Chasing Shadows – Making Amends (18)

Welcome to installment #18 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.

Chapter 8

Scene 3

Mujur clenched his fist around the branch and resisted the urge to throw it to the side. Everything about the situation was wrong.

Kecil stood before him, arms wrapped around her middle. Like a scolded cub, her eyes remained downcast, refusing to meet his.

Mujur wanted to shake the spirit back into her. Her small moments of boldness hinted at the fierce wehr-tigress she was meant to be, but just as quickly her spark dissolved into this—a creature as timid as a mouse. His injuries weren’t even her fault, yet here she stood, apologetic and shrinking under his perusal.

He yearned to confront the villagers who’d doused her flame, but only death waited for him if he ever encountered them again. “Kecil. Look at me.”

Her head lifted slowly, followed by her eyes. Her gaze flitted, not quite settling on him.

“Look at me.” His voice held a bit more sharpness than he’d intended.

She focused like a deer ready to bolt, but behind the fear was the cornered animal ready to attack.

“I’m not blaming you… for any of this. But I can use your help. Likewise, you can use mine. I will get you to where you need to go. Do you understand?”

She nodded though uncertainty played in her eyes.

Mujur rankled at his inability to fix her brokenness. What clan would knowingly do this to a wehr-tigress… make her feel so unworthy, refuse to teach her a skill as simple as healing?

Kecil was right to seek another village, considering the injustice hers had done to her. With no one to show her how to tap into her energy, she was no powerful than a male was—stuck with simple herbs to get the task done and hoping for the best.

“Follow.” Mujur brushed past. He couldn’t teach Kecil to use her powers, but he could teach her the little he knew about organic healing.

He headed toward their resting spot, collecting plants for a poultice along the way. Mujur shared his limited expertise about each herb. Kecil asked few questions, but her inquiries often exceeded his knowledge. The more he explained, the more inadequate he felt as a teacher. I’m giving her more than nothing became his constant reminder.

The pile of leaves and branches they’d piled to make a nest big enough for two remained untouched when they arrived. Mujur left Kecil behind and searched for an adequate stone to grind the herbs. He returned with a smooth rock and placed it in front of the kneeling Kecil and handed her a branch stripped of bark. “Pound the betel leaves into a pulp.”

“Why?” she asked.

“It helps stave off infection.”

“How do you know?”

Mujur laughed, tracing a few scars across his chest. “I’ve suffered enough injuries to learn a thing or two.”

Kecil frowned before one corner of her mouth lifted into a shy smile which tugged at the deepest part of his heart. She deserves better. She deserves a life of happiness, full of ready smiles.

Kecil worked on crushing the leaves, and the smoky aroma of betel filled the air. Mujur watched her dainty movements, admired the arch of her back as she pounded. If she were his, he’d ease behind her, kiss her shoulders, trace her navel.

Perhaps her trust toward him would grow during the journey. After he escorted her safely to Berani’s clan, he would offer her protection permanently as his mate… if she was accepting.

Mujur walked away and took the time to inspect his injured shoulder. Dislodging the stone and bringing it back had reopened the tears which again bled freely. Though the wounds of his flayed skin went deep, they weren’t his biggest concerns. They’d heal. It was the ever growing itchy patch that led him to mutilate himself in his sleep which plagued him.

The cat screeched in the distance, adding to his misery.

Chasing Shadows – Making Amends (17)

Welcome to installment #17 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.

Chapter 8

Scene 2

Kecil dragged her feet, but Mujur didn’t rush her again. Just as well, his hold over her was precarious at best.

Yes, she trusted he would keep her safe… try at least. After all, the male was determined to lead her straight into danger with his search for the penanggalan, if he even knew where to find it.

The destruction of a demon so detrimental to her people was of high importance, but wandering aimlessly through the jungle would not likely yield positive results. Whereas, Kecil had an idea of where her mother’s killer resided, and Mujur was her best chance of finding both the southern clan and the killer located within.

Three days, she told herself. Did today count as one? Every day gone by was another opportunity for the killer to move on.

Kecil joined Mujur in two more poorly executed hunts before stopping for the evening. She helped gather leaves for bedding and hoped the night would be warm enough without a layer of tapa blankets.

