"No!" Shanku shouted at Captain Dodger.
"It's important that ye do! This is the biggest gem haul of the season and I be wantin' them!" Captain Dodger yelled back.
"If'n ya need teeth on a troat so badly, bloodly well do it yaself," Shanku snapped.
"Ya be turnin' to a wolf on th' soldiers, and that's final!" Captain Dodger brandished a finger at his most wayward underling.
"I don't turn on ya command, nor anybody's," Shanku growled as she and the captain came nearly nose to nose with each other.
"Yer treadin' dangerous waters, mutt," Captain Dodger threatened slowly as he laid a hand on the hilt of his scimitar.
"Ya nearly sinkin' in dem yaself, scallywag," Shanku flared her wings around her. She could already feel the itch of thick fur wanting to sprout up on her neck. Part of her wished this was the night they tangled, part of her feared this would be the night she died. She took a few steps back, undecided whether to lunge or run.
"Ya best be gettin' outta me sight," Captain Dodger drew his scimitar and held it threateningly out to her. He was nearly ready to take the risk of falling to her claws.
"Ya be doin' the same for a few days," Shanku snarled and turned to leave. Shanku paid careful mind to the captain's heavy breathing and where it was coming from as she left quickly before he had a chance to stab her in the back.
The doors rattled as Shanku slammed them shut. She placed an arm on the cabin and hit her head against her arm with a growl. Her ears were laid back and her wings tense beside her. The familiar pain throbbed in the hollow between her chest and shoulders. She waited for it to subside, along with the tingling in her arms and legs. The knots in her stomach would take much longer to undo.
"Some row with cap'n," came a familiar voice behind her.
"Shove off, Quinn," Shanku snarled.
"Need to relieve some stress?" Quinn asked playfully and placed a hand on her shoulder. Another sharp throb shot through her chest and she clamped a hand onto his.
"Need I remind ya we dock tomorra?" Shanku began. She dug her claws into his hand. "Or need I rremind ye how I rrelieve strresss if'n ye cannot wait for yer flooziesss?" Shanku growled, letting her speech roll and hiss as she didn't resist the fur that began to sprout along her neck and jaw.
"Nay, nay!" Quinn yipped and withdrew his hand as quickly as he could. He ran off to the other side of the ship.
Sleazy cuttroats, Shanku grumbled to herself. Her chest heaved as she struggled to steady her breathing, her wings arched around her. Tank goodness we dock tommora.
She gazed out sadly over the sea to see L'aernth on the horizon. I'm so tired of da sea...
The ship came into port the following afternoon. The crew was busy tying away the sails and preparing for a long stay.
"Shore leave!" Turai exclaimed excitedly as he glided off the ship.
"Shore leave..." Shanku echoed in relief.
The two landed and made their way into town. They were met with familiar scenes of the wives of fisherman hanging up fish for sell and other peddlars opening their shops for the day.
Turai headed straight for the Laughing Gull and darted in, never once breaking stride since he landed.
Shanku followed him in a bit more slowly and was not surprised to find him with a mug in hand by the time she arrived. She asked for a glass of water from the barmaid before taking a seat. It always seemed like their supplies on the ship tasted salty and never as clear as the water available in the pubs.
"Good to be on land!" Turai chirped after a long swig of his mug.
"Ya day's 'bout ta get betta," Shanku said at length when an Islander sauntered up to them.
"Hi," she said and winked at Turai.
"Yup!" Turai's ears stood straight up in interest.
"Predictable," Shanku grumbled and rolled her eyes.
"You'll understand in about five years or so during your first heat," Zara laughed as she draped her arms around Turai.
"Until dat dreadful day, I remain justifiably disgusted," Shanku extended a finger from her glass to punctuate her point as her ears laid back.
"And until morning, go find Ryoichi," Turai said absentmindedly as Zara ran her pinions over his head and ears.
Shanku made a disgusted face and left the pub as Turai disappeared with Zara.
