A week passed. Dirk still hadn’t heard from Tori. Maybe she hadn’t been able to write down the site and password he’d given her the first time he’d told it to her. He went to Vesta’s enclosure and gave her the information again.
Another week passed, and still no word. Maybe Tori hadn’t answered because she was investigating the site to make sure communications between them were untraceable. Could her silence mean she’d decided not to have anything to do with him? No, that didn’t seem like her. She was too intent on persuading him to come back to the Slayers to give up their conversations.
While he was out with Vesta he told Tori to post something on the old site, so that he knew she was okay. Gaining access to Vesta wasn’t hard. Dirk worked with the dragons every day after he finished school work. Some kids had to practice the piano, Dirk had to train two and a half-month-old fledglings, taming them enough that they would retain orders even when their dragon lord wasn’t close by. Eventually Aaron would take over some of the training, but not until Dirk had broken in Vesta and Jupiter.
Tori didn’t post anything on the old site.
Was she mad at him? She might have found out about Aaron’s disappearance and blamed him for that.
The next day Dirk tucked his phone in his pocket and made his way to Vesta’s enclosure. He could bring electronics near the dragons as long as he had hold of their minds and kept them from letting out EMP producing screeches.
Dirk walked across the room’s cement floor, ignoring the scent of dragon dung mixed with disinfectant. The older dragons were trained to relieve themselves in the same area so that Dirk or his father could subdue the dragons and the vets could clean up the place, but the fledglings enjoyed making messes in as many places as they could.
Dirk stepped around a pile and breathed through his mouth. How did the dragons stand the smell?
Vesta turned to him, hissing and raising her wings in defiance. Her golden eyes glared at him and she bared a row of sword-like teeth. Pointless dramatics. She was still determined to resist control.
His father would have punished her by sending pain impulses through her body. Dirk didn’t. Eventually Vesta would understand her opposition was futile. His method took longer, but the dragons hated him less during the process, so the extra time was worth it.
She shot a warning stream of fire that was too far away to reach him. Putting on a show. Which meant she was finally getting old enough—smart enough—to recognize that he wasn’t prey. He was a dragon lord, someone to reckon with. Before too long, she would realize that fighting against him was useless.
He slipped into her mind, today imagining her control center as a game console remote that he could pick up at will. His father liked to imagine the dragon’s control centers as beating hearts that he could grip and squeeze the life out of if he needed. Game consoles seemed less violent.
Come on, Vesta. Time to fly.
Her resistance evaporated as soon as she understood he was taking her outside. She was as happy as a dog going for a walk. He had to remind her to stay still so he could put on her saddle.
Once Dirk flew out of the enclosure, he spoke out loud to Tori. “Why haven’t I heard from you?” She would know he was talking to her.
While Vesta circled the property, he took out his phone and checked it. No answer. He was getting used to that response. He ran Vesta through a set of drills, making her dip, turn, slow, and speed up.
Still no answer from Tori. She had to be home from school by now. She must have found out about the kidnapping and was upset with him.
“I didn’t tell my father about Aaron,” he said. “My dad learned about him from your message. If you’re mad about that, you’ve been mad at the wrong person.” Dirk slid from the dragon’s back and flew next to her, skirting through trees.
At present, the fledglings looked more like overgrown gargoyles rather than sleek, beautiful dragons. In a month or so, new scales would begin to grow in. Either red, blue, black or green, depending on which genes Vesta had inherited from her from her parents.
“Besides,” Dirk went on, “Aaron doesn’t want to leave. He’s having a great time. The only time he ever complains is when he has to stop practicing with the dragons in order to do school work.” Their dad was making Aaron and Dirk do online classes—accelerated no less—because he was sure his children were brilliant, and if any of them weren’t above grade level, they were slacking off.
“Talk to me,” Dirk cajoled, “and I’ll tell you a dragon lord secret.”
That at least should get a response. He wasn’t sure what he’d tell her, but he could think of something that wouldn’t cause too much damage.
Still no response. Something was wrong.
Nothing serious could have happened to her, could it? The news would have reported on that. And he’d seen a photo of her on the internet a few days ago. Her dad had taken his family with him on the campaign trail and news sites had shown pictures of her smiling during a rally.
Tori might have been too far away to connect to Vesta during her campaign travels, but she should have heard some of his message over the last couple of weeks. She should be hearing this one now. Her family was back on the east coast, well within range.
Dirk landed on his lawn and practiced controlling Vesta while remaining at a distance. He shut off his phone and then slipped it into his pocket. He wouldn’t have been so worried about Tori’s silence, except he could think of one really bad explanation for it: His father had done something to her, maybe drugged her so she’d lost her Slayer abilities. If that was the case, it would mean she’d forgotten everything about the Slayers and forgotten Dirk too. Would any of her dragon lord abilities remain? Normally, drugging a dragon lord didn’t affect their abilities but neither he or his father were sure how Tori’s Slayer and dragon lord abilities were connected. Drugging her might make her lose both.
As Dirk considered the idea, it seemed more likely with every passing minute. He impatiently ran Vesta through the rest of her exercises. Instead of letting her strain against his will—allowing her to have some choice about whether or not to struggle and prolong the pressure of his commands, Dirk held onto her mind with a tight grip and left her no room for disobedience. Fast, easy, quick.
Even though Dirk returned Vesta to her enclosure fifteen minutes earlier than usual, the dragon was exhausted and cross. Oh well. Maybe they’d both be in a better mood tomorrow.
