Disclaimers see part 1
Music pounded, leaching out around the rubber rims of the ear-buds hidden behind a curtain of dark hair. Head bobbing rhythmically to the throbbing bass, hips swaying sensuously, Harmony ran the duster over her desk before sashaying to the window. Smiling at her feint reflection in the glass, a hum even began to work its way past her lips, accompanying her dance. Blue eyes flicked down and took in the two photos sitting neatly in frames on the white lip. Picking up the one on the right, she cleaned it briskly.
Her younger self beamed out at her, arms thrown carelessly around Chloe. The blond girl’s grin was huge, her face angled towards the camera as blond ringlets mingled with her friends inky locks. It was a picture of teenage frivolity, no angst allowed. She’d last seen her childhood friend three months ago while the pair were on a break from their various commitments. At 19 Chloe had completed her induction into the Family and had now moved on to a prestigious college. Harmony could have joined her; with her high GPA and familial connections she would have had her pick of schools however she had decided to stay at the sanctuary. Her friend had been disappointed that they would not share college life but happy that Harmony had finally found a place where she seemed to belong.
Running a finger over the youthful face, the young woman replaced it in her hand with a larger picture of her parents. It had taken a while for her to stop resenting her parent’s interference in her life; what seemed like a small thing, the confiscation of a toy, had really challenged her respect for her mother and father. Now, a year later, she realised how foolish she had been. By taking away her childhood crutch they had forced her to become an adult and deal with problems head on rather than sharing it with, what amounted to, an imaginary friend. They were proud that she had blossomed under the tutelage of the Elders, belatedly turning back into the child they thought they had lost so long ago. Pressing a kiss to the glass, before rubbing the cloth over it and setting it back down she threw the duster into the corner.
Flopping down onto her bed and resting her back against the headboard she continued to let the music wash through her as her mind drifted. Since her stay with her mother’s people, she had yet to receive any letters from her old benefactor. Blayne had been conspicuously absent from her life; birthdays and holidays had past and nothing. Perhaps the older woman had finally forgotten her? She hoped it was as simple as that, rather than the alternative; that the woman who had saved her life had lost her own. Though Harmony had no real idea about the other woman’s life, she had always sensed that there was a danger about her and she feared it may have caught up with her.
From the beginning her parents had seemed fearful of her sporadic correspondence. As a child she had never really understood why, and if she were honest, she still didn’t. She never asked her parents and they never volunteered the reason why. A part of her was sure that if she knew it would alter how she felt about the woman she still considered her hero, so she would continue to let it go.
Mind drifting towards tomorrow and the arrival of this year’s teenagers, she failed to hear the knocking. Head bobbing to the beat, she thought she heard something. Plucking out a speaker from her ear she listened but, hearing nothing, she popped it back into her ear just as the fist connected with the wood for a second time. The figure on the outside was growing impatient; he knew the girl was in her room, she had told him she was cleaning this afternoon. Seconds ticking by, and still no Harmony, he decided to take the plunge and turned the handle. Finding the door unlocked he pushed it open and walked through until he was standing inside the room.
The brunette remained blissfully unaware of his presence, foot bouncing in time with her head as he heard the pounding leaking out of her ears. Feeling mischievous, he had noticed that he had felt that way more and more since spending time with the girl, he walked slowly to her desk and picked up an eraser. Wondering why she had yet to see him, he turned and saw that blue eyes were tightly shuttered as she seemed to fall deeper and deeper into the music, oblivious to all around her. Hefting the eraser in his hand he aimed and launched the white projectile at her, hitting her squarely between those closed eyes.
Harmony shot off the bed like a bomb had exploded beneath her. Simultaneously she tore the buds from her ears while flying off the bed, eyes snapping towards the intruder. Unfortunately the cord from her mp4 managed to get caught on her heel and she toppled rather spectacularly off the bed to land in a heap on the floor on the opposite side of the bed to the Elder. Mathias could no longer contain his mirth as he watched her try to right herself without damaging her favourite gadget, and chuckled deeply.
Coiling the cable that had helped her make a fool of herself the youth listened to the sound of her mentor’s laughter. She remembered the first time she had heard him laugh, a full seven months after they first met. At first she had found the creaking, wheezing sound of his laughter disconcerting, creepy even. Gradually she had become used to it and now treasured the moments when the reserved old man would let his guard down. Their bond had grown stronger day by day until she thought of the teacher as more of a grandfatherly figure in her life.
“Laugh it up, old man!” She was going for indignant but it came out as a touch petulant.
