Eddie kept the car aligned with the North Star. After leaving Graden, he'd spotted only a few dim clusters of light on the ground far below his flying car—a handful of lonely villages in the night. One city had been big enough to rival the size of Graden. As it drifted by below him, he wondered at the people there, their lives, their understanding of the new world around them.
But all the cities and towns were far behind him now. Eddie had seen no lights from the surface in hours. Since the moon had set, the world below was a black void. All that remained was the infinite stars in the night sky.
Kai lay curled up asleep in the seat beside him. Timmy's snores reverberated in the back seat. Eddie was alone with his thoughts.
He reached for his phone and read the enigmatic text messages once again.
In Cavaheim. Not dead yet. Having dinner with a king. Wish you were here.
I cannot predict what will happen to you in Cavaheim, but if you keep the boy close, you'll probably survive.
Eddie didn't know what to make of either message. He'd tried calling Ruby, but the connection was bad, and he only caught a few words. At least it was enough to know she was alive. Every attempt to call her thereafter had failed.
He didn't try calling Winnie. He didn't know who Winnie was, but every text from the stranger made the hairs on the back of Eddie's neck stand up. Hours passed, and he felt a growing urge to find out what Winnie knew. Winnie had guided him before, and Eddie needed help. The Ord took Bryce. Bryce—the one that had all the confidence, the one that always had a plan. Eddie hadn't realized how much he needed that strength until he found himself all alone.
No, not alone. Now he had two children who depended on him, one of whom he feared. The weight of responsibility and uncertainty terrified him, and the thought of going to Cavaheim where a mass-slaughter was about to take place was even worse. But Bryce was up there now. Bryce had rescued Eddie from the desert. Eddie would return the favor.
He stared down at the phone, then typed a text to the mysterious Winnie.
How do I save Bryce?
The response came back almost immediately.
I don't know. Keep Timmy close. But don't let him touch you.
Why? The kid creeps me out. He looks like Tim.
He is Tim.
How is that possible?
If you live long enough, you'll understand.
Just tell me.
I can't get involved any more than I have. It's dangerous. You need to go to Cavaheim, but if you know the details, you might turn back. And you MUST NOT turn back.
Eddie waiting for a reply. Minutes passed without anything. Finally...
Just keep Timmy around. Eventually, you'll want to distance yourself from him. You'll know when. But in the meantime, he gives you an advantage. He's a necessary evil. That's all I can say. I'm turning my phone off now.
Eddie stared at the phone. Necessary Evil? What did that mean? He didn't bother asking any more questions.
He'd been so fixated on the text conversation that he didn't notice the way the stars changed until it was almost too late. He no longer saw the Big Dipper ahead. In fact, he saw nothing at all. A wall of black dominated the sky ahead. He wondered at this for only a couple seconds when his headlights began reflecting off a distant surface. Eddie was closing fast on a wall of rock.
"Shit!" he cried. He cranked the wheel to the side. The flying car banked to the left, narrowly missing a direct collision. His headlights ran along the broad surface of rock for a few seconds before turning away. Eddie put his foot on the brake pedal, slowing to a sharp halt. The car hovered in the air, the blackness of night all around him.
"What happened?" Timmy asked from the back seat.
Eddie waited for his pulse to slow. "Almost hit something."
"But we're so high up."
"It was a mountain."
He'd passed over mountains in the moonlight hours before and thought he was safe from collisions. Either he had lost altitude over the past few hours or this mountain was especially high.
"I can't see anything out there," Timmy said.
"Maybe we should wait for morning to keep going."
"If we wait, people will see us."
"Your headlights are on. They can see us anyway."
Eddie frowned. The kid had a good point. But if he hadn't had the headlights on, he would have hit the mountain.
"I'll slow down. We'll go around this mountain, or over it, and we'll see what's what."
Eddie understood nothing about this flying car. It hovered, which meant it wasn't like an airplane, and there were no jets, so what propelled it. He cranked the wheel towards the rock wall. The car pivoted, still fixed in its position in the air. The headlights caught the rock wall again, gray crags and sharp shadows in the headlights. They were only twenty feet from its surface.
"Wow," Timmy said.
He turned the wheel back to the left, then eased the gas pedal. They moved. Peripherally, he could saw a hint of the rocks beside them, easing by a few feet per second.
