Chapter 11

(Author’s note: I’ve realized as I’m making revisions to the story, that I really posted it all too soon. The first half of Chapter 1 is completely different. I want to take everything down and put up the latest version…but instead, I’ll just put up Chapter 11–which I haven’t revised yet–because I know people are waiting for it. And by the way, I just went through my spam and found a bunch of legitimate emails that people had written me. Which makes me wonder how many I haven’t seen. So if you ever emailed me and I never replied–sorry, your email probably was sent to the spam bucket.)

Chapter 11

 

Tori went into the barn, a weathered red building that was quaint enough for a country-themed calendar. The quaintness had happened completely by chance, she supposed, since Dr. B only cared about function, not beauty. The inside looked almost industrial: gray divided stalls and a sterile looking tack room.

She was met with the familiar scent of hay mixed with horse and manure. A comforting smell. Probably because for years it had been the smell of long rides through wooded trails with her sister and parents. Nature. Freedom.

All of that seemed so long ago.

Booker, Dr. B’s usually-silent and frequently grumpy right-hand man, stood by the stalls saddling up the extra horses. Two were always kept ready in case one of the Slayers mounts had a problem during practice. Most of the other Slayers were still in the barn cinching on saddles or putting their gear on. They all looked over when she walked in.

And that’s when she remembered Jesse wasn’t the only one angry at her. Most of the Slayers were.

She held up her hands to gather their attention and took a deep breath. “Look guys, I’m sorry I didn’t let you know what I was doing with Aaron. I know I should have but he didn’t want me to tell anyone. I had to make the call alone.”

Ryker stopped brushing his horse and fixed her with a gaze. Since he was 6’4, his gazes always carried extra weight. “You weren’t supposed to—” he made air quotes, “let us know. You were supposed to let us have a say in the matter. Adding a third dragon lord to Overdrake’s arsenal affects all of us.”

Her shoulders stiffened. “Aaron is on our side. He can help us, but the rest of you don’t trust him because he’s a dragon lord.”

Ryker went back to brushing his horse. “We don’t mistrust Aaron because he’s a dragon lord, we mistrust him because he’s a child.”

Lilly, Tori’s blonde-haired nemesis, hefted a saddle on her horse. “I mistrust him because he’s a dragon lord. By nature, they’re power-hungry and back-stabbing.”

“Thanks.” Tori made her way toward the tack room. “I appreciate that. If I decide to stab someone in the back, you’re making the choice a lot easier.”

Bess left her horse tied to a post and intercepted Tori with a sympathetic smile. She was tall with blue eyes and shoulder-length brown curls, but her best feature was her smile. Her frequently playful, always loyal smile. She gave Tori a hug. “I’d tell you not to listen to Lilly, but since that’s been standard policy for years, I won’t bother.”

For a moment, Tori melted into Bess’s hug, lived on it. As long as she still had friends here, everything would be fine. Even after Bess let her go, Tori kept a tight hold on that knowledge.

Booker walked the backup horses toward the door. “Listen up! You’ll have time for chatting when you’re dead. Get your horses ready and get on out of here.”

He most likely meant they would have time for chatting after they’d been symbolically killed during practice and were sitting out waiting for the next round. But with Booker, it was hard to be sure.

Tori took Bane from his stall. He was a black gelding, a beautiful creature, who seemed to dislike everyone but her. He gave her a welcoming whinny and nudged her with his velvety nose. She petted his neck and murmured to him, then led him to the far end of the barn so she could brush his coat and see to his hooves. Despite her familiarity with the routine, this time everything felt disconnected like she was watching someone else prepare the horse.

After she suited up in her fireproof gear, she saddled Bane and led him from the barn. Usually she hated wearing her helmet because it was hot and stuffy. Today she hoped Dr. B would keep the pre-game instructions short so she could put it on. That way, she wouldn’t have to work on keeping her expression stoic.

