I’m hoping to have the Jesse version (maybe even the Dirk version) available within the next two weeks. Yay!!! I can’t express how many exclamation marks I want to put after that word.
Anyway, so that people can reread the last couple of books, if they want, starting Oct 8 Book three will be free for a few days and book four will be .99. (Please leave Amazon reviews! Also, imagine a lot more exclamation marks with that plea.) I will try to remember to put the links here on Tuesday but we all know what my memory is like, so….
Tori rocketed toward the Capitol steps. Another round of shots rang out. The sound was muffled in the mayhem of screams and the clatter of fleeing footsteps. A bullet hit her and knocked her back in the air, but it didn’t penetrate her jacket. She wasn’t even sure whether the shot was meant for her or the dragon. Didn’t matter. She had to find her father.
Jupiter dropped the Senator’s body. It hit the steps with a dull thud and lay there motionless, his black suit coat rumpled and gaping open. Tori wanted to look away but couldn’t. The man’s neck was bent in an unnatural position, his eyes blank. Trickles of blood seeped down the steps below him.
Ryker’s voice blasted in her earpiece, directing all the Slayers to go immediately to the Capitol Building. Tori hardly heard him. The words that ran through her mind were the instructions Dr. B had given earlier. Your first priority is killing the dragons. Your second is protecting civilians.
Well, that was one more order she was going to ignore, because she wasn’t fighting anything until she made sure her father got to safety.
Amid the frenzy, she was having a hard time finding him. He hadn’t had time to run back into the building, but she didn’t see him heading the other direction. One cameraman ran down the stairs, shooting footage of the dragon over his shoulder as he went. That was either extreme dedication or stupidity.
She finally spotted her dad helping a woman to her feet. The reporter wore heels so high they could have been considered a death trap even if she hadn’t needed to evade a carnivore.
Tori wheeled toward them, arms outstretched. During practice, she’d carried two people often enough, but she’d always had time to situate them properly—one person on her back, the other clutched in her arms. No time for that now. With one hand, she grabbed her father’s arm, with the other, she hooked the woman by the back of her coat. The two only had time to look up at her, startled, before Tori yanked them into the sky.
The woman shrieked in surprise and tried to thrash free but only managed to lose her shoes. Hopefully they didn’t impale anyone below. Her father yelled something unintelligible and jerked in her grasp. Apparently he too had decided that falling was a better option.
“Keep still,” Tori barked. “I’m saving your lives.” The commotion on the steps shrunk away as she soared higher.
Her father stopped struggling and stared at her darkened visor. “Tori? Is that you? What are you—How are you doing this?”
He’d said her name. Way to blow her cover in front of a reporter. “We’ll talk about it later, Senator. Right now, we’ve got to lose a dragon.” And then because she couldn’t help herself, she added, “Which, I’d like to point out, is completely real.”
She scanned the area, searching for a safe place to take her father. The senate building was close, but if Overdrake planned to take out the nation’s leaders, it might be his next target. She couldn’t risk going there.
She’d find someplace else out of the way. She swooped toward the Grant Memorial. The statues of charging cavalry soldiers looked appropriately horrified by the chaos.
Her father craned his head to see the Capitol Building’s stairs. The dragon was letting out a blaze of fire that encompassed several steps. “Put me down. I need to . . .” He paused, seeming to realize how little he could do. “I need to call the authorities.”
“Now you want to use your phone,” Tori said. “I’ve been calling you for the last three hours.” She flew over the reflecting pool, dragging their images across the water.
Her father took hold of the bottom of her jacket to steady himself. “I’ve got to warn the other congressmen.”
“I’m pretty sure the screaming people rushing into the building is warning enough.” Tori pulled her father closer so she could change her grip to put her arm around his waist.
The reporter was clutching Tori’s leg with her free hand so tightly, Tori didn’t dare try to peel her off. Moving the woman would just freak her out and she was already breathing so quickly she was probably hyperventilating.
“What was that thing?” the reporter gasped out. “Dragons aren’t possible.”
“So I’ve heard,” Tori said.
