She started to back down the tree to run to her wonderful companions who had saved her from this terrible, violent man, but stopped when she noticed he hadn’t lowered his weapon.
“I think you’re confused, stranger. This here ain’t no normal shady! It’s a demon! I seen it usin’ demon magic tryin’ ta get away!” he said, with fire behind his words.
Jonas’s expression tensed, and he suddenly looked like he was fighting with anger.
“Ah. Demon magic you say? Perhaps you simply misunderstood. This shadeling is special, but she is no demon.” Jonas articulated. The words he spoke had a strained quality to them.
Annie finally arrived, resting her hands on her thighs as she gasped for breath. Her face went from relief as she saw Shadow, alive, clinging to the tree, to concern as she saw the arrow sticking out of her leg, to a tinge of fear when she noticed the man hadn’t lowered his weapon.
The man’s eyes flicked over for a moment, acknowledging Annie’s presence, but stayed locked on Jonas. They narrowed as he considered the words.
“I know what I saw. Shadow and darkness all boilin’ up around it. Ain’t never seen anything like that. Like something pulled right up from the hells it was. That weren’t nothing natural.”
Jonas was gritting his teeth. “That’s just dark mana you stupid–“
“Jonas!” Annie cut him off, giving him a short glare. She’d recovered enough to speak.
“Sir, I’m very sorry for my friend, but he speaks the truth. Dark-attuned mana may look sinister, but it’s just another form of magic. It’s only as good or bad as its caster.” She explained, keeping her tone friendly.
The man didn’t look placated.
“Well. I may not be so learned as fine city-folk like you, but I know evil when I see it. Ain’t no shady can do what I seen this one do. They’s evil enough already, not about to let one eviler then the rest go round terrorizin’ folk.” The man stated with a scowl.
Shadow was somewhat at a loss as to what she should do. She’d thought she was safe, but apparently she was not. The man wasn’t backing down even with Annie and Jonas here. He called her evil. Said she was going to go around terrorizing people.
It hurt. She hadn’t known! She would have never torn down his trap and tried to walk off with it if she had realized it belonged to someone. It was her first time seeing stuff laying around that wasn’t just free for the taking! It wouldn’t happen again! She wasn’t going to go around terrorizing people and taking their stuff!
She had to apologize somehow. She had to let him know she was sorry and would never go around stealing stuff from people now that she knew.
I need to be on the ground.
She couldn’t participate at all, trapped in this tree. She needed to be somewhere she could write.
Annie continued trying to convince the man.
“Sir, perhaps we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s just put down our weapons and talk about this. I’m sure we can come to some sort of mutual understanding.”
Shadow started to mime at Annie, as best she could considering her location. She didn’t feel like she could let go of the tree with any of her limbs, she was unstable enough with only three legs touching, she feared she would fall off if forced to use two. So, she tried to gesture with her tongue.
She needed to get down. If Annie could just convince the man to let her down, she could explain herself. So she pointed at herself with her tongue, then the ground, and then mimed writing the best she could with the appendage. Which was pretty well, to her surprise. Perhaps she should try grabbing a pen and using her tongue to write? Her tongue was all wet though… that’d be bad for the paper.
Not the time…
She focused back on her situation. Annie was looking at her, and the man noticed.
He recoiled at the sight of her wiggling her tongue about in the air. She froze.
“Fuck this. "
The man drew back his string as he spoke, aiming the spike right at her.
"Don't! I'm warning you!" Jonas yelled, taking a step towards the man.
Annie looked as frozen as Shadow, unsure what to do.
"Take it up with the headman. Ain’t no one gonna blame me fer killin’ a–“
Everything happened very quickly.
Jonas dove forward, drawing his sword. The man swung around, eyes wide, losing the spike into Jonas' chest. His leather armor stopped it dead, and he swung the flat of his sword forward.
Shadow was already sliding down the tree in a half-controlled fall, trying not to panic, attempting to make it to the ground.
Annie was screaming “STOP!” at the top of her lungs, hands starting to glow, with runic symbols starting to swirl around her wrists.
The man ducked Jonas’s swing, diving forward to tackle Jonas as he dropped his contraption and drew his knife.
Shadow hit the ground with a cry of pain, and turned to help. She froze when she saw the two men grappling with each other. She wasn’t sure how to help. Jonas had dropped his sword and had the other man’s knife hand grabbed at the wrist, trying to wrest it away. They were rolling all around.
On one of the rolls the other man got some leverage and managed to get his knees around Jonas’s waist, bringing his weight to bear.
Shadow leaped at him. It was clear this man was the enemy now. She wouldn’t let him hurt her friends.
Her teeth locked around the back of the man’s neck and sliced through, the smell of liquefying flesh filling the air. She was surprised at how easy it had been to bite through. Humans really didn’t have much in the way of natural defense. No wonder Jonas and Annie wore armor. The man slumped forward onto Jonas, unmoving. Jonas roughly shoved him off, grunting.
