The Call - Part Three
They didn't know him for nearly as long as Brand did. Still, they were devastated by this news. Perhaps it was because the reality of the situation presented itself loud and clear. Any of them could very easily be the next die.
As Brand explained the situation--Chrava getting captured, Borodan's death--his mind kept wandering back toward the young woman sleeping in his room. The young woman he'd used. Megan's death pulled at him demanded his attention, yet he pushed it aside. Why? He didn't want to deal with it. Everything since he went through that door of light had been so surreal, so unimaginable that some part of him truly didn't want to deal. If it wasn't real as he hoped, then Megan would still be alive and everything would be all right. But the dread inside him led him to conclusions he just didn't want to think about. Now, though, now he felt himself being drawn toward that woman. Feelings were starting to simmer to life and they weren't acceptable. Nonetheless, Brand could not let the woman he knew only as Miranda die. Too many people were dying because of him. No more.
"Is she all right?" Lisya asked. "I could check on her."
"There's nothing we can do here," Brand said. "Her foot is broken. She's in a lot of pain. But she's out cold. So, let's get this mission finished and go home. We can get her help there."
"Some of us are home," Kate said.
Brand looked at Lisya, then Kate. "I assumed y'all would be coming with us. I can't force you, but you're both welcome. Won't be easy. Our world is vastly different. Don't decide now. Just make up your mind before it's time. No clue how we're getting back, but the general feeling is that it'll happen quickly."
Buba said, "What's the plan?"
"Oh, this is rich," Sword blurted. "Get ready. Here it comes. General Brandy and his magnificent plan of the ages. Prepare to be mesmerized by his greatness."
Irritated, Brand said, "The plan is to find Zadara and chop off her head."
"Glory be to the Wielder," Sword said. "Maker of plans no other could possibly consider! Master of the strategy. Holy warrior to the Sword of Destiny. Let no other claim to be wiser than he is! For he alone is the true master of the mind."
"Let me think. No, no, not quite. Mighty--ah, screw it. I got nothing."
"We'll need to draw Zadara out somehow. That's the tricky part. I don't want anyone else hurt. So... you all are staying here. There's nothing more you can do."
"Are you kidding?" Kate asked. "Do you seriously think we've all been drawn here just so we can sit in the room and hope you don't die?"
"Doesn't matter. Too many people have died. I can't risk anyone else."
Buba shook his head. "Won't work," he said. "Kate's right, Brand. If you didn't need us, we wouldn't be here. I'm going. Lisya's going. Kate's going. You can't keep us in this room. Even if you tell us to stay, we're going to follow you out that door."
"Out of the question. None of you are equipped to deal with Zadara. I am. See this?" He held up his metallic arm. Flickering candlelight danced over the smooth surface. "This makes me the Wielder. None of you has a steel arm. None of you can wield this sword. Five people have died as a direct result of me. Five people. Tons more if you count all those soldiers. Megan, Adara, Haley, Nadara, and Borodan. Guess what? None of them had the arm or the sword. Nobody goes but me."
"Awful stubborn," Buba said.
"I can't deal with another death, Buba. So I'm going to prevent that from being possible."
"You're not the only one this affects. Megan was my friend, too, you know? I should be there, too. It was my hands that did the deed..."
No way out of this. Stubborn as he was, Brand knew fully well that Buba wouldn't accept it. Reluctantly, Brand surrendered. "I'll regret this, but I'd rather you all not be sneaking around behind my back."
Zadara stood over Borodan's body, furious over the escape of Chrava. At her feet, the now cold heart that once belonged in Borodan's chest lay dead. She could feel reality trying to close in all around her. The end was very near and things had to come to a head. Near or not, though, the end would turn out to be just the beginning if Zadara had her way.
With a flick of Zadara's wrist, Borodan's body rose from the ground. The large hole in his chest closed with a stretching of skin. Zadara stood in front of the reanimated corpse; her lips pressed tightly together in a single thin line of white.
"Welcome back. Don't suppose you could direct me to the Wielder's hideout? No? Didn't think so. Well, come along. I'll find some use for you."
