Threat is a historical Shadow Sprawl story, continuing the current story arc.
Shandria turned, magic, energy rippling around her fingers, flaring a path across the skin close shield she had built. Her nostrils flared. Humans, males, the scent was undeniable, but there was something else out there. Males with a touch of magic in their veins. She inhaled deeply, tasting it even as her teeth ached, canines extending. She frowned and took a step forward, closer to the entrance. Had the others not tasted what was in the air?
Perhaps that was why Agriana had sent only one of the women to the entrance to check on the rest of the support that had taken position there? Did she know about the danger that the magic offered? Or had she assumed that the magic in the air was that carried by the Daughters?
Hold on love, I’m coming. Please, you must hold on for me.
Relief surged only to crumble at the next set of noises. It was one thing to hold on when there had been a single man, perhaps two, attacking them, but now this? It was too much.
No, she couldn’t think that way. She wouldn’t give up. Not now, not ever. His mental voice was strong and when she reached out to touch the connection she smiled. He was coming for her, the distance closed a little more with each touch but he was still too far away to be here within a candlemark or two.
Did they have longer than that?
However long it took, she would remain on her feet, strong and ready to deal with whatever the First Sons were about to throw at them.
“We’re all going to die here,” Rachel turned, her face pale as she returned to the small group at a run. “There’s too many of them and the attacks, they seem to come from all directions at once. I don’t understand what’s happening out there. We don’t have a chance. They’ll kill every last one, even the children. Lady, there’s nothing we can do.” She swallowed, trembling openly.
“No, we’re not going to die.” Agriana advanced on Rachel, her robe whispering across the stone floor as she moved. “We are the Daughters of Lilith, bound to her service, protected by her power. They’re humans, mortals, weak and foolish. I will not let our people fall because of a group of hunters. Is that clear?”
“They have weapons and we’re not warriors, we rely on our magic. It won’t be enough, not this time. I tried searching for them, as you have taught us, but there’s something blocking my attempts.” Rachel ducked her head, rubbing one hand over her eyes. “No matter how hard I tried, something blocked me. I don’t know how they’re managing to keep me out, it’s like no magic I’ve ever felt before.”
“No, we don’t have warriors in our number and that’s a mistake we will address when this is over. We have to fight back, if magic is all we have then that is what we will use and we will show these hunters that we are not to be taken lightly. What women we have who know how to use slings or any other forms of weaponary, need to be prepared to help defend our home.” Agriana gestured to the women, moving with them toward the entrance. “As for anyone else, we need to move them to a safer area. The children, they need to be moved. Get the young ones to the back, keep them safe.” She snapped at the Priestess. “Move. Now! We can’t afford for them to be taken.”
Shandria nodded, her attention turning back to the source of the scent. Agriana had her people under control and the safety of the children was, thankfully, her main concern. That she realized some of her mistakes, such as the lack of warriors, was something she hoped Agriana and her people would live long enough to correct.
Survival. That was all that mattered in this moment.
Shandria moved, tasting the air again, one step then two more, the scent calling to her, tugging her closer to the entrance. Was it really there or was it nothing more than a mix of other aromas that combined to deceive her? Rachel, she’d said that her attempts to find the attackers had been blocked, but what if hers worked? Her ability to use earth magic would play in her favor, though she had seldom worked the type of earth magic that would be needed without an anchor or a form of support, normally in the shape of her husband. “Your magic won’t be enough this time around. We must work together, build up the shields before we use anything more than defensive magic.” Would they listen to her? It didn’t matter, she had to do this even if she had to do it on her own.
“Combine energies,” the Priestess called out, stopping only for a moment before she hurried away. “Agriana, you know how to do this.”
The leader of the Daughters let out a low growl. “Shandria, are you willing to work with me?”
“Yes,” no, not entirely willing but it was the right thing to do. Did the woman mean work with, or bond with power wise? Either was an option. Power, they’d need all they could lay their hands on if they were to stand a chance. She’d worked with her mate, and a handful of others within the family, but that was it. Working with Agriana should be possible but how strong they would be in such a union, she didn’t know.
Still, it was better to try and perhaps succeed, than to not try and die along with the rest of the Daughters. Time, all she had to do was buy them a little time until Alexandrious came for them. With his help, she could tap the full extent of her magic, including the earth magic that lay within her grasp.
“No, nothing like that,” only doubt that she would be able to work with the woman.
“Then we will do this.”
“Yes, of course.” She paused long enough to take a calming breath. “Not here though, we’ll be better off doing this closer to the entrance. Personal shields will help, as long as we’re not having to split our attention.” She offered a hand to Agriana. “It will be easier this way as we’ve not worked together before.” Would that be enough to lower shields so they could work? It had to be.
“It shouldn’t surprise me that your male has kept you to himself.”
“I don’t understand.” What was she talking about? She'd worked with more than her husband in the past, it was just rare as she had a strong bond with her man.
“If you had worked with others, you’d know there are better ways than the joining of hands. Your power is strong, I can sense it without even trying. Had your husband not kept you to himself, then the shared power would be far stronger. You’d be able to link with me across distances greater than you could ever be able to imagine.”
Shock rippled through Shandria and a cold shiver worked its way down her spine. Doubt clawed at her, but this was neither the time or place for such weakness.
