Slayers: The Making of a Mentor
Before dragon eggs landed on American soil. Before a Slayer camp existed. And before Tori discovered her powers . . . there was an island. Lush forests, jutting peaks, and sloping hills covered St. Helena—the single most remote island in the Atlantic. And it is here where Dr. B grew up, working each summer on the Overdrake plantation alongside his brother. All was well until the day something was discovered on the plantation and things went horribly wrong.
This novelette was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Mac Kids editor Lauren Burniac.
Saint Helena is not just the most remote island in the Atlantic Ocean. Its plants, descended from prehistoric forests growing ten million years ago, are a piece of the ancient world, castaways from another time. In the mist-shrouded cover of jutting peaks and sloping hills, a person almost expects to see dinosaurs lumbering through the tree ferns, but very few people would expect to encounter a dragon in a place like this.
Looks can be deceiving.
The beginning of June, over two decades ago
Jamison Daniels missed three things about living on the island of Saint Helena: Bianca Fenton, Bianca Fenton, and Bianca Fenton. Well, technically he missed his family and friends too. He thought of them often enough while he was at Oxford. He also missed the island’s mild weather, its three-hundred-meter-tall cliffs, and the privacy of its back roads. Parts of the island were only accessible with four-wheel drive. But despite Saint Helena’s many benefits, when Jamison thought about coming home after his first year away, Bianca stole the top three slots on his missed-items list.
Jamison’s parents met him on the wharf. He walked through the customs shack and only had time to set his suitcases down before his mother rushed over and hugged him. “Jamie, I’m so glad you’re home!” She stepped away from him, surveying him. The wind tugged her curls this way and that. “You look older.”
He looked exactly the same: tall, lean, with wild brown hair that didn’t behave any better in England’s rain than it had here in an ocean breeze.
Mr. Daniels stepped forward and hugged Jamison too, more stiffly. Jamison’s father wasn’t the hugging type. He was tan and muscled. His years as the cattle-boss on the Overdrake Plantation kept him fit and strong, something he took an inordinate amount of pride in.
Despite the fact that Jamison had only been away for nine months, Nathan, his thirteen-year-old brother, seemed to have grown six inches. In many ways Nathan was a carbon copy of Jamison. He had the same lean build, unruly brown hair, and light blue eyes. The brothers’ similarities, however, ended with their looks.
Nathan only took a few things seriously, and his trademark smirk revealed that he wasn’t all that serious about those things either. He excelled at sports. All of them. Jamison, on the other hand, had always been too busy ensuring his spot as head boy at Prince Andrew to care much about cricket or football. Winning games didn’t bring you success in life. Earning high marks in school did.
Jamison hugged Nathan, then looked him over again. “What are you feeding this boy? He’ll be seven feet tall if you don’t stop.” Jamison was six one and Nathan was gaining on him fast.
“Isn’t that the truth,” Mrs. Daniels said, reaching up to ruffle Nathan’s hair. “He goes through clothes the way you go through books.”
“That bad?” Jamison shook his head with mock concern.
Mr. Daniels picked up one of Jamison’s suitcases, letting out a grunt at the weight. “How many books did you bring home? It feels like you’ve got Pembroke’s whole ruddy library in here.”
Jamison picked up his other suitcase. “I’m just making sure you’re getting your money’s worth for my tuition.” Saint Helena was a British territory, so Saints paid a reduced rate, but even at that, Oxford was an expensive university.
Nathan took the suitcase from his father, showing off his strength. “Right, bro. You just can’t bear to part with your books. It’s unhealthy. You need a girlfriend.”
“I have a girlfriend,” Jamison said.
Mr. and Mrs. Daniels exchanged a look, one that said they knew something they weren’t saying. “The jeep is this way,” Mrs. Daniels chimed, and they headed down the wharf toward the car park.
Nathan fell into place beside his brother. “Are you sure Bianca is still your girlfriend?”
Technically, when Jamison left the island they had put their relationship on hold, but that had only been until he returned for the summer. “What do you know about Bianca?” Jamison asked.
Nathan shrugged. “I’ve seen her around with Brant Overdrake. They look pretty, you know, close.”
“They’re just friends,” Jamison said. In her letters, Bianca had mentioned doing things with friends. Brant’s name had come up more than once. She never said there was more to it than that. Was there? “What do you mean, close?”
“Going about school together . . .” Nathan stole a glance at their parents to make sure they were out of earshot. The two were walking faster than their sons, and the waves and the wind had a way of muffling words. Nathan kept his voice low anyway. “Brant took Bianca to the plantation.”
“What?” Jamison asked. Bianca never mentioned going to the plantation. And none of his other friends’ letters had said anything about it either. It would have been news worth gossiping about.
The Overdrake Plantation was on the south side of the island, two and a half square miles composed of hundreds of acres of beautiful, grassy hills and also quite a few acres of rocky, worthless land. Technically it had stopped being a plantation generations ago, but plantation sounded more genteel then cattle ranch, so the name stuck.
Langston Overdrake, Brant’s father, was the richest man on Saint Helena, and he had firm rules about his property. His most bizarre rule was that no women were allowed to set foot on his land. Besides Langston’s wife, two daughters, and a few longtime servants, women were strictly banned. The plantation was fenced and a guard booth stood by its only paved road. It was manned twenty-four hours a day.
Langston Overdrake never explained his ban, although speculation on the matter ran rampant. On an island of only four thousand inhabitants, the Overdrakes were the most interesting thing to talk about. Some people said Langston’s ban on women was the result of a previous tragic heartbreak that made him mistrust the entire female gender. Others claimed he was a misogynist. A few said it was really Mrs. Overdrake’s rule. She didn’t want any women around who might tempt her husband. The last theory didn’t have many proponents. Anyone who had ever met Langston knew he didn’t let anyone tell him what to do, not even his wife.
Everyone at Prince Andrew knew the rules. It became a sort of challenge for girls to try and wheedle invitations to the plantation from Brant. The fact that he’d taken Bianca meant something, and it wasn’t good.
“Are you sure?” Jamison asked.
Nathan slowed his pace so their parents were farther away. “I was there. I saw him driving her to the gate.”
Both Jamison and Nathan helped their dad with the cattle during the summers and occasionally on the weekends. With a plantation that big, there was always work to do.
“Well,” Jamison said with a grunt, “I hope the trip satisfied her curiosity. It’s a real thrill to see cows milling around eating grass.” He let out a scoff. “I don’t know why everyone thinks the plantation is going to be so interesting.”
Nathan cocked his head at his brother. “Have you ever noticed anything odd about the plantation?”
Jamison’s suitcase thunked along the pavement. A huge jutting gray cliff edged one side of the wharf. The slate-blue ocean sloshed around on the other side. “Just the fact that Mr. Overdrake guards the place like the crown jewels are sitting on his kitchen table.”
Nathan kept his gaze on Jamison. “You’ve never felt differently while you were there?”
“You mean like a peasant? Certainly. The Overdrakes go out of their way to show people that kind of hospitality.”
“I mean, do you feel stronger when you’re on the plantation? Do you see better?”
“No, mostly I just feel like a peasant.”
Instead of laughing, Nathan looked disappointed. “You’ve never noticed any changes in yourself when you’re there?”
“Besides the plunge in my self-respect? Nah.” One of the best benefits of attending Oxford was that after Jamison graduated, he would never have to go anywhere near cows, manure forks, or any of the Overdrakes again. “What else do you know about Bianca and Brant? Are they going out?”
Nathan shrugged. “You’re going to see her, aren’t you? Ask her.”
Jamison was going to see her, and the sooner the better. This wasn’t the sort of thing you talked to someone about over the phone.
He gripped his suitcase handle in aggravation. It wasn’t surprising that Brant was chasing Bianca. He had dated every beautiful girl at their school and Bianca was on the top of that list. Her long blond hair, bright blue eyes, and quick smile could stop you where you stood.
Bianca was smarter than to take up with Brant, wasn’t she? She planned on going to a university in England, would leave in a year once she’d saved up some money.
Nathan leaned a little closer to Jamison. “And don’t tell Dad I was at the plantation. I’m not supposed to go there anymore.”
This sentence was enough to pull Jamison’s attention away from thoughts about Brant and Bianca. “You’re not serious,” Jamison said. “You need certified proof of your own death before Dad excuses you from cattle work.”
Mr. Daniels was always dragging his sons to the plantation to work on one project or another: replacing stock tanks, clearing rocks out of the corrals, bringing in hay bales. Mr. Overdrake paid the best wage on the island. He paid so much, in fact, that once a man started at the plantation, he wasn’t likely to quit. Mr. Overdrake, however, was slow to hire anyone, even when he needed somebody. He had an endless assortment of background checks, interviews, and probationary periods he made new hires go through—teaching them early, Jamison supposed, that they had to jump through hoops to deserve their jobs. As a result, whenever the plantation needed an extra hand, Mr. Daniels used his sons’ hands.
Nathan gestured to their parents. “Dad will tell you I’m not allowed on the plantation because I need to work on my studies. That’s rubbish, though. He won’t let me go to the plantation because he’s seen what happens to me there.”
“I told you already.” Nathan dropped his voice to an insistent whisper. “I get strong. I’m not exaggerating. I picked up a cow once.”
“A cow?” Full-grown cows weighed between one thousand and fifteen hundred pounds. He must be talking about a calf.
Nathan smiled despite himself. “I’ll never admit it, but I put the thing in the Overdrakes’ lawn. It murdered their flowerbeds.”
“This is the sort of thing you do while I’m away—cow vandalism?”
“I can see in the dark too. And I just discovered something else I can do.” Nathan shot another look at their father. “You’ve got to promise not to tell Dad.”
“All right,” Jamison said, sure he was about to hear the punch line of a joke.
“I can make a wall with my mind.”
“A wall,” Nathan said. “A big one. It’s invisible, but I know it’s there. I can feel it.”
“You can feel an invisible wall.” Jamison nodded. “I suppose that will come in handy if you ever decide to build an invisible house.” He patted Nathan on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell Dad.”
Nathan shrugged off Jamison’s hand with a laugh. “I swear it’s real. A couple weeks ago, one of Overdrake’s dogs came after me. Right as he hurtled toward me, I held up my hand and the wall was there. The dog smacked into it so hard, he stumbled around like a drunken sailor. He didn’t even make a second try.”
Mr. Overdrake kept guard dogs in pens during the day: Rottweilers that were all muscle and teeth. They were trained to roam the grounds at night looking for intruders.
