Home is a historical Shadow Sprawl story, completing the current story arc.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge
I’m here. Alexandrious bit back a cry of joy as his wife’s voice reached out to him. I’m on the ridge, we can try and make it down to you, but there are… how could he explain to her the dangers without making it sound as if he were a coward?
I know, and I don’t want you to risk yourself. I need you to do something else for me. I can’t get to the one with the blade.
He paused before responding, making sure he'd understood what his wife was asking him to do. Facing the one carrying Abel’s Blade was dangerous to begin with, but doing so alone…except he wasn't alone, he had Aiden with him.
If there was another way, she would have found it.
Is he alone?
Yes. Sort of. No other warriors with him.
That, at least, was something in his favor.
The sigh of relief brushed across his thoughts and she quickly filled in the details.
A Djinn child and a First Son with the damned blade. He dragged his fingers through his hair and shared the information with the waiting warrior. At least he wasn't about to face the man alone, a small blessing but he'd take what he could get.
He sent a final message, one more emotion than words, before he turned and moved slowly across the backside of the rise. Where had the First Sons found even a half Djinn? He'd only run into one full blooded in his lifetime and that had been enough. They protected their own, especially their children, so either the boy's family was dead or the father had never known of the child's existence.
He'd get the information from the child after the human hunter had been dealt with. Or he would try to. Right now, he couldn't be certain he would survive the run in with the blade wielding hunter.
Aiden edged closer, his voice pitched low. “What do we need to do?”
“We have a hunter to deal with.”
“A First Son? That shouldn't be an issue.”
“He has the blade and a half breed Djinn child.”
Aiden blanched. “Caine’s blood,” he swore, the words carrying no further than Alexandrious’ ears.
Caine couldn't help them now, nor would he waste time by sending out a prayer to either Caine or Lilith. No, his energy and focus had to be spent elsewhere, on the hunter and his blade.
As one the two men moved across the backside of the rise. At least he knew where the man and Djinn boy would be, thanks to his beloved. A flicker of concern crept into the back of his mind. Had there been something more than weariness in her mental voice?
Energy rippled through the air as he led the way to the source of the magic. Whatever was happening would be dealt with, even if it cost him his life. At least that way his wife and their children would survive, and that was all that mattered.
A soft sound drew his attention, a gasp, pain filled, followed by a cry for mercy. He couldn't make out the words, but the sound was undeniable.
“What was that?” Aiden leaned in.
“The Djinn half breed is a slave under the control of the First Son’s.”
Aiden pulled back, his lips pressed into a tight, thin line.
Djinn. Alexandrious shook his head. Questions would wait until later, when it was safe to waste the time on such matters.
“Keep close and follow me.”
Gilad snarled at the boy. “Stupid creature. The only thing keeping you alive is your usefulness. Fail me in this and I will have no further use for you.”
The boy blanched, lowering his gaze, tears dripping down his cheeks. “Master, forgive me. I'm unworthy, a foul creature.”
Gilad growled. “So prove you are worth the scrap of bread and water to keep you alive.” Damn the boy, his plan rested on the creature’s compliance. If he couldn't break past the shield the cursed females were using, he would lose the support of the rest of the men. Not something he could risk. They'd followed him, for the most part, reluctantly to begin with. A failure at this point would make matters worse.
“I am trying, honored master.”
Darkness cursed creature. Once the females were taken care of, he'd kill the boy unless another form of use could be found.
The females. He glanced at the trembling boy, his gaze narrowing. He could keep some of the females and the boy could use his magic to help keep them under control. Yes, of course. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? It wasn’t unusual to take a woman from an enemy and keep her as a slave. Just as fear was a common place method of keeping slaves under control.
“I will strip the skin from your back, if you fail me slave. Remember that.”
“Yes, my Master.” The boy cowered, pressing his hands to the ground, head dipping between them.
The females, not women, he must never think of them as real women, would have a use since they were touched with the curse. He could breed them, create warriors who would forever be loyal to the First Son’s, trained warriors with the strength and magic that could be turned on the cursed ones. He shifted his grip on the stone knife, one of the few things he knew could kill a cursed one, and smiled.
The rest of his people would not be pleased, but they would adapt once he explained how it worked, the advantage of having warriors among them who could match the cursed strength for strength. He would find a way to make them understand, to accept the plans he had in place for their people.
