First off, I want to say that I just realized–and I mean moments ago–that I’ve been doing revisions on Slayers 5 for eleven months. Eleven months! It has never taken me so long to revise a book and I’m not even sure why it has taken so long. Yes, I’ve had two new grandchildren added to the family, and I’ve revised my screenplays, and helped my son with his book–but still, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to revise a book. I think someone must have stolen a good portion of the days allotted to me in the last eleven months. That’s the only explanation. If anyone finds the stolen days, please return them to me.
And here’s chapter 14. Tomorrow I’m going to start work on the Dirk epilogue.
Because yeah, I’m still not done. Sigh.
Aaron found Bridget in her bedroom, hosting a Barbie pool party. Cassie was in the family room, waiting for news of the attack on DC. It couldn’t be much longer. Once that coverage started, she wouldn’t check on either of them for a while.
Unless the cameras showed Slayers fighting the dragons. Then Cassie might wonder how the Slayers knew the dragons would be there. If their presence in DC wasn’t enough to immediately implicate Aaron, well, Dirk would take care of that when he got home and began questioning him.
Aaron sat down on Bridget’s bed. “Ready to play spy again? We never finished our last mission.”
Bridget glanced up at him, a doll poised mid-dive who’d apparently decided to wear a tutu to this pool party. “We aren’t allowed to play that anymore. Remember, Dirk told us not to.”
“Right.” Aaron pretended to recall that instruction. “Let’s play dragon lords and Slayers instead. We’ll pretend that Dirk, Dad, your mom, and Norma are all Slayers and they want to hurt the dragons.”
Bridget dropped her Barbie doll in the pool, making a splashing sound effect. “Okay. I’ll play, as long as I get to be a dragon lord.”
Aaron sat on his hands so he didn’t start biting off his fingernails. Norma, the housekeeper, was around somewhere and she checked on Bridget every so often. He didn’t have a lot of time. “Did you get Minerva’s lock code, like I asked you back when we were spies? I might need to fly her to safety.”
Dirk and Overdrake used a thumbprint to open the enclosures during Aaron’s practice, but when they were out exercising the dragons, the cleaning crew used a number sequence to get in. Overdrake never worried about them sneaking inside when they weren’t supposed to. The dragons would have happily eaten trespassers.
Bridget stood up, more enthusiastic now. “I wrote the numbers down like you said.”
The nice thing about Bridget was that people were used to her hanging around and getting underfoot. The cleaning crew had probably just smiled politely and shooed her away when they found her waiting outside Minerva’s enclosure. And since Bridget had no powers of any kind, Dirk couldn’t use his counterpart skills on her to check if she was doing anything underhanded.
She went to her dresser and took a piece of paper from her bottom drawer, then flounced back over to him. The paper had been folded sloppily into a blob. In crayon, she’d written 82479.
He sat down on her bed and repeated the numbers over and over.
Bridget stood by his side peering at him in question. “Why are you saying it out loud?”
“So I’ll remember the numbers.”
“But that’s why I wrote them down.” She cocked her head. “Aren’t you pretending to be the smart type of dragon lord?”
“I just don’t want the paper to fall into the Slayer’s hands.” If things didn’t go the way Aaron planned, he couldn’t risk being caught with the access code on him. No way he’d be able to talk his way out of that. “Eight seven four… or was it four seven?” Bridget’s chattering had already made him forget the order. “Dang.” Turned out he wasn’t the smart type of dragon lord. He looked at the paper again. Eight two four seven nine.
Bridget sat next to him on the bed and swung her legs back and forth. “The cleaners remember it because of Pompeii.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just heard a man say that was how he remembered it. I thought maybe there was a Volcano inside, but Dirk says there isn’t.” She huffed in a way that raised her shoulders. “I can’t go inside by myself to check or the dragons will eat me.”
And then Aaron figured out what the sequence was. A date. Pompeii’s destruction: August 24, 79 AD.
The other enclosures’ codes were probably also the dates of disasters, but he had no way of checking. History had too many disasters. Besides, he only needed one dragon and he wasn’t about to take Vesta. She was too unpredictable and dangerous.
Aaron ripped up the paper. He would flush it down the toilet before he went to the enclosure. “Do you know where Cassie’s purse is?”
Bridget nodded. “She keeps all of them in her closet.”
“We may need money to buy food for our dragons. Sneak through them and bring me a few bills. If someone catches you, claim you were looking for candy.”
Almost before he finished speaking, Bridget was out the door.
His next task would be harder. He pulled a small knife from his sock. He’d stolen it from the kitchen earlier in order to dig out the tracking chip Overdrake had inserted into him. He undid his jeans, found the spot behind his hip with the raised bump, and gingerly jabbed at his skin with the blade. He stopped every time a poke grew too painful, which was pretty much always.