“Wait a minute,” Jamison said. “When were you at the plantation that you had a run in with one of those hellhounds?”
“I’m banned from the plantation,” Nathan muttered. “I can’t very well go there during the day. I have to sneak in at night.”
“How?” The fence wasn’t the normal kind just meant to keep cows in. It was six feet tall with barbed-wire coils on top.
“You know the tree that looks like a pitchfork? I dug a hole under the fence there. I use it to get to the plantation. On the way back, I have enough strength to jump over wherever I like.”
Jamison stared at his brother. There was no smirk in his expression, no hint that this was a joke.
“I’m not lying,” Nathan said. “Something about the plantation gives me superpowers.”
Jamison continued to stare at him, waiting for a break in his brother’s expression that would explain all this. It didn’t come and they were almost to the family’s jeep.
Nathan set his jaw. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“Let’s see, you just told me that you sneak out at night to break into the Overdrakes’ plantation—a place with security guards and vicious attack dogs. Forget invisible walls—trespassing on Overdrake’s property is a good indication of craziness.”
“I can prove I’m telling you the truth.” Nathan sent a cautious look at their parents’ backs. “Come with me tonight.”
“To visit the demon dogs? I don’t know. I’m not sure I have time in my schedule for an unplanned hospital trip.”
“I can protect you,” Nathan said.
A chill of apprehension crept up Jamison’s back. It wasn’t Nathan’s claim of superpowers that bothered Jamison, although that was disturbing too. It was the earnestness in Nathan’s voice. He wanted Jamison to believe him.
What in the world had happened to Nathan in the last few months? Was this a sign of mental illness? Could it be something that serious? Jamison immediately dismissed the fear. Nathan was just getting better at pulling pranks. All of this would lead to some sort of joke. Superpowers. Sneaking onto Overdrake’s plantation in the face of rabid, growling guard dogs. When had Jamison become so gullible?
“My thirteen-year-old brother is offering to protect me,” Jamison said with a laugh. “Should I be touched or insulted?”
“How about just trusting me?”
They had reached their jeep, so Jamison didn’t answer. He was sure he would hear more about this later.
It didn’t take long for Mrs. Daniels to get dinner on the table. She asked about Jamison’s classes. She liked hearing about his friends from Oxford. They all seemed exotic to her, like characters from Dickens novels.
Finally Jamison said, “So have you been working Nathan twice as hard now that I’m gone?” He half expected that Nathan’s story of being banned from the plantation was completely made up.
Mr. Daniels spooned a second helping of fishcakes and gravy. “Nathan has to spend more time on his studies if he wants to make it into university. He’s got to concentrate on that, not cattle.”
“My grades aren’t that bad,” Nathan said. “Mostly As and Bs.”
Jamison sprinkled some salt on his squash. “That’s good enough to get into most schools.”
Mr. Daniels nodded in Nathan’s direction, a smile softening his features. “If Nathan keeps playing football like he does now, I’ll send tapes of his games to universities and we’ll have every recruiter in England sniffing around here. And that’s another reason he can’t work on the plantation. He has to practice.”
Mrs. Daniels put a pat of butter on her squash. “I always said you boys spent too much time working for the Overdrakes.”
Jamison stiffened. “You did not. Last summer when I spent forty hours a week shoveling manure, you told me it built character.”
Mrs. Daniels let out an airy laugh and waved a hand in Jamison’s direction. “Well, Nathan’s character doesn’t need as much building as yours did.”
“Right. I was the only first year at Oxford who’d ever dewormed a cow. That’s the sort of thing that makes you popular with your mates in the dining hall.”
Mrs. Daniels laughed again. “Oh, stop moaning. Even when you were working on the plantation, you still found enough time to read every book on the island.”
Mr. Daniels took a bite of his food. “You needed to earn more money than your brother because you didn’t want to go to a university unless it was older than Chaucer.” There was a bit of ice in his words, a frost that occasionally showed itself. Mr. Daniels disliked people who were, as he put it, overeducated. He thought expensive schools made people put on airs. “And when you come down to it,” he’d said more than once, “educated people are just as stupid as everyone else. Stupider maybe, because they think the money they spent on their degree means something.”
When Jamison’s acceptance letter had come, Mr. Daniels hadn’t hidden his opinion that Oxford wasn’t worth the price. As far as Jamison could tell, his father only financed his tuition for one reason: to prove that he was smart enough to make money without a high status university degree. This was a surprise to Jamison in more than one way. He had known his father had purchased stocks and made overseas investments. Jamison had never realized the extent of his father’s assets, though, until Mr. Daniels not only agreed to help pay for Oxford, but wrote a check for fifteen thousand pounds on the spot—a sum that most Saints didn’t make in a year.
Now that Mr. Daniels had brought up the cost of Oxford, Jamison couldn’t complain about the amount of work he did on the plantation, or Nathan’s lack of it. His parents were right. With Nathan’s athletic ability, he would most likely get a scholarship somewhere. No one would need to make the sacrifices for Nathan’s education that they made for Jamison’s.
Mrs. Daniels took a bite of her fishcake.
“Are you still happy with your program?”
Given a perfect world, Jamison would have studied for a doctorate. Perhaps in philosophy or history. He needed a way to support himself soon though, a way to eventually support Bianca too. She was the sort of girl who deserved better than years of poverty while he amassed degrees. He’d gone into international business instead. It was perhaps an attempt to gain his father’s approval. After all, his father had a talent for knowing which businesses to invest in. Mr. Daniels may have had a skeptical view of human nature, but he believed in businesses. Businesses ruled the world.
“I liked all my classes,” Jamison said. “Economics is a powerful force.”
Mr. Daniels nodded and refrained from making his usual comments about how people put too much stock in degrees and not enough in common sense. Which translated into glowing approval.
Jamison went on. “Maybe someday I’ll find a way to bring a few more businesses to Saint Helena.”
“We’ve already got Napoleon’s home,” Nathan said. “If we can get a few more famous people exiled here, we’ll be set. You work on that.”
“Maybe when you graduate, we can go into business,” Mr. Daniels said. “We’ll set up shop in England. You can be the respectable front man. I’ll be the one who gets things done behind the scenes.”
“What do you mean, ‘gets things done’?” Jamison asked.
“What do you mean, England?” Nathan asked. He blinked, horrified. “We can’t move away, not when . . .” He didn’t finish the sentence.
Mr. Daniels sent Nathan a sympathetic look. “You can’t live here forever. We’ll move when your brother graduates.”
“When you say ‘respectable front man,’” Jamison continued, “that sounds like you’re planning to do something illegal.”
Mr. Daniels turned his attention back to Jamison. “For businesses to succeed, they all have to bend the law a bit.”
“That’s not true,” Jamison said.
Mr. Daniels shook his head. “That school of yours is overpriced.”
Mrs. Daniels let out a happy sigh. “It’s so good to have you home, Jamie. It’s just like old times.”
Jamison had told Bianca weeks ago to reserve tomorrow for an outing with him. It was the only free day before he started his job on the plantation and he wanted to hike to Lot’s Wife’s Ponds and have a picnic with her. It was three miles each way, and then they would have to climb down a rope to reach the pools of shallow ocean water trapped in a cove.
The scenery was stunning: ragged gray rock, pale white sand, and the clear blue ocean. It was one of the few places on the island to swim, at least on a good day. If the waves were too high, they washed over the rocks and could drag swimmers out to sea. Even if they couldn’t swim tomorrow, they would still be together, and most likely alone. The difficulty in getting to the place discouraged most tourists.
While Jamison unpacked his suitcases, he called Bianca to confirm the plans.
She answered the phone cheerfully. “You’re back.”
“Like Lazarus from the grave.”
“From the grave? Oxford can’t be that bad.” Her voice conjured up her image perfectly. The bright blue of her eyes against her pale, smooth skin. Her expectant smile. The sweep of her blond hair laying on her neck.
Jamison shoved several T-shirts into a drawer. “Oxford wasn’t bad. It just had a stunning lack of you.”
She laughed, pleased at his answer. “You seemed to get along well enough without me. Toward the end of term I hardly ever heard from you.”
“Exams. They were brutal. Oh, I know Oxford looks terribly civilized, but it’s a scholar-eat-scholar world over there.” Now that he knew she had been going around with Brant, he couldn’t help judging her reactions, measuring the tone of her voice. Was there any apprehension in her words? Any sign that she was about to break it off with him altogether?
There was a smile in her voice. “I’m glad you didn’t get eaten then.”
He tossed several socks into an open drawer, missing only one easy shot. “Who says I didn’t? For all you know, I’m terribly wounded.”
“I know you better than that. You out-studied, out-thought, and out-examed the best of them.” It was a compliment, and yet there was something of an accusation there too. When he left in September, she had tearfully predicted that he would forget about her. He hadn’t.
He threw the last of his socks into the drawer. “I can’t help being brilliant. It’s my curse.”
“Will you be studying every free moment you have?”
“Of course not. Tomorrow we’re going to Lot’s. You didn’t forget?”
“No,” she said, and there was a teasing lilt to her voice. “I even bought a new swimming suit. So I was going to be mad if you forgot.”
“I’ll pick you up at ten.”
In the background, he heard Bianca’s mother say, “Is that Brant again?”
Again? Brant had called Bianca today?
Bianca ignored her mother and kept speaking to Jamison. “I’ll make some sandwiches and pack some chips and fruit. Can you bring the drinks, plates, and napkins?”
“All right,” Jamison said. He wanted to ask her about Brant, but didn’t. That was a conversation they should have in person. It would be easier to reason with Bianca, to convince her Brant wasn’t right for her, if Jamison took her hand while they talked.
Bianca’s mother spoke again. “Then who is it?”
Bianca sighed. “I’d better go, Jamison. My mom needs to use the phone.”
Bianca’s mother let out an ohhh of understanding.
What did that mean? What sort of understanding was packed into that ohhh? Bianca’s parents had liked him before he left the island, although that wasn’t readily apparent from the drawn-out vowel her mother had just spoken. That sound was more of an “Oh, it’s just Jamison? Because Brant is really rich and I’d like to be his mother-in-law someday.”
“Um, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jamison said.
“Tomorrow,” Bianca agreed, and hardly waited for him to say goodbye before she hung up.
Jamison told himself not to worry, spent a good part of the evening reassuring himself about it. Brant might have money, but he was mean-spirited and egotistical. Bianca was smart enough to realize that.
At ten o’clock in the morning he would see her. Everything would be all right.
