A harsh sunlight gleamed down on the South Region's camp, filling the normally chilly morning air with a dense humidity. The stench of dried out, dead plants and loose dust greeted the nose of one of the region's tamers as he rolled onto his back in the shade of his den. His fur was slicked back with the grease and his paw pads were damp with sweat despite his location in the shade. With a shudder and a stretch his body grew more animated and slowly rose from its mossy nest.
'Good Morning' he thought to himself, although the gleam in his eyes and the soft glow of a stone partially hidden under his ruffled fur caused the thought to emanate from his mind into that of a small yellow-striped snake. As though his silent thoughts had been audible the little creature stirred and slithered out from a shady crack in the rocky wall at the far side of the den. She slunk towards the silvery paws of her feline friend before curling herself around his leg and the climbing up his arm and onto his shoulder.
"Ready to go?" The tom said with a yawn; every morning he and the snake would leave the South Region's camp and make their rounds around the nearest streams, searching for the snake's favorite snack; frogs, as well as for plants that the tabby, Jharain, could safely eat so that he could refrain from resorting to the flesh-eating habits of other cats.
Normally the reptile would give him a slight nod of her head in response to his words, but today she just rested herself across his shoulders, not even uttering a hiss of acknowledgement as Jharain stepped out of the den into the sunlight. The morning sky was cloudless, providing no shield from the overwhelming heat that had sent many of the region's bravest cats to hide in the shelter of shade simply to prevent from growing sick from the heat.
No one spoke as he exited the camp, all of the other cats; Daimen, Sairen, Mien, Clarias, Fae, Clover, Kendra... they were all preoccupied searching for prey to eat that hadn't been starved by the drought, trying to find water, hoping to continue patrols as though nothing was wrong.
'And nothing is wrong... this will all blow over soon.'
Aliath shook her head so lightly that Jharain almost dismissed the movement as a touch of the nonexistant breeze, but upon realizing it he forced a smile onto his face and turned to cast a sideways glance at the little slithery creature. 'I promise, it's alright.' He mentally reassured her, but she just laid quietly on his rippling shoulder blades as he tom cat walked on a well-trodden path through the forest towards the river to the east of the camp. His paws had walked across this dirt from the day that he first met Aliath - from the day that Blackberry, his mentor, had carried the little slider into their den and told him that it was time for him to tame an animal all his own.
She was so timid, she would always hide in cracks in the rocks, he had to lure her out with plants and insects that he foraged from this very river, and the first time they left camp together on a rainy day Aliath showed him her love for frogs as she slithered with a speed and determination that her shy personality usually prevented her from possessing. She was at home, alive at the damp shore of the stream.
Normally the sound of the trickling water, the scent of the mud and the low-growing plants would rouse Aliath from her resting place, and cause her to summon up the courage to slip away from Jharain and hunt for the frogs and tadpoles that make this little haven their home. But the trickle of the stream had died away, the plants seemed to crumble into dust, and the frogs had long since been devoured by forest creatures who had been left with nothing better to eat.
"Aliath." Jharain whispered, his voice weaving through the dusty, dry air like a vine as he looked at the snake who lay limp on his back, "Aliath we're here."
After a moment the snake shakily slithered her way to one of the tom's arms, although she lacked the strength to glide down and simply tumbled off of his back and onto the dirt, sending a tiny puff of dust out from underneath her.
"Aliath!" the tamer cried, pressing his nose into the snake's stomach, drawing in the scent of her dry, unshed skin. "Aliath, it's alright, I know the sunlight is harsh, but it will illuminate the river and the frogs..."
He used to have to avert his emerald gaze when Aliath would clamp her jaws down on a frog, he used to find it repulsive, but the infinite presence of frogs and the glints in the snake's beady black eyes sent warmth coursing through his body - every creature had a right to live, and if his soulmate could only survive by killing frogs then he would embrace that fact, he would carry her to the river every morning and let her wet her scales and eat as many little amphibians as she could handle.
Aliath raised her head slightly and met his gaze, sharing in his memory through his telekinesis.
'Don't just lay there, find a frog!'
She flicked her tail towards the riverbed and Jharain turned his head, realizing that the only water left had been soaked into the dirt, and the only sign of life were a few new plants who had spurted out of what had once been the bottom of the river, the only place where there was enough moisture for them to prosper at all.
'There has to be at least one!'
The snake simply looked at him, her expression blank and calm.
'Aliath, slither down to the rive-'
The slider began to move, although it was not towards the dried up riverbed, it was towards the silver tabby's forepaws. Her movements were slow and forced, the the feeling of her little bones scraping against the rocks on the dry ground caused her to let out an almost inaudible hiss before she rested her head on Jharain's paw. The tom laid himself down on the ground, bringing himself closer to the snake as she let out a little sigh.
Closing his eyes, the telepathy stone began to glow brighter and brighter as he summoned all his strength to use it to read the snake's thoughts. Since the power was meant for mental communication between cats it was difficult to alter it, but after a moment the little creature managed to tell the soulmate what she wanted;
'Show me the river'
Both of them closed their eyes, Jharain's nose pressed against Aliath's tongue as he summoned a memory and sent it to the little reptile;
The sun was hidden by gray clouds, and there was a light sprinkle of rain as the little tamer rookie trotted through the murky forest towards the rumble of the river. His eyes were narrowed in determination as he trudged through mud, every step like a kind of heave to keep himself from sinking down into the ground. All of his fur was slicked down against his body, and the little creature that was perched on his back had to use her teeth to hold onto his fur to prevent herself from slipping off as the rain splashed all over them.
The farther they walked the louder the river's music grew; the water was churning with the extra rain water, the raindrops trickled down onto the low-laying forest plants, playing them like chimes, and the leaps and ribbeting of frogs added irregularity to the beat of the song. All of the calming noises roused the little snake and caused her to shoot down Jharain's arm into the mud.
Unlike the feline she had no risk of sinking into the mud; she glided over its surface with ease, her sleek and healthy body leaving a little trail as she snuck up behind a frog and then pounced onto it, capturing it in her widened jaw. Before she could begin to swallow it the little tamer looked away, his young prepubescent voice sounding a soft "Eww..." before he dirstacted himself to find a few fresh stalks of grass to munch on.
After a few moments he felt the soft touch of the snake against his wet pelt, her big black eyes gazing up at him with a kind of un-understandable understanding. She nuzzled against the fur of his arm and then slithered about his paws, tickling his toes slightly which caused the tom to let out a little laugh, his face quickly becoming enveloped in a smile.
"Aliath!" He purred, "You're so silly!"
The two of them moved to the edge of the river, and Jharain leaned over and looked at his reflection in the rippling water. He was growing up, he was moving past the era of kithood, he was becoming a tamer. And the snake that had now slithered up his arm and joined in his reflection was the proof. The frog in her stomach, the smile that they shared, the understanding - that's what Blackberry had intended Jharain to feel, that was the glee of reaching understanding, the paradise of companionship. It was here, at the river, with a snake on his shoulder.
The silver tabby looked down, his nose still pressed against Aliath, but her tounge had receded into her mouth, her black eyes had closed, and her body had stilled. There was no frog in her stomach, and there was no reflection in the river, in fact there was no river at all, but there was rain; rain that dripped down the sides of the tamer's face and onto the motionless body of his soulmate.