Threadbare watched as Celia woke. She didn't panic when she saw Mordecai was gone. And she didn't burst into tears, which is what Threadbare thought she was going to do.
She gulped air a few times, rubbed her face, and retied her frizzy hair into a braid, plucking out pine needles that remained from last night. Threadbare helped with that, managing to get a few out with much effort.
After he was done, Celia sat on the rock, next to the smoldering remnants of the fire, and stared at the knife in the tree.
“I'm afraid,” she told Threadbare. “I'm afraid of what that note says.”
Threadbare tried to understand. He didn't think the note was saying anything right now. It was pretty quiet up here, except for the wind howling across the slope below.
“If I open it up, and it says I've failed, and I shouldn't bother, then I'll never be a scout. And I really, really want to be a scout. I want to show Mister Mordecai and Daddy that I'm strong enough to do something on my own, with only a little help. Just some help learning, that's all.” She swallowed. “But if it tells me I've failed, then I don't know what I'll do.”
Threadbare hugged her.
“Oh, I'll still have you, of course. I'll always have you. That won't ever change.” She beamed down at him, and ruffled his head. He leaned into it, like he'd seen Pulsivar do now and again.
Your Adorable skill is now Level 9!
Celia shook her head. “You always know how to cheer me up. And...” She bit her lip, as she looked back to the note. “On the other hand,” Celia said, staring at the note with hope so raw even the bear picked up on it, “If he says I've passed, then this is everything I ever wanted. I mean, out of this trip, anyway. But it could say either. And I don't know which one it says. And I won't until I go and read that note.”
The wind howled, then faded.
“And I'm afraid of it, and I don't want to, because so long as I'm sitting here and the note's unread then it's not telling me what I'm afraid it'll tell me. It's stupid and it's cowardly but that's how I feel right now.”
Threadbare curled into her arms. She looked down at him, then back up at the note, and her face scrunched up. “Oh to... to hell with it.” She clapped her hand over her mouth, then looked around, and giggled. “To hell with it! No one out here to hear me say that! Let's go read that fu-” training, discipline, and a lifetime of manner lessons warred with the exhilarating freedom of being finally out of earshot of anyone who cared, but a lifetime of good manners proved too hard to break. “-fumping. Yes, that fumping note. Let's go read that.”
And before the little girl could lose her nerve, she tugged the knife free of the tree (it took a few tries and a strength increase), let the waterskin fall, pulled the paper away from the blade, and read it with her hands all-a-tremble.
Celia's whoops of joy echoed around the mountaintop. “Yes! Yes! Whooo-hoo, yes! Look, look!” She said, thrusting the paper down to Threadbare.
Threadbare took it.
And instantly more squig- more WORDS appeared.
MORDECAI SKUNKTHUMPER HAS OFFERED YOU A TIMED QUEST!
DETAILS: GO HOME BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT
DEADLINE: 42 HOURS 32 MINUTES
REWARD: YOU WILL UNLOCK THE SCOUT JOB
COMPLETION: RETURN TO YOUR HOUSE TO QUALIFY
DO YOU WANT TO ACCEPT THIS QUEST? Y?N?
Threadbare looked at the words, tried to peer around them to the note, couldn't quite do it.
Wait, Mordecai had written last night, using the charcoal stick like a quill, hadn't he? There were sticks a plenty in the coals. Threadbare could easily grab one and copy the words he saw onto this handy piece of parchment...
But the stick he tugged out burned the parchment as he touched it to the paper.
“Threadbare!” She tugged it from his hands, and shook it out. Then reconsidered. “We probably should burn this. Even though it's a timed quest, the quest is tied to the paper. So if the Raccants come up here and grab it they might come to my house and be scouts, and I don't want either of those things to happen.” She shuddered. “Invisible little furry monsters. Horrible notion, huh?”
The little fuzzy toy golem sighed, thought “Yes”, and nodded his head up and down as soon as the words disappeared.
“We've got two days. We reached this place in one. It should be easy to get back, right?”
Threadbare considered. He understood most of what Celia said. But this place was very new to him, and he had no clue where home was from here. So he shook his head instead.
“Don't worry, I think I can do it. I have a really good memory. Animators get good intelligence boosts each level. But uh...” her stomach rumbled. “First we need breakfast. Did ah, did he leave us any food?” She looked around the camp hopefully. No food presented itself. Even the bones and offal from their baked coney skewers was gone. “Maybe he hid it. As a test. You go that way, I'll go this way.” Celia started poking around through the little grove of trees.
Threadbare followed her suggestion, and went hunting around the tiny plateau. There wasn't much up here, really. A few drifts of snow, the copse of trees that Celia had slept in, and that little pond.
That little pond did have those silvery things swimming around in it. Threadbare gave a nervous glance toward the stream that trickled from the pond to the waterfall, but it was pretty tiny.
He looked left. He looked right. And then he gave into his instincts, and waded into the shallow pond.
The salmon were young, recently spawned, and exhausted from hatching. In another day they would have worked up the strength to navigate the lip of the rocks between pond and stream, and made their way down the waterfall. As it was, they had no hope of dodging the fuzzy creature that waded into them, claws flashing out left and right. He wasn't very dextrous but they were pretty tightly packed; it was a target-rich environment.
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 6!
Your Forage skill is now level 2!
Your Forage skill is now level 3!
Your Forage skill is now level 4!
You have unlocked the Grizzly job! Level up to meet rank requirements!
You are now a level 3 Bear!