She picked up her pellet rifle, mounted Bane, and then rode across the grassy field. The area was about the size of a football field, but felt larger, perhaps because hopeful bushes and saplings dotted the land. They wouldn’t last on the field for long. If the horses didn’t trample or eat them, the practice dragons—small remote helicopters that shot out fire—would eventually burn them.

Booker had already set out an assortment of civilian-shaped plywood pieces around the field. They represented bystanders that the Slayers were supposed to avoid killing during the course of practice. Each fallen or damaged cut-out cost the team a hundred points from their score, and the losing team had to muck out the stalls afterward.

At the far end of the field, Dr. B surveyed the practice from the silo headquarters. He controlled one heli-dragon while Theo, Dr. B’s resident tech genius, ran the other. Theo was a twenty-something guy who took way too much pleasure in trying to blister the Slayers, a fault Dr. B never fully paid attention to.

Tori rode down the field to where the Slayers were gathered and took a spot beside Rosa. She was petite with long dark hair, gentle brown eyes, and features that made her look closer to fourteen than her seventeen years. One would never assume she could shoot a rifle with deadly accuracy, which was why the Slayers always used her when they needed to case out a place.

At camp, Rosa, Tori, and Bess had been inseparable.

“Are you doing okay?” Rosa asked Tori.

“Yeah,” Tori said.

“Are you lying?” Rosa worried too much, which balanced Bess out, who didn’t worry about anything.

“A little,” Tori said.

“We all still love you.”

Hardly the truth, since Lilly had never loved her in the first place. But Tori didn’t argue the point. Rosa thought the best of everyone, and at the moment, Tori appreciated that quality.

Bess and Ryker were mounted and talking so intently they seemed oblivious to Tori’s arrival. Bess frequently found ways to station herself beside him. Her crush was understandable. Ryker was custom made to invite crushes: black hair, blue eyes and the ability to fly. He was almost as attractive as Jesse.

Tori inwardly sighed. She had to stop thinking things like that. He wanted a platonic relationship, and anyway, she couldn’t afford to be distracted.

Jesse joined the group a minute later, stationing his horse by Willow’s and Lilly’s. The two girls were both blonde, but their similarities ended there. Willow’s hair was long and curly. Lilly’s was bleached with a new blue streak. Willow was tall and soft-spoken. Lilly was about as short as Rosa, although no one would have ever described her as petite. Petite implied delicate and sweet. Lilly was an in-your-face, flip-you-off, prima donna.

Ryker looked at Jesse, tilting his head in question. “Dude, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” There was only a little stiffness in Jesse’s voice.

Everyone turned their attention to him, though. He looked calm enough; ready to fight dragons and crush opponents.

Ryker’s gaze flicked in Tori’s direction. “Oh,” he said with understanding.

Which made everyone turn to Tori.

“Did I miss something?” Willow asked, her gaze bouncing between Ryker and Jesse.

“It’s a counterpart thing,” Bess said, “You can’t expect counterparts to make sense or explain themselves to anyone else.”

“I wish I had a counterpart,” Willow said.

“We all wish we did,” Rosa said sadly.

Ryker and Jesse were the only counterparts left. The thought made the group seem so small and doomed. They’d lost half their fighters.

Kody was the last to join the group. He’d been by a pile of firewood, tossing the things up in the air and sending freezing blasts at them that sent them spinning; his own personal warm-ups. He could also send out fireballs but didn’t do that nearly as often. Fire didn’t damage dragons.

He gave the group one of his usual smiles. “All right, y’all. Ready to get her done?” Perhaps it was his southern charm, but Kody seemed perpetually optimistic and good-natured. Which was probably fortunate for the guys he went to school with. Even without his Slayer powers, Kody had enough muscle to do serious damage to anyone who got on his bad side.

No one said more because Dr. B was driving up on a souped-up golf cart, one that went so fast it could probably be classified as a small jeep. He lurched the thing to a stop in front of them and climbed out. “Everyone here? Good.” He picked up the tablet that he used to take notes about their performances. “I have some things to go over before we start.”

