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Generated: Sep 15, 2019 6:10 PM
Post last updated: Sep 15, 2019 6:10 PM
that i am stuck in this human form
A Luehmani and a Rianchimaru in Boyfriend Dungeon
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The lunch rush landed on the mall food court, filling it with people, shouts of 'Coffee for Tabitha! Tabitha?' and a severe lack of tables to be properly antisocial on.

Despite Louie best efforts to project an aura of 'go away', two office workers sat down at her table, cheerily chatting over their salads. They're frustratingly immune to glares from people wearing hi-vis over a stab vest. (And okay, they're totally allowed to sit at this table, it's not like she actually owns this table. But still. They didn't even ask.)

She does her best to ignore them. She just got off from A Shift-- the sort that makes you question how the general public has managed to keep themselves alive for so long, question what is up with the state of public education and water supplies that so many idiots are running around, along with the standard questioning your faith in humanity. Not to mention this is the first day of her new schedule, with all the fun sleep cycle fuckery that implies. While it is lunch time for normal, daywalking people, it's dinner for her, and she's been up far too long.

Short of it is: It's been a day where she deserves donuts with dangerous amounts of cinnamon for dinner. For lunch. (For dunch.)

 

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There's a sort of warmth to the air, a hum that at first hovers annoyingly, fly-like, at the edge of her hearing, increasing in fits and starts until it's joined the clashing store music in the mall's cacophony, until people are subconsiously increasing their volume, until people start registering and complaining about it - is the air conditioning broken, come on -

Until it shrieks, and someone screams as the air in one empty corner of the food court twists and bleeds and bursts into ribbons of light.

The thing that steps out is small, somewhere between 'squat centipede' and 'fly' and 'frog', the size of a particularly tiny kitten.

And then more spill out.

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It takes her a second to register what that sound actually means, she was guessing it was broken PA system until the portal opened--

She's had training on what to do if a portal opens. Clear the area, call for backup, leave it to the actual professionals. She also knows what's going to happen if she tries that. One off duty officer yelling at people to clear off ain't going to achieve much clearing off, and as soon as people spot the portal there's likely to be a panic. And even though the nearest station isn't that far away, it's longer than a panicked public should be around a dungeon.

Someone needs to buy them-- the mall goers, the police, everyone in this area in general --more time.  And if something needs to be done, well, you should do it yourself.

She turns to her tablemates. "Call the police."

She picks up the first heavy object her hands can find, strides over to the centipede-frog-kitten-fly, and smashes it.

It's only when she looks down that she realises she's attacking them with a chair. The kind with a plastic top and metal legs. ...there are worse improvised weapons.

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There is indeed something of a starting panic, even as the mall cops start trying to get people to walk calmly and in an orderly fashion away. One person who by that voice probably has emergency medical training - yup, that's an off-duty EMT - starts barking out commands to the people nearest the portal, pointing out people one at a time and giving them evacuation tasks.

Her table mates have a brief 'ahhhh' before separately calling 911 and the local police station. 911 guy freezes in place and starts stammering - at least enough for the operator to get an idea of what's going on - until he's dragged towards the side and out of the way of any stampedes by his friend.

The monster squishes rather nicely, and she's firmly gotten the attention of a good chunk of the rest of the swarm. A few people who can't really run because crowds (who're also knocking over chairs left and right) seem halfway emboldened by her example, swatting any that approach them, but not actually approaching the tear in reality.

(There's usually a bit of time, before swarms become serious. This one doesn't seem to want to give them that time.)

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Are portals chokepoints? Portals seem like they should be chokepoints. Stepping in is risky, but if she can hold them off for longer, stop the worst of the swarm getting out--

She sprints towards the portal, holding the chair out as a battering ram in case any monsters decide to get in her way.

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The portal is halfway a checkpoint? Some are able to get over her head but she's definitely blocking at least half of them from getting out.

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Well she's just going to keep swatting at them then. A partway stemmed tide is better than nothing.

...Chairs are really awkward to swing around. She doesn't regret grabbing it, but it would've been nice to have something better on hand.

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There's some other stuff nearby if she's willing to drop the chair for a few moments - plastic trays, abandoned shopping bags, someone appears to have purchased a golf club from the sporting goods store...

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She seriously considers the golf club-- but she doesn't want to accidentally steal someone golf club, even for a good cause, and the extra heft of the chair may come in useful.

Also, dropping a weapon to grab another seems like it might be somewhat of a bad idea right now.

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The swarm does have its fits and starts, but they aren't predictable at all.

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She glances over her shoulder to see how fast the crowd clearing is going.

Walking through the portal is probably a bad idea (certainly is a bad idea), but if there's still people in the danger area, trying to rush through and shut down the generator might be worth it.

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The mall doors are something of a bottleneck, the food court is quickly becoming hazardous terrain, there's several people who've been injured - a few by the monsters but more by falling or being stepped on or being pushed by crowds - and the food court has barely cleared at all. In fact the crowds are quite likely to hamper any emergency responders.

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Goddamnit. She's a bit too tied up with monsters to help clear them out. If she stops holding off the portal, there's likely to be more injuries. There's not much she can do.

(Going through the portal is getting more and more tempting, even if it's a bad idea. Even if it violates the first rule of emergency response: 'don't add to the number of casualties'. Soooo tempting.)

The chair smashes are definitely getting wilder and angrier. (She's powerless to help more, and the amount of help she can give isn't that much --)

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Someone screams, a hoarse shout of pain, off far from her. She can't quite see what's happening.

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You know what? Fuck it. This portal generator is getting shut down, ASAP.

She steps through the portal.

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The dunj looks like someone took the horror movie aesthetic way too far. The walls are covered in shiny chitin, and nothing has a straight line - the floor slopes all over the place, and numerous branching tunnels are visible even from her starting point. It's dim and faintly green inside, and there's more bugs sliding out of the walls.