Her father gaped down at Third Street passing beneath them, at cars tooling along without concern. “Speaking of impossible, how are you flying?”
She’d never been exactly sure herself. “I kind of got involved in this superhero gig. If you ask me, it should come with a flexible curfew. Just saying.”
Traffic moved in its usual slow place, perhaps even slower due to the fog. The drivers didn’t know. They didn’t realize that an EMP blast was almost certainly coming. Their cars would stop working and they’d be trapped in the city with a rampaging dragon. In fact, it seemed strange that Overdrake hadn’t already hit the city with EMP. Maybe this time he wanted the cameras to record the dragon attack. Maybe he wanted to put that bit of violence in front of everyone’s eyes.
Into her earpiece, Bess said, “T-bird, status?”
“Fleeing with passengers.” The other Slayers probably wouldn’t approve of this, but they’d understand. “I’ve got Senator Hampton,” she emphasized. Overdrake had a personal vendetta against Tori and if he could, he’d use her father’s safety to control her.
“Don’t take long,” Ryker said. “I’ll need help fighting the gargantuan lizard.”
Tori glanced over her shoulder, and that’s when she saw Jupiter in the air. His wings looked like dark knife blades against the white clouds. And he was flying her direction. Was he pursuing her—or worse, her father? Tori picked up her speed. She wouldn’t let the dragon catch them, vulnerable in the sky.
She kept her voice low while she spoke into her mic. “He’s flying over Third Street.” Her father and the woman hadn’t noticed Jupiter yet and Tori wasn’t about to mention that the dragon might be hunting them. More hysteria wouldn’t help the situation.
Her father kept staring down. His cheeks were red from the cold and he had to squint against the wind. “This is breaking all the laws of gravity.”
“It’s not the only law I’ve broken lately,” Tori said. Now that her Dad knew she was a Slayer, she ought to warn him about those sorts of other details.
The reporter’s hair whipped around her in wild disarray and her coat flapped out behind her. “Where are you taking us?”
That was the question. Where could Tori put her father that would be safe from Jupiter? Only office buildings and highways spread out around them. The Potomac lay ahead.
“The Pentagon,” Tori decided. It was just over the river, had armed security, and was close enough to Fort Meyers that backup was probably already on the way. She changed trajectory, heading that direction.
Her father looked behind them. “Is that thing chasing us?”
“Probably,” Tori said. Into her mic, she added, “I could use some help.”
“Heading your way,” Ryker said.
The reporter peered over her shoulder, took several deep breaths, and made high pitched squeaking sounds.
“He won’t catch us,” Tori assured them. But she wasn’t positive. Once they flew across the river, nothing would be between them and the dragon. Tori wouldn’t be able to maneuver or hide. And with her hands full, she couldn’t even access her weapons. She’d just be easy prey.
Had it only been a couple of days ago that Tori had struggled with a desire to protect the dragons? That had been a stupid impulse. Clearly misguided. She wanted to snatch back those desires like they were a gift she’d decided to keep.
Instead of heading into the open, she dropped low and weaved around a building, using it as a screen. She skimmed over traffic, noting the startled faces that peered up at her from cars. A bicyclist ran into the curb and tumbled onto the sidewalk with a clang. Tori swished away from the traffic and around the corner of another building.
She wasn’t sure if she’d lost the dragon, but she had an advantage in this chase. She could go into Jupiter’s mind and see what he saw. She hesitated to do it. A trip into his brain would make it harder to kill him later and that was a complication she didn’t want. On the other hand, she needed to keep track of the dragon so she could tell the Slayers where to find him.
She wouldn’t go into his control center—this would be a bad time to faint—she’d just go into the first level of his mind. The sound of the wind, the noise of the city, and the chatter of the Slayers in her earpiece had drowned out her dragon hearing. She enlarged it, focusing on the noise around Jupiter. She let her mind follow that link like it was a trail until she breached the distance and entered his consciousness.
It was a feeling of enlargement. A feeling like coming home. Her senses could stretch here and grow. With her own eyes, she still saw the boxy buildings, barren trees, and streets shrouded by fog, but she also saw the landscape from farther up.
