The barrel sat innocently enough in the hull next to the galley. The lid was half off to reveal many preserved fish waiting to be served. Shanku stood there with her hips on her hands and stared at the fish closest to the top. It looked back at her with its blank, dead stare. She stood there for several minutes, she and the fish staring at each other until final she grabbed her ears and stomped off.
I just cannot do fish today! Shanku shuddered and went back on deck. She spread her wings and flew off the ship. It was the sixth day since they had emptied the hull and the captain was still buying things to fill the hull back up with and having minor repairs done to the ship. Shanku and some of the crew were fairly free to come and go as the pleased so long as they came back to the ship often enough to know when it was time to load up and go back home.
Shanku glided over the beautiful forest below. Trees with long, broad leaves created a thick canopy below her and what little she could see of the forest floor was covered in vines, ferns, and colorful plants. She saw a break in the canopy where a tree had fallen some time ago, and there happened to sit a rabbit in the sunshine! She wasn't that fond of rabbit after having had to live on it so long when she was first exiled, but by this point, a rabbit was much better than a fish. Shanku pulled her wings in for a dive and streaked down toward the rabbit.
The rabbit squeaked as Shanku snatched it up off the forest floor. Then Shanku shrieked as many jolts of electricity flooded her body. She landed with a crash and tumbled across the ground.
"Ow..." she said weakly and sat up. Her hair was frizzy and even her feathers seemed to be statically charged.
The rabbit she had attempted to take off for her breakfast sat up on his haunches and glared at her with his ears laid back.
"You must not be an eatin' rabbit," Shanku said nervously and began to straighten her feathers. "Apologies."
The rabbit bowed up and hissed at her with every hair on his body standing straight up in an attempt to make himself look bigger and more threatening. Rather strange and unusual behaviour for a rabbit. "Can't say I'm not surprised. Foreign barbarian."
"I'm a Feral, not a barbarian!" Shanku said huffily. "Big difference!"
"Hrmph!" the rabbit growled at her and sat up on his haunches again. "Go home."
She got down on her hands and knees with her tail in the air, as if ready to pounce. "How about I eat you and we'll call it even?" Shanku asked deviously.
The rabbit discharged a static charge again and shocked her. The rabbit and Shanku sat there on four legs, bowed up and glaring at each other.
"So rude," Shanku said with narrowed eyes. She sat up and began to straighten her feathers again and sighed. "Fine then. Any recommendations for breakfast?"
"Follow me," the rabbit said grumpily and began to hop off.
He took her a ways into the forest until they came upon a clearing. Down below on the beach was a gathering of thatched huts.
"Ask them," the rabbit said as he sat up on his haunches. "They're your kind, anyway."
"You're not quite like the little cottontails back home," Shanku remarked as she looked for a familiar face in the bustling village below.
"Desperate times called for desperate measures. I learned to defend myself," the rabbit said glumly.
"So you weren't always a zappy rabbit?" Shanku asked.
"Oh, no, I've always had my abilities. I just had to learn to use them a bit more quickly. So you're not from around here?" the rabbit looked up at her suspiciously.
"Not at all. I'm from the other side of the sea, in L'aernth."
The rabbit nodded knowingly. "The land of the mages."
"Say what?" Shanku asked curiously. "Mages?"
"Before your time," the rabbit said curtly. "Now, go on."
Shanku watched the strange rabbit turn tail and hop quickly back into the underbrush. Shanku shrugged. She finally spotted Scarlet, leapt from the hillside, and glided down into the village.
"I didn't expect you here, young one," Scarlet said in surprise as Shanku landed next to her.
"Me neither!" Shanku chuckled. "I was just out trying to find some breakfast."
"More visitors, Shalu?" asked an elderly Kurach. He had a long necklace of thick, wooden beads, a staff with discarded feathers dyed and adorning the top, and he wore one of the wraps around his waist.
"Yes, sir. This is the shifter," Shalu nodded.
"What brings you to us today, cub?" the old Kurach asked kindly.
"Zappy rabbits!" Shanku squeaked, and held her clawed hands up before her and flared her wings around her.
"Oh, ho, ho, ho!" he placed a hand over his stomach and gave a belly laugh. "Yes, you must be very wary of them."
