Symihr pushed open the swinging half-door into the dimly lit inn’s bar. For the past three days he’d been at the docks of Kur'hran and had just barely found time to himself. Iren, his boss and a rather well known Frineir throughout Kashian, had been fuming since they came to port to find a messenger waiting for them. Their associates on Flumeri had managed to "lose" some valuable merchandise after they'd pulled into Roomir's westernmost port, Suh'hran.
Symihr sighed at what the news meant for him and the rest of the crew. Two years spent on Flumeri to secure a Shabenay lost because some fools weren’t attentive enough to their charge. Certainly, there was a second Shabenay, but the job required two, not one. Iren had been confident in the security of his valuable prizes and hadn’t bothered with a backup. The client was losing patience. His questions about the Shabenay's status became more frequent as the three-year deadline approached. Iren and his men didn't have the time to try and find another. Iren was one of the best Hunters currently on Kashian, but it would still take him too long to rout a Shabenay out of hiding to match the deadline.
Symihr glanced lazily around the room to find an empty table. He crossed the crowded room to a vacant seat nestled among several other larger tables and sat down heavily. Not long afterwards, a waitress singled him out and asked what he wanted. Symihr barely looked up to reply and notice she was Human. His head still ached from the latest reaming Iren had given the crew. After he mumbled his order, the waitress turned briskly and wove her way towards the bar. There was a minute alone for Symihr to contemplate Iren’s last lecture before the soft thud of the mug against the table brought him out of his thoughts. He looked up, smiled weakly, and pulled the mug towards him.
"Rough day?" She questioned, as if it were a local greeting.
He laughed softly into his drink. "More than just a day, it's been nearly the whole week."
"Can't be much different than the other stories of botched shipments and soured luck that float around here," she shrugged and then smiled, "but of course, luck has a way of changing when you least expect it." With a sweet smile and an encouraging tilt of her head she bade him farewell and turned her attention to another table. Tray balanced carefully on her shoulder, she curved her way through the maze of tables and occupied chairs. Symihr's eyes followed her movements to the next customer she was serving a few tables away. She placed the drink, exchanged a few words in the same cheerful manner she had with Symihr then continued on to the next table. Despite the temptation, his eyes did not follow the waitress; instead they firmly fixed themselves upon the young Human woman sitting at the table.
There was something familiar about the girl that caught his attention. Something in his mind tried to connect her with a name he knew. For a moment, he wondered why he hadn't noticed her in his first glance around the room. She appeared to be the only other Human in the bar aside from himself and the waitress, which would have been enough to draw his attention at first. Granted, he hadn’t paid much attention to anyone initially; too locked in his own thoughts to pay attention to more than an empty table.
The warm drink trickled down his throat as he gulped it down. His eyes were fixed on her as he tried to pin a name to the face; she was slightly turned away from him so it was hard to distinguish any key facial features. Her hair was light brunette and cut just past her shoulders. It was tied loosely with a leather band, but a few wild strands had escaped to partially obscure the part of her face he could see. The clothes she wore were nothing remarkable, just a simple off-white cotton shirt, gloves, and non-descript jeans. The sword strapped to her back, however, was of interesting design and unusually large for someone her size. The hilt, which seemed made for much larger hands, was wrapped carefully with black leather. Curiosity aroused, he wondered if she was actually capable of wielding the massive blade. Just that moment she turned; she must have sensed him watching, for her eyes immediately caught his through the crowd.
Symihr clearly saw the two scars that ran parallel down the right side of her face and across her eye. Remarkably, considering the scars’ course and depth, the eye was not blinded. Despite the drastic change in appearance brought on both by years and the newly acquired scars, the image of her face suddenly clicked in his mind. Immediately he rejected it, it couldn't be her. She was dead.
The girl’s eyes widened in a split moment of panic and recognition, she turned her head back quickly and stared fiercely at her drink. Or maybe it is, he thought, watching her more intently now; rumors are sometimes blown out of proportion, but . . . he couldn't quite fathom her actually being alive, and at that, so far from Mehm. To his knowledge she had never traveled outside of Murn; this was Roomir, a continent half a world away. It was three years since word reached him of her being chased down by a mob had that included even her kinsmen. She had died that day. The same fate shared by many of the other shape-shifting Shabenay. The news of her death was fairly easy to swallow, but word of her being a Shabenay was another matter entirely. He eventually accepted both as truth, but was now forced to choke down something even harder to believe. She was three years dead. How could she have both escaped and survived the past three years? Was it by the grace of some demon the Shabenay worshiped?