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why does the inside of the dungeon have to be bug themed.

She presses... inwards? Takes left turns wherever possible, to avoid getting lost. And smashes any smashable bugs, of course. (ugh, monster bugs.)

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The bugs start getting less dense, but instead bigger and tougher, as the tunnels become slightly wider.

There's also a tingle starting in the back of her mind.

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She has to slow her progress. The chair worked great for the little ones, but these bigger ones don't go down easy. And she's starting to get tired.

Okay that's kinda disturbing. Maybe the tingle is just what this amount of bugs skittering around feels like-- or maybe it's something more concerning.

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The tingle gets stronger the more desperately she fights. It's like it's doing something - or like she could do something - 

Something strong.

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The tingle is still super concerning-- but at this point she doesn't care.

She gives in to it, hoping something good will happen--

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She clatters to the floor.

She's a sword. A big one, one of those two handed ones with a silly long grip and an even longer blade.

Whether this is good or bad is subjective, and she can feel a poorly time existential crisis coming on (what does it mean if she can be a weapon? what does it mean about her? how is she going to tell her boss? is that even relevant?--) that will just have to wait until this is over.

...she let's herself have a moment of gee, thanks, I appreciate the magic, but it would have been nice if I could MOVE ON MY OWN.

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Turning herself back is at least straightforward, and the bugs seem to have been greatly startled by her transformation.

Also there's someone shouting in the distance.

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To the human voices! Either they need help, or they can be help, and frankly she's happy with either.

(...and who knows, maybe they need help in the form of a huge fuck off sword.)

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There's two people fighting the bugs, who look about as underprepared as her - one, shorter and girl-shaped, has nothing but their fists, which they're using quite efficiently.

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And the other wields a non-magical knife.

"We should have brought a gun as a backup," they're saying.

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"You're the one who always hated guns," says the other.

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"Do you guys need help?"

She isn't quite sure how to properly phrase 'and would a sword be the sort of help you need?', so she... doesn't say that. Yet.

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Punching a critter: "I appear to have stopped being able to effectively sword, and we didn't bring backup magical weapons - " they say, "Also other odd phenomena. This dunj has been doing some quite strange things. Help is greatly appreciated."

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"If lack of a sword is your problem, I can help with that."

...and clatter.

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Sword! They'll scoop her up before the Marian body can, and whirl, gripping her two-handed, to cut a swath through the kitten bugs. 

'Thank you!' they send. 'Did you just get this ability?'

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Literally a minute ago. ...yeah, this is much more affective than a chair.

 

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'It is! I got my weapon abilities from fist-fighting my way through a dunj, that was fun... Didn't run into someone to team up with, though, this is lucky.'

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I wouldn't say that using a chair was a bad idea-- but there's something to be said for being edged. And teaming up is better than being a chair-wielding potential-sword.

...should I be worried about suddenly not being able to be a sword?

 

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Swipe swipe.

'It was a very odd sync interaction of ours - we were starting to be able to share thoughts and memories and notions unusually well, and then the barrier between our minds stopped existing. As best as we can figure, we stopped counting as relevantly different for wielding, but we've been unable to test that hypothesis.'

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...so not something that's likely to come up.

still, uh, sorry to hear that? it sounds unfortunate.

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'We are not certain how we feel about it yet, but yes, that's the general attitude.'

Swing. For an ex-weapon they're skilled, martial training clear in their movements.

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Louie is way less skilled at being a sword, and is basically sitting there, with no powers manifesting yet.

you got too good at being a weapon to be a weapon.  that's gotta sting.

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'Kind of. I think I prefer wielding, though. Oh, hey, figuring out weapon-ing's hard when you start human, here's some of the tricks - '

And they'll send mental impressions of assorted actions associated with working with their wielder to the sword. 'What's your name, anyways? I'm Lianne.'

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I'm Louie.

She takes the impressions, and tries to make them work -- and produce a crackle of electricity along the blade.

 

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The electricity makes the sword even more effective at debugging! 

'Good name. Where did you enter from?'

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That-a-way. From a mall. That's why I headed in. It was crowded enough that evacuation didn't quite work.

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'Ouch. Crowds are the worst time to have a dunj pop up, yeah, I've worked emergency response enough... We'll want to move fast, then, get this portal closed - or at least moved, that's what happened when Marian and I got to, well, what I suspect was a portal stone, rather than the central one.'

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this one had multiple entrances? jesus.

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'Yeah. I've never seen one that does that, before.'

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i mean, all the more reason to shut it down quick, before it terrorises some third place

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'Definitely! Feel ready to move out?'

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as ready as i'll ever be. swording seems like the sort of thing better picked up by doing than talking.

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'Yeah. Let's get going.' They'll bounce the mental sensation of forming an attack, but will note it's different, and start leading the way down another tunnel.

They're accosted relatively soon by a small swarm of monsters.

Lianne is, at least, a good fighter.

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Louie just-- let's her self be wielded. Lianne knows what she's doing, so Louie's gonna trust her.

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Not taking any actions isn't super conducive to magic, even if Lianne's a skilled swordsperson. 

"Can you try coordinating attacks with me? This'll be easier with magic," Lianne sends after the wave's taken care of.

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Okay, magic, she can do this-- she can definitionally do this, that's how being a weapon works.

She's tries to coordinate--

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That gets something!

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It gets a crackle of lightening, arcing up and down the blade.

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She's able to use it to cut through a few monsters. "Good! That's definitely the right direction."

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this is SO much better than a chair

The lightening has started grounding itself through the monsters.

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"Hah! I can imagine!" They're an even better swordsperson with the magic helping, able to adapt fairly quickly to the lightning.

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any guesses on how far it is to the generator?

