Daniel woke up to the smell of washing powder. It took him a moment of confusion to realise it was coming from his pillow and another moment to remember that he shouldnâ€™t have a pillow. He opened his eyes cautiously and realised he was in his room back on Earth. The last thing he remembered was being pinned to a tree with his own spear. If he was home, his father must brought him here. Which meant…
â€œMela!â€ he struggled to sit up but his arm wouldnâ€™t obey him. â€œMela!â€
â€œHalia says you still have some nerve damage and you shouldnâ€™t move without help yet,â€ his father said. He was sitting in the chair by Danielâ€™s desk. â€œEbonaâ€™s in the garden in her resting form.â€
Daniel scowled at him and sank back down to the pillows. â€œWhat have you done to Mela?â€
â€œYour little mermaid? Why would I do anything to her?â€ He studied Danielâ€™s face and then sighed. â€œYou donâ€™t believe me.” He walked to the door. â€œDraylian, would you fetch Halia and Mela, please?â€
â€œOf course, my Idan.â€ The white haired boy who appeared in the doorway looked like a scrawny young teen but his inhumanly green eyes marked him as a dragon. He didnâ€™t feel quite like one though. He bowed briefly and was gone.
â€œSuch an interesting child, that one,â€ his father said.
â€œYou donâ€™t have him collared? Is that safe?â€
â€œIâ€™m trying to figure out what he is. The collar would interfere. Anyway he does what heâ€™s told as long as I feed him.â€ He gave a wry smile. â€œI thought you didnâ€™t approve of what I did.â€
â€œI donâ€™t care what you do to dragons. Theyâ€™re monsters and need controlling. Itâ€™s what you do with them that makes you one too.â€
â€œAh, Elapyron City.â€ His father walked to the window and looked out. â€œThat place was rotten to the core in ways you canâ€™t even imagine, Daniel. And thanks to you, I found out that some of the rot managed to escape.â€
His father picked something up from the desk and dropped it on to the pillow. It was the remains of the control circlet Daniel had picked up when he confronted the others at the ice cave. â€œBut thatâ€™s…â€
â€œNot one of mine, no? Mine are a hybrid of this design and the collars I use on dragons. Do you know where I found this design?â€
Daniel shook his head, although he had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going.
â€œThe council in Elapyron city were using them on traitors. And by traitors I mean anyone who disagreed with them.â€
â€œJust another symptom of the disease afflicting Talonyka,” a female voice he didnâ€™t recognise said. Daniel looked up in time to see Draylian reappear with Mela and a female dragon with silvery blonde hair. UnlikeÂ the boy, she was wearing an ornate torc and her green eyes simmered with resentment as she glared at his father. He returned her gaze with calm unconcern.
â€œYour kind are the only disease afflicting that world, Halia. Your patient is awake. Donâ€™t let me down.â€
â€œNot the only disease.â€ The dragon girl gave him a sideways look as she walkedÂ to Danielâ€™s side and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. â€œAnd I would never deliberately botch a healing. My mother would kill me if you didnâ€™t.â€Â A strange tingling sensation spread through his arm. â€œCan you feel your arm at all?â€
Daniel ignored her and looked over at Mela. She was dressed in slacks and a long blouse belted at the waist and had her turquoise hair bound up under a headscarf. Her outfit was made from a pale green fabric that made his skin tingle even at this distance. If it wasnâ€™t for her eyes and her heartstone, sheâ€™d pass for human. And she could hide both of those if needed. He couldnâ€™t see any sign of any kind of control device. â€œAre you okay?â€ he asked. â€œWhat are you wearing?â€
â€œIâ€™m okay.â€ She pulled a face as she sat beside him on the bed. â€œA bit confused. And this – I think itâ€™s goblin silk. It stops me drying out.â€
â€œAre youÂ sure? Has he done anything to you?â€
Mela shook her head. â€œNot really. Scanned me a couple of times to try and find out what the dragons wanted me for, but nothing else.â€
â€œDaniel-alran, please,â€ Halia interrupted. â€œI know you think Iâ€™m a monster, but you could lose the use of your arm if you donâ€™t cooperate with me.â€
â€œSheâ€™s right, Daniel. And she may be a dragon, but sheâ€™s an excellent healer. I could call one of my friends in, but Haliaâ€™s actually better than her and I really donâ€™t feel like getting my ear chewed off right now. And sheâ€™ll definately be mad at me right now.â€
â€œWhat use do dragons have for healers?” Daniel scowled at his father and then glanced at Halia briefly. â€œI can feel it, but I canâ€™t move it.â€
â€œGood! Thatâ€™s very good. That means the damage isnâ€™t as bad as I feared.â€ She really did sound pleased. â€œIâ€™m going turn off the pain sensors in your arm for a few minutes. What Iâ€™m about to do would hurt a lot if I didnâ€™t, but itâ€™ll probably feel strange anyway.â€
Strange was an understatement. In spite of the numbness, the tingling sensation increased and became unpleasant. He lookedÂ down and saw glowing tendrils of silver light spreading under his skin. He tried to pull away with a startled exclaimation but she grabbed his arm.
â€œIt wonâ€™t harm you,â€ she said. â€œThatâ€™s why I needed to turn your pain receptors off. Our primary affinities clash.â€
â€œLet her do her job, Daniel. I know itâ€™s unnerving but itâ€™ll work,â€ his father said. â€œAnd then we need to talk with Ebona present.â€ He headed for the door.Â â€œIâ€™d better check on your mother. She saw me bringing you back but I donâ€™t think she registered it. Sheâ€™s getting worse.â€ He scowled and muttered something about wishing he could kill someone. â€œCome and find me once Haliaâ€™s finished. Iâ€™ll be in the study.â€