He’d never get at the chip this way. Small beads of blood prevented him from seeing how deep he’d gone. He couldn’t even see the edges of the chip. He wiped at the blood in annoyance.
The doorknob rattled, startling him. As the door swung open, he hitched his pants back up, suddenly realizing how bad this looked. If Norma saw him—
His heartbeat only returned to normal when Bridget skipped in and shut the door behind her. She clutched several bills in her hand. His sister had been faster than he’d thought.
“Anyone see you?”
She didn’t answer. “Why do you have a knife?”
He wiped what little blood was on the blade onto the side of his jeans. “In case I run into monsters.”
“Why were you putting it in your butt?
“Ok, let’s be clear on this, I wasn’t putting it in my butt.” After he left, he didn’t want her last memory to be that she’d walked in on him while he’d—for some mysterious reason—been stabbing himself in the rear end. “This is my hip.” He touched the spot and grimaced. “A bad guy shot me here and I was trying to dig out the bullet. Didn’t quite get it.”
Bridget put a hand over her mouth and giggled. “A bad guy shot you in the butt.”
Time to change the subject. “Did you find any money?”
He’d been expecting five or ten dollars. She handed him a fifty and two twenties. Cassie clearly carried more cash in her wallet than his mom ever had.
Bridget stepped away from him and glanced at the knife. “I don’t want to play anymore if I have to get shot in the butt.”
Aaron took the money and shoved it into his pocket. “No one will ever shoot you because you’re the best dragon lord ever.”
She beamed. “Yeah, I’m pretty cool.”
“We’re done saving the dragons for the day.” Aaron bent over to slip the knife back into his sock. His jeans rubbed against the cut, making it hurt again. “I was able to kill all the bad guys, you know, after they shot me in the hip.”
She giggled again.
He waved his hand over the injury. “This is definitely the hip area. So don’t go telling anyone I have butt wounds, okay?”
Her giggles increased.
He picked up a doll and tossed it to her. “Better get back to Barbie. She wants to swim again.”
Bridget didn’t try to catch the doll. Instead she launched herself at him and hugged him around the legs. “Don’t go yet. I want you to stay.”
She meant she wanted him to stay and play with her, but the words still made his throat tighten. He ruffled his hand through her dark hair. He’d never felt like she was actually his sister until this moment, until he was standing here planning on running away. Bridget was his family just as much as his brother Jacob was, and he was leaving her to be raised by Overdrake. She would grow up to despise Aaron, their father would make sure of that.
Bridget’s eyes brightened. “Are you going to visit Minerva now? You can take me flying.”
Bridget loved when he soared around the house with her riding piggyback. That’s how he’d convinced her to get the passcode for one of the dragon’s doors. He’d told her he’d be able to fly with her more often if he could visit a dragon whenever he wanted.
“Later,” he said. “Can you draw me two pictures first? One of you and one of our entire family.”
It was a stupid request—asking for a crayon rendition of the family. He would be gone before she finished them. But he wished he could take them. He didn’t have any pictures of her and he was going to miss her constant smiles and innocent adoration.
She nodded, went to her desk, and pulled out crayons and paper, humming. She laid them in front of her, all concentration.
Was there any way to take her with him? His mom wouldn’t mind having Bridget around. In fact, she’d probably like doing girly stuff with her. Aaron dismissed the idea as soon as it came to his mind. When his mom had left his dad, she hadn’t even taken Dirk with her because it was too dangerous. Overdrake would never let Aaron get away with taking Bridget. He probably wouldn’t let him get away with stealing a dragon.
Suddenly Aaron felt himself wavering about whether he should actually do that. He could fly out of here on his own, but his powers would wear off once he’d been away from a dragon for an hour, and he had no idea where he was or how far it was to his home in North Carolina. He might not even reach civilization in an hour. He still had a chip implanted in him and getting it out wasn’t going to be as easy as he hoped. If Overdrake came after him, Aaron would need to defend himself. And a dragon was about the best defense he could have.
Also, it would be easier to convince authorities that his father was a dangerous dragon lord if he had a fifty-ton visual aid. Otherwise, Aaron would have no way to prove that anything he said was true. The government would think he was just some runaway making stuff up. They might even turn him back over to his father.
Aaron listened at the door, checking for any approaching footsteps. He had to get away from here and find a place to call his mom. She would know how to get him safely home.
Bridget drew with a silver glitter crayon. “I’m going to draw Dirk sparkly so he’ll be happy again.”
Aaron didn’t want to talk about Dirk. His older brother was in league with their father. If Dirk didn’t feel warm and sunshiney about what was happening, that was his problem.
On an impulse, Aaron went over to Bridget’s desk and hugged her. “Draw me sparkly too.”
And then he left.
No one was in the hallway. He made his way to the kitchen door, opening it as silently as he could, then slipped outside. If Cassie heard him go, she didn’t bother to come after him to see what he was doing.
