Prologue, Chapter 1 & 2

Slayers: Into the Firestorm

By CJ Hill

 

Prologue

 

Six years ago.

Never underestimate friendship.

 

Dirk Overdrake stood in front of a glass case in the Bonaparte Residence Museum and wondered how many years in prison people got for stealing priceless historical artifacts. A replica of Napoleon’s laurel leaf coronation crown was nestled securely behind the glass. The exhibit label reported that the original had disappeared after Napoleon’s death and no one knew where it currently was. Well, no one except Dirk, because he was pretty sure he’d seen one just like this in his father’s bedroom vault.

His father wandered over to the case, done looking at the previous display. Even while on vacation, his father looked crisp and professional, as though it were some sort of sin to put on jeans and Nikes. He wore beige pants and expensive Italian shoes, his dark hair perfectly in place.

Dirk pointed to the crown. “Hey, don’t you have one like this?”

His father made a curt shushing noise to indicate he shouldn’t speak of it here. Which pretty much answered Dirk’s question. Should he be impressed or ashamed that his father had somehow managed to get a hold of the original? He wasn’t surprised. After all, his father also had a golden breastpin worn by Julius Caesar and a small silver horse statue that had belonged to Alexander the Great. His father liked to collect souvenirs from conquerors.

Dirk’s father motioned for him to follow, and the two walked out of the museum onto the streets of Ajaccio, France. They’d already passed one statue of Napoleon on the way to the museum, and now they headed toward another.

Dirk’s father slipped a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. “Do you know why I brought you here?”

Yeah. Because his father had no idea what normal families did on vacation. Dirk’s friends were all at Disney World and the beach. Places twelve-year-olds actually wanted to go.

Dirk knew better than to say those words. “You like Napoleon because he used to live on St. Helena?”

Napoleon had been exiled on the island where his father grew up. Every time Dirk had visited St. Helena, he’d been forced to visit the Napoleon shrine there too.

“No,” his father said, drawing out the word to indicate he was turning this into one of those annoying teaching moments. “I brought you here to see the people lined up, eager to pay their money just so they can walk around the home where Napoleon was born.”

His father waved a hand in the direction of the museum. “The curators were able to recreate the drapes and wallpaper because so many people cut off pieces and saved them—as though they were relics of the saints.”

Dirk and his father had reached the second town statue of Napoleon. He sat atop a horse, wearing his gold leaf crown and gazing triumphantly out on the plaza.

“I brought you here,” his father went, “for the same reason I brought you to Julius Caesar’s tomb. Thousands of years after his death, people still daily leave flowers on his grave. What does that show you?”

Dirk shrugged. “Tourists like to throw away money?”

“No. People admire greatness. It doesn’t even matter that Napoleon lost in the end or that Caesar was murdered by his friends. Both had the wherewithal to take control of their nation’s destiny and meld it to their will.” He gestured at the statue. “War is like love. It’s better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.” He lowered his voice. “And of course, it’s better still to win.”

Dirk nodded because he knew his father would continue lecturing if he didn’t think Dirk was listening. Mostly Dirk was wondering if Napoleon would have taken his kids to Disneyland or whether he would have dragged them around to look at statues.

His father wasn’t done. “Do you want to be the sort of person Napoleon and Caesar were?”

Banished from civilization or murdered by his friends? Not really.

His father didn’t give him time to answer. “Do you want to have cities across the world named after you like Alexander the Great? Or do you want to be like one of these pathetic tourists, so devoid of your own greatness that you pay money just to see the places where a great man once stood?”

Dirk knew the right answer to this question, still he looked skyward as though pondering it. “Dirk the Great has a nice ring to it.”

His father laid his hand on Dirk’s shoulder with approval. “To be a great leader, you need to know who your enemies are. You must know how they think, where you can find them, and how they plan to destroy you.”

Dirk nodded again. It was always better to agree with his father when he went on about leadership.

His father dropped his hand from Dirk’s shoulder. “That’s why I signed you up for Dragon camp.”

Dirk cocked his head, not understanding. “There’s a camp for dragons?”

His father turned away from the statue. “No, there’s a camp for Slayers and this summer you’re going to attend. It’s time to meet your enemies.”

Dirk’s father had warned him about the Slayers enough times: kids his own age who would try to kill the dragons and him too if he got in their way. How many of them went to this camp? “You want me to fight them?” Before Dirk could decide whether to feel pumped or terrified by the idea, his father laughed.

“Not yet. You’ll learn their secrets first, their weaknesses, so you’ll know how to fight them. Never underestimate the power of friendship.”

 

Chapter 1

 

Dirk rode dragons so often that sometimes he forgot how powerful they were. But tonight wasn’t one of those times. He sat in a saddle chair astride Minerva, acutely aware that she carried danger in every wingbeat.

At Dirk’s command, Minerva raced toward Philadelphia with arrow-like determination.

Bullets wouldn’t pierce her, radar couldn’t detect her, and her talons could rip through a car like she was shredding tinfoil. But the dragon’s most destructive weapon was the electromagnetic pulse she sent out when she shrieked. Minerva had already crippled most of Boston.

Cold air whipped around Dirk, making a shrill reproachful sound. He hardly heard it. Another sound was still playing in his mind: the screams of five hatchlings, bludgeoned to death by the Slayers. He hadn’t actually been there, hadn’t heard the noise, but it replayed in his mind anyway, wouldn’t fade away into acceptance.

Down below, the shimmer of Philadelphia came into view. Time for the second strike.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, an action of defiance that began the Roman Civil War, he’d said, “The die is cast.” Those same dice were tumbling now, falling through the air. Dirk had taken a stand against his own country. No turning back now.

Fly lower, he told Minerva.

The dragon dipped lower until she skimmed a few hundred feet above the buildings. Disabling the city this way wasn’t as safe as hitting it from higher above, but with more directed pulses he could spare the areas around the hospitals. Taking out people’s lights, cars, and electronics was one thing. Taking out people’s backup generators for life support was another.

His father would probably think it was sloppy work—too compassionate—but the point of tonight’s attacks was a show of strength. And that point would still be made. Everybody would understand how vulnerable they were. The government wouldn’t know where the attacks had come from, let alone be able to prevent more.

Not even the Slayers could stop him. By the time they realized a city had been hit, Dirk would be long gone. All that practicing at camp had been for nothing.

Roar, he told Minerva.

The dragon drew in a breath, energy swelling in her lungs, then let out a shriek that matched her size. Darkness rolled outward like a black wave, extinguishing lights.

He tried not to listen for the screech of brakes or the sound of smashing metal. He didn’t want to hear the noises from drivers who’d been plunged into blindness and found their power brakes were out.

He always heard them anyway. He wondered, with a certain amount of bitter satisfaction, if Tori heard them too. The last time she’d been with Dirk, she’d gone into Minerva’s control center, but after that she’d had a run in with Khan so she might be connected to either.

More than once he’d nearly spoken to her and then decided against it. What more was there for either of them to say? Tori had chosen whose side she was going to be on, and it wasn’t his.

Dirk circled to another section of the city, blotting out more lights, ruining technology. When the dragon was done, Dirk pulled higher into the sky and turned toward Baltimore. That was the next unlucky city to receive a visit.