“Still, if that’s all you’re able to do to work with me, then so be it. We have no time to discuss this, not when we have unwanted visitors ready to destroy all we have built here.” Agriana glared at the hand and then at Shandria. Only then did the older woman slide a hand into hers. The shock of power was instant. Shields dropped and reformed around both of them, stronger than before, far stronger than the shield that had existed around Shandria prior to that moment. A shudder ran through her body and she stared at the older woman. She’d never experienced a magical connection that strong before, not even with her beloved.
Could Agriana and the rest of the daughters be right, at least in some small way? Was her magic, her power, somehow suppressed by the bond with a man?
No, don't think that. She's had more experience with her magic, I've had other things I've had to focus on. The healing side of magic, the earth magic they've turned their back on. That's all this is, a difference in the type of power we use.
“What? Did you think that I lacked the power to form real shields?” Agriana snorted, eyes rolling even as they began to walk toward the entrance.
“No, I simply didn’t expect the merging to work this well.” Shandria centered herself as they walked. Cries, blood, the scent of death and fear all mixed with the lingering aroma of magic touched blood. “Can you smell that?”
“There are a lot of scents out there, Shandria.”
Did she not understand? Or was this something only she was picking up on? It didn’t make sense. The woman was powerful, the bonding of their magic proved that, yet she said nothing about the magic scented blood. “There are more than just First Sons out there.”
“Of course there are. We have some of our own people out there. Women of power, along with their males, but it’s not enough. Not this time.”
“There’s other magic involved.” She wouldn’t lie, especially not now. “Magic used in the attack, and that’s why they’ve been able to get this close to us.” What had happened? She’d never heard of the First Sons using any form of magic. Had one been born to that order with another bloodline mixed in with that of the hunters? It was possible - unlikely but possible nevertheless. They prided themselves on keeping their bloodlines pure.
“Impossible.” Agriana snorted. “Focus, girl. I’ve got people out there. We need to rebuild those defenses.”
“I’m aware of that. Shields, need to adjust them. We need to locate the main force.” The shields flickered and surged as they worked together. Two men struggled with a small group of women close to the entrance of the cave. “Coming from the left, over the rise. Men. Four of them. Archers.”
Where was the magic coming from?
Four women and a single male struggled against their attackers, two human males with short swords. One attacker lay dead close to the group, along with a young woman and two young males who were obviously members of the Daughters family.
“Monsters!” One of the human men screamed, slashing through the air with his blade.
The single male remaining member of the family group cried out, hand pressed to his chest, blood flowing around his fingers.
“No!” One of the Daughters screamed. She reached out for the dying male only to be yanked back out of danger by one of the other women barely in time before a sword slashed down, cutting through the air where the woman had been a moment before.
“We’re running out of time.” Agriana growled, hand tightening on Shandria’s. “With me, I need you to focus with me. Push them back. Now.”
She didn’t need to think, the reaction was instinctive. Shandria thrust forward, sending a boulder of rolling energy toward the two humans. It struck, the ground rippling beneath their feet, tossing the men aside with a violence that lifted them into the air only to crumple to the ground in groaning heaps of sprawled limbs.
“Get inside!” Agriana screamed at the group. “Now, get inside and we’ll rebuild the walls.”
Did they have time to rebuild them with the constant threat hammering down on them? Shandria kept her doubts to herself as the survivors of the group hurried past them, into the main caves. She had to do this, had to buy them time.
“We lost Rebecca and her male, Alian.” One of the women paused, face pale, blood marking her left cheek. “Not sure how many others… did Rachel?”
“She’s safe.” Agriana pushed the woman into the cave. “We’ll grieve later, once this threat is dealt with.”
If there was time, they’d all grieve, heal and move on, but only if they survived the oncoming darkness.
Blood, the smell of it filled the air. Human and vampire alike but still, behind that, close to the caves but not close enough to belong to either the dead or the injured men nearby, was the lingering scent of magic touched blood.
The first wave of energy lashed out, invisible but powerful, striking the combined shields just as Shandria focused on the lead group of men. Three of them, dressed in the simple garb of the local people, full beards, dark eyes, tanned skin and flashing blades of bronze. Arrows flew ahead of them, hitting the ground at Shandria’s feet. She hissed, shields flashing with fresh energy as both women focused on the wall of protection. Sweat beaded across her brow as she merged her magic, fully, with that of Agriana’s.
“Don’t let them break the walls.” The older woman ordered.
“Don’t intend to.” Shandria winced as the next wave of arrows sliced through the air, only four of them but still enough to make her flinch and take a step back. How many more of them were out there? It didn't help that she couldn't identify the full force of the threat lined up against them.
“Don’t move!” Agriana yanked her forward. “We need to stay in position. It’s the only chance we have to keep the walls up.” Her grip tightened until Shandria winced. “There’s magic out there, they’re using it to….”
“I know.” She’d warned the other woman about that, but there was no point in mentioning that small detail. “We’ll hold. He’ll be here soon, all we have to do is hold the wall until then.”
Cold, uncaring laughter spilled from Agriana’s lips. “You’re holding out for a man, the help of a male who has brought you down to his level? A man who has kept you locked within his power? Isn't it time you shed the shackles he's placed on you?”
She inhaled, forcing herself to remain calm, even as she reached out, searching for her husband, the one person who knew her magic, her abilities, better than anyone else save herself. “No, I’m waiting for the man I know will fight by my side and do everything in his power to make sure we all get out of this in one piece.”
"You're a fool."
"Maybe, but I'd rather be a fool with something to believe in, than one without hope."
Hope. It was the only thing she had left right now…
To Be Continued