“Annie! Get away from that! What are you doing!?”

“I’m healing it! Look at the poor thing. It’s injured all over!”

She slowly came back to consciousness, a warm, soothing sensation spreading in her body.

“That’s a shadeling! It’s extremely aggressive! It’ll bite your hand off!”

“Are you saying I can’t handle something the size of a cat? I’ll be fine. If she tries anything, I’ll subdue her.”

She could hear strange animal sounds near her, and she felt something touching her scales, the pressure moving from spot to spot, the pain in those areas fading away, replaced with the warm sensation.

“Oh it’s a she now huh? It would be better off dead. You do know the hunter’s guild has a bounty on them? They’re a menace.”

Enough Jonas. The hunter’s guild has a bounty on everything. We’re not killing her. We’re in the middle of the wilderness, she’s not hurting anyone out here.”

She felt herself be turned over, the warming touch showing an effortless strength, but the shift was gentle.

She opened her eyes, and turned her head to look. It was day out, the early colors of the morning. There were two large creatures, one on its hind legs, standing vertically, its forelegs to its sides, and the other was bent down, back legs bent, butt to the back of its rear legs, balancing on the tips of its oddly shaped feet. Its forepaws were reaching forward, touching her, one sliding out from under her body now that she had been turned. They were strange, with long flexible digits and pitiful-looking flat claws. The strange paws were glowing with a gentle light, and strange glowing squiggles traced around its forelegs near the paws.

Both of the creatures tensed at her movement. She laid her head back down, slowly, hoping not to startle them. She kept her eyes on them, hoping they wouldn't attack her in her weakened state. She had reason to believe they wouldn't. The crouching one was obviously the source of the warm feeling that was ridding her of pain. She was nervous having a large animal showing such directed interest in her given her current state, but it was obviously helping for some reason.

“Oh yes, she’s so aggressive.” The creature gibbered at the upright one, its mouth quirked.

“It’s probably still disoriented. Don't let your guard down.” The other grumbled in its deeper tones. Its fierce gaze locked on her. It felt more aggressive in its posture than the other.

The crouching one’s strange paws, hands, reached forward and touched her again, the warm feeling flowing back into her. She watched in amazement as her wounds sealed themselves around wherever the hands touched. It was doing more than just making the pain go away, it was healing her! She looked back up and really took in her unlikely saviors.

They looked built to stand on their back legs, the standing one seeming entirely comfortable in its position. They had very strange hides, with lots of different growths and different textures, most of it hanging rather loosely. It was almost like it wasn’t in one piece.

It’s not one piece! They have things hanging on themselves!

That fact made her jump to her feet in sudden excitement, wincing a bit from the few wounds left on her but too excited to just lay there.

They had many different bits hanging on themselves in different ways, strips of what looked like skin securing other unknown objects to them. She realized that what she had thought was different parts of a strange hide were actually some sort of… layers of... Plant? Skin? That fit their shapes surprisingly well. The different parts clearly weren’t connected to their bodies; she could see the gaps where their limbs came out from under the coverings.

The crouching one stepped back at her sudden movement, with the other stepping forward, using its hands to draw something that looked like a straight shiny stick that was sharp like a claw along its edge. She could smell the aggression from it. She realized they smelled quite good, and she was starving. Not that she would even consider attacking them, what with how interesting they were and how dangerous the one on the left seemed. She sidled slowly to the right, putting the female (it smelled female anyway, she wasn’t sure as she had never seen this type of creature before) between her and the male.

The female suddenly bared its teeth and made a barking noise, which made her tense, but it didn’t show any other signs of aggression in its posture like the male was, so she calmed herself back down. It looked back up at its companion.

“Hah! Look, she’s harmless, she’s just scared of you, you big oaf!”

The female extended a forelimb.

“Go stand over there and stop looming.”

The male’s eyes rolled into its head and he hesitated for a moment before he turned and stomped away in the direction the limb was pointing, returning his claw stick to the attachment on his side.

“Bleeding heart fool. It’s your hand; don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The grumbly tones of the male responded as he left.

She was frozen in shock.

The female just sent her thoughts to the male.

It was the only thing that made sense. The male had clearly been trying to advance, when the female had gibbered at it in that strange complex call these creatures made. She had indicated in a direction and the male had stopped its advance and went to the spot indicated. It clearly hadn’t been intending to but the female had... had told it to somehow.

The female turned back to her.

“You’re a brave one aren’t you? I’d expected you to run off as soon as you were able. Will you let me touch you again to finish patching you up?”

