Chapter Five: Cerise

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Cerise crouched in the tree, her eyes taking in the forest floor that spread out below her. It had been thirty hours since she had last eaten, and every fiber in her body screamed to be fed. Normally it was all too easy to find food, but that was when she had been living with Raina and the ax that she had lent her had become a third arm. But both Raina and the ax were gone, and all that was left was Cerise and the wolf.

The wolf begged to be let free, to kill something and be satisfied with fresh meat, but Cerise refused. She knew what happened when she wasn't able to retain control.

At first, it had been fine simply inhabiting her human form. There were fish in the underground river, which could be caught with relative ease. But it had been a week since the fish had gone. Either they had moved on or Cerise had eaten them all, but that no longer mattered.

Then had come the frogs and worms that were hiding in the crevasses of the dark passageways. But those, too, were scarce now. It was time to hunt.

Cerise gripped the wooden spear tightly as she waited, hoping some unfortunate creature would come her way, preferably a hark.

The creatures were small and plump, usually roosting in the eaves of old buildings. They had wings, but they were so short that the most they could do was speed it along on the ground. They also had nasty little teeth, which could leave an infection should you get bitten. But fortunately, they were stupid, and quite delicious when cooked right.

Hark was actually a staple food in most of the homes in Lithrium. They were relatively easy to catch and bred quickly. If hark wasn't eaten by many of the creatures within the forest and the surrounding villages, they'd have overrun everything.

The soft crumble of decaying leaves caused Cerise to tense, and quickly glance in the direction of the sound. Whatever it was it wasn't very large and was coming her way at a leisurely pace. It had not scented her yet.

Her stance shifted slightly, better preparing her for the leap to the ground. She adjusted her grip on the spear softly, trying to make as little noise as possible. Another crackle, this time closer. A smile slowly formed on her face. Perhaps it was a hark after all. She could almost picture the creature now, skinned and roasting over an open fire. The juices dripping into the fire below . . .

A soft hiss sounded directly beneath her, nearly making her lose her grip on the spear. The hark hopped quietly below, rooting its long snout in the loose soil at the base of the tree, no doubt looking for grubs.

Instinct took over, her body morphing as she leapt from the tree. Strong legs hit the ground, her claws digging into the soft dirt. The hark squeaked in surprise, scurrying away. The wolf's maw dripped saliva as she easily chased after the creature. Muscles tense, she jumped, bringing her jaws around the hark's neck, snapping it cleanly.

Dropping it, the wolf let out a happy bark,the taste of blood driving her crazy. But it didn't eat the hark. The wolf let out a whine as its eyes took on a warmer brown.

Had she really shifted that quickly? Cerise sat on her haunches, too shocked by being herself in the wolf's body to eat.

Rising, she marveled at her strong legs and thick fur. Throwing back her head, she howled, the sound euphoric. She had never felt so powerful. The sharp scent of blood brought her thoughts back to her hunger.

She didn't want to just eat it. It would taste so much better if she cooked it, but that would require her shifting back. Up until now, shifting on command wasn't something she was good at. But, she had also never been there in her wolf form.

She focused on her body, feeling the new muscles, the fur, the claws. She pictured her human form, the smooth skin, the feet, and her curly hair. She willed her body to morph, to simply switch.

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