She quickly headed back to rendezvous with her new companions. She moved fast and managed to make it back before the sun had reached the peak of its ark. It'd taken longer than she had expected. The difficulty in getting everything packed away while being forced to pick and choose had slowed her down more than expected.
She found them right where she’d left them. She’d been able to tell them to wait this time! Her pantomiming was definitely improving. She’d started off by using her awesome symbol-actions to communicate, but found out it was much faster most of the time for her to do the action in question, along with pointing or gesturing to make what she was asking clear.
She was a little disappointed they weren’t more useful, but needing dirt or some malleable surface to draw them on made them less convenient than just, for example, fake-walking to indicate movement, or sitting down to indicate staying. Perhaps they would be more useful in the future, once she had the need to tell them more complicated things. As matters stood now, all their communication was pretty basic. She was sure things would get a lot more complicated once they learned more from each other.
“Oh, our packrat returns!” Jonas exclaimed, spotting Shadow as she topped the hill.
Annie looked up from… some sort of plant… thing? It had to be another one of their made objects. It looked like some sort of square that was filled with a ton of flat square petals all squished together in it. She had been scratching at it with a feather. Well… not quite a feather, it was part feather but there was some sort of shiny metal point attached to it.
When Annie had looked up she’d closed the square plant thing. Apparently it was flexible.
Shadow immediately pointed at it.
“Welcome back. Ah, you haven’t seen me use this yet, have you? This is a book. My research journal.”
She rummaged around in her pack for a moment, which was lying beside her, before coming out with another one. It looked a little different, smaller and the outside was blackish rather than brown like the one she’d already had out.
Annie pointed at the brown one, “Book.” Then the other, “Book.” Then the first one again, “Research Journal.” Then back to the blackish one, “Traveler’s Almanac.”
That made sense. They were both books but were different kinds. Book was the general name and the other title was its specific name.
What were they for though?
She pointed at the modified feather and learned that it was a ‘pen’.
She moved forward and tried to paw at the journal, but Annie picked them both up and put them in her backpack.
“Later. We should get moving.”
But it’s new and interesting! She pleaded with her eyes.
“Later.” Annie reiterated.
Fine. I guess we need to get wherever it is we’re going.
She’d understood the 'moving' part of that sentence.
“Took her long enough to get back. We’re going to need to move fast if we want to reach it before dark.”
Annie looked over at Jonas with a raised eyebrow.
”Oh? Was that a ‘her’ I heard?”
“Yea I suppose. You were right. She hasn’t really done anything to warrant distrust, despite her… quirk. Though I suppose that may be the reason she’s so strange in the first place. I’m still going to keep an eye on her.”
“Whatever makes you feel comfortable. I’m simply happy you’ve decided to give her a chance.”
They started moving down the hill and Shadow jumped to follow. She couldn’t help the surge of excitement flowing through her.
This was really happening. She was going off to explore who knows where. She’d be sleeping in different spots every night and would be seeing new places every day.
It was going to be great.
It was terrible.
They were going to the tree-eater.
Why were they going to the tree-eater!?
She had tried her best to warn them off but they were determined. Annie had tried to explain but she couldn’t understand. She needed to learn more words! It had something to do with ‘research’, ‘samples’, and ‘divination’. She tried her best but Annie hadn’t been able to explain so that she could understand. They must be words that didn’t have an easy meaning.
At least it didn’t seem like they planned to fight it. As best she could understand, they were going to the tree-eater to… do something ‘divination’ to it, and take stuff (samples?) from it, but somehow do that without fighting?
It seemed like a really bad idea to her.
Now she was dashing from shadow to shadow following them, agitated. She was really worried they didn’t understand the danger, despite her attempts to warn them away.
They didn’t seem to be showing appropriate caution. It even showed in the way they moved. She hadn’t really been paying attention to it before but they seemed to walk through the forest without a care in the world. It was even more obvious here, where they were just following the path of destruction left behind by the tree-eater, walking around right in the open.
They were a lot bigger than her, but it still seemed dangerous to walk around like that. Some of the creatures the swarm had fought were significantly larger than a thinker (in total… bigness at least. Most weren’t as tall, but they stood on all their legs rather than just the back ones) and had a lot more dangerous bits built-in. Thinker hands and teeth were useful but seemed a lot less dangerous than she'd seen on other animals. She could easily see a thinker losing to a red-eyes or a spike-skin.
Did they really know what they were doing?
She wasn’t sure, and it was upsetting her. She really didn’t want her first day of traveling to end with them dying just like her siblings had. She really, really didn’t want that.