“Oh, I will Harmony, don’t you worry.” Grin going wider, he added, “Just what was that awful thumping you were listening to?”
Spluttering at his total lack of pop-culture knowledge she was about to launch on a tirade when she noticed the twinkle in his luminous silver eyes. Sticking out her tongue she firmly blew a raspberry before giggling. “What do you want you annoying old codger?” It was really wrong to think of Mathias as an ‘old’ man. Yes, compared to a normal person his hundred plus years of life made him seem that way, however when compared with his brother Elders he was no more than middle aged and just a little precious about it. She enjoyed teasing him.
“I’ll give you old!” His voice breezed through the room.
“What do those phrases even mean? How can you give me old, it’s a concept?” Play winding down the pale man moved to sit on her desk chair and indicated that she should sit on the bed.
“You aren’t getting me into that futile discussion again young lady. Now, as much as I love visiting your little corner I did come here with a purpose in mind.” Locking eyes with the girl he saw that she had sobered and was now looking at him attentively. “I want you to take the seminars on The Feud with the new intake.” Expectantly he waited for her reaction.
“You want me to run a seminar?” Shock wreathed the beautiful face. “Wow…I mean, of course I would be honoured to run a seminar. Why this one?” She thought she probably knew but wanted confirmation from her mentor.
“Your knowledge of the history of our people’s conflict is impressive for one so young. Your interest in the subject and enthusiasm for it are contagious and we are hoping that it will infect these new youngsters.” Picking up on his use of the word ‘we’ she realised that, somewhere in the last twelve months she had gained the respect of all the teachers at this particular sanctuary. It made her feel very warm inside as pride in how far she had come washed through her.
“I don’t know what to say… Thank you for giving me the chance to share what I have learned!” Leaping off the bed she rushed to him and gave him a quick hug before pulling away and beaming down at the still seated man.
“Yes, well…” Mathias was still not entirely used to these physical displays, the Elders usually kept themselves above such things but the girl was so effusive he just couldn’t rebuke her for it. It did leave him flustered though. “We usually allow those planning to stay here or planning on going into the Family business to host sessions. It will help build your confidence as a public speaker and a leader; you are a natural leader Harmony and I think you know that, we want to help nurture you. It’s also good for the others to meet you. Hybrids are a rare thing and you are extremely powerful, I think they need to appreciate that the human element can add some spice into our stuffy old mix.” It was true that people like Harmony were rare, often the human and Family DNA not mixing well but when it did it could either lead to hugely powerful individuals or normal human beings.
“So my girl, you will have to plan your sessions and select materials. There will be six seminars in your sequence. It will start next week.” Rising to leave he gestured to the desk, “Come on girl, chop-chop!” The smile was back in his voice as he bade her goodbye and left the still stunned girl sitting on her bed, shaking her head in disbelief.
Donna sat dejectedly on a stump just outside the grounds of the compound. She could hear the sounds of everybody else having a party and playing and it just made her feel more sad and lonely. Their stay at the compound was drawing to an end, for now. They would all return, hopefully to work with the same mentors, in four years when they would be inducted as adults in the Pack. The sound of the collected voices of every group who had been training, not just her own group of eight, brought lots of emotions to the surface for the child and she wasn’t sure how to deal with them.
Fat tears began to roll down her cheeks as she sniffled. Before she could wipe at her running nose with her sleeve a slender hand reached out and cupped her jaw, raising her face so that the other hand could raise a tissue to her nose. The little girl took the paper from the hand and blew her nose gustily before furiously blushing at the noise she made. Seeing that the youngster was drying her eyes, though her chin still trembled a little, the adult took a seat beside her on the stump.
“What’s the matter Donna?” Like silk the voice flowed around the girl and instantly she felt a little better. “You shouldn’t be sitting out here, all on your own, crying. You should be enjoying your last night with the other boys and girls.” Red eyebrow raised, Blayne waited for her companion to talk to her.
Over the course of the last six months Blayne had watched her little charges change and grow with the speed that only children could. Each personality had evolved from that first day. Each one had become more confident in their bodies. Each one, that is, except Donna. As the days and then months rolled by the chunky little girl had grown more and more self conscious, or so it seemed. She no longer called out, or even volunteered to answer questions and attempt tasks. Blayne had noticed the change but had been unable to coax her ward to share with her; she just hoped the girl would talk to her before whatever was wrong could eat away at here as she went home.
“Nothing,” was the reply through a sniffle.
“Come on Donna, talk to me. You’ll be going home tomorrow and I don’t want you feeling glum when we send you home to your mum,” she hoped that trying to be funny would at least stop the trembling lips and maybe get her a smile.
