38. My Annoying Shadow

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I can't help feeling a sense of deja vu as I swat a branch out of my face.

It's a few hours later, and now we are back in the jungle, a couple of miles between us and the Darklings territory headquarters.

Peter marches in the front, map in hands as he tries to read it. I'm honestly not feeling that confident in his direction skills, especially since we have had to turn over the map so it's not backwards multiple times. How does he even manage to turn the map on its wrong side so many times?

Becky and Max hike behind him, or should I just say Becky, since Max in tiny blue monkey form lounges on her shoulder, grabbing passing leaves and chewing on them. I roll my eyes at his antics, surprised Becky has even let him remain lazily relaxed on her shoulder this long.

I'm the last person to take up the rear of the group. Person, as in a certain Shadow man who doesn't quite count as a person lurks behind me, constantly on my heels like a good watchdog.

I curse Lager in my head, remembering a few minutes before we left how End had appeared out of nowhere, silent as a wraith.

"Watch over her." Lager had said, a tiny, knowing smirk on his face. End gave one, stiff nod, and ever since he's been my shadow. Literally and figuratively.

I don't want to admit it, but it's also a little comforting having someone at your back. It means I don't have to look over my shoulder every few seconds to see if a Lyncher has caught scent of us. Lager did assure us that the Darkling Lynchers wouldn't bother us, since they listen to him and guard Darkling land against intruders, not people leaving, but I am still cautious.

Deciding that the buzz and humidity of the jungle might very well kill me, I decide to strike up a conversation.

"Soooooo End, how do you know Lager?" I ask, looking behind me. End just looks at stares at me. Yeah, probably not the best idea to start off a conversation with a speechless shadow.

I sigh, but then perk up when I spot Becky only a few yards ahead. I pick up my pace and am soon only a few feet behind her and Max.

"Hey guys." I say excitedly. "Is this humidity terrible or what?" I nearly wince at my terrible conversational skills.

Max, the monkey, cracks one eye open, giving me a smirk, before letting it fall shut as he goes back to dozing, bustling closer to the curve between Becky's shoulder and her neck. I clench my fists to keep myself from pushing him off. I mean, seriously, can monkeys even smirk? Well, I guess they can, since I just saw one do it for myself.

Becky, thankfully, doesn't leave me hanging in awkward silence and glances over her empty shoulder at me, giving me an inquisitive look.

"You've been on Dalton fo Mr this long and you're still not used to the humidity? Pathetic." She rolls her eyes.

I open my mouth to defend myself, but let it fall shut at the last word she spoke, my shoulders slumping. All I wanted was to socialize.

To make things better I'm too busy looking st the ground, ashamed, to notice another branch in front of me, hitting me in the face. From there I stumble back a step, only to slip on mud.

I close my eyes, preparing for the impact of my bottom hitting the ground, but it doesn't happen. Instead, really cliche like, End is behind me, arms underneath my armpits as he holds me up.

I marvel at the solidness of his form, still not used to how he can switch back and forth at the snap of his fingers, before scrambling up and away.

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