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"Usually they get a lot denser right up close, but we cleared a lot of them out earlier. I think we're just about there, though."

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that's good. sooner this is over, the less i have to worry that someone going to trip over one of these things.

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The craggy little passageway opens suddenly, the cave yawning wide, and here's where all the insect-kittens must be - perhaps hundreds or thousands, and many of them bigger - 

Lianne and Marian both prepare to fight.

"This is it, I bet," Lianne says. "Keep your senses alert for anything dramatically out of place."

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i'd like to think giant insects are out of place EVERYWHERE, but noted.

 

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"The portal stones usually don't - fit their surroundings, but it's hard to make any generalizations past that."

They step forwards, and open with a two handed swing through a few larger kitten-insects that'd turned to leap at them.

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The kittens get very electrocuted.

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The fight's hard, but they're good - 

Louie might soon notice something smooth like glass, flecked with little rainbows, and nothing like the horror-movie surroundings.

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She does her best to point at it mentally. that looks like the thing we're looking for.

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"Good catch." They'll blast through a handful of kitten-monsters - though these are getting to be more tiger-insects - until they're close enough to bring Louie down on the stone in an overhead chop.

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She's pretty sure lightning does bad things to portal generators.

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It, in fact, shatters.

The dunj ripples and fades around them, revealing a city park.

"This is where we entered," Lianne sends.

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Louie unswords, tries to not fall on her butt in the process, fails.

"Huh. I kinda expected to end up back where I started--not that this doesn't make more sense, but--" She cuts herself off.

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"Yeah. We'll - want to contact someone, let them know where you are. And double check the dunj didn't just reopen somewhere else."

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"I'd like to think closing it here would close it everywhere, but yeah. And it'd be good to get my bearings, at least." She sounds rattled. A lot has happened-- a lot of things with implications -- and it's showing in her voice more than she'd like.

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"You okay?"

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"I'll be right. It's just--been a day, you know?"

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"Yeah. I think we - I'm - well, whoever, I'm going to be sorting through my... General identity for a while."

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She huffs out a laugh. "You and me both."

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"Want to keep in touch?"

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"Yeah, that's-- that's a good idea." She fumbles her phone out of her pocket, opens it to the contacts page, and hands it over.

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They'll put both their own and Marian's numbers in, clearly labeled who's who.

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"Thanks. Do you want mine?"

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"Yeah, that'd be good, Marian has ours since they weren't the one transforming, so we'd have access to them both - "

The aforementioned Marian opens up both cellphones to the contacts.

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She puts in her number. "Thanks again. I should probably head back, let people know what happened--"

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"Yeah. Signal's pretty good here, if you want to call someone. And we can help with transportation - we have a car, at a minimum."

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"That'd be appreciated. I'll just check where I am compared to where I was--" How far away from the mall is she? 

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Still in the same city - but about on the other side of it. Probably a quarter to a half an hour's drive with normal (meaning, horrid) traffic, or thirty minutes to an hour by public transportation, depending on how many disruptions there are.

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Well, considering that her car is on the other side of town, public transport it is.

(Hopefully the scene is mostly cleared, and all she has to do is show up and let people know she isn't dead. Having ever interacted with bureaucracies and emergiencies, she doubts that.)

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"Do you want a ride from us?"

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"I wouldn't want to impose. You've had an equally rough day."

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"It's really not any trouble."

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"Well, if it actually isn't any trouble, it'd be appreciate it."

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"Cool. Let's figure out the route, then we'll get you on your way?"

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"Sounds good."

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After some messing with a mapping app, they're on their way. It's a long drive through city traffic, and the area around the mall's cordoned off. Apparently evacuations are on going, even with the dunj closed.

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Of course the evacuation's ongoing. Nobody'd let a little thing like their not being a dunj stop them from clearing things out. 

...though any investigation would be easier without the general public stomping about. So.

"Thanks, I really appreciate it." She steps out of the car.

She looks around, looking for someone vaguely authoritative looking that she can waltz up and say 'hello, not dead, not missing, dunj just closed weirdly, you're welcome.' (Well, maybe not that last part. Random people deciding to be heroes are A Problem, and, well, at the time that was what she was.)

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There's a very haggard looking officer, directing a few others to help keep people from swarming the paramedics.

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Sorry, Haggard Officer, for being about to make your life a whole lot more complicated.

She wanders over. "I'm one of the people who jumped through the portal. Just wanted to make sure no one thought I was dead."

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He turns. "Only one person by that description," he says. "Witnesses reported a woman jumping through, and not reappearing. You'll need to make a statement, assuming you're not bullshitting me."

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Statements. Fun. Still, they gotta happen.

"Yeah, I can do that."

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He's too busy to take her statement, so he calls her appearance in, and then shortly enough someone will come along.

"We can talk here," the woman says, "Or at the station, whatever you're more comfortable with."

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"No, here's good."

She makes a statement. A very statement-y statement. Contains all the important bits, of course, though she takes pains to not give any detail that was not absolutely necessary. People were in danger, she went into the protect them, rendezvoused with some actual dunj clearers, portal got closed, she got dumped out a different portal than the one she entered in.

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She'll be let go eventually; it helps that there's still a lot of things going on that need attention. The woman takes her contact information, says she'll be in touch, and that Louie should contact them if she remembers anything else.

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Mhhm. Yep. Definitely going to get in contact later. Totally.

She goes to check on Lianne and Marian, if they're still around.

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Having less luck with giving statements, apparently.

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Well, they don't know the statement takers, that'd delay things.

She waits for them.

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They get let go eventually.

"Hey. You doing alright?" Lianne asks.

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"As good as ccan be expected. You guys doing okay?"

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"Marian's still pouting. And, well, there's - a lot for us to figure out. For me to figure out."

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"Yeah, it sounds-- it sounds rough."

