The Call - Part Seven
Brand and his companions weaved through the crowded streets of Esidarap on a direct course for the fountain in the middle of the city. Once there, the oblivious citizens of the city continued about their business, heeding no attention to this pack of strangers among them.
"Are we ready?" Brand asked.
Light murmurs of agreement that didn't sound all too convincing were the only reply Brand received. It was enough for him. He jumped up onto the edge of the fountain and turned toward the wave of patrons going about their business. With a sweep of his arm, the cloak hiding the metallic arm of the Wielder was revealed. Almost at once the flowing crowd screeched to a halt.
Someone cried out. A deep voice shouting, "Wielder", followed it. Rising and falling shocks of disgust and anger bounced around those gathered and gathering around the fountain as Brand just stood there with his metal arm raised high over his head.
The companions watched on nervously.
Then the crowd started to revolt.
Rocks flew from within the mass of gathered people, some striking Brand in the chest and head, but he ignored it as best he could. Buba and company also held their ground, for the moment. Rocks collided with them at an alarming rate and soon it was near impossible to not try to dodge them. One of the sharper rocks cracked Kate in the head and caused a light stream of blood to trickle toward her cheek.
Just as Brand decided this plan had failed, Zadara's voice echoed throughout the land like the voice of an evil god, pronouncing death to all those that opposed him.
"Do not harm the Wielder or his companions, least I strike you dead! Soldiers are coming to take them away. Go to your homes immediately!"
True to Zadara's word, Brand could see soldiers pushing and shoving their way into the crowd. He glanced down at Buba for one, terrified moment, positive his insane plan would fail and get them all killed. The look wasn't lost on Buba, either. He saw what Brand was thinking. He saw and it made him squeeze Lisya's hand just a little tighter.
The first of the guards finally busted their way through the crowd. Unceremoniously, they tossed people aside as if they were sacks of potatoes. One elderly man fell on his arm awkwardly and snapped it in two.
Without a word, the guards went for the Wielder's companions. Brand watched on, swallowing hard. If Zadara wanted them all dead, now would be the perfect time.
But nobody died just yet. The soldiers grabbed Buba, Lisya, Kate, and Chrava, two to a companion, then started to haul them away. Four more guards, one of them a deep maroon red that matched Zadara's own skin color, stood away from the other three and barked: "Surrender, Wielder!" As if Brand had planned to wait for all his friends to get captured before he resisted.
Brand merely stepped off the fountain, both his arms held high, and waited to be led away. One of the clueless soldiers started to reach for the sword strapped to Brand's back.
"Fool!" the maroon guard screamed. "Don't touch that sword!"
Quickly jerking his hand away, the reprimanded soldier blushed something fierce. Brand thought he was embarrassed and he wouldn't have been wrong. Then again, the soldier was more embarrassed because his stupid mistake had very likely just cost him his life. Zadara didn't stand for idiotic soldiers.
The grand throne room of the palace in Esidarap had seen far better days. Days of long ago when the rightful queen Adara had graced the palace and the world lived in an almost perfect harmony. Zadara would never stand for such a world, though, and that near perfect world could never quite be achieved. For every major stride Adara made, Zadara stood in the shadows, building a greater army to seize control. In the end she succeeded. Never in Zadara's wildest dreams, however, would she have ever expected the Wielder to end up in her palace. During the final battle, no less! She found it delicious and the thought of seeing the Wielder die could almost be described as orgasmic by her.
Zadara sat on the golden throne with its scattered array of gems and jewels. Her eyes never left the Wielder as he walked up the red-carpeted aisle on a straight path to her. All of this seemed a bit suspicious in Zadara's eyes, but she had faith not even the Wielder could outsmart her now.
"Bow, Wielder," Zadara said. "Bow before me and perhaps I'll spare your friends their lives."
To her surprised, and everyone else, Brand bowed at the hips with a graceful, fluid motion. He remained bowed until Zadara told him enough.
That single act of obedience put Zadara on high alert. "What games do you play, Wielder? You think you can fool me with your act? Perhaps I should kill one of your companions right now. Proof, if you will, that I mean what I say."
Brand said, "You going to break your promise so soon?"
"Silence! I said perhaps I'll spare them. Why did you turn yourself over to me so easily? What games are you trying to play with me?"
"I'm sick of being the Wielder. Let my friends go and you can have my life. I'm through. Don't want this lousy job, never did."
"Brand!" Buba hissed in alarm.
Zadara merely waved a hand. The signal was subtle but well received. The guard on Buba's left rammed him in the ribs with the hilt of his sword.
"I don't believe you." Something smelled, Zadara was positive of that. Though part of her truly had started to believe. "Prove it. Give me your sword."
"If I give you the sword, it'll cut your arm off. Some automatic defense."
Yes, Zadara knew that. So much for hoping Brand would show his true colors and actually try to give it to her. "There is a way," Zadara said. Her eyes continued to remain on Brand, but she could feel Chrava on the sidelines. Feel that little girl's eyes on her, no doubt moaning about being betrayed again.
