Me, My Sword, and I
rating: +22+x

Two wizards climb a hill, dragging heavy equipment as they bicker along the way.

“What do you mean?” Asked the human.

“What do you mean ‘what do I mean?’” Replied his boar-headed companion, “That’s not how you’re supposed to eat an orange.”

They reach the top and begin unloading, the dim ember glow of the sky serving as a backdrop to their work. “Uh, yeah it is. It’s a fruit, dude.”

“Yeah but it’s not a fucking apple!” He takes out a cable, dragging it over and plugging into a triangular machine the human had already set up.

“Oh, so what do you do, then?” The wizard asked sarcastically, “Peel it like some pansy?”

“Yes! I peel it and eat the inside like a civilized fucking person!” He inserts the other end of the cable into a small device situated on a tripod, which begins making clicking noises.

“Oh my god- eating it with the peel is natural!” He retorts, placing glowing beacons around the site.

The other wizard hefts a large stone tablet and places it in the center. Its surface is covered in intricate carvings, with three gemstones embedded within the structure. “There’s nothing natural about the way you’re eating it! You’re biting into it but avoiding the middle part, and then throwing the rest away like some beast of the earth.”

“Why the fuck would I eat the core?”

“There’s no core of an orange!”

The human smirks, “Sounds like you’re just eating orange cores all day.”

His companion lets out a deflating sigh, “Whatever. Is the harpoon in your bag, or mine?”

“Uhhhh, let me check.” He sifts through his bag and pulls out a harpoon cannon. In place of the jagged flue is a squirming russet-colored slime.

They continue on in silence, the beeping and humming of the machines punctuating the calm quiet like raindrops on a windowsill; the human wizard’s next comment was like a soggy sandwich being thrown at the glass.

“So do you eat bananas like a soup?”

“…What?”

“Well I’m just wondering, since you eat oranges differently, how do you eat the other fruits?” He says, drawing a translucent glyph in the air, “Do you cut open the top and slurp it out like soup?”

The boar-headed man drops his plastic wrench, “Fir- first of all… that’s not how you eat soup. Second of all, no! I peel bananas, because I am a normal person, and I’m starting to wonder if all those orange skins you’ve eaten have somehow wrapped themselves around your brain, like a citrus-foil hat.”

“What is this obsession with peeling food?”

“It’s not not an obsession! It’s basic societal knowledge to not eat the peel!”

“No, dude listen, everyone eats the peel!”

“Who is eating the peel?”

“EVERYONE!”

BOOM!

The two fall backwards in shock, their minds spinning in confusion. Scrambling back to their feet, they find the source of the sudden noise.

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A sword. A sword, exuding a dark mist, hovering above the ground.

If there is no one to pick up arms, then a sword must wield itself.

An appendage bursts from the crossguard, gripping the hilt. With a wet, slithering sound it pulls itself out, slowly at first, before speeding up and exiting with a soft ‘pop’. It floats upside-down above the sword, still gripping the hilt; the surface of its humanoid form resembling a churning black fluid. Circular, yellow patterns shift upon its skin, like rings suspended in water. Two large, white eyes open on its face as its body rotates and lowers to the ground.

The wizards stand wary for whatever the sword-thing does next, when it suddenly disappears in a puff of dark mist. The sound of a slashing blade and a pained grunt, the human turns to see his friend falling forward as the attacker vanishes and appears in his front, impaling him before he could reach the ground. The entity then pushes the wizard to the dirt and slides them down the hill.

“Avabi!” The human cries.

The battered and bloodied body comes to a halt at the base of the mound. Removing their sword, the assailant turns and locks eyes with the other man. It nearly breaks out into a sprint towards him before hearing a sharp Grk from behind, along with the crackling of fire.

The sword-thing looks back and finds Avabi standing, hunched over and arms limp, flames dancing upon his upper back. A crimson light leaks from his eyes as the faint scent of brimstone fills the air.

Asshole,” Avabi growls.

The sword-thing glances at the other wizard, who sucks himself into a crystal and flies off, before looking back as it is immediately rammed into by the fiery beast: now larger, quadrupedal, resembling an actual boar. Fire and fur writhe like tendrils indistinguishable from one another.