No stranger to sleeping in the open, she would make do. Wherever Gemuk had slept, she did not. Even her hut had offered no relief from his torment.

Mujur stretched out, leaving ample room for Kecil. Though frustrated to the point of exhaustion, she wasn’t ready to settle down… at least not with a belly cramping with hunger. Kecil adjusted a leaf then rose.

Mujur sat straight, eyes narrowed. “Where are you going?”

She paused only for courtesy. “I have to eat.”

“We’ll hunt tomorrow.”

“Like today?”

A muscle jerked in his jaw. “No.”

“I’ll stay within hearing,” she said, knowing it would give her a wide territory from which to forage. His quick nod was all the answer she needed.

Out of view of her protector, she called for Teman. Her friend descended a tree and pushed against her leg.

“My friend.” Kecil knelt and petted his coarse fur. The tension which had built throughout the day dissipated as she found comfort in the binturong. “Come.”

Fruit was plentiful in the area, and she gathered an assorted armful, passing a few token samples to Teman. She returned to Mujur with her harvest where she found him tossing in a fitful sleep. He had one claw imbedded in a shoulder. Trickles of blood oozed from the puncture wounds.

Kecil stopped at a distance and set her fruit down. “Mujur.”

Jinjang.” Necromancer. His talons dug deeper, and a fresh flow of blood trailed down his arm.

Her stomach curled in on itself. “Mujur!”

He bolted upright, and his claw raked a path across his pectoral. Chest heaving, eyes wide, his face twisted in pain as he viewed the damage.

Kecil rushed to his side. Her fingers trembled as her hands flitted over the wound, afraid to touch, wanting to piece the skin back together.

“Heal.” Face blanched, Mujur managed just one word through clenched teeth. She hesitated, and he grabbed her wrist and thrust it against his chest. He pierced his lips so tightly, blotches of white, red, and yellow formed across the surface.

The stickiness of his blood seeped through Kecil’s fingers, and she pressed down, the only help she could offer.

“Great Spirit. Heal it!” His lips pulled in a sneer so fierce she expected fangs to flash at any moment.

“I… I can’t. I was not taught.” She refused to cast her gaze aside as she admitted to one more shortcoming. No one had found her worthy enough to teach her the basics of being a female wehr-tiger. Healing… the one gift all females were born to do with guidance. She was little more than a human who could shift into an insignificant cat.

Mujur thrust her away and rose. Kecil remained seated, her entire body heating with shame.

He returned moments later with one hand splayed across the deepest cuts at his shoulder and lifted her by the wrist. “Come.”

With no choice other than to let him drag her along the ground, she followed. In truth, she deserved nothing less. He’d offered her his protection. In return she couldn’t even heal the simplest of wounds.

Mujur stopped in front of a palm. “Climb it and cut down a branch. Make sure it has plenty of leaves.”

Her eyes traveled up the betel tree some twenty feet high.

Too lazy to climb the tree himself, Gemuk had forced her many times to gather the nuts he loved to chew but also stained his mouth a blood red. The memory of Gemuk and his demands followed her all the way up and down the trunk.

She slapped the branch against Mujur’s stomach, wincing with him at her carelessness. “I’m sorry.”

Chasing Shadows – Making Amends (16)

Welcome to installment #16 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.

Chapter 8

Scene 1

Mujur grabbed Kecil’s wrist and lengthened his stride. Progress would be even faster if he carried her on his back, but he resisted the urge to do so. As defensive as Kecil was about her physical attributes, he doubted she’d appreciate the gesture. Still, he wouldn’t allow her to delay his mission. He was as eager to return south as she was. But if Kecil was planning to join Nenek’s village, she’d be in for a surprise. A matriarch willing to kick her grandchildren out of a clan, was likely to accept an outsider such as Kecil.

There was always Berani’s little clan. Though Kecil was small, worthless she was not, and despite her fragility, she was adorable in a spicy sort of way.

Mujur would enjoy the honor of protecting her every day… mating her, running his hands across her silky skin, tracing his tongue over her nipples, filling her—

“Wait.” Kecil tugged free. She smoothed a white strand from her forehead, revealing roots darkened with sweat.

