Shadows of the Past - Part Eight
Golden-clayish-colored sand blew across Brand's metallic hand as he emerged from a darkness that lasted for what seemed like several hours. His head throbbed mercilessly. Somehow he'd passed out while already unconscious. This mindwalking business was really starting to get on his last nerve.
He shoved himself up to his knees, more sand pouring off his back. Sunlight assaulted his eyes, causing him to squint in pain. All around him dunes of sand drifted lazily in a non-cooling breeze while the sun hung high in the sky and beat down on his face and arms with deadly intent. Lifting a hand to shield his eyes like in a salute, Brand stood and spun around in a small circle. Nothing but sand and clear blue sky for miles and miles. For some reason he felt more comforted by the fact that the Sword of Destiny was once more a part of him than he did that William Shatner wasn't standing nearby.
A sickening thought entered his mind then. For a moment he was almost positive he hadn't passed out in his mind and had in actuality woken up in the real world and somehow managed to find himself in the middle of a desert. The sword destroyed that thought, though.
"Welcome to door number two, Brandypoo," the sword said. "While your friends desperately seek to find a cure for your aliments, you've chosen to take a spiritual quest."
"Spiritual quest? In a desert?"
"Ayep. This is what your mind associated with a spiritual quest. Too much of that thing you call television, if you ask me."
"What do I do?"
"I'm not your stinkin' guide. Figure it out yourself."
Growling with frustration, Brand stalked forward. With each step he sunk several inches into the sandy surface and kicked it forward as he plunged on. If Megan were here, she would be telling him to just relax and go with the flow. Go with the flow. Of all the things to say, it was Megan's duty to say something so tired and overused that Brand had no choice but to understand. So, he went with the flow as the breeze blasted sand into his back, almost pushing him forward.
He came to a halt on top of a steep incline. His eyes followed it down to the bottom where a man sat on a dead tree trunk next to a blazing fire with fingers reaching for the sky. What kind of idiot builds a fire in the middle of a desert? Brand staggered down the slope toward the man and his fire, clearly intent on taking out his frustrations on someone else. Intent that is, until he was close enough to hear the man talking. Not so strange, people talk to themselves. No, what was strange was the way the sun gleamed off the man's right arm as he turned toward Brand. His arm was made of metal, exactly like Brand's.
The man stood as Brand approached but said nothing. He was wearing a thick, golden robe with a simple rope tied around the waist to hold it closed. Given the amount of sweat that was soaking into Brand's clothes, he couldn't begin to image how hot that idiot was.
"Been waiting for you Brand," the man said. Sand dribbled out his beard as he spoke. His metallic arm indicated the log as he returned to his seated position and adjusted the sword around his waist. The sword that looked exactly like the one strapped to Brand's back.
Brand stood there while wind blew his shoulder-length hair into his face and frowned. "Who're you? The ghost of destiny's past?" This was freakin ridiculous. He wanted to ask Sword what the hell was going on but he didn't. There was a kind of static in the air and he felt that asking Sword anything at this moment would get him no response anyway.
"Sit, sit. We've much to talk about and time is short."
Hesitantly, Brand stepped around the man and took a seat on the fallen tree trunk. A splinter jabbed at his ass, but he ignored it for the fire drew his attention as he sat. Inside the flickering, reaching flames he could see a young woman. He judged her to be in her early twenties. Long golden hair flowed around her like a cloak and she had the most striking blue eyes that Brand had ever known. The image was crystal clear within the flames and it frightened Brand for no reason what so ever.
The man noticed Brand staring and said in a solemn voice, "My wife. She was killed about an hour before I become the first Wielder."
Brand's eyes widened but remained firmly locked on the flames. That fear spread within him causing a shiver of familiarity to travel down his spine.
"By now your friends have stopped the flow of poison through your body. They found a hospital and you've been treated. Soon you will awaken but before that happens there are things you must know."
The image in the fire faded, releasing Brand from his hypnotic gaze. He turned to look at the bearded man next to him. "Tell me," he said in a voice he didn't rightly recognize as his own. "Tell me everything."
Only two nurses and one doctor made up the staff of the hospital they found. When they arrived, the only nurse there attended to them while an errand boy ran to get the doctor with news of a deathly ill Wielder. Such news as it was, the little errand boy that could didn't just tell the doctor he announced it to the entire two hundred and twenty-one occupants of the village.