"Got anything safer to eat around here?" Shanku asked in her most charming voice, clasping her hands behind her back and leaning in sweetly.
"Of course. Shalu?" he nodded toward Shalu.
"Papaya?" She offered to Shanku.
"Works for me," Shanku nodded. She thanked her and accepted the half of papaya. Shanku folded her legs and sat down as she started to nibble on the fruit.
"Wasn't there something you wanted to show me?" Shanku asked Shalu after she had finished.
"Kisona?" Scarlet turned back to the elderly Kurach.
"Follow me," he nodded and lead Shanku out to the sea. "Do you swim much?"
"Not really..." Shanku trailed off as the water lapped her feet. She had never swimmed before.
"Not fond of wet feathers?" Kisona asked.
"Not at all," Shanku stuck her tongue out.
"Neither am I!" Kisona suddenly leaned in and whispered, wide-eyed and quite silly. He straighted up and extended a wing. "Observe."
A soft, yellow glow took over his wing for a moment. He bent over and dipped his wing well into the water. After having certainly thoroughly saturated his wing and guaranteeing he wouldn't be flying for a few hours, he straightened up and held his wing out to Shanku.
"We Gull 'Rach naturally repel water. But we found a way to make an enhancement for it," Kisona stated. Shanku cautiously felt his feathers. She was curious, but didn't want to seem disrespectful.
"Teach me!" Shanku said excitedly.
"But first, can you swim?" Kisona asked and rubbed his chin.
"...No," Shanku said slowly. She wringed her hands and cupped her wings.
"Then I have much to teach," Kisona nodded. He stood behind Shanku and cast his yellow glow around her wings. "Next time you will prepare your own feathers. Now, you learn to swim."
Kisona strode out into the sea. He stopped when the water was well up his legs. The elderly Kurach noticed Shanku was not beside him. "Are ye cat or Kurach!?" he shouted back to her.
"Meow!" Shanku called back from the beach.
"Get out here!" Kisona put a hand on his hip and pointed before him.
"Okay, okay," Shanku muttered and crossed her arms. She waded out to him, feeling more than a little nervous as the tide pushed and pulled at her. She followed Kisona out until the water was up to her ribs.
"Swimming is like flying, yet not," Kisona said as he laid down in the water and floated on his back.
"Or dog's trotting," he said. Kisona turned over and began to paddle with his hands and feet, looking much like a walking dog.
"Even frogging!" Kisona laughed and began to hop through the water like a swimming frog. He circled around her a few times and came to stop in front of her with just his head above the water, despite the shallow depth. "Do you have a preference?"
Shanku kept her arms crossed. She gave him a smile, an ear laid back in amusement.
"No? Then stride out and see!" Kisona turned his ears back mischeivously. "Do not fear the water."
Shanku took a few tentatively strokes when her face dipped down into the water. She stood suddenly, wide-eyed, and spitting profusely.
"You'll grow accustomed to the salt in time," Kisona laughed heartily.
Shanku tried again. She shook her head several times when the water touched her ears, but she was paddling along fairly well. This isn't so hard. Just tastes awful!
"Good, good," Kisona nodded approvingly, both of their heads bobbing above the water. "Time for a mid-morning snack!"
Shanku grinned broadly and tested her new swimming skills as far as she could until she had to stand and walk ashore.
"You will learn we like to eat," Kisona nodded to a dam frying bits of meat on a rock over a fire. "Fruits, leaves, shelled things..."
"No fish, right?" Shanku asked worriedly.
"Of course we have fish!" Kisona laughed with his tail curled high behind him.
Shanku stared worriedly ahead as a dam walked by holding a bowl full of all sorts of things from the sea. She laid her ears back.
"Cuttlefish, starfish, sunfish, and the like," Kisona continued. "And recently, a bit of pork."
Shanku saw a shank of ham roasting over a campfire. Her ears perked up and she grinned as she started to smell it cooking.
"It was a big, scary pig!"
Shanku yipped and started. She turned to see a short, green thing beside her. It was a little troll, with three fingers, a knobby chin, and a dark green mohawk. He wore a vest and loose pants much like the Bhadarukians had worn, including one of their customary scarfs.
"Zappy rabbit helped though," he nodded.
