She swam through the flows of the stream that fed the river where the cormorants fished and the fishermen plied their wares. The water was warm against her scales; her new body sliced through it like a knife. Bubbles surrounded her and while she swam, the shoals of fish parted to let her through.
In her body her heart grew hotter and hotter.
Ming Zhu was close by.
In the river's murky distance, filtered dark-green with the sunlight, was a large shape. Her mirror. It curved towards her, dancing in the water. She was beautiful, all silver and gold.
Ming Zhu, Xiao Xiao said. Come back.
The shape swirled and paused. In the water, they faced each other, claw to claw.
I will protect your family, Ming Zhu replied and her voice was the sound of muted storms. In return, you will protect mine.
They circled around each other.
Your sister, protect your sister, Ming Zhu whispered. I will protect her. I need your help.
Their claws touched.
And there was a sun-burst so bright in Xiao Xiao's heart she soared and lost herself in the fire.
When she came out, she had collapsed on the shore, her heart beating so hard it hurt. Nearby, Barrel nibbled on some wood sorrel, oblivious to what had happened.
There was change.
It was coming.