Three as Three - Part Seven
Walking, walking, walking. It wasn't the walking that bothered Buba; it was the pokes and prods. What did they think he was going to do, try and run away? That wasn't likely with more than a dozen men surrounding him. So, instead he walked on in silence and tried his best to ignore the stabs of pain that seemed to be constantly springing to life with each poke. How far had he come? This place was vastly different from the camp, yes. Of course it was, but could that very same camp be close enough to walk here? He doubted it. So he had to wonder just how far he'd gone.
The crowd lining the streets was in an uproar as Buba passed by. He couldn't clearly hear anything they were shouting, but it sounded angry and vile in his ears so he was glad he couldn't fully hear the words. Things were not right here by any means, however. Buba had watched as several people along the way had gotten too close and wound up dead for their effort. How many people had he seen killed in the past hour? More than he cared to think about.
Finally the soldiers came to a halt and Buba could make out a stream of water sailing into the air, then falling back down almost onto itself. The head guard told somebody Buba couldn't see that the prisoner had arrived. A lump formed in Buba's throat and his heart started to pound rapidly. Why? That was easy enough to answer. This was definitely not a welcoming party. These people hated Buba with such fierceness that he actually felt ashamed and wanted to know why.
Then, the guards in front of him stepped away and Buba went cold to the bone. His dream woman was staring directly at him from her perch on the edge of the fountain. Her vicious little smile beat a deadly fear so hard into Buba that he had to struggle to keep from falling, for his knees had gotten weak. Unfortunately, for his troubles, he received a whack in the back of the knee. As he fell to his knees, he suppressed a cry of shock but still didn't take his eyes off this... what? She wasn't a woman, but she wasn't a girl. Buba imagined her age to be somewhere between sixteen and twenty while he truly had no clue as to how old she might be.
"Bow your head!" One of the guards whispered with furious passion.
When Buba didn't comply, the same guard lifting his sword to swing it down and crack him good on the back of the neck, however, the dream girl waved a hand. Moments later, that very same guard soon found his body lying on the ground with his head rolling down the street courtesy of the deep-maroon-skinned man with strained muscles and multi-colored hair. Buba didn't notice. He was unable to take his eyes off of her.
The young woman nodded her head once and a hush fell over the crowd. The deafening silence overwhelmed Buba momentarily, until he realized this... this... this girl had silenced a mob of death seekers. She held power over them and that, to Buba, meant she was to be feared in a big way.
"Benjamin Bufford Bleu," she said. Her voice held a mystery all its own. This girl with pale-white skin and raven-black hair, as powerful as she came across, spoke with a voice so soft and pure that Buba almost couldn't believe she was the monster that haunted his dreams. Almost. "I welcome you here with open arms."
That hatred that was beating Buba down from every direction did a complete turn around when the words were spoken. Instead of a crowd waiting to devour Buba alive, everyone now beamed with love and admiration for this man that knelt before this girl. Yes, she had power all right; this crowd was almost an extension of her.
Buba, naturally, was confused beyond belief. "Uh..." He mumbled.
Then, as if this girl could decipher his mumbled nonsense, she answered him: "Our queen would like to meet you, so we've arranged for your arrival. You'll have to forgive the crowd's earlier reaction. I'm afraid they were just mindlessly hating you because we only bring the most feared criminals through the town in such a way."
"Who are you?" It was really the only thing he could think of that wouldn't make him look stupider than he felt right about now. He should know more about what was happening, right?
And the girl beamed a smile so bright at Buba that, for a moment, all he could truly see as he looked at her was an innocent child, pure of mind. The feeling left as quickly as it came and his mind latched onto the dark, evil things he'd seen in his nightmares as she spoke. "To all I am known as the High Priestess of Zadara, most loyal and noble advisor to the Queen." She paused, a jab at the crowd even though they already knew who she was. There wasn't a day that went by where she didn't make sure they remembered. Then her soft voice rose a level, still soft but more audible throughout the crowd of onlookers. "But you, my special-friend, you may call me by the name that only Zadara herself is allowed to use: Chrava."
A murmur swam through the crowd and seconds later practically everyone had stepped back several times. The street widened visibly around Buba and he looked on, unblinking. He had no idea that he'd just been turned into a deity in these people's eyes.
"Forward never back. Always keep moving. You will find the way, whether you want to or not. It will find you, as well. When darkness comes, you will be lost. Heed this warning: If you don't find your way, you will die..."