Where is dat cat? Shanku wondered as she left. There were no queens in L'aernth that would catch his attention. Shanku could seek refuge with him tonight. De undabrush, maybe?
Shanku wandered off into the lowest reaches of the Nyre. She knew it was the Nyre, but this far south it didn't look like the Nyre she knew. The plants, briars, and trees were all just a bit different. Maybe they haven't changed, but I have?
"Y'know, cap'n is sick o' ya," came a threatening snarl behind her and she heard the sound of a dagger leaving its sheath.
"Bad timin', Preston," Shanku growled over her shoulder.
"Scream all ya want," he snarled, his bloodshot eyes bulging with anger. "It's normal out here with me."
"Ya do de same," Shanku turned with arched wings and claws. It was finally time for a serious fight and not a skirmish.
Shanku charged with a growl and leapt at Preston. His dagger nicked her ribs and plunged between her feathers. She snarled as another tried to pull her off of Preston. She allowed herself to be dragged a bit back. She let the animal inside take over and she crossed her arms over chest, dug her claws into her attacker's hands, and threw him over her head onto Preston before either had proper chance to get on his feet.
"I always thought you'd be one of the first to fight at the end, Tipton," Shanku hissed as they righted themselves. She jerked her head to the sound of a snapping twig. Three more advanced from the trees.
"Preston, Mulloch, Wellings, Tipton, and sleazy little Quinn. Inseparable to the bitter end," Shanku growled. "Come and die."
Ryoichi pricked his ears as he heard a long howl echo through the trees. He rose from the branch he had been lying upon and slinked through the canopy. He found Shanku cornered by Preston and Quinn with Mulloch, Wellings, and Tipton dead nearby, their throats slashed and bodies covered in gashes. Shanku was favoring a wing that hung low beside her. He looked closely to see a mess of feathers and blood on the upper wing.
Can't fly away, Ryoichi observed.
"Come an' fight, ya yella-bellied cods!" Shanku snarled at the remaining two facing her.
And she's lost her advantage. I don't think she realizes how much she uses her wings for balance and thrust in her fights. She's going to get herself killed. Ryoichi shook his head and made his way down to the ground.
"Killing one of his Kurach? The captain will be so disappointed," Ryoichi said boredly as he stepped off the tree.
"We're under cap'n's orders. Stand down, cat," snapped Quinn.
Ryoichi flicked an ear back as he studied Quinn and Tipton. He crouched down low as Tipton began to rush Shanku for one final go. Ryoichi leapt and sunk his teeth and claws deep into Tipton's thigh as Shanku lunged as well. She ignored his howls and pushed his arm away to keep the dagger from plunging into her stomach. She used her weight to knock him to the ground. Digging her claws into his knife arm to keep him from stabbing her in the side, she quickly ripped out his throat with her teeth.
Ryoichi pulled away from Tipton, crouched, and sprang with the primal roar of the jungle beast he was. Quinn was in shock that Ryoichi had turned on him and fell quickly to the angry cat's claws.
Shanku heaved and gasped for air as she scrambled off of Tipton. Her whole body ached and shook as that familiar old throb set in and a great tiredness washed over her.
"T-th... Thank you," Shanku stammered quietly, her ears and wings drooping heavily as she rested on her knees.
"You give me fish. It's just business," Ryoichi stated matter-of-factly as he cleaned his paws and whiskers.
"No more fish?" Ryoichi turned quickly and gave Shanku the most pitiful look he possessed.
"No. I'm not sailin' anymore. I'm done. I... I can't take much more of this," Shanku sighed as she felt herself taming down to her normal form. She smiled weakly at the cat, her messy hair framing her face. "Ya were a good friend."
"'Were'?" Ryoichi asked suspiciously, an ear laid back in disbelief.
"I am leavin'," Shanku said slowly, an ear of her own laid down.
"As am I," Ryoichi said and began to lick the back of a paw once more.
