Phyllis didn't hesitate. She ran up the stairs towards Kardhoom.
"Phyllis, wait," Eddie called.
She spun and frowned at him. "Wait for what? He shouldn't be here. They should have chained him up somewhere."
Eddie put up his hands. "Quiet," he said in a hush. "Please. We need to be calm."
Phyllis frowned. "Why?"
Eddie climbed the steps toward her, trying not to look too anxious. "Because if you get the soldiers' attention, they'll tranquilize you and haul you away."
"I can deal with the soldiers."
Eddie stopped two steps below her. "All of them?"
She glared up at the upper tier of the stadium where dozens of armed soldiers watched, along with the red-bereted spooks.
"What's going on here, Eddie?"
"It's some kind of mind control," he said. "The one in the red hat called it 'the shroud'. They're using it to control the people—make them more docile. It wasn't working on the giant lady—not until red hat talked to her."
"How did they calm her down?" Phyllis asked.
"I don't know. But red-hat had his hands up, focusing on her. It might have been some kind of magic." Eddie thought about it. "In fact, I'm almost certain that's what it is."
"Because I've been told I'm immune to psychic magic attacks, and whatever is happening doesn't affect me." He thought about it. "And you're a cyborg. You must have some kind of immunity too."
"Did you hear why we're here?"
"I don't know, but one soldier mentioned that if we spoke their language, we'd be going to what he called 'reprogramming.'"
Phyllis's eye widened. "That sounds bad."
Eddie sat on a bench. Phyllis took the bench behind him. "There's something else," Eddie said. "When we were in that restaurant last night, the kid I talked to acted like he had never heard of a refugee—like he didn't know what was going on outside the city."
"How could that possibly be a secret?"
"They're good at controlling the population. Bryce wasn't all depressed as we drove here, but he was ready to trust that everything would be okay."
"Syd was the same way. You saw him."
"They must have some kind of shroud on this whole city, making the people trust what they're told..."
Eddie bit his lip. "But what about the radio broadcasts I heard?" he wondered out loud. "They talked about the dragon riders, and the Titan Spires."
Phyllis considered this. "Well, those weren't exactly things they could keep secret. People had seen the dragons, and the mountains."
"Yeah. I guess."
Phyllis sighed. "You know what I saw for the first time this morning?" She pointed at the sky. "The sun. I'd heard legends about the sun, but I had no idea what it was like. This place is so bright. But Syd? When he saw it, he just shrugged." Phyllis rubbed her hands together. "I hate this place."
"So I can't beat up that dragon bastard?"
Eddie turned and looked up. Kardhoom was gone. "Where did he go?"
Phyllis pointed. "Up in the shadows back there."
Eddie spotted him. The dragon rider sat against the back wall on the top step, his legs crossed, his eyes closed.
"Why aren't they questioning him?" Phyllis asked.
"They probably don't speak his language."
"Can't they translate?"
Eddie thought about this. The night previous, the woman who had stamped their hands had mentioned "language records". She didn't know Vayna because their language records were incomplete. "If he doesn't talk, they can't figure out how to translate. Maybe they put him here so they can control him with the shroud, same as the rest of us."
"Well, let's go see if it's working." Phyllis stood up. She walked slow, careful to avoid the attention of the soldiers. Eddie followed.
Kardhoom didn't react as they approached.
"Why are you here?" Eddie asked, stopping a few steps below him. "Why aren't you chained up somewhere?"
"Leave me," Kardhoom said, not opening his eyes.
"They wanted dragon riders. They should be interrogating you."
Kardhoom said nothing.
Phyllis's mechanical hand shot forward and gripped Kardhoom by the jaw. "I can put a dent in your head if you don't speak up."
Kardhoom did not seem perturbed. "Your mechanical friend here is getting noticed by the soldiers I think," he said through clenched teeth.
Eddie glanced around. A trio of soldiers studied them from below. "Phyllis let him go."
She did, knocking his head against the wall.
Kardhoom smirked at them. "You don't scare me, but I bet those soldiers scare you. They're casting their muting spells, and they don't like prisoners they can't control. The ones they control, they enslave. The ones they can't control..." He gave a cruel grin, indicating the rest was obvious.
"How do you know this?" Eddie asked.
"It's a common strategy for those with the power to use it."