At ten in the morning, Jamison didn’t see Bianca. He was mucking out the Overdrakes’ horse stables. He shoveled the mess in a quick, angry rhythm. Even though the morning was cool, sweat beaded down his back and soaked into his shirt. Flies darted back and forth around his head.
Mr. Overdrake himself had rung up the house that morning and told Mr. Daniels to bring Jamison to work with him. One of the stable hands had called in sick and Mr. Overdrake wanted Jamison to do his chores.
“I told you I had plans,” Jamison protested when his father woke him and gave him the news. Jamison had only asked for one free day before he transformed into a plantation serf. “I haven’t seen Bianca for nine months.”
Mr. Daniels walked across Jamison’s bedroom and pulled up his shade. “Then one more day won’t matter.”
Jamison didn’t give up. “Couldn’t you have told Mr. Overdrake no for once?”
“I could have, but I figured you needed to earn as much money as you could. Stodgy old professors don’t come cheap, you know.” Mr. Daniels turned and left the room. “Hurry or you’ll miss breakfast.”
No one ever came late to work for Mr. Overdrake. He didn’t allow late.
Jamison hadn’t called Bianca until a few minutes ago. He had hoped, with a sort of pointless optimism, that he would get the work done in a few hours and would only have to postpone their hike to the ponds, not cancel it altogether.
He should have known better. Before he finished one chore, Mr. Overdrake strolled by and assigned two more. Usually Mr. Overdrake was nowhere to be seen before noon, but today, when Jamison wanted to beg one of the other hands to cover for him so he could slip away, the owner’s full attention was on him.
Jamison slid his manure fork along the floor of a horse stall. There were only five Overdrakes. Why in the world did they need seven horses?
“What died and rotted in here?”
Jamison didn’t have to turn to know Brant Overdrake had walked into the stables. Jamison recognized his condescending tone.
“Oh, it’s you,” Brant went on. “I guess that explains the smell.”
Jamison only cast a glance over his shoulder. Brant was six foot two and an expert at using his broad shoulders to shove rivals out of the way during football games. At Prince Andrew he had always been the undisputed leader, not just of his class but of the entire school. It always irked him that Jamison wasn’t impressed by his money, size, or strength.
Jamison tossed the manure onto the nearby wheelbarrow. “I’m surprised you can smell anything except that cologne you’re drowning in.”
Brant took several swaggering steps toward the stall Jamison was cleaning. He wore jeans, no doubt the designer kind, and a casual shirt that still managed to look expensive and affected. A bracelet shaped like two twining silver ropes peeked from under one sleeve. It seemed out of place. Brant liked to flash his wealth, but he wasn’t the sort that wore jewelry, let alone bracelets.
“Having some trouble?” Brant’s gaze ran over Jamison, surveying him from head to foot. “You’re out of shape. I guess sitting around in a university for months will do that.”
Jamison paused, a load of manure poised on the fork. “If you think you can do the job better, be my guest.”
“I can’t.” Brant took another swaggering step for emphasis. “I’m picking up Bianca in a few minutes. Seems her plans fell through.” Brant sent Jamison a triumphant smile. “It would be a shame for her picnic to go to waste.”
So that was it. Jamison had suspected Brant had been behind the work schedule change today. He hadn’t been certain, though, until that moment.
As Brant turned to go, Jamison tossed the load of manure at him. It hit Brant’s head and back with a satisfying thud. Jamison wasn’t one to act impulsively, but still, Brant should have known better than to taunt someone who was holding a forkful of horse manure.
“Sorry,” Jamison said. “I’m out of shape. My aim is bad.”
Brant turned, swearing and knocking the manure off him.
Jamison surveyed him. “You need a shower. I guess you can’t pick up Bianca after all.”
Brant stormed toward Jamison, thunder in his eyes. Over the years a few boys had been stupid enough to take on Brant Overdrake. No one had ever beaten him. Jamison was nearly as tall as Brant, and despite Brant’s claim, he hadn’t completely lost the muscles that had come with ranch work. Still, Jamison had never been in a fight in his life. Fighting was how uneducated drunken thugs solved their differences.
Jamison didn’t flinch away from this fight, though. In the time it took Brant to reach him, he planned his strategy. When Brant swung, Jamison would intercept the hit with the back of the fork tongs. It might break a few of Brant’s knuckles. Finger bones were delicate. Jamison couldn’t be blamed if Brant didn’t know that. Bullies ought to pay attention to their anatomy classes.
A few broken bones would take the fight out of Brant and keep him from using that hand against Jamison. Brain would triumph over brawn once again.
Brant swung his fist toward Jamison, fast and hard. Jamison met the blow with the fork. A loud smacking sound reverberated as fist met metal.
It was the only thing that happened the way Jamison imagined it. Instead of reeling back in pain, Brant knocked the fork head completely off the handle. It flung backward and hit the stable wall with a clang.
Jamison stood there, holding the broken stick in utter surprise. Things could have gone bad right then if Brant had followed up with a second blow. He didn’t. Brant stared at the broken fork and his flare of temper faded.
“You’re an idiot,” Brant muttered in disgust. “I could have killed you.” Then he turned and stalked out of the stables. If his hand hurt, he didn’t show it. It was still clenched in a fist.
Jamison wasn’t used to having his plans proved immediately and utterly wrong. This bothered him as much as the feeling that he’d lost the fight. He checked the broken end of the fork. The wood didn’t look old or rotted. The jagged ends were pale and yellow, new. The whole thing looked sturdy enough. How had Brant knocked it apart? Jamison turned it over in his hands, then went and threw it into the trash bin and got out another manure fork. The first one must have had some crack or flaw Jamison hadn’t noticed. It was luck. And yet Jamison still had an uneasy feeling that something odd, something wrong, had just happened.
He didn’t think about it long, because his mind switched to dwelling on the fact that he had thrown horse manure on his boss’s son. Mr. Overdrake would most likely fire Jamison within half an hour.
When the stable door next swung open, it wasn’t Mr. Overdrake who marched in, anger dripping from his tongue; it was Jamison’s father. Mr. Daniels strode over to him, red faced. “What were you thinking?”
His father had already taken Brant’s side. That stung.
Jamison slid his fork over the wood shavings on the floor. “That’s a broad question. Can you narrow it down?”
Mr. Daniels pointed his finger at Jamison. “Throwing manure on Brant was stupid, reckless, and ungrateful!”
“Are you even going to ask to hear my side of the story?”
Mr. Daniels kept jabbing his finger in the air. “Do you think this is a schoolyard where you can mess about and only receive a hand slap from the headmaster?”
“Is that what the headmaster does? I never actually got into trouble at school.” Jamison did regret what he’d done. Throwing manure was beneath him. He couldn’t admit this, though, not when his father was busy criticizing him. To admit he regretted it would be like agreeing with his father’s condemnation.
Mr. Daniels raised his voice. “You go away to that almighty university and now you think you’re too good to take orders from someone else. You’re too good to do manual labor. We’re all beneath you now.”
Jamison let the fork tongs clang against the floor. “Are you sure I’m in the wrong or do you just not care? Is your almighty job more important than anything else?”
“My job has put clothes on your back, food on your table, and paid for your precious Oxford. Maybe you should think about that while you’re busy making enemies of the Overdrakes.”
Jamison sighed and looked upward. He hated feeling beholden to his father for money. His father used that obligation like a whip. “What did Mr. Overdrake say to you?” Jamison asked.
“Langston didn’t tell me about your fight. Brant did.” Mr. Daniels ran a hand over his hair, thinking. “He might not tell his father. I don’t think Brant wants to admit he lost his temper and took a swing at you.”
Jamison hiked up one of his eyebrows. He had assumed Brant would rather take some chastisement if it meant he could make Jamison’s life miserable in the process. “So I’m not fired?”
“You’re not fired, but I don’t know if you should work here anymore.” The way Mr. Daniels said it made it clear he was the one deciding the matter. “You’ll have to promise me you’ll never goad Brant again. It’s too dangerous.”
Too dangerous? The words seemed discordant coming out of his father’s mouth. To be sure, Mr. Daniels was Langston Overdrake’s yes-man, but he wasn’t a coward. In fact, Mr. Daniels was so unbendable in his views, Jamison had always assumed that one day his father would become fed up with Langston Overdrake and tell him where he could stick his cattle.
Instead, Mr. Daniels stood here, clearly worried, telling Jamison it was too dangerous to make Brant angry. Was his father such a slave to job security? Did it mean more to him than standing up for his son? Jamison thought a little less of him then. It was an empty, hollow feeling.
Jamison turned away from his father and went back to the stall. He smoothed out the shavings on the stable floor. Mr. Daniels watched him, didn’t leave. “Bianca is just a girl,” he said in what was probably supposed to be a soothing tone. “You’ll find plenty of girls you like better before you’re ready to settle down. She’s not worth all of this.”
Jamison didn’t answer his father. There wasn’t a point. His father didn’t care what he thought.
Mr. Daniels didn’t wait around for commentary anyway. Without another word, he turned and left.
When Jamison finished mucking the stalls he stalked off across the grounds to find his father and ask what he was supposed to do next. No one was around. Not his father, not any of the Overdrakes.
Jamison headed toward the meat processing building in the middle of the ranch. Someone was always hanging about there. Frequently that someone was his father. It was Mr. Daniels’s responsibility to bring the unlucky cattle inside. Mr. Overdrake wouldn’t allow anyone else to do it.
The building was a windowless metal monstrosity that was much too big for its purpose. You could fit all the Overdrakes’ cattle inside and still have room left over for a couple of swimming pools. Jamison asked his father once why the place was so large. Mr. Daniels said it was built with expansion in mind.
Typical Overdrake, Jamison supposed. Think big; act bigger.
Jamison had nearly reached the front door when one of the ranch’s vets stepped out of the building’s entrance. “What are you doing here?” The man’s voice was gruff, like he suspected Jamison had come to spray-paint graffiti on the walls. Maybe Mr. Daniels wasn’t the only one who knew about Jamison’s fight with Brant.
“I’m looking for my dad. Have you seen him?”
“You’re not allowed around here. You know that.”
Jamison had been told often enough that only people who had health department clearance were allowed inside the building. It had to do with some food handling laws. According to Mr. Daniels, if anyone else so much as stepped foot inside, the whole place and all the meat in it would be considered contaminated. It would cost Mr. Overdrake hundreds of thousands of pounds. For that reason, the door was always locked and only a few people had keys.
“I wasn’t going inside,” Jamison explained. “I just thought my dad might be over here.”