"Why?" Shanku asked in surprise.
Ryoichi's fur bristled visibly and his tail lashed beside him. "My supply of fish just ran out," he grumbled. Even his very whiskers standing on end.
Shanku laughed, one of the first laughs she had done in months.
"How's your wing?" a concerned Ryoichi asked.
"Not broken, tankfully," Shanku said and touched it gingerly. "Mulloch got lucky."
"There's a cave five miles in. You'll be safe there while you heal," Ryoichi nodded his head towards a deeper part of the forest before returning his cold cat gaze back on her. "You could have died tonight."
"I know," Shanku looked down.
"You will die if you return to the ship."
"I know dat too," Shanku whispered. "It's kind o' why I tink I should go..." She paused for a moment. "What o' Turai?"
"I'll inform him of your decision, pup," Ryoichi said. "You stay low and out of sight."
"He'll have a duck fit," Shanku shuddered.
"And then the duck!" Ryoichi licked his lips. "Delicious duck."
"What!?" came the furious cry from the upstairs of the Laughing Gull the following morning.
"The pup is fine," Ryoichi repeated himself slowly. "Just a scratched wing."
"They could have permanently grounded her," Turai growled and gripped the sill of a window.
"But they were not able to," Ryoichi said firmly. "Don't do anything rash. You're still bound to the sea."
"Not anymore," Turai growled. Thick, coarse fur sprouted along his body as he changed for the first time into his feral form. With a snarl, he sprinted from the room and disappeared downstairs.
"Bloody great," Ryoichi sighed as he listened to the muffled frightened yelps of those who were trying to have their breakfasts in peace.
"What... just happened?" came the confused question from Zara as she tied her dress behind her neck.
"Apparently your kind can become big, hairy brutes with the personality of a hungry badger," Ryoichi said boredly.
"I've never heard of that," Zara said, an ear laid back in doubt.
"I'm sure you haven't," Ryoichi said in condescending tones, "and I've no intentions to educate you now."
The cat exited the inn and walked down the street a ways to where he knew of a tree to grow in town. With a few deft jumps, he climbed high enough in the tree to gracefully step on to a nearby roof.
"Live by the claw, die by the claw," he said quietly as he watched the Brelland Seacat.
Turai was in fine form when he landed on the ship. Eight of the remaining fifteen pirates were still on board and quite surprised to see who they assumed was Turai start tearing into them. His senses were keener than they had ever been before and helped him hear and smell each defending pirate as they came at him.
One, two, three... Each one fell quickly under his claws. Years of pent-up disgust at some of their actions and the very stressful past year with his niece and created plenty of the anger needed for him to slay each of his crewmates without remorse. He had a few surface cuts from daggers on his body, but he was barely aware of it.
Those of the crew still on shore had heard the commotion and came rushing onto the ship. Turai turned quickly on his heel and lunged at them. A deft swipe of his claws here, a bite there, and he quickly maimed and killed each one as they came aboard. The one at the end of the dock turned to run. With a snarl, Turai leapt from the deck railing and landed on the fleeing pirate.
Turai turned a bloody muzzle from his newest victim. There stood Captain Dodger, scimitar drawn. The one who had condoned all the malicious conduct and had ordered his niece's execution. The one who had also kept him trapped on that blasted ship for fifteen years.
Captain Dodger readied himself as Turai walked up the gangplank. A pause to trade glares, and Turai lunged. Dodger swung his sword and Turai ducked. Turai coiled and sprang, and Dodger brought an elbow fiercely down on the Kurach's head. Too dazed to avoid his captain, Dodger sternly kicked Turai in the stomach to knock him back a few paces.
Turai groaned and clutched his bruised stomach, and barely rolled out of the way in time as the pirate lodged his sword in the deck where Turai had been. The Kurach lashed out with his claws and caught Dodger across the face. Blinded by pain and blood, the captain was hit as Turai lunged again and knocked the pirate to the deck. They wrestled together, trading blows and curses.
