| Atlantis Rising
Warriors of Poseidon -- Book 1 -- Berkley Sensation
March, 2007 -- ISBN: 0425214494
The USA Today bestselling first book in the new Warriors of Poseidon series! High Prince Conlan and Riley meet and Atlantis will never be the same.
Eleven thousand years ago, before the seas swallowed the Atlanteans, Poseidon assigned a few chosen warriors to act as sentinels for humans in the new world. There was only one rule--desiring them was forbidden. But rules were made to be broken . . .
Riley Dawson is more than a dedicated Virginia Beach social worker. She's blessed iwth a mind link that only Atlanteans have been able to access for thousands of years.
Conlan, the high prince of Atlantis, has surfaced on a mission to retrieve Poseidon's stolen Trident. Yet something else has possessed Conlan: the intimate emotions and desires of a human.
In the battle to reclaim Poseidon's power, how long can a forbidden love last between two different souls from two different worlds?
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Hell is empty
And all the Devils are here.
-- William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Capitol city of Atlantis, Present Day
Conlan waved a hand in front of the portal and briefly wondered whether its magic would even recognize a warrior who hadn’t passed through its gateway for more than seven years.
Seven years, three weeks, and eleven days, to be precise.
As he waited, up to his chest in the healing water, death taunted him -- flickering at the edges of his vision, shimmering in the deep blue ocean currents surrounding him, pulsing in the scarlet blood that dripped steadily from his side and leg. He laughed without humor, propping himself up with a hand on his knee.
“If that bitch-vamp Anubisa couldn’t break me, I’m sure as hell not giving up now,” he snarled to the empty darkness surrounding him.
Iridescent aqua lights flashed as if in response to his defiance, and the portal widened for him. Two men – two warriors – stood at guard, widened eyes and parted lips mirroring identical expressions of shock as they stared through the transparent membrane of the portal. He shouldered his way through the portal’s opening, which enlarged to fit whatever or whoever it deemed worthy of passage.
“Prince Conlan! You’re alive,” one said.
“Mostly,” he replied, then stepped through the portal into Atlantis. He drank in the first sight of his beloved homeland in more than seven years, lungs expanding to taste the freshness of sea-filtered air. In the middle distance, the gold-veined white marble pillars fronting Poseidon’s temple glowed with the reflected hues of artificial sunset. Conlan’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of it.
A sight he’d been sure he’d never experience again.
Especially when she’d laughingly proposed taking his eyes.
“A High Prince with no vision. What a delicious metaphor for the loss of your philosopher-king father, young princeling. Why don’t you beg?”
She’d strolled around him, flicking the silver-barb-tipped whip almost leisurely at him, as he stood, helpless, in chains made for creatures borne of deeper hells. Extending one delicate finger, she’d touched the droplets of blood that sprang up so eagerly in the wake of her whip.
Then she’d brought her finger to her mouth, smiling.
“But you will beg. Just like your father begged when I sliced the flesh off of your mother as she yet lived,” she’d purred, evil mixed with a hideous lust in her eyes.
He’d roared his hatred and defiance for hours.
He’d even wept, driven to madness from the pain, on seven separate occasions.
Once during each year of his imprisonment.
But he’d never begged.
“But she will,” he said, voice hoarse with the effort of remaining upright. “She will beg, before I’m done with her.”
“Highness?” The guards rushed forward to assist him, yelling out for aid. He whipped his head up, teeth bared, growling like the animal he’d become. They both stopped, mid-step. Frozen in place.
Unsure how to react to royalty gone feral.
Conlan staggered forward, determined to take the first steps onto his native soil without aid.
“We must inform Alaric immediately,” said the older, more experienced warrior of the two. Marcus. Marius, maybe? Conlan focused, certain he must know the man.
It was important that he remember things.
“You’re bleeding, Highness.”
“Mostly,” he repeated, stumbling forward another step. Then the world spiraled down to black.
* * *
Ven stood in the observation chamber, looking down on the hall of healing below, where Poseidon’s high priest, clearly exhausted, labored over Ven’s brother. It took one hell of a lot to drain the energy out of Alaric. He was rumored to be the most powerful high priest who had ever served the sea god.
