Gilad is a Shadow Sprawl historical story, continuing the current story arc.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Filter Forge and Photoshop.
Time, he was running out of time. The First Sons, the hunters, they were close behind and who knew how many were ahead of him, already attacking his wife and the Daughter’s of Lilith. Though he was able to travel during the day, thanks to the strength of his bloodline, one of the two men who traveled with him was not so lucky. Had the time they had spent sheltering from the worst of the sun, been enough to give the First Sons a lead? He didn’t want to think that way, but there was far more than his pride at stake here.
His woman, their children, those were the main reasons why he needed to rush to the Daughter’s of Lilith. Yet they weren’t the only ones. The Daughter’s were at risk and, even with the separation between the families, they were off his blood. The loss of a single vampire life, sickened him. How many would he lose in the coming years because of the split between the families and the hatred of the First Sons?
He bit back a growl. No matter what happened he would stand with his family and do all within his power, all of his power to defend those under his protection. With his wife at his side he was able to tap the power within his veins and channel that energy into her. He couldn’t use magic as she could, but he could help and steady her, work with her, and did so despite his unease they worked well together.
Perhaps he should have spoken to a couple of the other women and urged them to travel with his wife. At least then she might have had someone who bind their magic with hers and use it to defend the caves claimed by Daughter’s of Lilith. Except the women she worked the best with hadn’t come forward to ask to accompany them on this trip, and the conversation had never turned that way when he had spoken to his beloved.
Foolish, he knew that now. Would his wife and children pay the price for their mistake? No, he couldn’t think that way, not when he knew she was still alive.
Had the First Sons attacked the camp of Caine? He had no way of knowing without returning there. At least not until this was over and done with and he could send messengers to the camp. He glanced back over his shoulder, searching the horizon. They weren’t within sight but that didn’t mean that they weren’t close behind. There were other trails through the hills and woodland. Ones that would have given the First Sons a lead.
No, I can’t think that way. He wasn’t their target, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t deal with him if they had the chance. No, they wanted revenge against the men sworn to Caine. Yet the images of his wife, dead at his feet, blood spilling from the slight swell of her belly, continued to plague him. Her cry for help made no sense unless the First Sons had split their attention and already made some sort of attempt against the Daughter’s. He tried to push them away, but the fear and doubt grew, gnawing on his nerves and flesh alike. “We’re taking too long.”
“My Lord, the horses won’t survive if we push them too hard.”
“And my wife may die if we don’t.” He snapped at the younger man. “Damn this, we need to push.” He slapped his heels against the flanks of the horse. “I won’t lose her.” Not like this, not because they were trying to do the right thing. “I’m not about to lose my wife because I spent too long on the road.” He wouldn’t, couldn’t let that happen. They’d already been through too much over the years, survived the split in the families and now - now she carried his children.
Children that were a precious gift among their kind.
“What good would you be to her if you arrive on foot, barely able to lift a sword?” The man, Aiden, pushed. “How can you protect your wife and children if you can’t focus enough to put one foot in front of the others. Please understand, my lord, I would rush also if it were my wife, my children at risk, but you would also pull me back with words of caution. So, I must do the same for you.”
It wouldn’t happen that way, not with the energy he could tap. The same energy he would then share with his wife if they came under attack once they were reunited. Yet how could he share it if he’d already used it. He growled but didn’t respond to Aiden as he leaned over the neck of his horse, urging his mount on. The horse wouldn’t let him down, nor would the other mounts collapse. A meal, a source of energy, that would help and he could push some of that energy into the horses, but that would require a hunt, a real source of blood instead of the weaker source found in the blood of humanity.
A hunt he didn’t have the time for.
Hold on love, I’m coming. Please, you have to hold on for me.
“My Lord!” Aiden drew closer, his brow creased. “Please, I don’t want to have to explain to your lady why you died under my care.”
Laughter spilled from his lips and he shook his head, pulling back on the reigns to slow his mount down “Fine, fine. You’re right. I understand that.” He didn’t like it though, didn’t want to slow down yet he couldn’t argue against the logic of his companions words. “They can’t be that far ahead of us, that I know, but it doesn’t stop the doubt.”
“No, it never does.” Aiden sighed in open relief. “We will need food, need strength before we try to offer the Daughter’s help.” They were close enough now where Aiden could talk without raising his voice. “What do you remember about the area around the Daughter’s cave system?”
Alexandrious focused on the memories as the horses continued to canter along side each other. Dust lifted into the air with each new strike of hoof against the ground, stones turned, branches broke and the noise melded into an odd, comforting music, allowing him to reach back into his mind and find the details they needed. “The entrance is half way up the rise, protected by rock walls and outcrops that make climbing to the entrance difficult if you don’t know the correct path. There are places where attackers could spy on the entrance without being easily spotted and perhaps attack using archers.” Archers, something that the Daughter’s likely hadn’t thought about. “Before the split archers never came close to our home, slings were common place, but that has changed over the years. As if the First Sons have decided any weapon is fit to be used against us.” Humans, they changed, adapted more easily than his own people had done so before now. Perhaps because their lives were so short, they found it easier to change with each new generation. Yet Vampires were longer lived, and their generations spaced out more, did that have an impact on how they viewed things? How they learned?
