Shadow was thinking. Just curled up—and thinking. She didn’t actually do it that much. She preferred to be up and about, exploring her thoughts actively. Whether that was with her writing practice, shaping her mana, communicating with her humans, or just running around discovering stuff, she liked to do things.
But for now, she wasn’t doing anything more than thinking. She had a lot to process, and much of it wasn’t very pleasant.
Jonas had explained many complicated things to her. Annie had joined in later, helping with the explanations while healing her leg and apologizing.
Shadow apologized too. She hadn’t needed to kill that man; she could have put an arm or leg out of commission and then Jonas would have been able to subdue him. They could have forced him to listen, maybe gotten him to understand. The point was, there were options and she chose the one that there was no coming back from. It had also made Annie so very sad, which was something Shadow never wanted to do again.
However, as much as she did feel bad for killing the man, that wasn’t what had her curled up on Annie’s lap trying not to cry.
So many things had been explained to her, but she hadn’t been ready for… for this. Some part of her had an inkling… but she hadn’t realized what other people… what other people would think of her...
She fought not to cry, to keep her keening at bay. She’d been overwhelmed by the sadness a few times already. She would lay there keening and Annie would just hold her, crying herself. Even now as she laid in Annie’s lap, Annie’s eyes were still running. Shadow was pretty sure they were crying about different things, but it didn’t matter. They comforted each other as they grieved.
But she had already cried enough. She didn’t want to cry anymore. She wanted… she wanted a solution, but she had no idea what that would be.
Why do I have to be a stupid shadeling?
Everyone would hate her on sight. Or at least that’s what she’d gathered from the conversation. The pair of humans had tried to be gentle about it, but it wasn’t hard to read between the lines.
Shadelings were monsters. Something to be culled. Mindlessly violent and too stupid to even train. Anyone who knew what she was would probably try to kill her on sight or find someone else who could. It didn’t help that apparently, she looked scary. Even if said person didn’t know what a shadeling was, they would most likely still be afraid of her just because of her appearance.
How was that fair?
She would need to stick to Annie and Jonas whenever she was somewhere humans might find her. They would need to come up with a ‘believable’ story for why she wasn’t a mindless beast trying to kill everyone.
Perhaps she could be a miracle of training, an unprecedented success. It could be there was some sort of magical artifact that was regulating her behavior. Or maybe she was the result of some sort of magic experiment, her intelligence boosted enough that she could be safely handled.
The one thing she apparently couldn’t be was herself. A shadeling as smart as a human was too weird. She would have to “dumb things down”, or she might be taken away to be experimented on by more unscrupulous researchers. She might be hunted down by scared villagers that destroyed what they couldn’t understand, or in the best case, she would get locked in a cage by some rich noble as a prized collector’s item.
She would have no rights in ‘civilized’ lands. All the thinking races had them, but shadelings didn’t count. That was a big reason you didn’t kill anyone. It could get you killed yourself or locked away in jail. None of that would apply to a shadeling, even if she thought as well as any of them! She would essentially need to be the property of Annie to have any sort of rights at all. Otherwise someone could just steal her or kill her on a whim and there would be no laws broken.
She could hardly even understand what all that meant, just that she would be putting herself in grave danger even entering a city, regardless of what she did.
She wondered if she should just leave. Just go wandering off in the woods, doing her own thing. Perhaps she could still meet with her humans whenever they went traveling.
But... she didn’t want that! She wanted to see the amazing human cities! She wanted to meet these other thinking races, and interact with them! She wanted to experience all these amazing creations she’d heard about!
She extracted herself from Annie’s lap and started to pace around, determination igniting in her chest.
Forget what she had been thinking earlier!
She liked her body! She liked being a shadeling! Other shadelings might be bad but she wasn't!
Her body was hers and it was great. She might fantasize about having hands, but she liked her paws and claws. They were great for moving around quietly and latching onto prey. Most importantly they were hers. She would never trade them for hands. Well, maybe only for a little bit—if she could trade back after.
The point was, she didn’t want to be a human. She just wanted to be friends with humans. Or really, be friends with thinkers, people, anyone who had a mind. So far only humans met that definition. Her days with her wonderful human duo had been the best of her (admittedly not that long) life.
It was just like Annie had said, she was good at things that others were bad at, and others were good at things she was bad at. If everyone worked together, things were better!
She could find the berry bushes and the others could pick the berries. That meant more food for everyone (because they would be eating berries instead of meat)!
The problem wasn’t what she was, it was how people would think of her. She just needed to convince people she was friendly, and that they didn’t need to be scared of her… and also somehow change the… laws? policies? so that she wouldn’t be stolen and killed by people for no reason. So she would be protected like all the other thinkers were.
She could do the first bit. She knew it. She would need help from her friends to smooth over first meetings, but she knew she could convince people she wasn’t scary and dangerous, or, at least not to them. She could convince them she wasn’t evil like the man said.
It was the second point with laws and policies that gave her some trouble. It was going to take some time to come to grips with what that even meant. She really had no concept of how it all worked. The whole concept seemed so vague and nebulous, but she trusted her humans and they said it mattered a lot. She just didn’t have any context for it. She hadn’t even seen more than two people (well… three but… that one didn’t count.).
She mulled over it a bit and decided she had no idea how to fix that one. Not yet; but she would. She just needed to learn more things; to get more experience.
She huffed, her stomach sinking a little as she thought of the immediate future. She would have to go along with plan “play dumb” in the short term. She… didn’t really like the idea of that. But it was what it was.
She went over to grab Jonas. He was still busy pushing dirt into a hole. That had been another stressful conversation. Annie wanted to take the body back to the village and explain the situation to the headman. Jonas asserted that Shadow would be butchered, and they would be hanged for murder if the group went that route.
Things had gotten heated, but Jonas’s argument won out. Even if Jonas’s outcome was pessimistic, they would certainly be inviting trouble by bringing back a body, no matter what they said. People disappeared in the woods all the time. It was sad when it happened, but no one would suspect them if this hunter simply never came home.
Despite all that, she didn’t think Annie would have been convinced if not for the fact that Shadow would likely be put down if there was even a hint of suspicion she might be dangerous or out of control. The headman could apparently just order her dead if he considered her a menace, guilty or not. That thought still scared her, but she had made her decision.
So now Jonas was burying the man in an unmarked grave. He would disappear and no one would be the wiser.
Shadow had had the idea that they could eat him, that way he wouldn’t go to waste. Annie never liked letting things go to waste. Her idea had been swiftly rejected. Apparently eating people is very bad, and she should never do it. Even when they were dead, and their bodies would rot anyway. She had needed to make many promises that she would never, ever, eat anybody no matter what.
It seemed a little silly to her, meat was meat, but it was an easy enough rule to follow.
She walked up and poked the man.
He stopped filling the hole and looked down.
She motioned for him to follow her, and they walked over to Annie, who was now up as well and stretching. It seemed she was done crying too.
Once the pair was paying attention, she scribbled her intentions in the dirt.
“I want to go to the vilage with you. Lets figer out how.”
“Yes, that sounds like a fine idea.” Annie said with a small smile, using a finger to correct Shadow's spelling, as she always did.
"Time to figure out how to get you into the village."