For disclaimers see chapter 1
“Instructor Nash!” it echoed down the corridor, chasing the tall figure who paid it no heed. “Instructor Nash, wait up!” The gangly young man shambled along, rapidly eating up space until he fell into step with the redhead.
“Nigel, what now?” It wasn’t that she didn’t like the teen, in fact he was as cute as any puppy she had ever seen but he was just so earnest. Blayne knew she had never been that young.
“Well I was just wondering…well, we all were…” tapering off under the unwavering gaze, the boy blushed and started to fidget.
“You got nominated, huh?” Inevitably the students asked questions about her unique choices.
“Yeah…” chagrined he looked at his toes as they scuffed at the floor. Raising his eyes, he saw that she was waiting for the question. “Erm… so, we wanted to know… um… why do you stay partial?” It was a delicate question and he knew it. It was almost as bad as asking a woman her age.
“A good question, Nigel, but not one I wish to talk about in a corridor. Follow me.” Turning, with every expectation that he would be behind her, she made her way into the grounds.
Walking a little behind the older woman, Nigel watched her loping gait. There was a grace, fluidity to the movements which belied the fact that, in this form, she could crush a man’s skull in one hand. Finding he was being left behind as she moved towards her office door he hurried to join her, only succeeding in tripping over his own, clownishly large, feet and staggering to a stop in front of her. Blayne watched with an amused smirk on her feline face as the boy once again showed that his body was growing faster than his brain could control. Running an eye over him to make sure he was going to remain standing, she produced a cardkey and slid it into the cradle beside her door. Sounding out a small beep, the red light on the reader turned green and the pneumatic door slid open, revealing her pristine office.
One of the most ironic elements of the Pack was its love of new technology. The human’s, and Family alike, thought of the Pack as primitives; animals who walked upright but were still base in every way. Nothing could be further from the truth, the Alpha’s of the Pack loved to push the boundaries of modern innovation. The Academy, like The Institute, was full of computerised elements, pneumatic doors, eco-efficient heat and lighting, lots of clean design. Instructor Nash’s office reflected all of this from the compact computer on her desk to the ergonomically designed chairs and desk. Her large, red bulk seemed out of place in the crisp interior of the room as she moved towards the table that dominated the centre of the room.
Seating herself in the oversized chair behind her desk she motioned that the young man should follow suit. Folding himself into the guest seat, he faced the adult over an immaculately tidy desk; notebook computer standing open to one side with a series of nature scenes scrolling across its surface. Brown eyes looked expectantly at the woman who promised a revelation. As he watched her face rippled and dissolved into that of a normal human being; a human who was astoundingly beautiful. Students who saw her in this less unusual state would always be bowled over by her, though it was really no surprise that she would be so lovely as, even in her altered state, she was strikingly majestic.
Smiling at the teen, Blayne began to tell the story that more than one initiate had asked before. Ruefully she realised that her life was becoming something of an urban legend. The story started, as many did, with an average day.
“When I was eighteen, I was accepted into a good college and preparing to strike out on my own. I’d moved into my own studio and was enjoying classes in science and math,” leaning forward she produced a bottle of water from her desk and passed it to her companion before retrieving one for herself and taking a healthy swallow. “About a month after classes started, I was walking back to my apartment late at night following a party with some friends. I guess I was young and naïve, I thought that being able to turn into a foot tall beast would keep me safe from your run of the mill rapist or mugger. What I hadn’t bargained for was the van full of men that screeched to a halt in front of me and shot me with enough tranquilisers to stop a rhino before dragging me into that van and speeding away.”
Nigel’s eyes almost bugged out of his head at this revelation. He, and his classmates, had thought that the teacher was just a little eccentric; wearing her animal form as some sort of political statement. It had never crossed their minds that it was the result of anything more sinister and it certainly sounded like that was the case.
“I woke up in a cell, barely longer and wider than I am tall. It was barely lit and there were no windows. It was impossible to keep any real track of time and I seldom had contact with my captors, at the start.” Something in the way she said the last part sent a shiver down his spine. “I found out later that it was 21 days before a child was thrown in there with me. I spent six months with that little girl and from that very first moment I knew who she was…what she was.” Pausing she took a long pull from the bottle.
