This one is for my readers
who have been with me every step of the way
and for my new readers who are just
discovering Atlantis with me for the very first time.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
So I decided to move to Japan in the middle of this book. Well, Navy Guy had a lot to do with it, and sooner than you could say sushi, here I am, halfway across the world. Thanks to everyone who kept me sane along the way:
Cindy Hwang, always; my friends in the werearmadillos, at least we’re crazy together; and Hedy Sberna, who is currently the proud owner of seventeen boxes of cleaning supplies she didn’t need, plus a salad spinner.
And to Scott Sberna, for insights into the very real issues facing people with prosthetic limbs.
Arigato gozaimasu to you all.
We took a wonderful research trip to Sedona, Arizona, for this book, and I wish I could have taken you all with me. The red rocks of Sedona and the canyons and caves and vortex sites of the surrounding area are a spectacular part of our U.S. heritage. Of course, being me, I couldn’t resist throwing in a little of my own twisted slant on history by adding a vampire apocalypse to the very real historical fact of the disappearance of the ancient Sinagua Indians.
Please visit the places Daniel and Serai see if you get a chance at all—it will be one of the best adventures of your lifetime, I promise. As to visiting Atlantis, well, I live in hope that one day I’ll get to be the first to step foot on the lost continent. Won’t that be a story to tell . . .
We will wait. And watch. And protect.
And serve as first warning on the eve of humanity’s destruction.
Then, and only then, Atlantis will rise.
For we are the Warriors of Poseidon, and the mark of the Trident we bear serves as witness to our sacred duty to safeguard mankind.
Daniel looked out at the sea of red eyes glaring back at him in the vast oak-and-marble chamber of the Primus and wondered, not for the first time, why the hell he’d ever wanted to be the ruler of the North American vampires. Also, how long it would be until the vampire goddess Anubisa discovered his ongoing betrayal and tortured him slowly to death.
The goddess of Chaos and Night was really, really good at torture. It was her specialty, in fact.
“So, shall we call you Daniel, then?” the vampire from South Carolina called out from behind the false safety of the rich mahogany semicircular desk. His voice was a bizarre hissing drawl: Deep South meets bloodsucker. “Or Drakos? Maybe Devon? You have so many identities; we wouldn’t want to use the wrong one.”
“You may call me Primator, Ruler of the Primus, the third house of the United States Congress. Or sir. Or even master, if you adhere to the old ways,” Daniel said, smiling. It wasn’t a nice smile. He made sure to show some fang.
“Or you can call me the one who delivers you to the true and final death, if you continue to be an obstacle to these negotiations,” he continued. Still polite. No longer smiling. “If we cannot work amicably and peacefully with the humans, we will find ourselves back to the days of angry mobs with wooden stakes and flaming torches. Except this time, the mobs will have missiles instead of pitchforks.”
The South Carolinian sat down abruptly and clamped his mouth shut, with not even a hint of fang showing. Daniel’s sense of victory was as fleeting as it was futile. They’d never agree. Humans were sheep to them, especially to the oldest ones. Predators couldn’t become politicians, and he had no wish to continue in the role of trying to lead them. It was, as his Atlantean friend Ven would say, like herding seahorses: a task that would always fail and usually leave the herder with a severe case of nutjob. Daniel’s sanity was precarious enough already.
A flash of memory tugged at him: Quinn’s face when he’d forced the blood bond on her to save her life.
Another: Deirdre’s face as she lay dying in his arms.
It was the only thing he was really good at—failing to protect the women he cared about. He’d started that tradition more than eleven thousand years ago, after all.
Daniel’s assistant shuffled some papers on his desk and glanced up at him. “Shall we adjourn then, Primator?”
Daniel snapped out of his dark thoughts and looked out at the members of the Primus. Still glaring at him, for the most part. Undoubtedly planning a coup or some other evil manipulation, except with them, unlike with the rest of the members of Congress, actual bloodshed would be involved. After all, they were vampires.
He recognized the irony.
“Adjourned.” He struck the gavel once on its sound block, but they were already up and streaming out the vaulted double doors. Not a single one stopped to speak to him or even looked back. Plotting, always plotting.