There were too many "ifs" floating around Symihr’s mind for his liking. Shaking his head, he attempted to sort out his jumbled and confused thoughts, then, convinced that thinking wouldn't give him answers or solve the dilemma he shared with Iren, he decided taking action was best. He downed the rest of his drink and pushed himself out of his seat. This was just the break he needed.
As he approached, the young woman tried not to look at him. She attempted to pay, leave the table, and slip out the door all at once. Symihr quickened his pace. She only made two steps from the table before his hand enclosed around her wrist.
She stopped short and turned to face him, eyes burning with agitation and voice filled with much the same. "Excuse me, sir, but what do you think you're doing?"
At a loss for words and excuses Symihr blurted: "Introducing myself." He attempted a friendly, polite grin, which didn’t quite seem to have the desired effect.
Her lip curled in distaste; "I'd appreciate it if you'd let go of my wrist."
"Well, I can't do that until I know your name," he insisted, stepping closer. A small, nagging voice in the back of his mind whispered that he was not being wise and was making something of a fool of himself. Not only that but he was endangering life and limb, especially if this girl was a Shabenay.
The young woman stepped back, wrapping her left hand around the hilt of her sword. "I'd be obliged to remove your hand, sir, if you don't do so yourself."
"You still haven’t told me your name." The nagging voice whispered that there was a better way to go about this. Symihr chose to ignore it.
"I'm warning you, sir, I'm not one to joke." Her left hand now had a firm grip on the sword’s hilt; there was a short, soft hiss as the blade slid slowly against its sheath. She was tense, ready to draw the sword fully from the scabbard on her back.
An area started to clear around them, well out of range of the young woman's sword. Coins were passed back and forth. A fight was brewing, as it often did in this bar, and the usual betters weren't going to miss out. The Kierr bartender carefully moved the bottles under the counter for safekeeping and flicked an ear in annoyance. He eyed the two Humans with a look that could be translated to "not this again."
"Now don't do anything you might regret, lady. All I want is your name. Mine is Symihr." He still held her wrist, paying little mind to her threats, not thinking she was capable of carrying them out. The small, whispering voice said otherwise, but by now it was being firmly ignored.
"Symihr," she said firmly as the sword hissed again, "you are about to lose your hand. Let go!"
Symihr wondered and reflected on how wise he was being. The whispering conscience sighed with relief. There was no telling how much she, if this was indeed the girl he’d known, had changed in the three years since he had last seen her. Back then she could barely handle a long knife, let alone a sword, especially one as sizable as this. Well, it didn't take much skill to hack off a limb, now did it? He let go of her wrist. She snatched it back with a sneer and strode quickly out of the room. The gamblers sighed disappointment and retrieved their bids. Symihr ground his teeth and followed.
The street outside the small inn was mostly empty, not good for the quick, unobserved disappearance she’d hoped for. Kri looked up and down the street briefly before darting to the left. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered under her breath. She cast a glance over her shoulder; Symihr was standing in the middle of the street. He called over to a group, comprised mostly of the canine Frineir, on the walk opposing the inn and pointed straight at her. She didn't need to hear his words to know what he said.
"He knows you, he knows. Kri, how could you be so stupid?" She bolted to the right down a small alleyway between two buildings. "Three years and thousands of Kiloms away and you're found the first week you decide it's safe to be Human again. Skibb!" Feet rattled against the gravel speckled cobblestone alley as she skidded to a stop before the wall. She looked to the right, what she hoped was an alley to the next street turned out to be nothing more than a shallow dead-end that cut behind the building and ended in a door. Desperately she tried the handle, it was locked, she looked back, Symihr had just rounded the first corner, three Frineir, all a head taller than the Human, were close behind. She cursed again and looked above, her luck; an archway roofed half the alley. "Curse Kierr architecture," she backed herself into the dead-end, she wouldn't be flying out of this one. Kri bit her lip and rubbed her left hand nervously, they'd be on her in less than a minute. "Let's just hope they're still a little superstitious."
