“Shadow!” She looked up at Annie. ”Fetch Cup There.” Annie said, pointing at a spot.
The last half of the day had been amazing. She was being taught speech. She had a name now. It was Shadow. It was like a unique sound that was meant to refer to her. As soon as she had understood the concept, she’d been able to place the male’s name easily. He was ‘Jonas’. Annie had used the sound multiple times to get his attention.
Annie’s name was a little bit harder to figure out, as Jonas had called her by her name less, and he had been using the ‘ma’am’ sound for that as well. Annie seemed happier when Jonas used the ‘Annie’ name though, so she was sticking with that in her head, until she was proven wrong.
They were all in her cave now, after a small bit of excitement involving them trying to take the crystal (Magicite! They'd been yelling the word a lot.) that she had very specifically not offered to them. After some hissing, some aggressive posturing from Jonas, and a small instance of them chasing her around trying to get at her crystal, she thought they had arrived at an understanding. They really seemed to want it. Which of course they did, because it was glowy and blue and amazing, but it was hers and they’d need to live with that.
Incidentally, she’d learned she could outrun them despite their size if need be. Toddling about on only a pair of legs did appear to come with disadvantages.
She’d decided to take it back to the cave, and they’d followed her. She thought about losing them but then realized if they followed her she could show them all the other cool things she’d collected! She didn’t mind giving some of those away. They would probably be happier to have something!
So they had all wound up in the cave, and now she was being taught. She could still smell her siblings' scent all over the place, which made her a little sad, but she was so excited about what was going on it kept her mind off of it.
She padded over to the surprisingly uniform circular container called a cup, delicately grabbed it, careful not to damage the wood with her teeth, and placed it at the spot Annie had indicated, then padded back over to Annie and sat down, eagerly waiting for whatever new challenge would be given to her. The food and rubs were nice as well.
It was amazing what she’d been learning.
It had all started with her name. Annie had simply said “Shadow” until Shadow had looked at her. As soon as she did, Annie had rubbed her and given her a bit of a meat strip. She’d been confused at the time, but hey, food and rubs were good!
Annie had waited until she had lost interest, then did it again. Then Annie added other sounds that weren’t ‘Shadow’, and did nothing if Shadow looked up when she said one of them. But whenever Shadow paid attention when the ‘Shadow‘ sound was said she got rewarded with rubs and food. And suddenly it clicked. She realized what was going on.
Shadow is meant to get my attention. It’s meant to refer to ME!
She’d dashed around a bit after the realization, and proceeded to do perfectly with the name game after that. They moved on to more advanced things.
It started with ‘sit’ and ‘paw’ and a few other simple words which she learned on the first try. Once she knew she was being taught it was pretty easy to figure them out.
Annie had said “Shadow, sit.” and then come over and put her butt down on the ground, and then rewarded her. Then Annie stood her back up, and said the phrase again. She sat on her butt.
Annie had been quite surprised, eyebrows moving up. She thought she was getting better with their facial expressions. Relating them to body language, scent, and future actions they took.
Annie had shown this surprised expression a few times, usually, when she did, the lessons would get harder afterward. Almost like she hadn’t expected Shadow to be able to figure them out. Perhaps they had met her kind before, and only saw those like her siblings? She figured her siblings would not be doing so well with these lessons, or trying to do them at all for that matter. Not that they'd get the chance to try.
She shook away the thought. Her siblings would probably try to eat the thinkers if they were here.
Regardless, things moved quickly after that. Annie would just put her in a certain body position, and then say the associated word. These were simple and she didn’t mess them up. Annie then switched to doing some things herself, and then saying a word, then saying Shadow with the same word following.
That was also pretty obvious, and she did her best to copy the thinker. Not that it was always easy. Annie's body shape allowed for some movements that were pretty hard to replicate with hers.
For example, one time Annie bent herself over backwards, hands and feet holding herself off the ground behind her back, and then said “Crabwalk” followed by “Shadow, Crabwalk!”
She had tried. She really had. But given the barking laughter coming from her teacher as she repeatedly failed to contort her limbs into the appropriate positions, she didn’t think she had been meant to succeed. She wasn’t built to bend like that.
Then had come the sentences, with words that gave meaning or context to other words, and the names for things that weren’t people.