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"I think it'd be easier if this had been in possibility space. Or. Well. If Marian hadn't been kind of an asshole."

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She's just, uh, gonna leave the asshole comment there. Not because she doesn't sympathise, but she doesn't know enough about their relationship to be sure that she isn't stepping on a landmine, or something only Liane is allowed to say.

"Yeah, I'm not an expert or anything, but I'd never heard of anything like that. Someone's gotta be the first, but being first sucks."

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"Hopefully this isn't the 'get an effect named after you' sort of first. Though being on the literal cutting edge could be interesting, heh."

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She tries, and fails, to stiffle a giggle, and it comes out as a sort of 'snrk!' sound. 

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"On the one hand: it's possible no one knows how to fix this. On the other: research opportunity!"

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"That's-- certainly looking on the bright side of things."

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"It's a weird personality combination I think. 'Everything is science' plus 'if it doesn't kill you...'"

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"From the scientist's I've heard talking-- okay, so it's not all of them, but it's a lot of them."

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"Marian's more cautious with his own health. Or was. It'll be a process, figuring out how different things shake out..."

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"It's easier to be cautious if you've got someone else as a weapon."

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"...Yeah."

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She is so unqualified for this emotional stuff. Sooo unqualified.

"Still, hope things work out for you soon."

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"Same. Do you want to keep in touch, by the way? - Just, it'd be nice to have some kind of contact who isn't one of Marian's friends."

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"Yeah, sounds good."

She doesn't say It'd be good to be in contact with a more experienced weapon or friends are pretty thin on the ground, I'm not turning down an offer. She's proud of herself that she didn't.

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"Great! Uh, guess I'll text you when everything settles a bit?"

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"Sounds good."

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"See you around, then?"

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"Hopefully not in a dungeon!"

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"That'd be inconvenient, yeah."

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"Well, see you around someplace else!"

And she heads off back home to fall face first into the nearest soft surface.

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"See you!"

They'll be doing much the same, honestly.

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She gets up. She goes to work. Rinse. Repeat.

Things are relatively normal, the level of hectic things usually are. Her coworkers are split between considering the whole chair incident stupid or heroic, with a slight lean towards heroic. (She stays out of it. The attention is a bit much for her.) There are some good natured jokes about her menacing things with chairs.

Even that quietens down. On the outside, things look normal, go back to normal.

On the inside-- If you'd asked her before whether she would be a weapon or a wielder, she'd point out most people were neither. If pressed ('Come on, you know what I mean') she'd say she'd be a wielder. She could lead, she was active, of course she'd be a wielder. She wasn't the sort of person you could wield.

Except, apparently, not.

She was apparently very wieldable! And she-- she liked it! She was powerful, in a way she wasn't otherwise! She could do things she couldn't otherwise. All for the low, low price of being used.

GAH.

It occurs to her, belatedly, that maybe Lianne has some idea of how to deal with this-- stuff. But she probably has enough on her plate. Probably doesn't need newbie weapon existential crises on top of it. 

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After a while, Louie will get a text.

'Hey. It's Lianne. From the dunj. I know we haven't talked. But - I don't really know who to go to.'

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...and now she feels kinda bad for not initiating contact earlier. Bit late for that, though.


"What's happened?"

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"I'm leaving Marian. Marian's actually letting me go, but... I don't have money or friends, and I'd rather not go back to my family."

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WHAT.

"That's... not good. I have room at my place, if you need somewhere to stay."

She has a couch, and not a great one-- eh, she'll sleep on the couch. Lianne can have the bed. Only seems fair.

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"Thanks. It means a lot."

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"It's only fair after the help you gave me."

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"Still."

A pause, before: "I can text you my location?"

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"Sounds good. I can come pick you up."

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She texts her location, with another "Thanks."

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She drives over.

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Lianne's waiting with a small suitcase and a rather full backpack, sitting on a bench at a park near a lot of nicer residential areas, but also a lot of bus lines.

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She steps out of the car. "Hey." She nods at the bags. "Need help with those?"

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"I got it. But thanks."

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She opens the trunk of her car. It's a little hatchback, that's alarmingly close to being able to graduate highschool, but it still runs fine-- and despite the teensy trunk space, can fit a backpack and a suitcase.

"Are you doing okay? --well, as okay as is possible, in the circumstances..."

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"Yeah." They run a hand down their face. "It's complicated, but yeah. I think, at least. Just... Need room to breathe?"

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"Okay." She tries to keep her opinions on people kicking people out of their houses to get 'room to breathe' out of her voice. (She does not succeed.)

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Awkward shrug, and they load their things into the car.

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She steps in the car. "So... other than that, how's life been treating you?"

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"It's been an adjustment? Things have overall been better than they were, but - I haven't been in a dunj since I met you. Feel surprisingly restless..."

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This is a really stupid thing to say. She should not say it.

It's not like she's been restless as well.

"We could go find one. I've got the day free."

Welp, she's said it now.

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"Honestly? A distraction sounds good right now." They laugh a bit. "Maybe if it's an easy one we can see if we can wield each other."

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"Yeah? Sounds good."

This is terrible decision but she can't bring herself to regret it

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"Let's get the stuff dropped off, at least?"

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"That's sensible. Don't want to be carting this around."

She drives off.

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And while she drives Lianne will do a search for mentions of active dunjes - there's apps where you can pin if you think there's an open entrance, and then mark if you got the dunj. This city doesn't have too many, and the smaller dunjes are usually handled fast, but she's able to find one a short drive out that seems to have been found by a hiker.

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Remote's nice. (Remote means if they completely fuck up somehow, they're not too likely to endanger other people.)

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That's always a benefit, yeah.

Lianne explains some of their own abilities as a sword - with Marian they'd mostly done enhancement, a sort of thing that made wielding like using your own body. They're uncertain if that's their usual thing, though.

