Slayers: The Dragon Lords is officially at the copy editor. Although that doesn’t mean that I’m not still thinking of things to change or add. Because that process happens until the book comes out.
Speaking of changes, for those of you who have been reading the book here on the website, the plot is essentially still the same although changes have occurred. The first half of the first chapter is different. And a few other places have been changed as well. (I added more of Jesse’s feelings toward Tori since someone pointed out that we didn’t see a lot of those. (Thanks Beta readers!) The chapters may be off if I decide to add another short chapter from Aaron’s pov–still debating on that one.) But the ending of the book will still make sense if you’ve read this then read the rest of the book picking up where you left off.
Tori was at a political rally in New York when she heard from Aaron. She was sitting in her seat beside Aprilynne and her mother, trying to maintain an interested and supportive expression in case any of the camera’s panned to her during her father’s speech. In the dragon lord part of her mind, she heard Aaron come into the enclosure and begin a training session with Khan. He did these every other day, sometimes with Dirk, sometimes with Overdrake, and most of the time he didn’t say anything that was informative. Usually it was stuff like, “Hey dragon, you’re looking especially big and fearsome today.” Or “Down boy,” or “Show me some respect, dude, because I can make you stand on your tiptoes and pirouette like a ballerina.”
This playful talk always worried Tori because she could tell Aaron was enjoying himself. Perhaps too much. If Tori had gained a bond with Khan after one trip into his mind—an unwanted bond that would make it harder for her to kill him during a battle—what were Aaron’s repeated excursions into the dragons’ minds doing to him?
Would his loyalty to his younger brother always be enough to keep him on the Slayers’ side? Perhaps before long, he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to give Tori intel. Not when he knew she’d use it to kill the dragons.
Tori enlarged the sound from Khan’s enclosure in her mind. She was listening for information but also wondering if Dirk was with Aaron today. It was always odd to hear Dirk’s familiar voice, to hear him joking around with his brother. He never gave any indication that he thought she might be eavesdropping. He never spoke directly to her.
More than once, she’d gone to the website where they exchanged messages to see if Dirk had written anything new there. He hadn’t. The code phrase about having a sore throat was the last thing there—the message not to contact him. Nothing else by way of an explanation. She’d considered writing him anyway, but what if he’d put up the warning because Overdrake had found a way to trace what she wrote there? She couldn’t risk her security or her family’s just because she wanted to talk to Dirk.
But really, how long did he plan on being silent? Almost three weeks had gone by.
“Yo, Lizard Legs,” Aaron called. “Your master is here.”
The dragon made a growling sound. A rustling noise came next: the dragon unfurling his wings.
Dirk hadn’t said anything today. Maybe he hadn’t come with Aaron this time. That meant Overdrake was probably around.
“None of that salty attitude,” Aaron said. “We’ve got work to do.”
The dragon let out a roar so loud Tori winced and pulled her focus away, minimizing the sound. Her eyes swept over the cameramen. All were still focused on her father. Good. None of them had caught her wincing while her father expounded on the importance of education.
“If any listening devices were in here,” Aaron said, “hopefully they’re fried now. That’s the best benefit of EMP as far as I can tell.”
Wait, Overdrake must not be in the enclosure. Aaron was talking to her. She leaned forward eagerly and enlarged the sound again.
“I found out where the eggs are. Four are going to hatch in the next few years. Those are here in the compound so the vets can watch over the shell thinning process. Although, I still don’t know where here is.”
Four. Even if the Slayers managed to kill all the dragons Overdrake was using now, four more would take their place soon enough.
“Two eggs are in a protected steel building in Venezuela,” Aaron continued. “They’re payment to someone for some sort of help. The leaders insisted on having the eggs, which Overdrake thinks is funny because once they hatch, they’re likely to kill whoever is keeping them. Their owner obviously doesn’t understand the whole concept of what a dragon lord is. Overdrake is planning on taking either Dirk or me to Venezuela to reclaim them as soon as they start to hatch.”
