The Raccants chased Celia and Threadbare around the hills for the better part of a day. It had the side-benefit of unlocking Threadbare’s generic stealth skill and raising it a few levels, but it was mostly an annoyance. From his safe haven of Celia’s arms he waved his knife at any who got too close, and the little wooden-masked varmints steered clear.
At some point during the chase Threadbare unlocked the qualification for Black Bear, and got told he needed more experience. But he barely had time to notice it as he watched the pursuing monsters with fascination.
Celia, on the other hand, was terrified. The irony of it was that she shouldn’t have been. Raccants were territorial creatures, but not aggressive. They were trying to scare her off from their claimed turf, that was all. Mind you, if she dropped any interesting trinkets or slowed down enough to the point where they could nick her pack, they would’ve in a heartbeat. But they wouldn’t have hurt her. After all, maybe they could fool her into adopting them someday! Then they’d have easy lives…
But the chase went on far more than it should have, because Celia kept getting hopelessly lost, and turning back into their little valley. She was smart, and her perception wasn’t lacking, but fear and exhaustion did a number on her, and she made mistakes.
But Threadbare had a different sort of brain, one that… well, it did have fear, but it wasn’t the same sort as most organic types knew. It was afraid of something bad happening to Celia, or to Daddy, or Pulsivar, but that was about it, really. He wasn’t afraid for himself.
So when he noticed her turning around to pass the same boulder for the third time that day, he knew that they were going the wrong way.
He tugged on her sleeve.
“Wh-wh-what?” Celia chattered, simultaneously drenched in sweat and cold from the chill air of the peaks.
Threadbare tugged on her sleeve again, and pointed with the dagger.
“That way? You’re, huff, you’re certain?”
Behind her a stick banged a bucket again, and she flinched. “That way it, ha, it is!” Exhausted, barely jogging, she set off past the boulder, and down a winding deer path that vanished into a mass of tangled scrub.
She didn’t see the lone Raccant Chief heave a sigh of relief behind his BLLDOGY mask, and put away his bucket. Finally she’d gotten the message. He looked back to where he’d left his minions behind, as they dropped from exhaustion, and waddled back to find them. For a second he considered keeping a watch, to make sure she didn’t come back. But then he decided against it. She’d gone down into that valley. She wouldn’t be back.
Five minutes later, peering out at a slope full of dead trees, Celia knew she was well and truly lost. She turned to head back…
…and Threadbare stirred in her arms, shaking his head.
Threadbare put the dagger under one arm, and covered his face, then pretended to drum an imaginary bucket.
“You’re right. They haven’t followed me down here. But they’re probably waiting for me up top.” Celia swallowed, and looked around. “I don’t know where this is. I didn’t see this place on the walk up.” She swallowed. “And my throat’s dry.” She reached to her side, then froze. “I totally left Mister Mordecai’s water skin up at Oblivion Point, didn’t I?”
“Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid.” She palmed her face.
Threadbare patted her arm. He’d forgotten about it too.
“Um. Well, finding water is totally a thing a scout would do. And Daddy’s books said to only drink from moving streams and rivers. There’s tons of little brooks all through these parts, we crossed enough of them. Just have to keep an eye out.” The pair descended into the dead trees. Celia put Threadbare down after a bit, tired enough from even his small weight.
Eventually the slope evened out, but the dead trees didn’t. Celia eyed the murky puddles of rainwater and cold marsh, that started to crop up but thought it best to find water elsewhere. It didn’t look, oh what was the word… Patable? No, that wasn’t it.
Dusk was coming on quickly. The light was fading, sun setting behind the western mountains.
So naturally, that’s when she found the graveyard.
“Ohhh boy.” Celia whispered, as she realized that the rows of rocks among the dead trees were actually tombstones. “Yeah, not drinking water here.” Her voice was a rasp at this point, but she knew what graveyards meant, and there was no way she was drinking water that was anywhere near dead people.
Threadbare tottered over to one of the tombstones, and saw there were words carved into it. He squinted, but didn’t see any that usually appeared when he did things. No, no wait, there was one.
Threadbare pointed at the stone. Celia came over and read it. “Here lies Axey Dent. Like most barbarians he shorted Int.”
The little bear pondered, then looked at it again, trying to match up the symbols with the words she’d just said. He was close, he knew, so very very close…
“Okay, somebody’s got a weird sense of humor,” Celia said, still spooked.
Threadbare moved to the next stone, and checked it for words. Celia followed, reading as she went. “Here lies Sandra Schtupp. Pissed off a vampire, never looked up. Here lies Barry the Bold. Went into my mausoleum to get out of the cold. Here lies Dorothy Gunn. Looted my lair but failed to run.”
Words started to repeat, here and there as she went, and Threadbare’s mind expanded.
Midway through the morbid recitals, Celia stopped, as a spreading look of horror crossed her face. “Oh. Oh no.”
And from behind her, from the darkest part of the trees, she heard the slow, steady sound of flesh on flesh, as someone clapped their hands. Trembling like a leaf, she turned…
…to see a girl just a bit shorter than her, leaning against a tree.