The Slayers turned and maneuvered their horses into a tighter circle around him.

“The bug on Senator Ethington’s phone has provided some information of note. It seems the government has granted Venezuela permission to perform some military exercises near the west coast.”

Several Slayers groaned. They’d already learned that Overdrake had allies in Venezuela who’d help him, most likely by providing troops.

“Overdrake also has ties to Columbia,” Dr. B went on, “and they’ll be delivering shipments of supposed goods on the west coast at the same time Venezuela is sending ships to the east coast. The tentative date is the end of April. It may or may not be the time Overdrake chooses to attack, but we’ll need to be ready, just in case.” His gaze turned to Tori. “Hopefully we’ll be able to record Senator Ethington saying something that gives us a reason to alert your father of his doings, but so far he’s been fairly careful to speak using euphemisms.”

Dr. B turned his attention back to the others. “The good news is that Senator Ethington’s relationship with Overdrake is becoming strained. In his own words, he’s tired of Overdrake acting like he’s his boss. Perhaps before long, the senator will be less willing to carry out his bidding.”

Lilly snorted. “He’s a politician. That means he has no backbone.”

Usually Tori let those sorts of comments slide. She wasn’t in the mood today. “Honestly, Lilly, do you ever think about what you’re saying?”

Lilly looked at her with surprise. “Since when did you become a Senator Ethington fan?”

“I’m not talking about Senator Ethington. I’m talking about all the other politicians, including my father, who have a backbone.”

And that was pretty much how practice started.

After three rounds of fighting against a helicopter dragon, Tori had spent a total of about fifteen minutes alive. The rest of the time she sat out as one of the dead. Her emotions were making her careless. She’d only managed to shoot her dragon once, and truth be told, that was because Ryker had disabled the chains and Kevlar vest from the dragon, allowing her to get the shot in before the dragon could kill her.

Before the start of round four, the Slayers rode their horse to the troughs that dotted the playing field. The other Slayers usually let Tori have a trough to herself since Bane tended to nip at the other horses, but this time, Jesse rode up.

General, Jesse’s horse, kept a good distance from Bane while he got his fill. Jesse took a drink from his water bottle and considered her. “Are you all right?”

He no longer had the right to ask her those sorts of questions. “I’m fine,” she said airily.

He screwed the lid of his water bottle back on. “You’re not concentrating.”

“Oh, I’m concentrating. I’m just mostly concentrating on all the reasons I’m mad at you.”

He sighed—the sort of sigh he’d used when she’d first joined the Slayers and he thought she was missing some horribly obvious point. “I know you don’t want to take instructions from me right now, but I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to die during a real attack: You’ve got to be able to set your feelings aside when you’re fighting.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the top reasons I’m mad at you. You don’t have a hard time setting your feelings aside.”

He tucked his water bottle back into his saddle. “I don’t always succeed, but when it’s important, I at least make an attempt.”

He might have continued his pep talk about responsibility and saving people’s lives, but Willow rode up to their trough. She pulled off her helmet, letting her hair spill out onto her shoulders. “I’d like to make an official complaint.”

Willow wasn’t one to complain—at least not seriously, and Tori wasn’t sure whether she was serious now. “What’s wrong?”

Willow pulled out her water bottle a swig. “I’m tired of being killed. Just once, I’d like to do some damage to the dragon before it eviscerates me.”

“Join the club,” Tori said.

“It’s not the same,” Willow protested. “You die in the sky because the dragon attacked you before you could kill it. I just wander around aimlessly, following after the rest of you, until Dr. B or Theo decides to terrorize me with their helicopters of death.”

“Willow—” Jesse started.

She raised a finger at him. “Don’t you dare tell me I’m a valuable member of the team. My life doesn’t seem valuable to anyone but me.”

“Willow—” Tori tried.