A soft sound drew his attention. Little more than a pebble skittering down the side of the rise, but it was enough to alert him.
Gilad paused long enough to make sure that the slave had returned to his kneeling position and continued in his efforts to please his master, only then did he take a step toward the source of the sound. Was there someone there, or had the pebble moved due to something else, a small animal perhaps? His gaze narrowed as he searched the rise. Was that something behind one of the larger rocks?
He edged forward, uncertain what he was seeing.
How many were up there? Had the women somehow managed to escape the cave or was this someone else? One of his hunters taking a risk? Or men who answered a call for help?
Too many questions and nowhere near enough answers.
Something whistled through the air, striking him in the left shoulder with enough force to knock him back three steps. He struggled to keep his balance, anger burning, building, clawing its way from within. He snarled, straightening up, the blade held in his right hand even as he rushed forward, all thoughts of the slave and his magic pushed to the back of his mind.
Shale and pebbles moved beneath his feet as he clambered up the side of the rise, an area he had cleared before the attack on the cave had begun. How his enemies had found a way up there without being discovered and killed by his people was a question he’d look into once this matter was over and done with. He dug into the side of the rise, cursing under his breath even as another stone struck him, hitting his left side. He gasped, struggling for air in the moments after the blow, skidding back down a dozen steps as he lost his grip.
Stones. A woman’s weapon. No man would use such a thing. A boy, a herder child, perhaps, but not a man.
“Boy, shield me!” He snapped at the slave even as he regained his footing and clawed further up the rise.
He looked back at the slave, eyes narrowing. “Boy!”
The slave looked up, his dark eyes focused on Gilad but no magic slid into place around his body. Did the boy not understand the order? Or was it too much for him as he continued to attack the cave? He wasn’t sure, but he would beat the truth out of the slave once he’d finished with his attackers. He snarled and continued to climb, scrambling up the rise, shale, pebbles and dirt skidding out from beneath his feet. It didn’t matter what he would face, when he had his attackers in hand he would make them see the error of their ways.
“The attack,” Agriana sighed, tension easing from her shoulders.
“The Djinn boy is focused elsewhere.” Or perhaps his master was which would allow the boy a chance to breathe. “He doesn’t want to be a part of this. I could see that in his eyes.” Shandria wiped the sweat from her brow and watched the rise, searching for some sign that her husband had succeeded in destroying the man responsible for the attack. “I hope… it is a slim hope, but we might be able to save him.”
“Save him? He’s male, why would we waste the effort?”
Shandria bit back a response. Agriana would never see the truth of the situation, she was set in her ways, committed to a life where women ruled and men served. If the woman didn’t want to work with her, to help the boy, then she would do it herself. Her people, her family, wouldn’t turn their backs on a boy forced to be a slave. Even though he wasn’t a part of them, not one of their people, there would be a way. Perhaps she would be able to find a way to return him to his people and if not, she would keep him safe, find another family to take him in and if all else failed, she would protect him and name him one of their family.
Magic touched blood, her own kind would see him as a source of food, of energy, and that would always put him at risk. Unless he was willing to exchange blood for care?
“How much longer?” Agriana moved to the edge of the cave entrance and peered outside.
“I don’t know.” How could she know without reaching out to her mate and asking him? Not something she wanted to risk, not when his life was at stake. “Patience will see us through here.” She wanted to believe the words, needed to as she watched for a sign that this would soon be over. Whatever he did, she would have faith in him, she had to, this was the man she had given her life to and would remain with until the end of her days.
Agriana snorted. “A man, you placed all of our futures in the hands of a man. One who can never understand what our life is like.”
Shandria didn’t react. It wasn’t worth the pain that the fight would cause.
“He’s run, no doubt, taken steps to save himself instead of helping us. Like the coward that he is.”
Coward, that was the last thing she would have ever called her husband, but the older woman was baiting her, hoping for a fight, though Shandria didn’t understand why. “He won’t let us down. No matter what he has to do out there, he won’t let us down.” She kept her voice pitched low and refused to look at the older woman. Whatever her reasons, Agriana wouldn’t get the fight she wanted.