CON +3 STR +3
Mental Fortitude +2
Threadbare paused, hip deep in the now-bloody water, as that good feeling rippled through him again. His stamina, drained from claw swipes filled up once more, and he felt a rightness to it, a satisfaction that he couldn't put his finger on.
Then fingers wrapped around him. “Threadbare! What did you... oh.” Celia said, looking at the five small fish drifting on the surface of the water. “Oh! Breakfast! Thank you!”
Twenty minutes later, with the stoked fire drying him out and the fish sizzling on makeshift skewers, Celia's eyes opened wide. “I just unlocked the Cook job. What should I do?”
Threadbare looked at her. What was a cook? What was a job? He shrugged.
“Is this all it takes to unlock that job? No wonder Daddy never let me cook.” She bit her lip. “There's only so many jobs you can learn, and I know that the adventuring ones and the profession ones are different. So you can learn up to three profession jobs without cutting into the adventuring ones. But...” She sighed. “No. No I won't be a cook right now. If I change my mind I can select it from my status screen, I think. Status!” She checked. “Yes, we're good.” She hauled the salmon skewers, slightly scarred, out of the fire and ate them. “Ugh. Well, it's better than nothing. Thank you Threadbare!” She ruffled his soggy head.
Once he was dry and the salmon were consumed, the sticks and bones hurled into the Oblivion to dispose of them, Celia and Threadbare started down the mountain, with Threadbare poking out of the top of her pack, watching as she carefully climbed down the steep slope, backing down and moving from handhold to handhold.
It worked pretty well until her foot slipped. She managed to catch herself but the sudden jolt threw Threadbare out of the pack, and rolling madly down the cliff.
She shrieked, he banged off of one rock after another, and wound up at the treeline, caught up in a tangle of thorny bushes and down a few hit points.
He sat up with more annoyance than anything else, and tried to pull himself free.
And the bush pulled back.
Gropevines were a hazard in this region, even in the highest mountains. They usually subsisted on all sorts of birds, small animals, and even bugs. They were also attributed all sorts of questionable actions and had a lurid reputation that was entirely out of keeping with their motivations and modus operandi. All they wanted to do to people was rip them up with thorns and strangle them, it's not like they were weird about it.
All of this was lost on Threadbare, as the bush opened up to reveal masses of vines, long thorns, and two clusters of white and black berries that looked like eyes. The bear glowered at his attacker, and drew back his hand for a swipe-
-and promptly got a dagger bladefirst into his paw.
The little bear and his viny foe looked at it. Then they both looked up, ignoring the red “3” that floated away from them.
“Oops! Oh no! Uh, sorry, I was aiming for right next to you. Just use that to fight it!” Celia shouted from above. “I'll be down as fast as I can! Hang in there!”
Threadbare pulled the dagger out of his paw, looked at the vines trying to wrap around him, and got to slashing. He'd seen how Celia had used the knife to gut the fish, so that was probably how it worked, right?
Well, he tried, anyway. The vines were all thorny and covered in bark, and he was pretty clumsy with the blade. It was more like a sword to him, not that he knew what those were.
Fortunately, his armor was more than enough to ward off the worst of the vine's efforts. A few squeezes and 4 points of damage later, he got a good cut in.
Your actions have unlocked the generic skill: Dagger!
Your Dagger skill is now level 1!
The gropevine sizzled, sounding like the fish had as they fried on the fire, and swept Threadbare's legs out from under him with one quick sweep. Then it piled vine on vine, binding his arms, and trying to keep that blade from nicking it again...
...to no avail, as Threadbare twisted it, snapping through the vines binding him. The little bear didn't look it, but he was about as strong as the average young teenage human now, and the gropevine couldn't match his concentrated muscles.
Your Dagger skill is now level 2!
Then more noise from above, as Celia reached a safe spot, yanked out her toys, animated and invited them into her party. They rained down from above, and waded into the gropevine, pummeling it relentlessly. The gropevine tried to peel its vines away from Threadbare to deal with the new threats, but Threadbare well-remembered the lesson of the rats and team-fighting with Pulsivar, down in the cellar.
Threadbare dropped the dagger and pulled the vines to him, as many as he could get. With him tying up the enemy, his friends were free to beat it up with impunity.
Your Brawling skill is now level 9!
This allowed his toy allies to get past the exterior vines and attack the interior. It sizzled again as they laid into its vulnerable berries, then fell silent and limp, amidst a cloud of red numbers.
“Woohoo!” Celia shouted, from above. “Level 6!”
Threadbare let the vines drop, just as his little girl got to the bottom of the cliff, and ran up behind him. “Mend!”
You have been healed for 18 points.
She considered him. “Are you okay?”
Threadbare nodded, and offered her the dagger back.
“Why don't you keep it until we're back home,” she said. “You always seem to end up in trouble way more than I do.”
Threadbare shrugged, and slung the blade over his shoulder.
“I figured you'd be okay. Gropevines aren't that big a deal unless they're really big.” Celia collected her toys. “But we should-”
A drum sounded in the distance. Celia froze, and peered into the trees.
“Threadbare?” She said, eventually, “Does that sound to you like a big raccant banging on a stolen bucket with a stick as it charges and leads seven other raccants this way?” She bent down and gathered up her toys as she spoke, stuffing them into her pack.
Threadbare looked up at her and shrugged.
“Well it should because that's what's coming towards us.” She knelt and grabbed up the little bear, and ran for her life.
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