Kan tracked the small brown creature with her eyes as she picked up the sedge-grass sunshade and slipped it over her head, letting the drape fall down around her feet.
About the size of her foot, the animal ran up the rock wall of the overhang she had taken shelter in...and disappeared. She focused hard, searching section by section until she found it.
"Clever trick," Kan said, impressed with the creature now camouflaged grey, hanging upside down by long claws from a crevice overhead. It cocked its round head as its intelligent black eyes examined her in turn. A long pink tongue darted out and licked first one eyeball, then the other, leaving a glistening sheen in its wake. The scales that covered it appeared more fur-like in their texture, yet shimmered exactly like bird feathers.
"What do they call you?" she asked.
The sound of the creature's claws scraping on the rock as it skittered down the wall was faint but distinct. It Settled in her mind. Now Kan would be able to pick it out from a cacophony of sound. The creature darted forward on all fours, then stopped, one paw poised in the air, nose pointed to the sun-baked Plains. As Kan watched, the claws retracted, then the tiny body darted away so fast and silent it was a blur she wouldn't have seen if unaware. Her ears only barely picked up the sound of its padded feet hitting the stone. Just in case, she Settled the sensations as well so the creature wouldn't be able to sneak up on her.
She pulled up the hood, covering her head in deep shadow, and stepped out of the rock overhang's protection. Sweat instantly popped out all over her body and evaporated almost as quickly.
She Sensed the creature's approach and turned to face it. Her walking stick held loosely upright, but ready, as always.
However, another Sensation settled over her. Bonding. The creature wanted to share One Mind with her. It was extremely rare for a wild animal to offer, and only an idiot would turn it down. Bonding with any animal was a gift.
The grass parted, and only the slight glistening of the creature's nose gave away its position, for it had matched the bleached gold colour of the sedge-grass perfectly. Stepping forward cautiously, the creature's fur-scales began to morph until it was the exact same green as her skin.
"When you ask so nicely, who am I to refuse?" Kan laughed and squatted to pat the creature. The fur-scales were incredibly soft, and it purred as she stroked. It pulled back its lips to reveal small, pointed teeth. Matakararogh of the Muzud came its name in her mind as the Bond began. "I'll call you Mata, for short."
For long moments they stared into each other's eyes while a lifetime of memories passed between them. She flinched as a baagh's claws sliced the air millimeters from Mata's head... her mouth watered at the smells coming from the Huldard settlement...satisfaction flushed through her at a successful pounce and snap of a kharagosh's neck.
When the exchange finished, they could switch between each other's senses at will. She'd asked others who Bonded what it was like, but there really was no way to describe how every nuance of every sensation passed between them. Her mind effortlessly saw through Mata's eyes and documented information simultaneously with her own.
She could feel his retractable claws, and the teeth he could enlarge at will. His fur-scales not only acted as camouflage, but as a heating and cooling mechanism that her mind grasped, but she'd be hard pressed to explain.
Mata purred and sent her a flurry of impressions. Sustenance. Companionship. Assistance. Contentment. Protection.
Fear suddenly flashed through her mind. Mata took control of her body, twisting it sideways, out of the path of an arrow.
Mata scurried up her arm to cower under her hair at the back of her neck, tail curled around her throat. Instead of heating her up, somehow she felt cooler.
A dark-haired man burst into the tiny clearing. "Where is it?" he barked. He had an arrow knocked in a massive bow and was pointing it from spot to spot.
"Where is what?" Kan asked.
"The rodent," he replied.
Kan felt sorry for him. He had no idea the true nature of muzud. For all their diminutive size, muzud were the real rulers of the Plains, for none survived if several banded together to attack.
Word count: 750 words