Friday, October 28, 2016

No story this week

As you might have noticed there was no post this week, due to being on the road. The newest post will go live on 11/4/2016 when I'm back and recovered from the convention. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Lies of Omission

Lies of Omission is a historical Shadow Sprawl setting story, continuing the current story arc, written by Terri Pray.

Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge.

 Alexandrious, I need you.

Shandria took a deep breath, ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it back from her face. Would he hear her? Come to her? She’d tried twice before, once just crying out the single word of mate, but she couldn’t be certain that it had worked. Her mental voice was a new skill, one that had grown over the past few years but she’d felt it strengthen during times of crisis.

Times like now.

“Where there is one human, there will be others.” Agriana spoke, her voice calm and strong, carrying through the assembled women. “That creature made his way in here, past our defenses, past the boundaries we have built and yet we don’t know how they managed it.” She jabbed a finger at the dead man, his body marked with blood, his skin changing to the grey of death. The woman scowled, her long robe rustled, the whisper of cloth against cloth, carried with her as she walked. “Have the boundaries been checked?”

“That’s happening now, lady.” A young woman, blonde and pale, rose as she answered, her head bowed in respect. “All will be well. If there has been a breach, we will find the weak point and add protections.”

The coloring was unusual, normally the woman of Lilith’s line, even those humans who had been turned, were dark, tanned, people used to the touch of the sun, but this one defied all reason with her appearance. Shandria tried not to stare, though she realized she had failed when the woman glanced her way.

First Sons, the man belonged to that group, of that she had no doubt. He wasn’t one of Caine’s blood and as far as Shandria knew, there weren’t any other hunters in the area. She took a step toward the dead man and inhaled, frowning. There was something on him, faint but there nevertheless, a touch of power, of magic yet it wasn’t in the man’s blood.

Had something changed with the First Sons?

“Good, I want a full report, Rachel.” Agriana inclined her head. “Who did you send?”

“Meliandria, Aurora and Celistrial.” Rachel explained, “Leah and her men are watching the entrance, along with several others. We should have enough of a warning if they strike again.”

Shandria’s frown increased. Even the names were unusual, though Rachel was a name she had heard among the humans before now. Was this change a part of the split from the main line of the family? Not that it mattered, there were more important things than names, hair color and changes in skin tone.

“They will try again, this creature did not come alone and we must be prepared.” Agriana kicked the downed man. “Get this thing out of my sight.”

Two males, in the simple garb of those who belonged to the Daughters, darted out to grab the corpse by its feet and wrists. Without a word they hauled the dead man away. Where they would dispose of it, was no concern of Shandria’s, not when there were other things to focus on. She reached out, touching the magic that had been employed to protect the home and frowned. Basic shields, strong and using the lay lines, but nothing else. None of the stronger, older magic that she had learned to use as a child.

“The boundaries, are they linked to the power beneath the earth?”

All eyes turned to her.

“Yes, of course.” Agriana smiled, though it didn’t touch her eyes. “How else would it be done? The power lines, lay lines, are there for all to touch.”

“I know they are, but there are other ones, deeper, buried far beneath the earth’s surface.” She reached out with a mental touch, searching for the distant lines of power. “They flow close to the lines of heat and fire, sometimes following the cracks deep beneath our feet.” Why weren’t they using all of the power they had within their grasp? It didn’t make sense.

“No, it is forbidden to use that. The priestess, honored lady that she is, tells us that those lines could cause the very earth to move, to rise and tip us from our homes.” Rachel explained, a soft mocking smile dancing across her lips. “Surely a woman of your power would know this. Is it not the same with all of our kind who are loyal to the teachings of Lilith?”

“Our beliefs are different,” Shandria’s shoulders stiffened, though she kept her anger under control. With a cleansing breath she unclenched her hands, lifted her chin and forced her voice to remain calm. “That power can be touched, though must be done with a light caress, a tempting touch that will pull the power to feed the spell needed.” She turned her attention from the younger woman to the leader of the daughter’s of Lilith. “I will not tell you that your ways are wrong, merely that they are different, that we each have our own power we may draw upon.”