The entity’s feet dig into the dirt as Avabi pushes it across the ground. It teleports behind him, thrusting the sword in his direction, but it never connects — the sword-thing is smacked away by a column of flaming back hair. The entity lands a distance away, staring intensely at its opponent; the wizard’s eyes pulse in animalistic rage, but there is still an undeniable intelligence behind them. Avabi bellows, the smell of hellfire growing stronger as he charges forth.

The living weapon holds the blade up to its face, shining yellow discs materializing behind it. Beams of light fire at Avabi as he runs, only to be deflected away by small magical barriers the wizard casts under his breath. The sword-thing braces itself as Avabi makes impact, tusk digging into extradimensional flesh.

The wizard’s attempt to gore his opponent slows, dark mist billowing from its form as its strength suddenly grows. Avabi looks into the entity’s eyes, a Rorschach inkblot twisted in fury stares back.

It teleports and swings, again and again, its attacks rapid but unable to break the jungled inferno of the beast’s hide. It continues its assault while firing more blasts of yellow energy, Avabi struggling to keep up with the sword-thing’s onslaught.

As soon as he realizes he’s lost track of it, he feels the breaking of skin upon his neck.

The entity goans as it pushes the sword upwards. Black crystal condenses around the weapon, the groan transitioning into an emboldened yell as the entity forces the blade past the nape, blood spraying as it watches the decapitated head flip through the air; but it fails to fall. The head hangs in the air and growls, lava pouring from its maw like drool.

Distracted by this new development, the sword-thing fails in noticing the two large, skeletal arms that burst forth from Avabi’s neck to grab it. Avabi slams the entity incessantly into the ground, much like a child would a toy that particularly displeased them. He slams it, punches it, swings it, slams it some more, swings it. His head floats down and starts vomiting molten rock upon it; Avabi picks up a rock and repeatedly smashes the entity with it, much like an ape would a bug that particularly displeased them.

Avabi ceases his onslaught, the entity now a crumpled and shriveled mess within a shallow crater. As its form begins to dissolve back into the sword, it feels another shadow fall upon it.


…And where did you two say this happened?” Asked deputy sorcerer FMX/379/OS ver. 11.17.

“Up on that hill to the southeast of here,” Avabi explains, scratching at his pant leg. “We were trying to collect a meteor from that one universe, like you asked us to do.”

FMX moves their ceiling-mounted control module across the office, which resembled a laboratory more than anything. They look at the sword, suspended within a gel-filled glass vat. “Hmm. Could it be possible the dimensional attunement brought it here?

Mmmmmmaybe? It showed up before we even fully set up the equipment, so it’s kinda unlikely.”

Interesting.” FMX swivels a camera in Avabi’s direction, “I hope you two were able to protect yourselves alright.

“Yeah, we were fine.” Avabi looks to his side, “It ended up focusing on me once I got ‘Tossed,’” he looks back at his superior, “so Davis was able to get away safely.”

Ah, so Davis pussied out, I see.

“First of all!” A voice calls out from the hall, “I was staying in the air and watching out for if Avabi was in any serious trouble!” Davis rolls in a book-filled cart, bumping it on the side of the door before going in. “Second of all, I’m not like Avabi. If my heart gets cut in half, I can’t just walk it off.”

Sounds to me like you don’t work out enough.

Davis waves his hand dismissively while parking the cart, “Oh shut up.”

In any case, I am thankful neither of you were gravely injured. Oh. Well you did get stabbed through the chest and decapitated, Avabi.” FMX’s control module moves over to inspect the books, “But I am glad you were not killed.

Avabi leans against a wall, “One of the benefits of being an apocalypse-born, I guess.”

“I mean I wasn’t completely useless,” Davis perks up, “I helped him with the goiter he got after he reattached his head.”

“Hey Davis, remember that one time you got a really big goiter, and it went on for so long that we drew a little smiley face on it?”

Davis grins, “Yeah, that was funny.”

Indicators connected to the vat suddenly begin beeping. The three magic users turn their attention to the sword, another appendage sliding out of the crossguard.

If there is no one to pick up arms, then a sword m-

An uncomfortable shock of electricity courses through the gel.

Nope.

The arm melts into a dark liquid, which swims about the vat. FMX continues applying brief shocks each time the entity attempts to solidify, while more liquid pours from the crossguard.

“So… what’re you thinking we do with it?” Avabi asks. FMX moves back over to the vat, “That all depends on what the sword chooses.

The entity ceases its act of reconstitution and simply waits for the other party to make the next move. The disk-operated sorcerer lowers their control module to be level with the container. “Can you understand me?

