"Can't this car go any faster?" Ruby demanded.
"Yes, but I don't want to die," Bryce answered. They soared over the treetops, the wall of Cavaheim growing in the distance.
"They're everywhere," Hera said, staring out the window. "Have they already gotten into the city?"
"I don't know," Ruby answered.
"Why is this happening? This city already has enough to worry about."
"I agree," said Farook. "And I don't understand this new threat. What is a zombie?"
"It means a mindless human with a hunger for human flesh," Bryce said. "Except it sounds like these are different. They bite you to spread their virus."
"That makes you smile?"
Bryce threw up a hand. "How should I know? You heard what Eddie said. You know as much as I do."
"And your friend Eddie caused all of this."
"Our friend Eddie didn't do anything you wouldn't have done in his place," Bryce snapped.
Farook opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Ruby guessed he knew it was true.
Hera pointed ahead. "They haven't reached the west gate yet."
The Simps were on the bridge, their scattered numbers packed in a dense line across the river. A line of soldiers watched them approach, looking concerned.
Bryce flew through the open gate and set the car down behind it. Ruby jumped out.
"Close the gate," she cried. "Close the gate and get inside."
An officer stood by, scowling. "You are not in command," he said. "And you will not order my men."
"But you don't understand. Those people out there are dangerous."
"Did you bring them to us? Is this some kind of ruse? I know who you are, Lady Chaos. And I'm not convinced..."
The officer broke off when he saw Hera approach behind Ruby. She gripped her hands before her, her eyes imploring. "Please close the gate," she said. "Those people out there are carrying a plague. You must not let them touch you."
The officer bowed. "Lady Hera. I am honored that you have... I mean..." He turned to his men. "Close the gate! Get inside now."
The guards ran to comply. As they did, the officer approached Hera. "How many are there out there?"
"I don't know. Lots. They have a virus that makes them act like that. They'll try to... they'll try to bite you. Don't let them. It's how the virus spreads."
The officer gave Ruby another suspicious glance. "Is this a joke?" He turned back to Hera. "Did she put you up to this?"
"She's telling the truth," Hera said. "She saved this city once already, and she's trying to do it again."
"We need to inform the guards at the other gates," Farook said.
"Of course," the officer said. He turned and scowled at Bryce. "And take your goddamn car with you."
As they ran back to the car, Bryce said, "What's he got against my car?"
"Last night, this car was used to firebomb the wall and the soldiers," Farook said. "They're not happy that you're flying in it now."
They stopped at each of the four city gates. In each case, the guards were suspicious, but each company complied when Hera urged them to listen.
"Why do they all do what I say?" Hera asked as they flew away. "I still don't understand."
"They see you as the last voice of reason before the Ord misled them all," Farook said. "This is proof of what I've been saying. The only person who can lead this city is you."
He leaned forward between Bryce and Ruby and pointed. "That building right there. It was our military headquarters. But stay clear of the temple there. That's where the remaining Ord hide with their hostages."
As the car approached the military building, soldiers who had been standing watch over the Ord temple scrambled to intercept the car. When Bryce touched down, they were surrounded by soldiers with spears, each aimed at the car's occupants.
"Talk to them," Farook told Hera.
"They look like they want to kill us."
"They'll listen to you. They're the same as the guards at the gate."
Ruby opened the door and climbed out with Hera. The soldiers stepped back when they saw Hera. One of them called "stand down," and all of them raised their spears, staring.
"Um," Hera said, rubbing her arm protectively. "I need to talk to whoever is in charge," she said. "Me and Farook. Come out here, Farook."
Farook stepped out, his hands raised. "There is an immediate threat to the city," he said. "Who commands the military?"
One soldier scoffed. "No one. Our commanders are all in there." He threw a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the Ord temple. "And we'd like to kill them."
"Who is the senior officer here?"
"We've got three captains who can't agree what we're supposed to do next," the soldier said.
"Would you take us to them?"
Farook and Hera followed the soldier. The other soldiers returned to their line around the Ord temple. A priestess appeared at a temple window. She sent a blast of energy at the soldiers. Three arrows hit the stone around the window before the woman could retreat into the shadows.
"This place is a mess," Bryce said.
"Yeah," Ruby said.
They stood watching. Skylar descended from the sky and sat on Ruby's shoulder.
"You think they have a chance here?" Bryce asked.
"I hope so. We should help."
"Sure, but if it gets too hot, I won't feel bad about flying away from all this."
"We can't abandon these people."
"They're not our responsibility. They never were. Yes we should do what we can, but we aren't obligated to die with them."
"Is there something I can do to help?"
Ruby and Bryce both turned. Ruby froze.
Tim stood behind them, leaning on the car, grinning at them.
He was bald now, beardless, and black circles ringed his eyes. He wore a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers..
"It's you," Bryce said. "You did all this."
Tim shrugged. "Naw," he said. "Eddie did." He looked around. "What exactly is your problem anyway?"
"This city is under siege by Simps."
"What's a Simp."
Bryce's eyes narrowed. "Eddie knows. Why don't you?"
"Eddie went through the time portal. I didn't. Where is old Ed anyway?" He glanced over Bryce's shoulder.
"Why do you want to know?" Ruby asked.
"You know. Just want to chat. I've had a fruitful morning, but I've got questions for him now and I can't find him. I couldn't find you either until now. I'm not sure why."
Tim checked his nails, humming briefly to himself. "Anyway, if your only problem is a plague of... what did you call it? Simp?"
"That," Bryce said, "And the remaining Ord are holed up in that building over there."
"Ord." Tim frowned. "As I recall, they weren't especially polite with me."
He snapped his fingers. A brilliant yellow flash consumed the temple. When Ruby's eyes adjusted, she found the building on fire. The stones glowed red as they melted, sloshing down into the road, the entire structure tilting, toppling, then splashing in molten rock and fire. Soldiers screamed and rushed away, some of them with uniforms aflame.
"That should do it. No more Ord. Or do you think any of them got away?"
Ruby stared, horrified. "They had hostages in there."
Ash rained from the sky. Tim dusted it off the shoulder of his robe. "I've solved one of your problems. I could solve more, but first I need to know where Eddie is."
"You killed all those people," Ruby said.
"The hostages were innocent."
"They still are."
She turned to Tim, her jaw clenched. "Why should I tell you anything?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I could kill you if you don't."
"Is that your solution to everything?" Bryce asked.
Tim frowned up at him. "I've got big problems that need hard solutions. For the little problems, I'm willing to skip to what's easy."
"We won't tell you where Eddie is."
Ruby expected Tim to throw a fit and kill them both on a whim. He continued to frown up at Bryce for a moment, then turned and paced. "I understand why I can't find Eddie. He's got some kind of juju that negates my sight. He's like antimatter. He's out of my realm. But you?" He pointed at Ruby. "I can see every individual in this world. I can picture their faces, know what they're doing. In some cases, I even know what they're thinking. But until a minute ago, I couldn't find you. Why is that?"
Ruby shrugged. "How should I know?"
"Well, it's something to think about. If you come up with anything, let me know. Oh, and tell Ed I'm looking for him."
Tim disappeared. He didn't just fade. He blipped out of sight in an instant.
Bryce and Ruby stood frozen. Waves of heat blasted past them as they stared at the place Tim had been. Soldiers shouted in the distance.
"Huh." Bryce said. "And then there's that guy."