking their word as fact.

I didn't do that though. If that was true, I would have accepted to go with the sages the first time they asked. Instead I-

Instead, you ran away… like I suggested you do. Hell, you didn't even ask that one sage what the runes on the sword say. The voice reminded me.

You're right. I didn't ask. I furrowed my brows at that revelation and shook my head out of the conversation. Looking up at the sky, I see that the sun hangs higher in the sky. I was stuck in my head for what seems to be hours but now seems as good as any to ask the questions the voice brought up. Urging Oakley to a slight trot, I ride up next to the white hemmed sage, Astrea.

"It's Astrea, right?" I ask just to make sure I got my sages right.

"Yes, that is my name." She answers in a neutral voice.

"Can I ask you a question, Astrea?"

"Yes, go ahead. Ask away."

"These runes," I begin, pulling out the sword in the process. "What do they mean? What do they say, exactly?"

"Is that really what is worrying you? What some runes on a sword mean?" She questioned. With a simple nod of my head, she lets out a sigh and continued. "That runes say exactly Jucs Ba-lac. It is roughly translated from olden speak as justified balance."

"Justified balance," I repeat to myself. "At the village square, you said 'these runes name her blade'. That this is the guardian Nemesis's sword. How do you know it's supposedly her sword in the first place?" I inquired while putting the sword away. For the first time since I came up to her, she lets out a small chuckle.

"I am sure you will learn more about the sages while at the temple but I will reveal this to you now. I'm the sage of Nemesis. I know everything there is to know of the guardian otherwise I wouldn't be able to connect with the guardian." She answered.

"Wait, what do mean by connect?" I asked her before she rode ahead of me.

"That is a lesson for another time, Thaddeus." Interjected the master sage. "For now though, I would like to present to you," The master sage continues, opening a path for me to go ahead of the group. I pass the sages one by one, their faces expectant until I emerge in front. Cresting the hill we were climbing, all I could do was behold the sight ahead. "The Temple of Seven."