The water shifts, “Yes.” The voice is muffled, but carries a noticeably androgynous tone.

Good, I was hoping you’d be intelligent. Makes things more interesting. Next question: for what reason did you attack my associates?

“To fight. To battle.” The black fluid drifts in a gentle counterclockwise rotation around the sword. “To face the claws and fangs of conflict and stand triumphant over its corpse.”

Well, according to them, you attacked first, unprovoked.

“Un… provoked?” The flow of the water stumbles before switching direction.

Davis wished FMX kept chairs in their office, so he could sit down. Avabi also wished there were chairs.

Yes. Now why did you do that? Are you so hungry for conflict that you’ll try to create it wherever you can?

“As I said, to fight. And I do not seek conflict, I simply act as one would.”

Well, I don’t know what your home universe was like, but attacking people for no reason is considered rather rude here. How would you feel if someone attacked you unprovoked?

“I… would not? One does not walk under a tree and feel a sudden loathing or nostalgia, and to be cross with such a person is equally as strange. Are you confused?”

Slightly, but that’s what we’re here to fix. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you come from, for instance?

The dark water churns, like a forlorn stormcloud. “I. I do not recall. There was the armory, in which I waited. I waited. I could feel the rumbling of war from outside, but never see it. I waited. Figures walking past, never taking up arms. No arms. Waiting. No change. Stuck.” The churning developed a rhythm, rotating in symmetrical waves. “I… do not recall how I arrived here.”

I imagine that was very unpleasant.

“…”

For the people here, being stabbed through the chest is considered similarly unpleasant. So, it is common courtesy to not stab each other, nor subject one another to extensive isolation.

“…Oh.”

The control module raises slightly, “I take it you will think twice before randomly attacking someone from now on?

The swirling has developed in even greater complexity, with streaks of gold surging about like electrical pulses in the brain. “I… yes. Yes, I do not want to force that experience on others. But… wh… then what can I possibly do, besides wait for a battle that will not come?” The swirling begins to devolve, “I- I can’t…”

Like a fishing line, FMX’s sudden jolt upwards startles the sword from the bleak lake of its thoughts. “I’m glad you asked.

The lid of the vat flips open with an abrupt ‘clang,’ throwing Davis and Avabi from their own daydream river. “Huh- wait what’s happening, what are we doing?” The human yelps. “Yeah sorry I got a bit lost,” his friend says.

The deputy sorcerer swivels a camera toward the duo, “Looks like we have a new arrival to the Last Islands, and a new enrollee of Institution for the Study of Omniversal Magic.

Avabi puts his hands up in protest, “Wait waitwaitwait. Did I- what did you just say?”

You two have helped multiversal immigrants become acquainted with this world before, so I’m entrusting you to help this one.

“It’s a literal murder spree with legs,” Says Davis, “Do you have a screw loose?”

A few, but I called a handyman and they’ll be here by tomorrow to fix them.

Avabi turns and watches as the slippery, humanoid form of the entity climbs its way out of the container, like a cat in a bathtub.

No, but listen: this is a being whose entire existence has been nothing but violence. All it knows is how to fight, destroy, and kill.” They raise a mechanical appendenge, “But, it has the ability to learn. It can learn empathy. Feel empathy. It possesses the capacity to change, to grow. But it knows nothing besides war, so you must teach it everything that is not war. Teach it about culture, about sports, about reading. Teach it about living, so it can become a person.

The entity falls out of the vat with a wet ‘slap.’

FMX leans closer to the duo, “Plus, this could serve as a boon for ISOM. Having a sapient, talking sword capable of great feats of power gives us an advantage over other schools, like Scholomance II and Saint Adomo College.

“But, how does that give us an advantage?” Avabi asks.

That is something we will discover from the study and research of the sword. And the fact we even have it gives us an edge over the competition.

“But they don’t know we have it.”

Precisely.

The sword-person walks over to the group, its blade hanging on its hip. Davis speaks up, “Okay but what if it suddenly decides, ‘Mm I’m bored’ and just goes around butchering everyone?”

A camera turns to the sword-person as FMX puts two of their robotic claws together and recites an incantation at x11 speed. A glowing chain manifests between the appendages, becoming longer as the claws pull apart. With a shift motion, the chain flies onto the metal blade and wraps around it.

