Brian clutched the medicine bag hanging over his heart. “But this is supposed to protect me!”
“It shall,” Bata replied. “The Darkness will not find you so long as you carry that talisman. Rather, your death will come as it comes for all of your race. When the world dies, you will die with it.”
“What?” Brian said. The medicine bag slipped from his fingers to collide against his chest.
“The Darkness strengthens its influence,” Bata said. “Unopposed, it will soon consume your world and all that lives upon it.”
“Let me guess,” Brian said. “When you say ‘unopposed,’ you mean unopposed by me.”
“Of course,” Brian said. He sat down on the floor. “Anything else, while you’re at it?”
“Do you wish to know?” Bata said.
“Why stop now?”
“Very well,” Bata said. “The consumption of this world will trigger a chain reaction whereby the Darkness will grow even stronger. Other worlds will fall to it. At length, the Universe in its totality will be destroyed.”
“Unless I stop it,” Brian said.
Brian laughed, shook his head. “This is so fucked up.”
“I do not lie,” Bata said.
“Well your information is faulty or something,” Brian said. “I am the last guy on this planet you need.”
“There is no doubt,” Bata answered. “You are the Chosen. All the gifts of the Shemsu-Ra are your own. Even more, you are a channel for the lifeforce of the Universe itself. Or, rather, you will become this.”
“Bullshit,” Brian said.
“Then there is no hope. The Darkness will be victorious. The Universe will die.”
“But how could I stop that from happening?” Brian asked.
“You must first learn to use those gifts you have been given,” Bata said. “Then will you be capable of opposing the Darkness. If you so choose.”
“So I’m destined to defeat this ‘Darkness’ thing and save the Universe? That it?”
“You are destined to face the Darkness in battle,” Bata said. “The outcome of that contest is unwritten. None can say how it will end.”
“Why me?” Brian said. “Of all the people in the world, of all the people who’ve ever lived, why me?”
“Ra must have asked himself that very question,” Bata said. “There is a purpose to all things beyond the abilities of men or gods to see or understand. Believe this, Brian Alderman. It was not a random act when you were selected from among all men.”
“There are no accidents?” Brian said. “My friend is always saying that.”
“You must choose now, Brian Alderman,” Bata said. “With each passing moment, the power of the Darkness grows. Will you answer your calling?”
Brian shook his head again, then he slapped himself on the forehead with his open palms twice. He cursed, then repeated the words with even greater emphasis. “Fine!” he snapped. “You win! It’s not like I have any choice.”
“You have a choice,” Bata said.
“Oh, shut up!” Brian stood. “I said I’d do it! I’m in. Just tell me what to do first.”
Bata’s expression foretold a response, but before he could speak he froze, staring outward as though through the walls of the pyramid, through gulfs of distance. He frowned.
. “What is it now?” Brian asked.
“The enemy moves sooner than expected,” Bata said. “It has gathered its strength. It attacks now even on hallowed ground.”
“Hallowed ground?” Brian said. “You mean the church?”
“Yes. The Darkness has grown strong indeed to penetrate so deep into the protected planes.”
“Dave’s at the church!” Brian said. “Is he in danger?”
Bata made no reply, continued to stare.
“Send me back!” Brian said.
“No,” Bata said. “You must remain here until the danger has passed.”
“Like hell I will!” Brian said. “I have to warn Dave!”
“It is too late for a warning.”
“Then I have to help him!” Brian said. “Send me back!”
“It is for you the Darkness seeks,” Bata said. “You must remain here, in safety.”
“I don’t abandon my friends!” Brian said. “Send me back, or I’ll go on my own!” He turned and started for the entryway.
“You are brave but foolish, little one,” Bata said. “Let it be as you desire. Hurry, then, and embrace your death!”