Annie belatedly leaped forward, hands glowing, a look of horror in her eyes. She went to grab the back of his neck, but Shadow threw herself between the two, knocking away Annie's hands and shaking her head rapidly.
"Get out of the way, Shadow!" Annie shouted.
Shadow stood firm. It would be bad if Annie touched the man right now. The acid was still working.
Thinking fast she spat on the ground and pointed quickly between Annie's hands, the sizzling spot on the ground, and the man's neck.
Annie looked at the burning spot with shock.
"Since when did...?"
She must have never noticed Shadow had the ability. She didn't use it often.
Annie looked at the man again and realized there would be no saving him.
“No no no… gods please no…” she sobbed, hands clutched to the sides of her head.
“Shit.” Jonas swore, looking more frustrated than upset. “Damn idiot brought it on himself.”
Annie looked up, rage etched across her face.
“This should have gone differently! Why did you attack him!? We could have–“
“He was going to shoot Shadow. Did ya not see him drawing back his bow? What would you have had me do? Let him shoot her?”
Shadow moved forward, unsure why exactly Annie was so upset. It was sad that the human had been so unreasonable, but he had tried to attack them, even after they tried to talk with him!
She tried to dispel some of the tension, approaching to rub on Annie’s thigh.
Annie shoved her away.
“You’re no better! Why did you kill him!? You could have disabled him or… why??” She stared at Shadow, tears pouring from her eyes, deep despair and anger written across her face.
The look hit Shadow like a physical blow. She felt like something was crushing her heart.
But… I... he was attacking us! He was going to hurt Jonas!
It didn’t make sense. He was trying to kill her. Kill them. Why shouldn’t she kill him back?
“Annie, she doesn't know any better.”
Jonas locked eyes with Shadow.
“You did nothing wrong, girl. He was trying ta kill me and you fought the way you knew. We should, however, try to train ya in some less lethal methods to subdue someone in the future. We need to start training you.”
“Oh Jonas, what are we going to do!? We killed a man!! We’re murderers!” Annie was just rocking back and forth now, arms wrapped around herself.
“We’ll be fine Annie, just take some time. It’s gonna be alright. We’ll talk about it.”
Shadow felt a little better with Jonas’s words but was still hopelessly lost. Why was it bad to kill this man? It was her fault she stole his contraption, but he hadn’t even given her a chance to apologize! Annie had even tried to convince him to talk and he wouldn’t! They had given him many chances and he refused to listen. He was determined to attack them beyond reason, so things ended in the only way they could have.
She asked just that, writing out her question in the dirt, ignoring Annie’s grammar rules for now. She wanted the answer.
“He atak. Why not kill?”
Jonas took a deep breath and sighed, rubbing his head. He looked at her again.
“You know, you’re so darn... innocent sometimes. I forget you're not just some weird looking kid... you’ve led a pretty harsh life. Ok. So let's say someones trying to hurt you. If you've got a choice of how to stop them, you shouldn't always try to kill them. The life of a person is no thing to take too lightly. People have... worth. If you can stop them and keep em alive, that's what you should do."
Jonas took another deep breath.
"Don't know if that really explained anything. Just trust me. Killing folks is bad and you should try not to do it. That's why Annie is so upset. We should have a long talk about morals and laws if you're gonna understand anything. You also need to know what folk are gonna think of you. You're gonna have to explain what exactly was happening here but if we'd talked about this sooner I'm betting it'd have gone different.”
Shadow just looked up at him. She still wasn't sure she fully understood. It made sense to her that people were better to keep alive. Annie and Jonas were endlessly fascinating, and she loved them both. They had helped her when they didn't have to and she could share her thoughts with them. She couldn't say the same about the other animals she hunted. But this particular person was trying to kill them and wasn't interested in listening to anything. If they didn't kill him, wouldn't he be a dangerous animal they were allowing to threaten them for no reason?
Perhaps the rest of the explanations would help. She had heard about morals, laws, and society before, but had never been given a clear explanation of them. She knew they were important in human lands but figured she would learn as she went. Apparently, things were a bit more pressing if she wanted to prevent another incident.
She shot a worried look over at Annie. She needed to understand. She didn't want Annie to be angry with her. That look had hurt as much as the arrow.
The matter about what society would think of her added to the pit of dread in her stomach. She didn’t like the sound of that, and now that she’d been prompted with the idea, her mind was jumping to some rather depressing conclusions. She knew how her siblings had been.
Jonas looked over at Annie, who was looking at her lap, quietly rocking back and forth. Her hands were glowing again, golden symbols flowing around her wrists. She was sitting cross-legged and resting her hands on her thighs.
“Annie was gonna give you this talk, but it looks like we put it off too long. Didn’t expect to run into a person this far out.” He looked over at the dead man. They’d never learned his name. “This went about as bad as it coulda gone. This talk can't wait. I’ll do the deed myself. Annie can help with things once she's calmed down.”
He looked back at Shadow.
“Let’s get you patched up and have a talk.”