As Buba sat at Brand's side, watching the sickly green veins as they retracted toward the wound that was now bandaged and listening to the commotion of the crowd right outside the door, he sighed deeply. It was close, the doctor had said. One more hour and it would've been too late to kill the poison before it took Brand to the afterlife. That was far too close in Buba's mind.
The drive over was surreal in its own way. After they'd taken off, leaving the fallen soldiers behind, Buba asked the driver who he was. His name was Greg and he was from their world as well. He'd been sucked through a door of light almost five years ago and had been searching for a way home ever since. He had no idea what a Hummer or soldiers were doing here, though. Buba told their story to him, leaving out the details on how Megan died (it was too painful for him to even think about). During this conversation, Lisya just remained quiet in the back, keeping an eye on Brand's pulse.
After arriving at the hospital, Greg took the Hummer around to the back of the hospital to try and keep it hidden as best as possible. He and Lisya then went to find a place to stay for the evening. Buba didn't want to leave Brand's side. He wanted to be there when he woke up.
The nurse with the big nose and giant wart on her chin was fussing with her wiry, gray hair as Buba sat there. She'd come over to check on Brand several times already and each time she prepared herself, making sure she looked her best when the Wielder finally woke up. This time when she came over, Buba asked, "When will he wake up?"
"Dunno, dearie," she said. "The doctor says it could be in an hour or days. Best if you go out and get some food and sleep. Huh-uh, huh-uh."
Leaving Brand's side wasn't an option to him, though. He would sit there and die of starvation before he'd leave. The last thing he wanted was for Brand to wake up in a strange place without any of his friends around. So he remained there for another hour at least, until the big nosed nurse returned once more.
"Just talked to the doctor, dearie," she said. "He won't be wakin up anytime soon. Poison done gone took a lot out o' him. Best that you rest. I'll get ya as soon as there's any sign he be waking."
With all the reluctance in the world weighing down his heart, Buba decided it would be a good idea to get some air.
Outside, the crowd had been dissipated. A large, muscular guard stood next to the hospital. He nodded once to Buba. "Come back any time, sir. You and your friends are the only ones allowed entry."
Buba scanned the area. It was a small, dusty little town. Down the dirt road was the main square. A crowd was gathered there, but they didn't seem to be interested in waiting for the Wielder. As Buba wandered in that direction, he could hear the people cheering wildly as a woman shouted toward them, moving her arms with great emphasis on her words.
On the other side of the crowd of twenty or so people, Buba spotted the Inn. He made his way toward it, glancing over his shoulder toward the hospital every few steps. The knowledge that Brand would be all right did little to quell his fears. His mother had died, after all, despite the fact the doctors told him she would recover just fine. What's more? The hospital here was not a state-of-the-art medical facility. That worried him.
"Are we going to stand for it anymore?" the woman shouting at the crowd screamed. "Are we going to sit here and let them make fun of us anymore?"
"NO!" the crowd shouted in unison.
"Damn right we're not! For too many years we've been ignored and we've been humiliated. It's about time we got the recognition we deserve!"
As the crowd cheered in wild agreement, Buba stepped through the door of the inn. Inside, the rally was muted to a faint murmur. Lisya touched Buba on the shoulder, startling him.
"You okay, Ben?" she asked.
Buba nodded as a skinny clerk glanced up from behind his table and beamed an enormous smile at Buba. "Welcome, welcome," he said. "As I told your friends, companions of the Wielder stay free. No charge, sir, no charge. Best rooms in the house! Say when the Wielder is feeling better, might he stay long enough for a portrait? It would be wonderful if I could say the Wielder stayed at my inn. Wonderful, sir, wonderful indeed."
"We'll see," Buba replied.
The glance of desperation he gave Lisya was enough for her. She slipped her arm through his and led him down a short hall. There were six doors, three on each side, with a stairway leading up to the next floor at the end. Lisya opened the second door on the right and led him in.
Inside the room, Buba sank down on the bed causing it to groan disapprovingly at him. "Thanks," he said.
Through the window the darkening sky inched ever closer. Night was rapidly approaching and the day was starting to take it toll on Buba. His muscles ached while his head throbbed endlessly. Lisya sorted through a basket by the door and pulled out what appeared to be some kind of fruit. It was bright orange with a slick skin. She handed it to Buba and smiled. "Eat this then get some rest. Greg went to look for supplies. I'll go sit with Brand for a bit and come to get you if he so much as stirs."
"He's going to be all right, right?"
"Better than ever, Ben. Promise."To be continued...