Over the next two hours, little happened. Eddie caught sight of Kai and Timmy a few times, running among the bunkers on the playfield. He wanted to keep Kai away from the boy, but he didn't want to go anywhere near the kid. What would happen if the boy touched him? would he die? Who was this kid anyway?
The Leaderboard showed that lunch would be served at noon. The refugee number for processing had only advanced to 230. At the rate they were going, it would be more than a year before Eddie's number came up.
Phyllis arrived before lunch. "I've got one bar pushed out of our way," she whispered to the others as they climbed the steps to get in line for food. "One more bar and we'll get out with no trouble."
"You think Syd can swim in his condition?" Bryce asked, glancing back at the young man. Syd sat listening to them, his expression blank.
"I'll drag him out if I have to," Phyllis said.
Their little group was among the first to get into the lunch line. Eddie took the bowl handed to him, held it out for a ladle of grayish stew, then advanced to get a water bottle. He accepted it without looking up.
"I need to speak to you," said the woman serving him.
He looked up and nearly choked. It was Galatina the prophetess, wearing a pale apron and a kerchief over her hair.
"What are you..."
"Shhh. Come with me. Bring your friend." She nodded to Bryce.
Bryce stopped and stared. "Hey, that's—"
"Shh!" she demanded and withdrew behind a stack of supplies.
Eddie and Bryce shared a confused glance and followed. She waited, her arms folded.
"What do you want," Bryce demanded.
She scowled at him and pointed at her ear. No earbud. No translator.
"How did you know I would understand you?" Eddie asked.
"Of course you understand. You're at the center of all this."
"The dead center of everything. Don't you know?"
Eddie threw up his hands. "How should I—"
She put a hand over his mouth. "Shut up and listen. I believe your story about the Rat Messiah. I don't know why you pretend to be ignorant about so many things, but that doesn't matter."
"Why didn't you tell the mayor you believe me?"
"Because the mayor is a bureaucratic idiot with no idea how to handle a crisis like this. Neither does the army. I looked into the future and saw that if I told him what I knew, many lives would be lost in a senseless battle with no change in the final outcome. The best bet for our future lies with you two. The Rat Messiah must be stopped."
"Well what can we do?"
"You can tell me where the dragon rider's weapon is. Do you have it?"
"What's she saying?" asked Bryce.
"She wants me to tell her where the dragon rider's ring is?"
"Well, don't tell her."
Eddie turned to Galatina. "Why do you need to know?"
"It will help us to get you two out of here. I've foreseen it."
"I thought prophecy didn't work anymore."
Galatina's eyes widened. "Who told you this?"
"I've run into people who see the future. Since the mishmash event, they can't predict anything anymore."
She stood taller. "Well, none of them are the Great Galatina."
"Also, everyone who can read the future always freaks out when they see me."
Her scowl deepened. "Obviously."
"Where is the dragon rider's weapon? What is it?"
Eddie folded his arms and stared at the ground. What was the point in keeping it from her?
"It's a large metallic ring. It's in the glove box of his convertible." Eddie nodded at Bryce. "Out in the parking lot. The car is blue, and the top is up."
Galatina nodded. "Good. Things will happen this evening just after sunset."
"You will see. Be ready."
* * *
The afternoon was quiet. The refugees laid on their benches, staring, some rocking and weeping. Soldiers marched around the upper tier of the stadium. Kai stayed away from Eddie, occasionally appearing with Timmy somewhere on the playfield. Phyllis spent another two hours in the stream before returning with a hint of a grin. "I've taken out four bars. We could fit a mope through the hole I created."
She spent the rest of the afternoon with Bryce, trying to convince Syd to block out the influence of the shroud.
Eddie had told them all what Galatina had said. She would rescue them. They were the world's best hope of stopping the king in Cavaheim.
"What's her plan?" Bryce asked. "How is she supposed to get us out of here?"
"She didn't say."
Bryce and Phyllis shared a look. "I think we should stick with our own plan for escape," Bryce said. "Go out through the stream."
"I agree," said Phyllis. "This woman sounds untrustworthy."
Eddie sat with his head bowed through the rest of the afternoon. He didn't have to pretend he was as dejected as the refugees around him. He was depressed. They were wasting time here. Ruby was somewhere to the north, close to the people who wanted to destroy the world. He wanted to call her, to see how she was. Instead, he was stuck here in this stupid stadium, regretting the bargain he'd made with the Lamia, fearing what would happen if he got the stone wet.
He could bury it.
Except what good would that do? The playfield was in sight of a few thousand refugees and a couple hundred soldiers. If he buried the stone, someone would see him do it and dig it up, and if they were anything like Bryce, they'd feel compelled to throw it into the stream. He scanned the playfield...
The bunkers. He could bury it in a stone bunkers down on the field out of everyone's sight. Did that guarantee that no one would ever dig up the stone? No, but it wouldn't happen for a while. Maybe the magic would wear off after a while. And maybe he could sneak back in on another day and retrieve the stone to move it to a safer place.
As the sky turned to late afternoon gold, Eddie resolved to his plan. He left the others, followed the steps down onto the playfield and headed for the nearest stone bunker. He kept his head down and his pace slow—no reason to draw unnecessary attention from the soldiers now.
The bunker was a block of concrete slabs with an open side at one end and a slot for viewing the playfield on the other. Thankfully, it was empty. The floor was hard packed earth. Eddie stood in the open end and stared down at the ground. How would he dig without a shovel?
He puzzled over this for a minute, looking around the field for anything he could use. He could always use Bryce's knife to loosen the soil, but he didn't want to explain to his friend what he was up to. The only thing he had to work with, he decided, was the stone itself.
Eddie hunkered down in the bunker, pulled out the stone, and pounded the narrowest end into the soil. Fortunately, the dirt was moist from the recent rain, and he carved a shallow depression. He scraped dirt aside. His progress was slow. As the sunlight faded over the stadium, he had a shallow impression and a handful of dirt, barely enough to conceal the rock. As he pressed the rock in, he heard a scuffle outside the bunker. He turned.
Phyllis crouched there, eye wide, staring down at the rock.
"What is that," she asked, her eye wide with reverent awe.
He moved in front of it to block her view. "It's just that rock. You've seen it before."
"I didn't really see it before. It—" She licked her lips. "It needs to go in the stream."