Chapter 14: Remorse

A giant eel leapt from the sea and plunged into the deck of the Brelland Seacat. Its slimy, greyish blue skin wrinkled and bunched as it forced itself over the ship, trying to pull it down below the water. Great black spines that jutted from its back and sides ripped through the rigging and caused the masts to snap like twigs. Shanku could see the men screaming, but she couldn't hear them, as if they were a league away. Shanku dove again and again from the air, striking the eel each time, but her claws did no damage and her blade merely glanced off its side. The eel suddenly slid off the brigantine and disappeared back into the water.

Shanku remained airborn, watching the dark water for signs of the accursed eel. It was eerily quiet, only the sounds of waves lapping at the sides of the swaying ship.

Then, with a crash and crunch of wood snapping, the eel rammed itself headfirst into the side of the ship. Pirates unfortunate enough to be near were crushed by the eel or impaled on broken wood.

Shanku dove once again, trying desperately to drive her knife into any weak spot she could find. She glanced off the eel's slimy hide and hit the deck with a rough roll. She righted herself and grimaced. Around her were the dead bodies and dismembered parts of the pirates. The deck seemed covered with more limbs and entrails than the pirates actually possessed.

But nowhere could she find Turai or Ryoichi.

Shanku tried to stand to her feet and keep her balance, but the ship's deck was slick with water, slime, and blood, and the ship was rocking wildly from the squirming eel as it sloppily devoured that of the crew it could reach. Each snap of its jaws brought it closer and closer to her position. Shanku leapt and flapped her wings, trying to get airborne once more. The slick deck seemed to work against her, pulling her down, and keeping her from getting aloft. The jagged teeth and dripping mouth seemed right upon her. As the teeth came sinking down into her stomach, she awoke.

Shanku shuddered and sat up. She rubbed her temples. "Oh golly, what a dream. I've nevah even seen an eel dat big."

This was one of many dreams Shanku had been having. They had started a few nights after the Meriweather had been sunk and she hadn't had a pleasant dream since. The first six or seven months she had woken up in a cold sweat and been unable to fall asleep for hours. It seemed she found a new way to die every night and they felt to be true nightmares. But by now, the dreams were just an expected part of the night and she often found herself bored with them. They were no more than bad dreams now with which to pass the time until she awoke.

"Heh, aldough, de pirates did die in dis one. Maybe dat wasn't so bad, even if I was fish food," Shanku giggled to herself. She wasn't sure which was more frightening by this point; the fact that they didn't really bother her anymore when they should, or the fact she even enjoyed some of them.

Shanku stretched and gave herself a good shake. Turai was still sleeping on his half of the crow's nest. It was a pity she couldn't discuss any of her dreams with him. A giant eel was very interesting. He would turn pale and tell her not to speak of them lest he start having nightmares. She couldn't talk to Ryoichi to get them off her mind either.

"Fish are for eating, not to be eaten by," he would say and turn his tail to her.

No, this was one part of her that had to be kept to herself.

In their nest above the ship Turai and Shanku kept a few personal belongings. Turai because he was territorial, Shanku because she didn't want to have to spend much more time with the pirates than she just had to and keeping her belongings well above their reach accomplished just that. She opened a small, wooden box she kept on her half of the nest. It wasn't nearly as nice as the chest she had kept on the Meriweather and was considerably smaller. She wasn't able to keep much more than a comb, a steel mirror the size of her palm, a pair of scissors, a file for her claws, a boar's hair brush for her teeth, and a sewing needle with a spool of thread for mending tears in her only set of clothes.

Shanku shrugged and began her morning routine. She let down her hair and combed out the tangles from the wind and from sleep. This she often did a few times a day. Less tangles meant less chances of a painful knot. She tied her hair back and examined her claws carefully for cracks and splinters that would need filing. Satisfied, she brushed her teeth, spit out a few hairs that came loose from her brush, and began to preen. She carefully coated her fingers and claws with the oil from the glands at the base of her shoulder feathers before working over wings. She zipped together barbules that had come apart and coated them with the precious oil.

