"Damn cub's a handful, R'ichi," Turai complained and rested his injured leg on a barrel adjacent to the one he sat upon.
"Do you blame her? She was protecting her crew and you tried to get in the way of that," Ryoichi said from atop his own barrel.
"Still hurts like hell," he grumbled.
"What's so special about that cub you'd ignore a Red Roger for?" Ryoichi asked as he stepped off his barrel.
"A blackwing, R'ichi! Only one breed can produce them. Mine!" Turai said excitedly and gestured at his own wings.
"I don't think sentimentality will have the captain excuse this, Turai," Ryoichi warned.
"Captain'll keep her. She can dive like a shark and ain't too bad with a knife. A valuable asset to the ship, if I do say so myself!" Turai leaned back and propped his elbows on the deck raling. "And those wings of her's will help us scare future ships into submission."
"Kill the wench, Turai," Captain Dodger said gruffly as he came up to them, his arms tucked behind his back.
"Eh?" Turai exclaimed in surprise.
"Told you so," Ryoichi sighed and walked off to leave Turai to the verbal chewing he was about to receive.
"But, black wings are lucky in my culture!" Turai said.
"Females on a ship are unlucky in mine."
"She's, ah... related to me!" Turai said desperately.
"Then kill her quickly," the captain said flatly.
"We could use her! We lost many men in the fight."
"Many of which she killed," Captain Dodger growled. "Ya try me patience. What d'ye want wi' her? Don't there be enough gully hen in port withou' ye keepin' one aboard?"
"Ick, too young," Turai shuddered. "Just let me train her. She could repay the losses with work and maybe even prove to be a valuable ally!"
"Ye have one week for the wench to prove herself," the captain said. He fixed Turai with a cold gaze before walking off.
Turai limped below deck to where he had locked Shanku away. He opened the door to find her still curled up where he had dropped her.
"You're still where I left you?" he asked angrily. "Whatever, get up! We have work to do!"
As he began to shake her by the shoulders, Shanku came alive. She tensed and gave a low growl that ended in a half roar as she sprang from her position and lunged at him with a swipe of her claws.
"Whoa!" Turai yelped and barely jumped back in time. He put his hands up defensively before him and took another step back. "I get it. You're grieving your crew and a bit upset."
"Crew? Upset?" Shanku stood half crouched with her wings and claws arched around her. Her head was low and her ears laid back. She bared her fangs and hissed, "For the past five years, they were my family! And you jackals butchered them!"
Shanku lunged at him again. With Turai's leg painfully injured, he was unable to dodge a second time and caught her full in the chest. He grunted as his back hit the ground. Turai grabbed her foreams and tried to keep her from slicing his chest open, or his neck. Shanku growled viciously and arched her tail and wings high above her. She sunk her claws into his chest and glared at him, contemplating her next move.
Suddenly, she twitched and looked confused. Her ears askew, she began to sniff at his neck.
What the—? A cautious and surprised Turai watched her closely.
"Unca Turai!" Shanku exclaimed excitedly.
What the—!? Turai looked at her in shock.
"What possessed you to be a pirate?" Shanku asked angrily, one ear laid back.
"Remove the claws and we can talk," Turai said flatly.
Turai tentatively released his hold on her and she pulled her claws out of his chest. Turai grimaced and sat up. He grumbled and wiped away some of the blood trickling down his torso.
"Er, you alright?" Shanku asked bashfully from near the door.
"Been better but healed from worse," Turai muttered. He looked at her grumpily. "I don't know you. How do you know me?"
"I'm Shanku! Zanzen and Nari's oldest!" Shanku chirped. It was so nice to see family for the first time in many years!
"Yeah... I vaguely remember sis laying a clutch," Turai said absently.
"Why did you leave?" Shanku asked sadly. "Ma cried for weeks."
"Exiled. Why else?" Turai said shortly.
"Didn't exactly get along with your sire. Nari deserved better than that prick. Challenged him and lost. His father was on the council and used his position to have me exiled," Turai said. He pointed with his thumb to three faded scars running across the left of his chest and growed, "he gave me this on the way out too."