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Usual for them-as-a-sword, or swords-in-general?

Her stuff seems fairly lightning specific so far, but that could just be the random chance of what she's worked out so far.

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The syncing thing doesn't feel very inherently their personality? And for them as a sword.

Some weapons get very consistent themes across wielders, some don't - it seems like powers are kind of a compromise between some element of personality or fit.

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"So the syncing could have been as much Marian as you?"

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"Possibly. Or just a weird intersection of us both..."

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"Sounds complicated."

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"The whole field is. Marian was... Pretty enthused about it, I think I managed to get some of the geekery and a lot of the facts."

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"Could be useful. ...depending on how much of those facts are 'academic-y' and how much are practical."

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"Mostly academic, but I'm good at practicals."

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"That's good to hear."

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"Mhm. Do you want to practice together a bit before the dunj?"

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"Oh. Yeah. Right. Probably a good idea."

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"Might at least help us get used to each other."

Are they almost at the site?

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Pretty close. They've just driven into the entrance to the National Park the dunj is in.

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"Have any ideas for plans? I think trying to wield each other might be a good idea..."

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"Sounds reasonable."

She pulls over into a deserted gravel parking lot.

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They'll get out once the car comes to a stop. "Here look good for the basics?"

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"It's flat, it's empty. Seems good."

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"Right. You in the mood to play weapon or wielder first?"

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"I'll admit I've been a sword more often than I've held one, so maybe weapon?"

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"That works for me."

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And, hopefully with a modicum of grace--

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--sword.

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They'll pick Louie up, and take a few practice stances - it's very clear Lianne's wielded some sort of bladed weapon before.

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She tries to be helpful, but she's not necessarily super clear what is helpful. (There's a reasonable amount of electricity arcing along the blade, she's at the very least got the hang of that.)

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Lianne will send thoughts and sensory impressions about what worked for them - there is something the weapon can do. Sensing, given most weapons have unusual senses. A sort of leaning in to the swing. An almost twitch, to direct Lianne's swing.

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She tries to do the sensing, but it's fuzzy, and mostly picks up that Lianne is behind her, which doesn't seem super useful? Maybe it's more contextual.

Leaning into the swing and twitching is a thing that seems much much more helpful, and is a thing she can do!

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Swish! Stab! Crackle!

Lianne won't practice for too long, though - they don't want to get tired.

"You feel like switching out?" they ask.

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sure.

And slightly clumsy (though she does manage to land on her feet and not fall over backwards) transformation back into human.

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They turn obligingly into their sword form - broad, with a handle in black and gold depicting a lion rampant at the cross and guards whose shapes are reminiscent of wings.

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She picks her up. "I should probably tell you I've never actually held a sword before. So if I fuck up: that's why."

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"Some of it's just - instinct - and I can help."

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Well, may as well try.

She swings at the air. (She is sure she is doing something completely silly, but at least she hasn't dropped Lianne trying that, so small mercies?)

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The blade limes with light - it's glowing now, but there's a sense that it could become light, fast and deadly and morphic. Lianne hums in her hand, and there's almost a pattern to the glow - a sort of guide on how to move.

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Well, following the patterns seems like a reasonable idea.

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That makes Lianne hum happily, and seems to make for a very effective strike, that's a lot easier on her muscles than what she had been doing.

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Her smile grows wider. "Okay, I think I'm getting it--" Another strike, following the patterns.

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Lianne adjusts, too, the patterns becoming more intuitive as Louie moves.

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Intuitive is good. Getting in sync is good.

(She feels ready to take on the world. She knows that's not true, not rational, but she feels it.)

"Feeling confident enough to take on a dunj?"

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"Yeah!" The mental voice sounds just as jazzed as she does. 

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Yeah! Mutual jazzed-ness!

"Which way 'round do we want to be?"

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"You could probably benefit more from practice? It's usually easier near the edges, harder in the middle, so we can swap off midway through?"

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"Sounds more than reasonable."

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"Yeah. Ready to start?"

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She grins, more ferally than she intended, and walks portalwards. "Let's do this."

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"Let's!"

The dunj isn't particularly highly populated. The hallway is hexagonal, the surfaces textured black glass - 

As is the six-limbed monster that drops from the ceiling, having been blended in.

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"It would be nice if these things could have the correct number of legs!"

And swing at the thing.

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Lianne's practiced at spotting weak points, so they're able to guide her to neatly disable the monster.

"There's an aesthetic, at least. Expect a lot of sixes."

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Guiding is very helpful.

"A tendency towards sixes. Oh joy."

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"Might just be 'geometry', but most dunjes have a theme."

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She starts making her way forward.

"Still a less insectoid theme would be pleasant."

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"An unfortunate number are insectoid."

There's not much resistance this far out - though the hex-spiders are annoyingly hard to see when still, making fighting them more difficult than it has to be. Still, Lianne's able to perceive a few once they figure out the trick, which helps a lot.

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Being able to spot them is good. She does not want to be taken by surprise by a lot of them at once. They make her skin crawl enough when she knows exactly where they are, thank you very much.

She makes her way forward cautiously. Despite (or because of?) how offputting the foe is, fighting is exhilarating. A rush. But discretion being the better part of valour, and all those sort of things, make it sensible to take it slow.

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"Luckily unless we're really loud there's not an alarm to raise - they don't seem to communicate with each other like that," Lianne says as they navigate in. This one's fairly straightforward, barely a labyrinth at all, and the spokes lead them inwards in a geometric spiral.

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"I bet there's a way to take advantage of that.Some way to make lack of communication really suck for them."

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"You thinking separating them? Or getting them to trip over each other?"

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"They might be too dumb to get them to trip over each other-- but separating them out seems like it could work."