Decision made she jumped forward and drew her sword. She stood calmly before her fast approaching pursuers who seemed unconcerned by the sword or the one wielding it. She stretched out her empty hand towards them; with a deep breath she steadied her voice. "Come any closer and you're all dead!"
The group came to a halt just tirms away. "Now V--"
"Don't use that name, Symihr. As far as you and I are concerned, she's dead. She died three years ago on Mehm, just as everyone else she knew thinks. I am Kri." She gripped the sword's hilt tighter, it wouldn't help much if they were to charge as there was hardly sufficient room to maneuver the blade properly, but it gave her some confidence.
Symihr looked slightly nervous and glanced back towards the street, which Kri couldn't see as Frineir efficiently blocked her view. He took a step forward, looking more confident, as if reassured by what he’d seen.
"I'm warning you Symihr, one more step and you're dead. I don't care." She forced herself to keep calm; if her emotions were too unbalanced she'd loose herself. It was imperative to stay in control, especially since she'd be facing more than just Symihr; she'd have to think rather than react.
Unheeding Symihr stepped forward again; the Frineir followed suit with their canine ears perked forward, focused on their cornered prey.
"I warned you." In one fluid movement she stepped back, sheathed the sword, and dropped into a crouch. It happened swiftly, at first her frame appeared to shrink, but then grew rapidly, fur replaced clothing and naked skin, fingers grew into clawed wings and a long, thick tail sprouted from her back. The full transformation took but a breath and in the next instant she leapt forward with a deafening roar.
Symihr fell back quickly, tripping over the feet of his companions. Didn't quite expect that, did you Symihr? She thought to herself and charged at the bewildered company.
She had to get to the open space and out of here. As a nearly full-grown Homich Shamien she was not something to be taken lightly. She leaped towards them, prepared to do what it took to get past them. In this form she was as large as a small horse, but more powerfully built, the wyvern was just as capable of running as it was of flying. Kri roared again and barreled into the crumbling living barricade. There was a sickening crunch as half a ton of Shamien flesh trampled over the Human and three Frineir, breaking bones and tearing flesh as she passed.
"Don't let her escape! She's a Shabenay!" It was Symihr's voice that called the command; he'd miraculously managed to escape the worst of Kri's charge, but was still scraped and bruised.
“Thank you for stating the obvious.” Kri growled under her breath, pushing forward towards the open end of the alley, which was now choked with men, mostly the feline Kierr and more Frineir.
She slid to a stop between the mass that blocked her freedom and the walls that did the same. Looking from one end to the other, thinking frantically of something she could do. Symihr's other men had advanced far enough so they blocked the end of the alley that was open to the sky, not only that, but they were packed tight enough that charging them wouldn’t make much difference. Hissing agitation she looked from one end to the other, again, hoping to find a way out she had overlooked. Escape was blocked on one end by bodies and the other by the dead end. Her eyes settled on the walls and traveled upwards, there was the other option. Without further thought she jumped upward and plastered herself to the wall. Claws dug easily into the adobe brick as she climbed upward to a small ledge. She glanced down to see those that stood directly below her scatter and shield their faces from the debris. The others were looking up rather unperturbed, more expectant. Pausing to think briefly of the best option before she began to take another form.
From below a bowstring released, sending a single fine-tipped arrow upward. It hit the mark. Kri shrieked with rage and pain. Concentration broken the transformation was abandoned; she was still a Shamien. Caught entirely off guard by the attack her full weight slammed down upon the ledge, which cracked and started to give way. She grabbed for it desperately, sending bricks and mortar showering on those below her. "No!" She shrieked. Unable to find a solid hold, she lost her grip on the crumbling ledge. Pain pulsed through her shoulder followed quickly by a relaxing and paralyzing of her muscles. She fell, screaming her rage, and lost consciousness before she hit the ground.
A crowd gathered around the commotion that originated from the small alleyway. Symihr cursed himself for drawing so much attention to his work, but he knew they would have lost her otherwise. She would have disappeared and there wouldn't have been any way of finding her again, except for maybe the scars, which were readily apparent in her Shamien form as well.