By the time Dirk made it home, the edges of dawn peeked over the horizon. His anger had dimmed with the stars and remorse was seeping its way into the cracks of his thoughts.

How much damage had this night’s work done?  How much suffering would it cause?

Well, this was just par for the course. No matter what he did, he was going to feel horrible. When he was loyal to his Slayer friends, dragons died. When he acted like a dragon lord, this happened.

Minerva flew across his family’s property, across the acres of trees that stood between the Overdrake’s house and the freeway. They were all bare now, just jumbles of reaching sticks. She headed to the dragon enclosure without Dirk even commanding it. She knew the drill. And this was just another night flight. Except it wasn’t.

Not my fault, Dirk told himself. Revolutions came with a cost.

Thomas Jefferson had said that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. That’s all Dirk was doing: making sure that the tree of liberty didn’t wither and die under the weight of America’s bureaucrats. It was time for some pruning.

Besides, people weren’t worth feeling remorse over. People did nothing but let you down.

Dirk took Minerva into her enclosure, unsaddled her, and fed her a half dozen sheep carcasses. She’d worked up an appetite. By the time he’d finished unpacking the weapons from the saddle, she’d devoured her meal and lain down, tail curled around herself, ready to sleep. He stopped by the fledglings’ enclosures and tossed them each a carcass so he wouldn’t have to worry about feeding them later.

As he was leaving the enclosure, he got a call from his father. “Any problems?” his father asked.

Oh, Dirk had problems but none his father wanted to hear. Dirk headed to the house, gliding above the leaf-strewn path. “I didn’t encounter any resistance.”

He’d known the first few cities wouldn’t have time to protect themselves, but he’d expected that once the nation realized it was under attack, other cities would at least try to mount a defense. But none had. The strikes had been frighteningly easy. Good thing he’d talked his father out of hitting New York and Chicago. Those two cities comprised 11 million people.

“Perfect,” his father said. “Things went flawlessly on this coast too. The nation is one step closer to shaking off the shackles of mismanagement.”

Dirk didn’t answer. Maybe his silence carried its own message.

“No one mourns the death of bureaucracies,” his father said. “Future generations will thank us.”

They might, but everyone without electricity was probably not feeling the gratitude.  Dirk’s breath came out in puffs that hung in the air, proof of the chill. And January would only get colder.

His father’s voice turned light. “My only problem is that I’ve started second guessing my decision to go by President Augustus.”

Yesterday, his father had settled on the title president because he figured it would be an easier transition for the masses. The title Augustus was from Roman history. Caesar had chosen it for himself because Augustus meant great.

“Taking over may be so easy,” his father continued, “perhaps I don’t need to help the population grasp the idea of a new dynasty. Perhaps I should go with First Citizen.” That’s what Caesar had called himself when he took power.

Dirk landed on the back patio, unlocked the door, and went inside. “First Citizen sounds like you’re taking numbers for a communist deli.”

“President it is, then. Get some rest. We’ll have another long night in front of us.” His father said the words cheerfully. He was happy, and for the first time in a long time, his father was also happy with Dirk. Proud of him.

That should have brought Dirk some comfort. Probably would later. Right now, despite his ability to fly, he felt as though his limbs were being dragged downward.

Cassie, Dirk’s stepmom, sat in the family room watching the news on TV. She was wrapped in a blanket, her dark hair tucked into its folds.

A solemn-faced man stood in front of a Costco relating how many people in Boston were without heat and transportation.

Looked like reporters from other cities had showed up before the police.

Cassie turned to Dirk, a smile perched on her lips. “Glad you’re home safe.” She returned her attention to the TV, resting her hand on her abdomen as though checking the baby. Was she glad her own children weren’t risked in the attacks or was she was eager for her son to grow up so he could take part?

The news anchor went on, “All night widespread looting has plagued the city. Alarm systems are down, phones inoperable, and police are without the vehicles or the manpower to respond to crimes.” As if to prove her point, a steady stream of people emerged from the store behind him, pushing grocery carts piled with items. The food Dirk could understand, but the furniture? And the guy hauling the big screen TV clearly didn’t understand what EMP did.

Dirk had known theft would happen, but he hadn’t anticipated so many people would be unmasked and unconcerned, strolling out of the store.

“Hospitals and pharmacies were hit especially hard,” the reporter continued.

Dirk stared at the TV in disbelief. He’d spared the hospitals and all the buildings around them. They should have been fine.

“Armed thugs forced their way into both Massachusetts General and Shriners Hospital, held staff at gunpoint and demanded narcotics and other drugs.”

While the reporter detailed more of the crime, Dirk turned away from the TV. He shouldn’t have been surprised by any of it. What had he expected—for people to pull together and help one another out? He ought to know by now not to overestimate human nature.

Cassie clicked the remote, flipping through channels. “Six cities are in near anarchy. The government will have to give Brant whatever he demands.”

An optimistic hope. Politicians never relinquished power easily, even if it meant making people suffer. “They won’t surrender after the first day.”

His father was staying at an enclosure he’d built in California and would make his way back to Pennsylvania, traveling at night and hitting more cities along the way.

“They’ll see reason soon enough.” Cassie settled on another news report. “Have you fed the dragons?”

“Yeah.” Dirk headed toward his bedroom before Cassie could think of more chores to give him. Originally Aaron was supposed to stay here and help Dirk, but their last fight had convinced their father to take Aaron with him. His brother had leaked the location of the eggs to the Slayers. Dirk was sure of it.

What was Aaron doing now? Trying to get more tactical information out of their dad? Well, it would serve his father right if Aaron betrayed him and blew the whole mission.

Dirk shouldn’t think that way. As of tonight, he’d committed himself to the revolution. No point in wishing for failure. The only way all the damage and looting would be worth it was if it led to a better government. Dirk would have to watch his brother carefully and make sure he didn’t cause more damage. And on the bright side, as long as Aaron was with his father, he couldn’t easily contact Tori and spill any other secrets.

Not that Aaron knew many. Their father hardly told Dirk anything and Dirk was a key player in the revolution. No way would his dad entrust important details to a twelve-year-old.

Dirk went to his room, threw off his clothes, and climbed into bed. He waited for sleep to wash away his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about children waking up and shivering because their houses no longer had heating. Or water pumps that no longer worked.

An hour later when his phone rang, he was still awake. Awake, but not alert. If he’d been alert, he would’ve checked the ID instead of assuming the call was from his father.

His mother’s voice poured from the phone, high with emotion. “Dirk, I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through. I shouldn’t have left you with your father. I should have found a way to take you.”

It was surreal to hear her voice. It belonged to the past, to the place of half-forgotten childhood memories, the soundtrack of years long gone. She’d been larger than life then, tall and graceful with shiny blond hair that framed her face like a halo.

“If you had a choice,” she went on, “I know you wouldn’t have been involved with this.”

How had she gotten his phone number? Dirk knew the answer as soon as he thought of the question. At some point he’d left his phone unattended and Aaron had gotten ahold of it. He’d called their mom and given her this number.

She wouldn’t be able to trace him with it. His phone was a specialized computer with a program that routed their IP address through dozens of cities.

“Dirk, are you there?” she asked.

“Yeah.” He rubbed his forehead wearily. He was too tired for this; his thoughts were too raw. “Aaron isn’t here.”

She let out a pained laugh. “I want to talk to you.”