Overdrake had a dark sense of humor if that was the sort of thing he found humorous.
“The other six eggs are being stored in 2045 Water Street, Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. The place has round the clock security guards. I’m not sure how many, but I don’t think it’s a lot. Overdrake is going to move them someplace closer before he attacks. I don’t know where or when that is.”
Tori hadn’t expected such important information, at least not this soon. She needed something to write with. She repeated the words 2045 Water Street, Lock Haven in her mind as she grabbed her purse and searched for a pen.
Aprilynne shot her a sideways glance. “What are you doing?” she whispered.
Tori didn’t answer. 2045 Water Street, Lock Haven.
She didn’t have a pen. All she had was makeup.
Aaron began speaking again. “As far as controlling dragons, I’ve learned a couple of things.”
She wasn’t ready to remember more things yet. She still had to write down the address so she wouldn’t forget it.
“After I go into the dragon’s mind, at first it feels like I’m just sharing the dragon’s senses. I’ve got to go beyond that to control it. I picture a path that leads to its control center, and it’s sort of freaky because once I think about the path, it appears in front of me—like it’s a real thing. At first, Overdrake had to show me each of the paths while we were in the dragon’s mind together, but now I can do it on my own.”
She uncapped a blue eyeliner pencil and as inconspicuously as she could manage, wrote 2045 Water Street on her arm.
She wasn’t inconspicuous enough. Aprilynne leaned over, horrified. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” She added Lock Haven, in deep blue letters. The word almost reached her wrist.
Aprilynne’s gaze darted to the camera. They were still trained on their father. “That’s not nothing. That’s an address written on your arm.”
“Shhh,” Tori said.
“… path is like wading across a dark, thick river,” Aaron continued. Tori had missed the first part of his sentence. “Jupiter’s is like finding a waterfall in a bunch of lights.”
“You’re shushing me?” Aprilynne hissed. “You’re the one making a mess all over your arm. How are you going to keep people from seeing that?”
“Shhh,” Tori said again.
“Vesta’s is like pushing through a wall of rubber branches—sort of bumpy and jiggly. And Khan’s path is more like walking through strings of seaweed.”
Yes, that’s what it had been like—seaweed that sprouted from the ceiling instead of the floor. Tori needed to jot down the others so she remembered them. Under the address, she wrote: V branches, J lights, which meant the dark river must belong to M, Minerva.
Aprilynne coughed in disbelief, then leaned back into her chair shaking her head. “It’s these sort of things that make Mom and Dad worry about your mental stability.”
“Once you get to the control center, you give the dragon’s will a shape by picturing it as an object. It can be anything as long as it’s small enough to hold, but you should use the same thing each time until it becomes automatic. As long as you’re holding the object, you’ve got control. If another dragon lord got there before you and has a control object, yours won’t work. That’s all I’ve learned so far.” Aaron was silent for a moment, then said, “I nearly got caught finding out the information about the eggs, so I don’t know when I’ll be able to tell you anything else.” Another, longer pause. “I don’t know how long I can hide stuff from Dirk. I have to make myself not think about you most of the time. I have to…I don’t know. Maybe I’ll have to really be a dragon lord for a while so they don’t catch me.”
What did Aaron mean, he would have to really be a dragon lord for a while?
What did being a dragon lord entail? Overthrowing a few cities? Plotting the Slayers demise?
Aprilynne nudged her. “Stop glowering or everyone will wonder why you hate Medicare.”
Tori replastered her supportive smile on her face and tried to look interested again.
“I hope you’re connected to Khan or Minerva,” Aaron said with a sigh in his voice. “Because I don’t know when I’ll get time to talk around the fledgling dragons. Overdrake doesn’t leave me alone with them. They’re mean and unpredictable.” His voice changed, turned into the sing-song voice people used when speaking to animals. “Not like you, boy. You’re just a big scaly dog, aren’t you?”