There. Binding spell. Now it can’t use any of its fancier tricks. And it is already reluctant to harm others, so there is little to be worried for.

Davis lets out a sigh, “Well I guess that solves all our problems, doesn’t it?” He looks at the sword-person, “So do you have a name or anything? Something we could call you by?”

“I have no title. I am a sword.”

“Well, is there anything you would prefer to be called?” Avabi adds.

“Hmmm.” The sword-person crosses its arms and closes its eyes in deep concentration. “Hmm. Hmmmmm. Hmmmmmmmm. Hmmmmm…”

It thinks of its past, of anytime it was referred to by name. It recalls crumbling stars. Mad men, trying to play Devil. Extrauniversal conquests, hordes of dark empires devouring each new land. Arbiters of balance writhing in their death throes, refusing to fail even as-

“What about Charmy?” Davis interrupts.

“…No. I would like my name to be… Yersive.”

Perfect.” The deputy sorcerer exclaims, “Now, you two go on and show it the wonders of existence.

“Uhhh,” Avabi picks up a small, glass paperweight and hands it to Yersive. “Here.”

Yersive takes it, and slams it to the ground.

“Wwwwhy did you do that?”

“Because you gave it to me.”

“Yeah but you weren’t supposed to break it!”

“When did you want me to break it?”

“Never! I wanted you to just hold it in your hands.”

“…To what end?”

Davis grumbles under his breath, “This is gonna be a long fucking day.”


The shop bell rings as the door is forcefully kicked open. “No, no that’s not what you do,” Avabi says, like a parent trying to tell their child not to drill a hole into the wall.

“But, how would I be able to enter otherwise?” Yersive asks, like a child who doesn’t understand what’s wrong with drilling a hole in the wall.

“You’re supposed to push the door open.”

“Is that not what I did?”

Rubbing his face and sighing for the seventeenth time today, Avabi motions for it to walk inside the store.

The first thing the trio are met with is a cacophony of vanilla scents, like a circus tent of masking odors. The second, is the bizarre Kowloon collection of clothing that fills the room: shirts, skirts, and miscellaneous non-human attire, packed and pressed together into large columns that twist and bend throughout the store like tubes; tall, golden clothing racks carrying hundreds of jackets and uniforms each; burial mounds of fabric hiding a treasure trove of accessories, from hats and shoes to exoskeleton masks and “cursed” limbs.

The owner of the store hops onto the front counter. A diminutive, purple fellow, with a long wiry tail and wearing a jester dress. He spreads his arms in a warm greeting, his eyes betraying a puzzlement towards the violent opening of the door, but smiles with a sincerity all the while. “Welcome, to The Garth’s Attire Wire! And, is that a fresh arrival to the Last Place, I see? Well, you’ve come to the right place. I sell all manner of cloth collected from the crumbling realities that surround our community! From deer-folk to spider golems, any size fits here. Could you please give the name of your race or species, so that I may better find fabric to shelter your bare naked anatomy?”

“I have never worn clothes.”

The owner had never gotten that response before. Before he can properly formulate a reply, Davis speaks up, “We were thinking of just letting it walk around, find what it likes.”

“Ah! Splendid.” Garth turns to the doorway behind him and calls out, “Amin! I need you a moment.”

A young boy with a distracted look in his eye walks out. “Yeah?”

“I want you to show these folk some of our human-shaped attire. Down the hall, take a left, go around the statue– Hey!” Garth snaps his fingers at the boy to draw back the child’s attention, “Amin, my boy, listen to me. This job is a learning experience, to help prepare you for the workforce. These are valuable lessons to know in one’s adult life. So, can you do this for me?”

“Uh, uh, okay.” Amin itches his belly. “When is my mom coming back, again?”

“She’ll be here to pick you up in… four episodes of that show you were watching earlier. Now go on,” Garth waves the boy off, with Yersive and Avabi trailing behind.

The owner lets out a quick sigh, “Zainb got a sudden call today from her workplace about an emergency – nothing serious, they just need all hands on deck – so she dropped Amin off here so I could look after him.”

“Speaking of which,” Davis says, “how’s Zainb doing?”

“Much better, actually!” Garth chimes, “She’s really settled into her new job, and the pay and employment benefits have been great. Huge improvement to their quality of life.”

“That’s awesome,” Davis beams, “Where does she work now?”

