The Call - Part Eight
Then there was chaos. Another ornate pillar turned to dust, pulverized by the orbs of energy Zadara hurled around the room. Flames reached for the ceiling, devouring tapestries that depicted the staple of Zadara's reign as Queen, bloody beheadings, mass killings, and ecological destruction. The very ground trembled as if in fear of the power Zadara wielded in her never-ending attempt to destroy Brand and his companions. Fear filled the throne room in thick choking waves to the point that Zadara's own guards, loyal to death, ran for cover.
Behind a fallen table, one of the guards quivered. Battle waged between him and his bladder for ultimate control of the urine that desperately wanted to flee his body. He had the biggest reason to fear being here. He was not one of Zadara's high guards. Merely a small man in a large army, he had the unfortunate luck of being here when it all went down. What happened next freed him of his will. From behind the stage, Chrava lashed out with her mind and found one of the few unblock sources of entry. She dove into the guard, seized control of his body, and rose.
"I shall protect you!" Chrava screamed with the guard's voice.
Zadara didn't even notice. The guard ran into the room, headed straight for Zadara at the same time Brand ran for her. For a moment it looked like a marathon with the final two runners racing toward the finish line marked by Zadara, swords drawn. Then Brand looked toward the guard and Chrava's heart skipped a beat. Don't do it, Chrava thought. The determination in Brand's eyes struck her as odd. Almost as if he knew she was in there and knew he could kill her, at least temporarily, while still keeping her body alive. It passed, though, without incident, as Brand continued his rush at Zadara.
That didn't last. Zadara spun her right hand at Brand. A flaming ball of orange fire rolled at him, spinning madly out of control while flickering spots of flame flittered off the ball. Brand lifted his sword to block the flaming inferno that approached, barely in time, and the thing exploded into shards of flames. Some of them dotted his shirt and pants, but otherwise no harm was done.
The second attack did more damage. This time Zadara hurled an angry ball of energy at Brand. Again he lifted the sword to block, now resigned in running as Zadara tried to shoot him to death. But this time, while the sword did save his life, the power of the energy ball threw Brand back down the room and into the ground.
The body Chrava repossessed stopped as it came up next to Zadara. For an instant, Zadara looked at the guard, and then ignored him. Chrava thurst the guard's sword forward, piercing through Zadara's abdomen with a sense of triumph flowing over her. Zadara merely swatted the guard upside the head. The force of the blow looked weak when in fact it hoisted him ten feet into the air, sword still in hand, withdrawing from Zadara, his neck snapping almost completely around. As the dead body fell to the ground, Chrava returned to her own mind.
Lisya and Kate stood smashed together behind one of the pillars. They were unable to see anything that took place in the throne room besides the flames licking the ceiling and the pillars next to them being obliterated.
A sudden, shocked gaze filled Kate's eyes as her nostrils flared to life with a phantom smell that had yet existed. Burning flesh assaulted her one gift. The flesh of someone right next to her, or perhaps even herself wafted from everywhere at once, striking her unmercifully. "Move, Lisya. Move!" She shoved Lisya hard, knocking her off balance. Lisya staggered back into the open just as the fireball flew into the wall right behind the pillar where they stood. Kate didn't have time, though. The flames exploded everywhere, showering Kate in an inferno of pain.
Lisya stood there, wide open, and watched in horror as Kate lit up like a bonfire. Strong arms grabbed her from behind, urgently pulled her back. Lisya screamed. Her hands beat at the arms wrapped around her waist in a vain attempt to get free of her captor. Soon after, the world blotted out and all Lisya could see was the back of the throne. She looked down, realized the arms were gone and spun around. She staggered into Buba, weakened by the vision she'd just seen.
"It's okay," Buba murmured. "But you need to be strong right now. Watch over Chrava, protect her."
Horrified at Buba's words, Lisya shook her head violently. "No, Ben! No! You can't go out there!"
"Brand needs help. I can't stand by and watch."
"Kate just got turned into a human torch! You can't, Ben. No. You can't." But she knew he could and he would and her words died off. "Be careful," she whispered.
When Buba rounded the corner of the raised platform, Lisya peered over the edge and watched with enormous eyes of fear.
"I could use some help here," Brand muttered.
The sword blurted, "What do you want me to do? Sprout legs and kill her for you? Need I remind you this was your brilliant plan, oh wise Wielder."
Brand growled. Moments ago he watched as Kate turned into a human barbeque. Lisya missed nearly getting the next round of Zadara's insanity, thanks to Buba. He stood and glared down the red carpet at Zadara. Then his stare shifted into a sunken realization that someone else was very close to dying. Buba decided to join the battle.
"No!" Brand shouted. He charged for Zadara, hoping against all odds she paid attention to him and not Buba. "Zadara! You sucked as a queen. You sucked as a demi-goddess. And now you really suck as a goddess. Why don't you do us all a favor and cut your own head off?"
What was Buba thinking? It dawned on him exactly what Buba was thinking. The same thing he was thinking. He was going to try to distract Zadara so she wouldn't see Brand rushing at her.
So far his plan failed. For that Brand couldn't have been happier. Zadara torpedoed several alternating balls of energy and fire at Brand. Instead of trying to hit them with the sword, this time he dodged them. It worked much better.
Half way there.
Zadara turned suddenly.
Brand screamed inside.
Lisya screamed aloud.
Buba stood face to face with Zadara. Only a few feet divided them. Then he did something Brand would never have believed for as long as he lived. Buba lifted his fist to Zadara and flipped the bird.