"But it doesn't affect you."
Kardhoom scoffed. "Anyone with an ounce of spark can beat a muting spell."
Kardhoom closed his eyes.
"Aren't you afraid they'll kill you if you're not affected by their spell?"
"They will not get the chance. Now leave me."
Kardhoom refused to answer any more of Eddie's questions. Eddie told Phyllis what he'd learned. She wanted to beat more answers out of the dragon rider, but Kardhoom was right. They didn't need the attention.
* * *
Bryce, Syd and Kai hadn't moved from where they sat near the playfield. Eddie explained their situation to them. "And you can all beat this spell," he added at the end. "Kai and Bryce have spark. And you, Syd. Kardhoom kidnapped you down in the turnpike. That probably means you have it too."
Bryce and Syd stared up at him with cow eyes. Kai didn't even look at him. She gazed down at the floor, shivering.
Eddie knelt beside Kai. "Kai, are you okay?"
"Sad," she muttered. "And tired."
"That's because the soldiers are casting a spell on you."
She didn't look up. "Why?"
"I don't know. I guess they're afraid of all the people coming to their city. They want to control us. We won't bother them if we're sad."
It appeared to take a tremendous effort for Kai to raise her eyes to meet Eddie's. "Are you sad?" she asked.
"Only because you are. But you can stop being sad if you want. You can use your spark to stop the soldiers."
Eddie thought about it. He didn't know how to use magic. Kardhoom was meditating. Was that the key? "Close your eyes."
"Now listen to your thoughts. What do they tell you?"
She sat for a moment.
"My thoughts are slow. They're like sloth thoughts."
"That's the spell. What else do you feel?"
"There's something coming from the sides of my head?"
"What is it?"
"I don't know. It feels like..." Her brow furrowed. "It feels like someone is shoving clouds in through my ears."
"Clouds in your ears?"
"Yeah. They're warm... and they hum. I think the clouds are making me sad."
"Can you keep the clouds out?"
Her hands balled into little fists, and her mouth twisted into a knot. "Get out, clouds."
She tensed for a moment, then looked up at Eddie. "I think it helped a little."
"Good, practice keeping the clouds out."
She took a deep breath. Suddenly, her whole posture changed. She sat up, and an enormous grin stretched across her face. "I'm stronger than the clouds," she cheered.
Eddie leaned forward and dropped his hands on her shoulders. "Good, Kai. That's good. But..." He whispered in her ear. "Don't let the soldiers see you happy."
She frowned, but now with genuine wonder rather than hopelessness. "Why?"
"Because until we find out what we should do next, we need the soldiers to think their spell is working."
"You want me to be happy and look sad?"
She puzzled over this for a moment, then put on her most dramatic frown.
"That will have to do."
"Can I go play now?"
"Um, as long as you don't act like you're playing."
"I can play like I'm sad."
Kai jumped off her chair and hopped down the stairs towards the playfield.
"Kai," Eddie called in a harsh whisper.
She turned, grinning.
Eddie frowned and pointed at his face.
Kai's morose frown returned.
"Don't run," he said.
"Okay," she said and walked briskly towards a bunker next to a pyramid.
Phyllis had been trying to get a rise from Syd without results.
"Kai was able to beat the blues," Eddie said.
Bryce muttered, half heartedly.
"Good for her."
"It just took a little meditation."
"Huh." Bryce said.
"You need to think about their influence on your mind and block it out."
Bryce muttered again.
"Leave me alone."
Phyllis knocked Eddie in the shoulder. Eddie looked up and Phyllis nodded upwards. Eddie spotted a trio of soldiers watching him from above. he understood at once. They were doubling their efforts to cast the shroud on Eddie's group.
Eddie nodded at Phyllis. She nodded back. They both sat down on the bench next to Bryce, hung their heads and stared at the floor.
"What do we do now?" Phyllis whispered.
"Look for a way out?"
"I could always escape on my own tonight. I'd go get Melbourne. He'd put an army together and rescue his son."
"I don't think that would go well. For anyone."
"There's got to be a way out of here for all of us. Maybe we could convince them we have the plague or—"
A shout of alarm cut him short. Eddie spun. One of the soldiers that had been watching his group now stared up at the top of the stadium. There, perched on the leaderboard, stood a dragon.