Not that warriors knew much about the difference between one priest and another. Or, usually, gave much of a shit. Except, right now, he cared about that distinction.
Ven clenched the railing, fingers digging into the soft wood, as he thought about what exactly Anubisa must have done to Conlan. He knew what she’d done to Alexios. One of Conlan’s most trusted guards, the Seven, Alexios had spent two years under Anubisa’s tender ministrations. Hers and those of her evil apostates of Algolagnia, who drew their only sexual pleasure from pain and torture.
Then she’d left him -- naked and near death -- to die. In a pile of pig shit on Crete. The vamp goddess of death was big on symbolism. Maybe something she’d inherited from her father-husband, Chaos. And that was seriously twisted right there.
It had taken Alaric nearly six months to retrieve the warrior’s memories. That half-year had included two cycles of purification in the Temple to cleanse his soul.
Ven didn’t want to think it – fucking hated to think it – but sometimes he wondered if Alexios had ever come all the way back from whatever black pit of hell she’d dragged him into.
Still, Alaric had okayed him. Alexios was back as one of the Seven. It was a matter of honor that Ven trust him.
The Seven served as the most trusted guard to the high prince of all Atlantis. Even when he was gone; presumed dead.
They also led and coordinated the teams of warriors who patrolled the surface lands of the earth. Watching over the damn humans, who’d let themselves be herded like – what did the bloodsuckers call them? Sheep?
While Ven and all of the Warriors of Poseidon had to keep to the shadows. Out of sight. Incog-fucking-nito. Defending the landwalkers from the bad asses among the bloodsuckers, the furry monsters, and all the shit that went bump in the night. And, frankly, the bad asses seemed to be in the majority in those particular species most of the time.
And they’d done a damn fine job the past eleven thousand years, give or take. Until the day about ten years ago when the freaks that inhabited the night decided to come out of the coffin. First the vamps, then the shapeshifters. The job of Poseidon’s warriors got about fifty kajillion times harder when that happened.
For whatever reason, Anubisa hadn’t bothered to let her people -- her vamp society -- in on the secret of Atlantis. But Ven knew that could change any minute. If anybody knew about the capriciousness of gods and goddesses, it was an Atlantaen.
Doomed to the bottom of the sea at Poseidon’s whim.
Not that he’d ever complain about it. Out loud, at least.
Still, it was tough to defend humans when the big, bad, and ugly roamed freely, and the Atlantaens had to stick to the shadows. But Ven had argued the point in the Council until his fact turned blue, and then he’d finally given up. The Elders didn’t want anybody to know about Atlantis, and until Conlan ascended to the throne, nobody could go against their edict.
Ven looked down at his brother again, barely registering the soothing tones of the harps and flutes being played by temple maidens in the alcoves surrounding his brother. The music was supposed to aid in healing.
Ven laughed. Yeah, except Conlan hated that light fluffy Debussy shit. When he ascended to the throne, he’d probably ask for Bruce Springsteen or U2 to play at his coronation.
If. If Conlan ascended to the throne.
He didn’t even want to think about what would happen if Conlan had gone bad. Because guess who was second in line? Yeah. Ven would go from being King’s Vengeance to high prince in a royal godsdamned minute, and there was no fucking way he was cut out to lead anything.
He looked down at his brother again, lying so still. Conlan had grown up like royalty, honor and duty and all that happy shit ingrained in his soul. But Ven grew up pure street fighter. There was a big, ugly part of his soul. The part that had withered and died when he’d been with his mother at the end, before she died. When she’d begged him to save himself. Keep his brother safe.
He’d promised her, sobbing, as she died.
Great fucking job he’d done of keeping his word.
The wood snapped under his clenched fists.
“Tough wood to break with your bare hands,” observed a dry voice.
Ven didn’t look up at the priest, instead pulling splinters out of his torn and bleeding palms. “Yeah, they don’t make these railings like they used to,” he muttered.
Alaric walked -- more like glided, the man was spooky – up to stand next to him. “I can heal that if you like,” he offered, tone dispassionate.
