"That's quite a story," Kevin said when Hera was through. "And how did you think you were going to get down from off this mountain?"
Hera answered. The phone translated. "They wanted to kill me. I wasn't thinking beyond that."
"I've seen the Ord," Ruby said. "And their dragons. I was in a village they attacked a couple days ago. They almost got me."
Hera's eyes locked on Ruby. "If they had known it was you," she said through the translation, "they would have treated you with more respect."
Ruby threw up her hands. "I don't get it. What's so special about me? I mean, why the statue? And why do you stare at me? What do you want me to do?"
Hera's eyes widened. "You mean you don't know?"
"Of course I don't. You treat me like I'm some kind of... some kind of hero or something."
"You are hope. You are the deliverer."
"Before they imprisoned my father, he took me to see your statue."
"It's not my statue. It just looks like me."
"He took me for a walk in the town square, and he stopped in front of the statue. It had been there as long as I can remember, although I did not know its story. I don't think anyone does. Those who spoke of it referred to it as 'Lady Chaos.'"
Hera shrugged "My father stopped and pointed at the statue and said, 'This is Ruby, whose name in the ancient Eornish tongue means Hope. And that is what she is. She is our only hope. If this city is to survive, it will be up to her to cast out the darkness and save the innocents.'"
They all fell quiet. Ruby dropped her eyes, feeling uncomfortable. Even Kevin stared at her now.
"You don't believe this crap," Ruby asked him. "Do you?"
Kevin shrugged. "I don't know what to believe anymore. I'm living on an impossible mountain peak. I've seen dragons and witnessed alternate versions of Earth in the sky. When science gets turned on its ear, you've got to learn the rules all over again."
Ruby frowned. What was she supposed to do? The only thing she'd accomplished since the mishmash event was abandon her brother, develop blisters and narrowly escape death once or twice. She was always the victim, never the hero.
"I've got to be alone for a minute," she said, rushing towards the door.
* * *
She sat at the edge of the precipice, her feet dangling into the frigid, icy air below the temperate zone. Above, the stars blazed with an intensity Ruby had never seen prior to the change. Below her, the city of Cavaheim twinkled.
What was she going to do now? If she returned to Colonel Martin and the others from her street, could they help her? Of course not. They were barely hanging on themselves. Ruby was all alone in this world with nowhere to go.
Her thoughts turned to Eddie, the stuttering boy who always noticed her as he passed. She hardly knew him, but he seemed to be on her side. Could she find him? Maybe together they would find a place that made sense far from here. She'd left her phone in the observatory. She wanted to call him, but she was afraid to go back and face Hera. That girl wanted to drop the fate of an entire city on her shoulders.
" Sarra esdspreo ," Hera said behind her. A digital voice translated. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Ruby didn't turn around.
"You didn't know. You didn't know who you are. I'm asking you to go save the city I wasn't brave enough to save."
"But they need you."
Ruby bit her lip. She felt like crying. How could she answer this girl? How could she make Hera understand that she was nobody? Down in the Vayna village, the Kinsha had said she had potential as a warrior. That was hard enough to believe. Most of the time, she barely kept from tripping over her own shoelaces. Now she's the savior of a city?
Ruby stood up, avoiding Hera's gaze. She moved passed her.
"Ruby?" Hera called.
Ruby ignored her. She returned to the observatory. She found Kevin on the platform, hunched over his laptop, footage from the Cavaheim feed speeding by in rapid motion.
"What are you doing?" Ruby asked, moving to get a better look at the screen.
"Just checking out the recorded footage of that city down there. There's some incredible shots of dragons flying by."
When a dragon flashed on the screen, Kevin stopped the footage, reversed it, and played it at normal speed. As it soared across the screen, he pointed. "Can you believe it? An actual dragon? They don't seem as real when you see them from miles away."
Ruby studied the people in the shot. Soldiers in gold helmets, women in colorful dresses and capes, robed Ord, men in suits with exaggerated collars and broad neckties, vagabonds in threadbare wools. There were gray-skinned people like the Vayna, but wearing suits and dresses that wouldn't have looked too out of place in the Victorian era. All of them going about their lives, but in their faces, Ruby sensed their anxiety.
Once the dragon was past, Kevin sped up the footage.
"When was this recorded?" Ruby asked.
"Earlier this evening. Kevin didn't move from his hunched position. His eyes remained fixed on the screen."
Ruby watched the people move in fast motion. A trace of powder blue blipped in a lower corner of the screen. Ruby started. "Stop! Go back."
The feed footage stopped and reversed. After a few seconds, Ruby cried "Stop."
The footage froze. And there in the lower left corner of the screen was the terrified face of Mai Martin. Her hands were tied together in front of her on a rope that held a string of prisoners together. At the edge of the screen, Ruby spotted the Vayna woman who had flown above the bonfire nights before.
"What are they doing with them?" Ruby asked.
"They are human sacrifices," said Kevin's phone. Hera stood in the doorway, gazing up at the footage, holding the phone before her. "To be burned in the fires of Kaj'jic."
"But that's Mai. She's my... I mean, I know her."
"She will burn like the rest."
"Her grandfather will rescue her."
"Her grandfather can take on a legion of Ord warrior priests, along with their battalion of soldiers?"
"You think I can?"
Ruby scoffed. "How?"
"I don't know."
They stared at each other. The observatory fell silent. Kevin stood up and stretched his back. "I'm hungry. Anyone interested in peanut butter and Ritz crackers?"
Ruby continued to stare down Hera, but she couldn't deny that her stomach was ready to implode. "Uh, yeah. That would be... nice."
They all ate crackers and peanut butter. For a while, no one said anything. Then Ruby had a thought. "Skylar, are you awake?"
Skylar once again zipped out from behind the coffeemaker. She flew to a position two feet in front of Ruby's face and saluted.
"Is the coffee maker so hard to fix?"
"It does make a pretty bitter brew," Kevin said.
"Skylar, I need to get off this mountain."
Skylar nodded and pointed at the parachute.
"That's what I figured. Will you help me pack it?"
Skylar nodded again. She moved to get it but Ruby held up a hand. "Is there a way to get these other two down as well?"
The fixie frowned, She gripped her chin as if in deep thought, then shrugged.
Kevin put up a hand. "Let me get this straight. You're going to jump off this mountain?"
"Unless you have a helicopter."
"No. And a helicopter couldn't fly at this altitude anyway. It's suicide out there."
"But if we sit around here and wait for someone to rescue us, we'll all starved."
Ruby regarded Skylar. "Could you get more parachutes up here?"
Skylar pointed at the door, then held her hands to her throat and made a choking gesture.
"I know it's bad out there for you. I'll keep you in my pocket when I go down. So if you were down, could you send more parachutes up here, like you got me here, with a springboard or something."
"I don't want to leave," Kevin said. "There's too much information here to process, and I'd be useless down below. I just need provisions."
"How about a springboard for food," Ruby asked Skylar. "You could send provisions up here to keep Kevin alive."
Skylar grinned and nodded.
"How about you, Hera. Do you think you could parachute off this mountain if I send you a chute."
Hera shook her head. "I don't understand. You want me to jump?"
"It's complicated. A parachute will slow down your fall. It's not so bad."
Hera took a nervous step back. "I don't think so."
"Well, I'm going down," Ruby said. "After I sleep."
"You'll save my city?" Hera asked.
"I don't know what I'll do. I haven't thought that far ahead. For now, I'm fighting back the terror of jumping off a mountain."