“What do you mean? What she was? A human or one of us? You can’t mean she was…no, surely she wasn’t…”
“Family? Yes she was. Eleven years old, lost, scared and with only me as company. She had no idea what I was; I don’t even think she really knew what she was. She was powerless and I protected her, tried to take her mind off our situation by teaching her math and English. We were friends in those four walls.” Penetrating green eyes watched for the young man’s reaction.
“How, I mean, how could you help one of them?” He seemed barely able to get the words out.
“How could I not, young Nigel? She was nothing but an innocent child, a victim, just like me, with no idea why she was there. We may be many things but we are not murderers and we never, ever, in our entire history, have resorted to the killing of children. That is something we leave to the Family and hate them for.” Her steady gaze was beginning to make the boy shift in his seat. “Would you have had me stoop to their level?” A brief shake of his head showed that she had got her message across.
“One day, after another day of waiting the door to the cell burst open and there was my father and his battalion ready to save us.” The smile that lit up her face at the memory was one saved only for thoughts of her lone parent. “That night was when this happened,” she vaguely waved at her shoulder and hip. “On our way through the main room I was protecting my little charge and saw a window that I knew she would be able to get through. I lead her to it, bit in front of it there was one of the people who had captured up. He had a machete and went for her. I charged him and told the kid to dive out of the window. As she jumped the guy’s machete lodged in my shoulder just before I changed. He almost hacked my arm off at the shoulder. I tried to change and it was slow going and I wouldn’t stop bleeding. I fought, but I was too weak to stay in shape and changed back. One of the commandos, who was fighting a Wolf, took advantage of this and shop me in the leg with a semi. I took seven bullets and my thigh and hip were shredded. Dad saw and scooped me up and ran.” Rubbing her thigh at the memory and the pain that was ever present, she saw the boy was now totally speechless. “We killed all of the captors, they wouldn’t surrender.”
“Who…” the word barely escaped. “Who were they?” It was a hushed whisper, as though he thought he was now in a sacred space.
“They were human. Regular, everyday people. We suspect, though we could never prove, that it was a plan by the Family. They were going to frame us by making it look as though I had killed the child…I don’t think they could quite figure out how to kill me without it looking staged.”
“They would kill one of their own?” That seemed to have shocked him out of his stupor.
“They aren’t like us, Nigel, they are pure drive. If killing one of their own, a child and a member of a very powerful sect, would get them a legitimate reason to go to war with us, so be it. We are a blemish on their perfect history and they wish to obliterate us.”
“Why don’t we hit them?” Hunching forward in his seat he was genuinely unsure of the answer.
“Because, Nigel, we are tired of dying.” It was a truth seldom spoken by the Pack but their present was built upon the corpses of their past and they were far to melancholy to want to smell that blood again.
“Why aren’t they?”
“Losers always want to win. We had our moment in the sun, now they want theirs.”
“I didn’t think we won.” She could clearly hear the confusion.
“We’re still here aren’t we? That is the war the Family were fighting and until we are gone they have failed.” She rubbed at eyes that were suddenly very tired. “So, back to the question you can here to have answered. I was maimed in my human form and will never walk again without pain so I stay in my partial form so that I can be free.” The boy was floundering, suffering a clear case of information overload. “I think you should go now, Nigel, and think about how much of what I have just told you should be shared with your friends.”
Nigel stood and looked lost for a moment before shuffling to the door in a daze. The whoosh of the doors opening and closing were soon all that was left of the boy and Blayne sagged in her seat, emotionally spent. Reaching into her desk draw she withdrew a small white bottle and popped two pills into her hand before throwing them into her mouth and chasing them down with water to numb the nagging pain…which nagging pain she was killing she wasn’t entirely sure of.
Pomp and circumstance filled the air of the council chambers. The ancient building almost throbbed with history and none of the assembled men and women were likely to forget that. Sitting around the huge wooden table, in chairs hewn a century before, they were prepared for a long evening of deliberation and planning. Scattered around the group were seven Elders, one to represent each sanctuary, they stood out among their attractive Family counterparts and made for yet another link to their venerable history. The other twelve representatives came from the most powerful sects in the Family. The first born sons and daughters of the current ruling houses who controlled the workings of the Family from the background; manipulating what their people did.
