Someone wrenched Eddie's arms behind him and tied his wrists. Behind him, Kai and Timmy screamed.
"I don't think they're with the dragon riders," a male voice said. He spoke Vayna, but with an English accent.
"You saw where they came from," hissed the woman.
"They came from the city, but these are children. And look, this girl is clearly a Vayna child."
The woman moved away. The person on Eddie's back finished securing his wrists, then went to work on his feet.
Eddie turned his head, trying to see what was happening to Kai and Timmy. A murmur of voices came from the direction of the car. Eddie found himself looking up at a balding man who was clearly not Vayna. He wore a Denim jacket and gray work pants. The man tilted his head to get a better look at Eddie.
"I've seen you before, haven't I, son."
"I don't think so."
The man hunkered down in front of Eddie. "Sure I have. Before the world went to hell. You used to hang out at the apartment building where I lived."
"We had a talk once. I asked you what the hippie was up to."
"I'm sorry mister, but I don't remember much about what happened to the world before... well, before all this."
"Hmm." The man stood. "Gordon, I don't think these kids are from the city."
"That's what I'm trying to tell the chief," said the other man's voice, the one with a British accent. "She's convinced they're part of some elaborate trap."
The bald man squatted down in front of Eddie again. "Is that true, son? Are you part of a trap? We saw your flying car come up from the city."
"We were chasing a group of dragon riders. They'd taken a friend of mine."
"What's your friend's name?"
"See, now I know that boy as well. He lived above me. Played his music too loud."
Running footsteps approached over the grass. "We have to move," a voice called, speaking Vayna, out of breath. "Soldiers are coming."
"Cut the ropes on their feet and get them moving," ordered the woman. Another voice translated her order to English.
Someone jerked Eddie's legs to one side and sawed at the ropes there. They yanked him up and drew him towards the trees.
"What about my..." he turned to the man tugging at him, a Vayna warrior. There was no word for 'Car' in Vayna. He spun and spotted the bald man. "What about my car?" Eddie called in English.
The bald man carried a rifle in one hand, drawing Tim towards the trees in the other. "What about it?"
"I can't lose that car."
"It's important. If you didn't notice, it can fly."
The man looked from the car to Eddie, deliberating.
"Come on," a woman's voice ordered from the line of trees ahead. Eddie saw her for the first time, a steely-eyed warrior woman. She glared at Eddie and the bald man. Others were there. Another Vayna warrior, a heavyset man with spectacles, his arm in a sling, a young woman with short black hair, her arms tied behind her back, forced onward into the trees by a short old man.
"Gordon, tell her we'll catch up."
"But..." the man with the sling stammered.
The bald man pulled Timmy towards the car and yanked the passenger door open. The Vayna warrior holding Eddie watched, looking uncertain.
"You need to cut my hands free if I'm going to drive," Eddie said.
The Vayna looked started. "You speak my language."
"Yes. Cut this rope. We need to get out of here."
The warrior frowned down at him.
"I'm not a spy. And I'm not one of them." Eddie pointed down the hill. "I can get us out of here in my..." he hesitated, then used the English word. "Car."
"Come on," the bald man shouted.
The urgency in the bald man's voice set the warrior into action. He cut Eddie's hands. Eddie threw his car door open. "Get in," he shouted, pulling the seat forward.
The clang of approaching armor was all it took to spur the warrior to action. He jumped in. Eddie jumped in after him and yanked the wheel back. The car rose before he had the door shut. A spear sailed passed it. Eddie gunned the engine and they soared away, barely clearing the trees.
"You mind telling me where you got a flying car," asked the bald man.
"It belongs to Bryce."
"Not when I knew him."
They moved over the trees. Eddie tried to keep the car low, exposing them as little as possible to the city behind them.
"I'm Colonel Jeb Martin by the way."
"Eddie Foster," Eddie replied. "And the kid in the back is Timmy." Eddie turned to the back seat. The Vayna warrior stared out the window, his mouth wide, gaping down at the trees. Tim was crammed between the warrior and the drink cooler.
"You want a drink, Colonel?" Eddie asked
* * *
The colonel directed Eddie to a clearing further up the mountain. Eddie landed. The instant he opened his door, the Vayna warrior squeezed out between the seat and lunged for solid land. He glowered at the car.
