The following month eased the Shabenay pair into a mostly predictable routine. They were served large meals twice daily in their room, taken to the bathing chambers, provided clean garments, and spent at least half a Kut with Kisday, the rest of the day was either spent enclosed in their room, or under the careful eye of Desta and the Kierr guards, caught within the walls of the estate's main building.
Kri was sullen, she had recovered enough to shape-shift, but it was taking a lot more to figure the place out than she initially thought. Whenever they were outside of their room Desta, or at least four of the Kierr guards, shadowed them. This didn't allow for suspicious behavior, such as checking doors and windows for weaknesses. Most of her time was spent committing the layout of the building to memory, no simple task with its many halls and turns.
Shinkir's mood wasn't dampened much, but she was starting to itch for more space. The time spent with Kisday in his study allowed her to both find out more concerning her people and to share what knowledge she knew. There were still many questions unanswered by the Tynomai, but the few answers she managed filled in some of the empty spaces in the mystery surrounding Tsumajh Kisday.
At first Kri listened, but did not actively participate in the conversations with Kisday. Part of it was stubbornness, and the other was not having anything to say, let Shinkir and Kisday carry the conversation, they were the ones who seemed to know what they were talking about. What did she know of the Shabenay, anyway? A handful of stories from Mehm and elsewhere, a word here, a word there, all that she knew to be true was what she herself experienced. She did, however, find the lessons in Maylehin interesting and Shinkir happily taught the language while they were confined to their room.
Shortly after their second month Kri received the break she needed. Kisday announced he would be leaving for business purposes and would return in a few weeks. Desta would remain behind to keep an eye on things.
Kri had an idea. It was a bit rough still, but she was going to make a go. If she made it, great, if not, she'd plan better and try again.
The fifth night after Kisday's departure Kri slipped from bed around midnight. It was incredibly dark due to the room's thick-glassed windows and took a while for her eyes to adjust. She listened intently for any sound from outside the main door before creeping to Shinkir's bed.
"Shinkir, wake up." The whisper had no effect. "Shinkir, get up!" Still no response and she dare not speak louder. Kri carefully reached out and tapped Shinkir's shoulder. Shinkir jerked away, rocked easily to her feet, but overshot, landing with a loud whump on Kri's bed before flailing and thudding onto the floor.
Kri cringed and looked to the door. Not a sound, good. She slid up next to Shinkir, who was rubbing her head. “That wasn’t quite the reaction I was expecting,” Kri whispered.
“I wasn’t expecting mushy footing.” Shinkir grumbled. “What are you up to?”
“Sh, keep your voice down,” Kri glanced again at the door. “I’m getting out, or at least trying. You can wait here until I make sure it’s clear, or come with me now.”
“Let’s go, then.”
Kri nodded and silently made her way to the door they had entered their first day at the estate. Crouched at the base of the handle less door she shape-shifted easily into a Shmi'lehn kierr, thick, spotted fur covering both Marks and scars. She was grateful to finally have the chance to hide them and as well for the looseness of the robes, no interference with the ‘shift. The end of her fluffy, banded tail flicked as she pressed her ear against the door. Satisfied she pulled out a jam spreader and slipped it between the door and jamb near the floor and slowly worked her way up until it stopped halfway up the door. She slid it back down and up again, confirming the solidity of the spot before she started to manipulate the spreader around the solid stop. It clicked back and Kri's lip curled in satisfaction before moving her tool upwards again along the door. Finding no further impediments she carefully placed her hands along the crease of the door and allowed her claws to extend, barely grasping the edge of the door, but sinking enough into the wood to allow her to pull it back.
The door swung silently open, revealing the tunnel, which was hardly any lighter than their room. "Change form and let's go," Kri advised, "if we're spotted it'll at least give us a chance to break for it."
"It doesn't sound like much of a plan, Kri."
"If it works, we're out, if not we have time before Kisday gets back."
Shinkir snorted softly. "And possibly be at the mercy of his men?"
"There's Desta," Kri replied.
"Yes, but at least we know where Kisday stands."
"I'm going." Kri started down the hallway, leaving Shinkir hesitating at the door. It wasn't until Kri was almost to the other side when she felt Shinkir's presence again. Kri pressed her ear to the door and listened. There was no discernable movement on the other side, just the soft noises of a tasa shuffling in its stall.