Iren had taught Symihr much of the Shabenay while he worked for the Hunter. With experience they could learn to hide the Marks that showed the rest of the world what they were. It appeared as if Kri lacked this ability, given that hers were plainly visible through her fur. They could change their shape within a blink if they were powerful enough. Out of everything on Kashian, the Shabenay had to be the hardest prey to both track and capture, but Iren was the expert. Iren had been hunting Shabenay for well over fifteen years and had gained a strong reputation during that time.
From down the lane Symihr heard Iren’s voice with the familiar Frineir accent calling out orders as he made his way through the gathering crowd. “Go on! Noth’ng’s hir, it's just an animal that escaped from the docks. Boys, would you kindly escort thes’ pe’ple out of her’ b’fore someone gets hurt? Thank you.” Heads moved aside to make way for Iren as he strode purposefully down the alley.
Symihr stood up as the grohne Frineir approached. Iren was a good head taller than Symihr, the Grohne were of the three tallest of the Frineir races and averaged at least a foot above most Human heads. Iren was shorter than most, but he still exemplified the characteristic wolf facial features, though the eyes were larger and wider spaced and the muzzle slightly shorter than their feral four-legged counterparts called Tsihr. The fur of the Grohne tended to be shades of grey and tan, but Iren’s was a reddened brown with a bleach white chest, muzzle, and arms.
Iren’s eyes scanned the large body of the unconscious Shamien lying in a heap on the crumbled bits of brick and mortar. His gaze settled upon the marks that adorned her right arm and left hand. “Onlih thre’, it's another young one.” Iren muttered, then he spoke louder. "How'd you find it?"
"She was in a bar, I recognized her Human form—“
"You know her?" Iren questioned, somewhat suspiciously.
"Knew is more like it, Iren." Corrected Symihr, not particularly wanting ties to a Shabenay, coincidental or not. "She used to live in Murn, Tierluh, where I'm from on Mehm. They found her out shortly after I joined you. She'd been rumored dead for almost three years. I saw no need to question it . . . until today."
"Ehven accurate news has a way of b’ing disproved when it comes to the Shabenay." Iren knelt down next to Kri, picking up the large hand that extended into the Shamien wing. "I've s’en this one b’fore." Iren whispered, his thumb rubbed the black Mark that encircled Kri's left hand, closely resembling a stylized drawing of an eye.
"Hmm?" Symihr looked down at his boss. "What was that?"
"Noth’ng." Iren said, stood up, and turned his attention towards the rest of his men. "Alright, where's that cage? You know this drug only last for just over a Kut! Symihr, k’ep an eye on her, if she twitches hit her with another one to k’ep her under. I don't want her awake until after w're out of this city." With that Iren strode down to the open end of the alley, shouting orders and making sure they were followed quickly and accurately.
It was twenty minutes before the large wagon creaked and rolled its way in front of the alley and backed in. The ramp dropped and several Kierr climbed down behind it. They gathered around the unconscious Shamien form and firmly bound the wings and hind legs. It took six of the Kierr to drag the massive body down between the buildings and to the ramp where they employed ropes and pulleys to drag Kri the rest of the way up the ramp into the cage.
The door swung noisily upwards and slammed closed.
Sensation slowly came back to Kri as consciousness sluggishly returned. Her mind gradually slid towards awareness, first feeling the wood beneath her body that swayed and creaked. She allowed her senses to come back at their own pace, no need rushing things. The resulting headache from a panicked leap back to reality would not be worth the time it saved. Sound softly drifted to her ears, creeping leisurely to higher volume as her mind returned to a fully awakened state. None of the noises were familiar, at least at first. There were voices hidden between the other sounds, all male, where was she? There was a bump in the road; the sudden jolting of the wheels jostled her into full consciousness.
Bars surrounded her, they blocked every way out, not only that, but between the stout metal bars was a fine, but strong, wire mesh. There wasn't a form small enough that would have allowed her to pass through that.
Panic rose up from her gut, clenching at her and suffocating reason. How'd she get here? When did this happen? She couldn't remember, what was going o--wait . . . a face, that face was familiar, who was it? Click. "Symihr!" She roared. She struggled up and attempted to jump toward him, but crumbled back to the floor. It was then that she noticed the chains that bound her. The wagon rocked and the Lasa’tei whinnied and pranced towards the side of the road. Kri was momentarily surprised at being tied firmly to the cage, but that didn't last very long. She growled and snorted into the wood. "Betrayer."
