The next half hour was a confusion of accusations, explanations and threats. The warriors tied Eddie up again. At the protest of Kai and the colonel, he was forced at the point of a spear to tell his story, from the moment he'd awoken in the desert to how he came to be pursuing a couple dozen dragon riders north from Graden. He had to repeat himself in both English and Vayna and, as much as he could, in Starrik. Devick the warrior chief was most suspicious about his talent with languages. He could only shrug and say, "That's how it's been since I first woke up."
"And you know the language of the city below," Devick said. "You must know something about how they can track us when we near their city."
"I know the Ord have a sense for where people are."
"The priests that ride the dragons. It's difficult to sneak up on them. And if you have spark, they can sense you from a distance."
As they spoke, Gordon translated to the colonel and the old man named Zeke.
Devick's eyes narrowed. "And do the soldiers have this sense?"
Eddie shook his head. "I don't know." He nodded at Chandra. "But she might know something, if you don't kill her."
Devick's eyes were hard. She turned from Eddie to Chandra, then back. "Ask her," Devick demanded.
"Can you untie me?"
He turned to Chandra. "Do you know how the soldiers tracked these people in the forest?"
The young woman looked exhausted and frustrated. She nodded. "Are they going to kill me?"
"Not if I can help it. Tell me what you know."
Chandra sighed. "They can track you with their surveillance bots. They're probably watching us right now."
"Tiny robots. They look like scorpions, and they're everywhere."
Eddie looked warily up at trees nearby. He repeated her words to Vayna, and Gordon translated for the rest.
"How does she know this?" Devick demanded. "And if she was their prisoner, how did she escape?"
When asked, Chandra replied, "I know about the surveillance bots because I helped to create them. I was freed from the prison under the king's palace by the few people in the city who resist the will of the Ord. And I made it to the mountains by using a device in my bag that disables the scorpion bots."
Over the next few minutes everyone settled down. After Chandra and Eddie convinced everyone she was not a threat, she was allowed (at gunpoint), to open her bag and retrieve a small black device. "Watch the trees," she said as she pressed a button. Several tiny objects fell from the limbs. A warrior ran out to retrieve one. It was as Chandra explained, a mechanical scorpion, curled up as if dead.
She told them all the story of the prophecies of the end of the world, and the way the people in Cavaheim reacted. It was the same story that Hera had told Ruby four days earlier, but when she reached the part where she spoke of Basha, her story differed dramatically.
"I was a member of the team that created the dream network. If you've seen any Ord, you've seen the implants they wear under their left eyes. Hundreds of others within the city wore similar devices, especially those with prophetic gifts. I was in the inner circle of programmers, along with Farook, a master of technological philosophy, and a few of his brightest students, including one guy named Basha."
Eddie sat up. "Basha? I've heard that name. Isn't that the king?"
"I'll get to that. So we ran the dream network and collected the data. Dream analysis by way of computers is not easy. Farook called in the brightest minds in the city to help make sense of what we saw. It was fascinating to see that, even though there were always difference between the dreams, there were plenty of common threads, enough that it could not be a coincidence. It looked like the world was doomed, and we even had a date and time when it would all happen.
"Everyone was stunned and terrified. Everyone except Basha. Where the rest of us saw signs and portents, Basha saw coincidence. 'It's all mass hysteria,' he said. 'That's all it could be. Prophets get things wrong all the time. The old wisdom still applies here. You should give a prophet your ear, but keep the other ear attuned to common sense.' Basha loved quoting that old nugget.
"The prophecy fervor became the only topic in the city. Religions rose up. Basha couldn't abide that. I think that's why he did what he did."
"Did what?" Eddie asked after he had translated for the others.
"Basha hacked the dream network."
"The network wasn't a one-way communication system. It allowed dream communication to occur from one person to the next. That was Farook's idea. If brainwaves could pass between each person in the network, Farook assumed that the predictions of coming events would be enhanced and clarified. I believe Basha took advantage of that network. He created his own artificial images and injected them into people's dreams."
"What images?" Eddie asked.
"Images of Basha as the great usurper, destroying the world but preserving the city of Cavaheim and creating a beautiful paradise."
"And why would he do that?"
Chandra shrugged. "My first thought was that he just wanted to get laid. He was a creep that way."
Chandra chuckled. "Well, that might have been part of it. I think he wanted to show that people would believe anything, but his network hack was probably more successful than he'd anticipated. Everyone saw what he sent in vivid detail. The brainwave transmissions were so strong that people that weren't even on the network dreamed he was the Usurper.
"The Ord were only a school within the university back then. They took on special assignments for law enforcement, but mostly they were just a scary gang of occultist thugs from a race that came from underground. When they found Basha, they took him to their dungeon for interrogation."
"So how did Basha become king?" Eddie asked.
"Only the Ord can tell you, but I have my suspicions. The moment the Ord proclaimed Basha king, they took over the dream network, throwing Farook and the rest of us out and barring us from any further research."
"Wait, so only the Ord knew what people were dreaming?"
"They continued to share their findings with the people, but they did not permit any outsiders to review the raw data. They could have been telling us anything. But nobody questioned them because suddenly, the Ord were in charge of everything."
Eddie considered this as he repeated her words to the others. "So, the Ord controlled the knowledge of the prophecies. What do you think they were after?"
Chandra shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe they wanted to find the real Usurper. Maybe they wanted to stop him or join him or... I don't know what exactly."
Chandra continued her story, telling Eddie and the others about the sacrifice of Argolese and the failed creation of paradise. The Ord promised there would be another transformation, a much greater transformation using outsiders for a much bigger sacrifice.
"Then Hera, the daughter of Argolese spoke out against the Ord," Chandra continued. "It looked like she could have rallied the people of Cavaheim to her side. The Ord recognized the danger she posed, so they moved in to silence her. I helped her escape, sabotaging the surveillance network. Hera got away, but the Ord discovered what I'd done and put me in prison. A few weeks later, Farook and the members of his new resistance freed me from the palace dungeon. That was two days ago. I've been running ever since."
"So there's a resistance," the colonel said.
"Not much of one," Chandra replied through Eddie. "And I don't know how much they can do. The soldiers are restless. They could turn against the Ord if a leader rose up. But as you saw this morning, they're still doing whatever the Ord say."
Everyone was silent as they considered the state of the city below. There were tensions there, but it wasn't enough to stop the sacrifice that the Ord had promised. In three nights, lots of people would die, and the world might end.
"We need to get into that city," the Colonel said, speaking directly to Chandra. "We need to save those people. We need to stop the Ord."
After Eddie's translation, Chandra shook her head. "You can't stop the Ord. There are too many of them, and they have too much power in the city."
"Perhaps if we kill the king, they won't be able to control the people anymore."
"No. Basha is only a figurehead. The people may rebel if you kill him, but the Ord would still proceed, even if it meant killing everyone in the city."
"Then who?" the colonel asked. "Who is the lynchpin that would unravel the Ord's plans?"
"That's easy. Jarrock is High Priest of the Ord. If the dream network takeover wasn't his idea, he's at least pulling the strings now. His right hand man is Dar'ja. Together, they control the city. Kill them, and you can guarantee that the sacrifice won't take place. But Jarrock is a powerful man. I don't think an army could kill him."
"We don't have an army, but we're out of time," said the colonel. "If you describe Jarrock to us, we have to at least try."
"It's impossible," said Chandra.
"I agree. I don't even know how we'll get into the city."
Chandra laughed. "Getting into the city is easy. In fact, if you do what I say, they'll welcome you as honored guests.