"Oh. Sorry..." Shanku said.
"Don't be. I've a good life now. So, how the hell did you get exiled?" Turai asked.
"Is it that obvious?" Shanku asked quietly, looking away.
"Same blood, cub," Turaid said flatly. "I'm fairly certain trouble runs in the family."
"I was curious and wanted to see everything I could. 'Wanderlust', as the Elders say," Shanku sighed.
"They're still stuck on that old superstition?" Turai rolled his eyes and propped his chin on his hand. "Oh well. The stupid doesn't end there. Cap'n wants you dead and by my claws if you don't prove worth keeping within a week."
"He owes me his life!" Shanku growled and leaned forward with her claws digging into the wooden floor. "He'd be dead if you hadn't of interfered!"
"Exactly!" Turai said excitedly. "We just need to prove your loyalty to him and that two Kurach are better than one! He would die without both of us keeping him safe!"
Shanku drew herself up and sat tall. "Captain Morgan conducted all of his business fairly. He never cheated anyone or stole anything from another merchant," Shanku stared at him with resolve. "I will not dishonor his memory by becoming one of the very theives that killed him!"
"Don't be so hoity-toity," Turai said, annoyed. "You don't really have a choice if you want to live."
"If he's so desparate for me to live and protect him, he'll deliver to me the one who killed the scholar," Shanku growled.
"That... probably won't be accepted," Turai said nervously. "We've lost a lot of good men and Maston is one of best fighters."
"Those are my terms," Shanku said sternly and crossed her arms over her chest.
The door then opened to reveal the captain had been eavesdropping for some time.
"If ye manage to kill him," Captain Dodger said icily. "I will grant ye yer life, wench."
"Deal!" Shanku said quickly and stood.
"Wait, what?" Turai asked in surprise.
"Today. Now," Captain Dodger said firmly and pointed at the door.
"Done," Shanku nodded her head and went above deck.
Turai limped behind them as quickly as he could, his head reeling from how much more quickly this was moving than what he had planned for.
The remaining pirates gathered in a semi-circle as Maston and Shanku squared off before the bowsprit at the prow of the ship. Maston stood confidently with his hands crossed over his bare chest as Shanku stood ready in a fighting stance.
"So, the little puppy has been crying?" Maston laughed. "You killed some o' me best mates last night. I'm going to enjoy gutting you."
"Don't you underestimate me, swillface," Shanku growled at him.
"Is that the best taunt you have?" Maston laughed heartily and raised his knuckles. "You remember that too then, mutt!"
Shanku made a leap at him and Maston deftly drove an elbow into the top of her head to deter her. Shanku yipped and fell to the ground. She grunted as Mason gave her a hard kick to the ribs. She jumped with the momentum and landed on her hands and feet a short distance away. Maston was on top of her in a moment. Shanku barely leapt away to avoid Maston attempting to stomp down on her back. She landed on the end of the bowsprit, and dug her claws into the wood with a growl.
Maston charged in her direction and Shanku leapt again. She darted a clawed hand out quickly and sliced his chest open.
"Boo!" came the discouraging cry from one of the pirates.
Maston grimaced and clutched his chest as the blood flowed freely. He glared at Shanku as she landed on the deck and promptly kicked her in the backside.
Shanku yipped and scampered away out of reach of another kick. She turned and glared at him. She feinted a jump at him and ducked to the side as he tried to kick her once more. She swiveled around and sank her teeth into this thigh.
"Yowoo!" Mason cried as Shanku ripped back with a hunk of meat in her mouth.
"Two silver on Maston," Ryoichi said calmly from his usual position atop a barrel as he watched the fight.
"You don't even have any silver," Turai replied, arms crossed over his chest.
"I will soon. He's not as tired," Ryoichi said calmly.
"And she's more bruised than bloody," Turai snapped back.
