It managed to leap forward over a deep, murky puddle, landing in front of him on steady ground. Though damp and knotted, its red fur had lost none of its brightness, a dangerous vibrancy against the East’s backdrop of dark and dull colours. For a moment, it sat staring with eyes like honey, snuffling its pink nose at him. Hanging around its neck was a chain with a teardrop emerald bound in silver filigree.
He sighed. “I told Carjil to keep an eye on you. Either he’s slipping in focus or you’re more ingenious than I thought.” In answer, the fox found a dried frog floating in a puddle and began passing it between its white-tipped paws. “Anala.” The fox ignored him, batting away the toy and brushing a lathered paw over its head as if it was combing long hair. “Anala,” he repeated, his tone sharpening impatiently.
“Yes, I’m listening,” came a voice as the emerald lit up and dimmed to the rise and fall of its words. The fox’s mouth didn’t open or even tremble. “If you’d let me come in the first place –,”
“I have no obligation to tell you anything,” he answered crabbily. "Especially not of this nature. How is it that I never sensed you until now?”
“I learn from the best, Uncle. You taught me well,”
“An error on my part, it would seem.” He watched the way her lip curled up, baring her thin teeth, and swore she was grinning at him. When she sat looking at him for a few moments longer, he gestured at her, adding “would you mind?”
Anala took a couple of steps back and reared onto her hind legs, elongating into a horrific chimeric form. In seconds, half the fur on her head had fallen away from a slow-shaping face, the other half growing and winding into red curls. Her body jerked with the sound of bones twisting back into place as her ears slipped down her head and folded into shape like papercraft. Her pupils swelled and the colour changed from brown to a shade of green. Meanwhile, colour swelled like a wound from her sternum like ink in water over her naked body. Cross-hatch marks appeared on her legs like whip scars, becoming fishnet stockings, and as the colour spread over her, it transfigured into clothing. She was left hugged by a red-velvet dress with long sleeves, cut to the belt of her stockings, and a man’s black cloak. She rose onto the balls of her feet as the colour oozed down her legs and hardened into high-heeled boots.