The vet didn’t move. He seemed to think Jamison might force his way through the doors. “If I see your father,” the vet drawled, “I’ll tell him you’re looking for him. Try searching out on the range.”
Really helpful. As Jamison turned to go, a sound came from the building—a cow mooing, loud and frightened. In all the time Jamison had been around cattle, he had never heard one make that sound. And then another sound covered the cow’s call, cut it off. It was a piercing, animal shriek.
Jamison’s gaze swung to the door. “What was that?”
The vet pointed toward the stables. “Go. You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Something is wrong inside,” Jamison insisted. “Someone might be hurt.” He took a step toward the door.
The vet intercepted him, his hand still raised. “I told you to leave. Don’t make me ask you again.” A barely concealed threat loomed in his eyes.
Jamison took a step back in confusion. “Aren’t you going inside to see what’s wrong?”
“Yes,” the vet said. “After you leave.”
Jamison held up his hands in a sign of resignation, then turned and headed back toward the stables. As he walked, he looked over his shoulder at the vet. Instead of going inside, the man stood there watching Jamison. He wasn’t taking any chances that Jamison would change his mind and try to go inside.
Strange. And what had been shrieking? It couldn’t be a cow. They didn’t make sounds like that—loud and high-pitched. So what was inside the building?
For the first time, it occurred to Jamison that Mr. Overdrake could be hiding something in the building. It was large enough, after all, to hold a lot of things. Maybe Mr. Overdrake paid his men so well because he expected them to keep his secrets. And Jamison’s father was one of his best-paid men.
Jamison spent the rest of the afternoon painting a shed. He didn’t say much to his father on the drive home after work. The words of their fight were still hanging there, echoing between them, louder than small talk. It wasn’t until dinner, when his mother asked about his day, that Jamison related the story about the strange noise he’d heard in the meat processing building. “It screeched like a living thing,” Jamison said.
Mr. Daniels’s gaze met Jamison’s, then went back to the food on his plate. “It was just machinery.”
“Machinery? It sounded like the cow was being sacrificed to pterodactyls.”
Nathan looked up, suddenly interested. “Pterodactyls? Really?”
“And,” Jamison went on, “Overdrake’s men are rude to the point of suspicion. A normal person should worry when they hear a shrieking noise coming from a building. Something was screaming, and Dad is the one who always takes the cattle inside. For all I knew he was lying in a pool of blood with an angry bovine sneering down at him. The vet didn’t care. He was only worried I might get around him and check inside the building.” Jamison eyed his father. “Is Overdrake hiding something inside there?”
Mr. Daniels shifted uncomfortably. “Of course not. The vets know what sound the machinery normally makes. That’s why he wasn’t concerned.”
Jamison poured himself a drink of water. “If that’s the sound your machinery normally makes, it’s time for a tune-up.”
Nathan leaned toward their father. “Can you take us inside the building?”
Mr. Daniels glared at him. “Absolutely not. You know the rules.”
Nathan didn’t give up. “Couldn’t you just hold the door open and let me look inside? There aren’t health rules against just looking at a place.”
“The answer,” Mr. Daniels said firmly, “is no.” His tone didn’t allow for more discussion of the matter.
Nathan didn’t look at all chastised. He was immune to their father’s sharp tones. For the rest of dinner, Nathan theorized that Overdrake was either hiding genetic experiments or zombies inside the meat processing building. Perhaps both.
After Jamison finished eating, he went to his room so he could talk to Bianca privately. She wasn’t home. Her mother didn’t offer details. He presumed she was still with Brant. “Can you have her call me when she comes in?” Jamison asked.
Nine months he’d been away, and he still hadn’t seen her.
Nathan knocked on the door and popped inside. “Still moping over Bianca?”
“You could say that.”
Nathan walked over and plopped down on the bed beside Jamison. “Doesn’t look like a lot of fun.”
“Yes, well, one day a girl you like will go out with a guy you hate and then you too will discover the secret draw of moping.”
Nathan picked up a stray sock and a wadded piece of paper. He turned the sock into a sling and flung the paper in an arc across the room. Nathan could take any two objects and make at least one of them into a weapon. “Do you suppose Overdrake is really hiding something interesting in his building?”
“Do you want to sneak out with me tonight and find out?”
“I’ve had enough of the plantation for one day. And I’ll be back there soon enough.” Tomorrow, actually. The thought made him inwardly groan. “Besides, the building is always locked.”
“Dad has the key on his key ring.” Their father always slept with his keys on his nightstand.
Jamison picked up a book from his dresser and flipped through it. “Look, as much as I dislike the Overdrakes, I don’t actually want to cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds by contaminating their building. You shouldn’t do it either.”
“I could show you my powers. It’s downright funny to see a charging bull run into an invisible wall.”
“Sorry. I make it a habit to stay as far away from charging bulls as I can get.”
Nathan rolled his eyes. “You used to be more fun.”
“No, in fact, I’ve never been more fun. I’ve always been a proverbial stick in the mud, but I’m glad you remember me fondly.”
Nathan rolled his eyes again and left the room.
Jamison decided he didn’t feel like reading. He went out onto their front lawn. It was one of the nicer houses on Saint Helena, cut into the hillside so that it gave them a sweeping view of the island. Off in the distance, the land folded and sloped as it made its way to the ocean. The sunsets were another thing he’d missed about Saint Helena. His mother said God painted the sunsets out here himself. The clouds were just turning orange when Bianca drove up to Jamison’s house.
He recognized the familiar dents of her family’s white pickup truck. She emerged from the cab with an excited smile. She wore faded jeans, a T-shirt, and a thin jacket. Her long hair was a bit windblown and whatever makeup she may have put on this morning had worn away. Somehow she couldn’t have been more beautiful. The natural look always worked for her.
Without either of them saying a word, he walked over to her. She threw her arms around him. “Jamison, you’re home!”
He embraced her, breathing in the faint scent of her perfume. He picked her up off the ground and swung her around. This felt right.
He wanted to kiss her; instead he set her down and held her at arm’s length. “You haven’t changed at all.” His gaze went to her eyes. “Or have you?”
She cocked her head. “What do you mean?”
“Did you go out with Brant today?”
Her smile slid into a pout. She looped a finger through a buttonhole on Jamison’s shirt. “Only because you canceled.”
“Yeah, I canceled because Mr. Overdrake called my father and insisted I work on the plantation today. I’m afraid he’s going to call me for overtime whenever I have plans with you.”
She looked down. He had expected her to feel indignant that Brant had ruined their outing. Instead, she was hiding her emotions from him. Whatever she felt toward Brant, it wasn’t indignation.
Jamison scowled. “Tell me you don’t have feelings for him. He’s an egotistical bully.”
Bianca lifted her gaze to Jamison’s. “Brant has changed.”
“It’s true. He has a tender side.”
“What he has is a fat wallet.” It was low of Jamison to level this charge at her, but his anger at Brant spilled out, reached her too.
Bianca bristled. “I don’t care about his money.” She stepped away from Jamison and planted one hand on her hip. “And you can’t have a say about who I see as long as you’d rather be off at Oxford than with me.”
He held out his hands in frustration. “I need an education. You can’t blame me for that.”
She hesitated, looked miserable. “After you get your degree, you’re not coming back to the island. We both know that.”
Job prospects on the island weren’t good. Besides Overdrake’s plantation, Saint Helena’s biggest industry was fishing, followed by exporting stamps and tourism. Jamison let out a sigh. “We could live a lot of places besides Saint Helena.”
“But what if I want to live here?”
They stared at each other, trying to find an answer to this question, trying to find a way to their future. Somehow, he wasn’t sure when, they had gone from standing close together to standing several feet apart.
“You’re still planning on college,” he pointed out. “You’ve got to leave the island for that.”
“I won’t be at Oxford.”
“That doesn’t matter. It won’t be so hard to see each other once you’re in England.”
She looked at him, then out to the ocean. “By the time I make it to England, you won’t want to see me anymore.”
“That isn’t true.” He stepped toward her, erased some of the distance between them. “Brant is putting these ideas in your head, isn’t he?”
“Brant didn’t make you write me less and less.”
“I was studying for finals.” Jamison took her by the hand. “Listen, we had this same conversation when I left nine months ago. I didn’t forget you. I care about you as much as I did then.”
Bianca’s eyes softened. Her fingers wrapped around his. She wanted to believe him. “Will you always come back to me?”
“I will if you choose me instead of Brant. You have to make up your mind.” He leaned down and kissed her. After all, he hadn’t said he wouldn’t try to sway her decision. “Choose me,” he murmured.
She wound her arms around his neck, kissing him back. It felt like they’d never been apart. After a few moments she pulled away. “I missed you so much.” She let her hands slide down his chest.
It was then he noticed the bracelet on her wrist. Two silver ropes twining around each other.
Jamison took hold of her hand and examined the bracelet. It was a duplicate of Brant’s. “Did Brant give this to you?” he asked.
Bianca pulled her hand away. “It was a graduation gift.”
Jamison swore softly. “It was more than that, and you know it.”
“It was a romantic gesture,” Bianca said. “I told you Brant had a tender side.”
Anyone who grew up on Saint Helena knew the story of the island’s namesake. Helena started out as a stable maid. When she met Constantius, she and the future Roman emperor were wearing identical silver bracelets. He saw their matching bracelets as a sign that she was his soul mate, sent by God.
“Before you decide matching silver bracelets are romantic,” Jamison said dryly, “you should remember the rest of Helena’s story. After a few years and a son, Constantius divorced Helena so he could marry a woman of higher status.”
Bianca pulled her jacket sleeve over the bracelet. “Well, that’s not likely to happen to me. Brant doesn’t need a higher status.”
“Are you serious? If anyone wants to be emperor of the world, it’s Brant Overdrake.”
Bianca let out a small hmph. “You’re just criticizing him because you don’t have a romantic bone in your body.”
“I do too,” Jamison said with mock offense. “My costae verae.”
“Your costae verae?” she repeated.
“My true ribs. They help protect my heart.”
She shook her head. “Intellectuals. Only you would know the Latin term for ribs.”
He did feel bad then, unromantic. He’d gotten her a travel book of England and a large box of jams from all over the country. In his defense, most of the island’s food was shipped in. Variety was limited. Anything different felt like a treasure.
Jamison took hold of her hand again. “Is it going to be me or Brant?”
“I want it to be you,” she said. She looked down again. Her fingers intertwined with his. “You think Brant will look around for someone better, but I’m afraid you’re going to be the one who does that. You’ll meet so many girls who are smart, interesting, sophisticated—”
“And then I’ll come back home to you.” He dropped another kiss on her lips.
