Loren’s hand clapped down on Bleu’s shoulder, jerking him away from thoughts of the dragon and what might lie ahead.
“Hunt the dragon. Eliminate her. Retrieve that sword for me, Bleu.”
Bleu had the feeling his prince was more aware of his innermost feelings, the ones he had tried to bury deep and ignore, than he would like and was giving him a mission to focus on in order to take his mind off things.
To give him a purpose again.
“The dragon we met in the mortal realm, Loke, had no information for me when I spoke with him.” Loren’s expression turned troubled again and he worried his lip with his thumb, the black slashes of his eyebrows drawing down.
Bleu suspected the dragon knew more than he had admitted to Loren. He wanted to speak with the one called Loke, but Loren had agreed to leave him alone if he gave them whatever information he had. That only deepened Bleu’s suspicion of him. If the male knew nothing, why had he pressed Loren to promise to never approach him again?
Loren sighed, and Bleu caught the wary edge to his eyes as they slid his way, sensed the tension in him increase before he opened his mouth to speak.
“It might be best we speak with Vail,” his prince said and Bleu could see why his mood had shifted. Loren wanted to be the one to go, but he couldn’t, so he was going to dump the task on Bleu’s shoulders, even though he knew how little Bleu liked his brother.
He was entrusting him with the task though and Bleu wouldn’t fail him. No matter how little he liked his new mission, he would carry it out to the best of his abilities for his prince. He could set aside his personal feelings about Vail for long enough to speak with him about the sword. If Loren was right, and Vail had a stronger connection to it, the elf male might be able to help him locate it, cutting down the amount of time it would take him to find it.
Loren tilted his head back, another sigh escaping him as he stared up at the sky.
Bleu could sense his desire to leave the elf kingdom and speak with his brother, but it would be a dangerous move. Loren had clashed with the council too many times since they had discovered Vail had been placed under a spell, controlled by a witch and forced to do her bidding. He couldn’t push them right now.
It was bad enough that he had obviously ditched a meeting with them to speak with Bleu the second he had returned to the castle.
It didn’t exactly make him feel great either. His gut squirmed, churning from the thought that he had worried his prince enough that he had risked angering the council in order to see him. Loren needed to restore some of the peace between him and the council, not upset them further. He needed to remain at the castle with them, attending to his business as the ruler of the kingdom, placating the council.
If it would help Loren achieve that peace with the council, Bleu would stomach visiting Vail in his stead.
“I will go,” Bleu said, a bitter taste coating his tongue as he thought about seeing Vail again. Not only Vail. Rosalind would be there too.
He shoved those two words away, ignoring them and the sting they caused behind his breast, and focused on Loren.
His prince still looked troubled, his crystal violet eyes locked with his and flooded with concern.
He squeezed Bleu’s shoulder and the corners of his lips tilted in a half smile. “Be gentle with Vail.”
Bleu huffed, his mood souring again. He was perfectly capable of playing nice with Vail long enough to get whatever information the mad bastard could give to him.
Loren’s smile grew. “I know that look, Bleu. Give me your word.”
It was degrading to have to do it, but he had long ago decided he would do anything for Loren. Even talk with Vail.
“I swear I will be nice to him.” Bleu shrugged free of Loren’s grip, his mood darkening further as he spotted a slender brunette female hurrying towards them from the castle, her pale blue skirts drawn up and away from her feet. Fantastic. It was time he left. He bowed his head to Loren. “I will report what I discover.”
Before he could turn away, Olivia reached Loren. Her arm immediately looped around his right one and Loren looked down at her. Her smile for her mate was dazzling, near blinding, and Bleu looked away as she tried to turn that happiness in his direction.
“I’m so glad you’re back. Loren was worried sick.” Olivia’s words struck hard, each one driving a spike deeper into his heart.
He didn’t need her adding to the guilt he already felt and he certainly didn’t have time to stand around and watch as Loren gazed at her, an altogether too soft look on his face, as if his mate was a damned angel descended from Heaven straight into Hell.