Awkwardly, she parted her feathers to get at the ones on the back of her wings. All the wind on the sea made a lot of work for her in the mornings and she needed a thorough preening every morning to keep her in top condition should she need to take to the air in a hurry.

When she finished, she stretched her wings around her for a last inspection. She took a moment to admire the morning sun reflected off of her glossy, black wings. With a pang, she realized her wings reminded her of her mother's, despite the fact her mother's wings were brown with black pinions, but she had glossy wings as well. From what she could remember, her father's wings had only the normal sheen the other Sylvans had. So she thought. It had been eight long years since she last saw her parents and her clan. She wasn't very sure what some of them looked like anymore.

Turai yawned and sat up. "You're up early," he said, rubbing an eye.

"Fun dream again," Shanku grinned slyly.

"I don't want to hear about it," Turai shuddered. "Tales of some of your others still haunt me."

Shanku laughed. "So, what's on de agenda today? Laying boredly about deck to wait for a merchant ship to pass by so we can kill some innocents and ruin lives?" Shanku's eyes narrowed angrily and she smiled a mirthless smile.

"I'm not in the mood to argue about that right now," Turai sighed.

"Ya ransacked me ship, killed me crew, got me stuck with these hellions, and won't take me to a propah port where I can get away. I'll be bringin' it up whenever I feel like it," Shanku hissed.

Turai shook his head. "I'm going below." He stretched his wings out beside him and stepped off the side of the crow's nest.

Some sympathetic part of Shanku told her she wasn't to be so harsh on her uncle, that he had been wrongfully exiled as she, and that he had made himself a new family just as she did with the Meriweather, even if his was with pirates. But the part of her burning with hatred and vengeance argued that he could have made better choices when he was alone and he could have let her escape at the first port they were at. But the sympathetic and cautious side spoke up again. What if it was safer on this awful ship than in ports? What if even she did escape, she was still hunted by any who had come to recognize her as the "black plague" she had been dubbed as by the unfortunate ones who had been robbed by the Brelland Seacat? Her anger quickly responded that she would make them see reason, that she had been given a lot she didn't want, and she would kill any thugs that came to punish her for abandoning the ship. But what if she didn't survive and the good people wouldn't listen?

Shanku shook her head. Always the arguing! The doubt, the going round-and-round. It made her head hurt and stomach ache. These infernal pirates were surely driving her crazy! Even if she did manage to get away from them, she wouldn't be sane by the time she managed it!

A piercing whistle disrupted her tumultuous thoughts. "Oh great, a mark," she grumbled to herself. She looked out over the horizon. There, white sails and colorful flags. Another Arnthian merchant ship, likely on its way back from the Isles of Mruha and laden with gems, salt, and medicine. Very few carried as diverse a cargo as the Meriweather.

Time to bury her conscience for a while once more.

"I may have to retink me dislike o' gettin' sloshed," Shanku grumbled to herself and glided down to the deck below. Well, almost the deck. She perched on the roof of the little room between the masts. She preferred to go where the pirates couldn't.

The brigantine gained on the merchants quickly. Shanku felt cold as she recognized it as another fluyt and the La Sirenita at that. The La Sirenita had sometimes docked in the same ports as the Meriweather. Captain Muskar had jumped on the opportunity to trade with the new fascination, Bhadarukia, now that Junaid had secured a new trade route, and bring exotic eastern goods more quickly to southern L'aernth than let them trickle slowly in from the north. He would certainly be carrying his usual cargo of gems, teas, spices, and fabrics, and a crew well trained by a few newly-hired soldiers. This was going to end badly.

Captain Dodger was giving directions to his crew from his place at the helm. He had learned a few months back not to trust Shanku's advice regarding what few ships they struck if she had been friends with them in the past. She would downplay their strengths in attempt to get the pirates killed.

Shanku had since ceased to tell him if she knew their targets at all so he wouldn't make her sit out on raids where she could protect those she could. Of course, she was always threatened roundly for it and had nearly been attacked a few times. There were cracks in some of the boards from the captain punching the walls in anger.

