The Call - Part One
Despite the death-hold strangling the world outside the city walls, inside Esidarap was alive and flourishing. Fat citizens, plump on the misery of others less fortunate, wobbled along the streets with baby-smooth skin and servants nipping at their heels. Enormous buildings that had no right existing in a world without the technological level of Brand's own reached for the sky, doing their best to provide the people of Esidarap with a doorway to the heavens. Hovering high over the city, a bright ball of white fire proved to be the new source of light for the city. No doubt a product of Zadara's newfound powers.
Stepping through the gates had been like entering the very depths of hell, but the feeling faded the further they traveled through the streets of a city that was supposed to spell doom when it fact it only spelled the possibilities of riches and fame.
As they walked along, Brand soaked up the almost festive environment. Around his shoulders, he now wore Borodan's cloak, covering the metallic arm of destiny that marked him as the Wielder.
"Anyone been here before?" Brand asked. Besides Miranda, he added to himself with annoyance.
Brand looked over, startled by this revelation. It was Lisya.
"I was a spy for Adara," she explained. "This is where I came from after I received word from Adara that the true Wielder had finally arrived." She paused, her dark eyes looking up at Buba. "Ben's been here, too."
They reached the center of the city. A magnificent fountain stood in the middle of the hussling-bussling crowd. Water sprang from deep within its piping, soared into the sky, and plummeted back down into the golden basin rested solidly on the ground.
Borodan cleared his throat and nodded to the left of the fountain. Brand looked in that direction, frowning at the maroon-red soldier that stood erect, scanning the crowd. His face was scrunched up as if constipation was a life-long problem for him.
"How powerful are these demi-gods?" Brand asked. A sudden puzzling question entered his mind. "And why do they work for Zadara? Aren't they equals?"
"Those are mortal men," Borodan said. "They bleach their skin to show allegiance to their queen."
"I'm bored," Sword blurted. "Let's kill Zadara already. I'm anxious to see these porn movies your world has."
Brand couldn't help chuckling, but not at the sword. Last thing he wanted to know was that his sword was not only an ass but horny. No, he chuckled at the reddening Buba. The mention of porn movies embarrassed him something fierce.
"Let's find an inn," Brand said. "We need to get out of the open."
The dead, unmoving air left the room stale and stiff. Chrava stood with the open window she'd just climbed through to her back as she glanced at her former home. Everything remained undisturbed from the last time she'd been here. While there was some comfort in that, she was more pissed than anything. Did Zadara even notice she was gone? The fury of the betrayal boiled away quietly in the pit of her stomach. It had been a while since she felt it there, but being back had brought all the previous rage to the forefront once more.
That would have to wait, though. She came here for a reason.
Her plan to get revenge on Zadara was cut short by those mysterious soldiers. Now that she was free, it was time to put that plan back into action. With the ease of familiarity, Chrava scoured the room in search the small box that would bring the masses to their knees. Nothing could be done about Zadara, but with luck, Chrava knew she could turn even the most loyal of Zadara followers against their queen. They would all die, Chrava herself would probably die, too, but it would be worth it. What's a queen without followers, anyway?
But where was that blasted box? The drawers filled with expensive silks didn't have it. She paused, glaring at those silk gowns. Never had been to her liking. Had she once worn them? Yes, unfortunately. It seemed like eons ago now, but she had. For her. For that bitch.
Dust bunnies tickled at Chrava's nose as she swept her arms under the bed. She felt around until she came upon a small chest. With a yank, it slid out from under the bed. Chrava popped it open and shuffled around at the contents.
Where did she have it last?
The fuzzy memory of her capture brought on a wave of nausea. Of course, she'd been holding the box in the altar room. Assuming Zadara or someone else hadn't found it, it would be there. Going there would be a challenge. She would have to wait until it everyone left for the night before even the consideration of slipping in would be remotely successful.
With a shove, Chrava sent the chest back under the bed. Then she stood and froze like a deer caught in oncoming headlights.
"Hello, lover," Zadara snarled from her perch on the bed. "Looking for this?" She held her palm up, and sure enough, there sat the box Chrava wanted.
The innkeeper filled out the front desk. His round belly pressed against the wooden ledge, spilling over the top. Beady little eyes looked the travelers over without much effort to hide the disdain he felt.
"We don't get many folks from out of town," he said sourly.
The high pitch of innkeeper's voice couldn't have been more fitting to Brand's ears as he stood in front of the desk with his left hand rested on the smooth wooden surface. "How much for a room?" he said patiently.
Brand rolled his eyes. "How much for a room?" he repeated.
"Your entire group can sleep in the closet if you wish. Two-thousand gold per night."
Once more Brand repeated: "How much for a room?" This time, though, he dropped his left hand from the desk and replaced it with his right hand. The flame of a nearby candle reflected in the slick metallic surface of his hand.
Chubby cheeks turned ashen as the innkeeper's eyes locked on the hand with more than a little shock and awe. Brand could see the wheels turning in the poor fat man's head as he tried to come to terms with the fact that he was standing face to face with the Wielder. Sweat broke out on the innkeeper's brow as he shuffled madly through the ledger.
"Look here!" exclaimed the innkeeper. "Four suites! My apologies, Wi--sir."
"One-hun--ten gold per room per night."
Kate stepped up next to Brand and set a small leather pouch on the desk. Brand nodded with a pleasant smile. "That should cover us for about a month. You're free to keep whatever is unused for yourself... granted you can keep quiet about certain guests." Brand gave the innkeeper a look that screamed, "Tell anyone and I'll know."
Four keys were placed on the desk in rapid succession. Brand scooped them up, offered one more look of warning then walked toward the spiraling stairway with his gang in tow.
A puff of white light escaped the box in Zadara's palm as she closed her fist around it with a snap, crushing it to oblivion. "I don't think you really need that," she said. Her exotic eyes studied Chrava with a familiar lecherousness that had once given Chrava tingles. Now it just made her sick. "Where have you been, little girl?"
Words entered Chrava's mind--biting words that were meant to hurt--but nothing came out of her mouth. Had she really believed she could come back and not get cornered by Zadara?
"Answer me!" Zadara demanded.
Instead of answering, Chrava turned and ran for the door. She made it about a foot, then a searing pain ripped through her back and she was thrown across the room. The stone wall broke her flight, her skull cracking against it with a sick thud. Warm blood trickled down her face from a cut in her forehead. A moment later she spun around and discovered she was several feet off the ground, pinned against the wall by some invisible force.
"You can't leave," Zadara said. "We have so much to catch up on."
Four rooms, six people, the math didn't work out too well. Buba and Lisya decided to bunk together, much to the chagrin of Brand. He eyed them with suspicion, then winked at Buba. Brand decided he'd bunk with Miranda; that gave Borodan and Kate their own rooms. So the math worked out better than at first expected.
The rooms themselves were lavish and comfortable. A huge bed dominated the area. Smooth silk sheets wrapped over the fluffy, heavenly mattresses. On either side of the bed, shiny mahogany dressers stood like soldiers watching over a precious package. A window looked out over the busy city square where Brand could see more of the city than he would have thought. This would definitely be a good place to plan out the rest of this mission.
Now if he could just find Miranda.
A knock on the door drew Brand's attention. Borodan walked in, a frown dragging his features down.
"What's wrong?" Brand said.
"It's Miranda--Zadara caught her."To be continued...