Doubtful. He shut his eyes and let his head sink back into his pillow, not even sure if the emotion that was pulsing through him was anger or guilt.

“I love you, Dirk.”

She was only trying to manipulate him. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I do,” she insisted. “I spent years with you—how could I not know? You were the boy who used to slide tissue paper underneath my bedroom door when you heard me crying. You have more tenderness inside you than your father will ever be capable of.”

Dirk hadn’t remembered about the tissue paper until she mentioned it, and then the memory came back: the fights his parents had that always left his mother crying.

“That was a long time ago,” he said. “You don’t know me anymore.”

“I know you hate what you’ve just done.”

He didn’t answer, couldn’t contradict her.

“Find a way to leave your father,” she urged. “Go to the nearest police station and tell them you’re my son. I’ll come and get you.”

Dirk lowered his voice. “You want me to leave so I’ll take Aaron to you. He’s the one you really want.”

“I want you too.” Her voice was ragged insistence. “I’ve always wanted you.”

But not enough to take him when she skipped out. She couldn’t undo the past with a few words.

“Tell me where you are,” she said. “I’ll come for you.”

A surge of worry went through him, one that verged on protectiveness. His father had probably bugged this phone. “Don’t say that.” Dirk’s father wouldn’t appreciate hearing him warn his mother, but he had to do it anyway. “And don’t ever make a deal with my father. You’ll end up being used as pawn to force either Aaron or me into doing something we don’t want to do. Just stay away. You shouldn’t call this phone again. It isn’t safe for you.”

“Dirk, leave him. Take Aaron and go.”

How could he tell her Aaron didn’t want to go—that Dirk had already offered to help him escape and Aaron had refused?

“I can’t. I’m already a part of this.” And because he didn’t like hearing her so upset, he added, “I’m not the person you think you know. That person is gone.” He’d become someone else last night—a revolutionary. Someone whose hands were no longer clean.

He hung up, put his phone away, then went into the bathroom to find some sleeping pills. There was no way he was going to get any sleep without them and he had to get some rest. He would have to go out with Minerva tomorrow night, and this time the government would be watching for him.

 

Chapter 2

 

As Tori Hampton watched images from the news story parade across the TV screen, she put her hand to her mouth. Store windows broken, looters pouring out of buildings, police in riot gear, and army trucks making their way around deserted cars. The pictures looked like something from a war zone, not downtown Boston.

This is my fault, she thought. She’d killed the dragon hatchlings. She’d struck hard at Brant Overdrake and now he was making the country pay.

Logically, she knew these attacks had been planned before she was even born. They would have come sooner or later. But that it was sooner—her fault. And every scene of abandoned cars on the freeway increased the weight of guilt.

She never should have taken the Slayers to destroy the eggs. Maybe the Slayers could have found some other way to stop Overdrake. Maybe… but there was no use shuffling through more maybes. The war had started.

A national news reporter with perfect makeup and an expensive coat stood in front of the Faneuil Hall solemnly relaying the facts. Six cities on the East and West coasts were hit. Damages estimated to be in billions of dollars, people without electricity, and five people dead due to armed conflicts with police.

Aprilynne sat nearby on the couch, working on her laptop. Her long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but she still wore makeup, because even an attack on the nation didn’t constitute a reason to slack off on her beauty regimen. Their father had gone into work early again and left Aprilynne home to handle emails and other nonessential tasks.

Their mother was pacing across the room, talking on her phone. All morning she’d been speaking to one group chairman or another. Now she was coordinating relief efforts with someone from the Red Cross. She was an older version of Aprilynne, poised and pretty, someone who always took the duties of senator’s wife in stride without missing a beat. Only the crease between her eyebrows showed her worry.

Tori hadn’t changed out of her pajamas. Her brown hair lay in uncombed tangles down her back. She’d been so glued to the TV since she’d come downstairs for a breakfast that she’d forgotten to eat. Even though DC hadn’t been hit, her school had been canceled. A lot of politicians’ kids went to Veritas Academy and the administration worried it could be a target for attack.

The reporters went on listing the facts. The outages were obviously part of EMP blasts, but officials hadn’t released any information about what caused them. No one had claimed responsibility yet.

Between lulls in the updates, the station replayed a statement the president gave an hour ago. The Commander-in-Chief stood between two draping American flags, his suit as crisp as ever. His gaze was stern, unruffled, but the flush of his cheeks betrayed his lack of composure. “America has always stood against terrorism and condemns the cowardly acts of last night.”

The words came and went through Tori’s mind in a numb procession.

“…steps being taken to protect cities… promise retribution to those who attack us… must remain vigilant but calm.”

The next news story told about runs on grocery stores in every state. Ditto for the camping supply stores and anywhere that stocked ammunition. Shelves were empty. Bat-wielding thugs had taken to the street in all the cities that had been attacked. The TV showed National Guard members clad in camo gear, spraying people with tear gas. Apparently the country had their doubts about the government’s protection.

The president had also issued a nationwide curfew. Starting tonight, only citizens with essential tasks were allowed out of their homes after ten. Although no one clarified what constituted an essential task or whether the police would be enforcing the curfew.

All of it was happening so fast—this lawlessness, this loss of control. And Tori was sitting in her family room watching it unfold, as helpless as everyone else. The Slayers didn’t know where Overdrake would strike next. They couldn’t patrol the entire nation.

Dr. B had messaged them all this morning and said he would consider what options they had. He’d written  Eventually Overdrake will come within striking range. When he does, we’ll take action against him.

Not a lot of comfort.

The TV went black. The picture just blinked out. Tori sucked in a panicked breath. It must be EMP. They’d been hit. McLean would turn into one of those lawless cities with criminals roaming around.

Then a shrill chime went through the room and bars of colors lit up the TV. It wasn’t an EMP attack, but an emergency broadcast. She wasn’t sure whether she should feel relieved or not. On this day, what constituted an emergency?

Tori’s mother held the phone away from her ear. “Now what?”

All three of them stared at the TV, waiting. Seconds later, video of a man appeared.

He was dressed in black army fatigues and stood in front of a plain white backdrop. His helmet obscured his forehead and his sunglasses hid his eyes. In fact, the picture seemed to have a computer-generated quality to it—like someone had changed it to hide the man’s identity, but Tori still recognized him. It was Overdrake.

Tori’s mother said a quick goodbye to the Red Cross, then stepped toward the TV. “Who is that?”

Before Tori could answer, Overdrake spoke. “Last night I crippled six cities. I regret that it had to be done, but now you understand your position.” He didn’t sound regretful. He sounded smug. His voice also sounded deeper, slightly computerized. “The old government is corrupt and has lived past its usefulness. It’s strangling the people, not supporting them. Incompetent leaders cannot stand, let alone protect the country.”

He smiled at the camera and held out his hands in a welcoming motion. “A new era is here. One that sheds the bloated shell of useless bureaucracy and delivers hope for the people. My era. As of now, you may refer to me as President Augustus.”

Tori’s mother shook her head, her lips tight with disapproval. “He’s deranged.”

Aprilynne stared at the TV, open-mouthed. “How did he take over the Emergency Broadcast system?”

“Citizens who wish to preserve their cities,” he continued, “will instruct their mayors to post videos on the internet pledging their allegiance to my presidency. If you follow that instruction, your local government will remain intact. The only difference will be that instead of obeying laws created to promote politicians and their interests, you’ll obey laws put forth by a sensible leader.”