And along with those senses, she noticed Overdrake’s presence in Jupiter’s mind like a shadow that encompassed everything. “Tori.” His voice echoed with contempt. “What are you doing in DC?”
She didn’t answer. Talking to Overdrake never did any good.
“Are you here alone,” he asked, “or did you bring your friends?”
He’d know soon enough.
Jupiter slowed and soared higher, probably searching for her. The fog would only do so much to conceal her. She rounded the corner of the International Spy Museum and pressed up against the side of the building. The dragon wouldn’t be able to smell her this far away, not with the layer of exhaust that blanketed the city.
Jupiter scanned the buildings. He didn’t see her. Good. She would wait until he looked elsewhere to dart away.
“Put me down,” the woman murmured, then immediately swallowed and shook her head. “Wait, don’t. The dragon will eat me before I can make it inside.”
Tori was so focused on Jupiter that it took her a moment to realize she was drawing attention from inside the museum. A group was gathering at the window to gape at the three people pressed against the glass.
Her father gave them an uncertain wave.
“Hide if you want,” Overdrake said in Jupiter’s mind. “You won’t always be able to protect Daddy.”
Maybe, but it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. Jupiter flapped his wings in a way that made him hover. He swished his tail, screeched in anger, then flipped in the air and headed back the way he’d come. She didn’t disconnect from him. It was better to know where he was.
Inside the museum, the lights blinked out. Startled horns from the cars below announced they’d been hit with EMP as well.
But Jupiter was leaving. That was the important thing. Tori waited another moment to make sure the dragon didn’t circle back, then she peeled away from the building and sped toward the river, passengers firmly in hand. Reaching the Pentagon would only take her another minute, and her father would be safe there. Then she’d do something about Overdrake.
Tori flew past a marina and over the cold dark waters of the Potomac. As the river lapped along, the smell of water and fish intermingled with the wind. Safety was close. She could see the Pentagon.
“Go ahead and run away,” Overdrake told her in Jupiter’s mind. “Tell the Slayers how you couldn’t stop me.”
“Tori,” her father said, pulling her attention to him. He’d been speaking to her.
She didn’t answer. She had to tell the Slayers Jupiter’s location. “He turned around,” she said into her mic.
“What?” her father asked. “Who are you talking to?”
“I need specifics,” Ryker said. “East? North?”
“Toward Capitol Hill,” Tori said. And the dragon was heading there fast.
“I’m on it,” Ryker said. “Keep me updated.”
“Tori,” her father said louder. “Why aren’t you answering me?”
“Maybe she needs to concentrate.” The reporter tightened her grip on Tori’s leg. “We shouldn’t bother her.”
They were passing over the lagoon in front of the Pentagon. Tori slowed her speed and descended toward the manicured grass at the entrance. The reporter didn’t loosen her grip. “Too fast! Don’t drop us!”
Tori had planned on dropping them a few feet above the ground, but the woman’s alarm was a reminder that Tori wasn’t dealing with Slayers. The public was so much more prone to fits of panic. “Relax. I’ll set you down.”
Before Tori touched the ground, half a dozen burly men in battle gear rushed out the door with their rifles aimed at her. Pentagon security guards. They were all nerves and adrenaline. “Arms over your head!” one yelled.
“She’s with me,” Tori’s father called back. “You recognize me, don’t you? I’m Senator Hampton. This is my daughter.”
Really, her dad had no concept of a cover.
None of the men changed their stance. They’d planted themselves in front of the door with their rifles held straight and unwavering. “She still needs to turn over her weapons!” one called.
Tori didn’t have time to humor the locals. She slowly set her passengers down. “I’m leaving these two in your custody.”
A row of faces glowered at her. Their guns’ barrels followed her movements.
The reporter took a stumbling step and raised her hands. “Don’t shoot!” The woman edged away from Tori, taking gulping breaths of relief.
Tori’s father didn’t let go of her arm. “You need to stay with me.”