“We have already waited far to long to strike again!” Thumping a fist against the hard wood the large, bearded man, punctuated his angry words.
“Oh, really? I had forgotten that our last attempt went so well!” The Elder to his right sneered in his direction.
“I still maintain that killing the girl and framing that red-furred bitch would have quite nicely allowed us to declare war.” Muscular arms folded across his barrel chest as he looked around his colleagues with a supercilious stare.
“We are well aware of you opinion on that Phillip. I gladly gave up the last born child of my line to that plan. I would gladly have seen the child die so that we could obliterate the parasite that is the Pack. If you care to remember, it was decided that the impact on Corrine of the girl’s death would have been catastrophic.” Clifford Blyth, the patriarch of the line, levelled a steady gaze at the man lounging in front of him.
“I still maintain that you should not have allowed your sister to marry a chimp in the first place. The girl is nothing but a stain herself…Vermin!” He was unprepared to find himself pinned to his chair by the awesome power that sprang from Clifford’s mind and began to crush his chest.
“Enough!” The feminine voice barked our, causing the telekinetic hold to loosen and finally withdraw as the two men, and the rest of the assembly, turned to face the now standing woman.
“The girl has shown to be far more powerful than we could have imagined, I have spoken with Elder Ezekiel at the sanctuary where she was trained. It is true to say that she was a late bloomer but once her powers activated she grew into them incredibly rapidly. She now rivals her own mother, our most powerful weapon, though she has not been told this. It would have been a huge tactical error to kill the child twelve years ago and I think that the outcome actually helped us.” Here she paused, allowed the others to mull over her words.
“How so, Camille?” This came from one of the Elders, a female this time.
“Well, Elder Ruth, it allowed us to get under the animals’ skins, no pun intended. We know that the one we captured to frame became obsessed with Harmony, watched her almost incessantly until she was sent to sanctuary and I know many of you wondered why we allowed this. I have been playing a long game, my friends and she is going to help us start a purge.”
“All right, you have us all intrigued, so tell us this master plan of yours.” Clifford was growing impatient.
“Blayne Nash, the animal that we originally planned to use to kill young Harmony, is going to once again be our instrument. I suggest that we get Harmony’s battalion to capture Nash’s training group under the guise of capturing enemy forces. We see if Harmony can kill someone who once protected her. If she can, we can go ahead, safe in the knowledge that we have a powerful weapon. If she can not then we exterminate both of them. Either way, we have a reason for our people to start a war; the accruing of Pack forces and their increased training.”
“I like it, our people have no idea that the pack just wilderness train their children. We turn what essentially boils down to boy scouts, into lethal killing squads and we sit back and watch our people readily band to fight.” Phillip began to clap, and the other joined in earnest. “Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?”
Shouldering the rifle the slight brunette took aim and fired a cluster of shots straight into the centre of the target. Lowering the weapon to the countertop she pulled the goggles off and slipped the ear protectors to rest around her neck. Pushing the button in the stall beside her she heard the motors purr to life and bring the flapping sheet of paper towards her. Unclipping the target she examined her handy work before crumbling it into a ball and tossing it into the nearby trash can.
Hefting the weapon she carefully unloaded the remaining shells, depositing them back into their case before picking that up in her free hand. Strolling out of the range she entered the outer room where she dropped the unused shells into the receptacle and re-racked her gun. Next to be stowed away were her goggles and ear-protectors which she placed in her locker before locking it and leaving the room.
Making her way out of the building she headed back to her battalions barracks. As she drew closer she could see her soldiers drilling in the courtyard of their quarters. They had perfect form and had gelled quickly once put together. After finishing her time with the Elders at the sanctuary, Harmony had moved on to the military division where she had proved to be a very competent and inspiring leader. Now, at only 23, she was one of the youngest captain’s of any battalion the Family had. She was no fool, she could see that they were readying for war and relished it. Ever since her studies she had despised the Pack, seeing them for the petulance that they were.