“Earth witch,” hissed Rachel. “A true earth witch. You would bring your power and your darkness down upon us? The use of such is dangerous - Lady, this must be the reason why the First Sons have attacked us, they must have been drawn by the foul power this one uses.”

“Foul power? You think I’m a danger?” Shandria straightened her back, pushing back her shoulders before she spoke again. “Perhaps I might be, from the viewpoint of someone who isn’t willing to accept other forms of magic, but I had nothing to do with the attack by the humans. If that were the case, would not my people be constant targets for those creatures?” She took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. No matter what her estranged sisters might say, she had to keep her anger under control.

“You’ll turn that magic upon us.” Rachel snapped.

“No, I’m not about to attack you and I offer no darkness but yes I use the magic you claim to be dangerous to your people.”

“She admits her evil.”

“Admits to using it, yes, but to being evil, no. Do I use the magic, of course, I’ve said so but it is earth magic that has kept my people safe over the years. That same earth magic that allows me to know when the First Sons try to attack our home and earth magic that has brought many a child into this life without the loss of the mother or child.” Pride filtered through her words as she watched the other women. She had learned from an early age to work with the magic in her blood and she wasn’t going to lie about it. “But I swear, by Lilith, by the blood that binds us all, I am not dangerous to you or your sisters. I would never harm one of our line, our blood, unless I was given no other choice.” She’d used it to defend her home and her people against one of their own before, but that had been years ago, before she had come of age. A son sworn to Caine who had sought to take her as his woman against her wishes. The death had always sat ill with her, yet it had been the right thing to do.

Rachel took a step back. “Such is impossible. When a child is destined to die, there is nothing that can be done. Not even the forbidden magic can change that.” The other woman looked to Agriana, uncertainty moving across her features. “Lady, what darkness is this that she can openly admit to breaking the…”

“Foolish girl, do you really believe that?” Agriana snapped, slicing through Rachel’s words before she caught herself and sighed. “No, don’t answer. The fact you speak such nonsense proves that I have failed in my teachings. That we don’t use earth magic is understood, but that the women of the first family and some of the men do, is well known. I do not agree with the men working with their women, as I believe it is a way that they control and limit the power our sisters may otherwise be able to lay claim to, but that is how they live.”

Shandria arched an eyebrow but kept silent, one hand pressed over the swell that protected the life within her body. If it was so well known among the daughters of Lilith, why were there shocked looks painted across the faces of the rest of the group?

“Lady, you’ve spoken of such things in the past, but without detail beyond the fact it was dangerous, touched by darkness, and the priestess has taught us that the use of such magic is forbidden to us.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, for years she has spoken against the use of the wrong type of magics, telling us it would seduce us away from the service of Lilith. How can it be permitted for those of the first house to use this magic when our own priestess tells us that such is against the teachings of Lilith?”

“Ah,” Agriana paused, doubt flicker across her features. “I see.” The older woman turned away from Rachel. “There is much that I was not aware of, or I turned a blind eye to, but there is little time to correct it now.”

Did she? Perhaps but the look on Agriana’s face only added to her growing frustration. This wasn’t what she had planned, not when she’d arrived.

“Is she a user of dark magic?”

Shandria snorted, unable to keep her disgust hidden any longer. “And you think that my family, the first family, has turned its back on Lilith? Do you really believe that?” She let her cold gaze move over the small group. “If that is so, then you have forgotten more than you ever knew about the origins of our kind. The sacrifices made and the bloodline I claim.” When had she last announced her bloodline, the full extent of it? “I’m forced to wonder what else you have been left ignorant about.” If earth magic had been named a gift of the dark, what other dangerous beliefs had spread through the Daughters and what were those of Caine’s blood being taught?

“Bloodline? We all claim the same bloodline, that one blessed by Lilith.”

“My mother is Lilith. I am the last child born of her womb before the parting of the ways.” She met Rachel’s gaze. “I was raised by my mother before she and Caine agreed to the parting.”

“But that would mean your…” Realization widened the woman’s eyes.