Sensible. Obviously.

“The old and ineffective president will resign immediately. Otherwise I’ll have to make an example of three more cities tonight and every night.”

Tori’s mother kept shaking her head. “He’s a megalomaniac with a death wish.”

Probably, but Tori couldn’t break her gaze from Overdrake. She felt like he was speaking to her, like he could see her there in her living room, watching. “If you don’t want your city to be one of those examples, I suggest you call or email your mayor now.”

The screen returned to the Emergency Broadcast pattern.

Tori sunk onto the couch.  Overdrake hadn’t said anything directly to her, hadn’t told the nation how this was all her fault. But what he had said was bad enough. “He’s trying to turn the people against their leaders.”

Would he be able to do it? How many frightened people were reaching for their phones right now?

Tori’s mother turned her phone back on. “He underestimates the American people. They won’t call their mayors.”

“They won’t,” Aprilynne agreed, “but only because most of them don’t know who their mayors are or how to get a hold of them.” She slumped on the couch. “I hope the authorities find that whackjob soon.”

“It’s Overdrake,” Tori said. “He’s the one I warned you about.” Yesterday, she’d told her family he’d been responsible for the attack on several military bases. Perhaps they might have believed her if she hadn’t also mentioned he was attacking with dragons.

Tori’s mother exchanged a look with Aprilynne. “The man’s face was mostly hidden,” her mother gently pointed out. “And he’s using a computer to change his voice.”

Yeah. But Tori still knew it was him. She couldn’t tell them that she’d fought him before, though. If she did, they wouldn’t let her out of the house again, and it was already hard enough to sneak away. What could she say that wouldn’t give away her identity as a Slayer?

Once again, she had to suppress the desire to use a simulator and prove she had powers. Her parents wouldn’t let her be involved in a fight against guns and dragons. The other Slayers needed her too much to risk anything. Besides, even if they believed her that Overdrake was President Augustus, what would it change? Her father wouldn’t be able to convince the nation they needed to be on the lookout for dragons.

The emergency broadcast symbol still shined resolutely from the TV screen. Tori picked up the remote and flipped through channels. Didn’t matter. The symbol was on all the stations.

Aprilynne turned her attention to her computer. “I should be able to get some live news online.”

She was right about that. Overdrake may have hijacked TV stations’ signals but he couldn’t block the internet. Tori leaned over to get a better look at her sister’s screen. Aprilynne brought up a site that showed a couple of dazed looking reporters trying to come up with something informative to say about Overdrake’s demands.

“A terrorist who has identified himself as Augustus has just issued demands.” The anchor fiddled with his earpiece. “We’re waiting for a response from government officials and will have that for you as soon as it comes in.”

Tori couldn’t watch it anymore. She pushed away from the couch, tromped into the hallway, and messaged Dirk. You don’t have to be a part of this. Leave your father. I can help protect you. At least she hoped she could. Certainly the government would protect Dirk in return for his help bringing down his father.

He didn’t answer. She hadn’t really expected him to.

Please she wrote.

No answer to that either.

Dr. B probably didn’t have anything new to report but she tapped out a message to him on her Slayer watch anyway.

Do your contacts in the government have any leads about where Overdrake is?

A few moments later he wrote back. No, but I’m keeping tabs on Senator Ethington. Senator Ethington was the Democratic front runner and one of Overdrake’s inner circle. Completely corrupt. Fortunately, the Slayers had managed to bug in his cell phone. It wasn’t the burner phone he used when he needed to speak of covert things, but since the senator usually still had his phone with him, Dr. B managed to hear part of his conversations.

Another message came from Dr. B. Have you overheard anything near the dragon that could be useful, any telling details?

Tori was half dragon lord, which meant she was always connected to one of the dragons and heard whatever it heard. Overdrake knew about this ability, however, so he never said anything near a dragon that could be useful. She got an occasion threat from him, frequent sarcastic musings, and he’d forced her to listen to the Bee Gees greatest hits multiple times. Mostly, she minimized the dragon sounds in her mind so they didn’t interfere with her life. This morning she’d listened intently. She hadn’t heard anything. Seemed like the dragon was sleeping.

No she wrote. And really, even if she did hear a dragon taking flight, the information wouldn’t be useful. Overdrake had already told the nation he would attack three cities a night. She wouldn’t be able to tell which direction the dragon was flying. For her to get that sort of information, a dragon had to be close enough that she could go deeper into its mind. And Overdrake was not likely to get that close.

She ought to be able to do something, but she couldn’t.

Dr. B wrote again. I need flyers for a mission tonight involving the senator.

Tori wrote back immediately. I’m in.

prologue and Chapter 1 of Slayers 5

First off, I’m still revising this, so keep in mind this hasn’t been copyedited and may still be changed. I’ll put up a chapter a week until the book is published, so one way or another you’ll get to read the story. (I also just realized I really don’t have enough chapters from Jesse’s point of view…so I need to do something about that too.)

Prologue

 

Six years ago.

Never underestimate friendship.

 

Dirk Overdrake stood in front of a glass case in the Bonaparte Residence Museum and wondered how many years in prison people got for stealing priceless historical artifacts. A replica of Napoleon’s laurel leaf coronation crown was nestled securely behind the glass. The exhibit label reported that the original had disappeared after Napoleon’s death and no one knew where it currently was. Well, no one except Dirk, because he was pretty sure he’d seen one just like this in his father’s bedroom vault.

His father wandered over to the case, done looking at the previous display. Even while on vacation, his father looked crisp and professional, as though it were some sort of sin to put on jeans and Nikes. He wore beige pants and expensive Italian shoes, his dark hair perfectly in place.

Dirk pointed to the crown. “Hey, don’t you have one like this?”

His father made a curt shushing noise to indicate he shouldn’t speak of it here. Which pretty much answered Dirk’s question. Should he be impressed or ashamed that his father had somehow managed to get a hold of the original? He wasn’t surprised. After all, his father also had a golden breastpin worn by Julius Caesar and a small silver horse statue that had belonged to Alexander the Great. His father liked to collect souvenirs from conquerors.

Dirk’s father motioned for him to follow, and the two walked out of the museum onto the streets of Ajaccio, France. They’d already passed one statue of Napoleon on the way to the museum, and now they headed toward another.

Dirk’s father slipped a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. “Do you know why I brought you here?”

Yeah. Because his father had no idea what normal families did on vacation. Dirk’s friends were all at Disney World and the beach. Places twelve-year-olds actually wanted to go.

Dirk knew better than to say those words. “You like Napoleon because he used to live on St. Helena?”

Napoleon had been exiled on the island where his father grew up. Every time Dirk had visited St. Helena, he’d been forced to visit the Napoleon shrine there too.

“No,” his father said, drawing out the word to indicate he was turning this into one of those annoying teaching moments. “I brought you here to see the people lined up, eager to pay their money just so they can walk around the home where Napoleon was born.”

His father waved a hand in the direction of the museum. “The curators were able to recreate the drapes and wallpaper because so many people cut off pieces and saved them—as though they were relics of the saints.”

Dirk and his father had reached the second town statue of Napoleon. He sat atop a horse, wearing his gold leaf crown and gazing triumphantly out on the plaza.

