The forest was cool and still except for the faint squeals and hisses of the angry skysnakes. Their sounds were my guide and the louder they got, the more cautious I became until I was slipping from tree trunk to tree trunk like the fabled assassins in the stories the village boys seemed so fond of.
Finally, I found myself concealed in the shadow of a tree on the edge of a clearing. The skysnakes were a veritable swarm of activity, but the few that flew near my hiding place ignored me. I inched my way around the trunk as quietly as I knew how, but still, when I peered into the clearing, could not escape the hypnotic gaze of a legend: a Great Skysnake. Rivaling a dragon in size, easily big enough to carry two full-grown men in flight, it stared at me as if it had known I was there all along. Which, I thought ruefully, it probably had.
But where was its bond? The magnificent creature was injured, one wing rendered useless by a gash through the muscle connecting it to the body. Surely its bond wouldn't have just abandoned it. 'Him,' I corrected myself, knowing it was true but unsure exactly how I knew. The thought crossed my mind that the bond could've died, but I dismissed it. If the bond died, so would the Skysnake.
Unable to tear my eyes from that majestic gaze, I searched the clearing with my peripheral vision, but saw no one. Great Skysnakes were incredibly rare, but one unbonded in the wild? Unheard of.
I wanted to touch him. He was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen and I wanted contact more that I could remember wanting anything before, and yet I hesitated. These creatures had a reputation for visciousness toward any but their bonds and I had no idea how a wounded one would react to a stranger, except that it couldn't be good.
Despite my trepidation, though, I found my feet moving of their own accord toward those incredible eyes. Without warning, the Skysnake's tail lashed out toward me, stopping so precisely that the wickedly sharp tip rested in the middle of my forehead. My vision filled with a golden-green light and my very being filled with a presence so ~other~ that my senses were overwhelmed. The last thing I heard were the distant shrieks and hisses of the terrified, fleeing skysnake flock.
I woke to a notably quiet clearing and the gentle nuzzle of a scaly snout. ~Concern~ radiated through me and it took me a moment to realize it wasn't my emotion I was feeling. Without thinking, I reached a reassuring hand toward the Skysnake and felt ~concern~ melt into ~relief~.
It was only then that I realized what had happened. This creature of legend, this being of indescribable beauty, had chosen as his lifelong bonded partner a disheveled, unsure, lowly servant girl. He'd chosen me. I gazed at him in sheer, open-mouthed wonder and felt his amused affection glitter through me like stardust.
Then the pain hit. I felt his wound as if it were my own. Scrambling to my feet, I followed an instinct that wasn't entirely my own and pressed my forehead to my new bond's. I felt him draw on my life-force and a wave of dizziness washed over me, but I steeled myself against it, determined to be strong for him. For us.
He drew back after a moment and I clutched at him, trying to keep my feet under me. He stayed perfectly still, allowing me to lean on him until I could stand on my own again.
There was no pain. I saw that the place where there had been a bloody gash was now pristine, every scale in place as if the wound had never been.
I turned, smiling, to my bond and felt his joy and mine reflecting each other like two mirrors until I couldn't contain the laughter that bubbled up in me. At his urging, I settled astride his back, hooking my knees around his wing joints and then we warped into flight.
Below I saw my mistress and the ragtag search party she'd assembled to find me. We flew low enough that I could see them all gawping at me. The face of my (former) mistress flowed from confusion to rage as I waved cheerily to her before gaining altitude and angling toward the capitol city of Lyrin and my new life.