Welcome to installment #5 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.
Mujur awakened with a sudden surge of energy. His entire body stiffened, and his eyes popped open to a foreign world of beige instead of familiar green vegetation.
He jolted upright, and the ground beneath him shifted. Adrenaline pumped through his system, while the jerky motion threatened to bring up the contents of his stomach.
The bouncing slowed, and he became aware of the vice-like grip he held on the poles to either side of him. The ground was not ground, but rather a bed of sort with pliable material suspending him above blue flooring.
“Good to see you up.” On the other side of the hut, Bryan, his clansman, lay on an identical raised bed. “We were worried about you.”
We? Mujur dismissed Bryan’s concern. He knew his standing in the clan… in this life. The only one who worries about me is me. He took a deep breath, willing his heart to slow as he took in his surroundings.
A tent. Artificial light in a far corner near Bryan’s feet illuminated the area and cast shadows off the human gadgets littering the place.
Mujur rotated and rubbed his left shoulder. It was often sore after being immobile for an extended period—a constant reminder of the shift which had dislocated the joint but allowed him to escape death six years earlier. Only now, the skin itched in addition to the achy muscles. He swung his legs to the floor. “How did I get here?”
“We brought you here,” Bryan said.
That “we” again.
“You don’t remember anything?” Bryan asked. “You were in an underground cavern, surrounded by demons. I don’t know what they planned, but it looked like a sacrificial ritual.”
Images of scrawny creatures—small insignificant things with large bulbous heads—flashed through Mujur’s head. Jenglots. He could have dispatched them all, but they’d taken him off guard. By the time he’d come to, they’d already had him splayed across the stone. Across the cold stone…
He squeezed his eyes as the caning overlapped the more recent memories. “How did you find me?”
Bryan sat, crossing his legs. “I didn’t. Eric and Berani did.”
Mujur cringed internally. He could think of few things worse than being indebted to a human turned wehr-tiger. Losing his soul to demons was one of them. He tapped down his irritation and counted himself fortunate Eric had come to his aid.
“Do you remember what happened?” Bryan asked.
“Some. I found the cavern, but they”—he met Bryan’s eyes briefly—“the demons must have been prepared for me. I entered the chamber, and a jenglot fell from the ceiling. Everything’s a blank from there… except…”
“Long gnarled fingers tipped with dingy talons…” Mujur ran his hand across the old scars riddling his chest—a brand of shame into the next life—but the numerous tiny cuts the demons had inflicted were gone.
“Opah healed you, and the demons are dead. All of them are dead…” Bryan studied him.
“…except for the penanggalan which escaped.”
The information washed over Mujur like a suffocating mud slide. His life meant nothing. If he’d died in the cave with the demons, no one would miss him, but Berani, the clan’s matriarch… she was important. His failure meant the penanggalan would hunt her, other wehr-tigresses, and wehr-cubs. Mujur narrowed his gaze at Bryan. “I’ll track it. I promised Berani. I will fulfill my duty to her.”
Bryan raised a ginger brow. “Opah may have healed you, but your body still needs to recover. Worry about the penanggalan later; for now just get better. You can stay here until then.”
Mujur surveyed the cluttered mess surrounding him, took in the canvas ceiling which trapped him and concealed the freedom just beyond. “Here?”
“The research camp. You’ll be safe. I have to leave tomorrow, but Eric will check on—”
Mujur rose. “I want nothing from him.” He blinked as colorful dots obscured his vision. Dizziness swept over him like a wave, and he took a step as he lost his balance. Only Bryan’s hand on his shoulder kept him from careening to the side.
His clans mate scoffed. “Such arrogance.”
Bryan’s face came into focus as the floating bubbles faded.
Mujur took in the red hair, hazel eyes, and bulky clothing—a wehr-tiger living amongst humans. “Such duplicity.”
Bryan’s eyes twitched, and his mouth drew into a sneer. “Fine.” He released his hold.
Without the steadying hand, Mujur wobbled before finding his equilibrium.
Bryan drew back a portion of the tent, revealing the night. “I certainly wouldn’t want you to stay in a place where you felt uncomfortable.”
Mujur locked eyes with his clansmen. “As long as you stand on the cusp of two worlds, you will never belong to either.”
“You know nothing about me.” Despite the strength of the words, Bryan’s eyes flickered with uncertainty.
A bout of sympathy hit Mujur hard. He knew all too well the loneliness of being an outcast. Suddenly, challenging Bryan became too much of a struggle, and he broke eye contact. With his head sitting on his neck like a heavy stone, Mujur staggered outside.
The tent fabric fluttered as it settled into place, resealing the dwelling and taking the light with it. Not that it mattered. Mujur’s wehr-tiger vision adjusted to accommodate.
Amongst the tents, contraptions and stray material were strewn about in disorder, discarded and uncared for. Tree stumps jutted around the camp while abandoned piles of broken logs lay scattered throughout. Bryan’s territory—a wasteland of destruction.
If the fraudulent wehr-tiger wanted to sacrifice his life to unworthy humans, so be it. Mujur wanted nothing to do with it. He took a deep breath, and humid night air filled his lungs and refreshed him, despite the storm brewing in his mind. He headed north to his own land, a wilderness untainted by humans.