Eddie dropped the mayor's staff on the bedroom floor. He put up his hands. "This is not what it looks like."
Earlie sneered. He remained outside the mayor's bedroom door, only his head pushing into the room. "Looks like breaking and entering to me."
"But I didn't break anything." Eddie frowned. "How'd you get past the ghost dog?"
Earlie scoffed. "It's called a spirit sentinel, and his name is Demetri. Demetri don't bother me. I'm law enforcement, so I get a pass. Question is, how'd you get past him?"
Eddie fought the fear in his eyes and threw out his chest. "Obviously, I'm a friend. I'm meant to be here."
"Right. Or the blacksmith's boy was a distraction. I saw him running off when I showed up. It wasn't hard to figure out you two were in cahoots on some kind of heist. It's over now. Come on out."
It occurred to Eddie that Earlie hadn't yet set foot into the room. His head barely extended past the threshold. And did he look nervous?
"I'm not a thief," Eddie said. "I'm here to figure out what happened to the mayor."
"He was taken by the dragon man."
"Yes, but how did the dragon man get past the warding on the door? I think he broke the enchantment somehow."
"What are you talking about?"
Eddie thought fast. He was making this up as he went along. "There's nothing protecting this room," he said. "After all, I managed to get in."
Earlie stared at him, weighing what Eddie had said. He looked around the room carefully. "And you're trespassing. You can't just walk in here."
"I had no choice," Eddie said, throwing up his arms. "If we're going to fight the Ord adept..."
"The dragon man. If we want to beat him, I needed to come in here and find a weapon. Getting in was easy."
Earlie took one last look around the room, then appeared to make up his mind. He stepped through the doorway, walking straight for Eddie. "I told you, boy. We don't need to fight the dragon man. We only need to... give... him... the..."
Earlie's approach grew slower and slower as he moved. He didn't appear to notice the change, but as his arm reached up to grasp Eddie's collar, he froze entirely, his eyes fixed with bullying malice.
Eddie stared at the man. Earlie was beyond paralyzed. He was as still as a statue. When Eddie passed a hand before his face, Earlie's eyes remained fixed in their malicious gaze.
The warding amulet—it had frozen Earlie. But the amulet, like the spirit sentry, had done nothing to Eddie. Was he impervious to magic? If that were true, the woman on the ranch wouldn't have been able to heal him. What did it mean?
Eddie stooped and grabbed the wizard's cloak. As an afterthought, he took the ornate staff as well.
* * *
He found Tim cowering in the hedges. "How'd you get out of there?" Tim asked, stupefied. "I saw Earlie and panicked."
"Earlie's frozen in the mayor's bedroom. It was some kind of magic security system."
Tim glanced over the cloak and staff. "But you made it."
Eddie shrugged. "Somehow."
Tim tapped his lips thoughtfully. "Sounds like there's one more thing about you that doesn't add up."
"Maybe so," Eddie said, pulling Tim out through the hedge and back to the street. "We can talk about it later. Right now, let's get out of here."
They walked in silence for a few minutes, Eddie carrying the cloak under his shirt. He kept the staff between himself and Tim, careful to keep it from the eyes of anyone watching. The streets were empty, the townsfolk apparently too scared to leave the security of their homes, but a few suspicious faces watched from the windows.
"How are we going to stop the Ord adept?" Eddie asked.
"I've got a couple of ideas."
"Yes. I'll help you, but..." Tim trailed off, as if afraid to continue.
"But I want something in return for my help."
Eddie slowed. He turned to face Tim. "We don't have much."
"I don't need much. I want to get out of this town."
Eddie stopped all together. "Why? Don't you want to stick around and find out what happened to this town?" He waved his hand at what should have been the sky. A perpendicular landscape stretching up and out at impossible angles. "Your perpetual motion machine... your..."
"There's more mysteries beyond this town," Tim said, resuming his walk. "You've proven that this whole world is an aberration. It doesn't make sense. It's all pieces of a puzzle. I won't be able to put them together from here. I need to be on the move."
They resumed their walk. Eddie thought about the accusations he'd heard over the past few days. Old Petunia had thought he was trouble. The boy Wink had said he had destroyed the future. The Sheriff said he was lying when he said he wasn't responsible. What did it all mean? What had Eddie done? And why couldn't he remember?
"I'd like to know what's happened to the world too," Eddie muttered. "It seems like there's been a lot of damage. Someone needs to fix it."
Tim laughed. "That may be beyond us. I only want to understand."
"Yeah. That would be a good start."
"So where would we go from here?"
Eddie plotted out a map of the territory in his mind. To the west, the river and the desert. To the east...
The dragon rider had told Montrose that three unmistakable mountain peaks lay to the northeast. The announcer on the radio had also spoken of such a place, to the north of the city of Graden. It wasn't enough to be sure, but...
"There's a city east of here called Graden," Eddie said. "They're trying to figure out what happened to the world too."
"I've never heard of it," Tim said.
"I heard about it on the radio."
"They're offering a reward for a living dragon rider."
"A big reward?"
"Is that a lot?"
Eddie shrugged. "It's pretty good where I come from."
"So, we're going to be bounty hunters?"
They approached the blacksmith's shop from the back lot. No smoke rose from the shop's smokestack. "My boss is still out cold," Tim said. "Otherwise, he'd be back at work."
They approached the back door. "Now we need to get our plan together," Eddie said.
Tim pulled his door open. "Sure. We save the girl, we bring our prisoner to justice and we get rich. We need to fill in the..."
Bryce stood swaying in the middle of Tim's small room. He fixed them with a bleary one-eyed stare. "Girl? Prisoner? What the hell did I miss?"