Three as Three - Part Five
There was a path; there had to be. But sure enough, the more Megan concentrated, trying to find the path she knew she was following, the harder it became for her to see anything but a wild mess of forest. When she finally gave up trying to see the unseen path, she realized that Adara had been speaking to her.
"...you will take will not be an easy one." Adara had been saying, when Megan finally brought her attention back to reality and not some invisible path. As Adara continued, Megan listened more closely. "Perhaps your path will be the hardest one of all, Megan. I cannot go into it now but you can rest assured I'll do everything within my power to prepare you, personally if I must, for the journey you will take."
Did that sound as bad as Megan took it to sound or was she just imagining it to sound a lot harsher than it actually was? What kind of insanity had Brand dragged her into now? Always it seemed that with every step she took forward in her life, she could count on Brand to be there to pull her back five times as many steps with some bizarre incident. This one may have to qualify as ten steps back.
They walked on and on. Twists and turns carried them forward, as far as anyone could tell, toward some unknown destiny that only Adara had in mind. So, Megan simply followed along.
It wasn't like she had anything better to do. No, that wasn't true. She had many things she could be doing. Had none of this ever happened would she be teaching her own class full of children by now? The job interview had gone so well, more than well. She couldn't think of one thing that went wrong that day. But, now, now she surely missed the follow-up phone call. The offer for the job was probably gone forever. If she ever returned home, would she want to know if she'd gotten the job or not? She cared, yes, more than she'd ever admit to anyone and some part of her deeply hated Brand because of it. A small part of her, that was all. Despite it all, she knew the side of Brand that he kept hidden. The side he dared not show the world and that was the side that had connected her so deeply to him. That was the side she knew, someday, would win out and be the strongest part of him. She could wait.
They stepped out of the forest and into a clearing. A guard was near the canyon edge, dismissing the last of the workers. Behind him a long bridge extended over the canyon, clear to the other side. When they reached him, the guard greeted them.
Adara tipped her head once. "All is well?" She asked.
"Yes. The bridge is complete and nobody has dared to step foot on the other side of the canyon. Brand will be the first to use this bridge to reach the other side, then the first to visit the ruins." The guard seemed disappointed, but held it to himself like a trooper. "I'll admit, it is unusual for such long and hard work to be reward like this. Any idea what your father is thinking? Or what those ruins are all about?"
"More than any idea, my loyal guardian. I know exactly what awaits Brand in those ruins. However, it is not my place to reveal things that will reveal themselves." Adara made a point of looking at Megan as she said that particular part then she smiled at the guard. "Trust me when I say, it'll all make sense when Brand returns from there."
The guard nodded to Adara then had a few brief pleasantries with Megan before he picked up a jug of water and excused himself into the forest.
As Megan and Adara stood there at the bridge, alone, the wind kept them company. It the cool air felt good against Megan's face but she had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach and couldn't quite figure out why. That was, of course, until Adara told her exactly why. "Brand is going to try and kill me when he gets here." Her words were honest and soft, without a hint of any kind of feeling behind them. Megan was startled.
"You can't be serious. Why would he do a thing like that?"
"I have been inaccurately painted in his mind." The hesitation in Adara alarmed Megan. It was a first and not something she was particularly glad to see. "You will learn this soon enough. Forgive me. I shouldn't have spoken so soon."
No, no, no. That wasn't right. Adara was playing some kind of game with Megan and Megan damn well knew it. She narrowed her eyes at Adara, studying her intently. "What's going on here?" Megan asked carefully. In the little time she'd known Adara, she'd known Adara to always, always, be sure of herself. This was like anti-Adara as far as Megan was concerned. Or maybe it was a test of some kind.
For her part, Adara just looked curiously at Megan.
"I don't like games." Megan said. Her voice was harsher than she'd intended, but it worked. It took her a moment to relax. "Tell me what is going on. What does, inaccurately painted in his mind mean? Why are you pretending to be so unlike yourself? Do you want to know if I can tell you are not being you? What? Tell me."