“That my father is Caine,” she cut through the woman’s words. “Yes, and I will never deny that. I am, as I said, the youngest child of their union though not the only child.” Most of her brothers and sisters had remained with the first family, except the oldest, the twins born so many years ago when the cave system had first been claimed by their parents. Some forgot that there had been others and few mentioned the first born, the twins, though she was not among them.

They left with our parents.

Had they or had something else happened to them? No, this wasn’t the time to think about the missing siblings. She had other brothers and sisters that had left the family after the parting of ways, but only one had joined those sworn to Caine, the others - they had left with a wife or husband and their children, leaving to find peace as the trouble between the three main groups had continued. She couldn’t blame them for leaving and in time they may return, as one of the families had only fifty years after the split, but so far the others had failed to even reach out and confirm that they were still alive.

Rachel growled, hands curling into fists. “How dare you claim his bloodline in this place. He and his kind, those perverted by his touch, his blood, are forbidden from this place.”

“How dare I deny it? How dare I not?” Anger bubbled through her and with it the need to lash out. She took a deep breath, steadying her nerves before she continued, forcing a calm into her voice that she didn’t feel. “Perhaps you forget that Lilith chose Caine, turning him with her magic, the gift of her blood. Her mate, her choice and her gift, yet that does not dismiss his presence or part in our bloodline. If you were born to into this, if but one of your parents can claim the line of Lilith, then you also have Caine’s blood in your line. That you do not acknowledge him is your choice, but I will deny neither my father nor my mother. Not for you, not for anyone.” She let her gaze move to Agriana.

“That changes nothing.” Rachel spat, her hands curled into fists at her side. “This is the woman who has led the First Sons to us. If we expel her then we will be able to defend ourselves without having to watch for the traitor’s get.”

“Is that what you think I am?”

“You’re a daughter of Caine, what else could you be?” Rachel took a step toward her. “Any woman willing to acknowledge that man’s blood is at best a fool and at worst a traitor. No daughter of Caine’s, acknowledged or not, would be allowed to call this place home.”

The woman was an idiot. They were nearly all daughter’s, grand-daughter’s or of the line of Caine in some way. How that could be forgotten was beyond her, but blindness and ignorance oft went hand in hand. It wasn’t that long, in terms of their generations, since they had all lived in the same place. “Then explain that to Agriana. Your leader is a daughter of Caine via one of his other women, the gentle hearted Miriam who even now lives within my home. We’ve welcomed her, kept her safe over the years and will continue to do so until the end of her days.” Miriam, second mother to many within their family. The woman had a tender touch, and most welcomed her as a second set of eyes to watch over the children within their family.

A dozen women reacted to her words. Some hissed and protested, others looked to Agriana, searching for sign of either denial or agreement. Amid the women were three men in the simple garb that she'd noticed before. Out of the group the reactions from the men startled her the most. As one they stared at her, eyes wide, faces paling, fear flickering across their features.

“You never told them that your father is Caine.” Of course she hadn’t. Damn the woman, what other harm had she brought to the Daughter’s by refusing to acknowledge her lineage? Is this why the women here had welcomed her only with a cold formality?

“I didn't see the need.” Agriana’s tone turned to ice. “It might have caused some confusion considering how we live and the rules in place, I did not dare - well, perhaps that was a mistake.” She paused, her gaze moving to the women under her care. “Yes, a mistake, albeit a small one.”

“Lady, could this be the truth? Are you the child of Caine?” Rachel shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other. “Tell me it isn’t true, that you’re not touched by the darkness of the first father.”

First father. Odd, she’d never heard that term before now but it fit. He was the first male of their kind, a father in more ways than one.

“Yes, I am.” Agriana lifted her head, pride shining within her eyes. “There will come a time when our children will be born without the touch of Caine, when we will turn enough males so that his blood is weakened and defeated.”

She’s afraid they will turn on her. Not an unreasonable belief with the reactions of the rest of the group. She let her gaze slide from Agriana to the other women and back again. “Acknowledging Caine as your father does not weaken you, Lady - if that is your concern. We all have fathers, even if we turn our backs on them at some point.” She lifted her chin. “Even should I part ways with my mate, I will never deny him as the father of my children no more than I would deny my bloodline.”