“I brought you here,” his father went, “for the same reason I brought you to Julius Caesar’s tomb. Thousands of years after his death, people still daily leave flowers on his grave. What does that show you?”

Dirk shrugged. “Tourists like to throw away money?”

“No. People admire greatness. It doesn’t even matter that Napoleon lost in the end or that Caesar was murdered by his friends. Both had the wherewithal to take control of their nation’s destiny and meld it to their will.” He gestured at the statue. “War is like love. It’s better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.” He lowered his voice. “And of course, it’s better still to win.”

Dirk nodded because he knew his father would continue lecturing if he didn’t think Dirk was listening. Mostly Dirk was wondering if Napoleon would have taken his kids to Disneyland or whether he would have dragged them around to look at statues.

His father wasn’t done. “Do you want to be the sort of person Napoleon and Caesar were?”

Banished from civilization or murdered by his friends? Not really.

His father didn’t give him time to answer. “Do you want to have cities across the world named after you like Alexander the Great? Or do you want to be like one of these pathetic tourists, so devoid of your own greatness that you pay money just to see the places where a great man once stood?”

Dirk knew the right answer to this question, still he looked skyward as though pondering it. “Dirk the Great has a nice ring to it.”

His father laid his hand on Dirk’s shoulder with approval. “To be a great leader, you need to know who your enemies are. You must know how they think, where you can find them, and how they plan to destroy you.”

Dirk nodded again. It was always better to agree with his father when he went on about leadership.

His father dropped his hand from Dirk’s shoulder. “That’s why I signed you up for Dragon camp.”

Dirk cocked his head, not understanding. “There’s a camp for dragons?”

His father turned away from the statue. “No, there’s a camp for Slayers and this summer you’re going to attend. It’s time to meet your enemies.”

Dirk’s father had warned him about the Slayers enough times: kids his own age who would try to kill the dragons and him too if he got in their way. How many of them went to this camp? “You want me to fight them?” Before Dirk could decide whether to feel pumped or terrified by the idea, his father laughed.

“Not yet. You’ll learn their secrets first, their weaknesses, so you’ll know how to fight them. Never underestimate the power of friendship.”

 

Chapter 1

 

Dirk rode dragons so often that sometimes he forgot how powerful they were. But tonight wasn’t one of those times. He sat in a saddle chair astride Minerva, acutely aware that she carried danger in every wingbeat.

At Dirk’s command, Minerva raced toward Philadelphia with arrow-like determination.

Bullets wouldn’t pierce her, radar couldn’t detect her, and her talons could rip through a car like she was shredding tinfoil. But the dragon’s most destructive weapon was the electromagnetic pulse she sent out when she shrieked. Minerva had already crippled most of Boston.

Cold air whipped around Dirk, making a shrill reproachful sound. He hardly heard it. Another sound was still playing in his mind: the screams of five hatchlings, bludgeoned to death by the Slayers. He hadn’t actually been there, hadn’t heard the noise, but it replayed in his mind anyway, wouldn’t fade away into acceptance.

Down below, the shimmer of Philadelphia came into view. Time for the second strike.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, an action of defiance that began the Roman Civil War, he’d said, “The die is cast.” Those same dice were tumbling now, falling through the air. Dirk had taken a stand against his own country. No turning back now.

Fly lower, he told Minerva.

The dragon dipped lower until she skimmed a few hundred feet above the buildings. Disabling the city this way wasn’t as safe as hitting it from higher above, but with more directed pulses he could spare the areas around the hospitals. Taking out people’s lights, cars, and electronics was one thing. Taking out people’s backup generators for life support was another.

His father would probably think it was sloppy work—too compassionate—but the point of tonight’s attacks was a show of strength. And that point would still be made. Everybody would understand how vulnerable they were. The government wouldn’t know where the attacks had come from, let alone be able to prevent more.

Not even the Slayers could stop him. By the time they realized a city had been hit, Dirk would be long gone. All that practicing at camp had been for nothing.

Roar, he told Minerva.

The dragon drew in a breath, energy swelling in her lungs, then let out a shriek that matched her size. Darkness rolled outward like a black wave, extinguishing lights.

He tried not to listen for the screech of brakes or the sound of smashing metal. He didn’t want to hear the noises from drivers who’d been plunged into blindness and found their power brakes were out.

He always heard them anyway. He wondered, with a certain amount of bitter satisfaction, if Tori heard them too. The last time she’d been with Dirk, she’d gone into Minerva’s control center, but after that she’d had a run in with Khan so she might be connected to either.

More than once he’d nearly spoken to her and then decided against it. What more was there for either of them to say? Tori had chosen whose side she was going to be on, and it wasn’t his.

Dirk circled to another section of the city, blotting out more lights, ruining technology. When the dragon was done, Dirk pulled higher into the sky and turned toward Baltimore. That was the next unlucky city to receive a visit.

By the time Dirk made it home, the edges of dawn peeked over the horizon. His anger had dimmed with the stars and remorse was seeping its way into the cracks of his thoughts.

How much damage had this night’s work done?  How much suffering would it cause?

Well, this was just par for the course. No matter what he did, he was going to feel horrible. When he was loyal to his Slayer friends, dragons died. When he acted like a dragon lord, this happened.

Minerva flew across his family’s property, across the acres of trees that stood between the Overdrake’s house and the freeway. They were all bare now, just jumbles of reaching sticks. She headed to the dragon enclosure without Dirk even commanding it. She knew the drill. And this was just another night flight. Except it wasn’t.

Not my fault, Dirk told himself. Revolutions came with a cost.

Thomas Jefferson had said that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. That’s all Dirk was doing: making sure that the tree of liberty didn’t wither and die under the weight of America’s bureaucrats. It was time for some pruning.

Besides, people weren’t worth feeling remorse over. People did nothing but let you down.

Dirk took Minerva into her enclosure, unsaddled her, and fed her a half dozen sheep carcasses. She’d worked up an appetite. By the time he’d finished unpacking the weapons from the saddle, she’d devoured her meal and lain down, tail curled around herself, ready to sleep. He stopped by the fledglings’ enclosures and tossed them each a carcass so he wouldn’t have to worry about feeding them later.

His father called him as he was leaving the enclosure. “Any problems?”

Oh, Dirk had problems but none his father wanted to hear. Dirk headed to the house, gliding above the leaf-strewn path. “I didn’t encounter any resistance.”

He’d known the first few cities wouldn’t have time to protect themselves, but he’d expected that once the nation realized it was under attack, other cities would at least try to mount a defense. But none had. The strikes had been frighteningly easy. Good thing he’d talked his father out of hitting New York and Chicago. Those two cities comprised 11 million people.

“Perfect,” his father said. “Things went flawlessly on this coast too. The nation is one step closer to shaking off the shackles of mismanagement.”

Dirk didn’t answer. Maybe his silence carried its own message.

“No one mourns the death of bureaucracies,” his father said. “Future generations will thank us.”

They might, but everyone without electricity was probably not feeling the gratitude.  Dirk’s breath came out in puffs that hung in the air, proof of the chill. And January would only get colder.

His father’s voice turned light. “My only problem is that I’ve started second guessing my decision to go by President Augustus.”