Later, when he looked back on everything, that night seemed to be not a promise but a eulogy. Everything about Jamison ended on that night, because it was the night Nathan died.
Jamison awoke at three in the morning to the sound of his mother wailing in the driveway. He stumbled out of bed and went outside to see what was wrong. The lights were on and the front door was open. A black truck was parked in the driveway. A couple of men stood about, talking to his father. Mr. Daniels was stiff and pale, wounded looking.
Jamison’s mother leaned over the truck bed, weeping. Jamison hurried toward her, ignoring the gravel that cut into his bare feet. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?” He stopped a couple meters short of the truck. Nathan’s body lay motionless in the back. A spike of worry pierced through Jamison, holding him to the spot. His mother held Nathan’s hand, spoke words to him that never reached past her tears.
Dr. Foster, the family’s physician, stood beside her. When he saw Jamison, he said, “I’m sorry. There was nothing we could do. Nathan was dead when Mr. Overdrake found him.”
Jamison stared at Dr. Foster, refusing to process his statement. Dead?
Jamison stepped over to the truck, took in Nathan’s limp form. In the darkness, his face had a bluish tint. “What happened to him?” Jamison demanded. It seemed that it couldn’t be true and if he could disprove it, all of this would go away. Nathan would sit up. His mother would stop crying.
“Mr. Overdrake found Nathan on his property. We think it was an electrical shock because he was near an electrical fence. His heart had already been stopped for some time.”
“No,” Jamison said. This wasn’t right. Jamison had told Nathan not to go to the plantation. He took hold of his brother’s hand. It was cold. He immediately dropped it.
People always said that in a crisis, time blurred together. It didn’t for Jamison. Each moment plodded painfully by. The doctor talked with Mr. Daniels, told him that Nathan should be brought to the mortuary. Funeral arrangements needed to be made. Mr. Daniels agreed, still ashen faced, barely keeping control of his emotions. Mrs. Daniels couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t want to leave Nathan. Dr. Foster pressed a couple of pills into her hand, something to calm her and help her to sleep.
“Can we get a bottle?” Mr. Daniels asked the doctor. “She’ll need them for more than tonight.”
Dr. Foster nodded. “I’ll call the pharmacist and have him deliver a bottle to you.”
Why did everything seem to be happening in slow motion? Why did each word spoken sound like a pounding hammer?
One of Overdrake’s men drove away in the truck with Nathan’s body. Mrs. Daniels stood weeping in the driveway and nearly collapsed as she watched it go. Jamison and Mr. Daniels helped her inside the house.
Jamison felt like he should be doing something more, and yet there was nothing else to do, no way to make any of it better. This would never end, he knew. Even when the sun rose the darkness would stay wedged here in this part of the island.
Mrs. Daniels was nearly hysterical by this time, so Mr. Daniels made her take the pills and helped her to bed. Then he came back into the family room and poured himself a whiskey. He still hadn’t cried. His face was set in steely anger. He took his key ring out of his pocket and laid it on the coffee table. Overdrake’s men must have found it on Nathan and given it back. Mr. Daniels sat on the couch and stared at the keys while he drank.
Jamison paced around the family room while his father emptied one glass and then another. The house felt small and dark. The shadows seemed to hang lower than they normally did. A gnawing sense of guilt ate at Jamison.
It was probably dangerous to throw his guilt down while his father looked so angry, but Jamison couldn’t stop himself. “Nathan told me he wanted to go to the plantation tonight. I told him not to. If I’d gone with him like he’d wanted, if I had told you—he’d still be alive.”
If Jamison’s father heard him, he didn’t show it. He gripped his glass. “I should have quit my job and moved off the island as soon as I found out Nathan was a Slayer.” Mr. Daniels took another gulp of his drink. He swayed slightly, even though he was sitting down. “I had your tuition to pay, and I thought a couple more years on the island wouldn’t hurt. I told Nathan to stay away from the plantation. I told him it was dangerous. Why didn’t he listen?”
Jamison stopped pacing. “A Slayer? What’s that?”
Mr. Daniels lifted his gaze from his glass. Jamison could see that the alcohol had affected him, loosened his tongue. “That’s one of Mr. Overdrake’s precious secrets—his secrets that cost my son’s life.” Mr. Daniels took a shaking drink. “Do you know why Overdrake’s ancestors came to this island?” Mr. Daniels didn’t give Jamison time to answer. “They brought dragon eggs here to protect them from the knights of the Middle Ages. Dragon lord—that’s what the name Overdrake means. He keeps dragons in his building.”
“Dragons?” Jamison repeated. He didn’t believe his father, and yet the word still chilled him. He remembered the cow’s terrified call and the screech that cut it short. It sounded like it came from a large animal. But dragons—those were just myths, weren’t they?
Mr. Daniels’s head lulled a bit. “I didn’t know we were descendants of the Slayer knights. I didn’t know until Nathan developed the powers.”
Nathan had told Jamison that being at the plantation gave him extra strength, night vision, and the ability to throw a wall up. And now his father was saying it was true?
“He developed powers?” Jamison repeated.
“All Slayers have them, inherit them from their knight ancestors.”
Jamison stared at him in disbelief. “Then why don’t I have extra powers?”
Mr. Daniels frowned at his glass. “Because your mother didn’t go onto the plantation when she was pregnant with you.”
Jamison began pacing again. “You’re not making any sense.”
Mr. Daniels growled at the insult and seemed determined to prove that what he said made perfect sense. “Slayer genes are only activated in the womb, only activated if a mother comes within a mile of a dragon. That’s why Langston never allows women on his plantation.” Mr. Daniels’s grip tightened on his glass. “I wouldn’t have let your mother onto the plantation. It was Mrs. Overdrake’s fault. She was the one who brought your mother there.”
Jamison knew the story. His mother told it with a rebellious sort of pride. Mrs. Overdrake liked to design her own gowns, and she had Mrs. Daniels sew them for her. When Mrs. Overdrake was pregnant with her second daughter, she was too sick to come to the Danielses’ home. She wanted maternity clothes of her own creation, so she had one of her servants smuggle Mrs. Daniels into her house to do fittings.
“Mom was pregnant with Nathan?” It wasn’t really a question. Jamison knew Nathan was a couple months younger than the Overdrakes’ youngest daughter.
Mr. Daniels flung his glass down on the coffee table. It toppled over and clattered to the floor. “It was Mrs. Overdrake’s fault—her fault—and Langston killed Nathan for it.”
Jamison stopped pacing. “What do you mean Langston killed Nathan?”
“It wasn’t the electric fence. I’ve seen Nathan jump over the fences myself. He could clear them like he was flying.” Mr. Daniels stabbed his finger at the air. “Langston knew what a Slayer could do. His ancestors moved here to get away from them and they didn’t forget. He warned everyone in his inner circle what to watch for.” Mr. Daniels’s voice nearly snarled out the list. “People who had extra strength, who saw in the dark. People who could extinguish fire, throw a shield up, or fly. Overdrake knew how to stop Slayers. You overdose them. That’s how you take their powers away. You give them a dose of drugs that knocks them unconscious.” Mr. Daniels stood, wobbling. His eyes were glassy and his words slurred together. He took a swing at the air. “I saw the needle mark in Nathan’s arm. I saw it.” He took a couple of stumbling steps across the room. “Langston won’t get away with it. I won’t let him.”
It didn’t make sense. “Why would Mr. Overdrake want to kill Nathan?”
Mr. Daniels made a shuddering noise. At first Jamison thought he was laughing, then he realized he was crying. He was finally crying.
Jamison put his arm around his father. He wished he could stop asking questions. He couldn’t. “Why would Mr. Overdrake kill Nathan?” he asked again.
Mr. Daniels let out a sigh of resignation. “Slayers are born to hunt dragons just like cats are born to hunt mice. Slayers would cause trouble. That’s why I never told Nathan about the dragons. I kept Nathan away from the plantation. I thought if he didn’t know . . .” Mr. Daniels put his head in his hands. “We should have moved. We should have . . .”
Jamison took hold of his father’s arm before he fell over. “Dad, you need to go to bed. I’ll help you.”
“I can’t. I’m waiting for a call.”
“I’ll answer the phone.”
Mr. Daniels shook off Jamison’s hand and sat back on the couch. “I’m waiting,” he said. “I’m waiting . . . Nathan.” He shut his eyes.
Jamison kept staring at his father. Had any of what he said been the truth? How could it be? Dragons and Slayers—it was the nonsense of fairy tales, the ramblings of a drunk, grief-stricken father. And yet it fit with the things Nathan had told Jamison and the noise he’d heard from the building. What’s more, it felt like the truth. Was it possible that Langston Overdrake had killed Nathan?
Jamison had to know. He helped his father to bed, then gathered things quickly: a video camera, his father’s key ring, his father’s gun, a torch, and a canister of pepper spray. Jamison put the items into a pack, climbed into the jeep, and sped off toward the plantation. The road, like most on the island, was narrow and twisted and turned through the steep hillside. No lampposts lighted the way. Only his headlights cut through the darkness.
He focused on the road with grim determination. If the things his father said were true, if Langston Overdrake had killed Nathan, Jamison would make sure Langston regretted it.
It wasn’t quite four thirty when Jamison reached the tree that looked like a pitchfork. It was easy enough to find the hole that Nathan had dug under the fence. Jamison’s chest constricted as he thought of Nathan coming here just hours before. Such a short time ago. If only Jamison could undo his brother’s trip.
Jamison pulled the torch and the pepper spray from his pack. He had taken the pepper spray in case he met any of the dogs, and his father’s pistol in case there really was something monstrous in the meat packaging building. If knights could kill dragons with swords, a gun ought to offer some protection.
Once he was on the plantation, Jamison paced himself at a steady run. Most of the plantation was a succession of grassy hills. There was hardly a flat place on the island. It was hard to see much else. He’d taken a small torch. Anything bigger would draw attention to himself. As a result, only a small patch of light jiggled out in front of him as he ran. He felt conspicuous with even this much light, but he couldn’t run in the dark. If he tried he was likely to trip and break his neck. Every moment Jamison ran, he expected to hear the dogs barking, bounding toward him. If they saw his torchlight they would charge him.
The dogs never came. Maybe Overdrake had put them in their pens before he called the doctor to fetch Nathan.
In ten minutes, Jamison neared the Overdrake mansion. He dimmed his flashlight and slowed his pace, worried that Langston might have men patrolling the area. Jamison didn’t see anyone. Several trucks were parked in front of the house and more than one light was on inside. Langston must be meeting with some of his men, telling them about Nathan’s death. Jamison picked up his pace to a run again. Five minutes later, he reached the large metal meat processing building.
