A knock at the door, a low moan of pain from outside. "Let me in," I hear the voice groan, slightly muffled through the cheap, flimsy door. "Let me in," the voice says again, "please."
I ignore it. There's work to do, information that must be transcribed from memory with regrettable hastiness, and for that--those colleagues of mine who might read this sloppy draft--I apologize.
First Encounter Edit
The squat little creature steps out from behind a crate further down the alleyway, shuffling in heavy, ragged robes. A deep hood covers its head, which it keeps bent downward into even deeper shadow. It drags its feet along the paving-stones, I note, because it doesn't want to risk revealing them by walking normally. Its arm reaches out, palm turned upward to the sky. From the hood comes a gentle clinking sound, exactly like coins jingling in a coinpurse.
"What's this?" This dim query comes from one of the hired hands to my right, one of two brothers. New to town, I'd managed to snatch them up for some work before the tongue-waggers could scare them off with slanderous lies. Not terribly bright, but...
"What is this?" He asks again. "Where's the baby you were looking for? We came in here because you heard a baby crying..."
"There was no baby," I cut him off. "Keep your eyes open."
The hunched figure gestures its open hand at me again, more urgently this time. The sound this time is of heavy gold coins hitting a wooden table-top. I smile thinly.
"No," I tell the figure. "You'll get nothing from me."
The figure then makes another sound--that uncanny accuracy!--and this time it's the sound ripping leather, a purse torn open, and coins scattering violently on the ground. As if this were some signal, three more hooded figures suddenly slide from out of the shadows of the alley, creeping towards us with knives drawn. The one in front of me rears up, stronger than its originally hunched form would suggest, and for the first time its long, dark beak is visible in the dim light of the alley, its clawed birdlike feet poking out from under its cloak as it shifts into an attack stance. Small round eyes flash as it, too, reaches for its blade.
"Leave at least two alive," I tell my hirelings as they hastily draw their own weapons. "I'll need them."
Physiology and Appearance Edit
A total of ten Kenku were captured over the course of two weeks for observation. Six currently remain.
Direct observation of the creature with clothing removed reveals a fairly squat, but strong, animal. Bipedal with humanoid proportions not dissimilar from dwarves, the Kenku tend to stand approximately four to four and a half feet tall, though the creatures tend to sulk and slouch.
Their skin is dark, with individuals of the species varying from a light gray to a near-black charcoal color. Their arms and legs are bare. Dark, glossy feathers begin to appear at the upper thigh and shoulder areas, quickly thickening into a coat that matches any raven or crow on their chest, back, neck, and head. Their heads are distinctly crow-like, an almost identical engorgement of a normal bird's appearance.
Dissection confirms that the arm and shoulder muscles have no apparent capacity for flight, even a vestigial one. My dissections were further concerned with how these creatures are able to mimic sound so precisely. By dissecting several of the captured number, I have found in each of them a resonating chamber in the throat surrounding the vocal cords. This semi-bony chamber is partially compartmentalized, and I am certain that manipulation of the vocal cords within these chambers is what allows them to make such unconventional mimicry possible. Despite the fact that they can imitate spoken words and phrases, and sound precisely like the original speaker, they seem incapable of forming language on their own. Perhaps some kind of mental deficiency explains this.
I'd also heard stories that thieves and other miscreants had used these animals to forge documents for them. Curious, I provided one with ink and parchment, showed him an old map of the city from the days of its founding, and ordered him to replicate it. Though I'd only allowed the thing to look at the map for approximately two minutes, he was able to copy it down to the tiniest detail. I marveled at this, noting that the creature had even included a smudged ink blot over one of the western gate's watch towers, a blemish from the original map.
Social and Behavioral Observations Edit
The Kenku appear to live in small communal 'flocks,' for lack of better term. Their area of the slums is rarely traveled, but interviews with residents nearby have led me to believe that this city's flock is comprised of anywhere from twenty to thirty individuals at most. Considering the size of the city and the ample opportunity for thievery, begging, and scavenging that it provides, I can assume that flocks at smaller metropolitan areas would shrink accordingly.
I can determine no form of government, no rigid social structure, no alpha male or female. Observations of the captive group in their pen shows constant infighting, sharp words and glances exchanged. The Kenku communicate with one another in silence most of the time, using only brief gestures and exchanged glances to convey some kind of meaning to one another. Only when conversations become apparently heated do they use sound, stealing expressions and noises from other creatures; a dog barking while angry, a woman's long sigh when acquiescent.
They choose the darkness and the squalor, I am certain. They shrink from my torch when I draw near to their cell, their eyes sparkling with understandable hatred. They are vengeful creatures, spiteful. I had focused my one-on-one behavioral observations with the Kenku I'd referred to as 'Mapmaker.' It was through him that I learned that their written and verbal mimicry seemed limitless, and had rewarded Mapmaker with clothes and extra food.
After two days of this, I found Mapmaker lashed to the bars of the cell by his entrails, his broken arms spread wide. The clothes I'd given him had been torn to ribbons and draped, blood-soaked, over his arms. I wonder if there was some relevance to their bird-like appearance that the method of execution and display that they'd chosen had given the flightless Kenku the appearance of wings.
A Brief Conclusion Edit
"Let me in," the voice still moans as I write. Damn it all. Pages of notes and observations back at my home. I'd been fooled by these little beasts.
I'd found the cage door open, the remaining subjects gone and my experimental equipment scattered. I assumed that the creatures had escaped and fled. What a fool I'd been! Had I not known they were vengeful? As I began cleaning up the mess they'd left behind, I felt a searing pain in my side. Out of the shadows, out of nowhere, one of my Kenku had appeared and driven the short scalpel into my ribs, mercifully no deeper than a flesh wound. But I had never seen or heard the creature before it attacked me! It hissed with a cat-noise and slashed at my side again, opening another wound.
Even as I shoved the creature away and scrambled to my feet, the others appeared out of the shadows with disturbing silence. Their hands gripped short blades, bone saws--my own autopsy equipment. I turned and fled, slamming the door shut behind me. I fled here, to this filthy little inn, a place where I would get little notice and the patrons would ask fewer questions. I staggered to the door and pounded upon it in my disgraceful panic, calling hoarsely "Let me in!" I still had enough gold on my person to pay for this room for a hundred nights, but I now know I won't need nearly that long.
"Let me in," says the voice at the door. "Let me in," says another, and more than two fists are trying to turn the knob, trying to scratch at the door. "Let me in," says a voice outside the shuttered and barred window. A scraping sound from the roof, and I am convinced that even through the thick slats I can hear the voice in the night-breeze whispering let me in...
All of these voices, desperate. All of them begging.
All of them, exactly like my own.