Overdrake glided from the enclosure, humming with satisfaction. Such good news. He had another son. A boy with strength, intelligence, and bravery. A boy who would grow up to be every bit as tall and handsome as Dirk. Perhaps Overdrake was foolish to take so much pride in his sons’ appearance, but why not? Their good looks were more proof that he fathered superior children.
He flew across the property separated the enclosure from his house, still humming. Later he would let himself feel the fury of Bianca’s betrayal. Right now he would bask in fortune’s generous gift to him. Aaron was old enough to be of real use and yet still young enough that he could be molded. And Overdrake would train him right, wouldn’t make the mistakes he’d made with Dirk. Sending Dirk to the Slayer camp, for all its advantages, had been an error. Dirk’s friendship with the Slayers had made him soft, soft and reluctant to do what needed to be done.
He didn’t worry that Tori might have heard the scene between Aaron and Khan play out. She was connected to Vesta. He knew this because he’d checked the time stamps from Tori’s messages to Dirk with the door logs at the dragon nursery. Whenever Dirk had been in the enclosures during their conversations, he was always with Vesta—even though Overdrake routinely switched Vesta’s and Jupiter’s locations. Hatchlings couldn’t be left in the same place for too long or they became overly territorial.
Overdrake had even tested his theory of Tori’s connection to Vesta. He’d fed a dog to the dragon while warning Tori that if she crossed him, her family would meet the same end. Tori had heard him just fine.
Dragon lords felt the presence of whichever dragon was closest but could choose to stay connected to any dragon they were familiar with, even if that dragon flew hundreds of miles away. So whether Tori consciously knew it or not, she was choosing to stay connected to Vesta unless one of the other dragons came much nearer. Most likely, Vesta’s signal was the one that turned on Tori’s powers when she was a baby. She went to that dragon by default.
Still, Overdrake would take precautions while he trained Aaron. He’d limit Aaron’s exposure to Vesta and only give him information outside of all the dragons’ hearing.
As Overdrake went into the house, he pulled Aaron’s phone from his pocket. Finding Bianca’s number wasn’t hard. He scrolled through the contacts until he came to Mom. By the time he sat down in his den chair, he had it memorized. He used his computer to make the call. It automatically rerouted his IP address through a dozen cities in countries around the world, making the call untraceable.
The pressures of his job were many, as were the frustrations, but being a dragon lord did have a few perks, and he planned on savoring this one: crushing your enemies.
Bianca picked up immediately. “Hello?”
“Hello Bianca,” he said. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
She gasped and didn’t speak for a moment. “Who is this?”
“It hasn’t been that long. You recognize my voice. Don’t say you don’t.”
“Where’s Aaron?” she demanded. Even when she was upset, her voice had that melodic, feminine tone.
“He’s with me, that’s why I rang you up.”
“Where are you?” A tone of desperation made its way into her voice. She knew, yes, she already knew she’d lost. “Let me talk to him. Please.”
He leaned back in his chair. “You hid him from me. That was unwise.”
“Brant, please.” Her words became shaky. “We can work out some sort of arrangement. Where is he?”
Overdrake had planned on letting her grovel for several minutes before he hung up, had looked forward to it as one of the spoils of the war. But her voice pulled at his sympathy. That was his problem. He’d always had a weak spot for her. Apparently it was still there. “He’s fine. That’s all you need to know.”
“Don’t do this,” she pleaded. “You already took Dirk from me.”
He gripped the armrests, leaving imprints of his anger in the fabric there. “I didn’t take Dirk from you. You can’t take something that is already rightfully yours.” He ended the call with a sharp, final keystroke.
He’d done her the courtesy of letting her know where Aaron was. That was more than she’d done to him. This was so typical of the way their marriage had been—he’d always done more for her, and she’d never appreciated it. She’d never understood family loyalty. But his sons would. And there was nothing Bianca could do about it.
Dr. B called Tori at six on Sunday morning. She picked up her watch from her nightstand and answered it groggily. “Yes?”
She’d already called him last evening and confirmed that Overdrake had Aaron. She’d heard it all play out in Khan’s enclosure—the fear in Aaron’s voice, and then the anger. It felt like she’d lived it with him, not just the first time, but a dozen more times as she lay in bed trying to sleep.