Brand sat up with a start. His head was still ringing from the explosion and he had no idea how long he'd been out cold, but he was alive. For now. The dream startled him awake; there was coldness to it. The words were not just merely spoken in his mind, it was more like he felt them throughout his whole body. And while he wouldn't readily admit it to anyone, the dream did scare him a little more than he would have liked. He let that slip out of his mind, however, when he finally noticed where he was.
Cobwebs lined the decaying stone walls that surrounded Brand. He knew he was in the ruins, that much was obvious, but why he was here... that was anyone's guess. So, he started to wander. With only two doors to choose from, Brand decided to let 'fate' give him a helping hand. Not that he really believed in fate, it was just fun to poke at people that did.
Through the large splintered wooden door Brand went. More decaying, cobweb infested walls surrounded him. Large sections of the ground were missing. Huge stone plates that had been removed were nowhere to be seen as Brand walked around these spotty areas. Further down the hall, he looked up and saw the holes that allowed the light to stream through the roof. He wondered, briefly, if that was natural or from erosion and decay.
A four-way hall came to a head and Brand stopped. With a glance down each hall, he scratched his rough chin and frowned. He debating going back the way he came. Something in the back of his mind was nagging him. It was almost as if he felt that he'd been through several intersections like this already. But surely he hadn't been walking these halls for so long?
The wise and prudent side of Brand decided the best course of action was to close his eyes, spin around several times, and then take off down the corridor he was facing. So he did just that and staggered, a bit dizzily, down the hall he ended up facing. Almost at once, all the light coming from the holes in the ceiling turned off. Brand looked around frantically but it was useless. Everywhere he looked he was surrounded by pitch black. He couldn't even see his own hand in front of his face, as evident from the fact that he almost put his eye out trying to see his hand.
He wasn't even sure which way was which now. He turned back and forth and had no way of finding the same path he was on, not in this darkness. So on he walked, right into a wall. He grunted and turned a bit, then headed off again. The throbbing in his nose was tolerable, barely, but he wasn't about to try and touch his face in this solid black nightmare.
It seemed like forever, truly it did, but finally Brand made contact with a door. Naturally, he couldn't see it so he rammed into it. Much like the wall before, he was sure his nose would never forgive him. This wall, however, had a wooden feel to it and that gave Brand hope. As he searched the door for some kind of way to open it, it opened on its own.
Bright daylight streamed into the hall, blinding Brand. This was starting to get on his nerves. He couldn't seem to go two hours without being blinded, or deafened, or whatever. As his eyes adjusted, Brand stepped through the door and found himself inside a room. It was as if Brand had stepped through time. The walls were sparkling white and clean; the stone floor was a perfect flat smooth surface. Daylight streamed in from the ceiling, telling Brand that those holes before were probably supposed to be there. Then he spotted the altar in the middle of the room and paused.
Hovering over the altar, with no strings attached, was a massive sword. There was nothing special about this sword, but it was big in size. Under the sword, scattered over the altar and the floor... what was that? Brand took a step closer than jumped back and frowned. Hands. Lots of hands. His eyes scanned over at least two hundred hands in various stages of decomposition. Well, he knew one thing: he wasn't going to get near that sword.
Suddenly, there was a loud clapping sound from behind the altar and Brand froze. It sounded like someone clapping their hands, that much was obvious, but who was it?
That question was answered when the red-skinned beauty rose from behind the altar and smiled at Brand. Which one, though? Judging from the smirk of superiority, Brand was pretty sure it was Zadara.
"Yes, I'm Zadara. You're very observant, Brand." She lightly slid a finger along the blade of the sword, drawing a trail of blood along the metal from the wound the action created. "Do you have any idea what you've found... or should I say, what you were led to?"
He couldn't reply. When he tried, he realized he was enthralled by Zadara yet again and could do nothing but wait and watch.
She chuckled. "Of course you don't. Alas, it doesn't matter now." She walked around the altar, then headed toward Brand. "Did you know, Brand, that my sister Adara's blood has amazing healing qualities? Well, guess what amazing qualities my blood contains." Zadara squeezed her bleeding finger until the blood started to flow freely then she lifted her finger toward Brand's lips and winked.
All Brand could do was watch, as his life was quickly becoming extinct.To be continued...