"And Maston has more experience, endurance, and he has eaten and drank recently. She is younger and hasn't had anything since before she was brought aboard. I give her another few moments at most," Ryoichi replied.
Indeed, Shanku was in trouble. Her wings trembled with fatigue and Maston was barely breathing hard. She still stood her ground defiantly, growling weakly and snorting between breaths.
"It's time I finished this. Just like I did that fat, old man," Maston jeered.
Doctor... Shanku thought back to her ship forlornly. Morgan, Whitten, Jeffrey, Clements, Smith, Ed, Doctor Newbury... I'm so sorry guys...
Shanku pulled her wings around her in grief and Maston prepared to end the match.
"Shanku, move!" Turai shouted at her through cupped hands. Don't you dare give up!
Shanku's grief turned to anger as she remembered the bodies of her friends. She could nearly smell their blood again, see in intrinsic detail every wound, every bruise, every piece of ripped clothing. She felt a rage she had never known spread like fire through her body and begin to change her. Her eyes shot up in an instant and she grabbed Maston's arm with a clawed hand as he nearly struck her.
"Sweet Algod in Heaven!" Maston yelped as his arm was wrenched down and another clawed grip took his upper arm. What once was a somewhat normal-looking little girl was now a great, hairy, dog-like monster.
"That 'fat, old man' just happened to be my dearest friend!" Shanku growled vehemently, her black lips pulled back in a fierce snarl. "And you gutted him like a lowly, briny salmon!"
Shanku clenched her fist and punched his jaw with a power she didn't know she had. With renewed energy and the strongest bloodlust she'd ever felt, she knocked him to the ground. Savagely flowing from one movement to another, she had in a moments time brushed away his desperate hands, turned his head forcefully with a clawed hand, sunk her teeth deeply into the side of his neck, and ripped out his throat. Maston had a look of shock and fear, and gurgled pitifully as his life left him.
Stepping off from her kill, she looked around. She watched in devilish glee as the others had recoiled and stared at her frightfully. Some had drawn their weapons, others were getting below deck. There stood Captain Dodger, unflinching and daring her. Shanku fixed him with an angry glare and took a few slow steps forward, growling nastily. What was to stop her from fully avenging her crew now?
She crouched, and sprang. Turai tackled her to the ground before she could land on another of his crew. Shanku snarled and thrashed, but Turai managed to keep hold of her.
"No, Shanku, don't! If you kill him and the others, we'll never make it to land on our own!" Turai tried to reason with her in their native tongue. "This isn't how you were raised. What would Nari think of this?"
Shanku began to still, her sides heaving as fatigue set in once again. She felt her skin become bare again and she was herself once more. She hung her head and Turai kept his grip around her.
"A deal's a deal," Shanku said weakly.
"Indeed," Captain Dodger said thoughtfully.
Shanku showed no sign of resistance and Turai was able to stand without incident. Shanku glanced at the remaining pirates from the corner of her eye. No guarantees for your crew.
"Interesting cub you have there, Turai. Keep her in line and you may have found something valuable," Captain Dodger said calmly to Turai. He tucked his hands behind his back and went to shame his crew into composure as he was wont to do. Turai said nothing as the captain walked away.
"Dogs are so barbaric," Ryoichi said with disgust.
"You have no idea, R'ichi," Turai said.
With her remaining strength, Shanku climbed the shrouds up to the sails and hid in the masts for the rest of the afternoon.
Turai brought her water and some bread. To his relief, she at least had a drink. Turai spent the rest of his day trying to convince his shipmates that she wasn't about to descend at any moment to eat their bones.
That night after most had gone below decks to sleep, he climbed up the shrouds to visit his niece.
"Hey, pup, why ya sittin' up here alone?" He began cheerfully.
"Stuff it. I don't care that you're thrilled I'm a lowlife now," Shanku said shortly and kept her back to him. She had her knees drawn to her chest and her wings wrapped around her. "And you know very well why I'm up here. I could hear them. they don't want to be anywhere near us 'monsters'. 'Monsters', us!? That scoundrel I killed was more of a monster than I!"
