Check out Slayers: Friends and Traitors, the sequel to C. J. Hill’s Slayers. Friends and Traitors is available October 15th from Feiwel & Friends!
Tori’s got a problem. She thought she’d have one more summer to train as a dragon Slayer, but time has run out. When Tori hears the horrifying sound of dragon eggs hatching, she knows the Slayers are in trouble. In less than a year, the dragons will be fully grown and completely lethal. The Slayers are well-prepared, but their group is still not complete, and Tori is determined to track down Ryker—the mysterious missing Slayer.
What Tori doesn’t bargain for, however, is the surprising truth about her powers. She isn’t just a Slayer, she’s part Dragon Lord, too. How can Tori fight to save her friends when half of her is programmed to protect dragons? And with a possible traitor in their midst, the Slayers will be divided in more ways than they ever imagined…
It’s always the thing you overlook.
It would be ironic, Brant Overdrake thought as he paced around the cabin of his jet, for a man who could fly to be killed in a plane crash. Life was full of ugly little ironies, though.
Bianca, his wife, sat nearby, clutching a water bottle tightly in her hand. They had come from their plantation on St. Helena, one of the most remote islands in the world, a place hidden away in the south Atlantic. The flight to Virginia took sixteen hours, hours that had taken their toll on Bianca. Her long blonde hair was disheveled. Only hints of makeup remained on her face. Pillows were strewn around her seat—an effort to get comfortable in seats that weren’t meant to accommodate women who were eight months’ pregnant.
She took a drink of water. “Pacing won’t make the storm go away.”
He ignored her. The usual hum of the plane engine was swallowed up by the sound of rain clawing at the wings. Out the windows, the sky was an angry gray. Every few minutes distant slices of lightning illuminated the clouds.
Bianca lowered her voice. “The pilot already asked you twice to sit down and put on your seat belt.”
Overdrake walked to his chair, leaned over it, and peered out the window. “Yes, but I pay him, which means I give the orders, not the other way around.” The seat rattled underneath his fingers as though it were trying to shake off his hand. Storm turbulence. The plane kept bumping and shuddering along.
Bianca let out a high-pitched moan that sounded like a kitten trapped somewhere. Through panting breaths, she said, “Another contraction.”
“How far apart are they now?” he asked. She held up five fingers. “Keep drinking your water,” he said. She’d had false labor at six months. The doctor said she’d probably just been dehydrated. Once they had gotten enough fluids into her, the contractions stopped.
Overdrake knew none of his current problems were Bianca’s fault. She hadn’t chosen to have contractions a month early on the day they were moving to the United States. After she lost their first baby, she’d done everything she could to ensure this pregnancy went well. More than everything, actually. She turned into a health Nazi, ordering their chef to cook with organic ingredients, insisting that none of the staff smoke anywhere on their plantation—as if somehow the whiffs of secondhand cigarette smoke would make it through the air filters she erected in their house.
Still, even knowing how badly Bianca wanted this baby, Overdrake felt an illogical annoyance with her. Producing a son was the one task he needed from her, the one thing he couldn’t do on his own. She wasn’t supposed to go into labor early while they were in the sky, waiting out a storm. Why couldn’t she control her body? How hard could it be to carry a child and give birth to it at the right time? Women across the world had managed this task for thousands of years. He didn’t need the extra stress right now.
Overdrake left the window and strode to the cockpit to talk to the pilot. Peter Divers was an older man with a face like a bulldog’s and a temperament that wasn’t much better. He’d fought in the Gulf War and after that did some business for drug lords and arms dealers. Overdrake hired him as his personal pilot for three reasons. The man was cool under pressure, didn’t ask questions, and could keep a secret.
Overdrake looked at the monitors on the instrument panel. He’d flown enough that he could tell the plane was running low on fuel. Waiting out the storm had cost them. “What’s the latest on the weather?”
“Not good,” Divers said. “Just more of the same for the next hour. You’ll have to decide where to land soon.”
“I have decided. We’re landing on my airstrip in Winchester.”
Divers kept his gaze forward. “Well, until the weather decides that’s an option—”
“For the amount of money I pay you,” Overdrake snapped, “you should be able to put this plane down on the White House lawn if I ask you to do it.”