It extended a hand to her, which seemed to have stopped glowing at some point, the squiggles were gone as well. The gibbering seemed directed at her this time.

Is that how they send thoughts? It doesn’t seem to be working. Does she want something from me?

Then her stomach made its wishes known, complaining loudly.

Not now! This is way too interesting. I can starve for a while; it's fine.

The female seemed to hear it too, and bared its teeth again, making more of the barking sounds.

She was less startled this time.

Is she laughing?

Then it took off its hump, which she realized was actually a giant... container of some sort rather than a body feature covered like its other parts.

It dug around for a bit before coming up with a few strips of something. It smelled like meat.

“Hungry are you? Here.”

It extended a hand toward her with a strip in it. It was fascinating how easily it could move things around with that appendage. As useful as her claws were, she thought she might trade if it were possible.

She’s giving it to me? Why... why is she doing this?

She slowly approached and opened her mouth to take the meat.

The female withdrew her hand a bit, inhaling.

“Sweet gods, you’ve some impressive teeth. Perhaps not entirely harmless then. You’ll keep the biting to the jerky, won’t you?” The female said softly, before moving its hand back toward her.

She had stopped, mouth open, a bit confused as to the meaning of that, but it had moved the food forward again, so she gingerly grabbed it.

It tasted… strange; but good. It was far drier than she was used to and lacked the taste of blood, but there were other flavors to it as well that she hadn’t tasted before. It wasn’t the best thing she’d eaten but it was certainly interesting.

She noticed something else too. It wasn’t sizzling in her mouth. Her acid spit was missing. Just as the thought crossed her mind she felt some of that... energy moving in her. It felt more like a part of her, distinctly different from the tingling before. Stronger. It moved to her mouth and she knew she was producing the acid again. It was like flexing a non-existent muscle.

She shook her head and let the energy pool back in her center.

I can turn it off now!

She wanted to experiment, but there was too much going on. She would handle it later.

Acid or not the meat was gone in a moment. She relished the new experience. Just as she finished, the female fetched another strip out of its pack and offered it up the same as the first. When she reached out to bite the strip, the female's other hand reached forward. It was glowing again and the squiggles were back. They must be related.

She paused for a moment, looking at the pretty healing light, before going for the meat again. She felt the hand touch her again but wasn’t worried about it. The female had been nothing but helpful; if it’d wanted to hurt her it could have just left her on the ground to die.

She ate a few more strips of meat as the female finished healing her remaining injuries.

“There. All patched up. You’re surprisingly trusting, you know? Letting me touch you of your own accord just a few minutes after meeting.”

The female had scrunched its face up a bit with its statement.

She felt like she was in some sort of dream. No creature she’d seen would help one that was not of its own kind. She didn’t know why this creature was helping her but it was, with no benefit for itself as far as she could tell.

Maybe it’s like looking at pretty things or exploring for her.

She didn’t really benefit in any concrete way from looking at pretty sights or finding interesting new things but it fulfilled her. That must be it! The female must be fulfilled by this, despite it not being beneficial on the surface.

I would give up some food for a pretty new shell. Even if I’ll never... be able to show it to someone?

She looked up at the wonderful creature, who was busy rubbing its hand down her head and back in a pleasant way, now that she was fully healed and done eating.

Maybe I could show things to you?

It was so different from her in every way. It toddled on two legs. It had tan skin where she had black scales. Its eyes were green and white, with a black dot in the middle where she had black eyes with a yellow slash in the center. It was huge and didn’t even have a tail.

But maybe, maybe it was the same. The same in the ways that really mattered. It had thoughts of its own. It had to.

She got up and walked to its leg, rubbing her head on its thigh like it had been rubbing her.

She looked up into its eyes and willed her intention at it.

Thank you. I’ll be back soon!

She took a deep breath, filling herself with its scent, and set off.

She heard them gibbering as she pulled away.

“I think she was grateful! She came over and rubbed her head on me before darting off!”

“More like marking you for its next meal!”

“Oh shove it. You just can’t admit when you’re wrong.”

She knew just the thing she wanted to share.

A note from Zat

This chapter was hard. I had to make some sacrifices on the grammatical side of things with the "its" and "shes" for clarity.

Having two girls in a story where our narrator doesn't have names for either can get really confusing when they're interacting. Hope it didn't seem too weird.

Not sure how well the introduction of humans to the story will go over folks, but I hope you're on board with it.

Also! I'm going to be busy this weekend so probably no more chapters for a bit. Don't know how long I'll keep up my current rate but I'll probably fall back to something more reasonable. I'm not the fastest writer and this has been taking up most of my night.

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