Eventide of the Bear

By: Cherise Sinclair


“You?” Ben straightened. Herne provided cahirs to handle anything requiring warriors. A Cosantir shouldn’t be at risk. Ever. “I can handle a bear, whether a shifter or not, whether feral or not.”

“I do not doubt your abilities. However, a Judgment might be required.”

The power of life and death rested in a Cosantir’s hands. Ben was grateful the power wasn’t his…and that the God had gifted this territory with a guardian both canny and strong.

“Your will, Cosantir.”





Chapter Four







North Cascades Territory – night after full moon

The scent of cooking meat drew Emma back to the human campground. With every step, her broken leg caught on brush and downed logs. Pain stabbed into her over and over, and the agony was getting worse.

The knowledge she wouldn’t survive much longer was actually a relief.

Since her injury half a moon ago, she’d been unable to hunt. Even going to a stream for water was almost impossible. Under brittle, dull fur, her muscles sagged from dehydration and weight loss. She was finding it harder and harder to move. But in bear form, her animal nature wouldn’t quit, no matter the inevitable conclusion.

Regret for a life cut short curled through her like wood smoke from a fire. Once, she’d had dreams—how she’d find loving mates, cherish her cublings, please her clan with songs and stories. Instead, she had caused the deaths of two shifters.

If the Goddess found the rescue of the human children to be an adequate balance, Emma would call herself content…for she had no remaining time left to her.

Under cover of the forest, she surveyed the clearing. Two large men sat at a campfire. A hint of a familiar, wild scent caught her attention. She sniffed, but the elusive smell disappeared under the heavy odors of wood smoke and grilling meat.

Meat.

Despite the driving hunger, caution lent her patience. She was too weak to fight, too weak to run. Yes, patience would gain her all.

Unhurriedly, the two men smothered the fire, cleaned up, and stored their food in a bear-vault. Rather than erecting a tent, they simply stripped and climbed into sleeping bags.

Long and long, she waited. An owl hooted nearby. She caught the scent of a skunk, probably a scavenger like her. A weasel passed by, probably after the tiny shrew in the leaf litter.

The men’s breathing slowed. They were asleep.

Slowly, Emma entered the clearing, holding her injured rear leg up to eliminate any noise. It hurt so badly, she barely felt the stabbing pains from her broken front toes. Step by step, she advanced.

The bear-proof container lay on its side under a tree. She hesitated, fighting the fiery throbbing in her leg and ache in her left forepaw. Where was the coin or key to open the metal-sided canister?

A pile of copper pennies caught her eye. Now she needed fingers. All she had to do was be human.

As she visualized turning in a circle, a door glowed—so very dim—in the rear of her mind. The magic was dying. She was dying. She opened the door and stepped through. Magic ran over her skin in a glorious tingling that, for one wonderful second, wiped out her pain.

A breath later, she stared at her fingers splayed on the sparse grass. Dirt and pine needles ground into her bare knees. Unable not to look, she checked her lower leg and flinched. The oozing, gaping wounds exposed the muscle and the jagged ends of bones in a ghastly, agonizing mess.

As she reached for the food container, her shattered leg grated as if blunt nails were being hammered into the bones. She clenched her teeth as tears flooded her eyes and dripped onto the dead leaves and into the dirt.

“Child.” The low voice came from behind her.

No, no, no. The men were awake.

She jerked around. Her broken leg caught, twisted. Oh, Goddess. As agony overwhelmed her, she lost her grip on her shape and fell through the door to the wild. Her flesh blurred, transformed. Fur. Fangs. Claws.

As the pain ebbed, horror filled her. She’d trawsfurred in front of humans. She spun around.

A man stood in front of her. Olive skin. Dark hair. No weapon. His dark eyes were turning black and—

Bear instincts took over. She rose, trying to balance on one leg, and let out a roar of anger.

Run, human. Please, run.

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