“What in the hells…” the man whispered to himself. Shadow only barely heard it, even with her sharp ears.
Oh! Oh! Look friendly!
She sat herself down, facing towards him in a proper sitting position, front end propped up by her forelegs and her tail wrapped around her legs. She put her friendliest smile on her face, making sure to keep her teeth carefully hidden, and did her best to avoid fast movements. She was having some trouble keeping herself from literally vibrating around. The excitement was burning through her veins.
She raised a paw and started to wave, making sure to keep her claws entirely retracted.
In the meantime, the man had taken some sort of curved stick with a string hooked to it off of his back. He took a moment to bend it more and attached the two ends together with the string.
She took in his form. He was shaped kind of like Jonas, but there were many differences. His hair was brown, the same as Jonas’s, but his face was totally smooth. He completely lacked the facial hair that Jonas had. The man actually just looked smoother in general. She wasn’t sure what it meant but she would swear Jonas had more wrinkles than this person.
Do human men all have brown hair?
Annie’s hair was blond and both the males she’d met had brown hair. Maybe there was something to that. She’d need to ask.
The man pulled a strange thin spike from a pouch on his back and put it to his stick-string contraption. Shadow’s excitement was quelled some as disappointment sneaked its way in. That looked like a weapon of some sort. He was still up on the hill, but he clearly didn’t feel safe if he was drawing a weapon.
Her smile slipped a little and her waving abated.
I need to tell him I’m friendly.
She glanced at the ground. There was dirt here, she could work with—
A sudden movement on the man’s part snapped her eyes back to him. One hand had pulled the string and now-attached spike back to his eye, while the other held the stick out in front of him keeping the whole contraption pulled taut. The front of the spike was resting in a small slot in the stick that looked made for it. The whole contraption was pointed at her.
If she hadn’t just been dealing with a contraption that was powered by bent tree limbs, she wouldn’t have figured it out in the split second necessary. As it was, her eyes narrowed, and her body tensed as adrenaline poured through her system. The understanding of what was about to happen went off like an explosion in her mind. Without a moment to spare she twisted to the side as the spike whistled through the air, sinking into the soil a few bare inches to her side.
Her eyes locked on the shaft for a brief moment while she came to terms with what was occurring. If that had hit her she could have easily died.
He’s trying to kill me!
She looked up and the man already had another spike in hand, readying it to launch at her.
She turned and lunged forward into a sprint, only to feel something smack her in the chest, forcing her to the ground in a heap. She realized she was still wrapped in rope, with another heavy tangle of it dragging on the ground behind her.
She spotted the man adjusting his aim to where she had fallen.
She desperately turned herself, managing the get the coiled rope in between her and the spike just in time.
He released the string and the spike slammed into her, the rope barely stopping it. She could feel the sharp tip scraping her scales through the bundle. If it had sunk just a bit further, she would have been stabbed.
Panic threatened to take her. She was all tangled in the rope now, struggling to work her way out. He was already drawing another spike.
She had a thought and plunged herself into darkness, the dark mana boiling into the air. She may not have the mana for a shadow-port, but she could still cloak herself.
She should have done it as soon as she was attacked, but again, she hadn’t even thought about it when the fight started so suddenly.
I really need to practice.
Her magic was part of her toolkit in a fight and she needed to be able to use it instantly when threatened. The ability to use her magic without thinking was crucial in a life or death situation. With that in mind, she activated her ear-sight and started to generate acid spit. She wasn’t sure if it’d be useful in this situation but better to have it than not.
Her sudden activation of dark magic had startled the man. He’d taken a few steps back and was staring with wide eyes again. Before he had looked surprised, perhaps annoyed. Now he looked afraid.
That fear was quickly replaced with a scowl and a determined look as he dropped back into a shooting stance and aimed his spike again.
She was almost free, just slipping out of the last coil when the spike flew.
The shadows threw off his aim, but not by enough.
The spike slammed into her back left thigh, sending her tumbling to the ground as she cried out in pain.
The injury brought with it a sort of panicked sadness and anger.
Why is he killing me!? DIdn't I show I was friendly!?
She had smiled and waved! Wasn't he human? They're supposed to pick up on things like that!
I'm not just some beast! I think like you!
With a hiss, she forced herself back to her feet, forcing the thought out of her mind. She couldn’t worry about that now, she needed to run.
Her injured leg wouldn’t take any weight, but she had to keep moving. She forced herself onward, hobble-running on three legs. She was heading as fast as she could toward a nearby tree, hoping to put the thick trunk between her and further spike attacks.
She saw the man tracking her as she moved. She noticed he was aiming slightly ahead of her. She had another realization.
I’m moving now. He needs to aim a bit ahead for the spike to hit.
She saw when he was about to release the next one, and stopped herself.
The spike hit the ground directly in front of her.
How is he still so accurate?
If she wouldn’t have stopped that would have hit her directly in the side. She should look like a shadowy blob right now.
Running forward again she threw herself behind the tree, breaking line of sight and giving herself a second to think.
