Bryce didn't wait to be taken. He drew out the shock batton and jabbed it into the side of the nearest spider creature. As his victim crumpled in pain, Bryce leapt over his door and lunged for the next one. He took two steps when another spider creature dropped from the ceiling, landing on Bryce's shoulders. The impact knocked him down, and as he crumpled to the rock floor a pale green hand took his shock batton and drew it away into the darkness above.
"Give that back, you bastard," Bryce shouted, jumping back to his feet.
A split second later, an arm reached around his throat, a pistol pressed to his temple. "Go ahead and piss me off," said a spider creature in a raspy hiss.
Eddie rose from his seat, but a gurg outside his door aimed a pistol at his head. Eddie sank back down.
Barlow pushed Syd away into a host of armed gurgs. They aimed their weapons up at him, their faces betraying no emotion.
"You're making gurgs fight for you?" Syd said, shocked. "Aren't you afraid of offending them?"
"I have a way with the creatures," Barlow laughed. "And if you fight them, you'll be the ones offending them."
Barlow brushed his hands together and turned to another member of his entourage. Eddie hadn't noticed her before, a beautiful woman in a plain brown dress stood beside the cavern wall, her face placid, watching the action. Barlow swept towards her and leaned in to kiss the woman. She leaned in to accept the kiss, but did not kiss back.
Barlow turned and approached the convertible. He stood facing Bryce, his mask hiding his emotions. "You're a tough bugger," he said.
"Let us go," Bryce demanded. "We'll tell you anything you want, but it doesn't have to be like this."
"Oh, you'll tell me plenty," Barlow said. "But I'm much more intrigued by your biology."
"You came from up top, but I see no radiation burns, no poisoned pustules. I'll have to run some tests. Your livers should tell quite a tale of life in the poison atmosphere above."
"The atmosphere isn't poison," Eddie said. "Go out and you'll see."
"If I'm convinced by what I learn from you, I may."
Barlow beckoned to Eddie. "Your keys."
Eddie considered throwing the car into reverse, running over the spidery creatures and gurgs behind them and speeding away. He could probably do it without getting shot. But they had Kai. They had Bryce. Eddie turned the key and pulled it out of the ignition. He tossed them at Barlow, who caught them and grinned.
Barlow popped the trunk open and stared down at the man inside.
"Who are you," Kardhoom demanded in his own language.
"What did he say?" Barlow asked.
"He wants to know who you are."
Barlow grinned down at the prisoner. "I am your student, and you are my teacher," Barlow said. He reached down and drew Kardhoom out by his arm. Kardhoom struggled, his joints popping as he unfolded from the trunk. He stood, and when he turned towards Eddie, he bared his teeth, his eyes filled with rage.
"Who is this man," Barlow asked Eddie.
"He is a criminal. He abducts people in the night, riding on a dragon."
"A dragon," Barlow laughed. "Excellent. We're in the presence of a living fairy tale."
"You should get along just fine," Bryce said through his teeth.
Kardhoom stood tall. "I am above you all," he cried. "I am Kardhoom, Second Level Adept of the Circle of the Rat. I serve the Great Usurper. You will cut my bonds and bow before me."
"Well, he's got spirit," Barlow mused. "What did he say?"
"He said he's..." Eddie began, then trailed off.
Around them, all the gurgs knelt, their heads bowed, facing Kardhoom. One stepped forward, cut Kardhoom's bonds, and then knelt behind him.
"What are you doing?" Barlow shouted. "Get up."
Kardhoom laughed. "You have gurg servants. Good. Now they are mine."
"This isn't good," Eddie said.
Barlow spun around, watching as his ambush crumbled. "What's going on?"
Kardhoom pointed at Barlow. "Seize him. Kill the spider filth, and don't let the others escape."
Everything happened at once. The once docile gurgs from both sides of the conflict leaped into motion. The cavern echoed with gunfire. Spider creatures fell and fled. Phyllis rose to fight, but an army of gurgs leaped upon her. One gurg, the one that had ridden in the dune buggy, dug its fingers into a catch on her elbow and detached her arm. She spun as the gurg climbed her back and dug its fingers into the back of her neck. There was a snap, and Phyllis fell in a heap.
"Eddie," Kai cried. A spider creature hung onto her waist with one arm while fighting off attacking gurgs with the others. Eddie jumped out of the car and ran to her. He wrenched her away from the spider creature, but as he retreated, two armed gurgs blocked their way.
Bryce now struggled with his spider captor and a row of gurgs. They jumped the spider, but as Bryce pulled himself away, a gurg jabbed him in the back with his own stun batton. He toppled forward with a painful grunt.
All went silent. Phyllis and Bryce lay disabled in the dirt. Pip struggled as a host of gurgs pinned him to the ground. The bodies of spider creatures lay lifeless all around them. The woman that Barlow had kissed remained beside the cavern wall, staring down at the aftermath of the fight with quiet serenity.
Barlow stood shocked, a circle of his own gurg servants holding pistols aimed at his head. "What the hell?" he cried.
"I am lord here now," Kardhoom said. He turned to Eddie. "You! Translate!"
Eddie repeated what Kardhoom had said.
"The hell you are," Barlow said.
Kardhoom smiled. He approached Barlow and gripped his jaw. Barlow struggled, but the Ord adept was much stronger. "I am lord here," he repeated. "But I will leave you with a chance at life. All I want is..." He looked around. He pointed at Bryce. "Search him. He has a metallic ring on him. It belongs to me."
Two gurgs searched Bryce's body. One drew the Ord's ring out of his pocket. He handed it to Kardhoom.
Kardhoom stepped back and gripped the ring. "Good. Now, gurg slaves, I want you to secure the following individuals. Bind them." He turned and pointed at Kai, who huddled beside Eddie's leg. "Her." He turned to Bryce. "Him." Then he scanned the rest of his prisoners. He pointed at Syd. "Him. And..." His attention turned to the woman in the brown dress. She stared at the walls with vacant detachment. "And her," Kardhoom said. "There's something unusual about her."
Eddie didn't translate, but Barlow sensed his meaning. "You can't have her," he shouted, lunging at Kardhoom. Kardhoom raised his hand, and a blast of blue energy engulfed Barlow. The man fell mid-jump, and Kardhoom stepped aside as he crashed face down on the stone floor.
He turned to Eddie. "I'd take you too for your translation, but my hands are now full. You'll stay behind."