Paranormal Romance/45,182 words

A Pantherian Story

Are they strong enough to be her men?

Cunning. Everyone uses the word to describe Katy. In Quarterz, the virtual reality world where men and women compete as hunter or prey, Katy has never been captured. At least, not until the bear clan arrived in the game. Powerful, smart, and straight out of her fantasies, Katy can't always outmaneuver the tests they create.

When the clan challenges her to take their team on in a real game of hunters and prey, she can’t resist the lure.

Is she strong enough to be their woman?

Grizz, Oso, and Kodie are Pantherian bear shifters, born into a culture where men have learned to share and protect their species’ most limited resource—females. They’ve accepted they will never have a Pantherian female as their shared mate.  But can a human female handle a Pantherian, mating trio. If so, will she still want them when she knows what they are?

Are any of them strong enough to outsmart fate?

When the game puts hearts and lives on the line, taking a loss is the only way to win.

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In the beginning, all of the Mother’s children could move between the mortal plane of the earth’s body and all of the bodiless dimensions above. In the beginning, all beings were therianthropes, both human and beast. In the beginning, all creatures could shift between both forms at will.

In the beginning, all the Mother’s children lived in harmony, feeding not on each other but from the fruits of her garden.

And it wasn’t long, a millennium or two, before the true ones lost their way. Their dual natures fought for dominance.

Some decided the beast body was superior to the human and refused to spend time nurturing a naked, finless, wingless, furless form. Lost in the pursuits of physical excellence, they neglected their creative gifts.

Some decided the human form was superior and preferred spending time creating alphabets, numbers, music, art, stories. Lost in the pursuits of mind, they neglected the power of the beasts within.

Many of the True Children were lost, forgot the way into the shifting dimension. And in subsequent generations the unused side of their nature atrophied and vanished. Soon the earth garden included humans with no beast nature and beasts with no human nature.

Humans and beasts turned to cannibalism, killing and consuming each other for food, killing and consuming Therians as well. Human numbers grew until they outnumbered Therians, until humankind overran habitats, leveled forests, ravaged the earth, driving many species of beasts and Therians into extinction.

At the dawn of the industrial age, a high council convened. Elders from the eight remaining Therian tribes (Canidae, Felidae, Ursidea, Ungulae, Cetacea, Hominidae, Aves, and Reptilia) determined survival required separation from humans. The elders called for an exodus to the Dragon’s Triangle of the Pacific Rim.

The True Children took the name Pantherian as a symbol of a new, unified nation and called their new homeland Pantheria. Shielded from human eyes and human invasion by magnetic forces so disruptive to navigational instruments that humans couldn’t explore with their boats and later with their planes and satellites, the population flourished.

Then came the years of the wasting sickness, a disease that killed three of every four female babies. Just when Pantherians resigned themselves to looming extinction, the first Wildlings were discovered by males who migrated back to human-controlled regions of the world when there were no longer enough mates to go around. Wildling Therians, raised in a human world that had forgotten Therians existed. Wildlings who didn’t know their true nature, but carried unique genetic traits that could reverse the Pantherian slide toward extinction.

That is the history, as recorded by the elders, of all that came before the Wildlings, before the great struggle to determine if the welfare of the few should be sacrificed to ensure the survival of the species.