Dust in the Wind - Part Six
A startled cry escaped Brand's lips as he shot up on his cot. Just reliving his greatest karaoke moment was nice and all but the intermixed nightmare that played out drilled him to the bone. Just how much of it had been a dream, though?
The tent was empty.
Neither Megan nor Buba had returned to the tent, this there very first night back in the camp. That didn't bode well in Brand's mind. He slipped off the cot with weary legs and started to leave the tent, but the dueling shadows at the front of the tent halted him. He was being guarded.
No, no, no! If he was being guarded that had to mean Megan had really...
Without thinking, Brand overturned the pile of blankets and cots in the corner. The silvery blade of the talking sword sparkled with life in the darkness hugging close.
"About friggen time you uncovered me! Do you know how long I've been under there? Of course you do! Because you haven't been trapped under there in the dayless, nightless pits of hell waiting for some rude ass to uncover you."
That deep, penetrating voice caused Brand's ears to throb. He staggered back as one of the guards started to whisper to the other.
This could spell trouble but Brand was prepared. He grasped the hilt of the sword and hoisted it into the air. Now months after handling the sword for the first time, Brand had expected it to lift lightly as if it were a feather. But instead it was weighted down against his muscular arm. A few swings later, though, and the sword had adjusted its weight to match Brand's strength.
"I see how it is. Use me when you need me, leave me to rot when you don't. Well, buddy, do I have a shocker for you! That's not how this game is played!"
Brand wanted to get to the tent flap and prepare for the incoming guards. The sword, however, had other plans.
Pain, tremendous, unstoppable, unthinkable pain ripped through Brand's right arm all the way to the shoulder. He fell to his knees and bit into his tongue to keep from crying out. The coppery taste of blood washed over his taste buds and it took everything he had to keep from passing out. His arm felt like it was suddenly on fire from the tips of his fingers all the way up to his shoulder. And perhaps it was. Brand's grip on the sword was impossibly tight. No matter how much he attempted to pull his fingers away from the warm, steel hilt of the blade, they wouldn't budge.
As the pain started to die down a little (not nearly enough), Brand opened his eyes and what he saw caused that suppressed scream to escape his lips in the highest, most girlish way possible. No doubt the entire camp was awakened at the moment, but nothing happened around him that he could tell. Time had seemed to slow to an excruciatingly long halt. As the terrified voice escaped his lips, his eyes bugged out and were glued to the vision of horror playing out before him.
The sleeve of his right arm had been burned away at the shoulder. Not only the sleeve; from the tips of his fingers to the tip of his shoulder, the muscle network of Brand's entire hand and arm had been exposed. The skin lay in ashes next to him on the ground. Again he screamed out, unable to move any longer. The scream escaping his own lips sounded far and distant as if he were hearing it from across a meadow plain.
Then it happened.
The sword in Brand's hand liquefied while containing its own shape. Suddenly silvery liquid metal ran from the sword like the water of a faucet quickly turned on. With the sword remaining full and unharmed while still pouring out that thick stream of liquid metal, Brand found himself unable to watch. He tried to slam his eyes closed but they wouldn't work for him any longer. He was trapped in a nightmare watching his fleshless arm become drowned in a sea of silver water.
Slowly the liquid covered Brand's hand, then started to flow up over his wrist. Before long his entire arm had been covered with the liquid. So much liquid had come forth from the inner workings of the talking sword. So much liquid that it could cover every inch of Brand's hand and arm. And then the pain stopped.
The sword fell from Brand's lips as he dropped back on the ground. A soft groan escaped his lips but he didn't pass out. He merely looked up at the canvas roof of his home for the past six or so months and wondered what on earth had happened to his job. Had he been surely fired by now? His boss would no doubt realize he'd gone into the secret room. There was a book missing after all. None of this was real. He was lying on the floor of that private room, unconscious and dreaming. That's it. Soon enough the owner of that fine little bookstore would be hovering over Brand's body, splashing his face with water. Then the madness would end. Megan would be there to comfort him because he lost yet another job. Buba would be there to help him find a new job. All would be well in Brand's life once more. None of this crazy shit about Buba murdering Megan would ever had occurred. As if.
Outside the tent people were gathering and murmuring in hushed tones. The swelling number of people yanked Brand back to the reality that was. Carefully sitting up proved easy enough. Perhaps he'd just now woken up...
One look at his arm and Brand knew that, too, to be false. The liquid metal had solidified over the exposed muscles. Now he found a sheet of metal had replaced his right hand and arm. He reached out with his left hand and gingerly touched his right bicep. It was cool and slick to the touch. He could feel the metal right enough but the muscle never registered the touch of the finger. One by one he tried to move his fingers, then his arm, and finally he flexed the muscles of his upper arm and frowned at the oddity he'd become. This cool, silver metal had somehow ripped away the skin of Brand's right arm and replaced it with a new layer of skin. Skin that was made of metal. The same metal that had been forged into the talking sword was now the skin that protected his muscles.
"Right then. Now we can't be separated. Aren't you sooo happy, Brand?"
