Ruby leaned out the doorway, watching as Ord priests dragged Eddie away to the dungeon. He struggled, shouting as he went. He turned back once, his eyes imploring and confused.
Eddie must have thought she betrayed him. She stood beside the king as he ordered that Eddie be taken. She stood there, and now Eddie must hate her.
"Close the door," Basha said.
Ruby remained a moment longer, watching as the Ord dragged Eddie around a corner towards the stairs. She pulled the door shut.
Bryce crawled out from beneath the table where he hid. "Who was that guy?"
"Bryce, didn't you recognize him? That was Eddie. We sent Eddie away to the dungeon."
Bryce stared. His eyes grew wide. "But... how did he... I mean..."
"Who's Eddie?" Basha asked.
Bryce put his hands over his face. "Oh, man. Oh shit. This is getting worse and worse. First, we screw up with Jarrock, and now this. How did Eddie even get here? He was hundreds of miles away last time I saw him, and the Ord sure didn't bring him."
"And what was he doing in the palace?" Ruby added.
"Who is this guy you're talking about?" Basha asked again.
"It's our friend," Ruby said. "Someone we knew before... all this."
"He's a funny dude," Bryce added. "And he's gotten me out of some ugly scrapes. There's something about him..." He trailed off, his eyes on the wall.
"We need to save him," Ruby said.
"What?" Basha said, startled. "What about the plan?"
"What plan?" Bryce snapped. "Our plan failed when we couldn't get Jarrock alone."
It hadn't been a fool-proof plan, but they were desperate, and they had to stop the high priest. Ruby and Basha would play along with Jarrock for the evening. Basha would give his speech, Ruby would show her support, and then they would walk back together into the castle.
In all of Basha's past speeches, Jarrock would stand beside him to ensure Basha would behave and to pose as the king's protector. At the end of each speech, Jarrock escorted the king back into the palace alone, usually to criticize his performance. Many of the Ord didn't know Basha wasn't the real power in Cavaheim, and Jarrock wanted to keep their conversations private.
Basha and the others would use that privacy to their advantage. The Palace of Wisdom was full of secret passages and one-way doors that not even the Ord knew. Basha knew all of them. He'd researched the archives when he first became king. One of those passages opened near the front entry behind a column in the foyer. It led to partitioned passageways running deep into the palace, each portion segmented by a stone door.
The plan was simple: Bryce and Ruby would sneak into the passages during the day and block one of the stone doors. Then, that night as Jarrock, Ruby and Basha passed the open passage portal, Bryce would take Jarrock by surprise and shove him into it. If they were quick, they could have him trapped, and none of the other Ord would know what had happened.
But something had gone wrong at the speech. Rats had terrified the crowd and made the Ord guard uneasy. They surrounded Jarrock and the others. When Bryce saw the crowd of Ord rushing up the palace steps, he dove into the passage, careful not to let it trap him.
Now they stood together in a palace full of Ord priests, out of ideas, having just betrayed their friend.
Basha stood frustrated, holding his crown, twisting at the metal, his eyes to the ceiling. "This is such a mess. We're through. I quit."
"You can't quit. What about all that Elric stuff?" Ruby countered. "What about the resistance you raised?"
"That was Farook's resistance. I just helped them out—the inside man. And look where my information has gotten them."
"What about me? You said I'm destined to stop Jarrock."
"You look like that statue. I thought it had to mean something. Maybe I was wrong. I guess there is no hope. I give up."
"Fine with me," Bryce said. "I never wanted to hang out in this place anyway. I'm gonna get Eddie out of this mess and then we're gonna split. He's probably got my car somewhere close by, and—"
A tree outside the window burst into flames.
"What the hell?"
Bryce ran to the balcony doors and threw them open. Ruby joined him. Outside the tree blazed, the flames dripping from top branches down towards the trunk. Overhead, a flying blue car banked around the palace square, pursued by two mounted dragons. Ruby caught a brief glimpse of the driver who had the leathery face of a toad.
Bryce stared up, his mouth hanging open. "That's my car. A toad stole my car, and he's... it can..."