"It involves a sacrifice. But for this sacrifice, I'll not only let your friends live, I'll let you live."
"And that is...?"
"Your arm. Let me take your arm."
Brand looked at his metal arm once, shrugged his massive shoulders. "It's all yours, lady. Have at it."
One of the soldiers grabbed Brand's metallic wrist and pulled his arm out straight. Another came up behind him with an axe that looked like it belonged on an executioner's chopping block. Given the dark stains on the blade, perhaps it had come from there.
"Wait," Zadara said. "Let him do it." She nodded toward her lover, the red-skinned soldier.
The soldier took the axe from his subordinate and stepped in front of Brand. While the other soldier planned on removing the arm from behind, this one wanted to see Brand's disgusting face as the arm viciously fell from the shoulder. More importantly, though, he wanted to look into the face of the Wielder as he died.
Unfortunately for the soldier, he did exactly what Brand had hoped he would. In the space of five seconds, Brand's metallic fingers grasped the wrist of the soldier holding his wrist and crushed all the bones there, then swung his arm up and withdrew the Sword of Destiny from its sheathe on his back. Before the red-skinned soldier that Zadara was riding when Chrava discovered the betrayal of her life could so much as lift the axe, the sword jabbed forward and sliced clean through his chest. The axe tumbled from his hands, clanging against the ground with a loud chorus of gasps from the audience.
Zadara jumped to her feet. From her point of view, she could see the tip of the blade as it escaped her lover's body from behind, but it took a few moments to register.
As soon as the red-skinned soldier's body realized it had been killed and crumpled to the ground, Brand sheathed the sword on his back and looked at Zadara's stunned expression. Again not nearly as satisfying as he would have hoped. But it was a start.
"What?" Zadara babbled. "What? What... what have you done? Kill them! Kill them all!"
That's when all hell broke loose.
Buba swung an elbow into the soldier at his right, grabbed a handful of hair and tossed him into the soldier at his left. As the smacked together and crashed to the ground, he kicked the soldier next to Lisya in the back of the knee, wrapped an arm around his neck as he fell back, and rammed his head into the stone pillar behind him. Down the line, Kate screamed as her guards skewered each other after she ducked their sword jabs. Lisya spun on her remaining guard and kicked him square in the balls. Chrava, however, didn't have it so lucky. One of her guards stabbed her through the shoulder. While the blade had been aimed at her chest, for once she found a reason to be glad her ankle gave out of her. Buba hurled the sword-stabbing guard into the pillar behind Chrava, then shoved her out of the way as the other guard swung his sword through the air with intent to chop off her head. The blade swooshed past Buba, slicing a clean cut in his shirt. A small line of blood dribbled down his chest, the tip of the blade barely making a scratch. He followed Lisya's lead and landed a ball-shattering kick to the last soldier's balls.
Brand remained where he stood. Three guards charged at him, but Zadara had other plans for him. She flicked her wrist in their direction; a bolt of lightning ripped through the grand throne room and struck all of them dead. Then she stormed toward Brand with the glazed expression of a madman no longer in control of his own actions.
Still, Brand didn't move.
Standing face-to-face, Brand and Zadara stared into each other's eyes; both were determined to be the victor in this final battle for survival. "You think you can win, Wielder?" Zadara said in a low, trembling voice. "You think you can kill the one person that may have meant something to me and it'll help you? Well, I can kill the four people that mean something to you, then we'll see who can win."
Zadara lifted her hand toward the gathering of companions. Brand watched for it, ready to spring into action when she tried. But before he could grab the hilt of the sword, Zadara's hand spun back at him and clobbered him in the chest. He went sailing down the red carpet, crashed in a heap at the end of it. Suddenly the future of Buba and the others couldn't have been more insecure.
As the tangle between Wielder and Goddess began, Buba grabbed Chrava and darted behind the stone pillar. The other women followed him without question, but they all wouldn't fit behind a single pillar. He took off at a run, dove behind the platform with the throne and dropped Chrava on the ground. One look back caused Buba's heart to stop.
Lisya and Kate were trapped behind the pillar. Zadara scanned the side of the room, trying to find them for the sole purpose of extinguishing their lives. Lisya looked at Kate. Kate looked back.
More soldiers began to pour into the room, but Zadara screamed at them with such fierce fury to get out, even her most loyal of soldiers decided not wasn't the time to question her. Even before the last of them could get out of the room, Zadara forced the double-wide doors closed with the power of her mind, one poor guard got caught in the middle and found himself sliced clean in half lengthwise.
"Wielder! You will suffer the death of all your companions before I kill you and I will tear this room to shreds to find them!"
As Brand staggered to his feet, Zadara began throwing rounded flames the size of basketballs around the room. Silk tapestries that lined the walls immediately burst into raging towers of flames. Several pillars were struck, chucks of stone blasting in all directions. Zadara's fury flowed around her in visible waves of heat, the very ground she stood on began to tremble in fright.
Brand withdrew the sword and charged at Zadara.To be continued...