Mujur wanted to tangle his hands in her hair, breathe in her scent.

His thoughts were interrupted by the screech of the wild cat.

He searched the trees and tried to keep his frustration from building to an explosive level. As much as he wanted to find the penanggalan and destroy it, the cat was quickly gaining precedence.

“Where are you taking me?”

Mujur snapped his attention back to Kecil.

Arms crossed, hip jutted to the side, it was hard to believe she didn’t have the body to match her bold attitude. “Where are we going?”

Where was he going? Even now an invisible thread pulled him north, pumped him with urgency. Just a little further, an inner voice which was not his beckoned. Kecil would never understand what compelled him to continue northward. By the Great Spirit, he didn’t even understand. He gave Kecil the simplest answer. “To find the penanggalan.”

She frowned. “How do you know where it is?”

“I don’t.”

“Then how do you plan to find it?”

“All the trees in the rainforest couldn’t hide the penanggalan from me.”

Kecil pinned him with an unwavering glare. “You led me astray.”

Mujur flinched at the accusation in her voice. “I did not. You’re not safe alone. Not until the penanggalan is dead.”

“I’m leaving.”

In his mind’s eye Mujur saw Kecil covered in blood, face as pale as her hair. Panic formed a hard knot in the pit of his stomach and rose until it gave his heart a hiccup.

Kecil turned her back on him and headed the way they’d come. As she passed a tree, Teman descended the trunk and fell in line, his lumbered gait barely keeping pace with her.

“I’ve not lied to you,” he called.

“I don’t care.”

He caught up to Kecil and danced a sidestep. “Have I caused you harm?”

Her head jerked to him, eyes wide before she faced forward. “No.”

“Have I let harm come to you.”

“No.” Purpose filled each of her steps.

“You don’t trust me.”

She stopped and for the longest time stared straight ahead before turning to him slowly. Her shoulders sank as she met his eyes. “I do trust you.”

“But you run?”

“Not from you,” her voice lowered to a whisper.

Mujur ran a hand down her arm.“I won’t let the penanggalan get you, but I can’t protect you if I don’t know where you are.”

Kecil dropped her gaze. “I know.”

“Then stay with me.” The pleasure Mujur took from simply touching Kecil’s skin left him unsettled. His focus should be entirely on easing her fears.

“I can’t.”

“You can.” He gripped her forearm, willing truth into his words.

“You keep me from duty.”

Duty. Honor. Integrity. Those concepts Mujur knew all to well. He tilted her chin until he had her eyes in his sight again. “Give me a week… a week only. I’ll take you anywhere after that.”

“I might not have a week.” Kecil’s eyes glistened as if one wrong word would send tears spilling over.

“Three days.” Mujur received only silence. “You said you trusted me.”

Kecil pulled her chin from his grasp and turned her head to the side. “Fine.”

The win left him feeling more like a loser than the victor, but it was a small sacrifice if it meant keeping Kecil safe.

Chasing Shadows – Making Amends (15)

Welcome to installment #15 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. I totally expected to have this book published by now. Alas, here we are with another week of Making Amends. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page. So… where are we with the progress of Chasing Shadows?

Well, I hit the last chapter–which still needs to be edited, by the way–and wasn’t satisfied. I just didn’t like how the relationship transitioned. So, I’ll be going back and writing a few more scenes and modifying parts of the story line so everything fits well.

I still plan for an August release though. Until then… enjoy!

Chapter 7

Scene 2

They headed northeast, the distance to Kecil’s goal increasing with every step. She looked back the way they’d come. Already she’d backtracked half the journey she’d made from her clan. Perhaps it was a sign from the Great Spirit her plan to find her mother’s killer was not to be.

Mujur led with a determined stride, not once glancing her way, never easing his grip. Strong. Firm. Everything she was not.

Her doubts grew. Maybe setting out on the journey was a mistake. She should insist Mujur escort her home. They were so close, it would be more efficient for him to do so.

Mujur paused. He looked to the thick canopy, and his top lip curled into a sneer. “We hunt.”

Without warning, he released her. His skin mottled orange and sprouted fur as his body contorted into the shape of a tiger. Within seconds, he completed his transformation.

