The Call - Part Four
"It's just Mir...an...da..."
Delay was not necessarily inevitable, yet it was a delay nonetheless. As the name Chrava seeped through Brand's mind and worked its way into comprehension, the tendons in his neck bulged with precognitive realization. The very woman he sought to kill had somehow ended up his lover.
Without even thinking, Brand forgot about Buba and had Sword in hand in a flash. It tore through the air, the blade perfectly level across Chrava's abdomen as a frenzy awoke in Brand. Had all things gone normally, Chrava would have been sliced clean in half.
Too bad nothing ever goes right.
Less than an inch from contact, the blade encountered resistance. The momentum from the swinging deathblow reverberated all the way up Brand's metallic arm as the sword halted in the final second as if it were afraid to do the deed. Sweat broke out on Brand's forehead as he pushed down on the hilt of the sword, struggling with every muscle that could be found in his arm and shoulder. Yet the blade wouldn't move. There was no fear in Chrava as she waited, though some surprise had trickled in.
"What kind of trick is this?" Brand demanded of Chrava.
Buba joined him, adding his weight to Brand's endeavor. Still the sword wouldn't budge.
The air around the blade wavered, the faint outline of a hand became visible, and a voice whispered into the room. "How stubborn do you have to be, Brand? Clearly it ain't going to go. Give it up."
Brand's first instinct guided him to glare at Chrava. Then he remembered she had no power over the Wielder. And the voice sounded familiar.
The sword fell from Brand's hand and clattered against the ground. "Watch it, bub!" Sword grumbled. "I dent, you know? How would you like it if I picked you up and tossed you around? You wouldn't! So just--"
"Match made in heaven."
That voice... Brand glanced over his shoulder. Still he was unable to put a face to the voice and figuring out where it came from proved more difficult.
Next to Brand, Buba looked just as confused. Somewhere between his overwhelming desire to cause physical pain to the disabled woman in the bed and the spooked feeling of a supernatural presence, Buba didn't know what do to. So he stayed close to Brand and hoped whatever it was, the arm would protect them both.
"Show yourself!" Brand said. "Enough games. Come out!"
Light tap on the shoulder caused Brand to spin around. He ended up face to face with Buba with a horrified expression that said he needed a clean pair of pants.
"Don't do that," Brand said. Not that he thought Buba goofed on him and tapped his shoulder. No, he was positive Buba had nothing to do with it. The comfort was in chastising anyone, no matter where the fault lay.
"It's her, isn't it?" Chrava said from the bed.
Not for the first time, Brand had no idea who Chrava spoke of. Wasn't there a list of thousands of people she'd killed? Her could be anyone. But her couldn't be anyone, he realized. Her could only be one person. The one person they were all connected to since this whole damn mess began.
And just like that, as if speaking the magic word, Megan phased into view. She radiated a beauty unlike Brand had ever remembered. Flawless in his eyes and yet the ghostly remains were lacking. For one, she wasn't solid. Her form shifted in and out of existence at seemingly random places and times. Her arm would be visible one minute, then gone the next. Half her face faded partially then came back even more clearer than ever. None of it mattered, though. This was the one defining moment Brand desired more than anything else. To be able to talk to Megan again, even if for only a second, was the truest gift he could ever ask for.
"We have to solve this," Megan said. "And now. The final battle is coming. Like it or not, you need Chrava. I'd just as soon see you divide her in two, but I don't have much control over that."
Somewhere between Megan's materialization and Brand's focusing on the here and now, Buba's knees turned to jell-o. He leaned heavily against Brand's super-arm, whispering insanely to anyone that would listen. "Is it really her? Is this a trick? Brand? What's going on?"
"No trick, Buba. I've been watching you both since..." Megan's eyes lingered on Chrava with contempt. "Well, since little miss mental case here decided to 'play' with Buba."
Focusing was not working for Brand. Every word Megan spoke stabbed at his heart. Guilt and shame washed through him, ravaged him, pleaded with him to run and hide before Megan could disappear. Maybe if he ran now, she'd never be able to leave. She'd have to keep chasing him down to get this final piece of business over with before she had to finally crossover.