“She works at that food-center place, the big building down north that looks like a roomba. She helps with organizing and planning all the…”

Their conversation fades in the distance, but one of the words sticks out in Yersive’s mind: ‘Her.’

Her. Her. She.

She.

She…

“Something on your mind?” The boar-headed wizard pipes up.

Yersive turns away, “Yes… but I’m unsure if I should continue thinking about it.” Slowly, it directs its gaze back, like a flower looking for sunlight, “The last time I considered this thought, you and many others grew angry with me.”

“We weren’t mad that you were thinking about something, we were mad because you were thinking about it in the middle of the road and holding up traffic.” They duck their heads as they pass under a makeshift bridge, constructed from scarfs and shoelaces, “You’re not in anyone’s way right now, so you’re fine.”

Its gaze turns to the ground, then to the slight side before receding back and repeating, like rhythmic ocean waves, “The way… Davis and the other were speaking of that person…. So, there is a name– and I have one. But, there is another… something else, like a smaller name. I heard them use one. And I… what they said. It felt… right. So… I– oh!” It nearly bumps into another customer: a silverback gorilla carrying a floral handbag.

“Sorry.”

The gorilla grunts in understanding before walking by.

“So,” Avabi starts, “if I’m getting this right, uh, so if someone said something like, ‘Yersive is in the clothing store because she wants to buy clothes.’ Would you say that sounds better to you, than, ‘Yersive is in the clothing store because it wants–’”

“Yes! I mean– I– sorry. Yes, yes I find that I much prefer that.”

“Well,” he shines, “good to know.”

If Yersive had a mouth, she would smile.

The young boy suddenly stops, halting their journey within a massive room occupied by 35-foot tall dress coats. “Um,” Amin turns, “do you guys remember where he said to go?”

“Oh dude I don’t know,” Avabi chuckles.

“Oh. Uh well I guess you can just do whatever I guess.”

The wizard puts his hands on his hips and blows lip bubbles, gazing about the room. “Well, uh… anything stand out to you, Yersive?”

Avabi finds the sword-woman staring at a coat rack, nearly hidden within the shadow of one of the gargantuan garments.

“…Perhaps.”


“Yeah, so I was throwing every shoe in the building, trying to knock that fucker down. When that didn’t work, I tried tying the shoes together and–” Davis’ tale is cut short as he notices the return of his companions. “Heyyyy,” he exclaims in a mirthful tone, “finally found something that suits you, I see.”

Yersive approaches, footfalls punctuated by heavy black boots, dressed in a bulky military uniform. The design resembles that of a Janissary commander’s clothing, though thicker and colored brown. On her head she wears a red, Turkish-styled kalpak. She rests a white gloved hand on the pommel of her sword.

“I think it’s a perfect fit for her,” says Avabi, hands in his pockets and a smile on his face.

“‘Her?’” Davis asks.

“Yep.”

“Oh huh. Well, little miss big-knife, where would you like to go next?”

“I don’t know,” Yersive says, her voice bearing a touch more emotion than before, “where would you recommend?”

After paying and leaving, the trio stroll down the street, discussing their next destination.

As the wizards debate on going to a baseball game or a quicksand barbeque, Yersive soaks in the kind weather; the pleasant warm air, punctuated by the sounds of the lively market district.

The peaceful atmosphere is shattered by a deafening explosion in the distance.

The shock and confusion felt by the denizens soon gives way as the rising water of panic flows through the street like a flood, the fearful people swimming down the stream.

Davis grabs the arm of a passing runner, “Hey! What the hell is everyone running from?”

“It’s one of the Foundry workers. It just went ballistic all of a sudden and’s destroying everything!” The person pulls from his grip continues down the street. A second explosion pierces the air.

Yersive looks to the two with uncertainty in her eyes, “Wha- I- is- wha- are we– are we supposed to do anything?”

“No,” Davis turns, “the Withstanders–” another explosion, “–the Withstanders deal with these sorts of things. As regular citizens, it’s in our best interests if WHOA,” tiny yellow hands are thrown from Davis’ robe – grow big – catch – grip a chunk of crumbling building before it can fall on a pair of fruit sellers.

“Haha well uh I guess new plan uh help damage control no people die!” Davis strains his arms as he mimes holding up the rubble, the yellow hands mirroring his own.

A pink glow envelops the fruit sellers as they are pulled away from the danger. Davis safely drops the rubble, letting out an exhausted sigh. The pink glow from Avabi’s hands fade as he approaches the scared citrus men.