“You won’t understand!” There was accusation in that reedy, tear filled voice.
“What won’t I understand Donna, tell me. You never know, even if I don’t understand I might be able to help.” That was all it took for the girl to start crying again and fall into the arms of this faux parental figure who had watched over them for months.
Feeling the soft, comforting fur as it brushed her cheek, the little girl found herself smiling and thinking that their beautiful instructor was more like a teddy bear than a Tiger. Rubbing her damp cheek against the shoulder it was cushioned on, and feeling the fur tickle her, she even let out a small, watery, giggle. Feeling the girl’s breathing begin to slow and her body stop shacking, Blayne eased her away so that she could look into the red face.
“You feeling a little better now, honey?” Producing another tissue she buffed both cheeks as the small head bobbed up and down. “So, now why don’t you talk to me?”
“Ok.” She still sounded sullen but at least she had relented. “I’m fat and… and ugly…and… I turn into a Dog!” It was said with complete conviction, utter revulsion and eyes turning glassy from building tears.
Blayne was stunned by the youngster’s words which hit her like a blow. How the hell did you miss this you great idiot! Her self esteem must be down the toilet; berating herself at her own blindness she leapt to reassure her. “Donna, honey, you’re cute as a button (and no I am not just saying that!). You are still just a baby, as you grow you’ll change a hundred times before you’re a grownup. Sometimes you’ll love yourself and sometimes you’ll hate your body. It’s all a part of growing up. You need to know that you are lovely, sweet and special because you are unique,” raising the child’s head from where it had bowed in a slight blush she quickly shifted back to her human shape and gave her a winning smile that made the girls face turn even redder. “You are Donna and nobody else is like you! As for being a Dog, don’t let anybody tell you that isn’t a good shape to have. I gotta tell you, it ain’t so great being a Tiger. Between you and me, I’m not so keen on the stripes!” Looking round conspiratorially, she heard that giggle again.
“Well I like your stripes!” Bless her, thought Blayne, she’s trying to reassure me!
“And I like your spots when you turn so I guess we both must be adorable and special…So how about we go and join all of the other and have some punch and pie?” Vigorous nodding and a watery smile answered her words as she took a plump hand in hers and they walked to join the celebration.
“…so, as you can clearly see there is a direct correlation between the upsurge in European deaths and the beginning of our genetic shift from nocturnal to walking in the daylight.” Harmony pointed to the graph that had appeared on the interactive whiteboard as she finished her second seminar.
Looking out over the room she took note of the rapidly scribbling pencils as initiates took down the last notes from the board. When she took her first class a week ago she had been more nervous than she could ever remember being. Her palms had been slick with sweat, while the rest of her shook like a leaf. As soon as the session had started, the blank looks and trepidation that were written all over the teenagers’ faces had given her a boost of confidence and she had never looked back.
Waiting until every pen was down and notes finished a small hand pointed the remote at the projector and turned off the presentation. Eyes darting to the clock mounted on the back wall she noticed that she still had fifteen minutes and so, having completed her session, she made the decision to field some questions.
“Well guys, I’m done so I think it would be a good idea if you ask me a few questions. Try to keep them focused on this course rather than general things about living here. You’ll have plenty of time to get more of the gossip from me and the others who are here from previous years when sessions are out.” Heads nodded at her words so she was pretty sure the message had gotten through. “Right then, what do you want to know?”
Instantly several hands shot up, Harmony was pleased that the eighteen and nineteen year olds in her group were so amenable. She had feared that they would try their luck as she was only their age and mixed race and there had been a little jostling last week. It seemed to have settled today, long may it continue. Focusing on a bulky boy at the back of the room she nodded to him, “Yes, Gerry?”
“If the Plague was a catalyst for us gaining new physical capabilities and looks what did it do for them?” His voice was surprisingly high for a man who looked like he could snap you in two on a bad day.
“Ironically, while we were becoming more and more like our food-source, gaining more powers, the animals were dieing in their hundreds. They were as susceptible to the buboes and their vile corruption as the human’s. In fact, some have conjectured that they were more easily affected by it than the Homo sapiens.” Many mouths opened in shock at this revelation.
“So, we were totally immune?” Another boy, Daniel this time, followed his peer’s question.
“Completely! The animals may be more impervious to injury than we are but we are essentially immune to all diseases and viruses. Not to mention we are much more long lived.” Smiling she turned to a golden haired girl in a blood red sweater. “Cindy, do you have a question?”