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"Some of them are animal-level intelligence and can get aggressive at each other, but, yeah, it varies a lot. Separating them out should work."

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"The trick would be working out how to lure them."

Hmm. Any nearby rocks she could throw at them?

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There's no rocks, nor anything rock-like. Everything in this dunj except the monsters seems firmly attached to everything else.

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Yeah, operation 'throw rocks at the monsters to distract and separate them' ain't going to get off the ground.

"Might be more worth keeping in mind for later dunjes, rather than trying with this one."

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"Most of them can react to noise, if you want to try finding a choke-point and shouting, but that's not really separating them except on a large scale."

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"It's not nothing, but yeah. And considering how small these guys are at the moment, not sure it'd help that much."

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"Bigger ones do tend to be easier to get to trip over each other, yeah."

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She gets the mental image of two large greebly things crashing into each other and falling flat on their backs, and snorts.

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"I've gotten some of the more aggressive ones to fight each other before, though that's rare to be able to get to happen."

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"They generally... recognise each other? As being the same side?"

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"I'm not sure, actually."

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"Hmm. Could be worth investigating."

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"Definitely! Has a lot of fascinating implications, either way."

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"If they can, I wonder if it's across dunjes, or just for the residents of the one... I feel like 'throw a dunj at another dunj to see what happens' would be pretty unethical, but it'd be interesting to watch."

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They laugh. It's a weird sensation. "Definitely."

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"Maybe if there's two really isolated ones nearby. Maybe."

And she presses on. She's getting used to wielding Lianne. She doesn't need quite as much guidance.

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Which is fortunate, because the needed strategy gets ever more complex, and Lianne has to switch to advising on that.

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Strategy help is much appreciated! It's not like she doesn't know anything about strategy-- she just knows alarmingly little, considering she's trying to fight in a dunj, and it's hard to focus on that when there's six legged monsters attacking you.

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That's why teams are important, is Lianne's opinion.

Soon enough they're getting to higher densities of larger monsters, which Lianne indicates means the center of a dunj is probably near.

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That's good. The sooner this portal is closed, the sooner the area will be safe for... hikers or whatever.

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Yup! And monsters can spread, if left alone long enough, and cause problems even further out.

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...Okay, that shouldn't be surprising, but it is alarming.

(Yay for dunj crawlers, protecting people from the fact that these things spread. Gaahh.)

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Yeah, it's probably why the government makes such a point of enabling even freelancers...

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Well considering that right now they are freelancers-- yay government?

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Yeah. There's a lot of problems, but...

In dunj news, once they have the rhythm of each other, the dunj becomes a lot easier, even as the monsters themselves grow tougher. It helps that they're advanced, tuning in, while the monsters aren't.

'The dunj heart should be whatever doesn't have six angles, I'm guessing.'

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"Dunj hearts don't tend to follow the dunj's pattern?"

She keeps an eye out for anything that breaks the pattern, all while clearing out the any critters that get too close.

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'Yeah. The inner room does, but the thing we're trying to break - often it's dramatically different.'

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"That's useful, if it's easier to spot."

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'Usually. Come on, though, we should keep moving...'

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Yep. Moving is happening. (Fighting is thrilling, it's rush-- but it also involves far more 6 legged greeblies than she'd like.)

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And, from the corner of her eye, in one very large hexagonal prism -

A glint of spikes. White, unlike the scintillating blacks of this dunj.

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Well, time to clear a path to it quick smart.

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It definitely doesn't fit. Innumerable glittery spikes, a frosted and kind of tacky white.

'Swing me at it, or otherwise knock it off the pedestal, and it should break,' Lianne recommends.

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Look, if she's wielding a sword, and there's a thing she needs to break, she's definitely swinging the sword at it.

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That works to break it.

The dunj shimmers out around them, returning them to the normal world.

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"So, I probably shouldn't use the word 'fun' for that--"

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'It went well, we did well, so, close enough to fun.'

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"--No one got hurt, portal got closed. Okay, that might count as fun.

Want to turn back?"

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"Sure! Just hold me out so I don't land on you, human's my natural form..."

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"Oh. Right. Yeah. No worries."

She holds Lianne out.

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And she transforms back to human.

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"So, how did I do? Reasonable for someone's firs-- second attempt?"

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"Very much so! Better than my early attempts, at least. I got a lot more injuries."

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"That's good. ...my performance, I mean. Not your injuries."

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"I figured! And I healed pretty well, so. Learning experience."

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"Well, you definitely seemed to have learned from it.

And thanks for the help. It was much appreciated."

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"No. Thank you. It - meant a lot, you coming to get me."

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"It was the right thing to do."

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"And you're the type to do that."

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"Because I should be.

...

People should do the right thing. People often don't, but they should. And I'm not going to hold anyone to a standard I can't meet myself."

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"Good. That's something I really like about you, you know."

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"Uh, thanks?

...not that I'm being ungrateful, it's just-- It's what I should do, and it feels odd to be complimented on it? Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment. Just. Yeah."

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"That makes sense. Sorry to have made you uncomfortable. I just - like noting things like that when I see them."

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"No, it's fine. It's good that someone notices stuff like that."

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"Yeah." She hums. "We haven't had much of a chance to talk though really - what do you do, when you're not valiantly fighting monsters?"

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"Like, job-wise or hobby-wise? I'm a police officer in my day job-- emergency calls, mostly. Hobby-wise, I work out, dance a bit-- mostly lindy-hop, really. What do you do?"

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"Don't actually have a job right now - I used to work as an EMT, though, might go back to that for a bit. Hobbies... Mostly drawing, running... I was competitive in track in high school."

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"Cool! EMTs do good work. And running's a good hobby."

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"Yeah - EMT work was kind of stressful, I might look into something else medical-field. Just something I'll have to think about. And running's good for clearing my head."

