62. Awakening
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Shadow woke up to the pleasant sensation of her mom gently rubbing her head.

“It’s your watch, Sweetie,” Annie softly informed her.

Shadow nodded, still a little hazy. She noticed she was a lot more bundled up than she'd been when she’d fallen asleep. Annie probably tucked her in when she got up for her watch.

Shadow always took the first or last watch of the night. Given her troubles falling asleep and staying that way through the whole night, they’d all decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have her do middle watches. She’d hardly be able to sleep at all.

Annie climbed under her blanket as Shadow extracted herself from her own.

She stretched, and walked over and nuzzled Annie to say goodnight.

‘Have a good sleep!’ Shadow wrote.

Annie squinted at the text.

“I can’t read that, dear,” she told Shadow quietly.

Shadow sighed and shook her head, waving her paw to show it wasn’t important.

The shadow words really were of limited usefulness in the dark. It wasn’t like they were any worse than normal writing though, still a clear upgrade.

She waved goodbye and left Annie to sleep, picking up her clothes and walking away a bit so she wouldn’t bother her mom by making too much noise as she got herself dressed.

Once clothed, she settled down to practice as she kept an eye out. She figured this was the best time to try mana-slotting combinations for her vision. It was such a brain-dead task that it left her with plenty of focus to pay attention to her surroundings.

After a couple of hours, something clicked.

She blinked as she looked around; a thrill of excitement running through her. It worked! She was feeding mana into her vision slot, and it was sticking!

Everything looked weird.

Shadow wasn’t really sure what was going on. She could still see everything like normal, but… she could also see something more. It was as if she was seeing a new color, or colors, she had never seen before. The sensation was kind of similar to her ear-sight, only it overlaid on the things she could already see.

It was almost like… she could see inside of stuff, but only if everything was filled with some sort of fog or mist.

She had no idea what she was seeing.

She got up and started to wander around the camp, still keeping an eye on the forest, but hoping new perspectives would help to reveal something.

After a short wander, she thought she may have found something telling.

She had noticed the sleeping forms of Annie and Jonas.

They looked different from each other.

Well, obviously they looked different, but their… mists look different too.

She was pretty sure it was their mana.

Annie’s mist was dense, almost solid, whereas Jonas’s was only a hazy overlay, and they were different… colors?

She confirmed by looking down at herself, finding a dense mist inside herself too, and… it was moving. Slowly, it drifted toward her neck, and presumably her head from there. Its movements matched what she sensed her mana doing.

Her grin split even wider.

She cast her darkness spell.

The dark blob, as well as the spell array, and even the mana flow inside her body, were all perfectly visible to this new sense. This… mana sight. The color of her mana was different from either of the humans.

This must be what dark mana looks like!

Or… was sensed as? This definitely wasn’t normal sight. Regardless, it had a ‘color’ in this new sense. Annie’s color must be what light mana looked like.

She wondered what Jonas’s color was. She hadn’t realized people without a mana-font even had mana in them, but it looked like they definitely did.

She was wiggling in excitement.

It took all of her self-control to not wake up her humans and talk all about her new skill.

She stiffened.

I’m supposed to be keeping watch!

She took a deep breath and forced herself to turn the new sense off.

Her mana sight was way too interesting. She had just spent a full couple of minutes staring at herself and the humans, rather than keeping an eye on the woods.

She’d investigate more once the humans got up and she could afford the distraction.

In the meantime, she went back to slotting mana. She decided to work on a slot in her throat. She could keep doing senses, but she wanted something that could be a little more directly applicable to combat. She’d seen plenty of magical beasts with breath attacks, and there was a decent chance that this slot could be for something along those lines.

And… well… there was also a small part of her that hoped it would let her talk. She had no way of knowing, but still, it… it might happen. She was thrilled with her new shadow writing, but it still fell short of actual speech.

A couple of hours of watch-keeping later, she saw the sun rising, and the awakening of her humans.

She was babbling at them about her new ability the moment their eyes opened.

A slew of congratulations and questions followed, as well as some testing. Shadow found out that her eyes turned entirely black when she used her mana-sight. That had been rather surprising for everyone. Annie told her that she should definitely warn people about that particular effect. It apparently would not help with the demon association. She also learned that she could see Annie’s mana moving and flowing when she cast a spell, about as well as she could see her own.

She was likely seeing some baseline amount of pure mana in Jonas. Apparently, everyone had a little bit of it, even when they weren’t lucky enough to be empowered. She could even see through objects with her mana sight, although the mana definitely became hazier the thicker the intervening material was.

Shadow really was gathering a pile of abilities that Annie wanted to study. 