“Yeah, I know the feud has been going for years and I know that the first part of this focuses on us and then it will go on to look at the conflict but I want to know where we stand now.” It was a shame that such a lovely looking woman would have such a grating voice.
“That’s a little heavy, and something more appropriate to ask in your modern history sessions, however I will address it. We continue to monitor their activities; they remain a very real threat. In fact their compounds in the Canadian woodlands are being very closely monitored. They appear to be forming a collective much like a militia. As yet they have not made a move on us for almost twenty years. We can not let our guard down as they are a ruthless foe. Like all beasts they are unpredictable.” Disgust was clear in her tone; she had no love for the ancient enemy. Her time with the Elders had clarified why the hairy, slavering things should be shunned and exterminated. One day she would be a division leader and on that day she hoped that she would be responsible for their eradication. “Ask that again when you see Anton in your Mod class, he’ll give you a more thorough response. Looks like it’s about time for you to go to your Elder’s training session, you better be on your way. Have a good afternoon and see you next week!” Waving as they departed the brunette gathered her notes and headed out to her own practice session.
Blayne was surprised to see her father walking down the path to her chalet in the early twilight. Sitting on her small porch on the bench she had placed there, a beer in her hand, she waved the bottle at her approaching parent and got a nod of confirmation. Setting down her brew, a quick dash inside to the fridge produced another cool, green bottle for her dad. Exiting the door and retaking her seat just in time to see her dad mount the few steps that led to her. Moving to his only child he leaned down and kissed her on the forehead before taking the offered beer, popping the top and sitting down beside her.
The pair sat in companionable silence for a while, listening to the soft rustle of leaves in the breeze and nights creatures awakening from their slumber. It was strange how alike they were, as one they lifted their drinks to their lips and drank before placing their empties on the floor. Finally after a long period of silence, he turned to his baby and waited for her to turn in her seat to face him.
“Hey Kid, I hear that your little group of rugrats all did real well. I’m proud of you.” His gruff demeanour often put people off but there was no missing the affection in his low rumble as he addressed his offspring.
“Thank you dad.” Her furred arm lay along the back of the bench, his large hand patted hers and the hair on his arm was almost as dense as hers. He was in his human form. “Why are you really here, old man?” He reached over and tweaked her nose at the insult.
“Hey, not so much of the old! I am in the prime of my life!” Laughter rumbled out into the night. “Do I need an ulterior motive to visit my grown up daughter?”
“Call me cynical, dad, but Gervais Nash doesn’t do anything without an ulterior motive!” Since her mother’s death twelve years ago the pair had become attuned to each other, they were a matched pair. Blayne knew that all of her obsessions and determination came straight from this man.
“Fine, you got me kid. It is nice to see you; I almost forgot what you looked like. You need to visit more!” A mild rebuke came with the words.
“Yeah, well, you need to get a girlfriend to keep you company in that big old house.” It was an old argument.
“I could say the same to you, young lady,” the standard response. “I actually came to give you a proposition. The high ups are rather pleased with how well you took to working with the children. They were wondering if you would like to do a job share. You could still work with the children here for six months of the year and for the other six you would come to the Academy and work with the older pups and cubs. You know that you are one of the best soldiers to come out of there in a while. Hell, you’re my kid, of course you know that!” He had never been more proud than when she chose to enter the academy and train to protect their people when she was only sixteen.
“Seems like I am in demand,” it was meant to be light hearted.
“People have always wanted you in these places, working for the future of our Pack. You were just too busy looking out for one of them, hiding yourself away. You seem a lot happier and freer now, like she is out of your system.” He had always worried about his daughter’s obvious devotion to one of the children of the Family; worried that it would get her killed. Harmony Blyth was the last daughter of one of the oldest and most powerful sections of the Family. It could have never ended well; the Family were far more proactive in keeping their people clean of the Pack taint than his people were of keeping away from them. It still surprised them that the girl’s parents hadn’t had his baby girl put down.
He always felt guilty for allowing his daughter to be put in a position to be kidnapped when she was just a girl. It hadn’t been his doing, unfortunately all fathers feel responsible for their children’s hurts and upsets. He also berated himself for helping to save one of them. He should have killed the little dark haired girl, he just couldn’t do it. She had looked so scared; the hero worship in her eyes as she had looked at his daughter with wide eyes had made his decision for him. That and the fact that, whatever the blood suckers might think, his people were not animals.
“So, what do you say? Want to work with your old man half the time?” The broad grin he got in response was enough to answer his question for him. The delighted squeal and 200lbs of daughter in his lap were just a nice confirmation as she hugged her father tightly.
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