Yesterday, his father had settled on the title president because he figured it would be an easier transition for the masses. The title Augustus was from Roman history. Caesar had chosen it for himself because Augustus meant great.

“Taking over may be so easy,” his father continued, “perhaps I don’t need to help the population grasp the idea of a new dynasty. Perhaps I should go with First Citizen.” That’s what Caesar had called himself when he took power.

Dirk landed on the back patio, unlocked the door, and went inside. “First Citizen sounds like you’re taking numbers for a communist deli.”

“President it is, then. Get some rest. We’ll have another long night in front of us.” His father said the words cheerfully. He was happy, and for the first time in a long time, his father was also happy with Dirk. Proud of him.

That should have brought Dirk some comfort. Probably would later. Right now, despite his ability to fly, he felt as though his limbs were being dragged downward.

Cassie, Dirk’s stepmom, sat in the family room watching the news on TV. She was wrapped in a blanket, her dark hair tucked into its folds.

A solemn-faced man stood in front of a Costco relating how many people in Boston were without heat and transportation.

Looked like reporters from other cities had showed up before the police.

Cassie turned to Dirk, a smile perched on her lips. “Glad you’re home safe.” She returned her attention to the TV, resting her hand on her abdomen as though checking the baby. Was she glad her own children weren’t risked in the attacks or was she was eager for her son to grow up so he could take part?

The news anchor went on, “All night widespread looting has plagued the city. Alarm systems are down, phones inoperable, and police are without the vehicles or the manpower to respond to crimes.” As if to prove her point, a steady stream of people emerged from the store behind him, pushing grocery carts piled with items. The food Dirk could understand, but the furniture? And the guy hauling the big screen TV clearly didn’t understand what EMP did.

Dirk had known theft would happen, but he hadn’t anticipated so many people would be unmasked and unconcerned, strolling out of the store.

“Hospitals and pharmacies were hit especially hard,” the reporter continued.

Dirk stared at the TV in disbelief. He’d spared the hospitals and all the buildings around them. They should have been fine.

“Armed thugs forced their way into both Massachusetts General and Shriners Hospital, held staff at gunpoint and demanded narcotics and other drugs.”

While the reporter detailed more of the crime, Dirk turned away from the TV. He shouldn’t have been surprised by any of it. What had he expected—for people to pull together and help one another out? He ought to know by now not to overestimate human nature.

Cassie clicked the remote, flipping through channels. “Six cities are in near anarchy. The government will have to give Brant whatever he demands.”

An optimistic hope. Politicians never relinquished power easily, even if it meant making people suffer. “They won’t surrender after the first day.”

His father was staying at an enclosure he’d built in California and would make his way back to Pennsylvania, traveling at night and hitting more cities along the way.

“They’ll see reason soon enough.” Cassie settled on another news report. “Have you fed the dragons?”

“Yeah.” Dirk headed toward his bedroom before Cassie could think of more chores to give him. Originally Aaron was supposed to stay here and help Dirk, but their last fight had convinced their father to take Aaron with him. His brother had leaked the location of the eggs to the Slayers. Dirk was sure of it.

What was Aaron doing now? Trying to get more tactical information out of their dad? Well, it would serve his father right if Aaron betrayed him and blew the whole mission.

Dirk shouldn’t think that way. As of tonight, he’d committed himself to the revolution. No point in wishing for failure. The only way all the damage and looting would be worth it was if it led to a better government. Dirk would have to watch his brother carefully and make sure he didn’t cause more damage. And on the bright side, as long as Aaron was with his father, he couldn’t easily contact Tori and spill any other secrets.

Not that Aaron knew many. Their father hardly told Dirk anything and Dirk was a key player in the revolution. No way would his dad entrust important details to a twelve-year-old.

Dirk went to his room, threw off his clothes, and climbed into bed. He waited for sleep to wash away his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about children waking up and shivering because their houses no longer had heating. Or water pumps that no longer worked.

An hour later when his phone rang, he was still awake. Awake, but not alert. If he’d been alert, he would’ve checked the ID instead of assuming the call was from his father.

His mother’s voice poured from the phone, high with emotion. “Dirk, I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through. I shouldn’t have left you with your father. I should have found a way to take you.”

It was surreal to hear her voice. It belonged to the past, to the place of half-forgotten childhood memories, the soundtrack of years long gone. She’d been larger than life then, tall and graceful with shiny blond hair that framed her face like a halo.

“If you had a choice,” she went on, “I know you wouldn’t have been involved with this.”

How had she gotten his phone number? Dirk knew the answer as soon as he thought of the question. At some point he’d left his phone unattended and Aaron had gotten ahold of it. He’d called their mom and given her this number.

She wouldn’t be able to trace him with it. His phone was a specialized computer with a program that routed their IP address through dozens of cities.

“Dirk, are you there?” she asked.

“Yeah.” He rubbed his forehead wearily. He was too tired for this; his thoughts were too raw. “Aaron isn’t here.”

She let out a pained laugh. “I want to talk to you.”

Doubtful. He shut his eyes and let his head sink back into his pillow, not even sure if the emotion that was pulsing through him was anger or guilt.

“I love you, Dirk.”

She was only trying to manipulate him. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I do,” she insisted. “I spent years with you—how could I not know? You were the boy who used to slide tissue paper underneath my bedroom door when you heard me crying. You have more tenderness inside you than your father will ever be capable of.”

Dirk hadn’t remembered about the tissue paper until she mentioned it, and then the memory came back: the fights his parents had that always left his mother crying.

“That was a long time ago,” he said. “You don’t know me anymore.”

“I know you hate what you’ve just done.”

He didn’t answer, couldn’t contradict her.

“Find a way to leave your father,” she urged. “Go to the nearest police station and tell them you’re my son. I’ll come and get you.”

Dirk lowered his voice. “You want me to leave so I’ll take Aaron to you. He’s the one you really want.”

“I want you too.” Her voice was ragged insistence. “I’ve always wanted you.”

But not enough to take him when she skipped out. She couldn’t undo the past with a few words.

“Tell me where you are,” she said. “I’ll come for you.”

A surge of worry went through him, one that verged on protectiveness. His father had probably bugged this phone. “Don’t say that.” Dirk’s father wouldn’t appreciate hearing him warn his mother, but he had to do it anyway. “And don’t ever make a deal with my father. You’ll end up being used as pawn to force either Aaron or me into doing something we don’t want to do. Just stay away. You shouldn’t call this phone again. It isn’t safe for you.”

“Dirk, leave him. Take Aaron and go.”

How could he tell her Aaron didn’t want to go—that Dirk had already offered to help him escape and Aaron had refused?

“I can’t. I’m already a part of this.” And because he didn’t like hearing her so upset, he added, “I’m not the person you think you know. That person is gone.” He’d become someone else last night—a revolutionary. Someone whose hands were no longer clean.

He hung up, put his phone away, then went into the bathroom to find some sleeping pills. There was no way he was going to get any sleep without them and he had to get some rest. He would have to go out with Minerva tomorrow night, and this time the government would be watching for him.

A baby, a wedding, a broken laptop, and a project

Why isn’t Slayers 5 out yet, you ask?

My oldest daughter had new baby and I had to help her, my middle daughter got married and I had two wedding receptions to do, I dropped my laptop one too  many times and it stopped working, and… yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t start any new house projects until the book was done–and I haven’t. My house is unpainted and the heavy, solid-wood desk is still awkwardly standing against my bedroom wall.

