Kardhoom, still crouched, aimed his hand at Eddie. His palm exploded with blue energy, and he directed it like a laser blast.
Eddie stiffened. The blue light engulfed him...
...and passed through him, leaving him unaffected.
They shared a look of shock. Kardhoom's mouth hung open. Eddie stood rigid, bracing against a wave of pain that never came.
Then he realized he still held the gurg spear. He jumped at Kardhoom, closing the distance between them. Kardhoom shook himself from his petrified stance and retreated, jumping over a corner of the bonfire and fleeing into the shadows.
Eddie considered following, but the bats' distraction wouldn't last. It was getting dark out in the cavern. Soon, it would be night out, and if Kardhoom was right, he would have reinforcements.
He turned to Bryce, who continued to struggle. "Cut me out of this, man," Bryce shouted.
"Where's your knife?"
Bryce rolled to his right side. "Left pocket."
Eddie fished in and drew it out. A few seconds later, he'd cut Bryce's bonds. Bryce jumped to his feet and rubbed his wrists.
"Me too, kid," said Syd.
Eddie cut Syd's bonds and turned to Phyllis and Barlow where they hung. "How do we get them down? And where's Pip?"
Syd dropped his head. "Pip's dead," he said. "Thrown over a cliff when they tried to free us. I think that tall guy wanted to make an example of him. They did a number on Phyllis too. I need to take her back to get her repaired."
"Well, let's get them down."
"But he tried to rescue you."
"He's a monster. Do you know what he does to people?"
"Please," Barlow said.
Eddie turned to him. He'd assumed the man was unconscious.
"What will you do if I cut you down?"
"I'll kill the bastard that dragged us here, and I'll take my wife home."
Barlow grit his teeth. "Then who cares?"
"You can rot here for all I care," said Syd.
Eddie looked from one to the other. "We're wasting time," he said. He found where Barlow's rope was tied on a ring at the base of a statue. He cut the rope. Barlow tucked his head in as he hit the ground.
A high peal of noise cut the air. It was the dune buggy's horn. As it echoed in the shrine chamber, the bats dispersed, darting out of the shrine and into the greater cavern above. The gurgs remained crouched for a moment, then stood up as if nothing had happened. As Eddie cut the rope holding Barlow's ankles, the gurgs found their scattered spears and stood attentively, awaiting orders.
When the last bat had left, Kardhoom returned from the vehicles, grinning with triumph. "Your little rebellion is over," he cried, advancing. "Gurgs, seize them."
Eddie had Bryce's knife. Bryce and Syd both held short spears. Barlow drew a knife of his own from a sheath on his ankle. They stood back to back, preparing for a fight.
"We should have cut Phyllis down," Syd muttered. "She would have taken them all with one arm and one leg."
"She's failed against them twice so far," Barlow spat.
"Shut it. You haven't done so well either."
The gurgs surrounded them in a tightening circle. They ignored Barlow's wife, who remained aloof by the fire.
"Why do they obey you?" Barlow shouted. "Why do they change allegiance so quickly?"
Eddie translated the question.
Kardhoom scoffed. "They are a race of servants, bred to obey the Ord. When we left to serve in the legions of Cavaheim above ground, the gurgs remained here. They may have served you, but they will never forget their true masters."
"And they'd kill for you?" Eddie asked, not bothering to translate.
Kardhoom raised his fist. "We hold the power of gods. We serve the Gahn shikvaht . What are you compared to us?"
Eddie threw out his chest. "I am the Gahn Shikvaht!"
The gurgs all turned to him.
Eddie took a step forward. The gurgs retreated. "I am the Usurper. I am the Godsdbane. I am he who has touched the throne of God, and I'm only getting warmed up."
Kardhoom's face opened up with rage and teeth. "Kill him," he shouted.
"Why don't you kill me?" Eddie challenged. He took another step forward. "Why don't you prove your power to these servants. I'll tell you why. You have no power over me."
Kardhoom raised his palm and shot a beam of blue light at Eddie. It passed through him. He remained standing, unharmed. It took all of Eddie's willpower to avoid flinching.
The gurgs wailed with surprise.
"I command the rats on the ground and the bats in the air. I have tolerated this insolence long enough. Drop you weapons and submit to me."
Some of the gurgs complied, dropping to their knees and bowing. Others looked expectantly from Kardhoom to Eddie and back.
Kardhoom shot another beam of light, twice as bright as the previous one. It passed through and hit a statue behind Eddie, leaving a scorch mark. Kardhoom shot another, just as bright. His legs wobbled, and he fell to his knees, exhausted.
"Who do you serve?" Eddie shouted at the gurgs. "Who is your master?"
All of the gurgs bowed and dropped their spears.
