Laurie looked behind her, making sure that Speaker was still nearby. In a festival of arthropods, a human was prone to stand out immensely. Speaker could pick their form, and had decided to change their form to that of a startlingly violet tick-kin with empty eyesockets. The color made it easier for her to find them, and they claimed that they liked this form, but the lack of eyes probably meant that being human wasn't enough for them to find her. It would have been too insulting to tie them to her, though. Besides, they had decided to carry her bag for her. Making sure that they hadn't lost it was reason enough for her to look over every few minutes.
Despite the chatter and excitement, Laurie could still hear the faint squeaking and grinding of her brand-new prosthetic leg as she walked and the click of the metal against the stone. Speaker was fortunate to be deaf, if ticks were indeed deaf. It had only been fifteen minutes and she already had a headache.
Normally, she never went here at all. It was so far out of the way of her regular shopping trips that any visit would be inconvenient at best. But, when it came to finding clothes for non-human forms, this was the best place she knew of. Speaker had been no help, just like they had been no help when finding places to shop for human clothes despite the wardrobe they had amassed already. Speaker had plenty of human clothes for all sorts of sizes and shapes, but they only had human clothes.
Laurie paused mid-step. "Speaker?"
Yes? They signed back at her.
"Shouldn't you be wearing clothes in that form?"
There was a long pause. Probably?
"For fuck's sake, Speaker!" Ignoring the possibility of insulting them, she grabbed them by a hand (or foot, or paw, or pedipalp, or whatever the thing she was holding was called) and dragged them to the nearest place that looked like it had clothes. "You have to think about these things!"
No, because you think about them for me. Clearly. Laurie wasn't proficient at reading human expressions, much less weird arachnid expressions, but she knew that stupid, smug grin no matter what it looked like.
"Next time I'll shove you into a pond and let the fish deal with you instead, you ass."
No! Don't do that to me!
She laughed. "Neither carp nor dragons have mercy, so why should I?" Even after reaching the stall she didn't dare to release Speaker, despite the fact that their setae were stabbing her hand and arm. "Yeah, uh, this person here decided to forget to tell me that they needed clothes, I don't suppose you have anything I can get them?"
The beetle-kin seller goggled for a moment, looking between her and Speaker in shock. Laurie couldn't tell what sort of beetle-kin the seller actually was, but she had a pretty good idea of what they were thinking. Her shoulders twitched and she drew her lips back in an attempt at an apologetic smile. Normally she spent her time dealing with fish, not people, and she had a definite opinion on which one of the two was easier and more fun to socialize with.
I just kind of forgot, you know? It could happen to-
Laurie tightly grabbed both of Speaker's hands, refusing to wince even when the setae stabbed her again. "Nothing from you until you're decent, especially not commentary on the situation."
Once again, there was no way for her to read or comprehend Speaker's expression, and yet somehow she knew they were making that idiotic grin again. She turned to the beetlekin seller and ducked her head, fully aware that as soon as she let her grip slacken for a moment Speaker would free their hands. Not for the first nor the last time in her life, she wished that there was some way to keep a koi with her at all times.
"Clothes. Please. Before they keep running their, uh, hands? Mouth? Mouth-hands?" Laurie made a disgusted noise, sighed, and shook her head. "Okay, let me try to make sense this time. Please just get them clothes. Quickly, please."
She watched the beetle-kin scuttle off hurriedly, looking back at her and studiously not looking at Speaker. Speaker, somehow, looked relaxed. Once again, she recognized that stupid grin. She turned the full intensity of her glare upon them. Speaker began to squirm, turning their head away as if they were looking at one of the other stalls. It was much easier to see that they were feigning obliviousness when they didn't have the proper body parts for their body language. That was good. They could be a damnable mixture of whimsical and aloof that glares often couldn't reach.
"If you get me banned from here- a bazaar I only went to for your sorry hide, by the way -you could at least do me the favor of hosing down the filter media in the koi pond. For the next month. At least. Every day." She released their hands.
Fine. Speaker stretched, purposefully avoiding her gaze, even with their lack of eyes. But if that finger-nibbler attacks me, I have every right to start screaming.
"She's a koi! Koi don't have teeth!" Laurie rolled her eyes. "Well, they do, but they can't hurt you with them." That was muttered under her breath.
The beetle-kin was returning, holding a pile of clothes with all of their arms. Speaker turned their head, considering the clothes somehow. Laurie decided to save the rest of her lecture for a time that everyone else would better appreciate. She couldn't tell what Speaker was doing with their body now, but it probably wasn't worth her time to ask.
Speaker tried on the clothes the seller had brought them, lost in thought. Laurie had promised that these were purple enough for their standards, and they trusted her enough to assume that she was being truthful. That was part of the problem, really. They trusted her with that sort of information. They roughly brushed a sleeve out of the way, hands grasping the tie that their setae told them was there.
She'd just been the oddest of all the humans in the Library at the time, hadn't she? Still a potential meal, nothing more. Just the curiosity of hearing talk of fish magic had spurred them on to follow her. Otherwise she was supposed to be nothing. Back home, that would have been the proper way of things. They would have fed on her essence and cared nothing about it. Mindlessly they went through the process of trying and buying clothes, saying little and offering few opinions. Laurie threw a few barbs their way about sulking. Beyond the expected rebuttal they ignored the jabs.
They weren't really supposed to be here, in this universe. Not that it mattered. They'd have died if they'd stayed, and flinging themselves headlong into another universe had seemed like a much better idea at the time. But this universe didn't much care for them. They could feel it in the way reality rippled around them. These uncomfortable forms they took kept that rippling from growing to powerful. Limiting what they did with their abilities was a further way of ensuring that things didn't get too out of hand. If they were unlucky, the spasms that their full being would inflict on this reality wouldn't kill them at all. But at the least it would shatter some very important natural laws within a large area. That should have just bothered them because it would mean that they would be dead or worse. But they were beginning to worry about the collateral damage as well. That was troubling.
Having to think about other people was just so frustrating. Speaker spent the trip back in silence, not even contemplating the Way as they usually did. This wasn't the way of things! They were no predator, sure, but hunger was hunger and that human next to them would suffice as well as any other. Not as well as the great void-creatures that they had once lived among, of course. But those which had survived had not cared for a little parasite in their midsts. That was why they were here.
But they were a little more clever than most parasites. They had evaded the deaths which countless others had fallen to. They had evaded the imprisonment which had locked away even the Two Serpents. They had even been one of a few to creep amongst the stars while the Fallen One had raged and writhed in the cold of the void. Being unobtrusive had served them well.
Speaker had made their decision by the time they left the Way. The creatures they would destroy in their return had thought them nothing more than a nuisance. That was not a mistake Speaker would make in turn. Perhaps even a little fish-mage could teach them something of use. Cleaning the ponds of such dangerous creatures was an insult at best. But it would simply have to be tolerated.
They would grow, and they would persevere. There was no other option. And if the fish-mage wasn't useful, well…