Once he regained his composure Symihr cautiously approached the cage. "Awake and able to articulate in such a primitive and beastly form." Speaking seemed to give him more confidence, allowing himself to sneer.
"Coward,” the low murmuring roll of a growl underlined her speech, "say that without these bars between us or these chains holding me back."
Symihr shrugged. "Cowards don't die young."
"They do when they've crossed the wrong person."
He dared to laugh. "’Person’ is hardly the word to describe what you are."
Rounded ears flicked against Kri’s skull and she snarled menacingly, exposing large, curved canines. “The same could be said of belly-crawling bottom-dwellers like you, Symihr.”
Carelessly Symihr waved his hand to dismiss the remark and continued. “Just know, beast, or Kri if you prefer it, that you won’t be receiving anything from us, food or water, until you return to your Human form.” He turned and began walking away towards the front of the wagon train.
“Symihr, I promise,” she breathed with an almost inaudible hiss, “you are a dead man when I escape.” Harsh gold-brown eyes burrowed into the back of Symihr’s skull. He stopped in his tracks, almost thoughtfully as if he heard or might turn back. He shuddered slightly as if to shake off her glare before walking on.
The first day of travel went slowly once Kri was awake. With the racket that the young Shabenay insisted on maintaining the Lasa’tei refused to pull properly. The poor equines were scared senseless for the first half Kut before being calmed enough to work. Even once the Lasa team was settled the noise and commotion emanating from inside the cage was enough to draw a crowd, much to Iren's annoyance. The group slowly faded as the trees of the Sha Forest rose above the small caravan, thickening along the road and darkening the path.
The Sha Forest is considered a haunted place. The only way through it that guarantees survival is the road that was built some two thousand years prior. Despite the road’s age it is in astoundingly good shape, mostly due to its vital importance to overland trade routes on Roomir, which otherwise would have to make detours several thousand Kiloms out of the way by sea in order to make it safely to the other side. The forest stretched, roughly, from the northern to the southern coast, the few breaks in it were also surrounded by trees and not easily accessed from the outside. The name itself, Sha, translates to “spirit” in Common Tongue, though those that guarded the forest were anything but spirits despite their own name, Shamien, derived from the Common Tongue words of Sha and miren, or “spirit beast.” The Shamien had a way of moving in the forest that unnerved most travelers. Rumors ran ramped about these guardians of the vast forest, many regard them as more than mere animals. Many thought the Shamien as fantastic, super-natural beasts with magical powers, but truth told they were not magical, merely intelligent.
Some of the men looked about nervously for the first Kut after entering the forest, even though the road stretched at least 25 tirms across, wide enough for a dozen wagons to run side-by-side. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the road that unnerved the men more than the animals that lurked beyond in the dense trees.
Kri quieted down for a moment; eyes fixed in the depths of the trees. She’d passed through this forest before, though not by the road she was forced to use now. There had been no resistance to her passing last fall. Not a single Shamien had made its presence known, despite the constant feeling of eyes watching her and the occasional scent that would shift through the trees. The forest appeared even more still and silent than it had been then. She pressed her muzzle against the mesh between the bars and took in the smell of fresh growth on the trees, but no Shamien.
She grumbled annoyance, not being able to pace made the journey incredibly dull. That is, until she decided to focus her mind on listening in on her captors’ conversations. It was readily apparent that the men didn’t count for the Shamien’s acute sense of hearing; either that or they didn’t care what was overheard. From their whisperings she learned there were scouts actually combing the forest for another Shabenay. That would explain the birds' silence. It was apparent they had known of the other Shabenay for some time. Kri hoped that the other would have better luck evading capture than she had. There was a persistent ache in her shoulder from where the dart hit, she mumbled and shifted her position slightly, hoping to alleviate some of the dull pain.
A small knot of Humans passed, Kri hissed menacingly for lack of anything else to do, they quickly increased their distance from the cage in response. She looked back towards Kur’hran, the city was hardly visible now, just a pinprick between the small gap that showed where the road began its cut through the forest.