His tail flicked impatiently, and her eyes drew to its white tip—a sign of luck and an explanation for his name. Mujur—lucky.

So unlike her. Kecil brought her hand to her neck so her forearm crossed her chest and covered much of her birthmark. Heat rose to her face, and she quickly took on her tiger form to mask her shame. She only wished she could hide the mud color spatter on her neck and chest as easily, which appeared even as a cat.

Small, insignificant, and marked. She refused to meet Mujur’s eyes and see the disgust and pity she knew they’d hold.

Mujur took a leisure pace, his footsteps sure.

Kecil followed, but her focus was not on the hunt, but rather on Teman trailing in the trees.  Normally, her friend’s presence was a boon. His companionship was a constant source of comfort, and he’d been with her long enough to know the hunting rules of silence. As a bonus, prey were more likely to keep to everyday activities after spotting a binturong taking a carefree stroll. All that mattered little when Mujur had already taken the binturong for prey.

Mujur’s ears perked, and he made a sharp change in direction.

Though she heard nothing, Kecil didn’t hesitate to follow. It was difficult not to trust the instincts of one who exuded such confidence.

Mujur came to a tree and paced at the foot. His white-tipped tail flicked, and the air charged with his agitation. The fur on Kecil’s scruff rose in response.

Without warning, Mujur rounded on the tree, dug his claws into the trunk and climbed until he stretched to his full height and roared. Birds vacated the canopy in a flock of feathers and squawks. As bold as ever, Teman answered with his own fearless screech.

Flakes of bark fell as Mujur sharpened his claws. Tail a straight point, ears laid back, his nose crinkled as he snarled.

A dose of adrenaline hit Kecil and sent a tremor down her spine. She hunched low and backed away. Her heart beat in her chest like a bird fighting for release.

Mujur’s head jerked to her, and she froze, willing her body to become as inconspicuous as a log. He pushed off the tree and trotted closer. His eyes bore into her like a claw piercing flesh.

Run, her mind screamed, but her limbs were too rigid to respond.

His fur receded as he shifted and stood. “Let’s go. It may have gotten away this time, but eventually it’ll slip, and I’ll be there.”

Mujur walked away, but it was a long time before Kecil’s muscles unknotted.

Flee. With the distance, she’d have just enough of a head start to make escape possible… unlikely, but possible nonetheless.

A bump against her leg sent Kecil whipping around. She pulled her claws short, within inches of Teman’s face. Her friend nuzzled close and forced himself beneath her chin.

“Are you coming?” Mujur stood at a distance, arms folded. “The sooner I destroy the penanggalan, the sooner I can escort you to safety.”

Safety—a foreign concept to Kecil. All her options presented a set of dangers. She could wait for an opportunity to escape Mujur and journey alone, but if the penanggalan were close, it’d come to her each night, paralyzing her in dreams, sucking her life-force bit by bit. Returning to her village meant facing Gemuk and the consequences he’d impose… punishments he’d mete out in secret. She’d never be able to hide from him indefinitely. And finally… Mujur.

His promise of protection was tempting, but he was a stranger. At least with Gemuk she could predict the upcoming abuse, while Mujur’s brief bout of irrational behavior during the hunt added to her wariness. Still, Mujur had yet to cause her harm, and his rage hadn’t been directed toward her.

Instincts said run, yet at times his presence gave her a sense of safety she hadn’t experienced since her mother’s death. In truth, she didn’t know what to do with the turmoil of confusion swirling within her.

Mujur stepped closer, and the irritation melted from his features. “We’re wasting time.”

Teman brushed his muzzle against her cheek then abandoned her for the trees. His easiness to leave her in the care of the stranger made the choice easier.

Kecil shifted to stand on human feet.

A quick nod from Mujur and he returned to the mission, his steps unfaltering. Kecil shadowed in silence and tried to wrap her mind around the sense of foreboding weighing down on her even as Mujur gave her a strange sense of security.

Once Mujur destroyed the penanggalan, perhaps he’d help eliminate her mother’s killer. The murderer may not steal souls, but he was just as much of a threat to the existence of her people as a penanggalan.