But she didn’t know what else to do. Annie was set on this thing they were doing, and Shadow was pretty sure they understood it was dangerous (although perhaps not how dangerous), but were willing to do it anyway. Which meant she couldn’t stop them. Not without resorting to something more serious than impassioned gesturing.
She wasn’t willing to resort to more than impassioned gesturing. She couldn’t. The thought of hurting them, even to save them, turned her stomach. She felt sick just thinking about it. Annie was so nice and wonderful and amazing she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she had to attack her, even if it was for her own good.
It also would be pretty unlikely to work. Jonas had his sword, and Shadow had seen him swing it very fast before, even if it was only at plants. As much as she thought they couldn’t deal with some of the forest’s larger inhabitants, she thought they could deal with her if forced to. The only way she’d have a chance would be to ambush and kill them before they could defend themselves, but that would defeat the entire point of fighting them.
So she just followed and hoped that she would have some way to help if things went wrong.
By the time they reached it, the sun was setting. Annie and Jonas were talking a lot between themselves. Shadow figured they were planning, but there were too many words and it was all going too fast for her to really understand any of it.
She could see the giant creature up ahead, destroying trees and eating them. She could feel the chill from where they were and had been able to hear its massive steps for a while.
She’d decided to try to stop them one last time.
She found a bare patch of dirt; it’d be necessary for the story she wanted to tell. She didn’t think she’d be able to get the whole thing across, but she’d be able to get across the main gist of it.
She made some noise to attract the thinkers' attention and motioned them over. Once they gathered around, she huffed and got to work.
First, she made a dot on the ground and pointed between it and herself, then made another and did the same.
She then just made a bunch more dots, sat back and gestured to all of them with her paws, then gestured to herself, and the space all around her. Then she looked back up at Annie, hopefully, she understood.
“It’s you and your swarm, right?”
Annie motioned over shadow and the dots.
“Shadelings.” Then she pointed to Shadow. “Shadeling. Shadow.”
Oh! Shadeling is the term for what I am!
She had a burst of excitement about that, but fought it down. She needed to get this across, and Annie’s explanation had let her know that she’d understood. She was Shadow, and the other dots were shadelings, but not her.
She gestured to all the dots, pointed at the tree-eater in the distance, then pointed at her face and started sniffing. Exaggeratively moving her head around and making the sniffs as loud as she could to get the point across. Then she pantomimed an aggressive stance, claws out, mouth open, and made a small hissing noise. She drew a line, her symbol for moving, and then motioned at the dots again then pointed at the line, then tree eater.
“Ok, so your swarm smelled the Giant Frost Tortoise, and went to go attack it?” Annie accompanied the words with gestures as well. She looked concerned, her brows scrunched together.
This wasn’t really how the event had played out, but she didn’t know how to explain what had actually happened, so it would have to do.
Shadow moved back to the dots and rubbed one of them out, then made it again, only a little bit in front of the rest of them. She pointed between it and herself, then gestured between the rest of the dots and the space in front of her.
She really hoped they understood this bit.
She started hissing swiping at the imaginary group in front of her, before transitioning to jumping from side to side, swiping out and trying to catch the phantoms rushing by her. She shifted to facing backward, trying to lunge at the backs of her imaginary siblings getting away.
She finally stopped and sat. Somewhere in that display, she had begun to feel those raw emotions again. It may not have been what happened with the tree-eater, but this scene had played out so many times with other creatures she knew it intimately. She hung her head and started keening, softer this time. Just a small sound, filled with grief. Nothing she had done had stopped them.
“Well… I guess that explains why it’s only her.” Jonas breathed.
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.”
She felt herself get picked up, and the next thing she knew she was held in one of Annie’s arms, and getting petted by the other while resting against her shoulder.
It was odd, one part of her was tense, not liking being held off the ground like this, but another just felt comforted, like she was being protected. The petting was calming. She… was ok with this. This felt good. If it were anyone other than Annie it probably wouldn’t have, but she trusted that Annie wouldn’t hurt her.
She sat in Annie’s arms for a while, and eventually, she stopped keening. She felt better, but tired.
She looked up and saw that Annie’s eyes were watering. She hadn’t seen that before. She shifted a bit and positioned herself so that she could point.
“Oh... Those are tears Shadow. Tears.” She set Shadow back down and just looked at her for a little while.
“I’m sorry little one. The whole reason we came out here was to research this frost tortoise. I promise we’ll be very careful. Please trust us.”
Shadow just hung her head. She hadn’t understood most of the words but she understood by its tone and Annie's small shake of the head that her plea had been rejected.
She took a deep breath and brought her head back up. So be it. If she couldn’t stop them from doing this dangerous thing, she would help. Somehow.
She refused to lose everything again.