Devick pulled a knife from within her skirt and readied herself, glaring up into the darkness. Whoever had spoken had heard their entire conversation. The colonel readied himself as well.
"Don't get all nervous," said the same voice—almost a man's voice, if the man inhaled a balloon full of helium. "It sounds like we're on the same side."
"Who's up there," The colonel demanded.
"Enemies of the state." This was a girl's voice, speaking from the other side of the alley. "Here to cause mayhem and free prisoners."
"If I come down, is that lady going to cut me?" asked the first voice.
"What do you want?" Eddie asked.
"A little information exchange might be nice," said the first voice.
Eddie glanced at the colonel, who nodded. He explained to Devick what the voices had said. She lowered her knife, but did not stop glaring upwards.
A short toad man leaped out of the shadows and landed in the middle of the group. Eddie stared. "Pip?"
"Who's Pip?" the toad man asked.
"Sorry, you look like someone I met recently."
"Yeah, I suppose us toads all look alike to you." He called up to his companion. "Come on down, darlin'."
Another body leaped down to the alley floor. She was a girl of maybe fifteen years old, knives held in each of her hands. "How do we know those scorpion bots aren't watching us," she asked.
"Because we've disabled them," said the colonel. He stooped and picked one off the ground. He showed it to the newcomers.
"Introductions," the toad man said. "I'm Marty, this is Bethany. We're here with two others, a woman and a troll."
"A troll," the colonel repeated.
"I know, right?" said the toad. "Trolls actually exist in this reality. It's a crazy mixed up world. Anyway, he's the boss, and he's given us a job to do." He held up a bundle of what appeared to be dynamite, wrapped with wires and lashed to a black box.
"What's your job?" asked the colonel.
"To disable the surveillance network. We know just where to put this."
"Where'd you get your information?"
The toad man grinned. "Oh, the Ord can't help but send us prisoners. They fly in, we catch them, and then we ask them questions. They're very accommodating."
"Do you know where we can find Jarrock?" the colonel asked. "What are his movements? When can we count on him being alone?"
The girl Bethany shrugged. "Who's Jarrock?"
"Head of the Ord. If we take him out, we can stop them from executing the prisoners."
The toad shrugged. "Never heard of him. We're here to free our friends and family. Our first step is to end their surveillance, permanently."
The colonel nodded. "That's a good plan, but even with the surveillance down, the prison is well guarded."
"Did I mention we've got a troll? If we can sneak in unseen, he can do a lot of damage."
Eddie had been translating the conversation for Devick. "It's more of a plan than we have," Devick said. "Let them go after prisoners. If the scorpions die, I will go to the palace and kill the tall man."
Again, Eddie translated for the others. "If you don't mind," he added. "I'd like to go with Devick." He repeated this suggestion to Devick.
"You'd slow me down," Devick said.
"Once we're inside, you can leave me," Eddie answered. "I'm not after Jarrock. I want to see someone else."
"The girl the king wants to marry. Ruby Tanner."
"You know Ruby Tanner?" the colonel asked. "I thought you didn't remember your life before the change."
"I remember Ruby. In fact, she's the only one I remember. She's supposed to marry the king. I just... I want to understand what's going on. He must be forcing her to marry him."
The colonel frowned. "She seemed happy to be up there with him."
"Well, I've got to try."
The colonel thought about this. He turned to the toad. "I'd like to help you with the prison if you don't mind."
"You'd slow us down, old man."
"I'm not as slow as you think, and I've got reinforcements who can fly in whenever we need them."
"Reinforcements?" The toad scratched his scaly scalp.
"Two Vayna warriors and a couple of other angry men with guns. They've got a flying car and they're all itching for a fight."
The toad grinned. "Fair enough."
"What about me?" Timmy asked.
Eddie stared down at him. There was no way he could take Timmy with him. Even with Winnie's warning, it was clear this kid would only get in the way. And Timmy might try to stop him.
"Can you go back to the university and keep Kai safe?" Eddie asked.
Timmy thought about this. "You're not going to get yourself killed or anything, are you?"