He appraised it in a way he never had before. It was two stories high. That wasn’t big enough to hold a dragon, was it? Weren’t dragons supposed to fly? Jamison could have turned around right then—spared himself the trespassing charges he would face if caught. Somehow he couldn’t make himself turn back. He needed to know for himself, for Nathan.
Jamison walked to the door, listening for any noises that sounded dangerous. Everything was quiet. It only took him a few seconds to find the right key to unlock the door. With one hand keeping hold of the gun, he turned the lock, then carefully swung the door open. The room smelled dank and moist, like something left out by the shore. It was too dark to see anything.
Jamison kept the door open with his foot, turned his torch on, and ran the beam over the room to see what was in front of him.
The light only showed him dim slices of the building. As far as he could tell, nothing was in front of him. No equipment. No furniture. Nothing. He could only make out bits of a far-distant wall on the other side of the building. It didn’t make sense. There had to be something inside the building, didn’t there?
Jamison turned the torch on the wall beside him, looking for a light switch. He didn’t see one. He took another step into the room, stretching so as not to let the door shut and trap him in the dark.
He wanted to dismiss the idea of dragons, and yet, as he stood in the dark, he couldn’t. He could almost feel something stirring in the blackness around him, moving toward him.
Where was the cursed light switch? Even with the gun clasped in his hand, he felt vulnerable. Something let out a low grumbling sound. Was it machine or animal?
Finally he spotted a switch. He flipped it on. And then almost wished he hadn’t. The reason he hadn’t seen anything in front of him was that the floor only extended a few feet. It circled two huge underground enclosures in the middle of the building.
A maroon dragon sat curled up among the boulders and moss in one. A dragon with shiny blue scales blinked at him from the other. Its eyes were catlike and its face curved into a beaklike snout. Diamond-shaped crystals protruded from both dragons’ foreheads.
His father had told him the truth.
Jamison stared at the dragons in shock. Although it was hard to judge the animals’ size from this distance, each dragon appeared to be as big as a small cargo plane. And now that they had seen him, both hissed and stretched their necks to survey him. The maroon dragon ruffled batlike wings as it decided whether to come after him.
Jamison realized his gun wouldn’t do him any good in an attack. Even if shots could penetrate dragon scales, he wouldn’t be able to shoot both. He also wouldn’t have time to take a video. If he was lucky, he could make it back out the door alive.
He almost turned and fled before his mind caught up with his panic. He didn’t have to flee at all. A thick, clear wall separated the platform from the enclosure—undoubtedly a dragon-proof wall. Once Jamison was able to take his eyes off the creatures, he studied his surroundings better. Large elevators dropped down behind steel cages to the bottom floor. Levers on the top floor worked the cage’s doors. His father apparently brought cattle onto this platform, put them in the elevators, and sent them down into the enclosures to feed the dragons.
Jamison turned on his camera and pointed it at the dragons. With enough skill, anyone might be able to fake a picture of a dragon. It was harder to fake a video of moving creatures. This footage would make the world take note.
The blue dragon folded its wings, cocked its head, and watched him warily. With one fluid motion, the maroon dragon flapped its wings and shot upward toward Jamison. It hovered in the air, wings outstretched, a giant wall of glistening bloodred scales and talons. Its eyes locked on Jamison and the dragon hissed out an angry stream of fire. The wall between them lit up with reaching yellow flames.
“Not the friendly sort, are you?” Jamison said. Dragons, it seemed, lived up to their name. His finger didn’t leave the camera. All of this was evidence. He would show it to the police and to the news stations in England. He would reveal Langston Overdrake for what he was—a dragon lord—and a murderer.
The maroon dragon turned and lashed its tail into the wall, making the entire thing shudder. Maybe it wasn’t as dragon proof as Jamison had supposed. It was time for him to leave. He had more than enough proof to warrant an investigation up here.
Jamison hurried out of the building. It was still dark outside, but it would get light soon. If Langston had killed Nathan just because he had the genetic ability to harm his dragons, what would Langston do if he caught Jamison with footage of them?
Jamison needed to get off the property before daylight. He ran faster. Adrenaline had given him extra speed. Perhaps it gave him better hearing too. Every rustle of the wind seemed to carry footsteps, noises, potential danger. More than once he thought he heard the swish of dogs rushing toward him. He never saw them, though.
Jamison passed the Overdrakes’ house. The trucks were still surrounding it. The meeting hadn’t ended. Were they talking about his father? Did they see him as a threat now? If Langston Overdrake was smart, he should. Mr. Daniels wasn’t the sort to sit around and let Langston get away with murder. Jamison wasn’t either. He would insist the police do an autopsy on his brother. Once the coroner proved it was a drug overdose, not an electric shock, that killed Nathan, Langston Overdrake would be arrested.
Jamison raced the rising sun. In a few more minutes he reached the hole under the fence.
He went through it, made his way to his jeep, and drove toward Jamestown, where the island’s only police station was. Darkness still covered the island and he had to take each bend and curve slower than he wanted. He wound across the mountainside, then down the road, zooming around the hairpin turns. His jeep bounced along, protesting the speed. Finally he pulled up to the police station.
It was a tired, white building tucked into the city’s main square. Crime was nearly nonexistent on Saint Helena and the prison was mostly used to lock up the occasional shoplifter or drunk and disorderly person. Jamison strode up to the desk. A middle-aged man in uniform sat there, busy with some sort of paperwork. He had dark skin, a receding hairline, and a tired expression, as though he’d already had a long shift. “I need to speak to the chief of police,” Jamison blurted out. “Langston Overdrake murdered my brother.”
The man stared at Jamison, then looked behind him to see if he was alone. “Murder? What are you going on about?”
“I need to speak to the chief of police,” Jamison repeated, louder this time. “Langston Overdrake is keeping dragons on his property.” Jamison held up his video camera. “I know it sounds unbelievable, but I have proof. I took a video of them. You can see for yourself.”
Another constable walked into the room and stood behind the first man. He was tall with brown hair that was shot through with gray streaks. He surveyed Jamison cautiously. “I’m the chief of police. Are you talking about the Daniels boy who died tonight?” The man shook his head. “That was a shame, an awful thing. I’m sorry it happened.”
So they already knew about his brother’s death. Jamison shouldn’t be surprised. The police were probably informed of every death. “It wasn’t an accident,” Jamison insisted. “It was murder.” He gestured toward his camera. “This footage should merit a search warrant. Langston Overdrake is hiding dangerous animals on his property. He killed my brother because of them.”
Both men gaped at Jamison as though he’d started babbling incoherently. Jamison went on anyway. “You need to do an autopsy. Nathan wasn’t killed by an electric fence. Mr. Overdrake gave him a drug overdose.”
The chief of police stepped around the desk toward Jamison. His badge read Crowden. “You say you have footage of dragons?”
“Yes,” Jamison said.
“Come with me.” Crowden motioned for Jamison to follow him down the hallway. Jamison did, relieved that someone was finally taking him seriously. Crowden stopped in front of a door. He took a key from his pocket, unlocked the door, and went inside. “We can talk privately in here.”
Once Jamison had joined him, Crowden held out his hand for the camera. “You’re Nathan’s brother?”
“Yes, sir.” Jamison turned on the camera and showed Crowden the video. Even on the camera’s small screen, the footage was clear. Two dragons. One doing its best to attack. “Nathan went to the plantation tonight. I think he wanted to find out what Overdrake was hiding in that building. Mr. Overdrake killed him to keep it a secret.”
“I see.” Crowden turned off the camera with a marked lack of emotion. “I need to show this to someone.”
“We’ll need to show it to a lot of people. I want to send it to news sources as soon as possible. Do you have a way to reach England?”
Crowden held up one hand. “These things take time, Mr. Daniels. I’ll have to ask you to wait here for a bit.”
Jamison let out a breath of frustration. He wanted justice. It was hard to hear that he needed to wait. But of course it would take time. Investigations always did. “I understand,” he said.
Crowden gave him a curt nod and left the room.
It was only after he’d gone that Jamison looked around. There was nothing in the room but a bench. Where was he? This couldn’t be someone’s office. Was it a waiting room? He turned to sit down, then decided he should call his parents and let them know where he was. He didn’t want them to wake up and worry about him. He walked to the door and tried the handle. It was locked.
At first his mind refused to register what had happened. He tried the doorknob again. It was still locked. This had to be a mistake. Crowden couldn’t have purposely locked him in here, not when Jamison had just told him that Langston Overdrake murdered his brother.
Jamison pounded on the door. “Hey! Let me out! Mr. Crowden! Somebody!”
Footsteps walked back to the door. “Breaking and entering is a crime,” Crowden said coldly. “Mr. Overdrake may want to press charges. Don’t make things worse.”
Jamison stepped back as though he’d been punched. He shouldn’t have come here. He shouldn’t have given his camera to anyone on the island. Mr. Overdrake was the wealthiest and most powerful man on Saint Helena. He was the type of person who controlled other people, who bought them. He owned the police.
Jamison kicked at the door again and again, wild with rage. He’d lost everything. His brother, his evidence, and his chance to prove Langston Overdrake’s guilt. Jamison didn’t make much of an impact on the door. It was solid metal. Finally he sunk to the floor in exhaustion. What would his parents do when the police informed them he’d been arrested? He hated the thought of it. But the worst thought, the one that wouldn’t leave him, was the thought that he had failed Nathan.
Jamison wasn’t sure how much time passed before footsteps made their way back to the door. It might have been an hour. It was hard to judge. Everything had stopped being real. When Jamison heard someone insert a key into the lock, he jumped to his feet, hands clenched into fists. He wasn’t about to make this easy for Crowden.
A low voice came from the door. “Jamison, I’m taking you to your father. You’ll need to come with me quickly and quietly.”
His father? Had his father hired a lawyer for him already?
The door swung open and the first constable, the one with the receding hairline, stood in the hallway. He motioned for Jamison to follow him. Jamison did wordlessly. They went down the hallway to a back door. The constable checked over his shoulder, then opened it. “Overdrake isn’t the only one with friends here. Your father is a good man.” The constable pointed to a blue truck sitting in the street. “That will take you to him.”
“Where’s my jeep?”
“Impounded. I’m sorry about your brother.” With that parting line, the constable shut the door.
Jamison walked over to the truck, his pace picking up speed the farther he went. This hadn’t been a prisoner’s right to speak with legal counsel; it had been a prison break, and the sooner he got away from here, the better.