She imagined herself from his perspective. She’d see a small area of shadow moving around. Hard to notice in the first place, but not that hard to track once you knew it was concealing something.
If she had to guess where she'd shoot one of her ranged spikes to hit the creature within, she would aim at the middle. Which happened to be exactly where she resided in her shadow mana.
I need to fix that.
She started to manipulate her mana as best as she could, given the circumstances. She stretched it out larger, in front of her, and to the side, leaving just enough cover for herself at the edge. She even wrapped her tail under herself so she could get back as far as possible. It was tough to hold the mana forward like that, but she thought she could manage. It just needed to be a blob, not letters.
She spotted the man moving forward with her ears. Seeing things with her ears was still a weird sensation. Even his light steps as he moved over the ground were enough to highlight his location. She needed to move. She burst out of cover and started running again, trying to head in the direction of her group. If she could get back to them maybe they could fix this whole situation.
Another spike whizzed by her and embedded itself in the ground ahead of her and to the right. Despite how terrifying the situation was she couldn’t stop the small thrill of elation that washed over her as her plan worked flawlessly. She snagged the spike out of the ground with her tongue as she ran by, jamming it in a pouch. She cringed a bit as she heard it sizzle.
Forgot about that.
“Dammit! I won’ let you get away, demon!” the man shouted after her, putting his string and wood contraption on his back before breaking into a run himself.
Huh? Demon? What’s a demon? Why does he sound so angry at me?
She'd figured he had somehow mistaken her for some dumb animal, and was trying to kill and eat her. That sentence carried too much anger for that to make sense anymore. You don't get so angry at the prey you're hunting. Well, she didn't at least. Maybe this man was just easily angered?
She kept running as fast as she could. She… wasn’t really outrunning him, not with one of her legs out of commission. At least he’d stopped shooting spikes at her.
She thought back on their meeting and had an uncomfortable realization. She’d had the dismantled rope contraption wrapped all around herself. She was in the process of running off with it. He’d come over the rise and had started using a different contraption that’d made use of similar principles.
The rope contraption was probably his.
Stupid! It was built! Of course it belonged to someone!
He was angry because she had been stealing his stuff! How had she messed up her first interaction with a new human so badly?
To be fair, he seemed a little angrier than was entirely warranted. She’d left it behind! She had been well and truly run off! Why was he so determined to kill her?
He was starting to catch up. Her injury was wearing on her, and she was starting to exhaust herself from the extended sprint. She could feel the spike moving around in her leg as she ran. It was all she could do to keep up the pace while fighting down the pain. It didn’t help that she was maintaining her shadow-fluff at the same time.
She just needed to make it to Annie and Jonas.
Or… they could make it to her.
She started screeching. She tried to make as much noise as possible in the direction she smelled her companions in. It wasn’t like staying quiet would help her at this point.
She sensed her assailant behind her, gaining ground. He had a knife out. He’d be on her in a moment.
She didn’t have much longer with her shadow cover. Her mana had been draining away the entire time it was out, the larger area she had it covering only made it drain faster.
She played a final gambit. She stopped screeching, and as she passed a tree, she threw her shadow-fluff off to the right, as if she was turning in that direction, then she dove to the left, getting herself behind the tree. The mana rapidly dissipated as soon as she was no longer in contact with it, but she hoped the motion sold the trick.
The man fell back to a jog, looking around before stopping.
“Now where’re you hidin’ at...?” The man whispered, starting to prowl around looking for her.
She crept around the tree silently, keeping her gasping breaths as quiet as possible. She moved to keep its mass between the two of them as he searched.
He changed his movements and started going back the way he came, checking the ground as he went.
What’s he doing?
“There we go…”
He started walking towards her tree while looking at the ground.
He knows where I am.
She didn't have time to worry about how he knew. She had one last delaying tactic.
She started to scramble up the tree as best she could. It was much harder when down a leg.
He picked up his pace when he heard her. She couldn’t climb as quietly as she could walk, and her ascent was clearly audible.
By the time he rounded the corner she’d only made it up to about twice his height. But it was enough. She was out of reach.
She had some ideas. If he tried to follow her, she could spit at him, or in the worst case try to jump on him and hopefully manage to kill him with some accurate bites.
She… really didn’t want to have to end this person's life, but it was quickly becoming a life or death fight. As much as it was her fault for stealing his rope contraption, she wasn’t willing to let the man kill her for it. She steeled herself for what would come. She wouldn’t flinch if she had to do what was necessary.
He didn’t follow her up the tree. He stepped back and took out the spike flinger again.
Oh. Right. I’m so screwed.
Her ears perked up as she heard something running. A moment later Jonas burst through a bush, breathing hard. He only took a second to process the situation.
“Wait! Don’t shoot her! She’s… uh… tame!”
He was like a ray of sunshine in a bleak world, and Annie wasn’t far behind. Now that Shadow was looking in the right direction, she could see Annie sprinting just a little way behind him. She’d been so focused on the man trying to kill her she hadn’t noticed the sound of their movement until they’d been practically on top of her.
She almost fell out of the tree as the tension drained from her body.
She was safe.