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It only took a little bit before Annie was back to laughing and petting her, the earlier unease forgotten.

Annie did insist that she show her the shadow fluff more, having her turn it on and off multiple times and move around with it active. It’d taken a bit for her to get the requests across. Things were only made more difficult given the fact that her name ‘Shadow’ also meant the dark spots caused by blocking light.

She was a little disappointed to find that out. She’d thought her name was a unique sound just for her, but apparently it also meant something else. She could see the reasoning though. She was almost all black, barring her pupils. Shadows were also ‘black’ in the sense that stuff that wasn’t as lit up looked blacker.

It was doubly appropriate now, given her ability to literally create her namesake.

She still wished it were unique.

Oh well. It is what it is. I still like my name.

She’d also learned that the shadow fluff had something to do with ‘dark magic’ or 'attunement'? She hadn’t been able to work out what that meant exactly, only that the terms were being said a lot in relation to her ability.

She also learned the dimly glowing moss was something that Annie really liked, and Shadow had given it to her as an apology for startling her so badly with the fluff earlier. Jonas could deal. He was tough.

Annie seemed very excited about it. Its name was apparently sylmoss which, somehow, made it special and different than normal moss. She supposed that made sense, given it was glowing. 

Jonas had finished cleaning the owl in the meantime and now the thinkers were all packed up. They started to head out.

Annie motioned for her to follow.

Shadow happily did. She’d realized that they weren’t going to have much more time together.

The thinkers had to have come from somewhere and were clearly heading off to somewhere else. She didn’t really know their reasons, but they clearly weren’t planning to just stay in her cave forever. It had just been a temporary thing. Once they went too far, she wouldn’t be able to make it to them before she had to make her way back to the cave to sleep. She may not even be able to find them at all.

She shuddered a bit. She… wasn’t looking forward to being alone again. More alone than she ever had been really. Her brothers and sisters were all gone. They’d never been great companions, but they had still been there. Not anymore though...

She looked back up at Annie as the pair tromped off. She trotted off after them.

All the more reason to savor this while it lasts.

She forced herself back into a more positive mood. No need to brood when it hasn’t even happened yet!

There was still time for plenty of fun!


 

They had arrived at the top of a big hill. She’d seen this one before when swarming but had never had the chance to climb up it.

She really should have made time.

She could see out to forever. She could see so far the world seemed to fade away at the edges. It was the most amazing sight she’d ever laid eyes on. The hill was also lacking in trees or other tall, shady objects, so she was having to view this wonderful sight through squinted, watery eyes. The best she could do was hide in Annie’s shadow, which made the situation a little less painful but still not great.

Why can’t it be shadier up here? I want to see this!

Oh. Wait. Maybe…

She pushed out her shadow fluff. She hadn’t thought about it much, but it was strange that she was able to see just fine when she had it out. Whenever she looked at a part of her body she could only see black, and she assumed that was the same for her face, otherwise, she wouldn’t have been able to sneak up on animals so easily. But shouldn’t that just make her not be able to see anything?

It was weird. It also didn’t really matter right now.

Because it was working!

I can see!

Things were somehow just as bright as they had been before, but her eyes didn’t hurt anymore. She could look around just fine.

It’s so beautiful!

The world extended all around her. She could see trees and hills everywhere. She could also see the spots where they were missing, replaced by great streams or grassy clearings. She even noticed the great line where the tree-eater had passed. She squinted in the distance. Actually, from up here, she was pretty sure she could flat out see the tree eater.

“There it is.” Annie said, she was looking in the same direction.

“Damn that thing is big.”

Jonas shook his head. He looked nervous.

“We’ll be fine. It should be very predictable. Just follow my lead and there won't be any trouble. It’s the least dangerous part of this trip.”

“So you keep telling me.” He muttered.

Annie just gave Jonas a playful shove then turned back towards Shadow.

She looked at the shadowy blotch that was her form now and quirked an eyebrow.

Shadow relaxed the fluff, her eyes going back to squinting.

“There you are. Well. Here we go.”

Jonas glanced at Annie, then Shadow, and shook his head a little looking resigned. She'd noticed his eyes were less sharp than normal today; a little less hostile than his usual glare. She was happy about the change but wasn’t sure what had brought it on. He turned away and wandered over to the other side of the hill.

Annie took a deep breath.

“Shadow.”

She locked eyes with her.

“I have something important I need to ask you.”

She… wasn’t sure what that meant but kept listening.

Annie pointed at her.

“Shadow. Shadow.”

She pointed at herself.

“Annie. Annabelle Clarke.”

She pointed at Jonas

“Jonas. Jonas Smith.”