There was something in the air, a frisson of danger and anticipation. Something was going to happen and it was almost as though she could taste it in the air. Walking up to one of her sergeants she placed a hand on his shoulder as he finished barking out a series of orders.
“Sergeant, how are the troops?”
“Doing extremely well today, Captain.” His pride in the men and women he helped lead was obvious.
“That’s what I like to hear. I am sure we will be ready for anything. Carry on!” Moving on past him she walked into the barracks and into her office. At times she wished that she could spend more time with her soldiers but they seemed to love her well enough. When the day came that they took to the field of battle they would fight as one.
Flicking on her lights she went to the filing cabinet to the right and began to rummage through for some files. Absently she ran her tongue up and down one of her impressive canines. It was a nervous gesture that she had started to do when she was concentrating. Ever since her heritage had fully kicked in she had been fascinated by the fangs that were so much a trademark of her people. The ability to grow and retract them at will had amused her for many long minutes when nobody else was around. What was not as much fun was when her mind wandered too far and she found herself slicing open her own tongue on one of the razor sharp tips.
The sudden ringing of the phone on her desk almost made her do just that. Snatching up the file she had been looking for and shouldering the drawer shut she grabbed the receiver out of its cradle, all with an economy of motion.
“This is Blyth.”
“Captain, could you come to my office? We have orders here for your battalion.” The voice of the colonel boomed through the phone.
“On my way, sir.” The line on the other end of the phone went dead and she placed the phone back down. Throwing the file onto her desk to peruse later, she took a look down at her uniform.
Black was the military colour of the Family and she wore it very well. Her pants were tucked firmly into her boots and her shirt was ticked into the heavy belt around her waist. Picking up the uniform jacket that she had discarded before going to the firing range, she pulled it on and buttoned it. Finally she picked up her hat and sat in on her short, dark hair. Running a hand over her shoulder to displace some lint she strode purposefully out of the door.
“It’s good to see you back again kids. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been four years since I last got a change to spend time with you!” Blayne’s voice was full of enthusiasm. It was true that since she had worked with these youths she had worked with others, but these boys and girls would always be special to her. They were the first step on the road to the new life she had built out of the ashes of the old.
All eight of the children had returned, now ranging in age from twelve to fifteen. This time they would really be learning to survive in the wilderness and in battle. The Pack hoped that its children would not have to use those skills but it was better to be safe than sorry. Unlike their human counterparts, the children all looked to be in their mid to late teens, soon they would stop ageing and maintain a youthful appearance for many years.
“You still looked good chief!” Cormac’s voice bellowed through the clearing, resurrecting his name for their mentor.
“Not so bad yourself!” And it was true; the once round boy was now tall and muscular, though still on the blocky side. “In fact you all look like you’re turning into fine specimens…I am sure that you have perspective mates beating down the door!” A series of blushes was enough to tell her that her estimation was spot on.
Beckoning to the young man standing in the shadows at the edge of the meeting area she waited for him to join her. Nigel shambled over to the large group, trying not to look as nervous as he felt. He had been so proud when the instructor had asked him to join her at the institute. All of her classes at the Academy knew that she spent sixth months back with the youngsters at the institute, though she had never asked anybody to join her there before. Finally reaching his teachers side he tried to look grown up and powerful as his eyes travelled over the age younger teens.
“Guys, this is Nigel. He is in my classes at the Academy and I thought that you would like to meet him.” She turned her attention to Nigel, “Go around and meet everybody young Nigel, I am sure they will even tell you a few tales about me. I am going to go make sure our truck is packed.”
Walking away from the group that now clamoured around the older boy, she smiled knowingly to herself. Nigel was no warrior; quite why he was at the Academy was something that still baffled her. He was a quiet, caring young man who she doubted would ever gain total control of his human body. Seeing him now, surrounded by children, smiling and talking animatedly she could picture him taking many groups through the Institute and being their fondest memory of it. At nineteen he was a boy waiting to be taken by the hand and led into manhood, he just needed a little push to make the choices that were right for him and not his parents.
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