Divers checked the flap settings and the stabilizers. “No matter how much you pay me, I can’t change the weather or the laws of physics.”
“Brant!” Bianca called from the cabin. “The last one was three minutes!”
Great. The contractions were getting closer together instead of further apart.
“Did I mention,” Brant said coldly, “that my wife is in labor?” It was a rhetorical question. Divers had already called for an ambulance to meet the plane on Overdrake’s property in Winchester.
“That’s another factor I can’t change,” Divers said. “But I can call BWI and ask them to have medical staff standing by.” He glanced over his shoulder, looking for Overdrake’s reaction, some sign that he was relenting.
Overdrake didn’t speak.
“Even if we land at BWI,” Divers said, “it doesn’t mean the feds will come aboard and search your plane. As far as they know, this isn’t an international flight. And even if they did search us—what are they going to find? Some boulders. It’s odd, but so what? No law against that.”
The cargo carefully nestled inside seven meters of Styrofoam weren’t boulders. They just looked like boulders and were nearly as heavy. That was how dragons camouflaged their eggs. When the mother first laid them, the eggs were a translucent white with colored, glowing veins fingering across their milky surface. They looked like giant opals— nature’s artwork at its best. Within minutes, the shells took on the color and texture of the rocks around them. The shape of the eggs shifted, too, settling into a form that wasn’t so perfectly oval. The shells became stonelike and would remain that way for the next fifteen to twenty years. After that, the shells thinned and dragon hatchlings the size of lions would claw their way out.
Divers didn’t know the exact nature of what the plane carried, and Overdrake wasn’t about to tell him. “I won’t go to a public airport,” Overdrake insisted. “If you can’t land on my property, then find a private airstrip in an isolated place.”
Divers gestured to the flight plan at his side. “What do you mean by isolated? If you wanted isolated you should have told me to fly to Nebraska, not D.C.”
“The government must have some airstrips away from the populated areas. Make up a story. We’ll land there, wait out the storm, and then fly to Winchester.” Overdrake was grasping at straws. He knew that.
Divers actually turned in his seat to give Overdrake an incredulous stare. “Make up a story? My story is that I don’t go near the feds. You knew that when you hired me.”
Overdrake didn’t push it. He didn’t want anyone from the government checking his papers or his story, either. He just wanted Divers to come up with another solution. One that didn’t involve a place where crowds of people would be exposed to the unborn dragons’ signals.
That was another irony. In the last couple of weeks he’d flown two adult dragons from St. Helena to his compound in Winchester. Those were the trips he’d worried about. It would have been impossible to get around custom agents in England with a forty-ton dragon, so he took a three-day boat ride to Namibia, paid off officials there, then loaded the dragon onto a cargo plane and flew twenty-five hours from there to the States. He only stopped once to refuel.
He’d made that trip twice. Once for each dragon. Trying to contain an adult dragon in a confined space was tricky at best. Trying to do it for days verged on suicidal. Overdrake couldn’t tranquilize them. Dragons were naturally resilient to poisons and drugs, and his vets couldn’t say exactly how much tranquilizer would be needed or what prolonged exposure would do to their systems. So Overdrake had to stay linked to each dragon’s mind the entire trip, putting it in a trancelike state to keep it calm, quiet, and immobile.
Those flights went off without a hitch. But even if one of them had needed to be rerouted to a public airport, it might not have mattered. Overdrake had fittings that covered the diamond-shaped patches on the dragons’ foreheads, blocking the signals that originated there. As long as no one searched the plane, everything would have been fine. No signals would have leaked out into the public.
Overdrake couldn’t cover the foreheads of unhatched dragons. To block the eggs’ signals during their transportation, he would have had to put them behind tons of concrete and steel. It hadn’t seemed practical or necessary to fly that way. The containers would have been so heavy they would have required another cargo plane, and since his personal airstrip in St. Helena wasn’t big enough to accommodate one of those, he would have had to make the long boat trip to Namibia again with its hassles and hush money.
Overdrake wanted the rest of the move to be quick, and Bianca wanted to be settled in the U.S. before she gave birth so their son would have automatic citizenship. Overdrake had packed the eggs in Styrofoam, put them on his jet, and they flew from St. Helena. It was supposed to be a simple trip.