Willow didn’t let her finish either. “And, Tori, I know you’re busy, but you’ve got to stop missing practice. Every time you’re not here, Ryker sends me out as bait to draw out the dragons.”

Tori hadn’t realized this. She looked at Jesse for confirmation. “He does?”

Jesse shrugged. “I’m sure he wouldn’t do it in a real battle.”

“Then he shouldn’t do it in practice.” Willow sent a glare over her shoulder in her cousin’s direction. “Seriously, what is even the point of having me practice? I can’t do anything. Tell Dr. B to let me do civilian triage on the sidelines.”

Dr. B had assured Willow that eventually her extra power would manifest itself. But a month later, it still hadn’t happened. Tori supposed they had all begun to wonder what none of them would admit: Maybe Willow didn’t have an extra power.

Bane flicked his mane in annoyance. He didn’t like the other horses standing close to him. Tori patted his neck. He always calmed down for her. “This time you won’t die,” she told Willow. “Your assignment next round will be to stay by Rosa and protect her.”

Rosa could heal burns. In a battle, she would be what kept a lot of them alive. They usually had her stay far away from the dragon.

“Protect her how?” Willow moaned. “She’s a better fighter than I am.”

“Not true,” Jesse said. “You’re a good fighter. Rosa is just more experienced. And she became experienced by practicing. That’s why we’re here: to get better.”

Willow sighed dramatically. “Fine.” She twisted her hair into a coil and put her helmet back on. “I’ll go stick by Rosa and wait for the helicopters of doom to find me again.” She gave her horse a nudge and trotted back toward where the others were assembling.

Jesse leaned toward Tori and lowered his voice. “In a real battle, have Willow work crowd control.”

“She’s not that bad,” Tori said, immediately defensive.

Jesse tilted his chin at her. “I’m saying that because I like her, not because I don’t. I don’t want her in over her head.”

He was right, but Tori still felt the need to defend Willow. Not that long ago she’d been the new girl without combat experience or a decent power to help her fight. “She just needs time to get up to speed.”

Jesse didn’t comment on that. She knew what he was thinking anyway. They might not have much time.

“She can protect me while I try to take control of a dragon,” Tori offered.

Jesse shook his head. “We need you in the air fighting.”

A helicopter shot above the tree line and hovered there, ending the conversation. Round four had officially started. It was Jesse’s turn to lead the teams until the second heli-dragon showed up.

“Positions!” Jesse yelled to the others. Before he left, he turned back to her with a half-smile. “Look, if you’re going to be mad at me, at least put your anger to good use. Show me up. Kill your dragon so fast that you put me to shame.”

She tugged Bane’s reins, turning him to the field. “I don’t need tips on how to be angry at you.”

“Good,” he said, smile becoming a smirk. “Now channel that resentment at the dragon.”

She would have told him what he could do with his advice but he’d ridden off by then.

She put her helmet back on, leaned forward on Bane, and the horse was off before she had even tapped his flanks. A-team was heading south to circle the dragon. Time to concentrate. The worst part of Jesse’s advice was that if she did manage to kill her dragon first this round, she’d look like she’d followed his counsel and he’d been right. If she didn’t kill hers first, she’d look like she hadn’t managed the art of mastering her emotions.

Man, it was going to be such an uncomfortable ride back to Jesse’s house.

Across the field, Kody whooped and charged forward toward the heli-dragon.

Ryker, who seemed to be in his own personal competition to determine who had the most testosterone in the group, answered with his own war-cry. Guys. Seriously.

Tori did a quick search of the sky for the second helicopter. Didn’t see it. Once it arrived, A-team would break off to engage it. She urged Bane into a cautious trot. Training with horses here always made Tori feel like she was playing a game of polo—with things that wanted to kill her.

Dr. B claimed the Slayer horses were descendants of the stallions bred by the original Slayer Knights and used to defeat the dragons of the Middle Ages. They were fearless, obedient, and strangely willing to charge at large carnivorous beasts. To Tori’s mind, this made the horses more foolish than the regular, more cowardly variety. Animals should instinctively know to run in the opposite direction of fire-breathing death.

