Daughter's is a Shadow Sprawl historical setting story, continuing on from First Sons.
Artwork by Samuel Pray created using Daz3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge
Diplomacy. It wasn’t what Shandria had had in mind when she’d committed herself to Alexandrious, but it had become a day to day part of her life as one of the mated pair that led their family. Now, as she closed her eyes, gathering her thoughts as she listened to the bustle of life around her, soft female voices, low pitched male voices, conversation and companionship, she began to understand exactly what she had committed herself to. Odd, as long as she didn’t follow the words or open her eyes, she could almost imagine that she was with her own family, relaxing at the end of a busy day.
“Lady?” A soft male voice broke through her thoughts.
Shandria took a slow breath, pasted a warm smile into place and opened her eyes. A young male stood a dozen steps away from her, hands folded neatly in front of him, head bowed, eyes lowered. A simple tunic covered his body, the cloth of good weave, a light cream color with a design stitched around the hem, which sat just below his knees, in deep blue.
“The First Lady, Agriana, is ready to see you if you still desire it,” he bowed over his folded hands, his gaze firmly fixed on the ornately woven rug that covered the floor.
“I do, thank you.” Shandria kept her tone polite, neutral, knowing that anything more might trigger questions.
The male vampire lifted his head, but not his gaze, and smiled. He turned, leading the way across the large, well light chamber and she paused for a moment, watching how he moved. His gait was soft, head high, shoulders back, but his stance lacked the normal confidence she associated with male vampires. Submissive, every inch of the way the young male was submissive. Stripped of weapons, position and power the man didn’t give the impression of a man in fear of his life, but the submission was impossible to ignore.
Shandria bit back a sigh and followed, letting her gaze drift in a lazy fashion as they walked. The pattern was repeated over and over again. Males kneeling, females sitting. Males serving, quiet and respectful, females being served. No sign of abuse and at first glance the males appeared happy enough with how they lived, but what lay beneath the surface was another matter entirely.
Did they face punishments if they displeased?
The idea sickened her but she kept it from her face, schooling her features into a mask of calm. She wasn’t here to judge, even if she knew this was not how she could choose to live. Not something she would ever enforce on those around her. Yet this was the life this part of their family had chosen to lead.
Daughters of Lilith.
Even the name they’d given themselves set her teeth aching. They were all sons and daughters of Lilith, just as they were of Caine. Had her brothers and sisters forgotten the basics of where they came from? Did they want to turn their backs on half of their history? Half of their blood line?
“This way, please,” the male smiled, lifting his gaze for a moment. Bright blue eyes sparkled, the smile touching his soul as he reached out and pulled back a heavy rug that had been set up as a partition.
Candlelight flickered from beyond the rug, the scent of jasmine and drying herbs mingled in the air but nothing moved. At least not at first glance. Moving beyond the rug changed that. Soft cloth hung along the walls, gauzy, shimmering material that soften the sharp edges of the cave. Voices, low, gentle yet filled with power, filtered past a wall of soft, barely there material that tempted her fingers and her mind alike. Figures moved beyond the whisper of cloth; women dressed in long robes who moved with a grace that drew the gaze.
Of course, there would be power lingering in the background. If the rumors were to be believed, the women of this branch of the bloodline had turned their focus toward the use of magic. Shandria kept a smile on her face, her expression a mask of calm, or so she hoped as she moved toward the final piece of cloth that separated her from the woman she had come to see.
One of the figures moved, turning toward the veil. A movement echoed by the other women. As one they looked at her, faces hidden by the shimmering veil until the tallest of their number walked to the edge of the cloth and pulled it aside, slipping out into the main body of the chamber.
“Lady Agriana?” Shandria inclined her head.
“Yes, and you would be Lady Shandria. One of the mated pair that runs the first of us.” Dark eyes, long dark hair with touches of gold streaked through it, a pale face with full, sensual lips. “I won’t mention his name, for your mate has no place in these discussions. Though I wonder… where you left him,” a small smile twitched her lips only to fade away a heartbeat later.
“He is attending other duties at this time. I thought it unwise to bring him with me, out of respect for your beliefs.”
“A lie, but a pleasant one.” Agriana gave a one shoulder shrug. “We’re used to such things here. The small untruths and half truths we tell ourselves and others, and are in turn told in order to smooth the edges off otherwise dangerous conversations.” The woman gestured to large, overstuffed cushions that waited for them to the left hand side of the chamber. “Shall we?”
“Yes, of course.” Smiles, always smiles, but she knew all to well that a smile didn’t turn someone into a friend. Lies, masks, hints of half truths. This was all a part of the diplomacy game. “I’m grateful that you found the time to speak with me.”
The other woman snorted. “You do not need to belittle yourself with me. We’re both strong women, leaders and we have learned to mask our strengths in order to keep from offending the men in our lives.” Agriana turned and settled down onto the largest cushion.
Shandria paused, letting her gaze move over the other woman. They were close in age, at least on first glance. If the split had occurred centuries before hand, she would never have known that Agriana was, in fact, a hundred years her senior. With that age came an expectation of respect, deference, but this was different. They were both leaders, looked to by the others in their families, and yet the digs were there. Shandria settled into place on one of the cushions, folding her hands into her lap, taking that time to form her words before she spoke. “I do not belittle myself.”
“Is that so?” The other woman arched an eyebrow. “Odd that you would think so when the first thing you appear to do is bow to me, as you would to a man. Instead of meeting my gaze as an equal.”