He climbed into the passenger side of the truck, noting that one of Overdrake’s mechanics sat behind the wheel. His father always called him Leeds. “You never saw me,” Leeds said as Jamison sat down, “and you won’t tell no one I did this.”
“Okay,” Jamison said. “Where’s my dad?”
“We’re picking up your folks.” Leeds shot Jamison a disapproving look. “After that stunt you pulled, the island ain’t safe for none of your family.”
While Jamison had been locked up, he’d imagined many conversations with his father. In most of them his father was yelling at him for being stupid—for underestimating Mr. Overdrake. As Jamison rode to his house, nothing anyone could have said to him was worse than the things he said to himself. Why hadn’t he realized the danger he put his parents in by going to the police with that video? Jamison had turned them all into fugitives. Could they even get off the island safely?
Leeds sped up the winding road, going faster than he should have. “Your dad always said the two of you were oil and water, but for all your Oxford shine, you’re just as hotheaded as he is—going after Overdrake. I’ll give you some advice, boy. Stay away from a man who can control dragons. It ain’t natural. That sort of man is half beast himself. Has to be.”
“What do you mean, Overdrake controls the dragons?”
Leeds swore and kept his gaze on the road. “I shouldn’t have said nothing. We’re not supposed to talk about the dragons.”
“But you know about them,” Jamison said with resentment. “How many people do?”
“As many of us as needs to work with them, and we’re smart enough to keep our mouths shut.”
How many people was that? “What if the dragons get out?” Jamison asked. “They’ll kill people. You know that. You can’t just keep this a secret.”
Leeds snorted. “Overdrake takes one of them out flying nearly every night and you’ve never heard or seen ’em, have you? Dragon lords have a mindlink with dragons. As long as Overdrake is controlling the beasts, they’re as tame as horses.” Leeds shook his head. “I wouldn’t come near the things without Brant or Mr. Overdrake around.”
“Brant is a dragon lord too?” A sickening feeling passed over Jamison. He remembered Brant standing before him in the stables, saw the anger in his eyes with a new light. It was animalistic now.
And Brant wanted Bianca.
“Mr. Overdrake has never used the dragons to go after somebody,” Leeds went on, “but if he did, that person wouldn’t stand a chance. You understand what I’m saying? You’ve got to stay away from Saint Helena. Change your names. Don’t let him find you.”
Jamison did understand. Despite his promises to Bianca, he wouldn’t be able to see her until . . . he didn’t know when, and she was staying on the island with Brant for another year. Jamison would have to find a way to contact her, to warn her about what Brant was.
Finally, Leeds pulled into the Daniels’s driveway. His father opened the front door. He was still dressed in the clothes he’d worn last night. If he’d slept at all, it hadn’t been for long.
Jamison got out of the truck before it was completely parked. It felt like his heart had lodged somewhere in his throat. Did his father already know the extent of what Jamison had done? Did he know they would have to flee the island? Jamison tried to judge from his father’s grim expression.
“I’m sorry,” Jamison stammered when he reached his father. “I was trying to make things better and I made them worse.”
Before Mr. Daniels could respond, Mrs. Daniels rushed out the door and threw her arms around Jamison. “You’re safe!” she exclaimed. Her words were slurred, either from emotion or the drugs that Dr. Foster gave her hours earlier. “I was so worried when the police called.”
Jamison hugged her back, resting his cheek against her head. “I’m so sorry.”
Leeds had gotten out of the truck, and he strode into the house. “Are these four suitcases all you’re taking?” he called.
“I already packed our car,” Mr. Daniels said.
Leeds walked back past them carrying two large suitcases. “Might not be safe to take your car. Once the police know Jamison is gone, they’ll watch for it.”
“They’ll look at the wharf in Jamestown.” Mr. Daniels went inside and retrieved two more suitcases. “Smitty is waiting for us at Rupert’s Bay.”
Smitty was the captain of a fishing boat and a longtime friend of Mr. Daniels.
Mrs. Daniels pulled away from Jamison. “I packed some of your clothes. We didn’t have room for much. I took all the photos. We can buy everything else.” She glanced at the house. “I need one more thing.” Without further explanation, she hurried back inside the house.
“We don’t have time,” Mr. Daniels called to her. He headed to the truck with the suitcases. “Your mother will ride with Leeds,” he told Jamison. “You and I will follow him in the car.”
“I’ll drive,” Jamison said. The alcohol wasn’t out of his father’s system and the roads were twisting and treacherous. Jamison took the suitcases from his father and hefted them into the back of the truck. Was there anything Jamison needed in the house, anything he couldn’t leave behind? Maybe the events of the night and his lack of sleep were catching up with him. He couldn’t think of anything. He only wanted to get away from the house before the police came here looking for him.
Mrs. Daniels rushed out of the house clutching one of Nathan’s blue school shirts. That’s what she had gone back inside for. As though she had read Jamison’s mind, she said, “I know it’s silly but I had to have something of his.” She climbed into Leeds’s truck while Jamison and his father climbed into the car.
As Leeds turned his truck toward the road, Jamison saw his mother holding the shirt to her face. His family wouldn’t be able to have a funeral. She didn’t get to say goodbye to Nathan. None of them did. This was Jamison’s fault too.
No, not his fault. Langston Overdrake’s fault.
Jamison followed the truck onto the main road. Leeds headed toward Rupert’s Bay. “Where will we go after we leave Saint Helena?” Jamison asked.
“Smitty will take us to a boat going to Cape Town. He’s got new passports for us. From now on you’re Alistair Bartholomew.”
Alistair Bartholomew. The name sounded formal and old-fashioned, like it belonged to someone in the British Parliament.
Mr. Daniels glanced at the rearview mirror, checking to make sure they weren’t being followed. “When we reach Cape Town, we’ll fly to New York.”
“Why not England?”
“Overdrake knows too many people in England. We’re his enemies now and he’s not going to forget that.” Mr. Daniels turned to Jamison to let his words sink in. “Oxford is a necessary loss.”
“I don’t care about Oxford anymore.”
Mr. Daniels stared at Jamison, perhaps realizing what this statement cost him.
“I don’t care about school.” Jamison’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. “I only want to do one thing now: make Langston Overdrake pay for what he did to Nathan.”
Mr. Daniels returned his gaze to the road. He didn’t smile, but his voice had a ring of approval to it. “Well, underneath your honors, awards, and valedictorian tassel, it turns out you’re my son after all.” Some of the stiffness in his posture drained away. “I suspected that might be the case when you broke onto the plantation, got proof of the dragons, and took it to the police. That shows backbone. I’m proud of you for it. You weren’t using your mind, though.”
“I know. I should have expected that Langston’s influence reached over the entire island.”
“You should have at least considered it. You win a fight by outthinking your opponent, not by throwing manure on him when you know full well he’s got the upper hand.” Mr. Daniels didn’t say this in a chiding way. It was sincere advice. For once, Jamison felt as though they were on the same side.
“Point taken,” Jamison said. “We need to use strategy. You know Mr. Overdrake and his operations. How do we bring him down?”
“You don’t have to worry about that. I’ve made arrangements to take care of Langston.” Mr. Daniels scowled as he said his boss’s name. “He’s not the only one with friends on this island.”
“What did you do?”
Mr. Daniels leaned back in his seat. “There’s no point in telling you, because I don’t want you involved. It’s enough that you wanted to give up your studies to help me.”
It was obviously something illegal. “We can bring Overdrake to justice the right way,” Jamison said. “Someone in England will listen to us.”
Mr. Daniels let out a grunt. “If we try for justice the right way, we expose ourselves to Overdrake’s operatives and they’ll kill us. You may have noticed in your studies that a lot of idealists end up dead. That is why justice the wrong way is often better.”
“Justice the wrong way is wrong. Thus the term wrong.”
Mr. Daniels waved Jamison’s words away. “If only the method is wrong—not the resulting justice—then it can’t be all that wrong, can it?”
It was an argument that would have kept Jamison’s philosophy class busy for quite a while. Jamison realized then that he’d never given his father enough credit. Despite his rough ways, maybe his father was every bit as smart as Jamison.
“At any rate,” his father went on, “my methods are wrong enough that I’m not telling you about them. And don’t tell your mother any of this. When we arrive in America, you’ll go to college. Earn a degree. Earn several, if you want. Live a normal, happy life as Alistair Bartholomew. I’ll watch for Brant Overdrake and hope he doesn’t show up.”
Jamison kept his eyes on the road, making sure their car hugged the edge of the gray-brown cliffs. “Why would Brant show up in America?”
“He and Langston liked to boast about what they could do to DC with a few dragons.”
“Like what—they want to scorch the White House lawn? Good. I hope they try. I’d like to see the Yanks use them as target practice.”
Mr. Daniels shook his head. “Never assume your enemies are stupid, Jamie. The dragons aren’t just well-plated flying predators—although they are that. They’re fast, tireless, and strong enough to rip cars apart. The only place bullets can pierce a dragon is its underbelly, and the Overdrakes have fitted protection onto that. Dragons can outmaneuver planes and missiles. Radar doesn’t track them. But that’s not the worst of it.” Mr. Daniels let out a tired breath. “Do you know what EMP is?”
“Electromagnetic pulse.” EMP was a high-intensity radiation generated by a nuclear blast. It fried any electric components in its wake.
“When dragons screech in a certain way, they send out EMP.”
“That’s not . . .” Jamison left the word possible unsaid. He remembered helping to unload new transformers for the ranch’s generators a couple years ago. He had thought it was strange that Overdrake would want so many. He must need to keep them on hand in case the dragons screeched the wrong way . . .
Mr. Daniels pulled a gold coin from his pocket and fingered it while he spoke. “A dragon could take out an entire city’s electric grid. Lights, radios, computers, TVs—they’d all be worthless. Cars and trucks wouldn’t work either because they have electric components. If the Overdrakes have enough troops to go into the country afterward, they could stage an invasion.”
“Invade America?” Jamison repeated, “America?”
“It’s like Napoleon rising from the grave.”
“America is huge. Where would the Overdrakes get the troops they need?”
“That wasn’t the sort of thing they talked about when I was around.” Mr. Daniels turned the coin over and over, thinking. “It might have just been talk.”
Jamison waited for his father to say more. They both knew that when it came to Langston Overdrake, very little was just talk.