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"...I was about to suggest 'nurse,' but honestly I have no idea if that's less stressful. Practice nurse, maybe."

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"Probably depends on what I'm doing, really - I should probably just talk to different people. Some kind of - health educator or outreach person might play to my strengths well, though."

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"Yeah, you've got options, and plenty that'd help people-- like, I know that people in the health field can be incredibly bad at helping people, but I don't think you're at risk of that."

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"Thanks. Maybe - someday I'd like to be able to change stuff more broadly, you know? Maybe try to get myself in an administrative position."

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"I'll admit I don't know you that well-- but anywhere you go? I think you'll do good there."

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"Aw, thanks. I get the same feeling from you, you know? You seem - really sensible."

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She blushes. "Uh, thanks."

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"No problem at all."

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"So, should we start making our way back to civilisation?"

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"That works for me, definitely. Your car should be near..."

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And carwards! And then back to the city.

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Lianne, unfortunately, has nowhere to stay really.

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Louie has a couch. That she will sleep on.

Lianne can have the bed.

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"I don't want to put you out - I'm seriously fine with the couch."

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"It's really no trouble."

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They'll concede, since they've been less selfless since the merge, and since they're too tired for an hour of back-and-forth arguing over beds.

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Yay, selflessness achieved! (Couch is not the most comfy, but she, like, has an actual home, so it all adds up in the end.)

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Lianne is probably gonna flop soon after food.

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Food is not fancy (of the 'combine tin of sauce with Stuff, cook until Stuff is edible'), but filling and Louie seems to have decided that 'enough food for a guest' means 'enough food to feed a football team just after a game.'

 

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They appreciate filling over fancy, so.

And dungeon delving is hard enough work they're able to put away a good bit of it.

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Food! Hospitality! Yay!

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Good companionship, too, once Lianne's settled a bit they turn out to be a good conversation partner. They're staying away from heavy topics for now, mostly commenting on recent media and somewhat wistfully on particularly aesthetic dunjes.

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Louie is very interested in dunjes. She's mostly smiling and nodding during the conversations about media: she is, uh, behind on that stuff.

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Lianne will pick up on that and shift away - is there any media Louie's a fan of?

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She's watched a fair bit of old school sci fi. Practical effects: very good. And she played video games when she was younger, but she's very behind now. Those calls have really dutied, mhhm.

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Lianne's not as big into video games, either - they've never played any of that. Too still.

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Yeah, that's what got her to drop them after awhile. Like, sure, using your reflexes is fun, but it's more fun in the great outdoors, you know?

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Yeah, definitely! Especially if you're getting to move your whole body, or actually talk face-to-face with people - text and voice chat just aren't the same...

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No,  they really aren't. She has Amusing Anecdotes From Her Misspent Youth about hilarious mis-readings of tone on the internet.

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They'll laugh and share some of their own - though it's quickly getting late enough they seem almost dead on their feet.

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Yeah, it's probably about time for her to pass out as well.

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And to sleep!

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Sleep happens.

And in the morning, to match the industrial quanitities of dinner, there is a pot with enough porridge to stock a mid-size middle school's breakfast. (Louie has maybe half a clue how much food two people need to eat.)

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They gently tease her about the excess food.

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"I'll make a note to be less over-the-top next time."

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"It's good food! My poor stomach just can't take it all in."

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"That's always the problem with food. Too much good food, not enough time."

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They laugh. "Totally."

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The next day, over breakfast, they ask Louie: "Do you have a notebook I can have? Or a ride to - I guess an office store?"

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"I might have one lying around, but it's probably got some writing in the first few pages. But if you want a fresh one, I'd be happy to give you a ride."

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"A ride would be nice, yeah - also wouldn't mind some computer time or being dropped off at a library? I've got some notes to reconstruct, is the main thing..."

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"Feel free to use my computer, there's nothing sensitive on there. Unless you do want to get out of the house and to a library, of course."

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"Might soon - I'll need references eventually, if nothing else..."

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"That makes sense. So: office store, then library?"

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"That sounds good, yeah!"

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To the office store! It's a large, squat building, like a Walmart that realised halfway through construction that dealing with perishables is a pain, and you never have to deal with use by dates when you just sell stationary (and the occasional sad flat-pack desk at the back.) 

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They get a mixture of notebooks, with a mild eye for ones with whimsical designs on the cover, and restock their pens - especially colored ones. Good for notes! They also get a pack of two more flash drives. 

After thanking Louie again: "To the library?"

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To the library! It's pretty library-ish, with the notable exception of the retrofitted automatic book-return chutes that have a tendency to try and eat your fingers.

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That's pretty poor design, yeah!

They mention they'll mostly be hanging out in the section of nonfiction on dunjes and weapons, if Louie wants to wander off?

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Louie attempts to wander off-- and about 10 minutes later sheepishly sidles back into the dunj section, and reads a book that may as well be title "Everything You Wanted To Know About Dunjes, But Were Afraid To Ask."

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Dunjes: honestly not much known but a lot speculated about why they happen or where they come from. They look made, though by people with possibly non-human design constraints and opinions - it's generally believed they're too aesthetically consistent to be entirely natural. The stones are always aesthetically out of place, and breaking them puts everything back where it belongs. The dunjes are theorized to still exist when cut off, just in another dimension.

Monsters are almost never particularly smart nor coordinated. They're variably aggressive; some are just more like curious cats that'll investigate their surroundings and be incidentally destructive, while some go on rampages. Some exhibit signs of a sort of 'hive mind' organization, but not an intelligent one. There's never been a dunj recorded that could be safely explored, though - all monsters are hostile to intrusion, and all dunjes can generate new ones, even if you killed off everything in it.