"We were here last night," the Colonel said. "A dragon rider showed up, and we had to lose him in the trees. We've been running from him all night—him and a bunch of soldiers. They had the unnerving habit of anticipating where we would be before we got there. None of us have slept. We found a spy in the woods—that oriental girl. Devick wanted to question her, but neither I nor Gordon could figure out her language, and between the two of us, we know quite a few."
"Why are you trying to get to the city?" Eddie asked. He handed the colonel a Mountain Sunrise.
"They've taken my granddaughter. Her and a couple other members of my group. They've taken Vayna folks as well, so Devick and I have teamed up to infiltrate the city. But they have some kind of surveillance down in those woods. The second the dragon rider found us, we've been running for our lives."
"You think the others in your group will come here?" Eddie asked.
"It's our fall-back point. Now that the sun's about to come up, they shouldn't have any trouble finding their way back."
They were quiet for a while. Eddie offered the Vayna warrior a soda. He explained what it was and took a drink. The man scowled at him and turned to the trees, waiting for the others.
"What do you know about that city down there?" the colonel asked.
"I know they are trying to destroy the world. They think they can perform some spell that will turn their city into paradise. They're going to sacrifice a lot of people to do it, including Bryce."
"How do you know all this?"
"Bryce and I took a dragon rider prisoner."
"What?" The colonel nearly choked on his soda.
"We had him in the trunk of this car for two weeks. We brought him to a city south of here where they offered a reward. But the dragon riders attacked last night and took him back. They got Bryce as well."
"And you came after them in your flying car."
"I didn't know it could fly until last night. It would have made things a lot easier if we had known sooner."
"Well, I don't see how we can make it into that city. You might get closer with this car, but the dragons fly over at night, and you can't land there during the day without drawing attention."
The colonel turned to Timmy, who crouched beside the car, a can of soda clutched against his chest, staring off at the trees.
"So, what's your story?" the colonel asked Timmy. "Have I seen you before?"
Timmy was about to answer when a rustling in the trees drew everyone's attention. The Vayna readied his blow gun. The colonel pulled a handgun from a holster at his side.
The angry Vayna woman appeared first, a spear clutched in her hands, her cold eyes fixed on the colonel and Eddie.
"Did you enjoy the safety of your armored bird?" the woman snapped.
The Vayna warrior with Eddie was about to explain, but Eddie cut in, speaking Vayna. "I didn't want the soldiers to get this car."
His answer startled the woman, but only for a second. She stopped in front of him. "If you are not a spy, you at least led the soldiers to us. You and that flying monstrosity."
Others emerged from the woods. Kai held the hand of one of the warriors. When she saw Eddie, she ran forward and hugged his leg. Eddie noticed another white man, an older guy with long hair and a beard. He led the black-haired young woman Eddie had seen earlier, her hands tied behind her back.
"I think we lost them, Colonel," the older man said. "They were right on our tail, then they stopped. It's as if there's a line they don't cross."
"So, at least we know there's no tracking device on our prisoner," the colonel said, stepping forward. "It was a risk to bring her along." He turned to the man with the sling, who was huffing and puffing behind the others. "Gordon, tell her we should leave this girl. She's of no use to us."
Gordon translated. The Vayna woman nodded. She pulled a knife from a sheath at her ankle and advanced on the young woman.
"Wait a minute," the colonel stepped forward. "You're not killing her."
"Devick's not wrong, Colonel," said the old man, gripping the young woman's arms. She struggled, her face full of fear and defiance. "This girl's one of them. She could tell them our numbers, our position."
"They know that already." the colonel stepped between the Vayna woman and the girl. "This serves no purpose."
The Vayna woman glared up at the colonel, the knife clutched in her fist, standing inches from him.
The other Vayna warriors rushed forward, ready to act if their leader ordered it. Eddie rushed forward too. He approached the young woman, but a warning look from the old man made it clear he wasn't welcome any closer. "What's your name?" Eddie tried, speaking the Ord he'd used with Kardhoom.
The girl was terrified, shying back from the conflict, but held firm by the old man. At Eddie's words, she turned sharply. "What?" she said. Her language was different. Not Ord. The word Starrik came to mind. Immediately, knowledge of the language flooded Eddie.
"What's your name?" he asked again in Starrik.
"Chandra, are you a spy?"
"No, of course not."
"You're not working with the dragon riders?"
The old man tugged her back. She struggled to get free, then submitted to his tug. She growled. "I'm running from them. I was their prisoner."
Eddie turned to the others. All eyes were now on him.
"So you are a spy," the Vayna warrior chief said.