Chapter Seven

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The shishini ship was a dark cavern, with acrid and sharp odours that reminded me of feline urine. I was flanked by the two shishini whom I nicknamed Yellow and Green privately. Shi Ling was sent back to Starfang, much to her consternation. She kept on protesting along the way back.

"Your ship's weaponry is trained on Sharp Shard," Yellow spoke again. "Please kindly refrain from doing that."

"Not when I don't know what's actually happening," I said tersely.

"I see," Yellow said and continued walking. "This will be a cordial chat. Our leader would like to meet you."

"What claw band are you from?" I pushed on. "Where are you from?"

Yellow and Green did not answer. They simply urged me forward with their fore claws and walked on.

The metal doors slid apart, letting out a thin silver of weak white light. This might be their command center, their bridge. I stepped into the chamber, struck by the familiarity of control panels and shimmering consoles. The only difference was the large orange web in the middle of the bridge. Individual strands were glowing and there was a large shishini touching them with elongated claw tips. It swayed from side to side as it swept the claws across the strands. The creature halted its strange graceful dance when it saw me.

"Francesca kek kett-sa!" The voice was clipped... and familiar. "We meet again."

S'sahrak.

The clawleader seemed to be bigger, more muscular... or that it was more confident, as it was on its home territory. The rosettes rippled under the dim light. A long blade glimmered as it swaggered over. I turned away at the sight of the sharp teeth.

"The web has brought you back. Well met, kett-sa!"

Without preamble, I shot back: "Where am I here?"

S'sahrak made a hissing sound. It was laughter. The bastard was laughing at me.

"Such language and tone, kett-sa. I brought you here. For remembrance's sake. And also to offer you friendship in such unpleasant times."

I bristled, remembering how I was tortured, how I was...

Yet the shishini's eyes shone with conviction.

"You are discarded by Yeung Leung, aren't you?" I said coldly.

S'sahrak did not flinch, only inclined its head slightly. A mere tilt of the shapely jaws.

An odd energy gripped me. Something I had not felt a long time. Even revenge paled in comparison. It burned in my chest.

Do not forget who you are, a voice like Aunt Gertrude said. Its clarity cut through me like a blade. Remember your Clan. Remember your focus.

I inhaled deeply. This friendship...no, this alliance... would be conditional.

"State your terms," I said and the coldness of the Clan was in my voice. "I do not have time for idle chit-chat."

"Very well," S'sahrak replied and motioned Yellow over. I did not notice that it was holding a box of some sort. It looked a mix between wood and stone.

"A relic of The People," S'sahrak reverently held the box and opened its lid. Within it was bone or born, shaped like a crescent moon. On closer examination, it was indeed a talon.

"My world is – a pause, a tilt of the head – dying," the clawleader's voice was soft. "You will bear the Claw for me and my kind."

I backed away, only to be pushed forward gently by Green. "I can't..."

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