A tiny ball of fire arced out from the back of the car, plummeted down and smashing on the hedges lining the palace garden. A ball of fire splattered in all directions.
"Suck it, you jackasses," cried a voice from inside the car as it soared away over the city.
Bryce and Ruby watched it go. "Okay," Ruby said. "Now there's that. What do you suppose that is?"
"Raiders from outside," Basha said.
They turned to him.
"Hey, I am the king. The Ord reported to me that their surveillance network picked up a few raiding parties. They expected trouble, but no one mentioned a flying vehicle."
"My car," Bryce said, his eyes distant and distressed. "I got to get my car back."
"What about Eddie?" Ruby said.
"Yeah, him too. But my car..."
Ruby turned to Basha. "Is there any other way we can stop Jarrock from sacrificing all those people?"
Basha shook his head. "None. Our plan was a desperate one to begin with. We're doomed." He moved in closer to her, his arms out to hold her.
Ruby stepped back. "What are you doing?"
"The world is going to end. Wouldn't you like a little comfort before it's all over?" He approached her again.
Ruby shoved him. The effect was much stronger than she intended. Basha toppled backwards, his armor clanging on the ground.
"I don't want comfort," she said. "I want to stop Jarrock."
"Maybe we could just spend a little time together?" he asked as he climbed back to his feet. "Just in case it's hopeless. I can give your friend here his own accommodations for the night, and in the morning, we can come up with a new plan."
"And in the meantime, what? I sleep with you?"
"We don't have to sleep."
"That's never going to happen."
"But out on the steps, you kissed me."
"You didn't give me much choice in front of all those people. If you'd told me you were going to do that ahead of time, I would have refused."
"I know it's sudden, but..."
As Basha stepped forward, Bryce intercepted him, blocking his way. "Dude, take a hint."
"Who do you think you are?" Basha said, looking offended.
"I'm someone who knows you're a fraud. Now keep it in your pants, and let's figure out a plan."
Skylar darted in through the open balcony door carrying a scorpion bot. She circled Ruby's head once, then stopped in front of her face, holding out the tiny surveillance device.
"You killed a surveillance bot. That's great, Sky."
Skylar shook her head emphatically. She pointed outside, then dropped the bot and held out her arms.
"You killed, what? All of them?"
Skylar pointed at herself and shook her head.
"But, what are you saying? They're all dead?"
Basha frowned. "That's impossible." He moved to the hallway door and peered outside. He looked both ways, then knelt and picked up a tiny object. "This one's dead too. You didn't do this?" he asked, addressing Skylar.
Skylar shook her head.
"The raiders must have attacked the Ord intelligence building. That must have been the explosion earlier. But how did they know where to set the charge?"
"If surveillance is down, then we can escape this city without wearing those stupid cloaks," Bryce said. "Let's get Eddie and go. Ruby, you should come with us."
"I'm not going anywhere until Jarrock is in jail or dead," Ruby said. "And Mai and the other prisoners need someone to free them."
"Why is it your responsibility?" Bryce asked. "You're not from here. Why do you have to fix things?"
Ruby stared at him. It was a good question. Basha himself had supported Ruby, thinking she was the answer, and now Basha was having second thoughts.
But Hera had been so certain. Her father had said Ruby was their only hope.
"You think I can't do it?" Ruby asked Bryce. "You think I'm weak?"
"I know you're not weak. You handled yourself pretty good against Kardhoom."
"Not good enough." She rubbed the bump on the back of her head—a token to remember when Kardhoom had thrown her against a wall.
"You can beat up an Ord. That's great. But there's a lot of them, along with all the soldiers. It's not up to you to save the day."
A distant explosion echoed across the city.
"Maybe it's not up to me to save the day alone," Ruby said. "Maybe I only need to try to make a difference."
She turned to Basha. "Do any of your secret passages lead down to the dungeon?"
He frowned. "Sure, but—"
"I need my glasses. I won't be much good to anyone if I'm half blind."
"I can send for them, along with your clothes."
"I thought my clothes were destroyed."
"I rescued them. Can't let a good Lucifer's Landing t-shirt go up in flames."
"Good. Do it. We need to get downstairs as soon as possible."