Agriana snorted. “Why would you allow that?”

“For love.” Did the woman not understand such a thing?

The woman’s gaze shifted, the look hard and calculating. “Love. Between sisters, the daughters of Lilith, such is acceptable, but to feel love for a man is nothing but trouble and heartache. That type of love is for the weak of spirit for men use it to bend women to their will. Then, with their claws sunk deep into our flesh, wrapped around our hearts, they use it to crush them, to bring their women under their control. You only have to look at the chosen of Caine to see the truth. Talk to your man, if he ever comes for you, ask him what they do to women in their family.”

And there it was, the barrier between the two younger branches of the family. “Not all men are like that, just as not all women are the same. You, in your heart, know this but I will respect your beliefs and not seek to change them. All I ask is that you give me the same respect.” A soft flutter of movement twisted within her belly. Little ones, you are safe, loved, protected. She smoothed her hand over the swell, sending love and calm their way. “That I carry the blood of both Caine and Lilith should be seen as a blessing not a weakness nor a mark of darkness. My mate doesn’t see me as weak, but treats me as his equal and we lead, we rule together. I count myself as fortunate to have him in my life.”

“You say that now, but when you are large with child, he will turn to another, filling her with his seed. That is the nature of men when they are not kept under strict control.” Agriana took a step toward her. “The offer remains, turn away from the one who has weakened you and join us, work with us to bring the line of Lilith to its full glory. We would be stronger together, you know this.”

“You would never turn your back on your way of life to then rebond with the first family, yet you expect me to consider your offer.” Shandria kept calm as she let her gaze shift from Agriana to the rest of the men and women in the gathering. “I’ve no doubt you realize the problems with such a situation.”

“Enough of this. Our focus must be the First Sons and their attack.” Agriana snapped, dismissing the rest of the convention. “They cannot be allowed to get away with their cruelty, their darkness. We have stayed away from them whenever possible, only bringing in the occasional woman when she has been forced into a marriage not of their choosing. We leave their men alone unless we are forced to defend ourselves. Yet they come after us. Had they not made it clear their problems with our kind rest with the followers of Caine.”

Shandria took a step back from the group, shaking her head. They would not listen and she was no longer safe here. She hadn’t been safe from the beginning, not with their proximity to the First Sons. She cast her gaze upwards, letting it play over the rock above them. Location. This was all about being in the wrong place.

“Lady, we could move, leave and find ourselves a better home. Away from Caine’s blood and the First Sons.” A slender woman, silent until now, spoke up.

“This is our home, we have built a place for ourselves here and I will not surrender it to Caine’s blood. We have spent too long, spilled too much blood to walk away from this now.”

“But Lady, we would be safer, no longer constantly on guard and…”

“And I will not run!” Agriana snapped.

“Foolishness,” the word slipped from Shandria’s lips before she found the strength to prevent it.

“How dare you!” Agriana turned, gaze narrowing. “This isn’t your home. You have no voice in this.”

“No, but your people are my people, my blood, my line. You may have taken a different path but that doesn’t change things. You’re in danger as long as you stay here and only a fool would pretend otherwise.”

The older woman stalked toward her, power forming as a blue light around her fingers, hands lifted away from her sides. “You have no right.”

Shandria reached for her own power, building a near invisible shield with her mind and settling it a fingers width away from her skin. Would Agriana push too far in this moment and demand that they fight? Her stomach knotted, cold sweat forming down the length of her spine. Her children, such a fight would place them at risk. Silence was an option but the argument had begun and stepping back would mark her as weak. Someone to be taken advantage of. Her hands clenched and released as she looked around the gathering before she spoke again, her voice stronger than she felt in this moment. “I have every right. I’ve already seen one attack. A lone man, a human, a First Son, found his way into your home, past your wards and attacked you. Attacked us. How that happened should be your first concern. Your defenses are not weak, so how did he break through them? Instead you come after me because I did what? Dared to speak the truth? Had the courage to rip away the shield of lies you’ve built since settling here? Or perhaps you’re afraid that your sisters will turn on you because you’re allowing pride to dictate your actions - a decision that goes against the very teachings of Lilith.”