As she turned toward the stairs, Zadara kicked Borodan's heart out of the way with a tiny smidgen of satisfaction. Everything would be all right, no question about it.
Damp cloth in hand, Brand wiped the blood from Chrava's forehead. In her unconscious state, she looked a lot younger than Brand realized. Looking at her now, he'd guess she was probably no older than eighteen, if even that. Why had she seemed older? Too much stress, perhaps. When Chrava was awake, she seemed hard put to keep the world from crushing her. Far too young for that.
"What secrets do you hold, Miranda?"
A war waged inside Brand as the final confrontation drew near. Fear and excitement battled for supremacy in what could possibly be his most defining moment. Would he die? Death would be sweet right about now, Brand mused. Had he had a magic eightball to consult, he'd seriously regret the inability to not consult it. Outlook good? Not likely. He would end up signs point to no.
Rinsing the rag in the bowl next to the bed, Brand gazed down at the young face asleep on his bed. So relaxed. So peaceful. The expression was out of place on her, but Brand couldn't explain why.
"I used you, Miranda. But I fear my own need to feel ashamed at sleeping with you has given me a different view. I find myself more... connected to you now. Dare I say I even care about you? Of course I do. You're not Megan, not by a long shot, but I can't help but feel this... pull. What is it about you that I can't grasp?"
Brand ran his hands over his face. Exhaust filled him like lead. What happened to the boring life? Tending to his flock of books seemed dull and outrageously pathetic at the time. Now it felt like something he could do for the rest of his life. Not that that was an option anymore. How did he get tangled up in destiny's plans?
"I have to tell you something."
Startled, Brand looked down at Chrava's opened eyes. The peaceful, sleeping girl was mysteriously replaced with the pain-filled face a far older woman. "What is it?" he asked, albeit hesitantly. He did not like the tone of her voice, nor was he looking forward to whatever terrible revelation he was about to hear.
"I--did you mean what you said? Do you really care about me?"
Busted. "You heard that?"
"Somewhat. There's a kind of fire burning through me from my ankle and it's very distracting, but... yeah. I heard most of it. This is important, Brand. Did you mean it?"
"Yeah. I meant it. I'm on this wild rollercoaster and everything is confusing as hell. With Megan... and then you, it's all so insane. All of this is insane. But, yes, Miranda, I do care about you. I didnt think I did, but I do."
"Don't call me Miranda," Chrava whispered.
"My name isn't Miranda."
"Okay... then what is your name?"
Chrava brushed her fingers against Brand's metal hand, unable to look at him. He recognized the hesitation in her. A sudden unbalance swept over him, the fear gained a sizable advantage in the internal war. Nothing could possibly be so bad, though... could it?
"I don't care that your name isn't really Miranda," he said.
Chrava looked up at him finally. "You'll care, Brand. I can't say this without the certainty of doom that it'll bring, but I have to tell you. It'll be better this way. Nothing can stop the madness that has become my life expect death. And death will surely be swift."
"Mir--what are you talking about? You're freakin me out here. Next thing you're going to tell me is that you're really Zadara or--"
A knock on the door interrupted Brand. The unoiled hinges squealed in disgust as the door opened and Buba stood in the frame. Brand turned toward him, tired of the confusion, tired of the games. "What is it, old man?"
Creaking floorboards accompanied Buba's further descent into the room. His voice a quiet whisper. "Got a sec? I didn't mean--" Buba's quiet whisper faltered and froze.
"What is it?" Brand turned to follow Buba's gaze. Not that he needed to, he could tell Buba was starting at Chrava with a horrified expression. No clue why, but he seemed to always be in the dark.
A roar filled the air as Buba charged at Chrava. "You!" he shouted.
Brand rose to the occasion, his metal arm wrapping around Buba to prevent him from getting close to the girl in the bed. Strength unlimited in that arm, still after all this time unaccustomed to it, Brand hurled Buba down to the ground. "What the hell, man?"
"It's--Brand don't you--it's--you!"
Chrava closed her eyes. "My name, Brand, is Chrava."To be continued...