It was a delicate dance between him and her, each pushing the line just as far as they could without going beyond. Should he be pushed too far, he would potentially run her through before she had time to get out of the way. Should she be pushed too far, she coud potentially become a monster and rip out his throat before he could defend himself. She was too valuable an asset to throw away, between scaring prospective marks with her black wings and keeping the cat happy, and too dangerous to let loose lest she come back with the navy and kill them all. So, they danced.

Captain Dodger gave her a chilling stare. With her now soiled reputation and a riled crew working against her, he had the upper hand this round. She flew to her position in the sails.

Shanku watched as the men aboard La Sirenita readied themselves for when the Brelland Seacat closed all the distance between them. She studied the men and the soldiers, trying to judge the best way to incapacitate them without doing anyone serious harm. She saw Captain Muskar at the helm, yelling encouragment to his crew and curses upon the pursuing ship.

The Brelland Seacat was upon La Sirenita. The order was given, and Turai and Shanku swooped down from their perches. She felt the familiar knot in her stomach as she readied her club. One, two, three soldiers she struck the head of with her club before beating her wings to climb out of arrow shot. Turai's heavier weight allowed him greater momentum to strike more men before he had to claim a perch for the next dive. The resistance generated from clubbing men would slow them down to dangerous speeds and they couldn't risk attacking more than a handful. With the element of surprise gone, it was too dangerous for them to risk a second dive without getting shot.

With the Kurach up at an awkward angle to shoot at and the pirates preparing to board, the crew directed their attention at the pirates. A volley of arrows flew between the two ships. Now with them properly distracted, Turai and Shanku were clear to dive again. This time, their focus was not to knock the crew unconscious, but to damage their crossbows. Down the Kurach swooped, swinging their clubs and knocking the weapons from the hands of the archers. Turai landed and disabled the last crossbow by hand. Shanku's loyalty to her uncle demanded that she land as well and defend his back as he finished rendering the archer unconscious.

Captain Muskar glared at Shanku angrily and she looked away to meet the glare of the betrayed crew. How she hated raiding ships of those she once knew!

The reunion was short lived as the pirates dropped their hooked walkways between the ships and boarded. The conscious crew of La Sirenita drew their swords and made a final attempt to stand their ground. Some were disarmed, some were injured, and two were even killed before the crew of La Sirenita were pinned to the deck railings, defenseless, with sabres to their throats. Reserved members of the Brelland Seacat came aboard and bound the hands of the subdued men so the pirates could work freely.

Shanku went about her work numbly. The hands she once shook in frienship she now tied to a mast in restraint. For her relationship with Ryoichi the cat, Captain Dodger permitted her to refuse to rob the ships directly and see to it the men didn't interfere.

"How could you, Shanku? Captain Morgan was the finest cap'n this side o' Mruha, and you dishonor his memory with this!" spat one angry crewman that Shanku recognized as O'Hare's father.

"Not all dat willingly, I assure you," Shanku said softly.

"Maybe Morgan was right, all you Kurach really are just savage dogs," snapped another.

"Ya tink it was easy ta watch him die? Ta watch any of them die? Ta see de ship burn? I fought and killed as many of these scoundrels as I could but it didn't matter in de end. I don't know why dey didn't let me die with dem, but dey took me away and forced me into this awful trade right wit dem!" Shanku snapped back.

"We trade and build lives, traitor. You steal, kill, and destroy," one replied coldly. "Only those who choose such a life aren't destroyed by those already living it."

Frustrated, Shanku kept quiet. They were her enemies now, whether she liked it or not.

Captain Dodger smirked. Perhaps the longer he allowed for her to be verbally assaulted by those she once hailed as friends, she would be more willing to be a docile member of his ship and carry out her duties as happily as the rest. Surely she couldn't hold out her delusion forever that she was still welcome in that world.