Booker, who took care of the horses, dismissed Dr. B’s theory about their breeding. “Slayers just have a natural way with horses,” he’d told Tori once. “A Slayer can take the orneriest cantankerous piece of horsehide and turn him into a lap dog.”

Case in point: Bane. As they rode across the field, he actually snorted angrily at the helicopter. It spurted a stream of fire at Tori as if answering the horse’s challenge.

Ryker rushed at the helicopter from the opposite direction. He was close enough that he should have flown off his horse and gone after the copter in the air. Instead, he rode under it. “Behind you!” he called to Tori. “A-team, split!”

Tori still wasn’t used to Ryker calling the commands and he’d been doing it for three rounds already.

Tori gave Bane two taps on the haunches. This was the signal she was leaving him and he should go to a safe place and wait. She was fairly certain Bane understood the direction. The fact that he usually wandered around eating shrubbery instead indicated that he was either too smart to be fooled by the mechanical dragon or not smart enough to avoid danger when food was around. She had no idea what he’d do in an actual attack on a city. Perhaps rummage through the garbage cans for leftovers.

Tori flew upwards, twisting mid-air to follow the helicopter. She felt weightless in the sky, as though gravity had lost its grip on her. Moving became instinctual here, more thought than effort.

She took note of each member of her team below. In their dark suits, they were hard to distinguish from each other, but if Tori hadn’t recognized their horses, the symbols on the back of their jackets would let her know who was who. Kody rode to the south of the robo-dragon. Lilly trailed behind him. Willow and Rosa waited with their horses by trees on the sidelines, watching.

With Rosa in reserve, Jesse and Bess were left to handle the first dragon by themselves. Two people. It wasn’t enough. A-team had four fighters, five if you counted Willow. Dr. B would have to rearrange the teams soon. Probably the only reason he hadn’t done it already was that he wanted to see what Jesse and Bess could do against impossible odds.

Today, they’d done pretty well. Or maybe it just seemed that way compared to Tori’s dismal performance.

Ryker reached the helicopter first. He flew above it, diving in towards the section that represented the Kevlar straps. He had to press the buttons that represented cutting them. The machine tilted upward, shooting a stream of fire that arced toward Ryker.

A moment later the flames disappeared, leaving only a trail of smoke. Lilly had extinguished it.

Ryker swooped downward, in an attempt to get out of the line of fire. The helicopter swung that way, following him.

Tori wheeled upwards to help him. They had a system worked out. She flew in front of the dragon and drew its attention. Since her dragon lord abilities made her immune to fire, she could be hit by a stream that melted her flame-resistant suit and still come out unblistered.

Hot, yes. Sweaty, definitely. And if she was really unlucky—naked. So far the naked part hadn’t happened, but she worried one day it would. Anyway, when fire hit her, she felt like she’d walked into an oven, but she emerged from the flames unscathed.

Tori soared in front of the dragon, gun raised and shot. Her airsoft rifle didn’t damage the helicopter, just as a real rifle wouldn’t do more than irritate a dragon. The only part of a dragon that was unprotected from scales was a soft spot on its underbelly, and Overdrake covered that part with Kevlar.

Theo had painted an angry face on the machine, complete with fangs. Tori took an extra shot, hoping to knock off some of that paint.

Fire spurted from a nozzle underneath the helicopter.

She spun to the left but was too slow to avoid the reach of the flames. They hit her on the side, making her suit sizzle. The acrid scent of burning plastic enveloped her.

Well, that lovely smell was going to be hard to explain to her parents. Study group had just taken an ugly turn.

“Are you paying attention?” Tori called to Lilly.

“Sorry!” Lilly chimed back.

No, she wasn’t. Since Lilly had found out that Tori couldn’t be burned, she’d become slow to extinguish the flames that came in Tori’s direction.