So she was doing harder tests now. ‘Fetch’ would normally mean for her to go and get an object. It had started with things Annie had thrown, but had then just been things she pointed at when she added the 'That' word ("Shadow, Fetch That"). Then she’d started indicating the object in words, like ‘cup’, ‘spoon’ or ‘stick’.
She was learning that everything seemed to have a name. She supposed this made sense. She’d already had most things in her different mind categories, but now she was learning about sounds that served the same purpose.
The most recent thing was three-part sentences, she needed to fetch the cup to there which was the indicated location.
She obviously had a very long way to go still, as she was almost entirely lost when Annie spoke ‘normally’, not in the teaching tones used when speaking instructions to her. She could pick out a name every now and then but not much else.
But as much as she had been enjoying all the teaching, she wanted to try to be a bit proactive. She'd been going along with Annie’s lessons but it was time to try her own hand at it.
She started to walk off to a clear spot with loose dirt on the floor when Annie called her name.
She looked back.
“Fetch Boot Cup”
Oh that one seems interesting! But we can do it later.
She shook her head in negation, hoping it was appropriate in this context. She’d learned the gesture along with the word ‘no’ from when she messed up a task. She couldn’t say the word but shaking her head was easy!
She continued trotting towards the spot and got to work.
Annie for her part seemed very surprised again.
“Is this real? Jonas! She just very clearly shook her head at me then ignored my command! That’s… That’s a considered action! She heard the command and decided she did not wish to follow it! And informed me about her intentions! She is very very smart!”
“So you keep saying, ma’am. It so wonderful that she’s ignoring your commands now.”
“Sigh… I know Annie. I get this is your thing. I just can’t… It’s a shadeling. They’re dangerous enough when they're dumb and this one is apparently some sort of prodigy. What if it ends up leading a swarm with some actual intelligence? I just can’t help but think this is going to end poorly.”
“Jonas I... understand your concerns, but Shadow has given us no reason to believe she might be a threat, and this is my calling. I am not a hunter, I am a researcher. I feel we are at something of an impasse on this point. Is this going to become a real problem?”
“I… No. I get it. You’re my employer, I’ll do as you say. I disagree but I’ll stop bringing it up. Can we at least move on with the actual mission? The contract didn’t include a provision for spending hours screwing about in a cave, training random monsters you come across.”
“Yes, yes. We’ll move on tomorrow. It’s getting late at this point and the cave will make for a good camp.”
Shadow had finished and made a noise to get Annie’s attention. She stood back from her work, and pointed a paw at it.
Annie walked up and looked at the floor.
“That’s a spiral.” She looked surprised again.
Shadow made another noise, did her best to point at herself, then the symbol, and then she walked around in a widening circle. She finished, then pointed to Annie, then the circle.
Come-on! You can figure it out!
“May Aredine fix my sight, this is…. Unbelievable.” Annie proceeded to walk in a widening spiral.
She hopped around in victory, so excited she accidentally tripped herself and ended up sprawling over on her side. She got back up and shook off the loose dirt.
It worked! She understood me! Oh! Right!
She quickly walked over to Annie and rubbed her head on her legs a few times, then ran over and got a pretty rock from her pile and offered it to her.
You did good!
Annie started laughing.
“Oh, well thank you very much! I suppose I’ve done a good job haven’t I?”
Shadow dashed off and started to make more symbols.
“You’re… much more like a child than a very smart pet aren’t you?”
Shadow dashed back to Annie and looked at her new symbols. She’d made a rock shape, a line, and a big dot. She proceeded to point at the first one, then went and picked up a rock. She then pointed at the second symbol, then pointed at a spot a few steps away, then walked there. Then she pointed at the dot and dropped the rock.
She looked up at Annie, indicated the whole sequence with her paw then pointed at a spot.
”Perhaps smarter than your average child even. I don’t think training you to do any more tricks is entirely appropriate.” Annie began her assigned tasks, walking around even though the look of surprise hadn’t quite left her face yet.
She looked up.
“I believe you’ve ensnared me. I’ll need to figure out how to ask if you’d like to join us on our journey. I do hope you’ll say yes.”
She quirked her head to the side at the words. They’d seemed important. She wondered what they meant.