Werecreatures


In the early days, Bear was the greatest mother of all the wild spirits. Always the strong, steadfast guardian, She was fierce and implacable before any foe; and if She was stern with Her children, it was the sternness of a concerned, protective mother, always conscious of the well-being of those children, past, present, and future. She did not share Her love and Her gifts openly, but always they were there for those who asked Her in the appointed ways.

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The sight of the orchard almost made Jami weep. The branches were heavy with fruit, and even in the moonlight he thought he could see a ripe red gleam. It was more food in one place than he’d seen in days – far more than he’d been able to gather in his mad flight across the grasslands. He was just a city boy, a silversmith’s apprentice. He’d never needed to gather food from farther than the market until now; he knew just enough about it to know he’d been very lucky indeed to not have eaten something dreadful while he was scrounging.

And now he came face to face with this bounty – on the other side of a fence, the sort of thing he’d been well-taught never to cross without permission.

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Markus came to with a throbbing headache and an instant sense that something was wrong.

The last he’d known, he’d been hiking along a quite ordinary forest path. Or so it had seemed. The fact that he was now struggling to regain consciousness that he couldn’t even remember being about to lose in the first place rather suggested that something out of the ordinary had happened.

He was lying on bare wood – smooth, seamless wood, not sawn planks; his questing fingers found no edges, no nails, though there wasn’t light enough to see by, just a tiny square of it off to one side that did more to emphasize the darkness than to alleviate it. He still had on his trousers and tunic, but his cloak, boots, pack, and his belt knife were all absent.

Some kind of prison, obviously. But whose? And what in the world had he done to land himself here?

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It was a lonely stretch of road, and Tamarra never expected to encounter anyone there. Usually that was fine; she wasn’t the sort who needed company at all times, and she was never too far from a city, so it wasn’t a great burden when she did have such a craving.

At any rate, she was caught off guard when Saldarin came to a halt, the worg lifting his head and looking to the left, upwind. By the set of his ears – and the very fact that he’d stopped at all instead of just sniffing and listening as he trotted along – it was either a person, or an animal that didn’t belong around here – which would probably mean people again.

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The autumn winds were rushing in from the north, and bringing with them a heavy tumble of clouds. Rain was coming, a heavy, chill rain that would sweep this scrubland without mercy.

It was as Brennan was considering his all-too-scanty options for cover that he felt a familiar prickle between his shoulders.

That was the only way he knew the change was coming. It had no rhythm that he’d been able to glean; it could strike at any time of day or night, hungry or fed, alert or drowsy. Sometimes weeks or even a full turn of the moon would go by without one; other times one would come less than a day after the prior had waned. But when his skin started to itch and feel ill-fitting upon him, he knew the change would come, welcome or not, within the day; in a matter of hours it would be too uncomfortable to conceal entirely.

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The sound of rushing water filled the air – a constant, thunderous rumble that nearly drowned out even the raucous calls of the birds that flitted from tree to tree. Alik moved with care, each of the jaguar’s forepaws testing the ground before he shifted forward to put weight on it; he could see the gap in the trees, off to his right, where the gorge was, but there was always the chance of slipping on loose earth or wet brush, and so close to that gap, such a slip wouldn’t give him much time to recover.

Still, the scent of his quarry was clear. He’d followed it past pungent flowers and sweet fruit, past fallen logs heavy with the scents of mushrooms and decay, past more unpleasant things, and he’d never lost that scent for more than a few strides. He moved with care, yes, but he also moved with as much haste as that care allowed, each step swiftly following on the one before.

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