Bruce’s Cave, Ireland
Flynn twirled the sword in his right hand and the dagger in his left and sauntered toward the three dragons blocking the entrance to the cave. Just outside the entrance, the waves crashed and thundered into the rocks, but at the moment, water was not really concerning Flynn.
Then again, water never did.
“Boys, boys, boys. I’m not planning to tell anyone about your lair, or your treasure, or even that unfortunate tendency you have to dress up in pink skirts and dance in the moonlight.”
The largest of the three, a good twenty feet tall from toes to the top of his crested skull, reared back and roared, and the cave itself seemed to shake. Anyone who has ever heard a dragon roar would be amazed that Flynn wasn’t flat on the ground, trembling in his boots.
Flynn was from Atlantis, though. He wasn’t the trembling kind.
Still, maybe not the best idea to taunt three of Clan Fury’s most powerful warriors. They were lethal in human form and like this—in their natural shape—they were Death itself.
Nobody had ever accused Flynn of having a lot of best ideas, though.
“How about you come on down from your flying lizard forms, so we can have this out like men? Or just move aside and let me go, and we’ll call it quits. I don’t even want a share of your treasure, even though I helped you . . . let’s just say collect, shall we? . . . some of it.”
The largest and fiercest of the bunch, the one who once had been Flynn’s best friend in the world, shot a bolt of searing dragon fire straight down the cave at him. It should have incinerated him.
Would have incinerated him, if he’d still been standing there.
Flynn, though, had been goading the dragons into precisely this response. By the time the smoke in the cave cleared, he was travelling in mist form down the coast of Ireland.
He’d had his fun. It was time to go home.
January was as good a month as any to return to Atlantis.
Atlantis, the war room
Conlan, high king of all Atlantis, leaned back in his chair and blew out a long breath. Then he hurled a red rubber ball at the other man in the room. “You are a giant pain in my ass, do you know that?”
Denal caught the ball without ever looking at it and stared back at his king with flat eyes and an expressionless face. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
Conlan came up out of his chair. “Damn it, Denal. You were one of my Seven. My most trusted elite guard, and my friends. You’re also like a kid brother to me, and now you’re going to ‘Your Majesty’ me? I’ll kick your ass, my friend.”
In the old days, Denal would have cracked a joke, or at least a smile. In the very old days, back before Conlan had even met Riley, now his queen, Denal would have all but fallen over himself to please his then-prince.
Now, he simply stared back at Conlan out of those empty, cold, dark-blue eyes.
“Do you want Prince Aidan’s ball back, Sire?”
Conlan rolled his eyes but held up his hand to catch the ball. If he didn’t have it ready when his son woke up from his nap, there would be trouble. Funny how being high king of an entire continent—albeit a relatively small one—didn’t save a guy from his wife’s wrath over a missing favorite toy. He grinned at the thought but then turned his attention back to the problem in front of him.
“Are you ever going to find your sense of humor?”
“Doubtful,” Denal said flatly, leaning back against a faded tapestry and folding his arms over his chest.
The door slammed open and an icy wind blew into the room, followed by a man wearing an even icier countenance.
“Babies,” Alaric, former high priest and most powerful mage ever to use magic in Atlantis, said with a slight baring of his teeth. “I do not understand the fascination. Prince he may be, but his chief talent at this age appears to be producing copious amounts of drool.”
Conlan started laughing. Since Alaric was married to Quinn, Queen Riley’s sister, Alaric was forced to spend a lot of time with his nephew. Who was, of course, the most brilliant baby in the history of the world.
He said as much to Alaric, who groaned.
“Certainly, the child is a prodigy among prodigies. Just this afternoon, he moved his bowels in such a manner as to cause rhapsodies to all involved, evidently.” Alaric shuddered.
“There were people involved in his bowel movements?” Conlan shook his head. “No. Forget it. I don’t want to know. We’re here to talk to Denal.”
“Imagine my joy,” Denal drawled, eyes narrowing.
Alaric pulled out a chair. “Sit. This might take a while. I need to explain what’s happening.”
“You assume I care what’s happening.”
"Sit down," Alaric snarled. "I understand your anger –"
"I don't give a damn what you understand," Denal snarled right back, coming up off the wall he’d been leaning against. "Nobody left you in the Fae lands, did they?"
Alaric shook his head. "I said I understand. I didn't say I cared, even the slightest bit. You swore your service to your king, did you not? Many have died in that service. So you lost a little time. Now you need to grow up. We’ve got a job for you, and Conlan is still your king, isn't he? Or are you surrendering your Atlantis citizenship?"
Conlan felt the question like a punch in his gut. If Denal agreed – if he said he didn't even want to be a citizen of Atlantis anymore, not one of Poseidon's Warriors—the loss would be the same as if somebody ripped off one of Conlan's arms.
Denal's face turned white under his tan. "I didn't – I don't mean that. You know I would never mean that. I won't give up on my country or my king, even if they both gave up on me."
"I'm sorry," Conlan said simply. He couldn't believe it, but he didn't think he’d ever said it to the warrior before.
"You're right. We left you in the Fae lands longer than you ever should've been left there. The time – well, you know about the time. The years you were in their world were only a matter of weeks here. But we never should have lost you to them in the first place.”
“I'm sorry," he repeated. "You deserved better."
Denal met his gaze, and Conlan saw something like shock in the man's face for an instant before he smoothed it back to the expressionless mask he'd chosen to wear for so long. Denal started to speak but then stopped. He stood there for a moment, nodded to himself, and then pulled out a chair and sat.