Anger flared, a moment of fire that she swallowed back down, burying it within. “An inclination of head is no bow, but a mark of respect, of acknowledgment from one leader to another.”
Agriana shook her head, a soft, mocking laugh spilling from her full, sensual lips. “Ah, they’ve taught you well, and yet I sense the power within you. The ability to use the magic that, even now, we teach our daughters. The same magic those sworn to Caine have turned their back upon and even now claim is anathema to our kind.”
Magic? Yes, it was there. A soft touch of power that had always been a part of her. “It is something I tap from time to time.”
“Yet if you were away from the one who has claimed you as mate, would you not be stronger? Able to focus on those things that are important to our people.”
Shandria rested one hand against the slight swell beneath her robes. “My answer to you would be that I am focusing on the most important factor right now. The continuation and protection of our people and it for that reason that I come to you now.”
Agriana gestured to one of the males who knelt by the curtain. “Water and some food.”
“Yes, lady.” The male’s voice was pitched low and soft, deference carried by those two words.
“You claim your visit is for the good of us all, is that it?”
“Yes,” how was she supposed to make this woman see sense? The dangers that continued to grow with each passing day were undeniable, but why hadn’t the daughters of Lilith already become aware of the problem? “The First Sons…”
“Are men, human men at that. They are no threat to us and they focus their attentions on the sons of Caine.” Agriana shrugged, her gaze cold, jaw set.
Blind, she is blind to the danger the First Sons present us. “Do you really think that they will never turn their attention to you if they succeed in destroying those sworn to Caine?”
“We have little to fear from the First Sons.”
How can I get her to see what is going on?
“The men behind the First Sons are weak. They attack those sworn to Caine alone and…”
“Untrue. Men from our family have also been taken. With them, some of their wives and daughters,” though the numbers had been small at best. “When they attack Caine’s chosen they will then turn to your family, your household. Your sisters, daughters, mothers, will all be at risk. Perhaps your men will also be taken by death, but they will come after you.” She rubbed the back of her neck, unable to keep a full mask of calm in place.
“Perhaps, but we will fight back.”
“How can you, if you’re already weakened by your fight with Caine’s people?”
“You underestimate us, just as they do.” Agriana gave a one shouldered shrug. “But I will add to the protections, build up walls that will prevent others from entering without permission.”
Why hadn’t that been done before? She kept the question back, hidden behind clenched teeth. Asking the question would only make matters worse as the other woman, and no doubt the other women in the home, had made their choice. There was nothing more she could do. “Then I have done what I needed to, Agriana. I’ve shared my concerns and I can only hope that you are right in all of this.”
Conversation moved to other things after the young male, the same one who had shown her into the chamber, returned with food and drink. Children, dreams, plans, but Shandria took care not to let her concerns about the attacks, the danger offered to them all, slip out. Arguments would do them no good. Perhaps, through gentle persuasion, the challenge could be addressed and overcome.
No, and I’d be a fool to cling to that hope. All I can do is take care of my own people, make sure there are blood sources for us all, and keep at least one branch of the line alive. Neither Caine nor Lilith would want to see their children destroyed and certainly not through petty jealousy issues over the place of men and women in the hierarchy of a family.
Her head ached, tension throbbed through her temples and she fought back against a headache that threatened to take control. She inhaled slowly, in through her nose, out through her mouth in an attempt to control the growing pressure. No matter what happened she had to keep her children safe. Losing her temper would not help her there.
“I believe, if today is anything to go by, we will part as friends.” Agriana smiled, true warmth touching her eyes for the first time since Shandria walked into the chamber. “We are, after all, both powerful women who know we will do anything we must in order to protect our families.”
“That is my hope as well.” Perhaps there was a chance after all. If they worked together as friends they would be able to prevent their people from dying out. Relief eased the knots of tension from her back. If her mate was able to bring back news of friendship from the followers of Caine, then their people would remain strong. Yet even as she clung to that hope a small flicker of doubt clawed gnawed away at the back of her mind. Nothing would ever remain that simple. Their beliefs would clash, not just now but for many years to come.
A soft noise was the only warning as a male entered, tray in hand and an acrid scent clinging to his skin.
She tensed, rising a heartbeat later, one hand moving to the dagger beneath her outer robe, a cry of warning on her lips.
The larger body rushed past her, lashing out with a short sword pulled from beneath his own robes. Beyond the curtains cries of pain and terror rang out. Blood, fear, anger, each one carried a new scent that rose to mingle with the others.
She didn’t think, didn’t curse. She acted.
The blade found a target, biting into the stomach of the man, a human male, not one marked or changed by the blessing of Lilith. He stumbled, dropping, the tray and its contents scattered before she turned to look for an answer. Her fangs lengthened, anger and hunger merged as she yanked the dagger free from the man’s gut, leaving him groaning, curled on his side, blood pooling on the floor.
She blinked, staring for a moment at the blood as it spread out, staining the rugs, cushions and the edge of her robe. The man twitched, pain filled sounds filling the air in the moment before Agriana leaned down and sliced his throat. Only then did both women turn their attention to the veil that separated them from larger chamber.
Cries, pain and chaos filtered through the stone and cloth. Where there was one, there would be others.
How? They got past the guards, the trackers.
It didn’t matter how, all that mattered were the lives she carried within her…
To Be Continued