“I think you’ve done enough healing for one day, don’t you?”
Alaric said nothing, merely looked down over the railing at his sleeping prince.
Ven studied Alaric as the priest watched Conlan. The two of them had grown up running around the kingdom like the hellions they were, tearing up the streets and fields with their games and pranks. Rarely reined in by their indulgent parents or a community respectful of the royal children and their cousin.
Later making their way through the taverns and the barmaids with the same verve and boyish charm.
There was nothing of boyishness about the priest now. He wore the power of his office like a shield of armor. Invisible, but unmistakable. The sharp planes of his face and the hawk-like asceticism of his nose reminded all who confronted him that here was a man of faith; stripped to muscle and bone by the demands of his service.
The demands of power. If the faintly glowing green eyes hadn’t already warned them away, that is.
High priest, dark phantom, instrument of Poseidon’s power.
Scary son of a bitch.
“No, there is not a helluva lot of boyish charm left in any of us, is there, Alaric?”
Alaric lifted one eyebrow, but gave no other sign of surprise at the comment. “You want to know if he has been compromised,” he said, face gray and used looking. After a dozen or so hours of healing, it was pretty impressive that he could even stand upright.
“After Alexios--" Ven began, then stopped, unable to go on. If Anubisa had compromised his brother’s soul, then the royal family really was doomed. She would have made good, finally, on a five-thousand-year old promise.
Because Ven would walk into the gates of hell itself to shove his daggers up her bloodsucking ass. And he was honest enough to know he’d never come out of that confrontation alive.
Alaric drew a deep breath. “He is whole.”
Ven’s entire body sagged in a relief so fierce his vision literally went strange; he blinked away little gray spots that floated in front of his eyes. “Thank Poseidon!”
Alaric remained silent, which raised Ven’s suspicion. Just a tiny doubt. “Alaric? Is there something you’re not telling me? Is it simply coincidence that he gets back here just a few hours after Reisen blasted his way into the Temple and ripped off the Trident?”
The priest clenched his jaw, but said nothing for another minute. He finally spoke. “As to Reisen, I cannot tell. He is yet impossible to scry. For Conlan --"
Alaric hesitated, then seemed to reach a decision, nodding. “The prince is whole. Somehow, in spite of seven years of torture, he is whole. She was unable to compromise his mind or capture his soul to her use. But--"
Ven grasped Alaric’s arm in a steel grip. “But? But what?”
Alaric said nothing, merely looked down at Ven’s hand clenched around his arm. The knowledge that Alaric could incinerate Ven’s hand with a single surge of elemental power lay between them.
Right at that moment, Ven didn’t give a rat’s ass.
But he sighed and released Alaric’s arm. “But what? He’s my brother. I have a right to know.”
Nodding imperceptibly, Alaric glanced back down at Conlan’s still form. “But simply because she was unable to suborn his soul to her own use does not mean that Conlan retained full possession. No one can survive that duration of torture with his soul intact.”
He looked up at Ven, gaze flat. Dead. Promising destruction. Ven saw his own need to kick some vampire ass reflected in the priest’s eyes.
“Conlan has returned to us, Ven. But we may not know for a long time exactly how much of him returned.”
Ven bared his teeth in a fierce parody of a smile. “We’ll figure it out. My brother is the strongest warrior I’ve ever known. And Anubisa is gonna find out exactly what it means that I am the King’s Vengeance.”
He grasped the handles of his daggers, eyes gleaming. “I’m gonna shoot me some vengeance right up her puckered ass.”
Alaric’s eyes shone for an instant with a glittering green light so bright that Ven had to squint against it. “Oh, yes. She will learn. And I will gladly assist you with that lesson.”
As the two walked out of the observation chamber, Alaric looked back at the railing that Ven had crushed, then at Ven. “Poseidon has some vengeance of his own to offer.”
Ven nodded, silently swearing the second formal vow of his life. If it take my death to do it, Anubisa will be destroyed. Glory be to Poseidon.
The bitch was going down.
* * *
Conlan tensed, fingers twitching to reach for the hundredth – thousandth -- time for the sword that Anubisa had stolen from him. Then the familiarity of the voice penetrated the lethargy of the healing process.
