Wafalon drank himself drunk...again. Three weeks ago, his troop clashed in a battle against savage barbaric raiders. No, it wasn't a battle; it was a massacre. Flashes of the fateful day returned in vivid detail; Wafalon was forced to relive the horrific experience. The sun had yet to rise, but darts of flaming arrows lit up the sky to signal the barbarians assault. Then, they charged; all were on horseback and accurately shot arrows as they stared the horses only with their knees. The long blade of the zhanmadao specifically designed to fight against cavalry found itself useless against a speed-driven enemy that choose to keep their distance.
He remembered the heat of the blazing fire around them, and he cursed the enemies' war-harden horses for not fearing the flames. Quickly, they jumped through the inferno carrying their unarmored masters whom came close enough to accurately shoot but veered away before Wafalon and his brother at arms could reach them. The officers were first to die. As banners of leadership fed the flames of chaos, the black smoke would rise. One-by-one, the footmen in the platoon dropped to lethal arrows.
Wafalon ran. He ran away from his duty. He ran away from the barbarians. He ran away from his honor. He ran away from everything he was trained to uphold. He ran and didn't look back; his life depended on it. Guilt. That was all that was left for his life to live. Guilt. He washed his life away in wine, mead, and beer. Guilt. He once was an honorable soldier.
Djehuti and Jendayi approached the pagoda that glistened golden against the red sky of the setting sun. Djehuti stomach growled to remind him that it was supper time, but Jendayi dauntless determination kept them from detouring to any taverns or restaurants. Despite Jendayi's enthusiasm to share a prayer to the gods, Djehuti only hoped that a meal would be shared by the monks.
Inside the building, before a large chunk of marble carved in the form celestial dragons and tigers locked in an eternal battle, a monk garbed in yellow robes stood upside-down in meditation. Eyes opened as they approached the stone statue. Slowly, his legs came down and braced themselves against the floor to support the monk upright again. “How may I help you?”
“Oh Brother Hushiren,” Jendayi was quick to speak; “the most wonderful miracle has happened. Remember I was here yesterday to give offerings to the gods to rid the crocodiles from the papyrus field? Well, this morning we search the fields, and it was not a crocodile in sight but rather a beautiful monster to protect the papyrus. We must give thanks to the gods for such a wonderful blessing.”
“A beautiful monster you say?” The monk gave a raised eye-brow in concern. “Please, describe this monster, and I don't believe I've had the honor of meeting you?”
His bow towards Djehuti reminded Jendayi of her social responsibilities. “Oh, please excuse me, Brother Hushiren; this is Djehuti he owns and harvest the fields that the monster protects. Djehuti, this is Brother Hushiren, the senior monk of the temple of Long Bodou Lao Hu.”
“Good to meet you.” Djehuti returned a bow to the monk.
Jendayi eagerly retold the tale of earlier that morning. As Brother Hushiren asked her to describe the monster, she was only to eager to go into great detail of the beautiful sight that they could had never dreamed to see. Brother Hushiren stroked his chin in contemplation.
“Well,” Djehuti said, “I suppose we should make any offers we have to the gods, and be off to our homes.”
“We do not know which god would send such a monster to your fields.” Brother Hushiren lit some incense as he spoke. “It might not be a blessing but a curse; it might be best if you stay away for awhile.”
“That is what I told Jendayi,” Djehuti continued, “but the night grows late, and we haven't had any dinner or lunch.”
“Please,” Brother Hushiren insisted, “it is getting dark. Stay and eat with us.”
That was an offer Djehuti was only glad to accept.
The night grew dark as the moon had yet to rise. No human eyes could be able to discern what evil and veil creature hid in the forest's shadows. It was hungry; for too long it had walked in the skin of its prey not to raise suspicion, but now it had an excuse to feed. It would cast blame on another.
It smelled the night air. Recognizable scents painted an accurate picture that sight could never depict: it knew every meal in every household; how many ate at the table; and how healthy they were. It keyed on the unfamiliar scent of a drunken drifter.
Quickly, two sprinting legs turned into four as silk clothing fell off a changing body. It charged into the dimly lit village at a speed beyond any dog or horse. Huge claws bit into human flesh and the remnants of a soldier's armor. Fangs greedily slashed opened human viscous to allow his heavy alcohol laden blood to spray into the night air; it was an intoxicating scent. Deeper and deeper, it clawed and fanged its way into turning its victim into an unrecognizable piece of human pulp.
Then as quickly as it had struck and fed, a tiger's body retreated into a deeply disturbingly still night.
The next morning the village gathered around the mutilated body. Djehuti, Jendayi, and Brother Hushiren also joined the commotion. “What could have caused this?” Jendayi asked.
Brother Hushiren shook his head in despair. “This must be the doing of the monster in Djehuti's papyrus field.”