"Move, ye bilge rats, get going!" Captain Dodger barked. Before long, the crew had finished their pillaging and were withdrawing the walkways. Shanku took a quick stock of the crew and went to one that was beginning to come to. She cut his hands free with his knife and left it nearby for him to free the rest of La Sirenita.

"Shanku, back now!" Captain Dodger barked. He had his archers aim their crossbows at her back. If Shanku refused, she would die. Shanku considered it a moment, and decided she wasn't yet ready for that adventure.

"I'm very sorry," Shanku said. With one last sad look, she stepped off the deck railing and flew back to the Brelland Seacat. Leaving Turai and the others to their spoils, she curled up in the crow's nest, covered her face with a wing, and sobbed herself softly to sleep.

A year passed slowly on the sea. Shanku continued to remain true to her word and obeyed the captain. When she didn't have a choice. She often found a way to get a man on a target ship to hide with a few of the smaller, more valuable goods when she was able to.

Turai did his best to keep the peace between his niece and his crewmates. He usually wasn't very successful and would find them later resting after a bloody fight.

Much of Shanku's spare time was spent hiding far above deck, or out over the ocean fishing to vent stress and prevent excessive fighting with the pirates. To a point. Her catch seemed to sometimes attract extra attention fron hungry men tired of hard tack and gruel.

It had been a long, long year for the whole crew.

Except for Ryoichi. He proved to be a constant companion and often took Shanku hunting when they were on land in exchange for fish while they were at sea.

Her uncle and the cat weren't the only friends she had found, to her surprise. There was one other child aboard and he had taken a liking to her.

Shanku sat crosslegged upon the warm deck one day as she played a game of chess with him. She looked at the board and considered her next move. Aaron had an arm propped on his knee and his head propped on his hand as he waited.

"Maybe you aren't so bad," Aaron said as he gazed at her.

"Checkmate," Shanku said flatly and made her final move.

"Maybe you are," Aaron huffed.

"You just might have potential to become civilized," Shanku smirked as she put the pieces away.

"You too," Aaron grinned and leaned in. "Just how 'civilized' are you anyway?" he asked, with raised eyebrows and half-closed eyes.

Shanku narrowed her eyes and shot a hand out to grab him by the throat. "Potentially less than you," she snarled dangerously before releasing her grip. Aaron sat coughing and clutching his throat as she flew away. She landed with a hrmph on the roof of the cabin in the middle of the ship. She crossed her arms and legs with her wings drawn up high around her.

"Whatcha sulkin' 'bout now?" Turai stood on a barrel and peaked up at her.

"How many days until da next port?" Shanku demanded, her hands on her hips.

"Tomorrow," Turai said calmly.

"Is it in flyin' distance?" Shanku asked desperately, holding her hands out before her.

"Seagulls only," Turai replied.

"Argh!" Shanku threw her hands up with a growl of frustration.

"That's the spirit!" Turai laughed as he jabbed a finger in the air. "Yarr, matey!"

"Why did I let you talk me into this?" Shanku leaned forward on her hands and knees as Turai propped his arms on the roof.

"You wanted to live, remember?" Turai crawled up onto the roof with her, his wings arched for balance.

"You call this living!?" Shanku opened her arms up to the ship and endless sea before her. She turned quickly and held a finger up to him. "I've spent one long, miserable year doin' dis! I'm sick of it!"

"Watch your temper," Turai warned.

Shanku flew off suddenly with a guttural snarl. Turai watched as she made her way high into the rigging and perched on a sail.

"Maybe killing her would have been more merciful," Turai sighed sadly. He looked up to the sky, ears and wings drooping. "What would you do, sis?"

So many years ago, he had watched Nari happily help her new cub out of the eggshell, cuddle and caress the hatchling, and look around at her family as she introduced the newest member. Turai couldn't help but feel obligated to watch over Shanku in Nari's absence, but he wasn't father material. He was hardly uncle material!

Turai let Shanku have her space for the remainder of the evening and amused himself by goofing off with the other pirates.

The following morning they arrived at one of the shady ports the Brelland Seacat often frequented.