But a child is writing a book, so I’ve been helping said child with brainstorming, sifting through old journals looking for stories, deciphering the contract, etc. etc.

Don’t give me that look. A parent has to help their children.

I’m back working on Slayers now.

And the good news is that I think I’m to the point where I can start putting up a chapter a week on my website. I’ll do that by the end of the week.

Slayers 5 update

Remember how I told you I wouldn’t tackle any big projects until Slayers 5 was done?  I just want to show you the project I’m ignoring.

This is my new desk I’ll put in my office, once that bedroom is  painted so that it no longer looks like a shrine to the Odd1sOut.

 

So right now I have a huge desk in my bedroom that does a fair job of blocking the bathroom, and it’s been there since oh, December. It’s already gathered it’s share of clutter. But at least I’ve stopped bumping into it in the dark. Just wanted you all to know that I really am trying to get this done.I need to so I can put together my office.

Go ahead and ask how revisions are going

I’m going through Darth Beta’s comments on my manuscript right now. And there are many. Oh so many. (I’m currently on page 70 out of 319) I thought I would give you an example of some of them. The bolded sentences are the ones from the story and the Beta’s comments are below.

Kody brushed snow from the picnic table and leaned against it.

Seems like a lot of work to lean against something. Generally, snow is on top. You lean against the side. So either he needs to lean without brushing, or brush then sit on it. I get that he may get a tiny amount on him by leaning and slightly less if he brushes it first, but overall it’s distracting enough for me to spend three minutes writing this novel of a comment.

 

The garage door opened and a gold Cadillac emerged onto the street. Ethington wasn’t alone. His bodyguard sat in the passenger seat.

Rich people with nice cars usually have tinted windows so the rabble can’t see them laughing at them. They’d probably have less than a second to identify the two people in the front seats through the windshield.

 

A reporter with an expression of stoic concern stood in front of a Detroit church where the Red Cross was handing out blankets to a line of people.

Do you have a history with news anchors? Did one of them kill your cat or something? 😝 you love to paint them as fake and melodramatic. If that’s the way Tori sees them give her a good reason. Maybe because of all the bad press her dad has gotten (especially from CNN) – maybe she can paint the Fox News anchors and stylish and sincere and the CNN anchors as calloused frauds. 🙂

 

Tori paced over to him, hands tapping against her side in nervous agitation. “Was the military anywhere around when the attacks happened?”

Although this kind of disjointed awkward sentence structure is realistic of teenagers, your main characters need to be above that. 🙂 Reword so she doesn’t sound like she’s illiterate.

 

“But?” she added, because the word was already there, lingering unsaid behind his lips.

I like the idea but not the execution. Reword so it doesn’t sound so much like bad poetry.

 

How could she not? The images of looters, of the lawlessness of the last two days would probably stay perched in her mind for years. She dropped his hand and turned back to her locker. “Right.”

Emblazoned or seared…birds and effeminate men perch

 

She reached over and brushed her hand against Jesse’s arm. “You need a shielder more than I do. I’m immune to fire.”

I’m trying to picture this. So it’s like she’s wiping something sticky off her hand onto his arm?

Slayers 5 prologue question

I’m going through comments from beta readers and Darth Beta’s comment on the prologue title was–and I quote, “Ew. This sounds like a Hallmark card. Delete or find something less dorky.”

Yeah, I always love going through his comments. The first time he critiqued one of my manuscripts he used the word lame 26 times. I’ve since restricted him to 10 lames a manuscript but I foolishly said nothing about the word dorky.

The reason I chose this sentence for the title of the prologue (I’ve titled all of the other prologues, so I figure I should title this one too) is that you realize at the end of the prologue that the sentence has a different, darker meaning than what you first supposed. But you don’t know that when you first encounter it, so yeah, it does sound like something off of a motivational poster or Hallmark card. And I don’t want people to see it and roll their eyes.

Any suggestions on how to change it so it basically has the same meaning but doesn’t seem so card-like?  I’ve included the 4 page prologue so you can see what it really means.

 

Prologue

 

Six years ago.

Never underestimate the power of friendship.

 

Dirk Overdrake stood in front of a glass case in the Bonaparte Residence Museum and wondered how many years in prison people got for stealing priceless historical artifacts. A flawless replica of Napoleon’s laurel leaf coronation crown was nestled securely behind the glass. The exhibit label reported that the original had disappeared after Napoleon’s death and no one knew where it currently was. Well, no one except Dirk, because he was pretty sure he’d seen one just like this in his father’s bedroom vault.

His father wandered over to the case, done looking at the previous display. Even while on vacation, his father was crisp and professional, as though it were some sort of sin to put on jeans and Nikes. He wore beige pants and expensive Italian shoes, his dark hair perfectly in place.

Dirk pointed to the crown. “Hey, don’t you have one like this?”

His father made a curt shushing noise to indicate he shouldn’t speak of it here. Which pretty much answered Dirk’s question. Should he be impressed or ashamed that his father had somehow managed to get a hold of the original? He wasn’t surprised. After all, his father also had a golden breastpin worn by Julius Caesar and a small silver horse statue that had belonged to Alexander the Great. His father liked to collect souvenirs from conquerors.

Dirk’s father motioned for him to follow, and the two walked out of the museum onto the streets of Ajaccio, France. They’d already passed one statue of Napoleon on the way to the museum, and now they headed toward another.

Dirk’s father slipped a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. “Do you know why I brought you here?”

Yeah. Because his father had no idea what normal families did on vacation. Dirk’s friends were all at Disney World and the beach. Places twelve-year-olds actually wanted to go.

Dirk knew better than to say those words. “You like Napoleon because he used to live on St. Helena?”

Napoleon had been exiled on the island where his father grew up. Every time Dirk had visited St. Helena, he’d been forced to visit the Napoleon shrine there too.

“No,” his father said, drawing out the word to indicate he was turning this into one of those annoying teaching moments. “I brought you here to see the people lined up, eager to pay their money just so they can walk around the home where Napoleon was born.”

His father waved a hand in the direction of the museum. “The curators were able to recreate the drapes and wallpaper because so many people cut off pieces and saved them as if they were relics of the saints.”

Dirk and his father had reached the second town statue of Napoleon. He sat atop a horse, wearing his gold leaf crown and gazing triumphantly out on the plaza.

“I brought you here,” his father went, “for the same reason I brought you to Julius Caesar’s tomb. Thousands of years after his death, people still daily leave flowers on his grave. What does that show you?”

Dirk shrugged. “Tourists like to throw away money?”

“No. People admire greatness. It doesn’t even matter that Napoleon lost in the end or that Caesar was murdered by his friends. Both had the wherewithal to take control of their nation’s destiny and meld it to their will.” He gestured at the statue. “War is like love. It’s better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.” He lowered his voice. “And of course, it’s better still to win.”

Dirk nodded because he knew his father would continue lecturing if he didn’t think Dirk was listening. Mostly Dirk was wondering if Napoleon would have taken his kids to Disneyland or whether he would have dragged them around to look at statues.

His father wasn’t done. “Do you want to be the sort of person Napoleon and Caesar were?”

Banished from civilization or murdered by his friends? Not really.

