Journey to Esidarap - Part Nine
The darkness that was the world lessened considerably as Brand led his group toward the city. Light from the city illuminated the area surrounding it with a brilliance that was all too uncomfortable for everyone. How that light existed to begin with weighed heavily on everyone's mind.
"Are you sure about this?" Chrava asked from Brand's side as they walked ever closer to destiny.
Hesitation stopped Chrava from speaking for a moment. "Listen, I've been to this city before. It's bad news. Very bad. Let's just go away--together--and never look back. You and me. Huh?"
Brand shot a quick glance at Chrava. "You from here?" he asked. "I thought--"
"No. I've been here. It's not just a place for Zadara and her evil worshippers. It's the center of the universe as far as this world is concerned. Everything happens in there. When Adara ruled all those centuries ago, she ruled from Esidarap. It had a different name, then, though."
"Paradise," said Borodan from behind.
He walked up to Brand's left and nodded. "Zadara--in all her infinite wisdom--thought it would be hilarious to reverse the name. Look to your right, Wielder. We have company."
Automatically, Brand reached for the sword strapped to his back. He didn't continue through with the motion, though, when he spotted a very familiar face within the lightening darkness.
"Buba!" Brand shouted.
The shout was not ignored; Buba jerked his head up with a grin as wide as his face. Brand noticed right away that Buba's entire being seemed to be different. Better. Happier. He also noticed something else. Buba held Lisya's hand.
The wayward groups converged several minutes later. Greetings were made, hugs were passed around and the air was filled--for the moment at least--with jubilation and celebration. In those last linger moments of happiness, the battle to come wavered invisibly in the background.
"Let me make some introductions. This is Borodan and this is Miran--" Brand paused, noticing for the first time that the woman he only knew as Miranda had disappeared. Frowning, he glanced at Borodan with a questioning expression.
Borodan nodded toward the city. One look in that direction caused an even more puzzled expression to sink into Brand's features.
"Hold on," Brand said.
Chrava jogged away from the group, toward the city, without looking back. It didn't take Brand long to catch up. When he did, he grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop.
"What?" Chrava said, jerking her arm from Brand's grip.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Esidarap. Where else?"
"Why'd you leave in such a hurry?"
"Didn't want to intrude."
"Nonsense. I was just making introductions."
"Your friends won't like me."
"Ha! You don't know my friends very well. Buba will just adore you."
"Trust me, Brand--it's better this way."
The idea that something was not right with Chrava's attitude wasn't far from Brand's mind, but he kept it pushed back for now. Instead, he just stared at her at a loss for words. Creaks from wagons that hadn't been oiled in ages, mixed with the murmur of a large crowd, belted out from within the walls of Esidarap as they stood there staring and glaring. Stubborn little thing she was indeed.
"Is this about last night?" Brand finally blurted out.
Creases formed in Chrava's brow. Deep and penetrating eyes gazed at him in surprise. "What--no. Brand..." Grasping for words that wouldn't quite come to her, Chrava finally just shot up on her toes and kissed him quickly. Then she started to turn away.
Again Brand grabbed her upper arm.
"Wait," he said. "What are you not telling me?" Confusion etched his face with far too much ease. The comparison entered his mind before he could block its passage. She's acting like Megan when she found out she was pregnant. But that was utterly ridiculously because there was no way that could be known as soon as the next morning.
Realization dawned on Brand like a light clicking on. "It's Lisya, isn't it? You know of her gift and you're afraid she'll see something in you that you don't want revealed. That's it, isn't it?"
"Yes, Brand. That's it exactly."
"That was about as convincing as Nicolas Cage playing Superman." It was Chrava's turn to look confused. Brand marched on. "Come on, Miranda. We're wasting time here. Meet my friends so we can get to town."
Brand started to pull Chrava back toward the gathering--the gathering with all eyes on the happy couple--but Chrava yanked her arm away again. This time when Brand turned toward her, more than a little pissed, she blasted him with an echoing slap. "I said no!" she spat at him, then stormed toward the city.
The strike was damn hard and already Brand could feel it growing red--partly from the slap, mostly from his embarrassed anger. He threw his hands into the air, then stormed back toward the group. "Fine then," he shouted. "Go!" That's right--haha!--he got the last word.
Everyone turned their attention toward each other, doing their best to act as if they hadn't been watching but nobody was fooled, least of all Brand. He laughed, albeit obviously fake, and shrugged off the incident. "Miranda is going to scout out the city for us." Hope she finds a doctor to pull whatever it is she jammed up her ass, he added silently.
"Hate to interrupt this lovely lie-fest," Sword said abruptly, "but you all should know I can feel Zadara's presence with startling clarity. She's close."
"How close?" Brand asked. "Like, two feet away? Or--could it be? Is she," he gasped, "in the city?"
No reply came from the sword. This pleased Brand greatly. "What?" he said. "No smartass remark? Have I offended thee so?"
To Brand's left, Borodan stood and watched as Chrava disappeared through the city walls. To Brand's right, Buba and Lisya stood arm in and arm looking all too happy together. Kate shuffled through the gear both groups had been carrying and quickly prepared a new merged pile of gear.
"Who did you say that was?" Lisya said uneasily.
"Miranda--why?" Brand glanced over his shoulder, no longer able to find Chrava in the backdrop of what was soon to be their final battleground. "Do you know her?" Maybe she really was hiding something and Lisya was the reason Chrava jetted so fast.
Words started to come out of Lisya's mouth. They clipped off, however, before even a single syllable could escape. Her right hand shot up to her temple and she rubbed at it roughly with her index finger.
"What's wrong?" Buba said.
Lisya shook her head. "Sorry. Headache, that's all. No. Didn't recognize her."
None of this was lost on Borodan. He watched and listened, ever the experienced observer, then glanced back at the area Chrava had last been seen before she passed through the walls surrounding the entrance to the city. With the ease of a well-trained muscle, he called out to all the animals swarming within the city walls with his mind and put them on alert. He wanted Chrava watched and watched she would be.To be continued...