"Good," Eddie shouted. "Now, seize the Ord."
"What?" Kardhoom shouted, standing again with wobbling legs. "No."
"Seize him, and bring him before me," Eddie shouted, the command in his voice betrayed by a cracking falsetto.
Kardhoom shot his beams of energy out at the approaching gurgs. They were much dimmer than before, but he was able to knock down several. When a gurg caught him by the wrist, he twisted and shot.
The beam of energy flew wide, shooting across the shrine and hit Barlow's wife in the back. She toppled forward, landing face down in the bonfire. She made no move to resist.
"No!" Barlow raced towards her, tripping over a gurg and continuing onward. He stepped into the flame, screaming as he drew her body out. Her dress was in flames. He patted them out. He crouched next to her, feeling for her breath on his cheek. Then he wailed out loud.
Eddie stared, stunned. His scheme had been working. He'd turned the tables, thinking no one would have to get hurt. Now this?
Barlow laid his wife's body down on the dusty floor and rose to his feet, his clothing smoking, his hands and arms bloody and burnt. He let out a roar of grief and rage and ran at Kardhoom, knocking gurgs aside like a juggernaut. The dragon rider toppled backwards as Barlow pounced. Barlow drove his fists down into the man's face, a roar of ferocious rage accompanying each blow.
"Mister Barlow, wait," Eddie said. He couldn't let another person die because of him.
Eddie approached, nearing Bryce. "We can't let him kill him," Eddie said.
Bryce looked uncomfortably at Eddie. "I... I don't know, Ed. He killed the man's wife."
"But they need him in Graden."
When Bryce didn't answer, Eddie turned to face him. Bryce stared at Eddie with undisguised fear.
"Bryce, what is it?"
"What are you, man?"
"I'm... I'm just me."
"He couldn't touch you."
"I'm... I guess I'm immune to psychic attacks. I learned that a few hours ago. Something's wrong with me."
"You can't be hurt?"
"You know better. If he had a gun, I'd be dead."
Barlow continued to pummel Kardhoom's face. The dragon rider no longer resisted. He lay unconscious.
"Mister Barlow," Eddie said.
Barlow ignored him. His onslaught continued without tiring, his wailing voice now ragged.
Eddie approached, the watching gurgs all parting before him.
"Mister Barlow," Eddie repeated, stopping behind the man.
Barlow spun, his upper face hidden by the mask, but his mouth a ravening maw of teeth and spittle. Blood spattered across the man's jaw. He stared up at Eddie, his chest heaving.
"Is he dead?" Eddie asked.
Barlow wheezed. Between breaths, he said, "Not yet."
"I'm sorry," Eddie said. "I'm sorry he killed your wife."
Barlow dropped his head, still fighting to catch his breath. "Not your fault," he said.
"If I had only—"
"Not your fault," Barlow repeated. "You put up a good show. You cut me down, gave me a chance."
He stared down at his bloody fists and heaved one whole-body sigh. He pushed off the unconscious man and stood up on shaking legs. "You did everything you could, kid," Barlow said.
"But your wife..."
Barlow stared back at the heap beside the bonfire. She lay there, her face black with soot and charred flesh, her eyes glistening sightlessly at the stone dome above her.
"She wasn't really alive to begin with," he said, a hint of dawning wonder in his voice.
"I— I don't know. I don't know what it means. It doesn't matter." Barlow put out a hand. "Thanks for trying, kid."
Eddie stared down at the hand. For a moment, he wondered if this gesture of friendship was a trap. "Um."
Barlow waited, his hand not moving.
Eddie took it.
The instant their hands touched, a shock burst up Eddie's arm and blasted him backwards. His sight went gray for a moment. The flickering light of the shrine spun around him. He slammed hard into the base of one of the statues and lay there, senseless.
When the spinning stopped and his head cleared, he found Bryce and Syd staring down at him.
"What is it?" Eddie asked.
"You killed him," Bryce said.
"Barlow's dead," Syd said.
Eddie struggled to stand. Bryce didn't step forward to help him.
When he stumbled forward, Kai ran out of the shadows to steady him.
"Don't touch him," Bryce warned.
Kai caught Eddie's hand and held it in both of hers. She offered an encouraging smile.
Eddie staggered forward, Kai clutching his hand as he walked. He waded through the gurgs, who stared up at him with continued wonder, past the still unconscious form of the dragon rider, to the body of Barlow at the far end of the shrine. He lay still, his arms outstretched, his mask knocked free of his face.
Eddie studied the features of that face, the staring, sightless eyes, wavy red-brown hair, the narrow jaw.
It made no sense. He was dead. Why was he dead? And why did he have that face?
Why did Barlow have Tim's face?