The warm morning sun began its ascent over the lush forest. It creeped up high enough to peak over the edge of the crow's nest into Shanku's eyes and wake her up. She sat up and stretched her arms high above her head, then forward much like how she used to watch Jakko stretch, before giving herself a good shake and flew down to the deck. She landed on the deck railing and looked around at the deserted ship.
Where is everybody? she wondered. Aren't they worried about thieves? Yeah, sure, the hull is empty and you have to go by quarters to get to it, but I should think these water barrels and riggin' kinda important too!
She went down into the pantry and then to the quarters where the crew slept. The sleeping quarters was a room full of poles with hammocks stretched between them. Lockers lined the walls for the crew to keep their belongings in. Templeton had told her it is very comfortable to sleep in the hammock and be rocked to sleep by the ship, but Shanku's wings made it awkard for her to rest in a hammock. Like others of her kind, sleeping on her back was uncomfortable and prone to cutting circulation to her wings. No, no hammocks for her.
Dawson's not back yet? Shanku looked sadly at his empty bed. She began to walk around the room to the other beds, most of which had their intended occupant.
"Mr. Whitten?" Shanku asked tentatively.
"Shove off," was the gruff reply.
"Mr. O'Hare?" Shanku asked at the next bed.
"G'way, pup," came the groggy reply from under the blanket.
"Mr. Marley?" Shanku peaked into another bed. All she got in return was a loud snore.
"Cook?" Shanku peaked around at one more bed.
"Oy, pup. What's wrong?" Templeton responded sleepily.
"Nobody's up and they're grumpy and smell sour," Shanku said flatly.
"Ne'ermind them. They just drank too much last night," Templeton said.
"Seriously?" Shanku asked with an ear laid back in irritation.
"Aye," Templeton said and rolled over. "They'll be fine. Go to sleep."
"But it's already midmorning!" Shanku yelped. "There's cookin' and cleanin' to do! Cap'n'll have a duck fit if it's not done!"
This is not what I had in mind fer th' pup to try ta please the cap'n, Templeton thought tiredly. He sat up with his back to her. "Tell ya what. Go find out who won't do their chores and do it for them."
"Eh?" Shanku asked with her hands on her hips. "Do their work?"
"Just charge 'em for it," Templeton said as he stretched. "Sleep for them, cash for you. I'm off to start lunch."
Shanku giggled as he climbed the steps up to the pantry. She looked around the room slyly. She'd never had any money before.
"Mr. Whi—tten," she called in a sing-song voice.
"What now!?" he barked and glared at her with bloodshot eyes.
"Deck needs swabbed," she said.
"Bah!" Whitten snarled and buried up deeper in his blanket.
"Y'know what cap'n does to slackers..." she trailed off. He looked grumpily over his shoulder to see Shanku grinning like a fox. Grumbling and growling, he fumbled around at his belt a moment before handing two small coins to Shanku.
"'Ere. Do it for me," he snapped and went back to sleep.
"Alright!" Shanku said giddily. Two whole pence all her own! She skipped upstairs and got the mop and bucket. She set about to washing down the deck. Barely a quarter through the ship she began to doubt her decision.
I did not think this through, she grumbled and looked at the long stretch of wood before her. Is this worth two pence? What would I spend it on anyway?
"Top o' the mornin' to ya!" Dawson said cheerfully and saluted his little friend. It was nearly noon before he had come back.
"And the rest o' th' day to yourself!" Shanku called back perkily. Then she realized who was back. "Heeey, where've you been Dawson!?"
"Spending a lovely evening with Miss Scarlet," Dawson nodded and sat down on the frame around the grated opening into the hull. "What are you doing?"
"Dousin' the deck," Shanku said boredly as she poured out a fresh puddle of water to spread around. "How much conversation could you two have had to catch up on last night anyway?"
"More than you'd think," Dawson said innocently. "Why are you up here doing the deck?"
"Everybody got tanked last night!" Shanku complained and made drinking gesture with her hand.
"Want a hand?" Dawson asked.
"Please?" Shanku gave him the most pitiful, sad-eyed, sad-eared, droopy-winged look she possibly could.
"Alright, alright! Put those away," Dawson shook his head and stood up. "I'll go see what else needs to be done."
I can't believe that actually worked! Shanku laughed.
Dawson came back with another mop and bucket and helped Shanku finished. They went down into the galley to have a quick lunch with a very groggy crew. Dawson and Shanku picked up a few more chores off their hungover crewmates and set about minding the ship. Templeton invited them to keep him company as he started on a supper and Shanku and Dawson joined him.
"Don't you ever get tired of potatoes?" Dawson asked tiredly as they worked on a basket of the tubers.
"Nope!" Templeton laughed.
When they were finished, Dawson went back on deck while Shanku helped Templeton prepare the other ingredients he wished for his stew.
"How much longer will we be in Mruha?" Shanku asked as she held a platter full of different things meant for the stew.
