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 TasaÕtei 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 Tasa'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 Tasa 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 KurÕhran, 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 the 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 ShamienÕs 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 Tasa'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 sheÕd 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.

"How?"

"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.