“Alaric,” he said, relaxing back down against the pillows.
Poseidon’s High Priest stared down at him, the suggestion of a smile quirking up the side of his mouth. “It’s a little tiresome to be right all of the time. Welcome back, Conlan. Long vacation?”
Conlan sat up on the healers’ marble and gold table, stretching, staring at flesh knitted whole. Bones unbroken and reset.
Scars that would never heal.
The need to scorch her face clear off her body with a big fucking energy ball consumed him. Ate at his gut. He shook it off and focused on the priest again.
“Right all of the time?” he repeated. “You knew I was alive?”
“I knew,” Alaric confirmed, hard lines etched in his face. He folded his arms and leaned back against a white marble column.
Conlan’s gaze was drawn to the veins of coppery orichalcum twining around its carved shapes. Dolphins leaping, Nereids laughing at their mermaid play. The scent of delicate green and blue lava-tulips permeated the air.
The images and scents of home he’d been refused for seven damn years.
He wrenched his gaze back to Alaric. “Yet you left me to rot?” Betrayal flared, warring with common sense. Alaric would have had duties to the Temple. To the people.
Alaric straightened and slowly unfolded his arms, his restraint only underscoring the enormous power leashed within him, his icy green eyes flashing with fury. “I searched for you. Every day for the past seven years. Even this day, before you arrived, I was preparing to join your brother, who was waiting Above for yet another hopeless trip to find and rescue you from wherever they’d imprisoned you.”
Conlan clenched his jaw, remembering Anubisa’s parting shot, then nodded. “She shielded us. She’s more powerful than we ever suspected, then.”
Alaric’s face hardened, if planes and sculpted lines that already appeared to be cast in marble could be said to harden. “Anubisa,” he said flatly. It wasn’t a question. “It is unsurprising that the goddess of night can project the void of death to mask her . . . activities.”
The word torture hung, twisting and pulsing, in the air between them. At least the priest had the decency not to speak it.
Conlan nodded, reaching for the scar at the base of his throat before he realized what he was doing. Forcing his hand down when he did. “She kept me from water. Far away from any water, but for the barest minimum to drink to keep me alive. I had no chance to channel any power – no chance at all.”
When he could bear to meet Alaric’s eyes, Conlan flinched at the depth of the sorrow and fury there.
“Never once. Never the slightest resonance of your existence.” Alaric said, gripping the jade handle of his dagger. He held it out to Conlan, blade down. “If you doubt my loyalty, cousin, end my life now. I deserve it for my failure.”
Conlan noted the reference to their family connection in the cynical corner of his mind that calculated the niceties of Atlantean politics. Alaric never spoke a single word that didn’t carry at least two meanings. Often polemic, at times pedagogical. Never purposeless.
Conlan accepted the dagger and turned it over in his hands, then flipped it back to its owner. “If you failed in your appointed role, Priest, Poseidon’s justice would be the one kicking your ass. You’ve no need of mine.”
Alaric shook black hair behind his shoulders, eyes narrowing at the emphasis on his title. Then he nodded once and slid the dagger into its emerald-jeweled sheath. “As you say. We face other problems, Prince. You have finally returned, only hours after the vehicle of your ascension is lost.”
“Tell me,” Conlan said, fury scalding the shreds of his self-control.
“Reisen. He killed two of my acolytes,” Alaric spat the words out, clenching his fists. “Conlan, he took it. He took the Trident. He’s gone above. If the undead get their hands on it . . .”
Alaric’s words trailed off. Both of them knew the cost of misused power. Poseidon’s former High Priest lay rotting in the black abyss of the temple oubliette for overstepping his powers.
Poseidon served deadly reminders to those who betrayed him.
Conlan inhaled sharply, the hairs on his arms standing up in response to the nearly-invisible currents of elemental energy Alaric crackled through the room. For his power to leak out like that, the priest must be damn near the edge of his self-control. Or else seven years had seen one hell of a surge in his power.
Conlan didn’t know which option should concern him more.
Their friendship had weathered the strain of the demands of politics and power. Conlan trusted Alaric with his life. Didn’t he?
