Chasing Shadows – Making Amends (11)

Welcome to installment #11 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.

Chapter 5

Scene 1

Kecil picked at the splintered bamboo framing the window as she waited for dusk. If not for prying eyes, she’d be long gone. But those in the village watched her tirelessly, eager to torment her at every opportunity.

She’d use the cover of night to leave in search of her mother’s killer. By the time anyone realized she was gone, she hoped to be well out of tracking range.

A long sliver pulled away from the window frame, and Kecil chastised herself for hastening her hut into further disrepair. She left the window to pace near the entrance. With the opportunity to bring her mother’s killer to justice, every moment added another lifetime to the six years already gone by.

Patience, she reminded herself, but in truth, time living in a clan who despised her had long worn her patience thinner than barkcloth.

At last darkness fell. The soft glow of the moon shined on the village and left a faint blue luminescence. Night sounds filled the air as creatures called to one another, but the calmness of the village—a time when activity should be at its height—reminded Kecil of the unhealthy state of her clan.

“Come, Teman.” Kecil stepped outside, and the binturong, preferring night to day, waddled forth with a happy chuckle.

Kecil surveyed her surrounding for lurking villagers. Finding none, she embraced her tiger form and dropped to all fours as her bones reshaped to support her feline anatomy. Prickliness spread across her skin and fur sprouted, while her muscles thickened and contorted, giving an uncomfortable yet pleasant sensation akin to a satisfying yawn. The entire transformation took only a few seconds, but the vast change filled her with a sense of strength and confidence.

Kecil stifled the urge to release a challenging roar and left the village with Teman close behind. Heading south, she took care to go by way of her father’s territory. Only within the boundaries could she hope to avoid the others in her clan. She wanted no delays to keep her from her destination.

Teman quickly took to the trees. His smaller size and strong flexible tail gave him a climbing advantage, while connecting liana vines allowed him to traverse easily from tree to tree.

Kecil stopped at a nearby watering hole, one of her favorite places to seek prey. Oftentimes, just laying in wait produced an easy meal. Though tonight, a meal was not her intent. All she wanted was a quick drink and a trouble-free passage south.

A screech overhead drew Kecil’s attention. She scanned the foliage until she caught sight of Teman. He stood on a thick branch with his back arched and hackles raised as he snarled at a pangolin in his path. Why he didn’t go around eluded Kecil. Other binturong didn’t seem as aggressive.

Teman’s lack of fear was a constant concern for Kecil. She worried he thought he was a wehr-tiger, big and bold, top of the food chain. But as Gemuk said, Teman’s only protection was staying within the safety of those who cared for him. And Kecil, small in size, couldn’t protect him from everything.

Thank the Great Spirit, the pangolin posed no threat to her friend. Though not much smaller than Teman and covered in razor-sharp scales, the pangolin lacked teeth, making it built more for defense than offense.

Kecil debated leaving her friend to his nonsense, let him catch up when he realized more important matters existed than guarding one insignificant tree limb.

The scaly anteater backed away, and Teman ambled forward, snarling and exposing his little teeth. He swiped a claw, and the pangolin missed a step and fell. It pawed the air, occasionally snagging a branch. Snapping twigs followed its descent until finally it landed before Kecil with a thud.

For a few seconds, the pangolin lay unmoving. Then it twitched once, twice before clambering to its feet and shaking a few stray leaves off its back. Curling its front paws, the scaly anteater balanced its weight on its hind legs to hunch over like a crippled old man. The pangolin took a step forward and lifted its head. One look at Kecil, and it fell on its side and curled into a ball with its tiny nose tucked under its tail.

Kecil chuffed at the pangolin, which looked like an inconspicuous lump of dried mud to an unaware passerbyer, but her amusement was cut short when a flash of orange emerged from a bush. It batted the pangolin and sent the balled creature crashing into a tree.

Kecil cowered and wished she could hide in her own tight ball of armor as the shape gave form to a tiger. The newcomer roared so fierce, the sound vibrated through her body. Its mouth gaped, brandishing long yellow incisors. As small as she was, Kecil had no doubt the big cat would crush her in its jaws if it came to a fight.

She inched backward, and the tiger took a less aggressive posture before rising and transforming into her kinsman, Gemuk. The last of his fur faded, and he cracked his neck from side to side before focusing on her. “Get up.”

Heart still pounding from the shock of being taken off guard, Kecil clung to her feline form.

Gemuk took a step forward. “Now!”

Instinctually, she jerked back, gathered herself to spring.

Gemuk’s eyes narrowed, and his upper lip lifted ever so slightly.

Kecil hesitated. Flee or fight—either choice shrouded her in hopelessness, but if her life was in the claws of Gemuk, she would face him head on rather than flee as a coward.

Shifting as she rose, she tried to control her trembling and calm her stuttering heart. She stood as straight as a bamboo stalk and dared to meet his eyes. “This is my father’s land.”

Gemuk stepped closer, encroaching on her, forcing her to crane her head to meet his eyes. “That washed up cat? He couldn’t defend his territory when needed, what makes you think he can now?”

“He’s doing circuits.” Even to her ears, her response was hollow, too hasty.

Gemuk cocked his head to the side then smiled, the expression cold and hard as he turned eyes the color of dark urine to her. “Seems he’s moved on to more important areas.”

Kecil stepped back, but Gemuk grabbed her forearm and jerked her into him. The smell of sweat and dirt overpowered her as he held her against his clammy chest.

“It’s time you choose a mate.” He bent his head to her. His mouth open and a foul odor like ripened jackfruit escaped from the gaping hole.

Kecil turned her head from the stench baring down on her and cringed as his wet lips slurped against her cheek and his tongue slithered from her jaw to hairline. She pushed at him. “Don’t.”

His grip on her arm only tightened until her hand numbed from lack of circulation. “You may go when I’m finished.”

Kecil bit back a cry as Gemuk angled her arm downward so she had no choice to crouch then kneel at his feet. The cloth of his loincloth bulged in her face and failed to hide his arousal.

“Great Spirit help me,” she whispered. Tears welled and blurred her vision.

Gemuk laughed, and the sound raised the hairs on the back of her neck.

“A runt like you would never be worthy of the Great Spirit’s atten—.”

A catlike screech filled the air, followed by Teman landing on Gemuk’s head. Kecil pulled free as Teman scratched and drew thin lines of blood wherever his talons struck. His tail coiled around Gemuk’s neck, tightening like a python.

Gemuk clawed at his throat. His eyes bulged even as his fangs lengthened and his skin darkened to orange.

“No!” Kecil jumped to her feet and swiped at Gemuk’s face. An audible rip filled the air as her claws met flesh and bone.

Gemuk screamed, and Teman scrambled down head first, leaving tiny puncture wounds as he used Gemuk’s skin for traction. The binturong wasted no time shimmying up the nearest tree and disappearing into the foliage.

Kecil stood paralyzed, unable to pull her eyes away from Gemuk’s rent flesh. From right brow to the opposite chin, blood welled from three deep gashes.

Gemuk’s hand flew to his ragged eye and hovered as if he was afraid to touch his ruined face. “I’ll make you suffer.”

Kecil ran.

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