His father didn’t give him time to answer. “Do you want to have cities across the world named after you like Alexander the Great? Or do you want to be like one of these pathetic tourists, so devoid of your own greatness that you have to pay money just to see the places where a great man once stood?”

Dirk knew the right answer to this question. Still, he looked skyward as though pondering it. “Dirk the Great has a nice ring to it.”

His father laid his hand on Dirk’s shoulder with approval. “To be a great leader, you need to know who your enemies are. You must know how they think, where you can find them, and how they plan to destroy you.”

Dirk nodded again. It was always better to just agree with his father when he went on about leadership.

His father dropped his hand from Dirk’s shoulder. “That’s why I signed you up for Dragon camp.”

Dirk cocked his head, not understanding. “There’s a camp for dragons?”

His father turned away from the statue. “No, there’s a camp for Slayers and this summer you’re going to attend. It’s time to meet your enemies.”

Dirk’s father had warned him about the Slayers enough times: kids his own age who would try to kill the dragons and him too if he got in their way. How many of them went to this camp? “You want me to fight them?” Before Dirk could decide whether to feel pumped or terrified by the idea, his father laughed.

“Not yet. You’ll learn their secrets first, their weaknesses, so you’ll know how to fight. Never underestimate the power of friendship.”

 

Someone just asked me what the other prolog titles were, so here they are.

Slayers 1: The Reason Parents Don’t Tell Their Children About Their Nightmares

Slayers 2: It’s Always the Things You Overlook

Slayers 3: The Downside of Being Married to a Dragon Lord

Slayers 4: You Should Never Make Promises You Can’t Keep

Doll Wrecks: Yes, more reborn dolls!

As many of you know, I have a thing for dolls. I finally had to stop buying them because I ran out of room in my house. There are dolls perched on my closet shelf that look down on me reprovingly because I evicted them from the doll case.

But I was on eBay the other day and just out of curiosity, I checked to see if reborn dolls are still a thing. And oh yes, they are. I couldn’t resist sharing some of them with you.

If you don’t know what a reborn doll is, here’s a good example:

Can you believe this is actually a doll and not a real child? That’s what reborn dolls are supposed to look like: real children. And since they’re one of a kind and handmade, they’re expensive. (Also like real children.)

Here’s another good example: Don’t you just want to kiss those little foreheads? They’re sooo sweet!

However, some doll makers have developed their artistic skills more than others. So in the helpful spirit of the Cake Wrecks blog, I’m offering advice to aspiring doll artists. (And there will be no buzzers involved, which is more than I can say for some of my writing critiques.)

This doll has a question. And I think the question is: What were you thinking?

Gray isn’t really a good color for babies.

Then again, neither is red. Why do so many doll artists use so much red? Is it cheaper than the other colors? Are childhood epidemics back in style?

The doll looks quite disgruntled about his color and is clearly contemplating smacking those elephants together like cymbals.

Of course, sometimes the color isn’t the problem. You know that saying about breaking the mold? Someone should have done that for this doll. Sleep deprived is never a look you want in a baby.

And speaking of looks you want to avoid, your doll shouldn’t appear to be fending off attackers.

Since I last wrote about reborn dolls, one startling trend has reared its head on eBay. Lots of less expensive reborn dolls are appearing from China. I’m not making this up. Apparently even poorly-executed-doll-artistry is being outsourced to cheaper labor.  Here is one of the Chinese reborn dolls.

But not to worry, I think Americans will rise to this new challenge. We can make better not-quite-right dolls than you, China.  Take this one for example: See, this doll looks more realistic than the China-made doll. And much more frightening too. Like, he’s not the only one screaming right now.  And then there is this one: 

Granted, on the scary scale, this doll scores pretty high, and some of you may have nightmares now. But that’s not the point. The point is that Americans are creative and innovative. We see things outside of the box–sometimes outside of the solar system. You can’t take that away from us.

At least the doll isn’t red, so there’s that.

You know what… Maybe we should just let China have this career.

If you want to see the other blogs about doll wrecks, you can find them here:

The First Doll Wrecks

More Doll Wrecks

Even More Doll Wrecks

And Even More Doll Wrecks

When you realize that your villain is actually your main character

You know, Dirk was never even supposed to have a relationship with Tori. That just sort of spontaneously happened in the scene where they found out they were counterparts because I realized that a guy like Dirk would actually kiss her during that scene.

And then suddenly he had these strong feelings for her for the rest of the series that were driving his actions.

Sometimes characters do things like that.

But really, I think I was in book 3-4 before I realized that Dirk is actually the main character of the series. Because he’s the one who does the most changing. He’s the one who decides the fate of everyone else. He’s the one who has to decide whether to be loyal to his father or his friends. He’s the one who has to decide whether a better future for the country is worth spilling innocent blood for. (Weigh in: would you start a revolution if you knew the country would be better off afterwards?)

And in case you haven’t guessed, the climax revolves around Dirk.

I hadn’t originally planned that either.

This was a story where the climax came to me first. Originally it was going to be a story about losing your entire support system and having to face your dragons alone. All of the Slayers were going to lose their powers except for Tori. The dragons weren’t going to come until the group had graduated from college and had lost track of each other. (Dr. B was going to die of a heart attack or something in this version, and without camp and the supplies/ practices the kids move on with their lives.)

Tori was going to get a job and be surprised to find that she was working with Jesse–and then be even more surprised that he’d forgotten everything.

I had imagined this very funny scene where she was trying to tell him what he really was and he thought she was crazy.

And then the dragons would start attacking and she would have to make the heartbreaking choice to fight them alone, knowing she’d most likely be killed.

But then Jesse’s powers would be turned on and he would realize that she’d been telling the truth and he would join her, saving the day.

Yeah, that doesn’t happen now.

Part of the reason it changed was because years ago when the idea first occurred to me, social media wasn’t a thing. Now it would be harder to believe teenagers would lose track of each other. A bigger reason the plot changed was because I sold the series as young adult, and I didn’t think teens would be happy if I’d made the characters 25 at the climax.

And the biggest reason it changed was that Dirk took over the series.

And that’s why you should never use Dirk Benedict in any of your books. He will do things you didn’t expect him to do. Thanks, Dirk Benedict. Thanks.

Slayers 5 New Year’s resolutions

First off, my file became corrupted (Who out there is corrupting vulnerable young files?) and I lost a week’s worth. And then I couldn’t work on the manuscript for a day because I felt so sick about losing a week’s worth. Could I have backed it up and saved myself all of this?  Do I usually back it up and never need the backup? Yeah–that’s why I was so upset.

Anyway, first draft should be done soon and then it will go out to beta readers.  But here is my resolutions regarding the book.

I will not paint any rooms, cabinets, or anything else in my house until I finish the first draft of this manuscript. Even though, trust me, it really needs it.

I will not organize any closets, despite the fact that I’ve seen two episodes of the Netflix series Tidying Up and have a sudden desire to go through them.

I will not watch any TV or Movies (unless I’m on the treadmill) until the manuscript is winging it’s way to the beta readers

I will not cook any meals that take more than 45 minutes to prepare until I’ve typed The End.

And I won’t clean my bathroom…or maybe that’s going too far…Any chance I could convince my husband that he needs to do it?

Maybe this whole not doing housework thing could work out for me…