74. Emotions
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Annie joined in embracing Shadow shortly after, coming in right behind the guards. Shadow could see the tears on her mom’s face as Annie kissed her on the forehead and gave her a tight squeeze. A quick word from her saw Jonas picking up Shadow and carrying her outside as she rested against his shoulder. A small part of her felt a tickle of amusement about just how much better it felt to have Jonas hold her as opposed to the liar.

A few seconds later the initial wave of emotion had passed, Shadow quieted down, content to just snuggle as closely as she could into her family’s embrace. Shadow started to take in what was going on around her. She saw some of the other guards hustle the two kids outside. They were still clinging to each other, but now they were both sobbing. They seemed less scared to her though. Less tense. She imagined they must feel a little bit similar to how she felt. Hopefully, they could get back to their own families soon.

“Hey.” Annie said softly, catching Shadow’s attention. “I need to head back in there to… see if there’s anything I can do, for the people in there,” she informed Shadow quietly.

Shadow felt a wave of shame pass over her, curling into herself. She should have been more careful. The fight hadn’t been close… she could have taken more time. Maybe if she’d used shallower bites… and made sure to keep them away from the other kids…

“Hey! Hey. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m… I’m sure you did what you had to do. To rescue yourself and the other kids. You… You used what tools you had available.” Annie choked out, the grief clear in her voice. But when Shadow looked into her eyes, she saw no blame or anger, just deep sadness.

‘You don’t hate me?’ Shadow conjured up, the effort to write feeling surprisingly hard in her current state.

“No. You’re my daughter. I could never hate you.” Annie emphatically stated. “I do need to go though. I’ll be back,” she said, before turning, taking a moment to steel herself, and walking back into the building.

“It’s my fault. Not yours.” Jonas stated in a clipped tone, prompting Shadow to twist so she could look up at him from where he held her. She was surprised to see tears running down his face.

“That damn bastard should have never been able to distract me like that. I said I’d keep an eye on you. I didn’t. It’s my damn fault this happened.” He spat, a mixture of rage and grief on his face.

Shadow stared at him wide-eyed, and started shaking her head.

‘It’s not your fault! I… It was me who got tricked! The liar said I had to follow him to save you, but you said not to follow anyone without asking! I shouldn’t have followed!’ She wrote, feeling guilty again.

Jonas just shook his head right back at her.

“I’m the one with experience. The whole reason I was supposed to be keeping an eye on you was because we knew you’d be making mistakes. You’re supposed to be making mistakes and learning from them. I’m the one that’s supposed to keep ‘em from amounting to anything, and…” he looked away. “well, I certainly failed at that. This is on me.” He muttered, shaking his head. He seemed to sink into himself.

Shadow wasn’t sure what to say. She was thinking about Jonas’s words when one of the guards walked up to them.

“Hate to interrupt, sir, ma’am.” She interrupted, nodding to each of them, with a serious look on her face.

She was some kind of beastkin with a scaled face, but Shadow couldn’t really tell what kind, with all the armor she had on. She didn’t look like Kirrik, so not a crocodile-kind. Her face was much flatter, and she had nose slits and vertical pupils kind of similar to Shadow’s, although the colors weren’t the same.

“We’re going to need to bring you to the guardhouse for questioning. This… is a serious incident. From what we know, I don’t see you getting in any trouble,” she said with a nod to Shadow, and a look that was perhaps a tad more intense than was comfortable, “but I would like to work out exactly what happened. If you would follow me?” she asked, taking a questioning step.

“Annie knows?” Jonas asked tiredly, nodding at the door.

“Yes, she’ll be coming as well once everything is handled in there.” The beastkin answered.

Jonas gave her a nod, and started to follow, carrying Shadow along with him.

More guards came along as well, with Ander and the little girl in tow.

Shadow let herself be carried for a bit while she ruminated on Jonas’s take of the situation, but eventually patted Jonas on the shoulder and motioned that she wanted to get down. As comfortable as it was, being carried around just felt odd. She was more than capable of walking on her own, even if she was still recovering from all that had happened.

Shadow still felt like it wasn’t his fault. Maybe it wasn’t really her fault either. If it was anyone’s fault, it was the liar’s and his kidnapper partners’! They were the ones who’d tricked her in the first place and caused… all of the rest of it. They… they had brought this on themselves.

She let out a soft sigh.

Shadow still wished it hadn’t ended up with so many of them dead.

But… just because she and Jonas could have handled the situation better, didn’t make the situation their fault.

That felt a lot more correct to her.

She went to share her thoughts with Jonas, but realized she shouldn’t use her shadow writing in the middle of the street. There were a bunch of people around. She probably shouldn’t have been using it in front of all the guards back by the kidnapper’s building in the first place, but she’d been kind of preoccupied. Besides, a lot of them must have seen her use her magic when they burst into the room, so they knew anyway.

As soon as the thought to get out her tablets crossed her mind, her stomach sank as she remembered that they were still back by the kidnappers, lying in an alleyway.

She needed to get them back!

But she had no way to tell Jonas!

Well, honestly, she could probably manage it with a few gestures, but the very thought of being forced to do so filled her with indignity. Shadow had gotten so used to having either her tablets or her shadow writing available all the time, that being without them left her feeling as gagged as the kids had been.

Although… perhaps she could still use her darkness spell. She just needed to be a little sneaky about it.