After eleven thousand years, he was tired of all of it. Tired of the loneliness, the constant despair. The futility of hope. He’d had enough. He’d done enough. It was time for one last glimpse of the sun, before it incinerated him.
He stood in a single fluid motion and tossed the gavel on his assistant’s desk. “Adjourned and done. I’m resigning the title and job of primator and getting out of Washington, D.C. Good luck with my successor.”
Before the poor man could form a single word, Daniel leapt into the air and flew through the room and out the doors—right into the waiting ambush. Four ready to hurt him. None ready to help.
The pundits were right. D.C. was a dangerous town.
“Are you ready to die, master?”
It was South Carolina again. Daniel didn’t recognize the trio of flunkies with him. Hired muscle, maybe, or members of South Carolina’s blood pride. Didn’t matter.
They wouldn’t be around long.
“Actually, I am ready to die,” Daniel said, enjoying the look of shock that widened the other vampire’s eyes. “But not at your hand.”
He hit the first two flunkies with a flying kick so powerful it crushed the first one’s head and left the other unconscious on the ground. The third he dispatched with a blow from his dagger that removed its head from its body, both of which began to disintegrate into the characteristic acidic slime of decomposing vampire.
Then Daniel turned to South Carolina, who was backing away from him.
“I’m sorry. They made me do it,” he cried out, trembling and whimpering like the coward he was.
“Then die with them,” Daniel replied, realizing he didn’t care enough to even ask who “they” were. He caught South Carolina’s head between his hands and, with one powerful twist of his arms, wrenched it off the vampire’s neck. The body fell to the ground, already decaying before Daniel realized he still held the head. He flung it away in disgust and scrubbed his hands against his pants.
The voice from behind him was uncharacteristically serious. “You didn’t get anything on your hands.”
Daniel whirled around. “Ven? What are you doing here? Or, more to the point, why didn’t you help?”
The tall Atlantean prince rolled his eyes and shrugged while flashing a grin. “Seriously? Against only four of them? Are you a girl, now?”
“Better not let Quinn hear you say that,” Daniel said, before the pain of her name caught up to him. She’d been his friend. Until the forced blood bond. Now she was—if not an enemy, still no longer a friend. Wary. Not afraid, not Quinn, but she’d never trust him again. He knew, because he could still feel her inside him. Whispers of her emotional resonance touched his mind at times. The blood bond.
He’d saved her life and killed her trust. He’d thought it a fair trade, at the time.
“Quinn’s not a girl. She’s a rebel leader. Now are we going for a beer or what?” Ven demanded, gesturing toward Daniel’s hands. “Also, quit going all Lady Macbeth and wiping your hands on your pants. You don’t need to ‘out, damned spot,’ when you didn’t get slime on them.”
“Quoting Shakespeare? I expected something from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Daniel tried to smile but couldn’t sustain the effort. “Lady Macbeth. Interesting you say that. I feel like I’ve gotten slime on my hands every day since I took this job.” Daniel forced himself to quit rubbing his hands on his pants and took a deep breath. “I’m not a politician.”
Ven threw back his head and laughed. “Nobody sane is. You’re a warrior, my friend, like me. Now, let’s go get that beer and talk about how we’re going to keep you bloodsuckers from taking over the world. No offense.”
“Not tonight. I’m not a politician anymore anyway. I just resigned.” Daniel looked up at the stone front of the Primus entrance, built only a few years ago but designed to look like it had existed for millennia. The vampire aristocracy was big on pretense. Like the idea that they were aristocracy. Daniel’s own mother had been a peasant who owned a single mule.
Ven whistled long and low. “Conlan is not going to be happy to hear that.”
“With all due respect to your brother, whether or not the high prince of Atlantis is happy with my career choices is not big on my list of concerns. Good-bye.”
Ven’s hand grasped Daniel’s arm with almost vampire-like speed. Damn Atlanteans anyway.
“Remove your hand, or I’ll do it for you,” Daniel snarled. “You presume too much.”
“I’ve been told that before,” Ven said, but he released Daniel’s arm. “You saved my life. I’m not going to stand idly by while you sacrifice your own.”
“How did you—”
“You said good-bye. You never say good-bye. Ever. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that a vampire who has lived for thousands of years might get tired of putting up with life every once in a while. Especially when every day brings a new battle.”
