The Call - Part Six
"Can you do it or what?"
"No," Chrava said. The unabashed gaze of pure hatred and disgust Brand shot at her screamed, "Why?" It was apparent to Chrava that Brand had no grasp of how her abilities worked, much less the agonizing amount of pain that was coursing through her at five hundred miles per hour. "It requires too much concentration," she said sullenly. "Right now I'm completely out of it. The world is barely there. So much pain is ripping me to shreds that there's no way I could possibly gather up enough energy to destroy the minds of all of Zadara's guards. Not to mention she protects her most fierce and loyal guards with mind shields."
Everyone was gathered in Chrava's room. Buba and Lisya stood next to the window, holding hands like the new lovers that they were. Kate stood near the door, her face scrunched with all the seriousness it could find.
"Fine. Whatever." Brand turned to Buba. "I still don't know why we need her. Maybe Megan was wrong. Maybe she doesn't need to be alive for this. Her body would be more useful to us."
Buba said nothing. He didn't have to. He just looked at Brand with a calm, settled expression and Brand got the picture. Megan said they needed Chrava then they needed Chrava.
"Is everyone clear on the plan?"
From behind Brand, Kate spoke up. "I have a problem," she said. "Why are we just handing ourselves over to Zadara? Wouldn't it be better to attack her when--"
"She's been expecting an attack since she learned about the new Wielder," Chrava butted in.
"Okay," Brand said with a hint of frustration. "One more time, people. We go to the square, we make a ruckus, and Zadara--or more possibly her guards--comes to get us. We let her pick the battlefield. Sure, she'll know it far better than we do. Sure, her own people'll surround her. But none of that matters. I have the sword. With it, nothing Zadara does can stop me from killing her."
"And us?" Kate asked. "You hoping to protect all of us in the chaos? Or you hoping we die and cause pleasant little distractions so you can do your job?"
"Zadara wants the Wielder." Chrava again. "She couldn't care less about any of you. With the exception of me, she probably won't even notice anyone but the Wielder."
Buba shook his head. "Sounds like a big risk, Brand. If Zadara is half as smart as Chrava makes her out to be... she's going to know that killing us will have a huge impact on you and your performance."
"That's the plan," Brand said. "All of you are free to stay behind. Otherwise, get your stuff ready. I doubt we'll have time to come back for it once Zadara is dead."
Once everyone was gone, Chrava looked up at Brand. "He's right, you know? I wouldn't be surprised if Zadara has already ordered her people to kill anyone associated with you and to do it in front of you, if at all possible."
Brand picked up the guitar Megan and Buba found for him on this world. Slowly he looked over it, wondering not for the first time if this was all a mistake. Hadn't he been told this guitar was here because Adara had thought she found the Wielder? When, in fact, she had not found him. And that poor sap died, no doubt. A horrible, terrifying death that you wouldn't want to write home to mom about. Was it possible he died after having received the sword in error? He slipped the guitar strap over his head and settled the familiar instrument comfortably against his back, crisscrossing it over the sword.
"Are you listening to me?"
Brand's eyes flickered toward Chrava for a heated moment that could have gone any way. Every word she spoke, every breath she took, it was all just another tempting moment of bloodlust that nearly drove Brand to the point of killing her, fate be damned.
The looks that passed over her never went unnoticed. Chrava did her part and did it well. There were more than a few times she saw Brand on that teetering edge and felt like she should just blow and push him over. It wouldn't be hard. Then this would all be over for her.
Now wasn't one of those times.
Instead of pressing him, Chrava lifted her leg off the bed amid a fresh, electrifying wave of pain erupting up her leg and throughout her body. The world dimmed and faded in and out, often times sucking her into an abyss of unawareness. This wasn't right. Part of her wanted to believe she did not have to be here at all. This was just Megan's way of revenge. Don't kill the killer, make her suffer the agonizing pain of death, one devastating second at a time.
"Time to go," Brand said. "Don't fall behind."
Chrava started to say, "Brand--" but it was too late. He was already out the door. Great, Chrava thought, just great. How was she supposed to follow them? She couldn't even think! Walking would be near impossible.
A knapsack with Kate's belongings, some clothes and only a couple of personal items from home, sat slumped over on her bed. For a while she couldn't do much of anything but sit there next to her entire life stuffed into one bag and ponder just what she was supposed to be. It couldn't be right that someone could pack everything they owned into one bag at a moment's notice. That said a lot about her, and there was nothing more she wanted to do right now than not think about what that said.