Alexandrious didn’t move, his gaze fixed on the man as he crept closer, with one hand wrapped around the hilt of the stone blade. Alexandrious' skin crawled, the blade meant death, offered nothing but pain and loss, even a small scratch from that weapon would reduce a strong vampire to a shivering, shaking wreck of a human being.
No, don’t think that way. I’m not about to die, it’s not a part of my plan.
He closed his eyes for a moment, letting his heart rate slow, his breathing settle into a slow, even pattern before he opened his eyes once more.
The human hunter was close now, yet he couldn’t see Alexandrious or Aiden, they were well hidden by the soft, subtle magic he had tapped into. A simple spell his wife had shared with him, yet it was enough to keep him safe, at least for the time being.
“Where are you?” The human snapped, anger tainting his words. “Come out, cowards. Face me. Fight me.”
Alexandrious smiled. A child might fall for the taunt, rush out and confront the man, but he was long past being named and numbered as a child. If the hunter wanted to waste his time and energy by throwing out insults, then so much the better.
“Where are you?” The man demanded, turning as he reached the top of the rise. Spittle coated his lips, his eyes wide as he glared, looking for a sign of his enemy. “Is there even anyone there? No, there has to be, the rocks didn’t throw themselves.”
No, of course they didn’t. Alexandrious didn’t move, his gaze locked on the knife. He couldn’t touch it, but there had to be a way where he could get it out of the hunter’s hand. He looked down at the small rocks around his feet. A single blow, something fast and hard against the man’s wrist, or the back of his hand, might be enough but there remained a risk that it wouldn’t be enough. If he misjudged, didn’t strike correctly, the hunter would have a chance to fight back and in doing so his children, his wife, would be lost.
Aiden shifted weight next to him. A small movement, covered by the same spell that covered Alexandrious, protecting him from being seen.
The hunter moved, a handful of steps, bringing him closer to the pair.
Just a little closer.
He glanced back at Aiden, gesturing to the hunter with a twitch of his finger. He raised a hand, parting all five fingers and folded one in, nodding. Folded a second, making sure that Aiden understood what he meant, before he continued, turning his attention back to the hunter. They had one shot at this. Only one.
Gilad snarled and turned to look down at the kneeling form of the slave. Energy still flickered around the boy but not as much as there should be. The creature wasn’t focusing, something he’d pay for just as soon as Gilad made his way back down to the slave. Oh, he’d pay for his laziness, for failing to complete the task that had been assigned to him. He couldn’t kill the boy, not yet at least, but he would make him pray for death before Gilad finally let him lapse into unconsciousness.
Slaves. Lazy and unreliable unless you treated them with a firm hand.
Pain lashed through his wrist, his fingers releasing the blade even as he cursed, turned and looked for the source of the attack.
A figure moved, forming from the very shadows. Male. A blade in hand. Eyes blazing with hunger. No, not hunger. Rage.
He dived for the dagger, but something smacked into him, knocking him to the ground. Dirt and dust flew into the air, choking him, swirling around him until he couldn’t see. It didn’t make sense. He rolled, trying to come to his feet, only to be slammed back down to the ground afresh.
“Coward!” He lashed out with one hand, his other reaching for the bronze blade shoved through his belt. He didn’t need the sacred knife, not for this. These were nothing more than the cursed. He could handle the cursed on his own. He’d done so before and would do so again. “Show yourself!”
The form flickered, solidifying in front of him, a sword in hand.
“Cursed creature!” He snapped at the male. Not man, never a man. Its eyes told a tale. Cursed, vampire, blood sucker, stealer of women and souls. He lunged, his sword in hand. His foot caught on something unseen, tumbling him to the ground, though he rolled, coming back up to his feet in a single, swift move.
He wanted to turn, to search for whatever had been responsible for his accident. Yet he couldn't risk it, couldn't waste the time.
“Weak fool, doing the bidding of a female.” He spat the words at the creature, but it said nothing, offering a cold smile instead.
The hairs rose on the back of his neck, a warning he barely had time to acknowledge before he moved. A sword sliced through the air, catching the arm of his tunic. Threads tore, cloth ripped as he pulled away. The creature wasn't alone.
“You're a bigger coward than I thought. Unable to deal with me on your own. Weak. Just like a woman.”
“You've no idea how strong our women are, hunter.” The male bore his teeth in a snarl, top lip curling.
