Daniel tested his shoulder cautiously as he went to the study to find his father. Whatever the dragon girl had done had certainly fixed it, although it was still a little stiff. Mela had headed to the lounge – she seemed fascinated by the television. His father was sitting at his desk scrolling away at something on his tablet – hypocrite that he was, given his avowed hatred of technology. Whatever he was looking at it was making him scowl. Daniel cleared his throat and his father looked up at him.
â€œBetter?â€ he asked.
Daniel nodded. â€œBut the dragon collapsed when sheâ€™d finished. I didnâ€™t do anything to her to cause it, I swear.â€
â€œThat bloody girl! She keeps doing this!â€ His father gave an exasperated sigh.
â€Collapsing?â€ Daniel asked.
â€œOver-stressing herself. I canâ€™t control dragons when they frenzy, so the collars are set up to knock them out when they get close to it. Most of them learn to limit themselves to stop it happening, but Haliaâ€™s stubborn.â€ He gave a puzzled frown. â€œWhen it comes to healing anyway. If I didnâ€™t know it was impossible, Iâ€™d almost say she cared about her patients.â€
â€œI noticed that,â€ Daniel said. â€œSheâ€™s a good actress.â€
â€œIndeed.â€ His father rose to his feet. â€œIâ€™d better go and see to her. Sheâ€™s too valuable to allow to starve. Go to Ebona; Iâ€™ll join you when Iâ€™m done.â€
Daniel waited until heâ€™d gone before walking around the desk to look at the tablet. His father had forgotten to lock it and the report which he had been looking at was still on screen. Daniel peered at it and blinked in puzzlement. At first he thought it was written in some sort of code, but then he realised it was just technical jargon. It seemed to be an internal report for a company called Morgan Hypertech on some kind of medical scanner they were developing and which wasnâ€™t working too well. Nothing his father should have access to. Daniel couldnâ€™t even imagine why heâ€™d have an interest in it. The name Morgan did ring a bell, but he couldnâ€™t place it.
He was still scrolling through the report looking for anything he could understand or a hint as to why his father was reading it when his father took it off him and switched it off.
â€œYou know, Daniel, itâ€™s rude to look at private reports without permission,â€ he said mildly. â€œNow come on. Garden.â€ He nudged Daniel towards the door.
â€œHypocrite!â€ Daniel snarled, but complied with the instruction.
His father gave a soft laugh. â€œYou may not believe it but I have every right to be reading that report.â€
â€œSure!â€ Daniel said skeptically. â€œOn a device you think shouldnâ€™t even exist.â€
â€œI donâ€™t have a problem with using technology. I just donâ€™t believe it works the way they claim.â€ He opened the patio doors. â€œCome on. Ebonaâ€™s waiting for you.â€
Ebona was standing under one ofÂ the apple trees mother had planted when they were toddlers. In her resting form she looked like nothing so much as a shaggy black shetland pony. When she spotted them she trotted over with a happy whinny. â€œDaniel!â€
â€œAre you okay?” Daniel knelt down beside her and hugged her neck.
â€œIâ€™m well.” She nuzzled at his shoulder. â€œAre you better?â€
â€œMuch.â€ He turned to his father. â€œSo what was it you wanted? I really donâ€™t think we have anything to discuss.â€
â€œPerhaps not. Weâ€™ll see.â€ His father startled him by dropping to one knee. â€œBut first, I want to apologise for what Jayden did to you. When I told him to persuade you to help me, I meant just that. I didnâ€™t know what he would do, and I would have stopped him if I had. But he works for me, the blame is mine.â€
Daniel stared at his father speechlessly. An apology was the last thing heâ€™d expected. He turned to look at Ebona.
â€œHeâ€™s telling the truth,â€ she said. â€œIt surprised me as well.â€
Daniel looked back at his father. â€œThat doesnâ€™t make me any more likely to agree with you, you know.â€
â€œI know.â€ His father rose to his feet. â€œI hope one day youâ€™ll understand. But I can tell you one thing. Iâ€™ve never been so proud of you as when I realised Jayden hadnâ€™t broken you, and if I canâ€™t have you as an ally Iâ€™m proud to have you as an enemy.â€
Daniel gaped at him. â€œI donâ€™t know how to respond to that.â€
His father cocked his head at him. â€œYou donâ€™t need to respond, my son.â€
â€œI have one question. Why did you let the Core summon the others?â€
â€œI didnâ€˜t, but it didnâ€™t either – though not for want of trying. I was still blocking it. The call they received came from something else. I have no idea what.â€ He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. â€œBut we need to talk about Mela. I think you should leave her on Earth. Sheâ€™ll be safe from the dragons here.â€
â€œAnd leave her to your tender mercies? No way!â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t hurt her, Daniel,â€ his father said. â€œBut we canâ€™t let the dragons have her.â€
Daniel shook his headÂ emphatically. â€œIâ€™ll protect her!â€
â€œSo stubborn-â€ his father broke off as his mobile phone rang. He looked at the caller display and his expression grew wry. â€œHere comes the tongue-lashing.â€ He waved Daniel back towards the house before answering it. â€œHi, look I know youâ€™re angry, but let me-â€Â The person on the other end must have interrupted because he stopped again and went pale as he listened. Daniel hugged Ebona again and had started back towards the patio when his father made a startled sound. â€œWhat?! Are you sure?â€