“Lilith, you speak her name but forget her power.” Agriana snapped, her body tight with fury. “You have turned your back on all that she stands for and that cannot be forgiven.”

“How would you know if I have turned my back on her, or her power? You left years ago, taking your people with you and have never looked back. You’ve no idea what I know about my mother.” She took a step toward the older woman, then another, closing the gap between them. “I remember her words, her teachings. I’ve reached out to her over the years, touched her power and felt her love for me, her sorrow and her understanding.”

“Liar!” Light sparked and flickered around the woman’s hands. “I will not stand here and listen to such filth.”

“Filth?” Shandria arched an eyebrow as she turned and looked at the others. “Look at your people, even this small group here, and see what is in their eyes.” Did she not see the danger, the trouble she was causing for her own people? “You know what Lilith would say. What she would demand of you if you but opened your heart instead of letting fear rule you.” Now she’d spoken the reality sank in. Agriana lived in fear. Fear of the First Sons, of Caine’s Blood and the loss of control, of power over her small group.

Had a sister, a child of Caine, given a blessed, powerful life through the gift of Lilith, really fallen so far?

Fear was a powerful motivator. She only had to look at the rest of the women to know that fear could turn the women against Agriana but also bond them to her if the wrong, or right, word was spoken.

“This is ridiculous. Would you believe the words of an outsider? One who had the chance to leave her man and join us and yet turned away from the safety of that path? One who willingly gives herself to a man not worthy of her power, her beauty and her strength.” Agriana paced away from Shandria. “I have done all I can to help protect our family. If any would know what we need it wouldn’t be a stranger.”

“Lady, she speaks the truth. If we leave we can find a better place to call home, one where we may have some peace.” Rachel spoke up, her gaze shifting from Shandria to Agriana and back again. “Do I like this? No, Lady, I do not. I cannot understand why one touched with earth magic should be listened to, yet she is making sense. Perhaps Lilith herself sent her to us, so that we may be safe?” The blonde haired woman shifted her weight before she moved, dropping to her knees before Agriana. “Lady, I beg you, if there is a shred of truth to her words, that we may be safe elsewhere, then tell us so that we may know all the options before us.” She bowed her head, hands folded before her in supplication.

“You have followed me for years and now you question me?” Shock vibrated through the woman’s words.

“We need answers, lady. You have always told us that it was the men who pushed us into decisions and actions with no answers. That as women we could and should question, continue to learn, expand our power and knowledge.” Rebecca lifted her head, no longer uncertain, her voice stronger even as she remained on her knees. “Please, lady. Do not turn from the very teachings you shared with us, the same teachings that the priestess has shared.”

 “A priestess has taught that earth magic is forbidden? I see, there is much I was not fully aware of then and that I will deal with when this crisis has passed.” Agriana sighed, her eyes shadowed. “Earth magic is forbidden among the Daughters, but not forbidden to all.” Her voice soft and thoughtful.

“But why would she teach such unless you had allowed her, encouraged her to speak of such things. And I have to ask why that is?”

“Because the use of such magic requires a bond to a male of equal standing in order to ground the woman.” A new voice broke through the discussions as a woman Shandria hadn’t seen before moved in from the back of the cave and a small passageway Shandria had noted but not explored. “We agreed that things that might encourage our sisters and daughters to join with men as equals, to follow the path your family have chosen, should be kept out of our teachings except as warnings.” The woman was petite with pure white hair and ice blue eyes. Her steps were silent, features sharp and pride carried her across the chamber in a manner that forced others to part and grant her ground. “Yet now I wonder if our choice was the right one.”

“It was the only choice that made sense at the time.” Agriana’s tone softened. “Perhaps things will change in the coming years but…”

“We need to leave, lady.” The Priestess inclined her head. “In this she is right. There are others coming, males who are sworn members of the First Sons, and they bring with them their desire for vengeance. We will not be safe here, nor can we defend ourselves against their number, not as long as one of them carries that cursed stone knife.”