“I couldn’t cut the strap,” Ryker called, his frustration evident. “Sequel.” That meant he was going to try again. Risky, as the dragon was no longer paying attention to Tori, but had turned toward Ryker. Instead of darting away, he hovered in the air, letting the machine come nearer. She knew he would stay there, a stationary target, and then right before the dragon reached him, he would dart upward, putting himself above the dragon so he could take a shot.

But Theo and Dr. B, who controlled helicopters, knew the move too and would likely be planning for it. As would Overdrake when he actually attacked with dragons. Dirk had told him all their moves, strategies, and tactics.

Did Ryker not understand this? He had no caution when it came to fighting, which made Tori twice as wary. She felt like she had to watch out for him.

She pulled a paint bomb from her vest and called out “Trident!” to tell Ryker she was about to use a sticky grenade.

If a paint bomb landed near the straps, they blew off both the chains and the Kevlar, and best of all, the flyers didn’t have to get as close to the dragons to use them.

Ryker darted away from the dragon and out of the trajectory of Tori’s grenade just in case she missed. Which happened occasionally. Tori had good aim, but dragons were fast. If a grenade missed and exploded on the ground it would most likely splatter a few of the people-shaped wooden cutouts.

She decided not to worry about civilians today. Life was hard, after all, and they should have noticed the dragon and taken cover somewhere else besides the playing field.

The dragon jerked downward to get away from her. Using explosives was more dangerous when the dragon was flying low to the ground—higher chance of causalities even if the grenade stuck to the dragon—but Tori wanted to win this round quickly. She flung the grenade, fast and hard. It hit the target with a clang that made the copter shiver. Instead of sticking, it bounced off—right toward Kody.

“Freeze it!” she called to him.

His arms were already drawn back. “Got it!” He hurled an icy blast to knock the grenade away.

Since A-team didn’t have a shielder, Kody’s bursts were A-team’s only defense against rogue grenades. Usually he managed to swing the grenade away from the team, although more than once he’d accidentally swung into the path of a teammate. This time his first blast missed, and he had to shoot a second with his other hand. A concentrated stream of cold air hit the grenade, sending it to the ground a few feet away from him.

Too close. An explosion of red paint splattered Kody, his horse, and a couple wooden civilians. He was dead until the round ended.

Kody spat paint from his mouth. “How come those things don’t stick like they’re supposed to?”

“Dragons are slippery,” Ryker called.

Kody rode off the field muttering.

Tori muttered too. She couldn’t afford to kill off anyone else, which meant no more not-so-sticky grenades unless the dragon was far away from the other Slayers.

The helicopter swooped low, focusing on Lilly. She urged her horse into a gallop, in an effort to keep out of range. She could avoid the dragon’s fire but not its teeth or claws. Tori and Ryker flew over the machine’s back, trying to reach the buttons that would signify they’d cut the Kevlar straps. Pushing the buttons was only half of the job. They also had to shoot the buttons a second time to show they’d blasted through the chains that kept the shield in place.

By the time Lilly found cover in a copse of trees, Tori had pushed one button and Ryker had taken care of the other.

Now they just had to shoot the buttons. That was easier to do. They didn’t have to be as close.

Willow rode downfield toward A-team. Jesse must have noticed Kody’s untimely death and sent her back to help out.

The helicopter noticed her. It rose with a lurch, then dived toward her, zigzagging to prevent Tori and Ryker from getting a clear shot. Before the machine reached Willow, she bolted into the trees. The copter skimmed over the canopy, searching for her.

Tori and Ryker both tailed the helicopter. Before they reached it, the machine careened back to the playing field. Ryker followed, but Tori hesitated. A low buzz was coming from the direction of the road.

A motorcycle. She inwardly groaned. That noise meant Dr. B was sending in camp personnel to pretend to be Overdrake’s men. Couldn’t be a stranger. The fence kept out anyone who didn’t know the gate code. Now she would have to worry about guns and nets and whatever other devices Dr. B wanted to spring on them.

