Brandon awoke with a start. He immediately reached for his sword. When it wasn't by his side, he panicked. He sat up and touched the ground around him...No, not the ground. He was on a bed. He looked around. He didn't recognize the room. The walls were painted a light purple color. The scent of lavender wafted through the room. He relaxed.
"Okay. This is just the Old Man playing with me," Brandon said.
He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hands across his face. The amount of hair on his face shocked him. He rubbed his chin. He had a beard. With more than stubble. It was almost worthy of beard praise. He ran his fingers through it. "This is the Old Man for sure." He stood and again looked around for his sword. It was nowhere in sight. He felt like he was missing a limb. The feeling of loss shocked him. He'd learned to never let his weapon leave his side. Even during slumber, he gripped it tightly.
There was no window in the room so he had no clue what time of day or night that it was. He rolled his neck and heard it crack. He sighed in relief. He exited the room and realized he was in an apartment. He thought back.
"Crash!" He called out as he walked toward the front of the apartment.
Candles once again lit his way. When he reached the living room he found Crash and the woman. He couldn't remember her name. Crash was sitting on the floor with his eyes closed and his feet crossed.
"Crash?" Brandon slowed his approach. He didn't want to startle Crash.
"Stop," a raspy voice called out from behind him.
Brandon tensed and reached for his sword as he turned. As he spun, he remembered he didn't have his sword. Had this person taken it? Had Crash. He took a defensive fighting stance when he stopped. Once he saw who had spoken, he relaxed. It was the woman. The one with the locs, pierced nipples, and weird eyes.
"What's wrong with Crash? What's going on? Who are you? Where's my sword?" Brandon fired off his questions rapidly as he stalked toward the woman.
The woman didn't back down. Instead she sat down in the chair that she'd been leaning against. She cocked her head lazily and raised her hand.
Brandon stopped walking.
"There's nothing wrong with Crash. He's meditating. You just woke up. I'm Kyra. Only you can answer the last one," Kyra told him in her raspy, disinterested voice.
Kyra? Brandon thought back. He vaguely remembered meeting her. He'd walked in with Crash and went to sit down and then...
"What did you do to me?" Brandon accused.
Kyra's eyes were brown as she looked at him. A ghost of a smile crossed her lips. "Are you hungry?"
Brandon's stomach answered for him. He, however, didn't know if he could trust the woman, let alone take food from her. He remembered the Old Man's words: "You can't break bread with everyone. All food isn't going to nourish your body. Sometimes, it'll do the opposite."
Brandon frowned. "I'll wait." He looked back at Crash. "How long is he going to do that?"
Kyra shrugged. "It's not up to me." She twirled a loc around her finger. "You really should eat. But it's up to you. You will start to feel the effects of the change in a few."
Brandon narrowed his eyes and again reached for his missing sword. "What change?"
Kyra felt her own energy waning. Brandon was pulling too much from her. He needed to stop talking. As long as he asked her questions, she would have to answer. She didn't have the energy to block him. She wished Crash was awake.
Kyra took a deep breath. "The change that comes with jumping planes. You've been gone for a month."
"A month?" Brandon jerked back. She was lying. She had to be. He had just walked in with Crash moments ago. Maybe he had a contact high. He was still going through withdrawals. The Old Man, The Old Woman, his sword, his training, they were all hallucinations. They had to be.
"Crash!" He spun around. He crossed the room with three long strides. He reached out to grab Crash's shoulder, but something stopped him. He couldn't touch Crash. It was a forcefield. He held his hand out, palm out, and felt the energy pulsating from it.
"I need to go," he said suddenly. "Open the door!" He didn't know why he was suddenly so emotional.
Kyra reached for the cup of water on the table. She took a generous sip. "Brandon, you have to--"
Brandon snapped. "I don't have to do a damn thing. I don't know what kind of drug you slipped me, but I have to go."
He reached for Crash again, but this time he was thrown back several feet. He landed at Kyra's feet. She looked down at him. Her expression was unreadable.
"Stand up, Brandon."
Brandon stood. Kyra grimaced slightly before placed her hands on either side of his face. He tried to pull away, but he couldn't.
His mind was racing. His thoughts and memories were assaulting him. Were they really memories or hallucinations? He didn't know. He felt a draft across his chest and realized he didn't have a shirt on. He looked down at his chest.
Scars criss crossed his now broad chest. He had a six pack. Muscles rippled with each inhale and exhale. He touched the keloid just above his belly button. He remembered the battle. He'd been stabbed by the wrong end of a spear. It had taken him weeks to heal. He held his arms out and looked at them. They too had changed. They were stronger. He'd joked about Crash being a linebacker, but he looked like a hall of fame corner. He had to see if everything was true.
"I need my sword," he whispered.
He felt the familiar weight in his right hand.
It was all real. He looked at Kyra. Her eyes were now a weird shade of orange.
Kyra released his face. "Feel better?"
"It was real? It was all real."
Kyra flinched. "Yes." She needed him to stop talking.
Brandon rubbed his chin. "Are you my guide?"
Kyra hated that title. She hated the responsibility that came with it. She took another sip from her drink.
"Are you my guide?"
Kyra opened her mouth to answer before she'd finished swallowing. She coughed violently.
Brandon patted her back. "Sorry."
Kyra cleared her throat. "I'm a guide. Not your guide. I'm not anyone's."
Brandon flexed with his sword. The Old Woman had told him about Kyra. "We have to talk."
Kyra shook her head. "You're draining me, Brandon. I can't. Not right now. You were under a month. I've never led anyone for that long. I need to rest. We'll talk. Just not now. Wait on Crash."
Brandon finally took the time to study Kyra. They were bags under her eyes. Her hands shook as she took small sips from the cup.
He was overcome with guilt. "I'm sorry."
Kyra nodded. "Keep the door closed. Don't leave by yourself. Hopefully Crash won't be much longer. You really need to eat. There's a bathroom where you can clean up through there." She pointed to the left of her.
She stood on shaky legs and walked down the hallway he'd just ventured from. He looked over at Crash one last time before heading into the kitchen.