“Stone knife?” Agriana laughed. “That’s a myth, it doesn’t exist. It can’t be real.”

“In this you are wrong, Lady. It can and does exist and they bring it to us now, seeking our blood and our lives. We have a choice, we can stay, fight and die, or we can leave and have a chance to live. Either way, this is far from over.”

The first cries filtered down into the cavern.

“Lady! They come!” The words reached them before the owner of the voice showed herself. “Men, human men, armed, angry, crying out for blood. They brought down the wards and… and we’re trapped.”

To Be Continued.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Abel's Blade

Abel's Blade is a historical Shadow Sprawl setting story, by Terri Pray. 

Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge

Hasham paced, sandals striking the ground with a harsh but steady slap. His jaw clenched, teeth grinding as he turned and glared at the small gathering of men. His hand brushed over the hilt of the stone dagger, wrapped in leather, that was the mark of their duty and their oath. Abel’s blade, made from the stone that Caine had used to kill his brother, marked with the blood of Abel and - according to some stories - Caine. He tensed, a small tingle of power surging from the hilt into his hand and he pulled away from the hilt, turning his attention to the other man. “Who told him that he could leave ahead of us? The plans were clearly laid out, no one was to attack the women’s camp until we’d dealt with the men.”

“I thought he had permission from you, that you’d seen sense and…” Mathias ducked his head and then straightened back up. “I should have said something.”

“Yes, you should.” How many others had been lost because of Gilad’s foolishness? At least one other had left with him. Were the men dead or merely delayed due to his actions? Too many questions and not enough answers. Either way, there were too many questions and not enough time to gather the answers.

“Do we still attack the caves?” Mathias pressed.

Hasham waved him off, his jaw still tight as he walked away from the small group of men. Did he dare risk the attack or would he be better calling it off until a new plan could be laid out? The longer he waited, the more of their women would be taken and dragged to the caves. Some would die, others would be touched by the same curse, turned from good, honest women into playthings at the whim of the monsters that called the caves their home.

Better death than life in their hands.

Would the women agree with him? He shook off the thought. Not that it mattered, those sworn to the destruction of Caine’s bloodline had a duty to those taken. Either they were cleansed and found their way back from the darkness or they were granted their freedom the only way that was left to them.

“The sun will rise soon,” Mathius called out but didn't approach.

They were running out of time, he knew that. He growled and stalked away a little further. Space, time, he had neither and needed both, along with information so he could make a sane decision. Attacks were better in daylight as the beasts, or so it was believed, had problems handling the touch of the sun. He turned, looking out over the valley. Even from here he could see the entrance to the cave, the comings and goings of the creatures that had caused so much trouble for his people. He could walk away from the plan, but there didn’t appear to be any acknowledgment of the problems caused at the other cave system. The one claimed by the females and a handful of males. No messengers had run to the cave and only one set of visitors, a male of standing - at least according to his robes - and three others, had come and gone from the settlement half way through the night.

That the males had then left, in a hurry, heading toward the female camp, had been a matter of concern. Yet they had been visitors. He couldn’t even be certain that they’d been monsters, cursed darkness spawned beings like the males within the cave.

Doubt flickered through his mind.

Should he have stopped the visitors? Did the males leave to answer the trouble at the female’s camp?

“We do this.” He turned, decision made, jaw set as he looked over his people. “These creatures must be destroyed.”

“As we swore, so will it be.” The gathered men responded in low tones.

Hasham touched the hilt of his dagger, the sacred blade of Abel. “And if I fall, one of you will pick up the blade and rebuild our numbers.”

“One may die but the line will grow.” Came the expected response.

For the first time in years the full weight of the words struck him. He and those with him might die performing their duties. Cold sweat formed across his shoulders and down his spine. His son wasn’t old enough to take over the leadership of the First Sons, nor were any of the others left behind. They were children, which was why they had been left in the first place. Had he made a mistake by bringing all of his men with him?

Too late to send someone back now.