And now this. A storm, dwindling fuel, and Bianca having contractions three minutes apart. Overdrake turned away from the cockpit and went back to check on her. He cursed himself as he did. He should have been more careful. He should have taken the means to protect against every possibility of the eggs’ signals coming in contact with any Slayer knight descendants.
In the Middle Ages, when dragons roamed the sky unchallenged, the Slayer knights took an elixir that changed their DNA to give them powers to fight dragons. The knights passed on those genes to their descendants, but the dragon-fighting genes became active only when a baby in the womb came in contact with the signal a dragon emitted from its forehead.
If the Slayer genes weren’t activated during that nine-month slot, they remained forever dormant and useless—like they should.
When Overdrake got to Bianca, she was gripping her armrest, eyes closed. A sheen of sweat covered her face. The water bottle had dropped to the floor and lay jiggling against the side of the plane.
He wouldn’t let himself panic about this. She would be fine. Contractions, even when they were real ones, could last several hours. When Bianca lost the last baby at five and a half months, it had still taken six hours to deliver it.
He didn’t like to think about that son, a tiny gray curled figure that didn’t look quite human. This son would be healthy. He had to be. Overdrake needed another dragon lord to help him, and only boys inherited that trait. If this baby died, who knew how long it would take for Bianca to produce another son for him. The wives of dragon lords always had a hard time getting pregnant. It was the one drawback of having ancestors who had mixed their DNA with dragons.
Bianca stopped gripping the armrests, took a deep breath, and let herself go limp in the chair.
“How far apart was that one?” he asked.
She glanced at her watch. “Two minutes.”
“Two minutes?” he repeated.
She put her hand over her stomach and her shoulders shook with a silent sob. “You have to land the plane. I’m in labor.”
Rivulets of water coated the windows. The clouds looked as if they had rolled in charcoal. Thunder was rumbling hungrily, looking for something to consume. “We can’t land until the storm stops.”
Bianca’s voice rose. “The storm isn’t going to stop, and neither are these contractions. I need a doctor.” Tears spilled from her eyes, and she put her arms around her stomach, cradling it as though she could cradle the baby that way. “This is too early. Something is wrong.”
Overdrake didn’t tell her it would be all right. He didn’t know if it would be. The memory of the last labor still clung to the edges of his mind. With a sigh, he sat beside her and took her hand in his. “If we land at BWI, the eggs’ signals will reach all the people at the airport, all the people sitting in planes. Some of them are bound to be descendants of the Slayer knights.” Back when those knights had ruled the Middle Ages, they’d spread their genes far and wide. Conquerors always did.
“Yes, but how many of those descendants will be pregnant?” she asked. “There can’t be that many.”
“How many Slayers does it take to kill a dragon?” Overdrake meant to counter her argument, but instead found the sentence comforting. Even if the eggs’ signals did activate genes in a few unborn babies, giving them powers later on—it didn’t mean those children would be able to grow up and kill the dragons.
Over the generations the Slayer knights’ powers splintered apart. Descendants no longer inherited all of the abilities their ancestors had, just a few. And what could a handful of half-equipped Slayers do against his dragons?
Bianca shifted in her seat, gripping the armrests again. Another contraction was coming. “We’ve got to land. We don’t have another choice and waiting will only put our son’s life in danger.” Her eyes seared with pain. “Who are you more concerned about—Slayer babies that might not even exist or your own baby who needs your help right now?”
She was right. Overdrake put his hand over hers, giving her what comfort he could. “I’ll tell the pilot to land at BWI.”
Three hours later, Overdrake sat beside his wife on her hospital bed. The doctor and nurses had finally left, giving the couple some privacy. Smiling and satisfied, Bianca handed Overdrake their son to hold. Even though the baby was four weeks premature, he was still seven and a half pounds. Perfectly healthy and waiting to be admired. He had strong, smooth skin, wisps of fair hair, and knowing eyes. Ones that showed intelligence. It was as if he already understood that he was a dragon lord.
“You can swim through the sky,” Overdrake whispered to him. “You can control the kings of the air.”
Bianca laughed. “You’ll let him learn to walk before you train him to do all that, won’t you?”