With every step Aaron took to the enclosure, he questioned himself. Maybe he should stay. For all he knew, the Slayers wouldn’t even go to DC. He didn’t know whether Tori had gotten his message. And even if she had, maybe she’d just warned the military so they’d be on alert. He’d come here to help the Slayers, to feed Tori information. Didn’t he owe it to them to stay longer?
But another part of him was busy imagining all sorts of horrible things Overdrake would do to him when he got home. If he realized someone tipped off Tori about the attack on DC, it wouldn’t take him long to figure out that Aaron was to blame for that and for telling her where to find the dragon eggs. What sort of pain would his father inflict for that crime?
Aaron wouldn’t have many moments like this—when Dirk and Overdrake were gone and Cassie was too engrossed to keep tabs on him. Time to end this game. He’d heroed enough.
Aaron hurried through the enclosure doors and strode downstairs to Minerva’s section. Other people were around sometimes, vets or cleaners. Aaron had been prepared with a story about how his father had asked him to check on Minerva, but he was spared having to lie. The hallway was empty.
He went to the door, punched in Pompeii’s destruction date, and then was inside.
The smell always hit him first. Dragon dung mixed with the scent of disinfectant the cleaners uses. It didn’t matter how fast the cleaners took care of the waste, whiffs of it still permeated the place. Minerva lay on the ground, wings tucked at her sides, her neck wrapped around her body. She was both a piece of art and a giant glistening red mound of a dozen ways to die. She sleepily blinked open her golden eyes and sniffed the air to see if he’d brought food. When she realized he hadn’t, she found him uninteresting and shut her eyes again. If he’d walked into Vesta’s cave, she would have tried to rip his throat out the moment he stepped inside.
Aaron connected to the dragon’s mind, pushed his way into the control center, and imagined Minerva’s will as a video game remote. He didn’t have to try hard to conjure that image. He was familiar enough with it now.
Come here he told her.
She rose to her feet and lumbered over.
Stand still he commanded.
He took the Kevlar shield from the closet, flew around the dragon, and strapped it to her chest. He hated that it took so long, but he had no choice but to put it on her. Minerva would be vulnerable to gunfire otherwise. After Overdrake hit DC, everyone would be on the lookout for dragons.
Aaron didn’t attach a saddle chair. He didn’t want to take any more time delaying his escape. He only had one thing left he needed to do: get his chip out, and he needed to do that fast. Messing with the knife again would be too slow.
He landed in front of Minerva. I need your help. Put the tip of your smallest claw on my left hip. Here… He lowered the side of his jeans to expose the skin. Careful, he told her. Don’t scratch me until I tell you and then only do it very slightly. I need you to dig a small chip out.
Minerva felt no puzzlement at this odd request. The dragons never wondered why they were given any particular command. Their only emotion was either willing compliance or resentment. Perhaps all of the dragon lords’ commands were equally odd to them.
Minerva lowered her head until her muzzle nearly touched Aaron’s hip. Only scratch me a little, so you don’t hurt me. Perhaps using a dragon as a scalpel was a bad idea, but he was committed now. Can you smell it?
The dragon didn’t answer, but Aaron smelled what the dragon smelled—the scent of blood and something else; something with the buzz of electronics not far below the wound.
I need you to make the tiniest hole possible to get the chip out. Not a deep hole or a big hole—the tiniest one possible.
Aaron hadn’t been able to hurt himself, but Minerva had no such qualms. As soon as Aaron finished giving the command, the tip of her claw dug into Aaron’s hip. Pain flashed through him so sharply he let out a gasping scream and jumped away from the dragon’s reach.
Blood bloomed across Aaron’s hip. He put his hand over it and swore. Several times.
He’d brought bandages in his pocket, but the cut seemed too big to be stopped by a few patches of gauze. He pulled them out anyway, hands shaking. I told you to make the tiniest hole possible. Do we need to work on your hand-eye coordination?
Minerva didn’t answer, of course. She just licked the blood off her claw. His blood.
Don’t get used to it, Aaron told her. That’s all you’re going to get.
Minerva lowered her head, about to lick up the bloodied chip on the floor. Don’t, Aaron said.
The last thing he needed was for the dragon to eat the chip so Overdrake could still track them. As it was, his father might have chipped the dragon. He could have even set up the chip to signal him if a dragon left the enclosure. But Overdrake was far away and busy right now. Aaron’s best bet was still taking Minerva.
Later, when he was a safe distance away, he’d call Tori and ask her what he should do with a dragon. Maybe keeping her would be worth the risk if it meant Minerva could fight for them.
With his hand pressed over his wound, Aaron pulled the lever that opened the roof. The ceiling slid open, revealing clouds so heavy, they looked like they were trying to suffocate the ground. Good. They’d provide cover.
He leaped onto Minerva’s back and held onto her neck. Fly!
He had to get far, far away from here while he could.