Eventually, the conversation turned to breakfast, and Shadow went hunting while the humans cooked their own. She promised she would stay close and come back as soon as she caught something. No searching for berries or fruit today. Yesterday had Annie a little nervous about letting Shadow run off on her own.

But Shadow needed to eat, and she could find food a lot faster by herself. Having the whole group of them tromp around the woods together trying to find her a meal was just silly. She was more than capable of getting away if something threatened her. She did promise to keep her ear sight on the whole time she was out.

Thankfully, she made it back with her catch (a rabbit, like usual), in record time. The one hunting session spent with Kirrik had actually helped her quite a lot.

Annie cooked it up for her this time, using some of the fresh spices she’d grabbed from town.

After Shadow finished her meal, using proper eating etiquette (which, as she’d suspected, was somewhat more annoying now that she was actually hungry), Annie waved her over to where she was sitting by her pack.

“So, Shadow, ready to give this a try?” Annie said, holding up the jar of wax they’d bought in the village.

Shadows eyes widened, and she grinned, nodding enthusiastically.

Annie grinned back.

Shadow trotted over, her eyes locked on the jar.

‘So, how do we do this?’ she asked, bouncing a little.

“Well, I imagine it will be about the same as polishing most things, on my end. Not that I’ve had much experience with that. For you, just try to give me easy access to your scales without dirtying your clothes too much? I imagine we’ll figure things out as we go.” Annie stated, giving Shadow a warm smile.

Shadow smiled back and gave her a definitive nod.

‘We’ll learn together!’

“We will indeed! Now, where would you like me to start?”

Shadow thought about for a second, and turned, laying her tail down in Annie’s lap. Her one scale was still kind of shiny from yesterday, despite all that had happened. May as well start there.

The whole process took about half an hour. They’d only done the parts of her not wrapped in clothing. She kind of wanted to be shiny all over, but had acquiesced when Annie had asked if she could stick to only her visible scales. It definitely saved on time and effort, and she supposed there wasn’t much point making her scales shiny where no one could see them.

Her paws had ended up taking the longest, with all their nooks, with her head taking a good amount of time as well. That was mainly because Annie couldn’t press as hard. It didn’t feel good to have a lot of pressure on the front of her face.

But the end result was so, so, worth it.

She looked beautiful. She was staring at the reflection of her face in the river. She was so shiny and purple, covered in shimmering iridescence. She couldn’t stop grinning. She stood up and inspected her forepaws again, and looked back at her tail some more too. She was shimmering with the same iridescent purple all over.

She shivered in excitement, letting out a little shriek of excitement, before dropping back down and bounding over to Annie.

‘I’m so pretty!’ Shadow wrote for the third time in the last couple minutes. She was bouncing in front of Annie again.

“Yes, yes you are.” Annie laughed. Shadow couldn’t help herself. She was prettier than she’d ever imagined she’d be! The combined effect of the polishing was so much better than the single patch of shine she’d had before.

She ran over to Jonas, showing off to him again, too. Her uncle was just about finished packing up the camp.

“Yep, still looking as good as the last time you showed me.” He told her with a smile.

Shadow squinted and stuck her tongue out at him.

He started chuckling, and reached down to muss her ears.

She swatted away his hand and started laughing herself.

“You’re a good kid, you know that?” Jonas said, giving her a warm look.

She smiled at him and hopped to two feet to give him a hug.

He returned the gesture, then took a deep breath, his expression becoming a little more serious.

“Alright, we should be all packed up, but…” He looked at her and Annie. “Perhaps now’s a good time to do some tactics talk and sparring. Get some combat practice in, what with all that happened.”

Annie frowned at him.

“Now’s a good time?” she asked, glancing over at Shadow. “Right after I finished polishing Shadow? She’s so—”

‘I want to practice.’ Shadow wrote out, nice and big.

Her face was serious.

She loved the polish, and looking pretty, but this would help her protect her family. She hadn’t been thinking about the sparring offer Jonas had made a few days back, but now that he’d brought it up, she realized she really wanted to do this.

The last week had really driven home the point that she needed to practice. She wanted to be at her best if something or someone attacked her family again, because clearly, that was something that would keep happening. She had gotten a little complacent during their trip to civilization, but given the event with the hunter, what happened in the village, and now this fight with the Tatzelwurm, she was very clear on needing to keep on improving if she wanted to keep her and her loved ones safe.

She wasn’t going to pout and put off sparring just because she might get her pretty... shiny... iridescent scales dirty.

Hmm…

“Well, glad to see you so ready,” Jonas acknowledged with a respectful nod. ”I’ll show you how this goes.”

Shadow nodded back, and glanced over her beautiful, polished scales one last time.

She let about a quiet, sad sigh and made a mental note to ensure the sparring happened before polishing next time.

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