"'Til Cap'n fills the hull back up," he said simply as he stirred the great pot in the galley. The cooking pot was on an iron frame above a box of sand where they made their fires. Templeton was only allowed to cook in calm weather, so the crew relished a warm meal, even if they were in port.
The rest of the crew had finally woken up and spent a day grumpily tending their pounding heads. They sat down to eat at the table in the galley.
Marley and Shanku reached for the same crust of bread at supper and got into a growling match over who would get to have it.
"Stuff it you two!" snapped Patton and shook his spoon at them. Marley and Shanku sullenly settled down, but still tugged the bread between them. Patton took it from them, ripped it in half, and gave a piece to each. "Not one more word out of either of you."
Marley and Shanku grinned at one another. The meal continued without incident. Dawson and Shanku washed the dirty bowls and spoons afterward for Templeton as he took the first night watch.
"I'm tired," Dawson said to Shanku.
"Me too," came her weary reply.
"I'm going to take a quick break," Dawson said and stretched out on the floor after he finished the last bowl.
"Sounds good," Shanku said. She dried the bowl with her towel and curled up with it.
"Thanks, Dawson! Thanks, Shank!" Templeton said cheerfully as he stepped into the galley the next morning to prepare a breakfast.
Shanku opened her eyes groggily and did her Jakko stretch with her wings spread out before her and her tail curled over her back. Dawson sat up dizzily beside her. He gave her a sleepy smile.
"At least we made a bit of money yesterday," he said groggily.
"But what'll we do with it?" Shanku asked.
Dawson looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Town?" he asked with a sly grin.
"Town," Shanku nodded.
They left the galley and made their way to the deck and the walkway off the ship.
"Where to?" she asked.
"Amusement," Dawson shrugged.
"Reckon they'll actually do their chores today?" Shanku asked as they entered the market.
"Yeah," Dawson replied. "They wouldn't dare slack for two days in a row."
Dawson stopped in front of a stall selling necklaces of shell, wood, and glass beads. Reds, blues, greens, yellows, and purples. There seemed to be a shell and bead of every color. Shanku played with the stall keeper's mottled cat while Dawson browsed.
"Hmmm..." Dawson stroked his chin. "Which one."
"Go for the shells, she'll like them more," Shanku said as she scratched the cat's chin and made it purr.
"Good choice," Dawson nodded. He picked one with many small, white shells and one large cream-colored one in the center. He paid the stall keeper and they began to walk through the market again.
"Ya got one at every port?" Shanku asked suspiciously.
"Heavens, no! I'm not Whitten," Dawson quickly defended.
"Gonna commit to her?" Shanku eyed him.
"Preferrably," Dawson sighed. "But, no."
"Oh?" Shanku asked with her hands on her hips.
"Man and 'beast' is not smiled upon," Dawson explained.
Behind them, a striped she-Kurach was having trouble with a very large bird she had brought to market. It began to squawk and flap its wings. She climbed aboard its back to try and get it under control. It broke away and tried to run, but she grabbed it by the neck and caused it to make an awful squawk.
"We're not so inhuman," Shanku scratched her head as she watched the scene.
"Some days I wonder," Dawson muttered as he watched the she-Kurach pin the squawking bird to the ground and put a leash on it. He glanced to his little friend as she grimaced at the bird's plight, and noticed that she now seemed as human as he.
"Do you think you can teach her that?" he asked.
"What?" Shanku asked.
"How to be human..." Dawson trailed off and touched her ear.
The bird wrestled its head away from the she-Kurach and went running through the market as fast as it could.
"Um... Maybe? I can try," Shanku said absently as she watched the bird dart by.
"Thanks. I might get to commit to her after all!" Dawson said happily and rubbed the top of Shanku's head.
The striped she-Kurach ran after the fleeing bird with a growl.
Dawson and Shanku perused other avenues of the market. He had found the thing he wanted. Shanku decided to enjoy having some spare coins. She found herself a modest comb so she wouldn't end up with Marley's hair, a metal file for her nails to take care of the rough edges caused by the salt drying out her hands, and she found a little bristle brush to use on her teeth to help get the taste of the hard tack and fish out of her mouth.
When Shanku had finished her shopping, they made their way to the platforms outside of the city. Evening had fallen and Scarlet was giving her final bow.
"See ya tomorrow, Scarlet," Tesla waved to her.
"Goodnight, Tesla," Scarlet waved back. She stepped off the stage and glided down to the ground. Scarlet looked sadly back above her at the full moon hanging in the sky.
"Ahem," Dawson cleared his throat nearby.
"Good evening, Dawson," Scarlet greeted him.
"I got you something," he said softly.
"Oh really?" Scarlet asked and pricked an ear forward playfully. "Why?"
"No reason," Dawson said and placed the necklace around her neck. She looked down at it and stroked the large cream-colored shell in the center.
"You know we really need to end this," she said sadly.