Overdrake grinned at her. “Maybe.” He could enjoy these moments without worry, because Divers had already left BWI and landed in Winchester. Overdrake’s staff were now carefully transporting each egg into the dragon enclosure.
Bianca reached over and stroked the baby’s cheek. “How many…” She didn’t finish the sentence.
Overdrake knew what she was thinking. “How many Slayers did our detour here create? I guess we’ll know when the dragons attack and a bunch of teenagers show up to fight them.”
“Teenagers,” Bianca repeated, letting the word drift off. “They’ll still be children when the dragons are full grown…”
Bianca was beautiful and Overdrake loved her, but she was much too soft when it came to thoughts of war. “Those teenagers won’t just be the dragons’ enemies,” he reminded her. “They’ll be our enemies, and our son’s enemies, too.”
Overdrake bent down and kissed his son’s forehead. This was the person who would help him start a new dynasty. Overdrake ran a finger over his son’s small hand and felt a surge of protectiveness and regret. He should have been more careful when he’d transported the eggs here. He’d taken risks and inadvertently created enemies for his son—children who would be born with a destiny already genetically stamped into them.
Overdrake would take care of his mistake, though. He would think of a way to find the Slayers and do whatever he needed in order to eliminate them.
June, seventeen and a half years later
At six foot four and two hundred pounds, very few things frightened Ryker Davis. Dragons were one of those things, but they hardly counted since dragons weren’t real.
Or at least, they weren’t supposed to be real. They weren’t real yesterday. Today might rearrange that fact. Ryker had just finished building the machine that would prove one way or the other whether he inherited superpowers to fight dragons. Were dragons just myths from the Middle Ages—the work of wild fears turned into legends—or was reality about to make a 90-degree bend?
The dragon heartbeat simulator was a metal box the size of a cedar chest and about as boring looking. According to the specifications, when it was turned on, it sent out energy waves that would fool his body into thinking a dragon was around. His dormant Slayer abilities would be triggered and he’d have extra strength, the ability to see in the dark, and one of the other dragon-fighting skills. Something along the lines of flight, throwing shields up, dousing fire, sending out freezing shocks, sending out fireballs, healing burns, or seeing what the dragon saw.
So far, all the machine did was make a humming-thumping sound, like something was loose inside.
He stared at it, not sure whether to feel discouraged or relieved that nothing amazing was happening to him. It was hard to feel anything but foolish while his cousin, Willow, stood by, making little quips to show that she thought the whole idea of dragon slayers was hilariously funny. “So if you’re a superhero, are you going to start wearing brightly colored tights under your clothes?”
“No, I’ve always thought that jeans were good superhero fashion.”
Ryker hadn’t known that anyone considered dragon Slayer a career option until two years ago when he did an Internet search of his name and found the website RykerDavis.com.
The site proclaimed, “All You Ever Wanted to Know about Ryker Davis.” It had a password to get past the first page. The clue was, What does Ryker dream about?
How could he not try to guess the password? For all he knew, one of the jerk-wad senior guys from the football team had put up the site to harass him. It bugged a few of them that the coach made Ryker starting varsity when he was a freshman. They’d never forgiven him for it. And they’d especially never forgiven him when he quit football a year later and went out for cross-country instead. Guys who could play varsity football weren’t supposed to like cross-country better.
Ryker had typed in a few things he thought the jerk-wads would say he dreamed about, but when none of them worked, he typed in the real answer. Dragons. Although strictly speaking, those weren’t dreams. They were nightmares.
Ryker didn’t find any jokes or stupid pictures of himself. He found something completely different. And in many ways much worse.
Ryker, although you’re unaware of it, you belong to an elite group of teenagers called the Slayers. Dragon eggs are here in the country, lying dormant, and will hatch within a few years. The resulting dragons won’t be humankind’s friends. You’ve inherited powers necessary to fight them. Your subconscious already knows this—which is why you’ve always had an obsession with dragons.
Granted, for as long as Ryker could remember, and he was seventeen, he’d liked weapons. As a child, he constantly stole the vacuum cleaner’s hose attachment to use as a sword. Ditto for his dad’s golf clubs. In kindergarten he turned a coat hanger into a bow and pencils into arrows. He started fencing lessons in third grade and now had a collection of swords that barely fit in his bedroom. And, okay, maybe he had a habit of buying plastic dragon toys, throwing them up in the air, and then seeing how many times he could slice through them before they hit the ground.