“Are you hurt?” They shake their heads. “Then go!” The pair flee down the street.

Avabi looks around, “Where’d she go?”

Yersive races to the source of the destruction. What compels her to do so, whether it be the wizard’s influence on her newfound personality, or her lingering instinct for battle, she knows not.

As the signs of carnage grow, she finds it: a giant blue crab, smashing and throwing pieces of the district with wild abandon. Its legs produce a low clinking sound as it scuttles towards a gothic-style tanning salon. It raises a claw, winding it back, bursts of steam blowing out from the gaps in the carapace. The appendage begins to glow a hot white; a rising, high pitched whistle fills the air before it slams its arm down – a boom rings out and the property is reduced to smithereens, flying buttresses and all.

A large harpoon impacts into the ground between its legs. It dislodges the weapon and, with a primal anger, chucks it back at the flying Withstander battleship.

This was her. This crab was just like her when she first arrived; violent, aimless, ignorant.

Further harpoons fly toward the cantankerous crustation. It grips one of the projectiles in midair and snaps it like a twig.

This was her. This was her and she had to help it, force it to learn just as she did. Before it did something bad, something it can’t take back.

The smoking battleship skids across the ground, its techno-knight occupants leaping from it as the vessel runs on a collision course toward the monster – its claw stabs through the top of the hull, like a shotgun shell to a fox’s head. The crab spins around, the zombified momentum of the ship building and building before being thrown at the crew, but it flies past harmlessly – split in half by one of the Withstanders' plasmic axes.

What should she do? What should she do? What should she do what should she do what should she do what should she do what should sh–

MOVE!

And she does. Yersive launches forward, feeling a mighty force on her back propelling her. She slams into the monster’s claw, causing it to stumble in surprise. As she hangs onto the arm of the beast, the force from before quickly sours into a weight upon her back. She turns to look.

A pair of majestic wings, 2-dimensional in structure, looking like the stylized arms of a dove, with a sunny glow.

And wrapped in spectral chains.

The binding spell was still in place.

She leaps away as the crab snaps at her with its other arm. She jumps about, using what little strength her wings possess to narrowly dodge the crustacean’s attacks.

“Hey!” One of the Withstanders shouts out, voice amplified like a megaphone, “Stop trying to play the hero and get to safety! You’re only gonna get yourself killed!”

The crab suddenly slams the ground in rage before charging the knights, slinging rubble like bullets – knocking several down as it wacks them – throws them – an unceasing onslaught.

Standing above one of the fallen knights, it winds its arm back, a whistling noise filling the air.

No.

No no no. She can’t stop it she has to stop it how can she stop it. Yersive looks at the claw. It’s applying pressure, to increase the weight of the strike. More pressure equals more strength. More force. Forcing the sword through Avabi’s neck. More pressure to push it through. But if there’s less pressure then can’t push through. Decrease pressure. How? How– that’s how.

The Withstander stares up at the mad mollusk, ready to meet its end with an end of his own. But before he can reach for the self-destruct mechanism on his armor, the woman from earlier slams herself into the beast’s claw and begins pushing it forward. The pitch of the whistle slowly lowers, the steam sputtering out like dying breath as the arm straightens out.

The furious Foundry worker moves to grab the interloper, but its other arm is suddenly held down by dwarven-rope, the knights moving to immobilize the crab.

In the distance, Davis pants in exhaustion, “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE STANDING UNDER FALLING BUILDINGS?”

He looks to the bloated, monstrous form of Avabi, who removes a little monkey stuck on a roof and puts it on the ground. Davis suddenly notices a figure floating in the air: a humanoid torso attached to an upside-down mushroom, humming a hypnotic tune as it plays an mbira.

“Yo Avabi!” Davis points towards the fungal creature, “We got a Nihl over here!”

The boar man turns to the musical mushroom and leaps. Before the thing has a chance to escape, spinal columns burst from Avabi’s body like serrated tentacles, reducing the Nihl to ribbons.

Out of the corner of his eye, Avabi catches a brief glance at something purple retreating into an alleyway.

The crab’s struggling abruptly stops. It clicks its mandibles, swiveling its eyestalks as it observes the people surrounding it.

As Yersive climbs down from the crustation, a Withstander approaches her. They bend a knee, to be more level with the woman, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Yersive, and I…"

She pauses.

"And I am myself.”

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