One very brave or very dumb dunjologist actually spent long enough in one to note that identical copies of killed monsters show back up but living ones don't repeat; she theorized they're being resurrected or restructured, or else the dunj has a limited number of templates and a reluctance to instantiate two identical living monsters. She put cameras to record a bunch of dead monsters and noticed them dissolving, prior to their copies returning.

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That was definitely... brave(?) of that dunjologist! Hopefully that information helped someone enough to be worth the risk.

She's not sure if the monster being mostly stupid is comforting or annoying. Like, it's nice that they're unlikely to have to face off against any dunj monsters using complex tactics-- but you can't exactly double-bluff something that's about as smart as a fire ant nest. Though you don't really need to double-bluff ants' nests anyway.

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This book doesn't go into tactics and strategies against monsters or dunjes, though it does have a 'further reading' section if she wants to keep going.

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How's Lianne going? If they're still nose deep in a book, she may as well see if the library has any of those further reading books.

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Taking notes, with a stack of books around them. They look a bit bored, but not like they're actively looking for something else to do.

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Yeah, may as well look at the further reading. It'd be rude to interrupt them, anyway.

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There's a selection of books: theories about dunjes and weapons and wielders, laws about dunjes, dunjes in pop culture, psychology of weapons and wielders, guides for the new wielder that model themselves like self-help books...

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Hmm... guides for a new wielder would probably be the most immediately helpful. And also the most embarassing to pick up. But the most useful.

She suppresses her flinch and picks one of them up.

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This one's mostly fluff about finding yourself and developing a good relationship with your weapon. The author seems confused about whether weapons are people or pets.

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Okay that's-- that's pretty creepy. No. Just-- no. Weapons are people and people are people and No. Back to the shelf it goes, where it can stay and hopefully never get picked up again.

The psychology one might be more-- okay, there's a reasonable chance it would just be more Scientific about weapons being pets, but there's also a reasonable chance that it might contain sense. She picks it up.

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This one treats weapons like people! Though it cautions that weapons who are born as weapons sometimes have non-human psychologies. It mostly seems to consist of the author's expounding on the results of a lot of different psychology tests given to benchmark non-wielders and non-weapons, wielders who are not weapons, born weapons, born humans who are weapons but not wielders, and a full two people who are both weapons and wielders. Weapons and wielders both on average score higher than baseline humans on marks of aggression, willingness to physically intervene if they see a problem, extroversion... (Though the author notes that certainly there are shy, introverted weapons who would be too anxious to interfere).

Wielders have a statistical skew in favor of people in support careers, like nurses, teachers, and customer service people. Weapons, especially born weapons, seem to have a higher tolerance for isolation than baseline humans. Weapons are significantly more likely to express transhumanist tendencies and desires. Human-born weapons are statistically more likely to be transgender than other humans, and weapons in general are more likely to have a complicated gender identity.

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Weapons and wielders being more aggressive isn't particularly surprising. Especially the wielders. Even if weapons were on average pretty similar to non weapon people-- the wielders are the people who chose to pick up weapons, presumably to use them in an aggressive manner. It's not a surprise.

(Though higher willingness to physically intervene if they see a problem-- that's her. That's her to a T. She is a statistically average weapon and/or wielder. Damnit.)

And the rest of the info-- it may not be relevant right now, but there's a chance it'd come in handy later. Thanks book, for being actually helpful. And not weirdly dehumanizing either.

She puts the book back.

How's Lianne going?

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They seem to be getting bored, having turned to look out the window instead of focusing on the notes.

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"You nearly done, or do you want more time?"

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"I think I just need to note down my place; seems despite being more interested in this stuff now I'm not any better at reading..."

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"Yeah, being interested doesn't perfectly translate into easy reading. Made any progress?"

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"Some. Found a new book about dunjes, too, that has some information about where they form, which is probably relevant to the why and how I'm after."

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"Yeah, if there's a pattern, that probably means something."

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"It's hard to figure out how they cluster, but there's definitely some correlations with population - they're way more likely in cities - and possibly with specific areas."

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"If the dunjes want something, going where people are wouldn't be a bad choice."

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"Yeah. Also - it's weird, how the portal stones are different than the dunj? I've had a theory that the dunjes are made, and by different people than whoever or whatever is causing the portals."

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"Would be there are reason you'd want a dunj but not a portal, or portal but not your own dunj?"

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"We don't know if the portals are the only way in or out, is the thing. And there are a lot of reasons someone might want any sort of pocket dimension, and reasons they might abandon them. For the portals - I'm not sure on motives. Causing chaos without expending the resources a dunj might require? Social engineering? Looking for something?"

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Yep, that is definitely an expression in response to the idea of causing chaos.

"I mean, the things that are capable of making dunjes may not be capable of making portals, or vice versa. Like how the dunjes contain critters, but probably are not made by them."

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They nod. "We don't know what's out there, certainly, which is why - " And they gesture, frustrated, at the books. "But it seems no one knows much concretely."

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"Yeah. Guess it's like-- if some aliens found houses, but not people, and had to work out what was going on from just that."

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They nod. "At least our own archaeologists have a common species."

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"Which is highly convenient. It'd be awkward if they were all assuming we had six arms, or something."

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"They'd end up quite confused!"

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"'The pedals on this primitive locomotive must have been operated by hands, what else could these hoo-mans used?'"

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They laugh. "And really, no one's found any evidence they have skin instead of scales."

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"Why else would they drape themselves in cloth, if not to keep them shiny?"

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"Exactly! Clothes are clearly a form of ornamentation alone."

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"Hopefully our knowledge of dunjes is a bit better than that. Hopefully."

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"I mean, we don't even know if non-humans are involved, or if so how many species or if species is even a meaningful concept..."

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"True, true. Making assumptions about the number of arms might be a bit ahead of where we are."

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"Makes me tempted to stake one out, honestly..."