“We continue with the plan. Even if we only rescue one woman and free her from the curse, it will be worth it. More so if we destroy one of the males, that will be one less to cause problems with our families, our daughters.” He let his gaze move over the assembled men, noting the look on their faces, the uncertainty on some, determination on others. They would all follow his lead, he knew that, but they had questions he couldn’t answer.

“Hasham, what of Gilad?” Mathias asked, and several others added their mumbled questions. “We can’t leave him behind.”

“We’re not. He will either join us when his own side adventure is over and done with, or he’s already dead. Either way, there’s nothing we can do about it unless we turn our backs on this attack. Not something I’m willing to do. We have far too many of our women trapped in there. Mathias, isn’t your sister one of the taken?”

The man ducked his head. “Yes, she is.”

“Then I fail to understand your problem. The longer we wait, the worse it will be for your sister, if it isn’t already too late.”

“How can you have doubts? It’s already too late, both for her and any other women they have in their grasp. We should focus on making sure Gilad is safe.” Mathias protested.

The words struck deep and he took a step back. “Why do you think that?”

“Has there ever been a woman that has survived the blessing in order to return her to her family? Even once within the stories?” Mathias turned to the other men. “Have you? Have any of you ever witnessed or heard of such a miracle?”

Hasham growled, hands clenching into fists, anger burning through his veins. “If you wish to challenge me for leadership, this is neither the time nor the place.”

“It’s exactly the time and place, Hasham. You know it, so do the rest of these men. That your father, and his father before him, led our blades is beyond doubt. Yet who is to say that blood is the only reason to lead, when there are other men, braver men, who will step forward and do what must be done?”

Murmurs grew, men agreeing with Mathias, others pulling back from the group. They didn’t need this now but if he didn’t step up to the challenge they would never be able to follow through with attack on the cave system. “Mathias, is this what you want to do? Fight, argue, jostle for control when we have women waiting for our aid?”

“Yes,” he met Hasham’s gaze. “They’re cursed, lost to us. Yet you would waste time in trying to save them and in doing so you would turn your back on one of our own. Is Gilad a fool, yes of course he is, but this is a pattern we are done with. You run and hide from the hard decisions, even refusing to choose a husband for your daughter, claiming she is far too young when others of her age are wedded and bedded with children on the way.” Mathias paused, glancing back at the other men before he continued. “You put us all at risk because the First Sons are something more than a group of men fighting back against the darkness. We are a family and you have forgotten that. You would see us die off before you admit that you are wrong.”

Hasham inhaled sharply. Had he done any of that? Well, perhaps when it came to his daughter, but Mathias had no children of his own. How could the man know what it was like to watch a child grow, to feel the weight of that responsibility, to know you would do anything in your power in order to protect them? He couldn’t. He only knew what it was like to be a son, a young man coming into the age of responsibility. A man still too young to be able to face the ordeal of leading a group of head strong but dedicated warriors.

“Then issue the challenge. Put us all at risk in this moment and alert the beasts to our presence, if they aren’t already aware.”

A low hiss carried through the air even as the first touch of dawn lightened the sky.

“What?” Mathias turned, searching for the source of the sound.

The first of the men under Hasham’s command, fell to the attack. Monsters in the form of men moved out from the pre-dawn light, striking hard and fast, weapons in their hands. Slashes of bronze blades sliced through the air. Men screamed. Some roared. Blades clashed as the men of the First Sons dropped their problems, their arguments, and worked as one.

Well-built with eyes touched with blood lust, one of the creatures strode toward Hasham. “We know what you want, yet you could be like us. Be a part of us. You have strength and would survive the change.” The tips of fangs showed through the parting of lips as the creature smiled. “You don’t have to die like the rest. Use your knowledge of battle and work with us. Have any female you want from our home, or bring in your own. Your woman and children would be welcomed.”

Lies, all lies. Men weren’t welcomed by these beasts, only the stolen women. “You feed on our kind. Treat us like animals.”

“Feed on you? Only when there are no other options. The blood of your kind is weak, not worthy of us.” The monster laughed, baring his fangs in the process. “You’re little more than vermin.”

