Blood welled from the deep cuts moments before Berani smelled it. She crinkled her nose as the metallic scent overpowered the earthy fragrance of the forest. She’d struck him too hard. Her body and mind had instinctively gone into a defense mode when he’d tried to grab her. Too late for regrets, he should take it as a warning. A few scratches meant little in a jungle unforgiving to even minor mistakes.

Dropping his pack, the human’s eyes narrowed as he backed away and muttered incoherent nonsense. Blood dripped down the front of his shirt as he unfastened it with shaky hands and shook it over his shoulder. The shirt fell down his arm, and he eased it over his injury. His lips drew into a grimace, as he watched her while working the sleeve off his other arm and wrapping it around his wound.

He walked away, repeating a single foreign word over and over. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” The timber of his voice, deep like the angry rumble of a tiger, swept over her. He knelt on one knee and hunched over his injury like a gibbon hoarding a papaya.

A snicker bubbled from her at his foolish pose.

His mouth formed a thin line as he rose and took a threatening step toward her, releasing a tirade of gibberish.

Berani jumped back and crouched into an offensive stance as a growl reverberated in her throat. She would kill him if she must, but dead humans often brought more trouble than live ones.

“Do not come closer,” she said, not caring if he understood Malay or not.

He stopped short, and his eyes widened. Raising both hands, his shirt dangled as he took a step back. He spoke, but she found no meaning in his unfamiliar dialect, and his cool and steady voice, no doubt meant to calm her, went to waste. She was already calm… deadly calm and more than ready to rip into his throat if his actions turned aggressive.

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