While that particular gesture meant nothing to Zadara, it didn't matter. It meant something to Brand and Buba, and both of them would hopefully someday be able to joke about it over beer. That day was not now. Brand was almost within striking distance when Zadara's fist also lifted, but no birds were flipping. A bright white flare exploded around Zadara's fist and she brought it back behind her head.
Buba didn't pale. He didn't shirk. He just stood there fully willing to accept whatever would happened to him so that Brand could complete his mission.
Brand dove for Zadara, sword thrusting through the air. He didn't need to do anything more than cut her enough to distract her. But it was too late anyway. Zadara's hand flung at Buba. The white-hot power burst from her fist like a rocket.
"Buba, no!" Brand yelled.
"Ben!" Lisya screamed at the top of her lungs. But the voice was too close. Far too close.
Buba looked up, shocked to find Lisya diving off the throne's platform. His arms came up in time to grab her. She fell into his arms, right in the path of the deadly ball. Before Buba could so much as blink, the ball bore its way into Lisya's back, vaporizing her spine and internal organs all the way to the chest bone. The force of the blow tossed Buba back, Lisya in his arms, into the back wall.
Brand landed behind Zadara, inches short of cutting her. Adrenaline pumped through his veins in overtime. He swept the sword around without bothering to get up. The blade sliced clean through Zadara's Achilles tendon, toppling her to her back with a shriek of pain.
Shoving himself to his feet, Brand glared down at Zadara's prone body. "You bit--"
"Lisya? Lisya!" Buba tried helpless to wake Lisya; his mind unwilling to accept the reality of what had happened. "Brand! Help me, Brand! Lisya's not waking up!"
Brand jerked the sword over his head, but Zadara hadn't given up yet. She reached out and grabbed Brand's leg. Searing pain ripped through his calf muscle. The sword flew from his hands in a spasm as untold amounts of electrical current flowed through him. As she peeled her hand away, Brand crumbled to the ground. His body shook violently.
After Zadara crawled away, the doors leading into the throne room swung open and Borodan walked in. He took powerful, long strides toward Brand. His eyes were open with a glazed over expression. There was no Borodan here. The gaping hole in his chest where his heart used to be was enough to show that. Yet he walked on. His body once more reanimated due to Zadara's evil ways. Zadara had a plan all right. While her tendons reattached, she'd let Brand play with her new toy.
The quivering muscles in Brand's body relaxed just as Borodan loomed into view and kicked him upside the head. His nose cracked and snapped, pain roared through his face, and for a moment, Brand couldn't see a thing. He rolled away, vision returning, although greatly blurred, and stood. "Sword!" he shouted. "Where are you?"
"Behind you, sweet-cheeks. Better hurry, too. Good old Borodan is back, and he's pissed off. Friggen zombies give me the creeps. Kill it fast!"
Brand staggered back until he nearly tripped over the sword. As he leaned down to pick it up, Borodan's knee cracked him once more in the face. White-hot pain erupted even worse than before in Brand's face. His entire body seemed to turn to jelly as he jerked up. But at least he had the sword. He lashed out at Borodan, blade slicing through the corpse's abdomen. Intestines spilled out in an uncoiled mess all over the floor. Brand took one step, landed on the sprawling organ and fell. Because of it, he missed a clean punch right to the nose. Brand hurled the sword up, skewering Borodan from balls to neck, clean through his head. The tip of the blade jutted out from Borodan's skull like an insane party hat.
"Cut off his head, genius," Sword advised. "He won't go away till you cut off his head!"
Brand yanked the sword out of Borodan. As soon as it was out, Borodan attacked with a flurry of kicks and punches. The kicks pounded into Brand's thighs, barely avoiding his own balls. The punches landed on his head in repeated, bell-ringing succession. Brand brought the sword around, passing it through both of Borodan's legs at the knees. For a moment, the corpse stood there, then it toppled onto the stumps and continued to punch at Brand. Now at a more suitable level, Brand swung the sword at Borodan's neck and lopped off his head. Still seated on the ground, Brand shook his head vigorously, and then struggled to his feet. His face throbbed and swelled with such unrelenting pain he didn't know if he'd be able to stay conscious much longer, much less find Zadara.
He didn't have to look far. Zadara stood on her knees five feet from Brand and flung a fireball at him. He jerked to the left, barely missing the flaming missile. He tripped over Borodan's newly killed body, though, tumbled to the ground, and landed right in front of Zadara. With a devilish grin, she produced another fistful of white-hot death and stood. "I win."
She hurled the ball at Brand's face. One second before impact, the world froze as if someone had pressed pause on the VCR of life. Brand lay there, resigned to his fate. His death. His failure. Unlike Buba, he couldn't watch it come. His eyes were squeezed shut. After a couple of moments, knowing full well he should be dead by now, Brand peaked open an eye and nearly fainted. The ball of death just sat there. His nose, had it not been smashed to pieces, probably would have been scraping the edge of the ball.
Brand pushed away from the ball in a hurry and sat up with a start.
Next to Zadara stood a face that struck Brand as oddly familiar. Why that was, he didn't know. All around him everything stood frozen in time. Flames did not move. Blood did not spread. He looked over his shoulder at Buba, frozen against the wall with Lisya's dead body in his arms. He turned back to the stranger.
"I know you," Brand said.
"You should. I saved your life once."
It all came back to him. He was the man in the tree with the cowboy boots and the jeans and the perfectly rounded black sunglasses that had told him to duck right before he was shot.To be continued...