"Keep an eye on the mountain and make sure we don't get too close."
They moved in silence. Eddie considered how much the boy's voice resembled the Tim Eddie had known in Holcomb.
"Why did you bring me with you?" Timmy asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you don't even like me."
"I never said that."
"You told Kai to stay away from me."
Eddie sighed. "You look like someone I know."
"Someone you hate?"
"I... no. It's complicated."
"You wouldn't even shake my hand. That's what people do when they meet. It's polite."
"It's nothing personal, kid. It's just... you shouldn't touch me. It will hurt you if you do."
"You just shouldn't. The other person who looked like you... he touched me and he died."
"Are you poison?"
"Only to you."
They were quiet for a while. The rock wall eased beside them.
"Where do you come from, Timmy?" Eddie asked.
"I don't remember."
"But not from Graden."
"Where are your parents?"
"I don't remember." Timmy's voice hitched with a sob.
"It's okay. Don't worry about it. You're safe here for now."
The rock wall to their right gave way, and the lights of a distant city below unfolded in its place.
"Wow," Timmy said.
Eddie turned the car to face the city. He shut off his headlights.
Was that Cavaheim? Had he reached it already? He had no way of knowing how far they'd come from Graden overnight. But what if the rock wall they'd encountered was one of the mountain spires he'd been hearing about?
"What is this place?" Timmy asked.
"I don't know." Eddie eased the car ahead and pressed the steering wheel forward. The car descended.
Minutes later, they hovered above the lights. A wall surrounded the city, and the area outside it was darkness. Gaslights lined the street. Ornate buildings with Greek columns dominated the cityscape, its houses all boxy shadows. And on one hill, a tall statue towered above all other structures. Eddie had seen two exactly like it in his journeys. This one had a blue base, but the details were identical to the others. The robed figure holding the world in one hand, a rat in the other.
Eddie hovered there, staring at it, just above the lights of the city. Could anyone see him there? And what would they think if they did?
"Is that the dragon people?" Timmy asked.
"That's the usurper. I guess it's a statue of someone who lives here."
"Not the statue," Timmy said. "Them back there."
Eddie turned. He'd been so enthralled by the city, he didn't realize that the sky was lightening. Through the back window, he saw the silhouette of a huge spire of rock. And to the right of it, the approaching shapes of dragon wings soaring towards them.
"Crap!" Eddie cried. He gunned the engine and shot away past the statue. "We must have gotten here before them."
They raced over the rooftops and Eddie tugged back on the wheel. Soon, they were back out over treetops, climbing towards the distant mountains flanking the valley. "Are they following us?"
Tim turned back. "No, they're all headed towards that big building."
Eddie slowed. He dropped the car to just over the treetops, stopped, and turned to face Cavaheim. From this position along the mountain ridge, he could see the winged creatures, barely dots from here, descending into a walled-off square, a fortress within the city, higher in the foothills.
"That must be the prison," Eddie said. "They're taking Bryce and the other captives there."
"Are you going to rescue them?"
That's what I came to do."
They watched in silence. The winged creatures each descended into the shadowy space within the walls. Then one by one, they rose and flew off to the highest point in the city, directly under the nearby spire of rock where a broad plateau held several large buildings.
Kai woke up as they watched. She rubbed her eyes and peered out at the world. "What's happening?"
"We've come to find Bryce," Eddie answered.
"Where is he?"
"Can we get him now?"
Eddie thought about it. Early dawn light glowed in the sky. Soon, they'd be easy to spot. He'd need to set down and make a plan.
"Not yet," Eddie said. "I think I need to get sleep first and think about it."
He turned the car back and continued up the slope above the treetops. Soon, he found a small clearing. Landing was easy. He pulled the car above the clearing, stopped, and as he pressed the steering wheel forward, the car descended onto the grass.
"Well, that was easy," he said. He cut the engine and opened his door. "Who needs a pitstop—"
Hands ripped him out of the car before he'd even stood up. Kai screamed, the world spun. An instant later, a knee pinned Eddie down on the field grass. Someone yanked his arms behind him.
A woman spoke, her mouth an inch from his ear. "Have they sent children after us now?" she asked in Vayna.