It’s their names! They have more parts!

Shadow was instantly excited. She was glad she’d guessed their names right, but apparently there were more parts that she didn’t know. She didn’t know why they needed more parts, but she supposed it wasn’t that important. Now she knew!

She got up to go rub Annie’s legs in thanks for sharing but was quickly stopped.

“Shadow, Sit. Wait.”

Annie looked unusually intense. Shadow sat and waited.

“Focus. Shadow, Annie, Jonas, go to...”

Annie pointed to a spot far away into the distance.

Shadow blinked.

How am I supposed to go there? It’s way too far!

Before she could think about it any further, Annie continued.

“Shadow, Annie, Jonas, go to...”

She pointed at a completely different spot in the distance.

What?

“Shadow, Annie, Jonas, go to...”

Another different spot.

I don’t understand.

“Shadow, Annie, Jonas, go to...”

And she gestured all around, indicating everything the eye could see and from up here, that was… everywhere.

She wants me to go everywhere?

Annie just waited, watching her with that same intensity, nothing more being said.

Her mind spun, trying to make sense of it. Then it hit her. She was focusing on the wrong part. Annie wanted all of them to go everywhere. Shadow, Annie, and Jonas.

She wants me to come with them.

It was like a flame-horn had stabbed her through the chest.

I can’t!

She wanted to. She wanted to so much. But she couldn’t!

It wasn’t possible! She could only travel so far in a day! Once they got too far she wouldn’t be able to make it to them from the cave anymore!

She’d started lightly keening, upset. Annie’s intense demeanor was crumbling, she was looking heartbroken.

Shadow paused.

Something seemed off about that. She felt it tickling at the back of her mind. It was something…

Why… Why did she need to go back to the cave? Couldn’t she just… not do that?

She had just never considered the possibility. She didn’t have to sleep in the cave, did she? She just always had. It was just… her instinct.

She was instantly angry.

You always ruin everything!

She caught herself again, happiness roaring back to the forefront.

But not this time!

She looked up.

Annie was leaned back, looking a little concerned. Shadow had been pretty angry there. She may have hissed.

Shadow started nodding vigorously.

Annie broke out in a grin.


 

Shadow rushed back to her cave. Her former cave.

She wouldn’t be staying in it anymore. It was strange to think about. Every time she slept she’d been in the cave, barring the one time she passed out because she’d almost died. It still felt… bad… to be leaving. The cave felt like… safety. She felt secure when she slept in the cave, even though that really didn’t make any sense given that her siblings were… no longer around.

She shook the feeling off. She could deal with some insecurity if it meant she could stay with the Thinkers; if it meant she could stay with Annie.

They would be her new cave. A new, moving place where she could feel safe, but also travel everywhere and see all the amazing sights this apparently very huge world had to offer.

But she needed to figure out what she was bringing. She glanced at her new pouches. There was no way all her things would fit in them. They were so much better than just her mouth or head, but she had way too much stuff.

She didn’t care. Being able to stay with the thinkers would be worth giving it all up if she had to.

Luckily, she did not have to, so now she was only stuck with some tough decision making.

Her amazing magicite crystal would of course be coming with her. No way she would leave that behind.

She would take the best rocks and shells but would need to leave the sticks. She liked them but they were too big and weird shaped to fit in the pouches well.

The blue scale patch was coming, although it was looking a little worse for wear and was starting to smell bad. Maybe she could rinse it off or something? Regardless, it was coming. Those scales were still very pretty.

She really wanted to take some of the pine cones, the crazy round things with all these wood petals coming off on them. She’d learned their name from Annie. She would leave them, however, as they weren’t rare at all. They were all over the place; she could pick more up wherever.

She went through the rest of her stuff like that, picking and choosing what would make the cut.

After much deliberation, she was finished. She hadn't been able to fit as much as she'd have liked. The first time she had filled them she realized they were clinking and clacking with all her stuff just like they had been when she came back from her shell hunt.

She liked her stuff, but she also didn't want to die via ambush. She'd managed to correct the problem by pulling up some moss and adding layers of it in between all of her things. Now they didn't clink at all, but she couldn't fit nearly as many things as she had before.

Both pouches were bulging, and she was holding the crystal in her mouth. It had taken too much of the pouch space that she didn’t want to give up.

She realized her mouth would get sore carrying it around everywhere, but she’d live with it.

She looked around, taking in the surroundings one last time.

Goodbye cave. You were good to me.

She headed out into the daylight, eager to see where her new life would take her.

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A note from Zat

And our little monster leaves the cave for good! I wonder what adventures await her future?


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Zat

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