Bloodfire (Blood Destiny 1) - Helen Harper
I ran steadily along the length of the beach, just on the edge of the salt foam and odd straggle of seaweed. A few seagulls were keening overhead and the sky was a cloudless azure blue with the light gaze of the morning sun scattered across the ground. My feet pounded into the soft sand, making light indentations that would soon be swept away by the unstoppable force of the sea. It was just the elements and me. Feeling the exhilaration of the moment, I sped up to a sprint until I felt as if I was flying. My heartbeat thudded at a fast yet steady beat and I sucked in the salty air, filling my lungs before exhaling loudly.
I finally slowed and answered. What?
I’m going to check on the eastern perimeter. There have been rumours circling in the village about some strange noises. Will you come with me?
I hesitated, considering whether to put John off or not. It had been quiet lately and the few incidents we’d investigated had turned out to be nothing more than harmless local wildlife. I debated internally for a short moment; I could always stay out here and finish my run instead. Then I gave myself a brief rueful smile - who was I kidding?
I grumbled unconvincingly back at John’s vaguely irritated nudge.
Way Directive 22, Mack.
Totalitarian dictatorship more like, I snorted mentally back at him. I’m on my way.
The alpha’s word is law. There was more than hint of self-deprecation apparent in his Voice before he broke off the mental link.
Thinking to myself that John was lucky that I was always a stickler for the rules – well, some of them at least - I moved away from the shore and headed into the forest, jogging through the trees. Dry pine needles crunched satisfyingly under my feet. I leapt over a few moss covered rocks and headed towards the east. Although the keep’s grounds were officially around just ten acres, we considered all of Cornwall our playing ground, at least up until the border with Devon where another pack took over. The eastern perimeter he had referred to wasn’t that far away, however, just the far side of Bodmin moor. A few years ago we’d been in a bit of trouble around the moor because some bright spark with a digital camera had snapped Alexander in his animal form. He was just a kid so fortunately hadn’t matured to full size yet – and the photo was blurry enough to cause doubt and dissension amongst those who saw it - but the gutter press had had a field day waving it around and extravagantly spreading tales about the ‘Beast’.
They’d had a similar problem since the Eighties in neighbouring Exmoor. Apparently, when the Marines were initially sent in to track it down, the commanding officer, who was unable to ever catch what he thought was just a dumb animal, had commented on that beast’s ‘almost human intelligence’. Hah! Still, with Alexander, we’d been lucky that there had been a particularly thorny problem in London at the time involving some water-wights terrorising pleasure boats on the Thames, or the Brethren, the shapeshifters’ equivalent to the Royal Family and the government all rolled into one, would have come storming down. Instead they sent down some mages who waved sticks around for a few days, warning everyone that if the very public rumours continued then Cornish heads would roll. Or so I heard. John had me hide in the basement the entire time. Fortunately it didn’t last too long, however. I suspected that Cornwall was considered too parochial for the Brethren to bother themselves about, even with such a shocking breach of protocol. Although word was that when they went to Exmoor after the first beast sightings there, they had ripped the offending shifter apart, scattering his body parts across the whole of the United Kingdom as a warning.
I jogged along a small brook until it curved upstream towards the hills, then hopped over it and headed towards where I knew John would be. I finally found him crouched in a clearing, not far from the edges of the moor.
“You sound like an elephant running through those trees,” he complained.
I put my hands on my hips and raised an eyebrow. “Is that the thanks I’m getting for interrupting my run to come and investigate the over-energetic dalliances of some bunny rabbits?”
“That was one time.” He straightened up. His salt and pepper beard and bald head, along