Kri pushed the door, it didn't move. She ran her hands along the face of the door, there wasn't enough light now even for the keen eyes of a Kierr. Finding the handle she pressed gently downward until the latch lifted, she pushed against it again, but the door still didn't give. Giving a soft snort of self-disgust she pulled and door opened, it gave the slightest groan. The tasa nickered, ears pricking forward.
"Sh," Kri responded and closed the door after Shinkir, who had taken on the form of a light-coated Grohne frineir. Moonlight filtered into the barn through large, open windows. No one was in sight save the Shabenay and the tasa’tei.
Kri lead the way across the barn aisle to one of the windows. She swung up into the sill, scanned the area and waved Shinkir up before dropping silently to the other side. Shinkir followed shortly after.
"Na'ry had to be full, didn't she?" Kri muttered to Shinkir, motioning to the large moon shining brightly overhead, accompanied by a small sliver of Roshir's light.
Kri scanned the area, re-orienting herself. This was now unfamiliar territory. There was only so much that could be seen from within the main building. If they went for the gate it was sure they'd be spotted, but there was no telling--thump! Both Shabenay froze. There was a nicker and a snort followed by another thump. The tasa was apparently upset that the first beings it saw didn't feed it. Thump, thump, thump! A light appeared at the base of the nearest watchtower.
"Follow me," Kri broke from the side of the barn and turned the corner into its shadow before breaking for the next building. The figure and light was still traveling towards the barn, unaware of their movements. Pressed close to the wall she turned to Shinkir, "Fastest form you have, we'll make a run and then jump the wall." Shinkir nodded.
They broke from the shadow, a wolfish tsihr just behind a mitchel, a large weasel-like creature nearly twice the tsihr's length. There was a shout and then a howl from the barn. Yips answered from the tower nearest the barn and then spread all along the wall. Kri, the mitchel, doubled her speed, closing the gap to the wall; she started to collect in preparation for the leap and another shift when she heard Shinkir yelp behind her. Twisting mid-stride, Kri looked back, Shinkir was collapsed in a heap. Still-moving Kri shifted into a Zach Amrea, she scooped Shinkir up in her short, 'saurid arms and again made for the wall. She didn't make it far before she felt the sting of a dart. Vision blurred and her mind started to haze, she struggled to keep her feet and push through. Lights appeared, her legs leadened, she swayed and fell mid-stride, collapsing on her side.
Desta was not happy. She sent word to Tsumajh before setting about trying to get the Shabenay pair back to their quarters.
They had a time of it trying to move Kri. Shinkir was easy enough, a Tsihr never weighs more than a hundred fifty pounds, but an Amrea, particularly the Zach, was another matter entirely. Kri wasn't even full-grown. Desta judged it easier to wait for the young shape-shifter to awake and move herself than to drag her halfway across the estate and attempt to pull her through the doors.
Kri came to with a start, flailing for a moment before she managed to roll to her feet. She was surrounded by light and silhouetted forms. Desta's form was the first she recognized.
"You can follow me quietly or you will be hit with more Kona and dragged back."
Kri gave the briefest nod. Desta took it and broke from the group, leading the way back to the main building.
"She is back in your room, speaking of which you'll have to change forms to get through your door, not all of the estate is accommodating to the Zach's stature."
Kri nodded and complied, shifting smoothly into her Kierr form, the rich brown fur and ink-black rosettes made her nearly invisible in the flickering light of the lamps. "It was me."
"What was you?" Desta replied.
"Shinkir just did what I asked. It was my run, not hers."
"Do you think it matters whose it was?" Desta glanced back a moment before stepping through the large twin doors that opened into the cavernous entryway of the main building.
"If there is any punishment, I deserve it, not Shinkir."
"I see. That will be for Mr. Kisday to decide."
They continued the walk in silence. Moonlight flooded the hallways; the delicate, silver light was chased by the shadows and yellowed lamplight. Kri drank in the details as best she could. This was the first time she'd been in this section of the massive house. They went through a smaller pair of ornately carved doors before turning down one hall and then another. As they approached the end she recognized the stained glass window that flooded the path ahead with pale colors. The dancing shapes and colors were quickly washed out by the lamps' approaching light.