It was enough to split a man’s skull open.
Clenching the sheets in his fists, he fought for composure. For some semblance of royal countenance to overlay the ragged insanity threatening to eat through his mind.
Through his gut.
To his soul.
His heart was long since gone. Shattered at the end of a whip, while forced to hear silken words whispering of the atrocities they’d heaped upon his lady mother.
Anubisa and her apostates of Algolagnia. They’d murdered his mother an inch at a time, and they’d enjoyed it. Worse, they’d gotten off on it. A deep shudder wracked through him, remembering how Anubisa had pleasured herself to orgasm in front of him while she told him stories of torturing his parents.
Again and again and again.
Anubisa was going to die.
They were all going to die.
“Conlan?” Alaric’s voice almost physically wrenched him out of his memories of death and blood. Alaric. He’d said hours later . . .
“Hours? And here I am,” Conlan said, remembering. “She let me go. She knew, Alaric. She knew.”
His final day. His final hour.
“Oh, princeling, you have brought me such pleasure,” she murmured in his ear. Then she slid down his naked body and delicately licked at the sweat, and the blood, and the other, thicker fluids that pooled to drip down his thighs. “But I think you must needs return to your people. You have a delightful surprise waiting for you. And, in your current state, you’re no longer any fun.”
Standing up, she’d waved one of her attendants over. “Twelve of my personal guard. Twelve, you understand? Don’t be fooled by this temporary weakness. The brat prince of Atlantis has . . . hidden strengths.” She’d run a finger down his cock, laughing as he’d tried to flinch away from her.
Then she’d flicked her gaze back to her attendant. “Throw him out.”
Still naked, long, curling hair matted with his blood, she’d stalked toward the doorway of the cell that had served as his prison for seven years. Then she’d stopped and looked back at him over her shoulder. “Your bloodline amuses me, princeling. Tell your brother that I come for him next.”
He’d cursed, then, finding his voice again. Called her names that he hadn’t even known he knew. Until her guards came, and one of them demonstrated that he’d taken offense by way of a club to Conlan’s head.
He shook off the image in his head. He was free of Anubisa’s hell.
He would never be free of the memories.
He might never be entirely sane again.
But he was Conlan of Atlantis, and he had returned. His people wanted a king, not a broken failure of a prince.
Glancing across at Alaric, he saw the concern reflected on the priest’s face. Maybe even Alaric wanted a king, too.
Enough of the self-indulgence of dreams of vengeance – and on to the reality.
“We’re not boys causing mischief at the running of the bulls festival any more, are we?” Conlan said, a shadow of remembered freedom crossing his mind. A time before the demands of being his father’s son. Before the demands on Alaric as Poseidon’s anointed.
Alaric tilted his head, expression wary, and then he slowly shook his head. “Not for many long years, Conlan.”
“Too long,” Conlan replied. “Far too long.” He swung his legs off the healing table and rose to stand.
“Childhood may be outgrown, but loyalty never will be. You are my prince, but – more than that – you are my friend. Never doubt it.”
Conlan read the truth in Alaric’s eyes and felt better for it. He held out his hand and they clasped arms, an unspoken renewal of friendship that maybe both of them needed.
Then he stretched, pleased to find his body in working order again. He’d need every ounce of energy. “So both my ascension and my matrimonial obligations to a long-dead virgin are delayed,” he said drily. “I find myself unable to summon much concern about the latter.”
“Not dead. Merely sleeping, awaiting your need. It is your destiny.” Alaric reminded him.
As if he needed reminding. As if he hadn’t had that particular duty drummed into his head for hundreds of years. Love didn’t figure into the breeding patterns of the Warriors of Poseidon; most especially not into those of royalty.
He scowled at the whimsy. Love. A myth to coddle children, at best. “I’m out of here. I’m going after that bastard Reisen. I will retrieve the Trident, Priest. And justice will be meted out to the House of Mycenaeus.”
Alaric grinned at him, giving Conlan a glimpse of the boy he’d once been. “We leave now. Ven is preparing for the journey. So much for the welcome home processional.”