Buba lunged from Brand's arm, knocking him back into reality. Startled, Brand watched as Buba tried to grab Megan only to fall through her and tumble into the wall.
"How are you here?" Brand asked. "There's so much--"
"No time for that now. Zadara is preparing for you. The longer we stay here, the stronger she'll be when you hit her."
"You said we needed... her?"
With a reluctant nod, Megan said, "Yeah. Don't ask me why. Don't ask me how. Don't ask me for anything detailing the facts. All I know is that you need her. You need everyone. Everything you've faced up until now--it's all been a silly little adventure, Brand. Zadara is the reality. Zadara will kill you and everyone else. She's capable and she has nothing to lose by her life. Unless you kill her..."
"Why? Why! Why am I fighting, Megan? For this world? Who gives a shit about this world? It's destroyed everything that means anything to me. What am I fighting for? Zadara can kill me. I don't care anymore. Let's just be together."
"It's too late for that, Brand. Once Zadara consumed the gods of this world, she gained total control over everything with the exception of destiny. I died before she took the reigns. Anyone that dies now is under her control. We will never be together if you fail."
"We're fighting because it's the right thing to do," Buba said. "These people need help to destroy a terrible evil. So we help. We don't ask why. We don't want to see what the reward will be. We just do it because it's the right thing to do." His voice faltered as he looked at Megan. "People sometimes die, but at least they died doing the right thing."
"Time's running out." Megan raised a hand to Brand's face, her fingers brushing through his cheek. "Forgive her. You must forgive her for what she did, Brand. Don't let your anger destroy your only hope of survival. Same goes for you, Buba. Let the past go."
"I miss you." Brand closed his eyes, unwilling to watch Megan disappear from his life once again.
And disappear she did. After she vanished, she added one more thing: "I'm never far. Be careful."
Chrava looked at the two men. The swift death she wanted slipped away from her and all that remained was dread. What could she possibly have to do with the final battle? Didn't matter much. Two men that just as soon see her dead loomed over her bed with the look of indecision wrecking their faces.
"Get the others," Brand finally said. "Wait. Go, Buba. I'll come to you all when I'm ready. We aren't going into anything without some rest. Explain the situation, but try and get a little sleep. There's something I need to do before we end this once and for all."
Without another word, Buba left the room.
How did Megan expect Brand to forgive Chrava? Death apparently destroys any ability to think reasonably. If it were even possible to forgive her, Brand still wouldn't do it.
"What you said before," Chrava said. "I take it--"
"I lied," Brand lied.
How does he reconcile all of this? It was enough to drive anyone crazy and he wasn't all together sure he was not at least a little insane to start with. The fact was he did have feelings for Chrava. Strong, deadly feelings, of course, but there were also those other feelings that he associated with Miranda. Were they two different people? Yes, no, maybe so? He'd distanced himself from thinking of Chrava as a real person. But at the same time, he had grown closer to Miranda than he would ever have expected he could. Miranda was not all that different from Chrava when he thought about it. This was largely due to the fact that Chrava was Miranda, of course.
"I don't think I can ever forgive you. In time, I might have been able to. But now?" Brand shook his head. "Now you not only killed Megan, you betrayed me to the core. How could you lie to me? Borodan died saving your life. And what for? He died for nothing."
"He knew what?"
"He knew who I was. He called me on it back at the military base."
"Before he tossed me out the window, he said he gave me his life and told me to use it well. He believed I had a purpose that was worth dying to protect, Brand. He saw in me what I can be if given a chance."
"You don't deserve a chance! You killed the only woman I loved. You killed my child. You don't deserve a chance. You deserve several slow, painful, botched executions."
Chrava lowered her eyes. "You're right," she said. "I didn't ask for any of this. My whole life has been built on lies. Everything I did for Zadara... all my misguided choices..."
"There's no excuse. Doesn't matter why people do what they do. How many people have you killed? Huh? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? Nothing changes that. Nothing. You can save a bazillion people starting right now but you'll still always have all those murderers on your head. Megan says forgive you, but I don't believe in forgiveness. We're more alike than you know, Chrava. I never killed anyone, granted, but I've done a lot of bad things in my life and forgiveness doesn't come with that package, so you sure as hell ain't getting it from me."To be continued...
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