One of the guards decided to finally poke his head in. One look at Brand, though, and the guard's head disappeared. That was followed by urgent shouting, which in turn caused the quiet murmur of the crowd to become overwhelmingly louder.
The replacement process left Brand tired. He forced himself to his feet and picked up the sword. "What have you done to me?"
"You want the long version or the short, pal?"
"I want the answer."
"You are now the wielder of The Sword of Destiny. With this duty comes great responsibility, yadda, yadda. You, however, now hold your destiny in the palm of your hand. You have the ability to transform your destiny as well as anyone else's destiny you encounter in your life. You and you alone shall-"
"I ASKED YOU WHAT YOU DID TO ME!"
"Eesh. Every single fricken time! You ungrateful sons of bitches whine and moan, my arm, my arm, my poor fragging arm! What have you done to my little arm! And then ten years later you are like, MAKE MY WHOLE DAMN BODY LIKE THIS YOU ASS. I don't even have an ass! I swear! Anyway, I connected you to the blade. You can never be separated from me except by death.
"Look on the plus side, sport. That arm is at least five times stronger, it's different for everyone so I can't be sure. It's also indestructible. Nothing will ever harm that arm again. There are some other perks too, but like I said, we'll wait and see. Each wielder is different."
Brand stared unbelieving at the sword in his metal hand. Before he could say anything, though...
Adara pushed her way into the tent. Something was different. The sparkling of her eyes had dimmed and she seemed, for the first time since Brand had actually seen her, older. "Brand," Adara said.
"Where's Megan?" He was still denying the facts that were before him. As much as he knew Megan had been killed, he wouldn't accept it. Not now, not ever as far as he was concerned on a deeply psychological level.
Something else was present in Adara; something Brand hadn't noticed ever before but he saw it now. Adara was afraid of him. "Megan has passed on to the next life, Brand. You know this."
She was afraid and that sudden insight filled Brand with a kind of strength. He found himself standing taller, stronger, and more alert. This woman he'd heard about all these months, this woman of uncountable gifts and powers was afraid of him. The fear was so thick in the air Brand could probably cut it with this sword. This sword of destiny that can talk seems to have suddenly given Brand the power to cause fear in the heart of a demi-goddess. Just how powerful had he become?
Powerful enough to seek revenge... "Where's Buba?" Brand asked in a soft but distant voice.
"Careful there my slow-minded friend," the sword cooed. Brand ignored it but did take extra notice of Adara. He didn't know, after all, if anyone else could hear the sword too.
Adara actually hesitated this time, her eyes darting to the sword for a brief moment. "Brand, you have to understand what happened. It wasn't Benjamin... he was being... possessed by Zadara's chief priestess. He had absolutely no control over anything that was happen-"
The anger was boiling to unforeseeable rage within Brand. His mind was swimming in emotion, no longer participating in conversations with his conscience. Before Brand knew what he was doing, he had the tip of his sword pressing against Adara's throat. "Take me to Buba!" He roared.
Caught off guard, Adara's eyes widen barely noticeably. After a moment of silence, Adara found herself at a loss. "All right, Brand. I will take you to Benjamin."
Off far from the chaos that began to introduce itself into the lives of the chosen ones, Chrava stood in the corner of a dark, shadow filled, damp room. She was crouched low, resting her weight upon her heels with her elbows resting on her thighs and her hands dangling loosely between her knees. Pure blood-red eyes, untouched by pupils, peered into the darkness and watched from afar as the chaos unfolded.
While Brand slept an uneasy sleep, Chrava watched with a bored sigh. It always seemed like Adara's main goal in life was to prevent her happiness. She's just killed the love of Brand's life, the mother of his child (and not to mention his child) with the hands of the man he most looked up to and trusted. Now it was the time to watch as violence was had and people were killed, but no. Adara had to put them all to sleep. That bitch.
A rat scampered across Chrava's foot. Her hand shot down and grasped it, lifting the filthy, sticking critter with gentle ease. As she continued to watch the oh-so-sweet dream with a mild uninterested facination, her fingers slowly caressed the coarse hair of the rat. "What a sappy loser, Mr. Rat. Look at how... happy," the words tasted bitter in her mouth, "these people are."
Chrava's hand clamped down hard on the rat and it let out a high squeak but it was too late. Seconds later the rat's head popped off in a stream of blood. "Thanks little friend," Chrava murmured as she smeared some of the blood on her fingers, then coated her lips with it. "Let's give Brand something real to dream about."
With an all-too-well-practiced mind, Chrava pressed her lips into a thin and nearly invisible line as she reached into the dream of Brand, carefully manipulating the scene as it unfolded. Her giggle erupted loudly when Megan turned to dust and Buba's skin melted away.
"Ah, yes. A much more suitable dream for you, my dear," Chrava said with a bright, bloody smile.
She tossed the rat's body aside, once more dangling her hands between her knees. The bitter, sweet taste of rat's blood on her lips caused her stomach to complain for more but she ignored it. Her hold on Brand was fading. Only that wasn't possible. Focusing her mind, she tried harder to tune in to Brand but huge interference had come out of nowhere. She lost her balance, her ass crashing into the cold concrete floor.
"What the...oh, shit!"To be continued...