Eddie crouched behind a rock, waiting for some sign of an advantage. The sentries continued to march around the outside of the shrine. Eddie ducked and skirted over rocks, looking for a better vantage to see the shrine's layout. He spotted Kai through a gap in the statues, sitting huddled away from the others. She was not tied up like Bryce and Syd. Neither was Barlow's wife. The beautiful, vacant-faced woman stood near the bonfire, swaying slightly, gazing into the flames.
Eddie continued his half circuit around the shrine. He found that on the far side, the guards halted their march early, not reaching the far edge of the cavern. It was a small gap in their security, but not much of one. He wouldn't be able to sneak past them that way. There was no place for him to hide.
As he searched the cavern wall, his phone rang. He slumped behind a boulder, groped in his pocket, fished it out and silenced it.
Had the sentries heard? He waited a few seconds. He was far enough, and the distant waterfall gave enough sound cover that he would probably be safe. He answered it.
"Hello?" he said in a low, hushed voice.
"Eddie, are you there?"
"Ruby, this isn't a good—"
"Eddie, do you remember when you told me about that town that defied gravity?"
"...and there was a woman there. I think you called her a ninja knight."
"Yeah. Ruby, listen..."
"She wants to talk to you."
"Translator boy," said a new voice. He remembered her. Montrose of the Knights of Truth.
"I need you to help me talk to these people."
"I don't have a lot of—"
"Fine. We'll be brief."
For the next five minutes, Eddie sat crouched beside a rock and translated a conversation between Montrose and a band of refugees from Cavaheim. As he did, the daylight at the top of the volcano tube dimmed. The sunlight which had reached halfway down the cavern wall when he entered, now traced only the upper edge of the rim.
He interrupted the conversation. "Listen, I have to go."
"Very well," said Montrose. "But I will need your services again in the future."
"Take care of yourself, Eddie," said Ruby. "I hope we meet up soon."
"Yeah. Me too."
He wanted to say something else. He didn't want to leave Ruby like this, but he had so much to do. Montrose said, "Well, do you have to go or don't you?"
"Oh, yeah. Take care, Ruby." He clicked off.
Ruby and Montrose? Well, that was weird. Hopefully he'd live long enough to learn how they teamed up.
He turned and inspected the scene. The sentries continued to guard the perimeter, leaving a broad gap between their marched circuit and the far wall.
His only way past the sentries was to get through that gap in their line. But even if he got past them, what then? He was outnumbered, facing an enemy that had overpowered a cyborg with superhero strength and speed. What did he have?
Screw it, he thought. One thing at a time. Eddie crawled on his belly, inching forward through the dirt. He made it only a few feet when he found himself nose to nose with a fat rat the size of a beaver. Its whiskers twitched, its beady eyes fixed on Eddie.
Eddie couldn't move. Any reaction he made would be spotted by the sentries. The staring contest persisted for half a minute, and Eddie pushed backwards to retreat to his former hiding place. He'd only moved an inch when the rat lunged forward. Eddie threw his arms around his face, but rather than attacking, the rat leapt, jumped off Eddie's back and continued past him. Eddie almost sighed with relief. Then two more giant rats raced over him, cutting into the procession of sentries. Behind him rose startled gasps and grunts of displeasure. The rats distracted the sentries. Eddie used the opportunity to propel himself forward, crawling, then running ducked low to the cavern wall.
The rock wall had a gap Eddie hadn't seen from his hiding place. It folded inward, revealing a cave. Eddie raced straight into it. The instant he reached the darkness within, he realized his mistake. His face brushed passed warm bodies. Chittering protests erupted all around him. For a moment, he feared he'd run into yet another wall of the grotesque faces he'd seen earlier. The flapping wings and escaping bodies told him what he'd found. This was a tightly packed family of bats hanging from a low cave ceiling. They erupted out of the mouth past him, squeaking and swirling.
Soon, Eddie was alone, standing ankle deep in a stinking pile of warm guano. The alarmed sentries outside cried out with fearful "Eeap eeap" noises.
Eddie poked his head out to spy on the gurgs. They ran in chaotic circles, fleeing the swooping cloud of bats. The gurgs within the shrine took up the fearful lament, cowering with hands over the heads. Their faces remained as expressionless as fish.
This was the distraction Eddie needed. He skirted the cavern wall, ducking low, and sidestepped into the enclosure of the shrine. He stopped behind one of the dancing lady statues and studied the scene.
Kardhoom stood annoyed beside the bonfire, glaring at the now panicked gurgs as they ran in every direction, bumping into each other and crawling into the shadowy corners of the cavern. One ran right into Eddie from behind, bounced back, and continued deeper into the shadows.
"Stand still," Kardhoom demanded. "Stay at your posts. Your cowardice is pathetic."
Bryce lay with his hands and feet tied behind his back, watching the scene and struggling against his bonds. Syd lay next to him, also tied. Kai stood apart from the rest, watching the bats swirl above with wonder in her eyes. Barlow's wife remained by the fire, gazing into the flames and swaying, showing no interest in the chaos around her.
It occurred to Eddie that Bryce had the Swiss Army knife in his pocket. Eddie could use it to free them all. But there was no way he could walk out into the open without Kardhoom noticing.
A gurg's spear lay in the dirt beside the statue. Eddie grabbed it. It wasn't much bigger than a fireplace poker, but it was better than nothing. An idea formed as he stared down at it. He snuck in the shadows to the next statue, closer to Kai. He poked his head around the corner and whistled low. When Kai didn't respond, he hissed "Kai."
The girl turned. When she saw him, she grinned. "Dog birds. They scare everyone."
Eddie waved her over. Kai came to him.
"Kai, can you make the dog birds gather around Kardhoom?" When she looked confused, he said, "The angry dragon man there. Can you make the birds fly at him?"
"Why would they want to fly at him?" Kai asked.
"Because you will tell them it's a really fun place to be."
"Is that true?"
"It is for us."
"How do I tell them?"
Eddie frowned. "How did you bring the mopes to you?"
"Can you talk to the dog birds?"
Kai thought about it. She walked out into the bonfire light, opened her mouth and called in a high, clear voice. She sang an impromptu melody that swirled and bounced like the bats above them.
The change to the bats was immediate. They stopped swirling and cut directly into the shrine, a wave of retreating gurgs fleeing before them. Soon, the chaos across the cavern concentrated itself into a knot of terrified bodies and circling bats. The eye of the storm was Kardhoom, waving his hands and shouting curses.
Eddie shuffled up next to Kai. "Very good, Kai."
"The bats aren't happy here," she whispered to him. "They don't like the fire."
He drew her back behind the statue. "Tell them they can stay away from the fire, but the big man is a bad man. Tell them he needs to be punished. And stay back here."
Kai resumed her song, and the bats widened their circle, following the ring of statues, but cutting in to swoop close to Kardhoom. He waved his arms, still swearing. Eddie used this opportunity to crouch-run towards Bryce. He was halfway there when Kardhoom spotted him.
"You!" he spat. He raised his palm, the magic ring clutched against it, and aimed it at Eddie.