Aaron was already too attached to Khan. Tori couldn’t help frowning again.
After that Aaron didn’t say anything else. Tori kept listening, straining to hear more, but the only sounds were those of the dragon’s heavy footsteps and then wingbeats. The dragon was moving around the enclosure, probably obeying Aaron’s unspoken instructions.
She should send the information about the egg’ locations to Dr. B and then wipe off the eyeliner before anyone saw it. An address would be a particularly bad thing for the cameras to catch if Overdrake happened to be watching coverage of this speech.
Tori pushed the button on her watch that signaled she had a message for Dr. B, then began slowly texting out the address into her watch. Speaking into it would have been faster, but she didn’t want Aprilynne to hear. Her sister wouldn’t be reassured about Tori’s mental health if she suddenly began to hold a conversation with her wrist about how the voice in her head had told her where the dragon eggs were hidden.
Once the address was sent, she put the other information in a text and sent it to herself. When she was done, she leaned over Aprilynne and asked her mother for a tissue. Her mother pulled two from her purse and handed them to Tori with barely a glance in her direction. “If you have to blow your nose, wait until you’re sure the cameras aren’t on you.”
Aprilynne looked upward. “Oh, we’re so beyond anything Miss Manners could fix.”
Tori wiped the eyeliner off her arm as discreetly as she could manage, making sure the cameras stayed pointed at her father. While she did, she checked her watch for a return message from Dr. B.
No answer yet.
He’d called a practice for this afternoon and in all likelihood, it was still going on. With the Slayers already assembled, perhaps they were busy planning a mission to the address. The group would need to scope out the building first. If only a few security guards were around, taking them out wouldn’t be too hard. Or at least it wouldn’t be if Bess were with them.
Tori fought another frown. They’d just have to do the job without her shield. Kody could knock guns from the security guards’ hands.
Tori’s arm had become a smudge of blue. That’s what she got for buying the expensive brand of eyeliner. This stuff wasn’t coming off. She kept surreptitiously wiping. Both tissues were blue and her arm looked like she had a large bruise.
Dr. B wrote back Where did Aaron get this information from?
Tori glanced at the cameras and then answered. He didn’t say. He only mentioned he’d almost been caught finding it. He also said he was going to have act like a dragon lord for a while. Although Tori couldn’t bring herself to admit that part to Dr. B.
Dr. B didn’t ask any other questions. Tori waited for ten minutes then fifteen. Finally she wrote When are we going to Lock Haven?
We’ve been studying satellite pictures, he replied. The address is listed as the Energize Nutrition office building. Very rural, wooded area. We’re currently debating the merits of a mission.
Debating the merits? It shouldn’t be a question of ‘if’. This was the inside information they’d been waiting for. This was the whole reason she’d sent Aaron into enemy territory. He’d taken risks to get them intel that would give the Slayers an advantage. They couldn’t ignore the lead.
The merits are obvious, she wrote back. Six fewer dragons to fight. The debate should be about the best way to destroy them.
A few moments later, Dr. B’s answer showed up on her watch. I’ll let the others tell you about their concerns.
A stream of messages made their way across her watch face in quick succession.
From Jesse: Are you sure you can read Aaron well enough to tell whether he’s telling the truth?
From Ryker: Aaron has only been a mole for a few weeks. How likely is it that Overdrake gave him important information and then left him alone with dragons—even though Overdrake knows Aaron could pass those details on to you? One or both are up to something.
From Kody: I say let’s kick this pig. If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch.
Was that a concern or a vote of confidence? With Kody, sometimes it was hard to tell.
From Rosa: Overdrake might have given false information to Aaron in order to see if he passes it along to you. If we show up at the building, Overdrake will know Aaron is helping us.