So, instead of thinking about it, she firmly held the letter she wrote last night. A single letter that swept across everyone she knew and loved. Goodbyes were made. Confessions were told. Her heart was exposed for the very last time. Kate knew what all of the Wielder's companions knew: This could be the last thing they do in this life. If by some bizarre twist of fate she actually lived through the coming battle, Kate was certain she'd be in Brand's world and her friends and family would exist no more. Gone with the world as it passes on to its next great adventure.
Next to the bed, the contents of a tin wastebasket crackled and burned as fire chewed through it all and warmed the room several degrees higher than she felt comfortable in. But the fire was important. It was necessary. How else would she deliver her letter? Reluctantly, Kate tossed the heartfelt letter into the fire and watched it burn through watery eyes she wouldn't allow to cry. Not now. Crying would only come if she lived through this ordeal. Now it was time to be strong and prepared and try her hardest not to get killed.
"My words will be waiting for you in the afterlife, my friends."
"This plan is foolish, Ben. We all know it. But still he's going through with it. Why? Does he want to get us killed?"
Buba stopped cramming clothes that didn't fit him any longer into a bag that was far too small and looked toward Lisya. He said, "I trust Brand with my life." His words were soft spoken, but they hit Lisya with such power and force, she couldn't help but take a step back.
The frustration at not being about to see Brand's true-self greatly aggravated Lisya for Brand was so connected to Buba they were practically two halves, but what she saw in him on that day before the final confrontation put her at an ease she would never be able to explain. Buba's entire being oozed with a confidence in the Wielder that it could almost be construed as verging on the edge of a psychological disorder. Wasn't it wrong to have complete faith in someone you knew was about to put your life in mortal danger? Lisya would have said yes had she never seen such a confidence in Buba. Her unease didn't vanish, but she was certainly much more willing to allow Brand the benefit of the doubt.
With the bags packed and set next to the door, nothing remained unfinished. Lisya and Buba stood in the empty room of the inn uncertain of what to do to next. Brand would be waiting. Time to face this world's greatest evil and hope nothing bad would come out of it.
So, why didn't either one of them see fit to open the door and leave?
Buba was the first to break the stalemate. He stepped up to Lisya, slipped his arms around her and pulled her head against his chest. It didn't surprise him when his shirt became warm and wet. Lisya's silent tears tore at him, deep in the unexplored reaches of his emotions. Emotions he never expected to find, much less put to practical use.
"When this is over," Buba murmured, "you are going to get so sick of me showing you off to everyone I know in my world. And I know lots and lots of people."
Lisya lifted her head from his chest. Red-rimmed eyes peered at him with a hesitant glitter of hope. "I doubt we'll find the time to meet all your friends, Ben." This not-so-subtle reference did not escape Buba. His cheeks burned fiery red with embarrassment.
"I'd be okay with that," he whispered.
They shared one final truly happy laugh before it was time to go.
Brand stood in the lobby of the inn and didn't allow himself to think. Thinking would just get him into trouble at this point. The idea to run and hide like the coward he felt he was lingered maliciously in the back of his mind, trying its damnedest to psych him out.
As the others poured out of their rooms and took their places at either of his sides, Brand repeated over and over again in his mind: Don't freak out. Just don't freak out.
Brand looked around at the faces of his friends. This battle and this victory both belonged to them as much as it did to him. He just hoped they would all be around to be at the after party.
A thump down the hall that sounded all too much like a sack of sand dropping to the floor drew his attention. It was Chrava, of course, and she was in some serious pain. Brand frowned more so at himself than anything. The surety that he would enjoy such pain in Chrava no longer held water to him. All possible pleasure he could have gotten from it had washed away.
Before Brand could move to help her, though, Buba startled them all and walked over to Chrava's prone body. With one sweeping motion, he squatted, scooped her up in his arms, and returned to his place at Brand's side.
Chrava whispered, "Thanks," in Buba's ear.
A shocked silence hung over them all. The door that led out into the city loomed in front of them like a doorway straight to hell. Chaos had nothing on Brand's stomach at that moment. It twisted and pulled in so many different directions, Brand could not believe it hadn't erupted through his skin already and done a little dance on the floor.
Brand finally reached for the knob.
Everyone held his or her breath.
He twisted the knob and pushed the door open.To be continued...