But that didn’t mean he had a dragon obsession.
If he was obsessed with anything, it was hang gliding.
I need to train you, the site read, but it must remain a secret. Tell no one.
As if Ryker would tell anyone about the website. He was constantly worried someone he knew would find it and think he’d created it. Ryker didn’t want to go through high school known as the weird guy who believed in dragons.
The site gave a phone number, an e-mail address, and a name. Or at least part of one: Dr. B. Ryker hadn’t contacted him. The guy was probably some wack job, and besides, Ryker’s parents were ultraparanoid about identity theft, strangers, and all things that went bump in the night. If it weren’t for the fact that there were two other Ryker Davises who had information all over the Internet, his parents would already be freaked out that a website existed with his name.
Ryker had kept tabs on the website over the last two years. He even started believing it. Or at least believed it enough that he had to know whether it was true.
A couple weeks ago, Dr. B posted schematics on how to construct a dragon heartbeat simulator, and Ryker built it. He stared at the machine now. He didn’t feel extra strong. Nothing changed in his vision. The light in the basement was as dim as it always was.
Ryker picked up a screwdriver, walked over to the simulator, and twisted a screw tighter. It didn’t need tightening. He had picked up the screwdriver to test his strength without being obvious about it. As he stepped away from the simulator, he took the screwdriver in one hand and tried to bend it. It remained straight.
Willow swished her long blonde hair off her shoulders dramatically. She was tall, thin, and graceful—willowy—which was a good thing since it would be hard to live down a name like Willow if you were short and dumpy. “Can I be your sidekick?”
It had been a mistake to let his cousin see the simulator. She had promptly e-mailed Dr. B and asked if a Batmobile came with the Slayer job description.
Immediately after she sent her e-mail, Dr. B contacted her, giving his phone number and asking that Ryker call him.
Yeah. Ryker wasn’t going to do that. He fingered the screwdriver again. It still didn’t bend. He tossed it onto the floor near his dad’s toolbox and decided it served Willow right that she’d e-mailed Dr. B. The guy would probably send her daily spam trying to sell her tinfoil hats and elf repellent.
Willow looked upward, thinking. “For my sidekick costume, I want a cute headband like the one Wonder Woman wears but not the starspangled bathing suit. I mean, fighting crime shouldn’t require a girl to shave her legs. That’s asking too much.”
“I don’t think you have to worry. I’m not experiencing any superpowers—at least not ones I didn’t already have. I think my innate genius probably qualifies.” Ryker kept his voice light, but there was a sort of numb disappointment filling him. He was normal. Like everybody else. Which meant he had an entire mundane, unimportant life to look forward to.
“Maybe you’re not trying hard enough,” Willow said. “See if you can shoot spiderwebs from your palm.”
“Sorry,” he said. “As much as I’d like to encase you in a web and leave you dangling somewhere, I can’t.” On the other hand, Ryker didn’t have to worry about dragons attacking cities, or about his genetic responsibility to fight them. When he looked at it that way, a mundane, unimportant life wasn’t such a bad thing.
Dragons. Sheesh. When had he become so gullible?
Willow let out a dramatic sigh. “I guess we’d better inform Dr. Alphabet Letters that you’re not as cool as he thought.” She picked up her Kindle. Dr. B’s e-mail to them still sat on the screen.
“Don’t,” Ryker said. With one swift motion he grabbed the Kindle out of Willow’s hands. “Don’t encourage whoever…” He stopped talking when Willow let out a gasp. She stared, openmouthed at his hand.
Ryker looked down. The Kindle had cracked. The screen was nothing but a starburst of lines and colors.
Willow took a step toward him, her hands lifted in frustration. “What did you do that for?”
Ryker peered at the broken Kindle, dumbfounded. “I didn’t grab it that hard. It just shattered.”
Willow yanked what was left of the Kindle from his hand. Pieces of plastic fell onto the floor. “These don’t just shatter. You must have…” Her voice trailed off, her anger fading away.
