Blood splattered against stone as the whip cracked against flesh. Screams echoed off the walls as the scraping of boots signalled the shift of a stance.
The leather whip hissed as it slid across the wet floor, water and blood mingling on the rought floor.
The smell of oil burning couldn’t mask the odor of stale urine and sour vomit.
“You like pain? I’ll give you more.” The voice whispered with a grunt as the whip cracked through the air.
Screaming, I jolted out of the nightmare panic as I tried to take in my surroundings. I was in my room in the estate, I was safe it was just a nightmare.
“Shhh, it’s okay Lilith.” I looked at the woman who sat on the bed, trying to calm me and pulled my hand out of her grasp.
“Who…” I tried to speak, my voice croaked, and pain sliced through me. I reached up to feel bandages over my neck and the memory of Nyssa came flooding back.
I struggled to pull the tubes from my arm, the steady beep of machinery around me as the woman stood, holding me back.
“You have to take it easy, calm down Lilith you are safe.” I stared at her, panic rising when my voice wouldn’t come.
“Your vocal cords were damaged, but they will heal. You need to rest. Please Lilith, stop struggling.” I shook my head, I needed to find the men, make sure they were safe.
The door opened and Nykos stepped in, concern in his eyes and relief when he saw me. I stopped struggling, breath coming in harsh, short bursts as he made his way to me.
“Lilith.” He spoke my name like a prayer as he sat, pulling me into his chest, cradling me like a baby bird.
“Nykos…” I winced at the harshness of my voice as he pressed a finger to my lips.
“Shhh, don’t speak babygirl, it’s okay.” He kissed my head, stroking my hair as he rocked me back and forth.
“We thought we lost you. It’s been a rocky month waiting for you to wake.” A month? I had been unconscious for a whole month. I sat back in horror, and he smiled as the door opened, the other men rushing into the room.
The relief on their faces as they surrounded me had me smiling and their touch warmed my heart. They were all safe. All okay. I remembered the young man who I had defended and glanced at Nykos.
“The…man…” I rasped and he silenced me with a kiss.
“Drew is safe and here at the estate.” Nykos hesitated, glancing at the men who had a sheepish look.
“Along with another ten from your brother’s old pack. Three women and seven men that had been sent to Nyssa’s pack.” I stared at him in shock. We had eleven new pack members at the estate. He smiled ruefully.
“A lot happened whilst you were asleep.” He stroked my face, the look he gave me was full of concern and a deep longing that hit me to the core.
“Which can wait to be discussed after I have checked on her vitals and she has had some rest.” The woman snapped and the men stared at her with a ferocity and intensity that should have made her back off, but she held her ground.
They all stood, backing away from the bed and she hmphed in approval. Who was this woman? She had a look of mischief and amusement in her eyes as she gathered some items next to the bed.
“I will inform the pack you are awake and organize a meeting to be held…tomorrow?” He glanced at the woman who nodded.
“Tomorrow will be fine for a brief meeting to introduce the pack and go over the details.” She replied and Nykos nodded as they all turned to leave.
Archer lingered at the foot of the bed, fear in his eyes. I remembered the look of sheer terror when he had been running to me, the last thing I saw before I passed out.
Those emotions still rode him, I could see it in the way he held himself, how he watched me like I might vanish into smoke.
I held my hand out to him and he rushed over, pressing a kiss into my palm before holding it to his cheek, eyes closed as he inhaled my scent.
“I thought I had lost you.” He whispered, voice full of pain and worry. I pulled him close, kissing his jaw line as he buried his face into the crook of my neck, taking a deep breath as though my scent was his lifeforce.
He pressed his lips to the base of my neck before he sat back, emotions clouding his eyes. He ran a hand over my hair, watching the strands fall from his fingertips before he looked me in the eye.
“I love you.” He spoke the words with such force, such intensity like it was a confession he had held deep inside and needed to get off his chest.
Tears threatened to spill over as I pressed my hand to my chest, then to his, hoping he knew what I meant. He nodded, kissing the palm of my hand as he stood.
“Rest, my love. I will see you later.” He glanced at the woman as he left, glancing back at me before he shut the door.
“Well. No one could argue that those men don’t care for you.” She said with laughter in her voice. I raised my eyebrows at her, still wondering who she was.
She smiled as she checked something on the machine and the IV fluids, writing on a little clipboard.
“My name is Cassandra. Cassi for short. I am a healer.” She glanced at the table, and I waited, staring at her to give me more. She fussed with some herbs with her back to me.
“I am a member of the Dianic Order, a newly ordained High Priestess who was sent to help you.” She turned around with a steaming mug of something, pushing it into my hands.
“Drink this, it will help to heal your throat.” I sniffed the cup, considering what she had said. A High Priestess of the Dianic Order. I didn’t recall any order under that name.
I knew the goddess Diana was another face of the goddess Artemis and as I studied the young woman, she looked around my age and held herself with dignity and moved in a way that told me she probably knew how to fight.
She smiled, eyes full of knowledge and mischief.
“You most likely haven’t heard of us because we like to keep ourselves under the radar and the Oracles of Delphi have done their best to remove all traces of us from history.” She leant against the wall; arms crossed as she watched me.
“That’s all you need to know about me at this point. There will be more time to discuss the details when you feel better. For now, you need to rest and recover your strength. You are going to need it in the days to come.”