Shanku wasted no time leaving the ship as soon as she could. She waited for Ryoichi, as she was made to do. Not that she minded spending time with the cat, she just didn't appreciate not having a choice about being watched every moment on land. Captain Dodger's threats were always at the back of her mind.

"If ye try to leave, if ye try to betray, we will find you, and you will beg for the mercy of the angel of death. I have eyes in many places that see all and ears in many places that hear all. There is no where you can hide from me," Captain Dodger had reminded her often. So long as the only harbors they rested in were those populated by people like him, she had no desire to call his bluff. Shanku continued to remain true to her word and obeyed the captain, lest he remain true to his. When she didn't have a choice. Every chance she had, she sneaked valuables back to targets, hid them behind barrels on the victim ship, and would fight any pirate that irritated her. Turai did his best to keep the peace between his niece and his crewmates, but he usually wasn't very successful. So far, they hadn't killed each other yet. Much of Shanku's time was spent flying out over the ocean and fishing to vent stress and prevent excessive fighting. To a point. She would not share her fresh fish with any but her uncle and the cat, no matter how sweetly they talked to her. It had been a long, long year for the whole crew. Except for Ryoichi.

Shanku watched as most of the pirates made their way to the pubs and brothels, Turai included. Before long, Ryoichi padded his way gracefully down the gangplank and met up with her. With just a look, Shanku fell in behind him, and they went into the jungle. Ryoichi had proved to bea companion and had taken his time to teach Shanku how to hunt like a cat, and was pleased she had put forth an effort to listen to him. He exchanged these hunting trips for fish while they were at sea.

Of course, a dog can never have the skill and grace of a cat, but at least she won't starve out here, Ryoichi thought pensively as they skulked along the forest floor. He loved the oppressive, sticky heat of the jungles and rainforest, and the clean wetness so unlike the salty brine of the sea. Vivid vines, flowers, and leaves painted a colorful scene for their hunt and were quite welcome after the simple, open expanse of the ocean. He truly was getting tired of the sea. Sometimes he wasn't sure of why he still stayed aboard. He heard the soft rustling of feathers behind him and remembered. Somebody has to see to Turai! Then a biting gnat flew into his ear and he flicked it away. Ah, yes. The other reason. No flies at sea! Ryoichi turned his attention back to his hunt.

Ryoichi paused and Shanku mimicked him. Grunts and scratches up ahead alerted him to a hungry pig. A bit of pork would be lovely. But this pup is not yet ready for such an adversary.

Slowly, Ryoichi turned his head to look Shanku in the eye for a length of time. Shanku nodded her head once and held still as Ryoichi slipped away.

Many hunts ago, Ryoichi had taught her to obey him by look. A glance to the side meant she was to go around and wait for him to run their prey to her. A long pause meant for her to stay still and direct the prey to his ambush.

So Shanku crouched and waited. She was glad Ryoichi would be the one to primarily tackle the pig. It wasn't very large. It's torso was roughly the size of her own. But those barely visible tusks were sharp and all pigs were deadly with them. For something so blunt looking, it could cut like a fresh sabre in the blink of an eye.

The pig rooted around hunting for grubs and other delights in the dirt and under the fallen leaves, blissfully ignorant of what was to come.

A blue tufted tail flicked outside of the pig's poor eyesight. Shanku had her cue. She burst suddenly from the tangle of leaves with a series of yips and flared wings.

With a frightened squeal, the pig dug its hooves frantically into the ground and barreled off in the opposite direction. Right to where Ryoichi lay in wait for it.

Shanku ran to catch back up with it as she saw the flash of gold. Ryoichi had pounced. She caught up to see them wrestling fiercely. Ryoichi was staying just out of reach of the tusks and the furious pig was trying desperately to slice the cat to ribbons.

Ryoichi sunk one clawed paw into a shoulder, then another into the pig's ribs. Using his weight, he pushed the pig to the ground. Gripping tightly with his forepaws, he bit at the back of the pig's neck and kicked with his hindpaws.

