Seconds rolling on toward minutes, as black mask and pale mirrored each other across the gurgling melody of the water. She drank slowly, and he, having already quenched most of his thirst, watched her with a beast's stare. In that glare, she saw the death of a small, unlikely hope - the desire for a hunting companion, friend, a cat other than her Beast who ran upon four legs with a mind greater than that of an animal. Not here, not now, not in the creature who crouched opposite her. There was nothing home in those wide, luminescent eyes. Nothing that would recognize her as being anything other than competition and threat.
The hot scent of deer, rich with panic, pain and blood. A wounded doe, evidence of some hunters' poor skill and carelessness. Desperate for water, the doe had been following a low ridge, and it was only in cresting the slope to head for the stream that the wind caught her scent.
It was in reflex, in the nature of her race that she failed herself, her beast, and her training. Ghost Cats are, by nature, solitary and suspicious creatures - not so Beastwalkers. Designed by nature to not only desire, but need the presence of other shapeshifters - their own kind, preferably - the scent of the deer struck a chord in Shriss that it didn't touch in the beast across from her. What greater pleasure than to hunt beside another great cat, to share the stalk, the chase, the kill with one of her own? But that only works if your companion shares your pleasure in the partnership.
The scent of the deer hit her in a wave, bringing unsated hunger to a peak. Consciously, she knew that the other was no friend. Subconsciously, she still thought of him as Panther - and, though not a friend, still an intelligent companion. Pale paws sent diamond spray to bedew her coat as she struck down in mid-stream, on a jutting stone that she knew would be there. A surge of velvet-sheathed steel, and her next impact was on the bank, not far enough from the black beast.
For Shriss, the target was the deer - the hunt, the pulse of hot blood across her tongue and teeth, the salt sweetness of warm meat sliding down her throat. For the panther, the target was a competitor encroaching too near, too fast, when prey that he would have as his own was at stake. Surprise struck her, but didn't slow her, as she heard the snarl. Not a sound of warning, but of attack, a form larger and heavier than her own lunging at her from too close to avoid, too fast to go incorporeal.
She dropped, flattening herself in hope that he would overshoot her and miss. It kept him from taking her throat, but it was a charge, not a leap, that he'd made. Powerful jaws hit her neck, locking onto the side and back. For just a moment, shock freezes the Spook in place. Not that he would attack, or even that she was in a very precarious position. It was her own, instinctive reaction that left her passive, flat on her belly as jaws locked onto her neck. It was the overpowering sensation, not of fear, but of peaceful resignation.
A moment, no more, as instinct surged to the fore. A bare second, before she tore herself from the shock and from her primal reaction, aided by not only fear, but the sensation of sharp fangs sinking deep into the heavy muscle of her neck. Yet that second was all it took for his claws to find purchase, shearing through fur, skin and muscle in a savage rake from shoulder to hip on the side away from him. The damage would have been worse, had she not dropped as fast as she had.
A second, more than long enough to die in. But she hadn't. She was hurt, yes, and possibly badly. But she was alive, and reflex took over now to keep her that way. As his claws came loose from her flesh, she twisted herself around, mud slathering the long wound as she rolled to her back beneath the panther. Hind legs slash at his belly, jaws rake at his shoulder without finding purchase, in her efforts to get loose from the hold on her neck. Neither does harm, though. The beast apparently knew enough about fighting not to hold on, when doing so would leave his belly exposed to her claws.
Again, it was only a matter of a second, as he sprang aside and prepared to come back at her - but this time, she was ready. Prepared, that second was time enough - barely - to force herself incorporeal. Still, she wasn't done Spooking when he came back in, though the claws that rake at her hip find only a thickening of the air for purchase. Deep welts rise along that flank as she goes fully Ghost.
To her feet, and away. Already hurt, there was no way to win this fight, and she wasn't fool enough to stick around and try. She fled, he stayed - there was still the doe to hunt, and she'd gone away from it. As well, she left no prints, made no sound - but scent, yes. Blood was shed freely from her wounds, and where it fell from her body, it returned to solid form. No sign of paws to tell her path. Only a crimson rain, rapidly cooling in the night air.
Gone. She would not bother him again while he walked upon four legs ? not this time, and likely not any other time.