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He just didn't think he could do it anymore. A fight he could handle. Spurting blood, broken bones, hell, even a three-way with the Loren sisters. But this...watching the wolves, foxes and bears play soccer together. It was unnatural.
"Where are the fucking cats when you need them?" Jericho muttered, not surprised no one answered, engrossed in the game.
Not even a year ago, he'd been part of the outcast Red Wolf Clan. Before the Great Forest had been united, clan wars had ripped the shifter alliance apart. Anyone not a silver wolf was forced to leave. Jericho's alpha, Rudra, had rallied the red wolves and accepted anyone into her clan who wanted revenge. Bears, foxes, wolves, it didn't matter. She'd intended to bring them all back to where they belonged. And then the fool woman had gone and mated Fenris--nephew to their enemy's alpha. Prior alpha, he corrected himself, now that Fenris and Rudra ruled the clan.
And Jericho's life had gone straight to hell.
When he'd envisioned peace, he'd never thought about how boring it might be. Getting along offered everyone the easy life in the Great Forest. It meant fresh honey, trees to scratch, and a plenitude of women, from which he might find a mate.
The horror of it all made him sick to his stomach.
"Score!" Someone kicked a goal, and the clan went wild.
Apparently it was too much to ask the half of the clan to grow incensed at the loss and beat the shit out of the winners. Instead, they smiled and laughed as they took the defeat with good-natured cheer.
It was enough to drive Jericho to drink.
He left the cheering idiots behind before they broke into a round of Kumbaya and headed out to replace the guards patrolling the outer edge of the clan's keep. For the most part, things had remained quiet since peace had settled over the Great Forest. Rudra and Fenris ruled together, in harmony. But his alphas weren't counting on the calm lasting forever.
"Gibson, take a break. I've got this."
The brown fox smiled and raced away after rendering a half-hearted salute.
Jericho waited until the fox had left before venturing deeper into the forest. He couldn't say why, but lately he'd been waking unable to remember his dreams, an odd sense of foreboding hanging around his neck like a curse.
No doubt thanks to his inherited visions, his ability to portend the future came into question whenever he had a dream he couldn't shake. If his visions had been clearer, he'd thank the Bear in the Cave for granting them. But the stubborn spirit toyed with his shaman, expecting Jericho to figure out his blasted messages.
Annoyed all over again, he stomped deeper into the shadows and used his night vision to better see through the darkening daylight. The sun poked out from between a few clouds and made short work of the shadows. Better for him all around to make use of this form's stronger sense-eyesight. As a human, he had the same advantages and drawbacks as normal people, except that Jericho stood much taller. At six foot six, he dwarfed most men, and his brawn lent to his ability to shift into a huge-ass grizzly.
A noise ahead alerted him to be cautious, and he slowed his movement to minimise sound. The closer he drew, the more the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. The odd taint of dark magic layered over the air, mixing with the coppery tang of blood he could all but taste.
Alarmed, Jericho pressed forward until he came to a sight he could have done without. For all that he'd wanted some excitement, this hadn't been what he'd had in mind. Before him, a family of cats lay dead, their guts and throats ripped out, their innards pulverised, as if crushed then chewed up and spat out. The scent of wrongness pervaded the place, and he knew no normal shifter had done this.
But who? Those capable of hurting shifters in the enchanted Great Forest were the sorcerers, but they hadn't come near here in centuries. The only sorcerer who had was father to Rudra, the alpha. And Rudra, though part sorceress, was also part wolf.
Jericho's mind raced as he considered his options. vThe athmae might be responsible. Demons who lived with Fenris's brother, they'd visited the Great Forest a time or two. But those dark beings lived peaceably half a world away. The incubi wanted nothing more than to have sex, not kill indiscriminately.
Yet the blood and bodies didn't lie. Something magical had done this. No mere shifter or creature out to mark territory would leave this behind, except as a message.
Scowling, Jericho stripped off his clothes and shifted into his bear. Then he ran like hell back to the clan, needing to warn his alphas before something more dire happened.