Hunter. He liked the sound of that. Simpler than the name, First Sons, they had been left with. “Perhaps I'll find out when I put a few to breeding sons to hunt your cursed kind down.”
A flicker moved across the male’s eyes, a frown that vanished.
“You know it will happen. You will die and I will take the best of the women to…” He dodged to the left, words lost as he avoided the blow. The creature wouldn’t be able to stop him.
The second attacker stepped into line of sight. Younger than the first one. Strong, fast and dangerous. All of their kind were. He turned, ducking under a blow only to take a step back and…
Pain exploded, claiming the small of his back and he gasped, stumbling, dropping down to his knees. He blinked, trying to understand what had happened. Something tore free of his flesh, yanked out before the source of the attack moved, stepping in front of him, between Gilad and the creature.
Small, slight, still dressed in the tunic, the rope collar around his neck. A deep green light danced within his eyes, power rippling through the air but it hadn’t been magic that had brought him to his knees.
He coughed, hands clenching as he tried to move to his feet but his body refused to obey him.
“Careful, the blade,” one of the creatures warned.
The younger one nodded and approached slowly. “Young one, the blade. We must be wary of it.”
The slave looked down at the stone dagger. Blood marked the slave’s hand and wrist but the blade showed no signs of the attack. Blood didn’t cling to it, nor did it drip from the black stone.
Odd, it shouldn’t have worked that way. Blood should still mark the blade.
His body crumpled, spilling him to the ground. No pain, it should still be hurting but there was nothing. Only a cold that slowly seeped into his flesh, crawling through his bones as he tried to move. He shouldn’t be there. The others, his brothers, needed him. They had to finish this.
The slave blinked and looked up at Alexandrious. “I had to.”
Alexandrious looked down at the dying hunter and then back at the trembling slave. “You did the right thing.” He was young, too young to claim a life but the boy wasn’t the enemy.
“The others…” he blinked and looked around. “They'll know I'm not using magic now.”
Which would send someone their way. Alexandrious nodded, grim determination clenching his jaw. The boy and the weapon had to be protected. “Stay behind us,” the words barely left his lips before the first if the hunters appeared. Anger fueled cries carried ahead of their charge, but he didn't care. As long as they were attacking him, Aiden and the boy, they weren't attacking the cave and his wife. It was a small price to pay, yet the slave had already been through far too much.
“Get the boy and the blade out…”
“No, my lord.” Aiden moved in front of him. “Go to your wife. She needs you to live, for her and the children.”
He should have argued, but there was no time. With a snarl, he grabbed the boy by the shoulder and ran.
Blades clashed behind him, grunts and cries mingled with the sound of bronze weapons meeting others, but he didn’t turn back, didn’t look at what was going on. He wouldn’t do that to the boy or to his wife. Aiden was right, he needed to return to her, for her sake and the children she carried. He couldn’t protect them if he was dead.
The boy protested but didn’t fight as he ran with him. Magic tingled his skin, prickling a path across his flesh when he hauled the boy into his arms, half across his shoulder. If he was a half djinn then it would explain the magic, the power that surged within the slave. No, not slave, captive. The boy would never be a slave again, not if he could help it.
A soft gasp, a cry, the boy struggled for a moment only to settle down with a low sob. “It’s gone.”
He frowned, not having the time to talk with the child, to discover what had happened. It didn’t matter. Keeping the child safe and returning to his wife were the only things that now mattered.
“Together.” Shandria commanded, focusing her magic.
Agriana grunted, working with Shandria, magic’s combined as they thrust out, pushing at the archers, forcing them back away from their vantage point.
“What stopped the magic?” Agriana turned toward her.
“My husband,” she knew that without reaching out, without checking. Her beloved lived and the magical attack had been ended. “I don’t know if it will start again, but we have a chance now, we have to use it.”
“Agreed.” A sharp sound, the word spat out but at least it was an agreement.
Magic bonded, swirling together, a mix of colors, power and hope. As one they lashed out, striking at those they could see, destroying the hunters. There was no chance that their magic would touch any of their blood, but even then, the niggling fear gnawed at the back of her mind. Their people huddled in the back of the cave, protecting crying children, the wounded and those unable to fight, all of them praying for protection. This was their duty, their place in life, to fight as one, using the only weapons they had to hand.