"But you got your wish. Cap'n gave you who you wanted," Turai reminded her.
"But that doesn't bring my crew back," Shanku said as her voice broke. She buried her face in her arms around her knees.
"Death's a part of life, pup," Turai said softly. "With one comes the other. Like the tide, the moon, the seasons... They are all part of a neverending cycle," he looked up at the stars above. "Yeah, it hurts to lose others. Hurts like all the hells sometimes," he chuckled bitterly. "But, time can heal pain and before long the cycle must renew. Somebody new will come into your life to replace the on you've lost."
Shanku looked up at him from around her wing. He looked back at her and smiled kindly.
"Sure, time aboard that ship is over. But, you've got me back in your life, eh? That has to count for somethin'," Turai gave her a kind smile and extended a wing. "C'mere, I haven't held you since you were a fledgling."
Shanku complied and sat close to him. He wrapped his wing around her and she sighed. Despite the years away from the Nyre for both of them, she could still smell that deep, musty scent she knew as one of her people. It and his warmth caused her tired muscles to relax.
"Y'know, Granny Shanku died the night after you hatched. It's why you got your name," Turai said as he gazed out over the still ocean.
"Really?" Shanku asked numbly.
"Yup," Turai nodded.
"What was she like?" Shanku asked.
"Granny Shanku was your great-great-grandmother. Twenty and two hundred years old! And she looked every bit of it. All wrinkled and wizened up. But she was smart. She knew every habit of every creature in the forest. She took us from Gatherers and made our family Hunters. They say none were as skilled as she as bringing home a prize buck to feed the family with, even if the does were the ones that tasted better," Turai remembered wistfully and sighed. "I guess it's just in our nature to rise. Your mother is now a member of the upper beta part of society for wedding your father."
"Why didn't you two get along?"
"Foolishness, I guess," Turai said tiredly. "Da was also a Gatherer and Ma was a Hunter thanks to her mother and grandmother maintaining their status as Hunters. The Gatherers are the omega class and aren't treated well. Da reminded us often how it's the Gatherers who tend the sheep that give us our soft clothes and find the delicious things to eat with our meat."
Turai paused. "I guess I paid too close attention to his bitterness and felt a need to stand up for our family when it seemed some Elder's son took an interest in my sister. I thought he was just going to drag her along and abandon her like I'd heard of some others doing. She had cubs on the way in her nest and I couldn't bear to see her raise them alone. I wanted to call him out in front of everybody. But, no, not only was he a trained warrior, his intentions were true. He deserved to win," Turai finished glumly. "The stress caused by me and Da must have been too much and what caused Granny Shanku to die."
Shanku looked up at him and laid her head on his shoulder. Turai laid his head on her head.
"I don't know. I wasn't exactly there. I don't know if it was your fault. She was rather elderly," Shanku said, trying to cheer him up.
"I guess. We fought that day, she died that night, you hatched that next morning, and by that night Bibot had me exiled from the clan for trying to shame his son," Turai said bitterly.
"Well, at least we have met before. I honestly didn't recognize you. You just smelled familiar, you looked a bit like Ma, and I just took a wild guess," Shanku giggled. "I guess I was pretty desperate after losing my crew..." She trailed off and fought a lump in her throat.
"C'mon, pup. I have my own roost," Turai stood and stretched. He offered a hand to her. She took it and stood with him. Turai let go and hopped into the wind to go up a few more feet into the crow's nest above. Shanku joined him a few moments later.
"No humans allowed! It's great!" Turai laughed.
Turai and Shanku settled down in opposite ends of the crow's nest. Shanku fell quickly into fitful sleep. Turai stayed awake a bit longer, his thoughts chaotic and racing over the troubles in the days ahead. He was somewhat relieved he finally had somebody to relieve his burden to that he had carried for so many years.
So the two exiled Kurach came to find the companionship they had been needing, even if it came in a manner neither expected as a long, lost relative.