Too many questions.
“Do the Daughter’s have any warriors?”
“Maybe a few women trained to fight but they don’t allow their males to fight. They’re little more than servants,” but better treated, at least from what he’d seen, than the woman under the command of those sworn to Caine. The men he’d seen, albeit briefly, amid the Daughter’s appeared content, lacking the constant fear that had shone within the eyes of the women he’d met among the others. Did they have the same rights as the woman, no, he’d be the first to admit that, yet they were well teated for the most part, and lacked any sign of abuse or injury.
Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make any of this right.
Personal beliefs had no place in any decisions he needed to make, not at this point.
“Which means if they are attacked in large numbers, they will need to rely upon their magic and any small weapons they have to hand.”
Cold fingers traced lines of fear down the length of his back as Alexandrious. “No, we won’t let it happen that way.” He flashed an ice touched smile at Aiden. “We’ll get there in time, and we’ll hunt along the way. If we find someone, we will not drain them. Is that understood?” They seldom drained their victims, but with the stress of the situation, a mistake was more likely.
“Yes, my Lord. We hunt, we do not kill.”
There would be enough death in the days ahead. Death that he could live with if it meant the safety of his wife. He’d kill, feed, and not regret a single life spilled as long as his wife remained safe.
Hasham kept low to the ground, half hiding behind a large boulder as he looked down on the entrance to the women’s camp. Women, and a handful of men, moved back and forth from the entrance in full light of day. Some lingered in the shadows, casting uncertain glances up at the sky as if waiting for the sun to move. Could it be that only some of their kind could be out in the daylight? He frowned, watching as those who were wary of the daylight darted in and out, taking care of any work as quickly as they could. Even then they had waited until the sun had passed its zenith and had begun the slow crawl toward the horizon.
“Hasham?” The low voice drew his attention back to the men behind him.
He looked back over his shoulder, eyes narrowed on Mathias. “What is it?”
His jaw tightened. “What of him?”
“We’ve found him.”
Gilad? Alive? Hasham edged back from his vantage point and waved one of the other men, Daniel, up to take his place. Only when he was away from the ridge, in the small valley he had staked out as their camp, did he speak. “Is he alive or dead?”
“Alive, but marked and drained.”
Drained? He scowled. “He was fed upon?”
“No, nothing of that nature. He is without strength right now, his clothing ragged though there are no true marks upon him.” Mathias paused, uncertainty flickering across his bearded features. “I do not understand how he could be so weak and yet be unmarked. There’s little more than the scratches you might get moving through brush. Not even the thorned brushes.” Mathias shook his head. “No doubt there is more to this story than he is willing to share at this time, but it has left me wondering what happened to both him and the man, Jonas, who went with him.”
“We all have questions.” Hasham forced himself to remain calm. “And he will give us the answers one way or another.” His patience, when it came to Gilad and his foolishness, was over and done with. “If Jonas is dead, I would know that so his family may grieve.” Jonas, the man had been young, barely old enough to work with them. Yet Hasham had allowed it and for that, he would own his part in the mess. Just as, looking back, he knew he should have left Gilad behind.
“He’s awake but has said very little.” Mathias fell into place at his side as they walked through the small group of men to the simple lean to tent that had been set up. “I tried to ask about Jonas but he refused to answer and went silent when I told him you were here.”
Had the man expected him to die? Perhaps he had worked with Mathias to arrange the challenge?
Tension built across his shoulders. Had this all been a part of Gilad’s plan? One man leading the group, another showing his strength and determination, enough to show that he was capable of leading alongside of Mathias? If that had been their idea, it had failed. Miserably failed. Jonas was lost, perhaps dead, Mathias had timed his challenge in a manner that had then left them vulnerable to attack, and they’d lost friends and family because of that. Mathias, however, was easily led and someone like Gilad would happily take advantage.
“Hasham, he’s awake.” Adur announced as they approached the tent. “I thought, for a time, he would die but he seems stronger now that I persuaded him to drink some.”
Dehydration might explain the man’s reactions, though Hasham doubted it. “I would speak with him alone.”
“As you wish,” Adur ushered the other men out of the way before Hasham glanced back and ducked down, entering the lean to.
The man on the blanket didn’t look like the same arrogant, brusque man who had confronted him about his daughter. Shadows marked beneath his eyes, hollowing them out. Dirt streaked his otherwise pale skin and one look at his hands told a tale of broken nails, bruised hands and scratches. The marks of a man who had scrambled his way out of danger in an attempt to escape.
“Hasham…” Gilad croaked.
“You disobeyed me,” Hasham settled, cross legged, by the side of the prone man.
“Yes,” he admitted.