"Why?" Dawson asked.
"Think about it. The captain? He doesn't like my people, remember?" Scarlet said bitterly. "He's made it pretty clear in the past he doesn't want us to have much to do together."
"But that doesn't matter anymore!" Dawson said energetically.
"What do you mean?" Scarlet asked suspiciously. "Did you leave the ship?"
"No. Look," Dawson pointed behind her to where Shanku was standing by the edge of the stage.
"Isn't that..." Scarlet trailed off.
"Sure is," Dawson nodded.
"But... how?" Scarlet asked in shock.
"Ask her!" Dawson beamed and nudged her forward.
"It's not that difficult," Shanku shrugged. "I could show you how to do it."
"Would you?" Scarlet asked excitedly.
"Aye," Shanku nodded.
"Oh, thank you!" Scarlet squealed and picked Shanku up in a hug. "It would make our lives so much easier!"
"Er, yeah," Shanku backed away nervously. "Alright, so here's what you do..."
Shanku began to explain to her all that she remembered Shaman Onami teaching her about shifting forms. When Scarlet understood it, they sat down together as Shanku once had with Eru. They held hands and concentrated. Shanku could feel the magical energy building and gathering in Scarlet but it would release prematurely.
"You've almost got it," Shanku grinned. "Once more! Remember, it's not as scary as the pressure makes you want to think it is."
Scarlet nodded and closed her eyes once more. She felt the familiar tingling and warmth, felt her crimson aura surround her, and she pushed it just a bit farther this time. She felt a heat go through her body and felt a weight lifting off her shoulders. As her aura faded, she looked around.
"Did it work?" Scarlet asked slowly. She felt strange.
"I'll miss the feathers, but you're still gorgeous," Dawson said as he kissed her hand.
"Yes, it worked," Shanku said exasperatedly. Why did adults have to use so many words and indirect remarks for a simple, blunt explanation?
"It's so dark out here now..." Scarlet looked around and noticed a marked drop in her vision. "And where are all the insects?"
"Humans senses aren't as good as ours. When we turn into them, we get their senses," Shanku explained and stood up. "You have to relearn your balance too without a tail and wings."
Dawson helped Scarlet to her feet and she wobbled a bit. Dawson pulled her close to him to steady her and kissed her neck.
"Little one, you must come see me tomorrow. I have a trick for you as well!" Scarlet waved to her happily as she clung to Dawson.
"Sure thing," Shanku grinned uneasily. "You lovebirds just let me get outta here before the celebrations start."
Shanku began to walk back to the deserted marketplace. All the shops were closed for the night and the people had all gone to their beds. Except for the taverns that always seemed open at night.
I'll bet Dai and Zihna showed more restraint, Shanku thought as she allowed herself to shift back to her natural form. She spread her wings and began to fly back to the ship. At least tonight I know for sure he'll be gone in the morning. She came to the ship and landed gracefully on a barrel with one foot. She was getting much better at her landings and not crashing nearly as much. She hopped down to the deck and leaned back against the railings.
I'm sure Doctor Newbury would like to know the Islanders are capable of shifting too, she mused. Shanku curled up in a ball by the barrels. I'll tell him tomorrow, she decided and drifted off to sleep.
"You won't believe who I saw in the market today," Drené said to the captain.
"Any of my men, but I have an idea that you only noticed one of them," Captain Morgan said shortly. "I've no time for your games tonight."
"Fine then. He was buying a necklace and said he was going to commit to that gully hen," Drené said.
"It is no concern of mine who Dawson likes to buy trinkets for," the captain said flatly.
"But it is your concern if they want to leave the ship, is it not?" Drené asked.
"Yes, but it is not yours. I will tend to Dawson," the captain said quietly.
Drené nodded and left his office. As she stepped off the ship and out of sight of the night watchmen, she shifted back to her natural form. With a flash of striped wings she took flight and disappeared into the surrounding forest.
"So for good or ill, an Islander can now become human," Shanku finished as she told Doctor Newbury of her experiment with Scarlet the night before.
"Hmm," Doctor Newbury held his chin in his hand and his brow furrowed.
"Bad idea?" Shanku asked flatly.
"Who's to say?" Doctor Newbury sighed. "I don't approve of the coupling, but so long as they're happy."
"They did look very happy," Shanku grinned as she gripped her feet for balance and leaned in towards the doctor.
"They won't be for long if the captain finds out," Doctor Newbury warned.
Shanku fell silent. She'd forgotten the captain didn't really approve of her people, much less that he might be one of those that didn't like human and Kurach interbreeding.
"What's the captain got against us, anyway?" Shanku asked at length.
"That is something you would have to ask him," Doctor Newbury said. Shanku nodded and let him get back to work.
Dawson and Scarlet were, indeed, quite happy. For now. Scarlet could now walk more easily around some of the townspeople without them shying away from her. She hoped to teach the rest of her village this trick and make relations between the two peoples better.