From Lilly: How stupid do you think we are? We already went on a mission to destroy dragon eggs, and we were nearly killed. Now you’re suggesting it again? You might be able to read Aaron, but none of us can read you. This is the exact same thing as Dirk did to us. How do we know you haven’t switched sides?
Well, so much for Lilly and Tori’s truce. It had probably been doomed from the start. Tori was too impatient to type out an answer to Lilly so she lifted her watch to her lips, pretending to scratch her ear while she whispered into it. “You know I haven’t switched sides because if I had, the first thing I would have done is teach you some manners.”
Aprilynne shot Tori a look. “What?”
Tori lowered her hand, glancing at the message from Lilly that flashed across her watch face. Try it and you’ll have your ask handed back to you on a tray.
The reply almost made Tori laugh out loud. Theo apparently hadn’t programmed the voice recognition software to repeat swearwords.
Tori lifted her watch to her lips again. “Really?” she murmured. “What else will be on that tray besides my ask?”
A moment later Lilly wrote Go to help.
Aprilynne let out an exaggerated sigh and kept her voice low. “Is this some sort of cry for attention? Are you trying to get Mom and Dad to worry about you? Because if that’s why you go through these episodes where you act insane, you’re being selfish. Dad needs your support right now.”
“Sorry,” Tori said. And she waited a couple of minutes before she typed I can tell Aaron isn’t lying and I doubt Overdrake would feed Aaron false information. He realizes what the rest of you have forgotten. If I don’t connect to an egg when I get close to the building, I’ll know they’re not there.
Dr. B was the one who wrote back this time. We need to investigate the building further. We’ll contact you with our decision.
Their decision. The phrase shouldn’t have irked Tori, but it did. Granted, she knew the drill—decisions that affected the group were supposed to be made by the group. She was only one vote among many. She understood that. But why couldn’t the rest of them see the opportunity Aaron had given them—six fewer dragons to fight. And how were they going to investigate the building? She was the only one that would be able to tell them what they needed to know—whether or not dragon eggs were inside.
But Dr. B hadn’t even asked her when she would be able to take a trip to Lock Haven.
He hadn’t asked because he knew the Slayers wouldn’t vote to attack the building. They were too suspicious of the source.
Frustration welled inside of her. She wasn’t going to let Aaron’s sacrifice be for nothing, and she wasn’t going to sit idly by while six more dragons hatched. Each of those dragons was just another way for her friends to die. Whether they appreciated it or not, she would do everything in her power to save their lives. If that meant taking care of the eggs herself, so be it.
This weekend her parents were leaving for a campaigning trip to Iowa. Tori could invent a shopping date with friends on Saturday and be gone most of the day without worrying her sister. Tori wrote back I’m going to take a look at the building on Saturday night. Anyone who wants to come with me will need battle gear.
A moment later, Dr. B’s answer paraded over her watch. We work as a team.
We should, Tori answered. But I’m afraid my team will be pretty small on Saturday.
Big surprise, Lilly wrote. Tori has decided her way is the best.
Dr. B’s response was immediate. No one is going anywhere Saturday. Tori and I will discuss this later.
That was the end of the messages, which was perhaps a good thing since Aprilynne leaned over. “Why do you keep playing with your watch? This is live television.”
“I think it’s broken,” Tori whispered back.
“If it’s dead, don’t try to revive it. The thing belongs in the graveyard of bad fashion choices—right next to plastic shoes and headbands that go across people’s foreheads.”
Tori sat silently for the rest of her father’s speech, attempting not to look frustrated, discouraged, or anything else a wandering camera could interpret as being sullen about her father’s agenda.
What were the chances the Slayers would approve the mission? They didn’t trust Aaron because he was a dragon lord. They thought he would betray them like Dirk had. When it came down to it, they wouldn’t put their lives on the line for her plan. Or maybe they just didn’t trust her judgment.
How had she gone from not wanting the responsibility of being A-team’s leader to being angry because the Slayers wouldn’t follow her?