Dirk returned to the house and made a beeline up the stairs. Bridget sat in the hallway, singing to one of her dolls. He ignored her and marched to the den. His father didn’t like to be interrupted when he was working, but today Dirk didn’t care.
He knocked loudly on the door. He wanted to storm in, but his father didn’t allow anyone to come in without his permission. The den was where he kept all of his confidential records, where he contacted his agents, and in general, brokered the deals to buy the nation.
A shuffling sound came from behind the door—things being moved on the desk—but no answer.
Dirk wasn’t about to go away just because his father hadn’t answered. He opened the door and strode in.
His father wasn’t in the room. Aaron was. Which was odd because when their father wasn’t in the den, he always locked the door.
His brother stood by their father’s desk, an enormous cherry wood structure that pushed up against the right wall, so the computer screen wasn’t visible from the door. Aaron moved to the door, probably trying to give the impression that he’d been on his way out when Dirk came in. The guilt and fear rolling off of him, however, suggested he wasn’t in the room innocently.
Dirk cocked his head. “What are you doing in here?”
Aaron swallowed. “Same as you. Looking for Dad.”
Dirk glanced around the room to see if anything was out of place. Nothing seemed to be, but he’d definitely heard things shuffling on the desk.
“I thought Dad was here,” Aaron continued, trying a little too hard to be casual. “The door was open a crack, so I came in. But he’s not here, so now I’m leaving. You probably should lock the door when you go. He wouldn’t like it if he found it unlocked.”
Was Aaron offering to leave Dirk alone in here as a sort of bribe—a way of buying his silence?
Aaron tried to pass by Dirk to leave, but Dirk took hold of his arm and stopped him. “I’m impressed. How did you get past the lock?” The door had a keypad and his father didn’t give out the code.
Aaron pulled his arm away from Dirk. “I told you, the door was open.”
Hard to tell whether that was the truth or not. Aaron’s main emotion was fear. Any guilt he possibly felt for lying didn’t even make a dent in that sentiment.
Dirk still didn’t let him pass. “What were you looking for?”
“Dad,” Aaron said.
“If that were the truth, you wouldn’t be so afraid.”
Dirk could feel Aaron trying to control his emotions, trying to bottle up his fear. “I’m only afraid that you’re going to tell Dad about this and make him think I was doing something wrong.”
Aaron wasn’t lying about that. It was exactly what he was afraid of.
“Look,” Dirk said. “I don’t want to get you in trouble. I know you were probably in here searching for a way to call your mom or something. But you can’t ever come in here like this again. Dad has confidential stuff in here. Things he’d kill to protect. If he found you in here messing around—”
“Our mom,” Aaron said, and some of his fear vanished, replaced by annoyance.
“You said I was looking for a way to call my mom. She’s your mom too. And you don’t have a reason not to call her. Dad didn’t take away your phone. I can give you her phone number any time you want.”
Dirk dropped Aaron’s arm. “I have plenty of reasons not to call her. Reasons you’re too young to understand. And stop trying to get me off topic. We were talking about you breaking into Dad’s den and how it’s a really stupid idea.”
“He’s coming,” Aaron said, hurrying to the door. “We’ve got to go.”
“How do you know he’s coming?” Dirk asked, more alarmed than curious. Being here when their father came in wasn’t an option. He followed after Aaron.
“I saw his car out the window.”
“You weren’t looking out the window.”
“Didn’t have to. I saw it in the reflection of the picture frame.”
Dirk wasn’t about to stay and check to see what could be seen from reflections. He stepped out into the hallway and hit the lock button on the keypad. A moment later the sound of the garage door officially announced their father’s arrival.
Aaron disappeared down the hallway. Dirk would worry about getting the truth from him later. Right now he was going to talk to their father. He still needed to find out what, if anything his father had done to Tori. Dirk located him in the kitchen, pulling leftovers out of the fridge. He wore a suit and tie but had already loosened his collar.
Dirk folded his arms and got to the point. “Did you do something to Tori?”
His father hardly paused while he took out a container of stir-fry. “Not today. Why?”
“Have you done anything to take her memories away?”
His father shut the fridge, suddenly interested. “Why? Did she lose her memories?” He sounded surprised, amused, but not like he was responsible.
“I don’t know,” Dirk said. “I haven’t heard from her since November.”
His father took this information in, nodding while he put the stir-fry in the microwave. “Well, that’s troubling. You probably had plans for some sort of Christmas gift exchange, didn’t you?” He went to the silverware and grabbed a fork and knife. “Maybe this is Tori’s way of telling you she just wants to be friends, or in your case, enemies.”
Dirk didn’t say anything. He was judging his father’s reaction. Could he read his father as well as he thought? Was he just feigning innocence?”
“It’s not you,” his father went on, enjoying himself, “it’s her. Her misplaced loyalty, her short-sightedness, and her inability to recognize a man of quality.” The microwave dinged and his father took his plate out. “I’m beginning to feel quite offended on your behalf. Do you want me to find her and exact revenge?”
“No,” Dirk said stiffly. “That’s exactly what I don’t want you to do.” He stalked out of the kitchen before his father could suggest anything else. Dirk would have to find a way to speak to her himself. Tori had tracked him down at one of his school events, he could do the same. Even though her family had changed houses, chances were she was going to a high-security private school in the DC area. There were a limited number of those around. He’d start with the one she’d attended before her move: Veritas Academy.
Once he reached his bedroom, he checked Veritas Academy’s website. They had an away game on Friday with Maret. If he hadn’t heard from her by then, he’d figure out a way to go there and try to find her.