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.
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.