And this after she’d already lost Kody, their only protection from guns. He could blast the weapons out of the owners’ hands.

The motorcycle was far enough away that only Tori, with her more sensitive hearing, could pick up the sound. She looked over at Team Magnus’s side of the field. Bess was still in play. Tori switched her mic to Team Magnus’s frequency. “Bess, we’ve got an incoming motorcycle. He’ll be armed. Can you help us out?”

Technically, Tori wasn’t supposed to ask for help from Team Magnus unless they’d already killed their dragon, but Tori was hot, tired, and didn’t feel like playing by the rules. If this had been an actual attack, she would’ve asked for Bess’s help.

“Negative,” Jesse called back on her earphone. “We’ll have incoming over here too.”

He was right, of course. What one team got, they usually both got. Before long a motorcycle would be coming at Jesse’s team too.

So what sort of defense did that leave her? The motorcycle was louder now, closer.

Willow rode out of the trees, the bike trailing after her. A big man sat there, his identity hidden by his helmet and coat.

The Slayers wore bullet-proof jackets, but the last time Overdrake’s men had attacked, they’d been using armor-piercing bullets. So a hit from this motorcyclist’s pellet gun would still count as a kill. None of them were safe. Well, except Team Magnus. Bess could throw a shield up to protect them.

In a real battle, Bess wouldn’t be told to protect her own team and leave A-team to be picked off by a gunman.

Willow would be the first one shot. The biker hadn’t pulled out a gun yet. He was gazing around the field, slowing his motorcycle.

Killing the dragon was Tori’s first priority. She should concentrate on that—but she didn’t like leaving Lilly and Willow vulnerable on the ground to gunfire. Hadn’t she told Willow she wouldn’t let her die this round? Ryker could deal with the dragon for a few minutes.

Keeping high in the air, Tori circled behind the man so he would have to turn to fire at her. He would be wearing bulletproof armor and since the Slayers didn’t carry armor piercing bullets—they accidentally shot each other on occasion—she wouldn’t be able to take the biker out of play with gunfire.

She didn’t recognize the man’s build. He wasn’t one of the regulars who played Overdrake’s underlings. Probably some new martial art champion Dr. B had added to his cadre to show the Slayers they weren’t invincible.

As though Tori’s repeated deaths hadn’t already taught her that.

Her choices in battle were always fight or flight. Flight meant something different to her and she chose that option.

She dived down, wrapped her arms around his chest, and plucked the man from his seat. He jerked in surprise, hadn’t seen her coming.

His problem. She shot upwards. The bike teetered then fell, wheels spinning while the engine uselessly hummed. The man thrashed in Tori’s grip, then went still as he realized how quickly the ground was receding beneath them.

“I wouldn’t recommend struggling,” she said. “I might drop you.”

His words came out as a growl. “Put me down!”

Dr. B’s voice pinged in her earpiece. “Tori, what’s going on?”

Yeah, he was bound to be unhappy about this turn of events. She’d abandoned her main priority—dragon shooting—in order to protect her team. “I’ve never had my own prisoner,” she said cheerily. “Maybe this could work out for me.” She shifted the man in her arms slightly. “What kind of information, my captured minion, can you give me about Overdrake’s location?”

“Take me to Alastair, immediately!” the man said, the growl still in his voice. He was not afraid and not amused by this.

Tori had never heard Dr. B swear, but he did then. It was an uttered exclamation of disbelief. “Tori, don’t hurt him. He’s not part of the game.”

Not part of the game? Impossible. This field was fenced off, locked up tight. No one got in here without knowing the gate code.

Out on the field, both helicopters descended onto the ground, signaling the round was over. That also never happened until the dragons or all the Slayers were killed.

Tori was so surprised that she just stood there, hovering a hundred feet above the ground, holding the stranger. “Wow. Who are you?”

The man let out a laugh. Not the happy kind. “You know me as Sam.”


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