“This is what I know,” Mr. Daniels said. “In about ten years the she-dragon will lay a clutch of eggs. One male, one female. Langston and Brant are planning on relocating to America with the eggs. It’s hard to sneak a dragon through customs, but no one cares if you take a couple of large boulders into the country. The eggs will lay dormant for fifteen to twenty years. That will give the Overdrakes time to become established businessmen—to get the lay of the land, and learn which officials they can bribe. Once the dragons hatch, it only takes them a year to grow full-size. Then they’re ready to be used as weapons.”
Jamison glanced at his father and saw he wasn’t holding a coin at all. It was one of Nathan’s football medals. Mr. Daniels was fingering it as though it were a talisman.
“Are you sure you want to relocate in America?” Jamison asked. “You want to settle in the place the Overdrakes plan to invade with dragons?”
Mr. Daniels nodded. “Yeah. Lots of opportunity in America.”
Which meant his father wasn’t done fighting the Overdrakes. That was good. Jamison wasn’t done fighting them either. Jamison tapped his thumb against the steering wheel. “I don’t think I want to go into business after all. I’d like to study medieval history. I’ll specialize in documents that delve into dragons and Slayers. That way I can research dragons, dragon lords, and their weak spots. If my ancestors took care of dragons once before, they must have written about it somewhere.”
Mr. Daniels reached over and patted Jamison’s shoulder, a sign of support, of understanding. It was ironic really. Nathan’s death could have permanently cemented the wedge between them. Mr. Daniels could have blamed Jamison’s tuition bill for keeping the family on the island. Jamison could have blamed Mr. Daniels for knowing what Mr. Overdrake was and working for him anyway. Those incriminations were laid aside in favor of what was more important: making sure the Overdrakes didn’t get any more power than they already had.
A few minutes later Jamison reached Rupert’s Bay. A small boat waited for them on the shore, ready to take them out to the trawler. Leeds helped the family haul their suitcases and boxes onto the boat, and then Jamison was riding across the water, watching the island recede behind a growing expanse of waves. Had it only been last night that Jamison had told Bianca he would always come back for her?
And now he wasn’t coming back at all.
It took the Danielses nearly two weeks to reach New York. Once they did, Jamison got hold of a shortwave radio and called Bianca. He wasn’t supposed to. The family was supposed to make a clean break with their past. Jamison had to tell her about Brant, though, and a part of Jamison hoped that Bianca would insist on following him, on finding him.
“Are you all right?” Bianca asked as soon as she heard Jamison’s voice. “What happened to you? Where did your family go?”
“Langston Overdrake killed Nathan,” Jamison told her. He still felt a spike of anger, just saying the words. “I went to the police about it, and they threw me in jail. My whole family had to flee the island.”
“I heard about Nathan.” Bianca’s voice wavered with emotion. “I’m so sorry. It was an accident.”
“I can’t talk for long, but I had to warn you about Brant. He’s dangerous. Stay away from him.”
“You don’t have to—”
“He keeps dragons in the meat processing building.”
She didn’t respond. He worried the call had been cut off. He worried she thought he was insane. “Bianca, are you still there?”
“Your brother’s death was an accident,” she said again. “Everyone feels horrible about it.”
She hadn’t given any reaction to his comment about the dragons. The silence was telling. Jamison’s stomach twisted. “You already knew about the dragons, didn’t you?” Brant had probably shown them to her. It was the sort of thing he would enjoy bragging about. He not only had dragons, he could control them.
“Jamison . . .” She said the word like it was a plea.
“Do you have any idea what Brant and his father are capable of? Do you know what they want to do?”
“His father?” Her voice was cautious. “Didn’t you hear about Mr. Overdrake?” The line crackled a bit. “He died last week.”
“What?” Some of Jamison’s righteous indignation sputtered away. He suddenly wondered what his own father was capable of.
“Mr. Overdrake’s truck plunged off a road, went right off a cliff. Brant thinks someone tampered with the brakes. There’s no way to be sure, though. The truck was too mangled for the police to tell anything.”
A question lingered in her voice. She was waiting for Jamison’s response. He couldn’t speak, didn’t know what to say. And perhaps his silence said as much about Mr. Overdrake’s death as Bianca’s silence earlier had said about her knowledge of the dragons.
“Mrs. Overdrake is beside herself,” Bianca went on. “And Brant, well, it’s up to him now to run the plantation.”
Poor Brant. Jamison still didn’t speak. He didn’t know for sure that his father had anything to do with the accident, but it was all he could think about. His mind wouldn’t bend around any other fact.
“Brant is more determined than ever to carry out his father’s plans,” Bianca said. Was she warning him? Blaming him?
“Do you know what those plans are?” Jamison asked.
Instead of answering, she said, “Am I ever going to see you again?”
Jamison felt an angry sort of resignation then. He had lost his brother, his home, his identity, and Bianca was on Saint Helena no doubt comforting Brant. “Do you want to see me again?”
“Of course I do.”
“Well, the problem is that Brant sees me as a threat. If he knows where I am, he’s likely to kill me. If you’re going out with him, that puts a damper on our relationship.” Jamison hadn’t meant it to come out cutting, but it did.
She let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t want it to end this way.”
“Given the circumstances, I guess it could end in a few worse ways. Death comes to mind.”
“Jamison . . .”
Then more silence. Was that the only thing that was left between them—silence?
“I’m going to miss you,” she said.
He leaned his head against the radio. The truth of it was, he was going to miss her too. “I hope things turn out better for you than they did for Helena,” he said, and ended the call.
Later that night, when Jamison was alone with his father, he relayed the news about Mr. Overdrake’s death. “Did you have anything to do with it?” Jamison asked.
“Of course not,” Mr. Daniels replied, and then added more slowly, “It wasn’t just about revenge, you know. The United States should thank whoever did it. Two dragon lords might invade, but one probably won’t.”
Probably. Or Brant Overdrake might show up in an undisclosed amount of time with dragon eggs. He was determined, after all, to carry out his father’s plans.
Jamison spent the next several years earning a doctorate in medieval studies. Even after he became a professor at George Mason, he continued to pore through century-old records. In various pale and fading documents, he found confirmation of the things his father had told him about dragons.
Dragon eggs lay dormant for at least fifteen years before they hatched. Being within a mile of either dragons or their eggs activated Slayer genes in any unborn babies who were descendants of the original Slayer knights. The only signs the children exhibited at first were a talent for fighting and an obsession with dragons. But once they reached the age of eleven or twelve, anytime they came within a five-mile radius of a dragon, their powers turned on.
Jamison also learned things his father hadn’t known. Several medieval ballads said that women who were pregnant with Slayer children dreamed of dragon attacks. The nightmares were so intense that a few women woke up with claw marks slashed across their bodies.
Obtaining injuries from dreams seemed like an impossibility until Jamison talked to a psychology professor. “Sometimes a person is so convinced she’s injured,” the professor said, “her body reacts as though she is.”
Jamison was happy to learn this interesting bit of Slayer history, that is, until his pregnant wife dreamed of a dragon.
Jamison was sound asleep when Shirley woke up, gasping and clutching her stomach. “A dragon came after me!” she exclaimed. She shifted her night shirt. A long red welt crossed her stomach.
She and Jamison both stared at the wound. They knew what it meant.
It wasn’t a surprise that Brant had brought the eggs to the DC area, but Jamison had expected him to take steps so Slayers weren’t created in the process.
Jamison did what he could to calm his wife, then went to the living room and called his father with the news.
Mr. Daniels let out a string of curse words.
“Brant is here,” Jamison said with more calmness than he felt. “We’ve got fifteen to twenty years tops before he unleashes the dragons.”
“What was Brant thinking?” Mr. Daniels asked. “There’s likely to be dozens of unborn Slayer descendants in the DC area. Why create people who will have both the power and the desire to fight your dragons? It’s sloppy. That’s not like him.”
“You mean it’s not like Langston. Brant is a different person.”
“True. Brant was always more impulsive. He probably didn’t plan well enough while bringing the eggs to America. Or,” Mr. Daniels added with a note of bitterness, “maybe Brant thinks it will be easy to kill off any Slayers. After all, his father had no trouble killing Nathan.”
Jamison glanced back in the direction of his bedroom. He felt a sudden desire to recheck the doors in his townhouse, to make sure they were locked. “We need to find and protect all the Slayers. They’re the best chance of stopping the dragons. If we can keep the dragons from destroying the country’s electric grid—”
Mr. Daniels’s voice came out fast and harsh. “You’ll keep my granddaughter away from dragons—away from Brant Overdrake too.”
Jamison sighed impatiently. “I’ll put myself in front of a bullet or a dragon for my family. But you know as well as I do how a sheepdog acts when it first sees a sheep.”
Sheepdogs who have been raised away from sheep still try to herd things, and once they first see sheep—well, there is no stopping them from doing what they were born to do. “What will those teenage Slayers do when the dragons attack? Do you imagine they’re going to sit around hiding in their homes?”
“People aren’t dogs. They choose whether to fight.”
“Yes, and everything I’ve learned about Slayers tells me what sort of choices they’re likely to make when a dragon is nearby.” Even Nathan, who never knew that dragons were real, still read about them, knew every myth of dragon lore. He loved horses and swords, any sort of weapon, really. Nathan would have fought.
“The best way to protect the Slayers,” Jamison went on, “is to train them to use their powers. I’ll teach them who and what their enemies are. Overdrake won’t be able to trap them unaware like he trapped Nathan.”
Mr. Daniels made an unhappy grumbling sound. “If Brant knows you’re training anyone, he’ll kill you and the Slayers you’re training too.”
“I won’t let him know.”
“How will you advertise for Slayers without letting Brant know?”
“I’ll think of something.”
More unhappy grumbling. “You’ll end up getting yourself and my granddaughter killed.”
“I won’t. I’m smarter than that.” Just to irk his father, Jamison added, “I’ve got a PhD, you know.”
“If you want to get yourself killed, that’s one thing, but your mother has already bought enough dresses to keep your daughter clothed until she’s six. You should see the hair ribbons she’s stacking up around here.”
Jamison imagined his daughter, not as a six-year-old, but as a teenager. He pictured her standing before him, tall and athletic. She had Shirley’s black hair, his blue eyes, and Nathan’s mischievous smile. Somehow knowing that his daughter was a Slayer made her seem more Nathan’s child than his own.
Jamison had fifteen, maybe twenty years to train his own daughter, and just as important, to find and train other Slayers. Hopefully dozens of them.
“I won’t fail her,” Jamison said. “I won’t fail any of them.”
“Slayers: The Making of a Mentor” copyright © 2013 by C.J. Hill
Art copyright © 2013 by Sam Burley