Adara smiled at her. It was a kind gesture, so why did Megan feel like it was so condescending? No, not condescending, fake. She growled. Yes, Megan growled.
"Do you feel as if your life, up until now, was a complete waste of your time?" Adara asked. "Do you feel as if everything you strive to accomplish in your life has been thrown out the door and now you have to start over from the beginning when you should, in fact, be stepping closer toward those goals?"
Yes. "No." Megan said.
"Your face isn't suited for lying, Megan." Adara smiled at her and this time the smile felt genuine. It was a true smile, a caring smile, and even a little bit of a sad smile. "Believe it or not, your goals in your former life drove you to be what you needed to be in your new life. A wise man, ever wiser than me, once told me that while our lives are in our own hands, we make the choices, without realizing it, that will lead us down the path of the future for which we are destined. This world around you, Megan, this world is nothing to you and it will never be anything to you. I don't expect you to find love for this land and its people. I don't expect you to find yourself at home here. You and your companions have come here to learn and experience. It is your own land, the land you do call home and you do love that is the land you will make your final stand. That is the land where you will use all that you've gained from this experience and you will save your own people."
Megan's gaze fell to the ground in silence. She didn't know what to say, not really. She didn't even know what to think right now. As luck would have it, or perhaps good timing on Adara's part, Brand and One-eye appeared from within the forest and made their way toward them. Megan did spare one glance at Adara and was met with a warm, embracing smile. She felt loved by this woman that she barely knew, but there was something else. The idea of fear was at the tip of her tongue, but why would someone as unusual as Adara have any fear of Megan or her friends? Then she remembered what Adara warned her about when they were first alone and she looked toward Brand. He'd stopped near Adara and just stood there, staring at Adara. That can't be good.
"Go to the ruins," Adara said.
Then, to Megan's surprise, an all too familiar sight appeared on Brand's face. Rage. Fury. Uncontrollable anger. She didn't even have time to think and when Brand grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her back from Adara, Megan lost her footing and nearly fell. She was embarrassed, for one, but she was also scared for Adara. She just didn't know why. What could Brand possibly do? However, when Megan tried to say something, Brand just waved his hand at her and she seethed but said nothing. He's going to embarrass himself now. Megan knew it and now she wanted it to happen.
"What's the matter?" Adara asked to break the silence.
"You're the bitch that attacked me in the bookstore and stole the book!" Then, being the ass that he was, Brand tried to football tackle Adara to the ground. Well, Megan smirked and was glad to see Brand fall flat on his face in the dirt. He needed some humbling. That's what he needed all right.
"I assure you," Adara said, "I have never harmed you. It is against my very nature to harm another living being in any matter. As is stealing."
Megan watched as Brand rolled over, glared at Adara, then jumped to his feet and prepared to stupidly attack again. Megan couldn't help but sigh. Then Brand spoke again: "Just give us the book and tell us how to get home! I don't know what kind of games you're playing but..." He fell silent as his eyes grew wide. Just by looking at him it was apparent he was somewhere else, seeing something else. Megan looked toward Adara, then One-eye, then back toward Brand as he blinked a few times.
"What is it, Brand?" Megan asked.
But he couldn't speak. The fury had drained out of him visibly and Megan could almost feel the fear and anguish that replaced it. "No!" Brand screamed out. He fell to his knees and looked up at Adara. His hands gripped the thick cloth of her robes near the ground and he begged mercy of her. "Please!" He cried out. "Don't!"
The wind started to pick up, a faint howl echoed out from the canyon. The eerie setting, coupled with Brand's current position, was enough to send a shiver down Megan's spine but it didn't. No, the shiver came when a hand clasped over her mouth and the cold steel of a blade stung as it started to dig into the skin at her neck. "It wasn't her that you saw, Brandon." Came a strikingly familiar voice.
One-eye, Adara, and Brand all turned their attention to Megan and her captor. As the knife teased slicing clean through Megan's head, she could feel the blood from the small cut that had already been made. Was it intentional? Megan didn't know, but she knew one thing. From this angle the reflection on the blade that held her life so close to the edge looked exactly like Adara.To be continued...