Considering it for a second, she figured she could just form the spell array for darkness around her upper arm, where it would be hidden under her clothes, rather than around her wrist. A quick experiment proved successful. It felt a little strange making it there, but it wasn’t really more difficult. She just wasn’t used to it. It was less awesome looking, though, given that you couldn't see it at all. She supposed that was the price you paid for stealth.

She hesitated a bit at the next part. She needed some way to show Jonas her shadow text without it being obvious to all the other people walking around.

At first, she thought she might make the text in front of her chest, and then cup her paws around it and point toward Jonas so he’d be the only one that could really see. The problem with that was that it would require her to walk backward, and she didn’t think she’d be able to keep up with the group. She’d found a good two-legged forward gait, but she was significantly slower in the other direction.

Not to mention she wouldn’t be able to see where she was going. Although, she supposed she could just use her ear-sight. That was only for emergencies though, at least while they were in the town.

She juggled around variations on that theme for a bit, before an idea clicked into place that would probably work.

She’d need Jonas’s cooperation though. Which would require gesturing.

Shadow rolled her eyes at herself and sighed, before laughing a little in exasperation. All that work for nothing. Well, not nothing, she still wanted to test out her idea, though her indignation at having to gesture had mostly passed by this point. It was silly not to use the tools at your disposal (even if they were worse than the ones you used to have!).

“What’s up? Something funny?” Jonas asked kindly, looking down at her. He was smiling, but Shadow could tell it wasn’t real. Like he was trying to be happy, but… failing. She could see the tension buried beneath it. He looked… fragile.

Maybe the tablets could wait. She just needed to talk to him. Shadow didn’t like seeing her uncle like this. It wasn’t like him. He was friendly, boisterous and fun! Sometimes serious, grouchy, or angry, but not... however he was now. Shadow was kind of worried.

She pointed at Jonas and then cupped her paws around the sides of her eyes the best that she could. She looked down at the ground like that for a little bit before stopping and looking back up at her uncle.

He raised an eyebrow at her, so she went through the motions again, doing her best to emphasize that he should copy her.

He gave her an incredulous look.

“You want me to look at the ground with my hands like this?” He asked, cupping his hands around the sides of his eyes like she had.

Shadow nodded.

“Why?” he wondered, before his eyes narrowed, and he glanced from Shadow’s face, to her paws, to her pouches. “Where are your tablets? Did you lose them?” he asked, concerned.

Shadow paused for a moment and sighed, before nodding to him pointing back in the direction they’d come from.

Jonas frowned, looking to the side. “I should have noticed that. I should have looked— “

He stopped, surprised as Shadow smacked him in the chest with the back of one of her forepaws.

He looked over to find her glaring at him. She was a little exasperated at this point. Her forgetting her tablets was definitely not his fault! It was like he was looking for reasons to blame himself!

She went through the motions again, pointing at him and shielding her eyes with her paws, although this time somewhat more quick and demanding with her body language.

He obliged, shielding his eyes and looking down at the ground, although he did seem confused.

‘It is not your fault! Not any of it!’ she emphatically wrote, making the text small and directly in front of his eyes. His hands would keep people from seeing the text from the side, but still let her see what she was doing from her lower vantage point beside him.

At first, he seemed surprised, but then he got sad again as he read the text, starting to shake his head a bit.

“Shadow, I—”

‘No! It’s really not your fault! It’s the kidnapper’s fault for kidnapping me! We both made some mistakes, but it’s their fault! Not ours!’ she interrupted, the anger she still felt toward the men fueling her argument.

Jonas gave her a sad smile and sighed.

“Look, you're not wrong exactly, but the fact that I let them distract me so they could nab you may very well have gotten you killed. The fact that you were forced to kill people to save yourself is also on me.” He explained.

A part of Shadow keyed in on the fact that ‘they’ had distracted him and ‘they’ had also nabbed her. Had the kidnappers and the noble been working together? She wouldn’t let it distract her right now though.

‘Well, I didn’t get killed! And I wouldn’t have had to kill them if they hadn’t kidnapped me in the first place! That… that still seems like their fault to me!’ she tried.

Jonas just shook his head sadly.

“There are bad folk in the world. I wish there weren’t, but that’s the way it is. It is their fault, but it’s also mine. I was supposed to protect you from just those kinds of people and I completely failed. Didn’t do a damn thing. You saved yourself,” he stated.

Shadow’s anger died and she suddenly felt very sad again. She wanted to argue, but didn’t know how. Jonas’s arguments… well… they made sense. But she didn’t want…

She hated that this had happened at all. She felt miserable. She looked up at her uncle as her whole posture drooped. Her ears sagged down and her tail dragged as she started to quiver.

‘I don’t like it when you’re mean to yourself… please don’t be sad anymore.’ She implored, looking up at him with the hurt and desperation visible all over her face. A part of her realized how silly it was to ask that of him when she was so clearly sad herself, but she couldn’t help it. Maybe he couldn’t either…

He blinked down at her for a moment while his brain caught up.

“Oh, gods, what am I…” he whispered, before focusing himself. “Shadow. I’ll be fine. This whole thing just has me shook up. Give me a bit, and I’ll be right back to normal. Don’t you worry, you hear?” He comforted her with a rough voice, reaching out and rubbing her head with a palm. He kept blinking away tears that tried to run down his face again.

Shadow gave him a small nod, but still felt terrible.

“…Want me to carry you again?” Jonas asked.

She decided she really did.