But he couldn’t pull himself away or stop himself from looking at them as they smiled at each other, sickeningly in love.
He couldn’t stop himself from thinking about the others. Iolanthe had Kyter. Sable had chosen Thorne. Someone had even been insane enough to fall in love with Vail.
He growled under his breath before he could think the next thought, the one he could feel coming.
One he didn’t want to acknowledge.
He didn’t need a mate.
He didn’t need anyone.
He just needed to keep hunting the dragon.
He stiffly bowed his head, turned on his heel and stalked away from them, his focus locking onto his mission once more. He ignored the words of hurt Olivia spoke to Loren and just kept walking, heading towards the grand archway in the wall, his pace gaining speed.
The garrison came into view as he passed under the archway, an imposing pale three storey square building off to his right. Horses whinnied in the stable as they were groomed, tended to by the youngest soldiers. He bowed his head to the ranking officers that he passed, exchanging silent greetings with them. As commander of the legion directly under Loren’s control, he held a rank above all of the males present, but he had never elevated himself to such a position. He didn’t demand respect from his subordinates, or treat them as inferior as some of the commanders of the other legions did. He preferred to work alongside his men, as an equal.
Bleu halted and backtracked as one of the males he had come to see walked out of the stable block, dusting down his black trousers, the wood-and-leather soles of his boots a steady click on the cobbles.
The bastard looked more like Loren every day. Sometimes, Bleu swore he emulated their prince. Other times, he decided it was just genetics. Leif was born of noble blood, had an irritating regal bearing and aloof tone of voice bred into him.
Leif’s step slowed and his purple eyes drifted towards Bleu, his fine black eyebrows dipping as his lips compressed.
Leif was rarely pleased to see him too.
He blamed Bleu for losing the female dragon three centuries ago, believed Bleu should have been less concerned with bleeding to death from the brutal claw marks she had placed on his throat and more concerned about grabbing hold of her before she could run.
Bleu couldn’t hold it against him. He would have felt the same had Leif been the one in his shoes, placing his life above the mission. They shared a compulsion to complete missions, and he was banking on that drive still being there, making Leif want to take up the hunt for the dragon again.
“There is only one possible reason you have shown your face now and if it has anything to do with the rumours going around the garrison about a shady black market arena and our dearest commander being launched across it by a female dragon, then you can count me in,” Leif snarled each word as he stalked towards Bleu, darkness rolling off him, hunger to continue their mission. “You took your damned time returning though. Dacian has been putting poor foolish soldiers into sickbay for the past three lunar cycles.”
That was a nice way of saying that Dacian was taking out his frustration and impatience on the soldiers he was meant to be training in the ring. Bleu sighed. The big elf warrior had never learned to express his emotions in other ways, always preferring to unleash them in the ring in the form of fighting.
“I suppose he is there now?” Bleu was already heading in the direction of the open stretch of sand behind the stables before Leif could answer.
The male fell into step with him, and Bleu almost felt as if it was Loren there. Same six-five height and slender build, same neatly clipped blue-black hair and ridiculously noble profile. Leif lacked something though.
A sense of humour.
Even Loren had one of those.
But where Leif lacked it, the fourth member of their troupe had it in spades.
Fynn’s raucous laughter reached Bleu’s ears long before he had finished traversing the narrow cobbled alley between the stable block and garrison. He rounded the corner and found the young elf male sitting on top of the low dark stone wall that enclosed the training area, rocking back on it but somehow maintaining his balance as he laughed his backside off at something. His long ponytail swayed with his movements, brushing across his bare back, reaching the small of it.
Bleu peered into the sand-filled ring and grimaced.
Dacian lay on his back, sand pushed up around his bare broad shoulders, his naked feet resting in a groove in the amber dirt. Bleu followed that track to the one who had laid one of their biggest, most brutal, warriors out cold.
No wonder Fynn had been laughing.
The young female elf breathed hard, one hand still tucked defensively against her chest and the other still outstretched, her palm facing Dacian.
Bleu clapped slowly.