They looked at each other. Then they looked at the simulator. It was still making the same soft thudding sound. They looked back at each other. Neither said anything for a moment.
“Do you feel extra strong?” Willow asked tentatively.
“No,” he said. “I still feel the same.”
Willow scanned the room, saw the screwdriver, and picked it up. “See if you can bend this.” She handed it to him, then took a step back from him as though the screwdriver might not only shatter, but explode, too.
Ryker laughed at the change in her expression. He already knew he couldn’t. “I bet anyone can break an e-reader if they grab it wrong.” He put one hand on the tip of the screwdriver and slowly applied pressure to show Willow it was pointless. “I’ll buy you a new—”
He didn’t finish. His mind couldn’t form words. The metal spike of the screwdriver was bending into a horseshoe shape. He did have extra strength. It had just taken a few minutes to kick in.
Willow let out a high-pitched squeal. “You did it!” She bounced on the balls of her feet, a bundle of excitement. “This is so awesome!”
Ryker turned the ruined screwdriver over in his hand. “No, it isn’t.” His heart beat against his chest in a fast rhythm, a drumbeat pounding out a new and insistent call. He wasn’t normal. He wasn’t like everybody else. “This is really bad. Do you know what this means?”
The excitement drained from Willow as quickly as it had come. Her mouth opened into an O of understanding. “It means,” she said in a voice that had gone still, “that the other stuff is true, too. Dragons are real. They’re going to attack.”
Ryker paced around his living room waiting for his parents to come home. He and Willow had just had a long talk about secrecy and caution, about what they should say and who they should tell. Slayer or not, signing up to fight dragons was going to take some thought. Especially since Dr. B had written about Overdrake, the dragon lord, who was lurking around somewhere, waiting to pick Slayers off.
Dr. B also reported on his site that he had met with Ryker’s parents when his mom was pregnant with him. Dr. B didn’t give many details about what led to the meeting. He just said that, instead of agreeing to let him train their son, Ryker’s parents had moved without a trace. It was the reason Dr. B now kept Slayers from revealing any information about their training to their parents. It was the reason why Ryker wasn’t supposed to tell his parents anything now.
But then, maybe his parents had good reasons for keeping him away from Dr. B. Maybe the man was dangerous. Or crazy. Or had an agenda of his own.
Ryker looked out the living room window to the street in front of their house. No cars were heading in his direction. It wasn’t a surprise. They lived on a cul-de-sac. Ryker turned and paced back the other way.
No matter what Ryker’s parents thought of Dr. B, they still should have told Ryker he was a Slayer. That part really ticked him off.
Willow and he had spent the last couple of hours trying to find other powers. He jumped off his trampoline about fifty times. He could leap huge distances, but he hadn’t flown anywhere. He dragged every candle his parents owned onto the back patio and tried to extinguish their flames. That hadn’t worked either. He wasn’t sure what throwing a shield up entailed, so he waved his hands around, attempting to create some sort of force field over the basketball hoop while Willow shot baskets. That experiment was probably doomed from the start. Willow kept trying to make wild, impossible shots. He might have had a working shield up there half of the time and wouldn’t have known it.
Next, Ryker went into the guest bathroom to test his night vision. The bathroom didn’t have any windows, so it was the best place for that sort of test. Even in the dark, he could make out the gray shapes of Willow’s shampoo bottle and conditioner in the shower. He could see the tangled silhouette of her blow dryer and iPod dock sitting on the counter, and see her makeup junk that was scattered everywhere. Seriously, why did girls need all of that stuff?
After that experiment—while Willow informed him that, yes, she really did need all that makeup junk, and guys should appreciate what girls did to look nice—they took cups of water out on the patio. Ryker dipped his fingers into his, then tried to send out freezing shocks to the hydrangeas. No frost formed, and if the hydrangeas felt chilly, they didn’t let on. Before long, that experiment deteriorated into Willow and him throwing water at each other.
Besides the strength and night vision that all the Slayers had, he and Willow didn’t discover any extra powers. But then the website didn’t say how to access them. Maybe there was a trick to it that Dr. B hadn’t mentioned. It could be his way of making Ryker contact him.
Or maybe it just took more practice.
Slayers: Friends and Traitors © C J Hill, 2013