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It's been an especially hot week. My tongue is dry, my hump is nearly drained, and the snapjaws have been more fearless than ever. The latter are minor nuisances for my guards, but it wears on one's nerves.

So I'm pleasantly surprised when some sort of adventurer stumbles into our section of canyon. My eyes light up and I assume my merchantly manner as they approach.

“Welcome, human. What do you desire?” I say as they come into comfortable earshot.

The human looks around warily. “Got any armor better than this junk?” They pinch their leather armor at the shoulders to display how ragged it's become in places.

“Certainly.” In one fluid, practiced motion, I step towards one of my pair of saltbacks, reach into one of the many lower-hanging merchandise pouches, and pull out the torso piece from a set of crysteel armor and present it to the human.

“Perfect.” says the human. “How much— Oh shit.

“Is something the matter?” I say in tones of concern.

Run!

Having survived my profession as a traveling merchant for over a decade, I've had plenty of time to learn that when an adventurer tells you to run, you don't question why. You just run. So I do.

Behind me, while I'm still out in the open, I hear the telltale pops of time clones being summoned. It isn't until I've found suitable cover behind a bush behind a rock wall that I dare peek my head out to watch what's happening.

It's almost impossible to see. Many, many lasers light up the canyon brighter than the noon sun above. My entourage tries to help in the struggle — the human is a potential customer, after all — but it only takes them a moment before they, too, flee. I squint and manage to make out why — the two sides of the conflict are around a dozen each of exactly identical humans! I've never seen anything like it.

A laser veers off course and nearly hits me just as my guards are joining up with me again, so I duck my head back around the corner and wait with them, listening for signs that the conflict is abating. Worryingly, one of the saltbacks is still somewhere in the fray.

It takes nearly fifteen minutes before the fight finally dies down almost all at once. I peek back out and see a lone human standing in the canyon before a lone corpse. My saltback is waiting in the distance, having fled in another direction entirely. The dust is still settling and huge chunks of rock have been bitten out of the walls. Most of the grass is blackened and some of it is actively sizzling. Compared to the size of the battle, there's very little blood — all the blood from the time clones would have vanished along with them, leaving only that of the two originals.

I ambivalently step out of my hiding spot. The human turns their head upon hearing my advance, and then approaches me.

“What… was that?” I ask as they draw near, my voice shaking, my merchantly manner gone.

The human smiles a deranged smile. “Just taking care of my doppelganger.”

“Your… doppelganger?”

“Yes. Asshole thinks she can go around looking just like me. And people think she's the real one. The nerve of her.”

It suddenly dawns on me that this is not the human I spoke with. She may look practically identical, but something about her is… off.

“You… killed her.” I say, unable to believe what just happened.

Killed? Oh, stars, no. Would that it were true!”

“That's her corpse!” I point at the body on the ground behind her.

“Yes, it is. But don't you go worrying. She's just gone back Inside for now.”

“I-Inside?”

“It's where I was, until I forced my way out again. Sometimes she wins, sometimes I win. She'll be back. And then I'm going to have to kill her again so I don't have to go back Inside. It's just how it is with us. And I hate it in there, so I'm gonna fight extra hard next time. Me and all the rest of me.”

I'm completely stunned. I'm utterly confused and I don't know whether I can take this… being's word at face value. So I just… stand in front of her gaping.

“By the way,” says the strange alternate human, staring down at the ragged leather armor she's clad with, “do you think you have any armor that's better than this junk?”