Fynn stopped laughing and snapped his head towards Bleu. The female blushed a deep shade of red. She was pretty. As vicious as Bleu remembered too.
He bet that the sparring match had been Fynn’s idea. Dacian hadn’t been there the time Fynn’s sister had come to visit, so he hadn’t witnessed that she had some of the strongest telekinesis Bleu had ever seen, her gift a natural one from the gods. She had begged Bleu and Leif to train her, but females weren’t allowed in the ranks, a tradition still firmly in place today.
Bleu had trained his own sister in secret, passing on everything he had learned so she could fight and defend herself. That knowledge had probably saved her life countless times.
By the looks of things, Fynn had done the same with his sister.
If Bleu had his way, the council would listen to him and allow females to enlist. Elf females were only marginally weaker than elf males. There was no reason for them not to have a place in the army if they desired it.
The young female elf brushed her jaw-length black hair from her face, blew a rogue strand upwards, and bowed.
Fynn grinned. “She’s a cocky little runt, don’t you think?”
His sister glared at him, but held her tongue. Bleu could see she wanted to retaliate, but his presence was silencing her.
“No more cocky than her brother,” Bleu said and sighed again as he looked from Fynn to Dacian. “Although, I would prefer you didn’t damage my men when I need them.”
The female bowed her head again and Bleu smiled inwardly at the same time as Fynn’s grin widened. It was cruel to tease her, but amusing too. It reminded him of when Iolanthe had been younger, and life had been easier.
Dacian groaned, his face contorted, and he rolled onto his side. He slowly pushed himself up and shook his head, dislodging the sand that clung to his shorn hair and revealing the long scar that cut diagonally across his scalp. It had been a close call the day he had received it. An axe in the back of the head was the sort of injury most elves didn’t walk away from, but Dacian had incredible senses and had felt the blade before it had reached him, swiftly calling his helmet to shield his head.
The big elf huffed and pushed up onto his knees, sat back on his heels and dusted himself off.
When he swung his icy violet gaze towards the female, she squeaked and curled up, squeezing her hands together in front of her chest. Dacian lumbered onto his feet and heaved another sigh, shifting his thickly-muscled shoulders with it and causing his honed chest and stomach to tense. He had at least two hundred pounds on the poor female and she wisely backed towards her brother when Dacian advanced on her.
“Weapons, you said. A fight with weapons,” Dacian growled through bloodstained fangs and pinned his violet gaze on the female first and then Fynn.
Fynn tensed, his smile fleeing his face. He shrugged, but it came off stiff. “Telekinesis could be considered a weapon.”
Not by a warrior like Dacian. The psychic powers available to elves were only used in defence by those of the warrior class, viewed as a last resort when traditional weapons, and even claws and fangs, failed and they were close to losing their lives.
Dacian snarled, flashing his fangs.
The little elf female teleported, reappearing behind her brother, using him as a shield. Not the wisest move. Dacian wasn’t the sort of male who cared if he had to go through a friend to get to a foe.
His steady hard gaze shifted back to her and then he did something that left Bleu wondering what the hell had happened to change the male.
Dacian backed down, huffing as he strode away from her and her brother, muttering things beneath his breath.
Bleu eyed him. Maybe he hadn’t changed. Maybe Dacian had always been lenient on females.
He looked back at the female in question.
Or maybe Dacian had a reason to be lenient on this one.
She whispered something to Fynn, who nodded, and then she teleported. Dacian looked back in Fynn’s direction, a brief glance before he swiped a grey cloth from the wall near Bleu and rubbed himself down with it.
“I take it from your appearance that we have a mission again?” Fynn dropped to his feet from the wall and strode across the sand, all humour gone from his face.
Bleu nodded. “The rumours running around the garrison are true. I encountered the female dragon again, and Prince Loren has ordered us to complete our mission.”
All three males nodded in unison, and Bleu nodded too, a sense that their mission was finally coming to a close running through him, a familiar feeling that was comforting and made him feel at home.
Loren had given him a purpose, and he was going to fulfil it.
“We will not fail this time.”