A rumbling growl sounded from Kri’s stomach. No food or water until she returned to her Human form, was it? She knew there was some reason behind it, Humans were much easier to control physically. Well, she wasn’t about to make this trip any easier for them, especially with another Shabenay out there being hunted. Kri struggled to her feet; rather difficult as she couldn’t move them much more than a few inches beyond where they were bolted to the floor. She glared defiantly at some of the men who walked by, and sent them a warning growl until they passed. Now standing, she tested the irons that clamped tightly around her ankles, wrists, and consequentially her wings. They were firmly bolted into the floor and wouldn’t be pulled out of the heavy wood without dealing her a good deal of injury.
Kri snorted irritably, if she was going to find some way out of here she’d have to get out of these chains first, but she wasn’t about to show them any more forms, granted, with three Marks plainly visible there wasn’t much chance that they assumed she only had two forms. “Ach, curse it, I want to at least be able to move.” A clear mind and a mere thought caused her to change shape, from a Shamien the size of a small horse, to a small finch-like bird. She chirped from where she stood within one of the large iron bands that had encircled her leg but seconds before. A quick flick of her wings perched her atop the band. Just out of pure curiosity she flitted over to the wire mesh where she perched for a moment and attempted to fit her head through, still too large, resigned she glided back to the floor and reassumed her Shamien form. She’d last longer without food or water if she stayed in one form, especially with the Homich Shamien’s natural ability to withstand long periods of time without water.
She paced around the small cage; head low to avoid hitting the ceiling. There wasn’t far to go, but it was better than just sitting. Her eyes crawled over the cage, examining the bars and mesh, seeking a possible weak point. She stopped pacing and sat in a corner. The thick, powerful tail thudded against the floor as she thought. It would be impossible to break the bars and she didn’t have the room to be able to get to the mesh properly, let alone get the leverage needed to pry it apart. She glared at the wood floor then scratched it tentatively with a claw. Hard wood, it was to be expected. Getting up again she paced the length of the cage then halted at the back end, eyes fixed on the back wall, also barred with the mesh between. If all of it was bars and mesh how had they managed to shove her in? Turning her head sharply to the side she was leaning on she backed up to focus her eyes more properly on the edges of the cage. The links of mesh overlapped, she looked up, the bars fit in grooves at the top, not into the circular holes that the others did. It was obvious that this panel was meant to swing down.
Oblivious to the fact that she may be watched Kri backed to the front of the cage before charging. She threw her full weight into the back of the wagon cage. The Lasa’tei whinnied shrilly and danced back as they were nearly pulled off of their feet. The driver cursed soundly, but Kri was not deterred, as there had been an amazing amount of give from the bars; more than she had expected. With a shake of her head she backed and rammed into the gate again. More curses from the driver and he shouted for assistance. A third time Kri backed up, noticing the slight dent she’d made her lips curled in a grin. She was stopped mid-charge by a dart in her shoulder. Her momentum hurled her forward a third time to crash less carefully into the gate.
“My luck, same shoulder,” she grimaced slightly. Symihr blurrily came into view again.
“I’m a ‘shifter, Symihr, we can accomplish amazing things.” She grinned, her body started to go numb, “it was worth a try at least.” Blackness enveloped her again.
Kri woke up to the sound of the gate slamming shut. She slit her eyes open, it was dark now and took her eyes a while to focus. Cursing filtered to her ears, or at least she thought they were curses, they weren't Common Tongue or anything else she could easily recognize. It was the vehemence with which the words were spoken that hinted the words’ meaning.
"Welcome to first class," Kri muttered, grinning slightly, the numbing power of the drug was still in effect. The other's form started at her voice. It was Human, definitely. "Never hear a Shamien talk?" She questioned, oddly amused.
The other appeared to stare blankly at her; it was hard to tell in the dark, especially since Kri's vision was still attempting to come back to its full capacity. The long blonde hair that brushed the floor covered most of the girl's face. She was bound rather tightly, though not bolted to the floor like Kri was. How'd they manage that while she was still awake?
"I have," the other replied firmly, and attempted to flick the hair from her face for a better look, "it's just I didn’t expected to see another Shabenay."
"So you're the one they've been talking about all day." Kri stated as she readjusted herself to a more comfortable position than the one she'd been put in. Her mind cleared more and the pain began to reassert itself. In addition to that, there was a second, more peculiar sensation that tickled the back of her mind; she'd only felt something like it a few times before. "Didn't take them very long to get you."
