A giant eel leapt from the sea and plunged into the deck of the Brelland Seacat. It's 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 jutting 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 scales and hit the deck with a rough roll. She righted herself and grimaced. Around her where 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 was rocking wildly from the squirming eel as it sloppily devoured that of the crew it could reach, each snap of it's jaws brining 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 pair 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 that 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 six 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.
"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 hate 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 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 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. 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 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, laden with goods on its way back from the Isles of Mruha. Gems, salt, and medicine, most likely. 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' alochol," 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 they 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 spinny-wheel-thingie. He had learned a few months back not to trust Shanku's advice regarding what few ships they struck that she had been friends with in the past. She since ceased to tell him if she knew their targets 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 walls 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 men 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. 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 men. 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 his job.
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.
"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 see de ship burn? 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!" 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 some aim their crossbows at her back. If shanku refused, she would likely die. Shanku considered it a moment, and decided she wasn't yet ready for that adventure.
"I'm very sorry," Shanku said and 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.