"That's not my plan," Eddie said. "Timmy, Kai needs you."
Timmy frowned, then stood up straighter with a look of resolve. "Okay."
* * *
Eddie and Devick crouched in the shadows outside the palace when they heard the explosion. This was followed two seconds later by what sounded like a short hail storm. Scorpion bots fell everywhere.
"That's it," Devick said. "They are no longer watching us."
"I don't see how we can get in," Eddie grumbled, looking up at the palace wall.
"That is because you are slow and weak and dull witted," Devick said. "Like all white men."
"Ouch. You're such a racist."
"Shut up and follow me."
She rushed out of the shadow, ran along the palace wall and leaped onto a tree. She scaled the trunk, her feet braced against one side while her hands gripped the opposite side. She caught the first branch and swung herself up. Then she reached down and offered her hand to Eddie. Eddie leaped and caught it. She gripped him and pulled his entire weight up to the branch. From there, she left him to climb the rest of the way, springing up to the next branch. She made it halfway up the tree, then climbed out onto one of the longer branches and leapt onto a nearby balcony. Eddie followed with clumsy difficulty.
The balcony door was locked. Devick took her knife and slid it between the door and door jamb around the lock. The door popped open, and the two snuck in.
The room was dark and spacious, tables and couches lining the walls with the center open. It appeared to be a ballroom. Eddie followed Devick, crouched low and tracing the perimeter. Light stabbed through a crack between the two interior doors.
They stopped at the doors. "The Ord dislike light," Devick whispered. "Therefore, Jarrock will keep his lair underground. I will find him there."
Eddie nodded. "Then I guess this is where we split up."
Devick nodded once and pulled the door open. Light spilled through, and she raced out into the hallway. Eddie hesitated in the shadows. When he poked his head out, she was gone.
He suddenly felt very stupid. What was his plan now? He didn't know where Ruby was, and he was all alone in a palace filled with enemies.
The hallway was empty. Eddie hesitated for a few seconds, then ran crouched down, no idea where he was going or what to expect.
He made it the entire length of the hallway and peered around the corner. He caught only a glimpse as soldiers marched in his direction. Eddie immediately retreated, picked the first door on his left and snuck in.
The room was dark, but an open door on the far side led into a lit room. Hushed voices spoke from within it. Eddie thought he caught a hint of Ruby's voice. She was in there. He had found her already. Eddie moved to the side of the doorway.
"At least we would have if it hadn't been for the rats," he heard Ruby say. "What was that about, anyway? What does it mean?"
"Jarrock didn't do it," another voice said. It sounded like the king, but his voice didn't have the same commanding quality he had shown on the steps of the palace. "I'm sure he didn't do it. I mean..."
Something small flew at Eddie. It buzzed around his head, then buzzed back into the other room. Eddie thought it might have been a bat.
"What's she saying?" asked a familiar voice.
"There's someone listening from the other room."
A body came barreling into Eddie from the lit room. Eddie was thrown back. The assailant came crashing down on Eddie, punching him once in the ribs and once in the temple. Eddie cried out in alarm.
The other door to the room opened. A soldier shouted. "There's something going on in here!"
"Bryce, hide," Ruby hissed.
Eddie's attacker withdrew back into the room where Ruby and the king had been talking.
Eddie struggled to his feet, as a group of soldiers rushed into the room. One turned the light on and found Eddie standing alone. The king stepped in from the opposite door. "Guards, have this man arrested at once. He is a spy."
Eddie looked up at the king, then over his shoulder to where Ruby stood. She saw Eddie, dawning horror on her face. "But Basha... your highness, that's not..."
"That's not just a spy," a new voice said. Eddie felt like everyone in the entire palace was converging on this one room. He turned to find a short old man in a hoodless Ord robe. The old man peered up at Eddie, a growing grin spreading on his face. "That is someone I've been interested in meeting."
"Sir?" asked a soldier.
"Bind him and bring him down to Jarrock's chambers at once." The old man rubbed his hands together. "This young man is the final piece of a very big puzzle."