The pig thrashed and squealed, trying both to get away and to vent some of its anger on the predator.

Shanku stepped in and deftly slit its throat.

Ryoichi released the pig and jumped back to a safe distance with Shanku.

Within a few short moments, the pig lie still.

Ryoichi breathed heavily from effort, Shanku breathed heavily from nervousness.

"And you fear those more than those bull things in the Nyre?" Ryoichi laid back an ear as he looked at the pig. "Those great bull things taller than a man?"

Shanku nodded. "Dey may be big, but dey're slow and somewhat easy to run away from so long as dey don't catch ya by surprise. Dese little tings are so fast, it would be just a mattah of moments for dem ta tear ya ta shreds. Dey're like wolverines wit no claws and extra teeth."

Ryoichi chuckled. "Well, the danger has passed. If you'd be so kind, gather up some wood and let's have some of that thing cooked. I like my fish fresh and my pork crispy."

Shanku obliged and prepared the pig as they both liked. They spent a few days below the canopy listening to the calls of the birds, insects, monkeys, and strange things lurking in the shadows.

Begrudgingly, Shanku followed Ryoichi back to the ship when it was time to leave and prepared to set sail once again.

Days passed and Shanku descended from the crow's nest to fish. Ryoichi naturally made his presence known and delighted in receiving a fresh fish.

As the cat sat atop one of his favorite barrels to clean his whiskers and paws, Glen came up behind him.

"Danglin' o'er the rails again?" he asked as he propped up on the railing.

"Ugh, never," Ryoichi shuddered and laid his ears back. Without sparing Glen a glance, he continued. "Too salty, too wet. Not to my liking."

"If'n ya don't like wet nor salt, why'd ya go ta sea?" Glen teased.

"Fish!" Ryoichi said matter-of-factly, looking at the bones before his paws.

"Now where'n the tides didja get that?" Glen asked as he scratched the back of his head.

"No place that you would dare go," Ryoichi smirked. He stepped off the barrel and began to pad away.

"Ya stole from th' galley?" Glen asked angrily. "There be heavy penalties for that, even if ye are the cap'n's favorite."

Ryoichi stopped, and fixed the pirate with a cold look. "Shanku."

"Ya stole from that mongrel!?" Glen exclaimed. He held his head in disbelief. "Ye tryin' ta get yerself killed?"

"That's for me to know and for you to find out!" Ryoichi laughed and walked off.

Cowardly pirates, Ryoichi thought as he leapt up to the upper deck. A cub avenges her fallen crew and now these silly men won't go near her. He stretched out on the warm planks and closed his eyes as he prepared for a sunny nap. More fish for me!

"Hmm..." Captain Dodger observed the exchange between Ryoichi and Glen. He stroked his beard thoughtfully before going below deck to his quarters. The captain crossed the room and sat down in his favorite chair.

The cat eats well, but the crew... His thoughts were interrupted by knocking at his door.

"What is it?" he asked grumpily.

The door opened to reveal Glen's swarthy face. "Can we talk?"

"What do you want?" Captain Dodger asked grumpily.

"Water and hard tack ain't workin' out," Glen began.

"You expectin' a fancy feast of a night?" snorted Captain Dodger.

"I'd settle for fresh fish."

"And where'n ya suppose I'll be gettin' this 'fresh fish'?" Captain Dodger gripped the arms of his chair. "Do I look like I have a net?"

"The puppy manages without a net."

"Then ask the wee pup," growled Captain Dodger.

"But—"

"Out!" Captain Dodger roared as he leapt from his chair and pointed angrily at the door.

Glen turned on his heel and ran out quickly. He shut the doors behind him and sat down. I wish I'd been the merchant's cabin bow now, he thought irritably as he leaned against the doors. The sun was getting low and shimmered on the water. An ocean full of fresh treats and we get old, moldy flour.

"How'd it go?" Aaron asked as he walked up.

"'Talk to the pup'," Glen rolled his eyes.