At the end of the hall Desta opened the door and waved Kri inside. The door closed and Kri listened to the muffled words Desta spoke, it took a moment for her to realize she was speaking S'na'ri, the Kierr's main language.
"… At all times, until Mr. Kisday returns. I don't want it to happen again."
"Yes, madam." Desta's steps retreated, along with much of the light.
Kri caught herself rubbing her left hand. With a soft growl she let it go and began pacing the wall. She looked over, Shinkir was still out, breathing softly and sprawled on her bed, it would take longer for the effects to wear off Shinkir, she had been in a much smaller form than Kri. Tail flicking in agitation Kri turned and strode the length of the wall again. It should have been an exploratory run. There was no reason to get Shinkir involved, no reason, but she risked it anyway. The lure of the outside was just too much and she knew Shinkir needed the space as well. Her mind raced, running over what had happened, reviewing the layout of the estate. She had certainly gained information, but there was no chance of having that easy of a run again. No, there would be guards now at the main door as well as the back.
She wasn't thinking clearly, that is exactly what got her here, had she run for it from the start, forget hiding what she was and just ran for it, she would have avoided the rather unpleasant encounter with Symihr. Symihr! The scum. He'd never been a favorite cousin, but to think he'd chase her down and throw her in a cage! And don't forget, the only reason he recognized her was because of her Human form. If she had stayed away from that ... She snarled and pinned her ears. Idiot.
Back pressed against where the walls met she slid to her haunches, hands on her knees she idly traced where her first Mark was, though hidden in fur she knew exactly where it was. Three years of hiding it and for what? To be discovered shortly after deciding it was safe to feel her own skin. It had been so long ... she nearly forgot what it was like to be Human. Stupid and selfish, just like her actions tonight.
She sighed and ran her hand through her thick hair before scratching her neck and stretching her back along the wall, head tilted back, ears pressed against the wall and eyes staring at the ceiling.
"Not quite, huh?" Shinkir was awake and back in her Human form, rubbing her arm where the dart had hit.
"Yeah, almost." Kri replied.
Two days later Tsumajh Kisday was sitting in the large chair of his study. His expression was unreadable as he took in the pair standing before him. Kri stood erect and defiant, her muzzle tilted slightly upwards and ears half back, her tail swaying behind her and arms crossed in front of her chest. Shinkir was in her human form, standing silently and patiently at Kri’s side.
“I must not be doing enough to make you two comfortable here.” He folded his hands neatly in his lap. “The Kistau Estate should be a refuge, a place where you might wish to stay.”
Kri’s ears flattened, but she gave no other response.
“Well?” He pressed, head tilting to one side.
Shinkir spoke, “Space, a place to run. You’ve already proven we can’t simply run out of here. Allow us to stretch our legs a little.”
"For your own safety I can't allow you outside of Kistau's walls."
“We don’t need outside of the walls,” Shinkir insisted, “merely the ability to move within them.”
Kisday nodded, digesting the thought. He then looked to Kri, who still stood silent and unmoving. A defiant statue, solid and noiseless, but loudly stating its message through pose. "And what do you think, Kri?" Not even a flicker of an ear at her name, just the continued slightly agitated swaying of the thick, brown and black-banded tail.
"Kri?" He repeated, "is more space what you need?" The Tynomai quirked a brow and then crossed his legs, resettling himself in the oversized chair as if preparing for a long wait.
Several minutes of uncomfortable, tense silence passed. Shinkir occasionally sent a worried glance between Tsumajh Kisday and Kri. The Tynomai was virtually unreadable. Nestled in the chair, wrapped comfortably in his own confidence and mystery. Kri was still firmly ignoring him, staring above and beyond the small figure in the chair, her only movement was the occasional shift of weight from one leg to the other.
Finally Kisday closed the silence. "You can make your stay here much easier, Kri, if you simply speak your mind. You are not imprisoned here. I am trying to protect you, save you and your kind from the ultimate fate because of the ignorance of others"
Kri finally stared down at him, her eyes narrowed and ears pinned. "Protect me." She said flatly.
Kisday blinked profoundly. "Yes."
Kri's ears relaxed and her face softened slightly, she looked down, then cast a vague glance at Shinkir before turning away. Kri looked out the window, let go a heavy sigh, and half-turned back to Kisday. She moved to speak, checked herself, and fell silent, returning her gaze to the window.