Conlan tried to return the smile, but his mouth had lost its memory of how to smile, after so many years of grimacing in agony. Years of howling out his rage and despair.
Alaric raised one eyebrow, his mouth flattening into a grim line. “That’s an . . . interesting . . . expression. You’ll have to tell me one day exactly what they did to you.”
“No,” Conlan answered, rising to stand. “I won’t.”
“Dina, think about your baby.” Riley Dawson crouched down next to the room’s single window, hands loose and open at her sides.
Non-threatening, non-threatening, non-threatening.
Riley forced her facial muscles to relax into an expression of calm, as she watched her massively-pregnant sixteen-year-old client jam the lethal end of the very large and very ugly pistol further down the unconscious man’s throat. His skin was pasty white, but she could see his chest move in shallow breaths.
He’s not dead. Let’s keep him that way, Riley.
“I’m thinking about my baby, Riley. Stay out of it! No way my baby is gonna grow up with a skanky alleycat like this for a daddy.” Dina’s gaze darted around the room, skittered off Riley’s face, then back to Morris, lying still and pale on the edge of the bed.
Riley could see that his chest was moving. He was still breathing, in spite of the force of the gun crashing into the back of his skull that she’d witnessed as she’d walked in the open door for her monthly visit. But she’d been in enough rooms crowded with the noises of EMT personnel and the smell of death to know that a life could end in an instant. And Dina’s hand was trembling on that gun.
“Dina, listen to me. I’m sorry you found Morris with another girl. He made a terrible mistake. I’m sure he’s very sorry about it. But you have to think about your baby. She needs you, Dina. If you hurt him, you’ll go to jail, and then who will raise your baby? You know your mother can’t do it.” A cramping pain burned through Riley’s legs muscles, protesting at squatting on the floor for so long. She shifted a little, careful not to make any sudden or abrupt movements.
Dina barked out a laugh that sounded rusty from disuse. “That crack ‘ho? She ain’t no mother. She ain’t getting near my baby.”
“That’s right. You know you’re the best person in the world to take care of your baby. Have you thought of a name for her yet?”
Keep them talking. Distract them with more pleasant topics; ones with which they feel a personal connection. The voice of the lecturer from one of Riley’s hundreds of hours of training pounded in her head.
Right. Pleasant topics, when she’s got a gun jammed down his cheating throat. And how about the fact that I’m going to pee my pants any minute? The manuals never mentioned that little fact.
Dina smiled a little. “I’m going to call her Paris. Like that city in France? With the tower? It’s so beautiful. We learned about it in school. I’m gonna take her there some day. Paris Marguerite, after Grandmama.”
“That’s a beautiful name, Dina. Paris Marguerite. Now please give me the gun. You don’t want Paris Marguerite to grow up without her Mommy, do you?” Riley slowly straightened up off the floor, ignoring the screaming muscles in her thighs. She stretched her hand out, palm upward.
“Please give me the gun. I’ll help you. We’ll figure this out together. Please give me the gun, so Paris Marguerite grows up with her Mommy to take care of her.” She held her breath as Dina wavered, looking back and forth from Riley to Morris.
A man’s life balanced on the wavering edge of a teenager’s indecision. Nope. That hadn’t been in the damn manual, either.
Dina took a huge, shuddering breath, and her shoulders slumped a little. She yanked the gun out of Morris’s mouth and held it out toward Riley. Riley felt the breath she’d been holding for the past half hour seep out of her lungs.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, I can’t—
Morris’s eyes snapped open. He burst up off the bed, blood running down his face from his mouth, and slammed a fist into Dina’s jaw. “You hit me over the head, bitch? You pull a gun on me? I’ll show you who pulls a gun on Morris.”
As Dina fell to the ground from the force of the blow, Morris aimed a kick at her belly. Riley launched herself out of the corner and toward them, screaming. “No, no. Morris, no! Don’t hurt her! Don’t hurt your baby!”
The room kaleidoscoped into a fractured image of movement and cacophony of sound. Almost in slow motion, Riley saw the kick land with full force against the side of Dina’s huge belly. She heard Dina screaming, Morris screaming, someone else screaming – was that her?