Another well-placed kick knocked Turai off of Dodger for a moment, but he recovered quickly and was back on the fallen pirate. Biting, clawing, trying his best to land a killing blow. Dodger's arms were quickly being torn to shreds but he struggled to get a grip on Turai's neck and end the fight.
Finally, Turai lashed out a final time, and caught Captain Dodger clean across the throat. The tired Kurach stood back, panting and heaving, as he watched the life drain away from his former captain.
Turai looked around him at the deck, covered in blood and bodies. Slowly it began to dawn on him what he had done. A knot began to form in his stomach, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the other brigands in the port took notice. It was early morning. Barely an hour had passed since Ryoichi had delivered the news to him.
Quickly, he descended from the ship and disappeared into town before the guards could discover what he had done.
"Are you quite finished?" an annoyed Ryoichi demanded from an alley as Turai limped towards him. He was back in his natural form, covered in blood, cuts, and bruises. Ryoichi was fairly certain by the scent of him not all the blood was his.
"Where is she?" Turai snapped as he braced himself on the wall of a nearby building.
"In a safer position than you," Ryoichi grumbled. "Your judgment clouds when females are involved."
"Not in the mood for your criticism," Turai growled. "Besides, you're worse around queens."
"They are irritating teases," Ryoichi curled his tail over his back with a strut, "and irresistable bearers of kittens."
Ryoichi lead them in silence to the cave he had instructed Shanku to wait in. When they arrived, she was nowhere to be found. Turai and Ryoichi searched the cave, calling for her.
It was Ryoichi who found her, curled up in a corner out of sight near another entrance. She looked at him sadly and shook her head.
Ryoichi nodded and returned to Turai. If he intended for his friends to survive, they would need to separate. Shanku's black wings would be suspicious enough without a yellow and blue cat to confirm those suspicions.
"I haven't found her anywhere," he said simply.
"This is where you told her to wait, isn't it?" Turai asked worriedly. "Was there another out here waiting?"
"No, none," Ryoichi laughed. "I don't think there are any left!"
Ryoichi was able to coax his friend into getting some rest. He checked the other entrance the next morning to find Shanku had slipped away.
The port was a buzz with excitement when Rhett arrived. There was a large crowd gathered around the docks.
How strange for this late in the evening, Rhett mused. He quietly made his way down to see what the fuss was about. Guards were crawling over the port, and white sheets were strewn about the docks. Under those he could see bloody smears and sometimes a hand.
What kind of massachre is this? He wondered. Ever-listening, he waited for a clue.
"A demon from the sea," one woman shuddered.
"I hear it was ol' Turai," a man shook his head.
"It was definitely that little witch they brought aboard from the Meriweather," growled another.
"She has black wings, this one clearly had white," argued his neighbor.
"Maybe an angered gully hen got even then? They had it comin'," laughed a nearby woman. "The Brelland Seacat crew certainly caused problems in my establishment many times."
"Were the Kurach among the bodies?" Rhett asked shortly.
"Nay, haven't seen hair nor feather of them," a man replied.
Rhett stood their quietly amidst the chatter and noise as he watched the guards and coroner go about their duties. If the Kurach had turned on the crew, does this mean they had a change of heart? Had they redeemed themselves? Rhett shook his head. No, not even the death of scoundrels such as these could wash them clean of the crimes they had committed at sea. Rhett left the crowd behind and began his search through the city to find the rogue Kurach.
That was one of the darkest chapters of my life. One I won't soon forget. I killed many that did not deserve to die. And for what? A shiny rock?
After the final fight with the pirates ordered to end my life, I felt so very jaded. I hid from my uncle when he came searching for me. I could not bear the thought of him forcing me to come back to the ship and serve that fiend any longer! I did not learn until many years later that he instead wished to join me in my escape and had dispatched of the Brelland Seacat's occupants prior to finding me.
~ Shanku Ravenwing