Daniel looked into his friend’s eyes and lied to his face. “I’m not there yet.”
Ven stared back at him, hard, but finally nodded. “Fine. Take a rain check on that beer?”
“Another night,” Daniel agreed. He watched as the prince of Atlantis, one of the few men Daniel had ever called friend, leapt into the air and dissolved into a sparkling cloud of iridescent mist. The Atlantean powers over water were both beautiful and deadly. Daniel had seen both.
He waited until the last droplet of mist had long since vanished from his sight before he spoke, repeating the words that had given away his intent. “Good-bye, my friend.”
And then he went to face the dawn.
“They might die. They might all die.”
The frantic words sliced through the fog that kept Serai’s mind in a near-permanent state of peaceful rest. The speaker’s urgency was such that she cast around in her memory for his name, but she couldn’t find it. One of the many, many attendants who had come and gone, lived and died, while she and her sisters waited out the millennia until they were freed. After the first thousand years, she hadn’t bothered to try to learn their names. They almost never spoke to her, after all. Only around her. About her.
“So beautiful,” they’d say. Or, more often, “What a waste.”
The fact that she agreed with the second assessment didn’t make it sting less.
“The companion stone is no longer sufficient,” another one said, breaking into the painful memories. “If we can’t find the Emperor, the maidens are all going to die.”
Die. She and her sisters were going to die? No. No. Serai jolted awake with the same painful wrench in her chest that accompanied each year’s brief period of consciousness. But something was wrong this time. Her internal clock, finely tuned after more than eleven thousand years of existing in the prison of stasis, told her that it hadn’t been an entire year since her last brief period of semi-wakefulness. It hadn’t even been half that. The pattern that had ruled her life for so long had changed, and she didn’t know why.
From the sounds of the controlled chaos in the room, she wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on. Normally tranquil attendants, the current high priest’s acolytes, scurried around like rodents caught in a marble-walled trap. Voices that were always kept at hushed, serene, tones were raised in agitation, loud enough to drown out the ever-present gentle music. They were all panicking, and their fear transmitted itself to Serai—primal instincts that had long been buried shot into instant awareness.
Why did the two go so naturally together? Why, even after all this time, did her mind instinctively turn to the only man she’d ever wanted to rescue her? The only one she’d believed she could count on. She’d been wrong, though. So very wrong. Her heart, however, seemed not to have given up its lonely, helpless, hope.
Daniel. She used to pray she’d forget him, but she gave that up as futile after the first half a thousand years or so. How long must she be tortured with memories of the man who’d abandoned her? She had no time to think of long-lost love or the searing guilt that had followed her fateful choice on that long-ago day. This time, she had to rescue herself.
Serai opened her eyes and—it took nearly a full moment—the realization of the miraculous nature of that action flooded through her with the power of a lightning strike on storm-tossed waves.
She’d opened her eyes.
For the first time in millennia, she’d opened her eyes, and she had no intention of closing them again. In the spirit of the moment, she tried yet another impossible task and raised her arm from the pale cream- and rose-colored cushions of the silken pallet upon which she’d lain, encased in crystal and powerful magic, for so long. Action followed thought and she watched, wondering, exultant, as her hand touched the crystal covering of her prison.
A shudder of relief wracked her body—her limbs were obeying her commands—and a cry escaped her throat. Hoarse, rusty, and almost unrecognizable, but it was still her voice making that sound. Her voice. The stasis had done its job, then, as promised by a long-dead high priest, and kept her safe and whole throughout the turning of the world.
Kept them safe. She and her sisters-in-captivity. There were so few of them left now.
Pain stabbed at her, biting into her insides, and she instinctively hunched over to curl into the cramping ache. Unfortunately, the crystal case had been designed for sleeping maidens, not those having contortions, so she smacked her head into the gently curved cover and cried out again.
Pain. Sensation. Feelings she’d lacked for so long she couldn’t remember them. The shock of tactile sensation strangled the words she’d been about to speak, and before she could even remember what they’d been—What does one say after eleven thousand years of silence? Shouldn’t it be weighty and profound?—the first crack appeared in the surface of her crystal cage.