She jumped him, not caring that he had to outweigh her by a hundred pounds. “No, no, no. Don’t hurt her. You have to stop. Morris, you have to stop--”
Morris yanked a handful of her hair viciously, snapping her head back. “Nobody tells me what to do. Especially not some worthless social worker.”
He raised his fist. Move. Gotta move.
She yanked her head to the left, just as his huge fist slammed into the side of her face. Just enough. Maybe. Please God, don’t let my neck be broken. Room going black. Fight, Riley. Fight to stay conscious.
Fist coming again. “No, please . . .”
But he ignored her, face twisted with rage beyond hearing, beyond reason. His fist exploded again, except it wasn’t his fist.
It wasn’t her face.
Thunder? Is it thunder? So black . . .
As Riley fought the blackness, the hand in her hair loosened. Morris’s face changed in a caricature of slow motion from a grimace of violent hate to one of surprise. They both looked at the scarlet stain blossoming, blooming, spreading over his shirt. Even as Riley touched a questing finger to the dark stickiness that splattered her face, the room went black.
* * *
Conlan opened the portal, focusing on the east coast of the United States. Virginia, to be precise. Ven had been “collecting intel,” according to Alaric.
Translation: beating information out of scumbags for miles in every direction. His brother always had favored the direct approach.
Now Ven was calling the rest of the Seven to him to accompany Conlan to the surface. Except Conlan was in no mood to wait. Not even for his brother. Maybe especially not for his brother. If he saw even a glimmer of pity in Ven’s eyes, he’d –
Well. Forget that. Focus on the portal.
Seven years of disuse, and the magic was rusty. Or the portal, temperamental on a good day, was playing with him, Conlan discovered, as he stepped through into water.
Lots of water.
Luckily he’d instinctively heaved in a deep breath before plunging through the shimmering opening. There was another lesson learned the hard way: the portal had its own power, independent of the Atlantaens who had first harnessed it more than eleven thousand years ago.
They ought to hang a “User Beware” sign on the capricious thing. He kicked off and headed for the surface, judging he was about ten meters deep from the looks of the shallow-water flora and fauna that shimmered in the diluted moonlight.
But distances could be tricky in the sea.
And then, there was the problem of where the hell the shore might be. He wouldn’t be the first to end up treading water in the middle of the ocean.
The portal’s idea of a practical joke. If portals had emotion, this one was packing a vindictive sense of humor.
As he broke the surface and sucked in a lungful of air, an almost-tangible force smashed into him. Agony sliced through his head, then shut off as if by a switch. A bitter taste seared his mouth; a sourness like lemon soaked in brine.
Another wave of pain crashed through him, knocking him off balance. He nearly sank below the waves again, barely noticing the sands of the shores nearby.
He shook his head from side to side, trying to escape the fire inside of his head. He barked out a laugh. He’d had a lot of practice with pain, just lately. Think, damn you.
Crazed thoughts swirled in his bruised brain. If an Atlantaen prince’s head cracks wide open in the ocean, does it make a sound?
He almost laughed again, but snorted water up his nose instead. Choking and coughing, he finally forced his limbs to cooperate and headed for the shore, eventually realizing he could touch bottom and walk.
His training kicked in, keeping him upright and coherent. Analyze. Reason. Use logic.
A third wave of pain seared through him, driving him to his knees, face caught under the breaking waves. He fought his way back to standing, plunged forward toward the shore.
Vamp mind powers? Doesn’t feel like it. They could trap your mind, but not project pain like this. Could it be Reisen? Did the Trident give him some kind of mental power we don’t know about?
His boots hit dry sand, and he collapsed, stumbling onto his knees. He sent a mind call out to Ven.
But it wasn’t Ven’s familiar patterns that answered his call. Instead, a tiny pinprick of awareness deep in his mind sparked, sputtered like a candle in a back draft, and then focused.
An image of beauty sheared by pain. A woman with sun-colored hair.
Something slammed shut in his mind, and the woman and the pain vanished. Almost as if a mental door had closed.
And Conlan wasn’t the one who’d shut it.
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