Had she made the right decision to send him? Did “rightness” even matter if it ended badly? Overdrake hadn’t sounded like he trusted Aaron. Or even liked him, for that matter.
Really, what sort of parent threw a child in with a dragon and then calmly waited around to see if the child could defend himself? Was that what Overdrake had done to Dirk when he was younger?
The thought made her ache for Dirk as well as Aaron.
Dr. B’s voice came over Tori’s watch speaker. “Brant called Bianca last night to gloat. As you can imagine, she’s quite distressed.”
“I’m sorry,” Tori said automatically. And then felt a pinch of anger towards Dr. B. He had taught the Slayers how to make decisions but hadn’t ever taught them how to deal with the guilt that came along with those decisions. Guilt had thick, cold spikes that embedded themselves in your chest. Ones that felt as though they would never go away. Perhaps the only way to deal with them was to wait until all the feeling left you, until you were hard enough inside that the spikes couldn’t stab you as much.
“Bianca wants to know if you can contact Dirk and ask for his help to get Aaron back home.”
If Aaron was in danger, that might be their best option. But was he? Overdrake knew he was a dragon lord now. If Aaron wasn’t being harmed, it would be a shame to abort the mission before they gave it a chance to work.
Dirk might not realize Tori knew about Aaron’s kidnapping. He didn’t know she had any contact with Bianca, and if Tori hadn’t been connected Khan, she wouldn’t have heard Overdrake take Aaron into a dragon enclosure. Perhaps it would be easier to get information from Aaron if the other dragon lords didn’t know she knew his whereabouts.
So many angles to consider.
“Asking Dirk for help won’t do any good,” she pointed out. “He either changed his mind about involving Aaron and told his father about him, or Overdrake has a way to spy on my messages to Dirk. If the first is the case, Dirk won’t help us. If the second is the case, Overdrake will see my request and make sure Dirk doesn’t help us.”
And Overdrake would most likely use the information to set some sort of trap for them.
“Granted,” Dr. B said, “you couldn’t plan anything without hearing Dirk’s voice. You’d have to make sure he was telling the truth…” he let his voice drift off as in thought. Tori waited. Dr. B didn’t speak. It was unlike him to be unsure about what actions to take, unlike him not to plan out options as though life was a chess game and he’d already thought through every possible move.
Dr. B let out a sigh. “I was on the phone with Bianca for an hour last night. She was practically hysterical. I told her I would ask for your help. I need to offer her some hope.”
Spikes of guilt again. It was more important to comfort a worried mother than to hope for an advantage by pretending ignorance of Aaron’s capture. “Fine, I can message Dirk and find out how Aaron is doing. That way you’ll at least be able to reassure her.”
“Good. Let me know when you hear something.”
Tori shifted the watch from one ear to the other. “Did you tell the other Slayers what Aaron and I did?” She’d expected to get a barrage of messages on her watch phone last night but they hadn’t come. The silence was almost worse, the waiting. She’d spent half of last night imagining what her friends would say and wondering if they were still speaking to her.
“I told them,” he said. “They were, of course, upset that you acted without their input or consent, but on the whole, they understand your motives.”
He was probably understating their reaction. Lilly, A-team’s fire quencher, hardly trusted Tori because she was part dragon lord—and that was after Tori had fought with the Slayers and helped kill two dragons. Lilly wouldn’t be happy about anything that could end up benefitting Overdrake.
“I informed them of your probation,” Dr. B continued, “and emphasized that we need to move on from this incident. In-fighting will destroy our team.”
“You also told them not to message me about it, didn’t you?”
“I decided it was best if they cooled down before they spoke to you.”
Oh. It was that bad. What had Jesse thought? That realization hurt the worst—that he might think even less of her.
Dr. B’s voice softened. “They know you meant well. They’re still your friends. Remember that.”
After Dr. B hung up, Tori pulled herself out of bed and switched on her light. Time to figure out what she should write to Dirk. If she hadn’t planned on Aaron being taken and then heard Overdrake threatening him in the enclosure, she’d be mad about it, outraged. She had hoped Dirk would have a nice chat with his brother, and instead, Aaron was missing and his mother was devastated.