The other snorted. "They've only been snooping around the North Sha for the past year and a half," she replied and grunted slightly as she maneuvered to her back to stare at the ceiling. "What's your name?"
"Kri, and yours?"
"It's Shinkir. I'm of Ker's line, you?"
"Whose line?" Kri asked dumbly.
"Ker, you should know, he's rather well-known." Shinkir stated matter-of-factly.
"I'm sorry, I'm not quite following you on that."
"You don't know Ker? Surely you've at least heard of Kirashtyn's guards, even if you don't know their names." Shinkir went on, "or just Kirashtyn; everyone knows of Kirashtyn."
"Uh . . . I think you're wrong on that part, who's he?" Kri queried, not in the least perturbed by her own lack of knowledge.
Shinkir blinked dumbly for a moment. Kri watched her, waiting for an answer. Shinkir stared back. Several minutes of silence passed between the two before Shinkir finally picked up the conversation again. "You've never heard of Kirashtyn?"
"Never," Kri confirmed.
"And you're a Shabenay?" Shinkir probed.
"Is there another reason I'd be here?" Kri replied.
"Stupid question, sorry, the sense of another is unmistakable,” that’s what that feeling is, Kri noted as Shinkir continued, “that and Shamien hardly ever speak Common Tongue. But . . . you're a Shabenay, and you've never heard of the most prominent figure in our past?" It was apparent Kri's new travel companion was having a hard time wrapping her mind around such a concept.
"Quite plainly, Shinkir, you're the first Shabenay I've ever met." Kri replied as she moved to her side. At least to my knowledge, she thought to herself as she pondered other times she’d felt something similar to what she did now.
“Not even your own parents?”
Kri laughed, it sounded more bitter than amused. “Hardly.”
Once again Shinkir gaped back at Kri. Shocked that such a thing could be. "You're a first-generation Shabenay?" Shinkir's wide eyes stared at Kri in the dark, "there haven't been any of those since . . . since, well, since Beneur chose us as far as I can remember."
"Beneur . . . she's, well, she's our god, or goddess, really." Shinkir replied.
“Some goddess,” Kri snorted, “what has she done apart from giving us this curse that turns the world against us?”
"We didn't use to be hunted you know." Shinkir defended. "For the longest time we were a great people. We had knowledge from all over and were great peacemakers among the other species, being as we could see nearly all sides of most any argument." She shook her head as best as she could in her position. "Since the other races turned against us we’ve lost a lot of our history, I don’t know very much."
“And why do you think they turned against the Shabenay, Shinkir?”
“They were afraid, jealous of what we are capable of, that is how I was told.”
“The Shabenay killed people, Shinkir.” Shinkir opened her mouth to protest. “They burned towns and slaughtered whole families. My mother told me of her family during the dark times when demons ran loose and wild through Mehm.” Kri shrugged slightly and closed her eyes, ignoring Shinkir’s shocked stare. “I’d like to believe it was just jealous fear, but either way you look at it, Shinkir,” Kri looked at her companion again, "we're both cursed and blessed. We're hunted by these men that hold us captive, but we have advantages that they can't foresee, power that they don't understand and are afraid of."
Silence again pervaded between the two of them. Kri was exhausted, despite having been knocked out twice in the same day she was tired both mentally and physically. She was almost asleep when Shinkir's voice brought her back.
A low, slightly irritated rumble replied.
"I'm just curious, but," Shinkir paused for a moment, choosing her words carefully, "how old were you? What was your original form? I know it's not Shamien; you don't have the accent. You don't have to answer," then softer, "I'm just curious."
Kri looked groggily at Shinkir. "Born Human, I was only eleven when I 'shifted. Killed a man, self-defense. That didn't stop the whole town from trying to kill me. Granted, they think they actually succeeded, but I'm not the one to correct them on that."
"And is that-"
"Yeah, the scars are from that." She motioned to the right side of her face. "Almost like these accursed Marks, 'cept I can't hide them, even if I try." Kri snorted, there was a soft clinking as she shifted her position. "I'm going to sleep now."
Shinkir didn't try to continue the conversation. Kri slept less than soundly the rest of the night.