"That can be arranged," Aaron said sneakily as he rubbed his chin. He repositioned his hand to his mouth and began to call, "Ohhhh, Shaaaankuuu!"

Shanku, in a rare mood, was on deck and sitting up on the bowsprit out over the water. She ignored Aaron as he called her.

"Wanna play?" he asked as he came up behind her.

"In de mood to lose again?" Shanku asked boredly.

"How about we raise th' stakes?" Aaron said slyly.

"Oh?" Shanku flicked an ear in his direction and glanced over her shoulder.

"If I win, you get me some fish!" Aaron said confidently with arms akimbo.

Shanku turned to sit side-saddle on the bowsprit and studied him a moment. So one of these lowlives are finally gettin' the brass to have me fish for them? At length, she replied, "Alright."

Aaron waited below as Shanku flew up to the crow's nest to retrieve the chess board.

"White or black?" she asked when she returned.

"White!" Aaron said excitedly.

The two played chess. Aaron thought long and hard about each of his moves. Shanku, hardly impressed, pretended to be as she methodically took a few of his pieces and moved even more of her pieces into position to be taken. Aaron, none the wiser, soon moved his last few pieces into place.

"Checkmate! Ha!" he exclaimed. He almost couldn't believe he had one for once.

"How soon would you like your fish?" Shanku said with a forced smile, baring her fangs.

"As soon as possible," Aaron said proudly as he crossed her arms over his chest. He closed his eyes and savored his victory.

"I'll return," Shanku waved to him coyly as she went to get her spear.

Aaron watched Shanku as he had many times before. She would glide out, circle high above the water for a while, and then pull her spear and her wings close to her body for a steep dive into the water. It was almost funny to watch her come back up, fish wriggling on her spear and she laboring to get back in the air. Somehow she always managed to free herself from the water and come gliding back onto the ship.

"Here ya go, ready ta eat!" Shanku said and held a mackerel out to him.

"Really?" Aaron asked incredulously.

"Really," Shanku said sincerely. She turned and flew up to the crow's nest. She landed with a grin and wet plop next to Turai.

"Where've you been?" Turai asked suspiciously, one ear cocked back.

"Lowering expectations!" Shanku laughed.

Below, Aaron bit into the limp fish. After a few bites, an unpleasant sensation struck his stomach. He barely made it to the edge of the ship in time and dangled over the rail.

Ryoichi watched with a bemused smirk.

"Silly boy, only animals can eat a raw fish!" he laughed and strode off as Aaron slid onto deck with a hand clutching his upset stomach.

The pirates quickly learned to be a bit more careful about what they asked of their Kurach shipmates, and didn't consider asking for fish again as they had no sand pit or stove with which to cook them with. Ryoichi was thrilled his fish supply wasn't in danger and made a point to flaunt this regularly.

Feather Divider

At his preferred inn, Rhett took up his usual position in the corner and listened to the gossip of the day. Conversations of family, friends, weather, crops, and trade abounded in the usual amounts. Then he overheard an interesting bit he did not expect.

"Aye, wings black as death itself, barreling out of the sky. I saw it too. Morgan's pup's found a new life for herself," a sailor growled bitterly.

Shanku is alive? Rhett wondered. Surely not...

"Ye sure? She was a good pup. Dutifully helped Morgan avoid, and even bring in, a few scallywags."

"I'm as sure as there's a half-draught of ale in my hand, it was Morgan's pup. Same as sailed with me boy. Now sailing on the demmed Brelland Seacat with Dodger. A force to be reckoned with now that he has two vultures on the masts."

Rhett clenched his fists. Why did I not go with my first suspicions about her? Damned demon... He listened quietly to the rest of the conversation as it gradually shifted to general life at sea. Despite his frustration, his skills did not lie with the sea. But perhaps he could seek out where the Brelland Seacat docked in L'aernth? Kyros would certainly understand. Rhett had trained a few more woodsmen to help him keep poaching under control so there wouldn't be another incident like the Port's Plague again. Surely he could be spared for a few days or weeks.

He left a few coins on the table and slipped out into the night.