She wished she could, but she’d already been gone too long. She stepped backward, easily breaking his grip. “I’ve got to go.” Every second she stayed here, Jupiter flew farther away. Even if she hadn’t been able to hear his wings slicing against the air, she would have felt them. They were the sound of an impending battle with the Slayers, and Tori had to be there.
In her letter back home, she’d explained her reasons for becoming a Slayer eloquently and thoroughly. Now she only had time for a few words. “Not everyone can fight dragons, but I can. So I have to.” And then she took to the air.
“Tori!” her father shouted. She didn’t turn around, didn’t answer even though he called her name again. The men didn’t shoot. She knew they wouldn’t. Not with her father there.
She headed across the Potomac again, flying quicker now that she didn’t have to worry about dropping anyone. Through Jupiter’s eyes, she could tell his location. “The dragon is nearly back at Capitol Hill.”
“I wish he’d stay put,” Bess said.
“Not likely,” Shang said. “Sounds like killing Ethington wasn’t his only task in that area.”
What was on Overdrake’s to-do list?
The Senate and House office buildings were both on Capitol Hill. So was the Supreme Court. Tori was too far away to stop the dragon from doing damage. All the Slayers were. She continued to fly that direction. Jupiter didn’t veer off his course. In the dragon’s sight, the Capitol Building grew larger.
Senator Ethington’s crumpled body was still there. Smears of soot and bright red blood coated the white steps around him.
Four security guards stood on the stairs. Two at the top, surveying the area with raised automatic rifles, two helping an injured man up the steps. Bandages wound around his torso and leg. Jupiter must have attacked him while she’d been flying off with her father.
Run, she silently told the men. They could make it inside if they hurried.
The two guards at the top of the steps spotted Jupiter and opened fire, a noise like an explosive drum roll. Bullets pinged off Jupiter’s scales. He only felt pinpricks of pressure, as though he was flying into a sandstorm. And it annoyed him.
Run, run, run Tori thought. The security guards took the steps two at a time, dragging the injured man between them. His feet thunked and bounced against the stairs. More shots rang out, as useless as the first.
The guards hauled the injured man through the door. One agent followed, the other held his ground, firing. The rifle vibrated in his hands from the kickback, each bullet urgent and useless.
Jupiter swooped down and blew a stream of flames that bloomed outward in orange fury and engulfed the area.
As the dragon pulled up, the fire disappeared, revealing the charred man. Tori couldn’t see his face under his visor, but his clothes were black and smoldering, burned completely off in places. The exposed skin was already red and weeping. The man dropped his gun and staggered toward the door, coughing. Tori opened her mouth to tell Rosa she had an emergency to take care of, but she wasn’t sure the man would make it inside.
Jupiter didn’t seem to think he would. The dragon already felt the satisfaction of destroying something that had bothered him. He landed nearby, jaws snapping, ready to finish the kill.
The door opened and an agent lunged out, grabbed the burned man, and pulled him inside. He was safe, at least for the moment.
Tori was finally able to speak. “Burn victim inside the Capitol Building. Hurry.”
Jupiter flattened his wings against his body and sprang up the steps. Thick columns lined the exterior of the building’s entryway. They would have kept out a bigger dragon, but Jupiter squeezed through them. He delivered a blast of fire that encompassed the wooden door, burning it and blackening the surrounding stone. Flames licked both sides until it looked like the entrance to Dante’s inferno.
The dragon rammed his head into the remains, sending out an explosion of sparks. The door held, but a small hole appeared. A weakness. An invitation. Jupiter crashed into it again. The door splintered, gave way, and he pushed his way inside.
“Jupiter is in the Capitol Building,” Tori relayed. He would be more contained while he was inside—which should have made her happy, but she only felt dread for everyone on the other side of that door.
“I’ll be there soon,” Ryker said.
Dr. B’s voice came over the earpiece. “Bad news. My sources are reporting an attack at Joint Base Andrews.”
Kody spoke next. “What sort of attack?”
“Unclear,” Dr. B said. “I’ll update you when I know more.”
If it was another dragon attack, that meant Dirk was nearby. Tori hadn’t wanted to fight him. But she might not have a choice.