Blood Politics - Helen Harper

Chapter One

Dark mist snaked around my ankles, then curled upwards into the still night air. From somewhere to my left there was a rumbling bellow that sent rippling chills down my spine. Both my hands, slick with damp sweat, clutched onto silver throwing daggers while painful burning heat coursed through my veins.

There was a rustling to my right. I flicked a glance over to the shadowy copse of looming trees, and shifted my weight imperceptibly, ready to meet head on whatever was about to appear. The bellow sounded again, closer this time, but the danger in the small forest was more pressing. The cracking and heaving of falling boughs and branches indicated the imminent arrival of the beast, and a faint green glow sparked up from my hands in anticipation. I side-stepped, trying to gain a better vantage point.

The pain in my shoulder had increased from a dull ache to sharp sear, making it difficult to continue to grip the daggers. I tightened my fingers, and waited, trying to ignore it. The crashing sounds got louder and I could now see the giant oaks leaning and falling as my foe cleared a path for itself. A tinge of cloudy red seeped across my vision and I blinked several times in quick succession, attempting to clear it, then, when that didn’t help, shook my head in short, sharp staccato movements. It didn’t work.

I cursed inwardly and hunched down slightly, hoping that by making myself smaller, I’d have more of a chance to surprise the creature and gain the advantage. No such luck though. Just before it reached the edge of the tree line, it stopped, the more vertiginous tips of the oaks swaying unnaturally. There was a snort from within the tall dark shapes and my eyes lifted upwards, noting the height of the cloud of exhaled breath. Fuck. This thing was big.

The pair of us stood there in silence for one quiet moment, each facing the other through the veil of night and shadowy trees. A brief thought skittered through my mind, but I pushed it away before it could fully form. Whatever this thing was it was dangerous and I couldn’t allow myself to be distracted now.

Then it moved, with more silent grace than I would really have thought possible for a beast of its apparent size, and from the edge of the canopy a shape began to appear. Through the haze of red as yet marring my vision, I still couldn’t work out what manner of nastie it truly was, even when one large clawed foot lifted itself out from under the cover of the trees and planted itself onto the dark earth in front of me. Its deadly talons gleamed.

A shot of uncontrollable pain lanced through my shoulder and I cried out involuntarily, dropping the dagger from my left hand. Goddamnit. There was no time to scoop the weapon back up, however, as a second scaly foot joined the first. I looked upwards, slowly, my eyes tracking the rest of the thing’s body as it emerged. It was fucking huge – to the point where I had to crane my neck upwards to get a proper look at it. A drop of something landed on my face. Disgusted, thinking it was slimy drool, I reached my now dagger-less hand up to wipe it away. Except it wasn’t saliva – it was blood. I looked up again and realised that something was hanging from the creature’s mouth. Twisting my head, I tried vainly to work out what it was. The beast, as if trying to please me, helpfully leaned down, allowing me to begin to make out what the blood-sodden shape actually was.

There was a clump of dark material dangling lifelessly from within its jaws, like a bunched up ballgown. Who on earth would be wearing that much in the middle of summer? I squinted further, catching sight of pale skin at the edge, cocking my head to get a better view. Whoever the unfortunate victim was, they were most definitely dead, as even though I couldn’t make out their face, their neck was skewed at a horrifyingly

unnatural angle.

I jumped slightly as there was another earth-shattering roar from behind. The creature in front shifted its weight, fixing one giant yellow dragon-like eye on me. I leaned forward and prodded the lifeless thing in its mouth, feeling the clammy skin of the dead. My movements disturbed it, however, and it flopped forward towards me. It was a man - his