All around him the fighting continued. Men screamed, cried, growled and struggled. Blood and sweat filled the air, bodies hit the floor. Some of them First Sons, others were monsters in human form. Yet the one in front of him didn’t attack. “Your father killed his brother and passed on his blood lust to his children. You are cursed, beasts who walk on two legs, and not fit to walk the lands.” He glanced up at the sky, seeing the growing spread of light. Daylight. How could they be out in daylight? He took a step back from the man, trying to force his thoughts into order. This didn’t make sense. The tales spoke of moving through the darkness, attacking at night and stealing souls. Yet the first full rays of the sun now caressed the land and the battle alike.

“Only the strong can survive the change.” The male grinned, his bronze blade lifted in salute. “Join us, accept the gift, or bare your throat and die like the animal you are.”

Animal? He growled at the creature, hand tightening around the hilt of his sword. They were the animals, beasts with no love in their heart. They didn’t understand what they were, who they were and as such needed to be removed from the face of the earth. “Your kind do not belong here.” He struck, lashing out with the sword.

The creature moved, darting back before he pressed forward, striking hard and fast, moving faster than any man would be able to do. Fueled by darkness and blood these things would always be a threat to his people.

“We are older than you. The first of our kind was born before your precious Abel…” the male caught himself and shook his head, a cold smile claiming his lips. “Die then, like the fool you are. No one will miss you and you will not be remembered. The last of your people will spill their blood this night and not one will remain to pick up the sword.”

Sword. The word pushed at his mind as he blocked the next attack. He had something else he could use.

Abel’s Blade.

His hand moved to the hilt before he had chance to think. Without a sound he drew the stone dagger, slicing through the air even as the creature attacked. Stone bit into flesh, parting it without problems.

“No!” The male screamed, darting back from Hasham and the stone blade. Smoke rose from sizzling flesh as skin bubbled and blackened.

“Yes,” Hasham pressed his attack.

“What is that thing?” The man backed up, one hand pressed against the spreading wound.

“Your death.” He replied, his tone cool.

“No, I won't die at the hands of an animal fit only for slaughter.” He took another step back, one hand clenched around the hilt of the sword. “I am better than this, stronger than this. You’re nothing, will always be nothing unless you accept the gift offered to you.”

Hasham didn’t respond, at least not verbally. His focus narrowed as he pressed the attack, slicing, cutting, striking at every chance offered to him. Each new blow opened up a blackened line across the flesh of his enemy, stealing blood, strength and life. He thought of nothing else but the next strike, only stopping when the beast fell to the earth, no longer able to move.

“Hasham?” The voice was familiar, though weak and trembling.

He blinked, wiping away sweat and blood from his eyes. He looked down at is hands and the stone blade he still held. Blood soaked into the handle, coated his hands, caked under his fingernails, and for the first time he became aware of the itching that came with blood drying on skin. “Not my blood.”


He looked up, his gaze settling on Mathias. “It’s not my blood.”

“No, well, that’s good.” Mathias moved closer. “It’s over.”

“For now.” Hasham turned, letting his gaze sweep over the chaos. “We lost a lot of people.”

“So did they.”

He couldn’t argue that one. At least half of their own people were dead or too badly injured to continue. “We can’t go after the women now.”

“What about Gilad?”

Hasham closed his eyes, listening to the soft cries of pain as his men picked up their weapons, tended wounds and gathered their gear. Two men, maybe more, had gone with Gilad to attack the woman’s camp. He had a choice, walk away or see if there was someone left to rescue. The man had a family, they - if nothing else - deserved to know the truth about Gilad’s fate. “We go, find out what the situation is and then leave.” He opened his eyes, jaw set as he looked back at the group. “If you come with me, you follow my orders. No arguments. I’ll not have this group attacked again because their attention was split.” He cleared the gap between himself and Mathias, looking down into the younger man’s face. “Is that clear?”

“Yes,” the man growled, gaze narrowed. “But when this is over, the matter of leadership will be dealt with.”

Hasham lifted the stone blade, dried blood clinging to the edge. “Of that I have no doubt.”

To Be Continued Next Week.