The Call - Part Five
Sleeping was the furthest thing from Buba Bleu's ideal final night on this, or any, world. Did he think he would die? That would be a definite yes, but he wouldn't let it get to him. The inevitable fact of death had long ago become a part of his life to the point where death no longer caused fear for the old man.
So why did he have so much trouble sleeping?
Terrible dreams invaded his drifting mind. Pervasive images of friends and loved ones being killed in grotesque, inhumane ways that no human being should ever be subject to drilled into his subconscious mind as he tried to rest what would soon become a weak, battered body at the hands of the madwoman. As he sank deeper and deeper, the images sharpened and cleared until there was no mistaking the blood, guts, and dismembered body parts that floated about his head. To see Lisya's face with such an unnatural, terrified expression while her intestines lazily sailed past his face, slithering along as if a giant snake had worked its way free from her body, was too much for Buba.
He sat up with a jerk. Beads of sweat rolled along his skin uncomfortably as the woman next to him stirred awake.
"What is it, Ben?" Lisya asked groggily.
With a gentle hand, he coaxed her back down from her rising state. "Go back to sleep," he murmured. Lisya's still half-sleeping body eased into the bed and returned to what Buba could only hope were better dreams than he was experiencing.
As she slept, he watched her peacefully sleeping, unable to get over the fact that this woman that he had found in another world, this woman that he never in his wildest dreams could have imagined, this woman that give him a completeness he would not have dared ask for, not now after so many years.
And he wept.
He wept for the short time they'd spent. But more so he wept for the gift Brand had given him. The ability to find this single, most caring woman could not have been possible had it not been for Brand. There was no way to comprehend the level of love he felt for Lisya. No way he could put into thought just how truly grateful he was to have the one most elusive gift known to his long existence. To be loved could not be matched in Buba's mind. Sharing that love and freeing that love changed him. It made him stronger. With it, Buba's only fear for the battle to come lay next to him. He could not bear to see Lisya alone, but he would do everything in his power to assure her life. Even at the cost of his life.
With much trepidation, Buba once again returned his head to the pillow. Sleep came swiftly and unmolested this time around. Sweet dreams of milkshakes and greasy burgers, hanging out with his friends, laughter, and, above all else, the love of Lisya, comforted him as he slept peacefully.
Little did Buba know he wasn't the only one awake. And his plague of erosive nightmares didn't just vanish on their own. Next-door, alone in a room she was mere hours ago sharing with Brand, Chrava eased her way into Buba's mind for a second time. This time, however, she had no intention of ripping control from him and forcing him to do anything against his nature. No, this time she vanquished the nightmares that haunted Buba and opened up the pathways to comforts of the mind that would caress his agitated state and help to soothe the aching pain of things to come. Once he reached a deep, peaceful state, Chrava extracted herself and returned to her own mind.
Dull throbbing pain hit her first, but as soon as she settled back in, her mind processed the pain and it exploded in her ankle. Fiery hot pain rolled through her entire leg, burning without mercy at the muscles and bones. She struggled to contain it, to shove it aside, to no avail. Frankly, she didn't think she deserved a reprieve, but it was an automatic gesture brought on by the need to feel relief.
Anything was better than being able to concentrate on one's own thoughts. Especially when ninety percent of those thoughts all led back to betrayal, heart-wrenching pain and, ultimately, loss.
An abrupt knock on the door echoed in the room. Before she could answer, though, Brand stepped in. Through the darkness in the room, Chrava could make out his shadowy outline, relieved yet rightfully scared at whatever it may bring. For just a moment, when he first appeared, Chrava was almost certain Death had finally come. The sigh of relief that it was in fact Brand and not Death surprised her more than a little.
Brand made his way across the short room in a series of long strides that seemed to bring him down a tunnel toward her. The overwhelming pain in Chrava's leg flushed clear up to her head, driving all kinds of disorienting sensory perceptions through her.
"Can't sleep?" she asked him lamely. It was her best. Good enough to make her the perfect carnival sideshow act. Give it up for the mysterious, the profound, she-that-can-never-say-wrong! Give it up for Chrava, Queen of the Opening Line!
Brand knelt down beside her bed. "Listen to me," he said.
His eyes were cold, bitterly cold. In that moment, Chrava hated herself more than she ever thought possible. Reflections of a past, albeit short past, had driven her to see such devastating results. But none of it could compare to the single look of cold-blooded hatred that emitted from this man's eyes.
"If I had my way, you would be dead right now. Are we clear on this?"
"Tomorrow, when we go into battle, you will be put in harm's way and I will personally see to it you die. Are we also clear on this?"
Hesitantly, Chrava nodded again. She wanted to say something but the words wouldn't come to the front. More than that, she wanted to get into his mind and make this all go away. With a simple manipulation, the world according to Brand could be rewritten to know nothing but the feelings he'd developed for her.
Chrava suddenly felt sick. Had she learned nothing? For years she'd been able to do just that. Entering into someone's mind and doing as she pleased as if she owned the mind of everyone. Look where it got her. And now, in her struggle to try and prove she could change, more so to herself than anyone else, her very first thought when it got hard was that she wished she could change him.
"Megan seems to think we need you. Well, that's fine and dandy. I'm apt to believe her at this particular junction, but I just wanted to make it clear to you that that doesn't mean you are going to live happily ever after. Even if it kills me, I will make sure you die."
"Don't," he snapped. "Don't you dare. You are nothing anymore. Nothing. Merely a body that doesn't realize its true calling as a corpse. But we'll remedy that soon enough, won't we?"
There was nothing to say. As simple as it sounds, that was the final truth of it all. Brand had made up his mind and without doing the deed himself, he was going to make sure Chrava paid for all that she'd done.
When he was gone, Chrava closed her eyes and did what she did best. She escaped into the minds of others in the city. They were a dull bunch. Had she never noticed before? All of the citizens were pathetically boring when it came right down to it. At the pain was gone for the time being. All the pain, but specifically the pain of Brand's words as they finalized any doubts Chrava might have had about her ability to gain his trust once more.
The streets of Esidarap were filled with people. Day and night no longer had its hold on life here with Zadara's special ball of light keeping it a constant high noon. As Brand stood at the window of Borodan's room, he wondered what would happen to all the people of this world that were still alive when the end finally came. The bigger question that he didn't dare to form into thoughts lingered deep in the recesses of his mind. Would this someday be his world? Would he, even, have to be the one responsible for ending it?
He yanked the shade over the window. All light was driven out of the room, leaving Brand in a darkness he found comforting. Bed springs groaned uneasily as he sank down heavily, finally realizing just how exhausted he was. The end was around the corner. Should he happen to survive, sleep would be bliss. For now, however, sleep was not an option.
Brand pulled Megan's backpack into his lap and drew the zipper back on the front pouch. Inside, he found a small bottle of caffeine pills and dumped four of them into his palm. After illogical consideration, he shook out four more and replaced the bottle. He washed down the pills with the jug of water next to the bed, then lay back and tried to relax.
There was a moment back there, Brand realized, that he actually felt bad about his righteous anger toward Chrava. His words were hurtful to the extreme. Pleasure he was sure he would gain from saying them could not be found now. More hurt than anger led him to it. The desire to attack Chrava surged through him like lightning and his inability to kill her hit him like a kick to the groin. While it would probably save him and Buba, it still grounded him infuriatingly and it took everything he had from trying again.
"I hope you're right, Megan."
Sleep would not come for the Wielder. Not this time.To be continued...