“Warriors, we need warriors.”
The muttered words reached her ears and for a moment Shandria smiled. If nothing else this event had made Agriana see sense on one thing. The Daughters could no longer rely on magic alone. Something else, something more would always be needed as long as there were hunters in the world. “Almost done.”
She could feel them, the hunters, two left but no more.
“Can you feel them?” Agriana took a step toward her, face pale, sweat beading across her brow. “Only two… and they are leaving.”
They should strike out at them, destroy them… “Yes.” Her limbs shook, weakness threatening to consume her now that the adrenaline of the fight seeped away. She lowered her head, taking a deep breath as she tried to focus. “Let them go.”
“Agreed.” Agriana sat down, hard on a rock, head bowed as she rested her elbows on her knees.
She turned, one hand resting against the cave wall. Had she imagined it? No, she knew that voice. “Alexandrious?” Her voice wavered, hope and fear mingling within her core. “Mother have mercy…” Alive, he was alive. Her gaze focused on the running man, one carrying something over his shoulder. Somewhere behind him, coming down the rise, was another figure. A man she knew, but her weary brain refused to put a name to him.
Agriana moved to her side, back straight, head held high. Magic crackled across her skin, alerting Shandria to the danger offered. It didn’t make sense. This was her husband, a man who had fought to protect them.
“He cannot enter here, his kind are forbidden within our home.”
Shandria growled, stepping in front of Agriana, her hands clenched at her sides, reaching for the remains of her magic. “This is my husband, my mate. He fought for us.”
“And he is not one who belongs with us. He is a male who believes he is better than us instead of in his rightful place on his knees.”
No, not this. Shandria settled her anger, pushing it back but she held position between them. “He is my husband.” She repeated the words, taking it more slowly as she met the older woman’s gaze. “He put his life at risk for us.”
“For his property.” Agriana’s gaze narrowed. “As that is what you will always be with him, as will your children.”
No, this wasn’t happening. She wasn’t going to be drawn into this fight. “If that is what you think, despite all that I have done and the risks he has taken, then we will both leave.” She lifted her chin, one hand resting on the swell that protected the life within her. “I will not have my mate disrespected.”
Alexandrious drew closer, stopping a dozen steps from the entrance. Only then did he lower the boy, setting him on his feet. “It is done.”
Her gaze flickered to the boy, still pale from the energy that he had expended when following the orders of his master. A man she now hoped was dead. Bruises marked the boy’s face but something glittered within his eyes, a bright surge of something that she understood.
With a trembling smile, she took a step toward him, even as a hand clamped on her arm.
“Don’t. You could be so much more if you stayed with us. Your strength and power, you’ve only just begun to understand what is within you.”
She looked back at Agriana, jaw set. “No.”
“He has you broken to his desires.”
“You’re a fool, Agriana. One too blind to see what was going on around you. This man, and many like him, are not like our father. Nothing like Caine. He doesn’t see women as weak, but as partners.”
“A lie. Men don’t…”
“Yes, we can and do.” Alexandrious didn’t move, did nothing to suggest an attack.
Agriana curled her top lip in a snarl. “Liar.”
A fight, another argument, breath wasted, that’s all trying to change the older woman’s mind would ever be. With a sigh Shandria shook her head and walked toward her husband, shaking off the hand. “I am ready.”
“I lost it,” the boy’s trembling voice drew her attention. “I had it, but I lost it. I- I’m sorry master.”
She crouched down, cupping one hand against his cheek, the thought gentle as she sought his gaze, holding it. “You don’t have a master anymore, child. Nor a mistress. You are free.” She eased her hand down to the rope collar. With a soft touch of power, she parted the threads, letting the remains of the rope drop to the ground. Whatever the boy had lost, she would find out later, for now all that mattered was leaving this place, the fight and all that had happened behind them. With a soft smile, she lifted her gaze, meeting her husband’s eyes. “Take us home.”
A strong hand pulled her up and into his arms. “Are you sure, my love?”
“Yes.” She didn’t look back at Agriana. The woman wouldn’t change, not whilst she was around. Perhaps there was a chance, when the woman had had time to digest all of what had happened. The attack, the use of magic, all of it would change any sane individual, but how much, how many changes there would be, only time would tell. “Take me home.”