“I should have left you to rot by the side of the road.” Not that he’d had a choice in bringing the man in, the other members of the group, or at least one or two of them, had made that decision without checking with him.
“It is not in your nature to do such a thing.” Strength returned to Gilad’s voice only to fade with his next words. “You are stronger than that.”
Ah, he wishes us to belief he is weaker than he actually is. Interesting. “What happened?”
“We approached…” the words faded off into a croak and he nodded toward the water skin. “Water, please.”
Fine, he’d play this game for a time. Hasham lifted the skin and pressed it into Gilad’s hands. “I’ve no doubt you will be able to manage this on your own.”
Gilad’s eyes narrowed, a flash of fury glared at Hasham and then it was gone, buried by the lifting of the skin. “Thank you.”
How far would the man take it? Hasham listened to the sounds beyond the lean to. Where others involved in this scheme, outside of Mathias? Was Mathias still involved? That was a part he could not be certain of until he got to the bottom of this. “You put us all at risk.”
“It was a good plan, it should have worked.”
Hasham’s fists clenched. No, he couldn’t attack the man as he lay there, it would appear as if he were taking advantage of a man in a weakened state. “Because I wouldn’t let you have my daughter?”
Gilad glanced toward the entrance of the shelter and then back at Hasham, his voice pitched low. “That and so much more. You have turned your back on everything the First Sons is supposed to stand for.”
Is that what they thought? “You know nothing about me or my beliefs, Gilad.”
“I know more about you than you might believe, Hasham. About you, your father, and the legacy of lies.”
“They won’t answer to you anymore, not Mathias, not any of them.” Gilad moved, striking out without warning.
For a moment, a heartbeat, Hasham didn’t know what had hit him. He stumbled back, coughing as he tried to speak, one hand pressed against his stomach. How had Gilad managed to punch him that hard when he was drained?
“This is mine now,” Gilad rolled up to his knees and reached for the stone dagger, pulling It from the sheath Hasham wore. “As is the leadership of the First Sons. They didn’t want you, didn’t want to listen to your weakness, your excuses. Even now those faithful to me already attack that hateful place. We will do what you were too cowardly to attempt. We will destroy them all, not just the men but the women as well. Those touched by the curse will die, as it was meant to be.” Gilad rose, casting off the blanket, wiping one hand over his face, wiping off dirt and dust. “And you - you will die a hero. We will never harm your line but your daughter - she will be mine as she was meant to be.”
His daughter. His beautiful, innocent daughter. He couldn’t allow this. Yet his body wouldn’t obey him.
Odd, he should have been able to stop Gilad but he couldn’t move. He looked down at his hand, the one pressed against his stomach. There was something sticking out, something that shouldn’t be there. Blood, hot and wet pulsed out from between his fingers. Uncertainty rippled through his mind even as he looked at the wound and the hilt of the dagger that stuck out from between his blood soaked fingers.
“Is he dealt with?” Mathias spoke.
Hasham tried to turn, to move toward the sound of his voice but it didn’t work. He was moving, but not in the right way. His body crumpled, forcing him onto his side yet still he felt no pain, nothing but a chill that seeped into his bones as he lay on the ground.
“He’s no longer a problem, he’ll be dead before we leave.”
Gilad laughed, the sound echoing through the lean to. “Mine, as it was meant to be. With this, with the power of the blade unleashed, they will not be able to stand against us. Not with everything I’ve learned in the past few days.”
Darkness closed in on the edges of his vision, the cold now claiming his limbs and stealing into his body. He coughed, clearing his throat only to taste the heavy iron of his own blood. “N-not supposed to be this way.”
“You should have listened to me, to the others, we wanted this but you refused to take the wishes of others into account. Now, well it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep the blade, pass it on down through my line. Don’t worry about your family, they’ll be safe. Your daughter will become my wife, your son will look to me and your wife, well I’m certain she will find another husband in due time. Mathias has always admired the woman, so she won’t be alone for long.” He leaned down, his breath warm against Hasham’s chilled flesh. “It’s the power, not just in the blade, but my blood. I can feel it. It burns, pushes at me, and with the dagger, with Abel’s blade, I’ll be able to use it. All of it and then your daughter will continue my line, she’ll bring new children into the world with that power. Just as my father had it, but he was too cowardly to use it.”
Power? What was he talking about? Darkness spawned gifts? Like the magic used by the women touched by the curse?
Hasham struggled to make sense of it all but all he could think about was his family. His wife, children, daughter - they depended on him but would trust the words of his brothers in the First Sons. “L-leave my daughter…alone.” He coughed, blood marking his lips. Odd they were one of the few things he could still feel. His sight faded and he closed his eyes. Sleep. He needed sleep. Maybe if he was able to rest he’d be able to fight back and find a way to his daughter before it was too late.
“What do we do with him?”
Mathias? Or someone else? He tried to open his eyes again but they refused to obey him.
“Leave him, he’s already dead - nothing he can do to change that now.”
To Be Continued.