Shinkir peaked out from behind her eyelids. The sun was still blocked by the Sha's towering trees, but it was light enough to be annoying to unadjusted eyes.
"You were raised by other Shabenay, right?" She questioned, eagerness etched in her voice.
"Yes, well, until I was five that is." Shinkir replied.
"What happened then?" Kri questioned, rested now she was more curious than irritated with her newfound companion and ally.
"We were discovered. I don't remember much of what happened, but they came at night with torches. There was a lot of confusion and everyone tried to fight them off. Mother told me to run to the forest that the Shamien would help me and, if she could, she'd come and get me when it was over." Shinkir shook her head; her voice didn't quite carry the emotion Kri expected it should, sounding completely detached and distant. "She never made it back. Neither did any of the others. The mob was just too big for them to handle. I was the only one to survive."
"No need to apologize, Kri, it happened a long time ago. Quanae is the one who raised me. She told me pretty much all I know of the Shabenay among other things, of course. She's the one who taught me both Common Tongue and the Shamien's language."
"The Shamien can speak?"
Shinkir looked at her curiously. "You're surprised? Need I remind you what form you're in?"
"Well, I mean, I didn't know they had their own language or anything. I was told they were like other animals, well, along with other things."
Shinkir chuckled. "I suppose that's the way they want it. They were, and are, more advanced than you'd be willing to believe, but we're getting off track, what did you want?"
There was a slight hesitation on Kri's part as she reconsidered asking her question. However, curiosity won out in the end. "What was it like? Being with other Shabenay?"
"From what I remember, happy. There was always tension though, I remember more than once we had to hide for days or weeks for fear of being caught." Her lips twitched slightly as if to smile, but then flattened into a line and her eyes darkened. "I guess we weren't as cautious as we should have been.
"I mostly remember living with the Shamien, being with my family and the other Shabenay seems more like a dream than a memory to me."
Kri yawned and attempted to stretch. Her muscles ached and protested from what they'd been put through the previous day. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She growled, Shinkir looked. Symihr was walking beside the wagon. "What do you want?"
"The offer still stands, ah, Kri. Return to your original form and you'll get something to eat and drink." He was holding a loaf of bread and flask of water.
"Not if it helps you any, Symihr," Kri growled back.
"Alright, but just because you're being stubborn doesn't mean the other will be denied." He turned his attention to Shinkir. "We're watching, don't give her any."
Kri watched intently as he reached up and fiddle with a rather complex latch. It clicked and he pulled away a small piece of bar and some mesh. He tossed the water and food inside and closed the small opening. The section of bar fell flush against the rest and the mesh fit snuggly in place. No wonder she hadn't noticed it the day before. There appeared to be no way to get at the device from the inside. Forcing it open was out of the question while she was still in chains that and the noise she'd generate attempting to pry it open would draw attention.
"What're you thinking?"
Shinkir's voice brought Kri out of her thoughts. "What?"
"You're thinking of something, what?" She questioned again.
"Nothing that would work." Kri replied and flopped down with a rattle of chains.
The day crept along without much incident, as did those following. On the fourth day after her capture, Shinkir started to grow nervous. She cast glances towards the thick woods on either side before her eyes would jump over the faces of the men present.
She jumped and glanced back at Kri.
"What are you looking for?" Kri's voice was low and started to take on a raspy undertone from the dryness in her throat. The lack of food and water were starting to show. She wouldn't be able to hold her stubborn protest much longer.
"I, well, it's rather silly." She picked at the ropes around her wrists. "I'd been hoping that my pack would appear. Get us out of here, y'know? But," she snorted, "I should know better. Quanae said it was time for me to find others. Besides, even with their strength they wouldn't risk so much just for one member, especially with that potion they have."
"You mean the darts?"
Shinkir nodded. The conversation died at that and there was silence between the two for several hours.
As the afternoon faded Kri realized if she didn't change now she wouldn't have the energy to later. If she was going to get out of this she needed her strength. The transformation took longer than she liked, but with her energy so low she was grateful to even be able to take another form.
Kri slipped out of the chains and fell upon her back, exhausted by the effort. Suddenly, she winced and grit her teeth. "Figures," she muttered and passed out, a dart in her shoulder.