"I guess it cooked faster than usual then?" Shanku asked tentativily.
"Yep!" the little troll nodded and folded his hands behind his back.
"How about some of that cuttlefish?" Shanku asked Shalu with forced eagerness.
"Certainly," she laughed and handed a fried cuttlefish on a stick to Shanku. The cub shrugged and took a big bite out of it.
The troll sat down next to them and nibbled on some strips of ham he had pulled off his roasting shank.
"I've not met a troll that kept company with Kurach," Shanku said slowly.
"You've never met a troll like Zeke," Shalu nodded. "He's painfully shy around his own people, but fairly open with us."
"Kurach don't want me to kill pigs for them," Zeke nodded.
"I don't blame you, pigs are scary," Shanku shuddered.
"Have you seen the island's pigs?" Shalu asked. Shanku shook her head. "The boars here are very large. Their shoulder is the height of a Kurach."
Shanku's eyes grew wide. "That's a big pig." She looked at the little troll beside her. "And they want you to hunt that thing? As small as you are?"
"Trolls great boar hunters," Zeke shrugged. "Not me. Prefer eat fish."
"Would you like to return tomorrow?" Kisona asked as they finished their meal.
"I could. Why?" Shanku asked.
"Midsummer party!" Shalu said excitedly.
"Sure. What time tomorrow?" Shanku asked absent-mindedly. It's summer already...?
"Night, of course!" Shalu exclaimed.
"Eh?" Shanku asked, quite puzzled.
"You'll see why," Kisona winked at her.
"Hm," Shanku looked at him for a moment. She stood up and waved. "See you tomorrow night then. Thank you for the feather trick!"
Shanku jogged a bit and leapt into the air. A few wingbeats and she was on her way back to the ship. Who throws parties at night!? She wondered incredulously. But considering how hot it is here... Shanku scrunched her face and laid back her ears as the hot sun beat down on her back. Okay, maybe they're not so crazy after all.
"Where've you been?" Dawson demanded with his hands on his hips as Shanku landed on the ship. Shanku had taken her time coming back to explore a bit of the island. It was early sunset by the time she returned.
"Ya know, yer never where I expect ta see you these days," Shanku said slyly, her hands behind her back.
"We're shoving out next week," Dawson said and crossed his arms. "Be sure to keep close. Cap'n just may leave you behind."
"Where to next?" Shanku asked.
"Home. We'll be filling the hull in the mean time," Dawson replied.
"What about Scarlet?" Shanku asked.
Dawson shushed her quickly and crouched. He looked around frantically. "Captain..."
Shanku stood there a minute, her hands on her hips and her wings dropping. She stared at him, lids half closed, an eyebrow raised, and on ear laid back. Shanku grinned mischievously. "Sneak off with me 'morrow night," she whispered, a hand near her mouth.
"No! What if he finds out? Again!?" Dawson said in a quiet, strained voice through clenched teeth.
"You promised to take me moon fishing!" Shanku shouted and stamped her foot, fists clenched by her side.
"Okay!" Dawson said defensively and stepped back. And was very confused. "Er, alright?"
"See you tomorrow!" Shanku winked at him. Dawson had never promised any such thing, but should any prying ears have been nearby, that would her excuse to sneak him away.
Probably shouldn't tell Doctor Newbury about this just yet, Shanku mused. Tell him another day! She skipped along the deck to her favorite barrel to sit on. Wait, "again"? She sat down on top of the barrel. How'd he find out at all? She crossed her arms and legs, and stared up at the stars thoughtfully. She dropped her gaze to the captain's cabin. He stays up late, sooo...
Inside his cabin, the Captain Morgan was writing letters by candlelight, lost in thought. It was a rare, peaceful moment, with just the steady lap of water against the hull and the scritch, scritch of the pen across the paper. There was a knock at his door that interrupted his quiet and a familiar little head popped in.
"Hi!" Shanku chirped.
Morgan stopped his writing and glared at her for a few moments. "What do you want?" he asked gruffly.
"Long day?" Shanku ventured friendily. She was met with another cold glare. I'll take that as a "yes".
Shanku had gotten it into her head to fix Dawson and Shalu's problem, but at this point it was hard to say if she would fix it or just make it so much worse.