As she sat down at her desk, she groaned in aggravation at herself. Last night she’d been so torn up with guilt and worry that she hadn’t been thinking straight. She should have messaged Dirk right after she heard Aaron in the enclosure. That would have been her natural reaction. When she’d thought Overdrake had fed her dog to a dragon, she’d written Dirk right away.
So she ought to pretend she hadn’t heard it. But then, what explanation would she give Dirk for knowing Overdrake had Aaron?
She had to tell him something. Bianca was waiting.
Was it safe to tell Dirk that his mother had contacted Dr. B? Or would that be as good as admitting that the Slayers had talked to her?
Tori sifted through the options and implications while she opened her phone and went to the site where she messaged Dirk. A note was already there waiting.
I’ve got a sore throat. Medicine not working. I’ll get more later.
Slayer code from camp. It meant Don’t try to talk to me. I’ll contact you when we need to communicate again.
Well, that probably answered the question of whether Overdrake was spying on their messages. When Overdrake decided to kidnap Aaron, Dirk had figured out the site wasn’t secure and now he was warning Tori against using it.
Either that or Dirk’s message meant that he’d already figured out that she’d sent Aaron to spy on Overdrake. Aaron might be worse at keeping secrets from a counterpart than Tori had hoped and now Dirk was so angry he didn’t want to talk to her.
She stared at Dirk’s words as though they would change, as though they might tell her something more. They didn’t. Still, she hesitated to exit the site. Closing it seemed so final, like shutting a door to your only escape route.
She left her desk and lay back on her bed with a thud. She couldn’t assure Bianca that Aaron was all right. And worse, she had no way to contact Dirk.
She hadn’t realized how much that door meant to her until it had been shut.
Aaron woke up at six fifteen, despite the fact that he hadn’t set his alarm clock. Prisoners shouldn’t have to set alarms. He’d planned on making that point by still being in bed at seven when training time started, but in the end, got up. No reason to tick off Overdrake, not when he wanted to earn the man’s trust.
Once Aaron’s anger and fear had faded, the desire to learn about dragons became a tangible thing, an energy swirling through his brain that had kept him up long after his powers faded. Dragons were real: huge, powerful, flying beasts. And Aaron would be able to control them. Almost as cool—when dragons were nearby, he would have superhero strength and eventually be able to fly.
Who wouldn’t want that? All he had to do was put up with his father’s enormous ego. The man obviously had plenty of that. Aaron still couldn’t believe his own father had men chase him through the Renaissance festival, drugged him, and then set a dragon on him. Seriously, it was no wonder his mother left.
He wanted to talk to her now, to tell her he understood why she’d never let him see Overdrake. But he couldn’t. He was locked up and completely cut off from the rest of the world. No phone. No computer.
Even though he didn’t want to escape, he went to the door and tried the handle. Still locked from the outside.
He took a shower then rifled through the dresser for clothes. Several sizes of jeans were folded there along with an assortment of T-shirts, boxers, and socks.
He got dressed, then sat on his bed and watched TV. His gaze kept going to Bridget’s crayon drawing. Seemed so incongruous. His father was keeping him a prisoner, and his half-sister was drawing him pictures.
At seven, with only a short knock as a warning, Dirk unlocked the door and strode in carrying a plate with eggs and bacon. Aaron’s stomach flipped at the smell.
Dirk set a glass of milk on the bedside table. “Sleep well?”
Dirk handed him the plate. “Well, that doesn’t matter. I still have to teach you about dragons. I’m supposed to give you dragon safety facts while you eat. Try to pay attention so you’re not killed quickly. If you die today, it will look like I have sibling rivalry issues.”
Aaron picked up his fork and dug into the eggs. Waking up early had taken its toll and he was starving.
Dirk dropped into the desk chair and watched him. “I’m also supposed to report on your anger level.” He cocked his head. “I’m not picking up as much hatred as I’d expected.”
“I could try and hate you more if you want.”
Dirk continued to stare at him with narrow eyes. “Aren’t you going to ask me to help you escape?”
“Nah, I’ve decided I want to study dragons for a while. They’re kinda cool. And eventually I’ll be driving a Ferrari.”
“Keeping up a brave front. Good. Dad respects that sort of thing.”
“Maybe I really am brave.” Aaron had meant to sound tough, but mostly he sounded petulant.
Dirk just laughed. “Good. Because you’ll need all the bravery you can get.”