She looked about the same age as Celia, but even skinnier, with short brown hair covered by a polka-dotted green and purple bandanna. She had an apron very like Celia’s daddy wore, only hers had hammers and chisels and measuring tape sticking out of it. She wore a sturdy pair of work boots on her feet, and had tough leather gloves on each hand. Short, poofy trousers and a simple bloodstained white shirt that was three sizes too big completed the picture.
“Finally, somewahn gets it!” The strange girl said with a nasal accent. “Good on yah! Four stahs! Now scram, kid, befahre I eat yah.”
Celia shrieked, ran, tripped over a tombstone, struggled back up, ran back for Threadbare, scooped him back up, and ran.
The girl laughed hard, clutching her belly and doubling over. Then her belly grumbled “Mff. Your bad luck, I guess. Sorry kid, but mama’s hangry.” She straightened up, giving the tree next to her a pat. “Looks like yah’re on the menu tonight-”
An arrow sprouted between her fingers, quivering in the tree trunk. The girl’s eyes went wide. Two more arrows appeared in between her fingers.
“Oh. Ah. She’s one a yours, then, Mordecah?”
Arrows sheeted down, tocking into the tree with rapid-fire precision, tracing out a word in feathers above her.
“Raht. Raht. Message received. I’ll play nahse.”
Oblivious to what was happening behind her, Celia ran for her life… again. But the day’s exertions had taken their toll on her, and she was losing steam rapidly. Also, it was very dark now, and she’d moved from the field of tombstones to the thickets beyond, and she was having trouble seeing her way through. “I… I have to rest. I need water,” she told Threadbare, as she leaned against a tree, and panted. “I… need to find a place to sleep. Do you think we’re far enough away from… from the… oh gods…”
Threadbare looked around, and saw nothing chasing them, so he nodded.
“Okay. Find a spot, and build a shelter to sleep in. Like Mister Mordecai showed us.” She forged back upslope, until she saw the signs of pine trees just past the dead trunks. “Maybe this is the limits of the v.v..v… of her territory? I hope so. I can’t take another step.” She took another step, then six more, then knelt down and started gathering branches. They were well into twilight now, and the light was going. Threadbare helped as best he could, and aided her as she tied them together.
“Fire. I… undead hate fires, right? It should be safe.” She pulled out the Knife Mordecai had given her, and the chunks of flint she’d pocketed from his last demonstration. It took about twenty tries, but finally they got a small fire going, out of the wind, and at the mouth of the shelter. Celia curled into it and went out like a light, entirely exhausted.
Threadbare crawled in beside her, but hesitated. She said she’d needed water earlier, right? And she’d probably want more food, too.
But there was that other girl out there who had threatened Celia. No, the little teddy bear decided to stay. Anything could happen out here, and he didn’t want something bad hurting Celia while she slept.
So a little while later, when the girl in the apron faded out of the shadows, pale skin gleaming in the firelight, Threadbare hauled out his dagger and put himself between Celia and the stranger.
“Relahx,” the girl said, offering a bloodstained goat. “Here. This’ll be good breakfast, yah?” She mopped her stained mouth with one free hand.
Threadbare tilted his head, then nodded. He assumed it would be. It was made of meat, after all, like the rabbits and fish had been.
“So she’s an animahtah?”
Threadbare nodded again.
“You her pet?”
Threadbare considered the word. Then he walked over and petted Celia’s tangled hair.
Your Adorable Skill is now level 10!
The girl laughed, showing really big fangs. “So she’s yahr pet? Aw that’s cute! Don’t suppose I could steal you away from her, yah? Come live with me? Sleep in a really swanky stone cahffin all day, an’ carve gravestahns all naht?”
An arrow flew past her ear, tweaking her bandanna just enough to catch her attention.
“Just an ideah, jeeze, keep ya trawsahs on old man.”
Threadbare was shaking his head anyway. He looked to her, looked to Celia, and hugged Celia’s form. His little girl drooled on him.
“Mm. Awraht. Well, if you go that way, ya’ll come to tha big tree. Kind of a central point around here.” The girl pointed.
Threadbare looked. Sure enough, there was something against the moon. It could be a really big tree.
“Just past thah’s a rahck with a great view. Icewahn river’s not fah north. Find tha river, there’s roads beyond.” She grinned. “I should know. Good huntin’ on them. Lots a King’s Gahds to eat.”
Threadbare shrugged. He’d never seen Celia eat any gahds so he couldn’t say.
“Oh relax, they all have it cahmin. Things the King gets up ta, hells.” The girl plopped down, and stared into the darkness. “I’m a monstah, I admit it, but he’s got no excuse. I mean, who thinks summoning demons is a good idea?”
“Yahr a good listenah, ya know that?”
Threadbare nodded. Idly, he sniffed at her, found her scent to be old blood and cold meat. Strange, and not human at all.
Your Scents and Sensibility skill is now level 6!
“Wanna play some Grindluck?” She hauled out a deck of cards. “No stakes, dahn’t warry.”
Grindluck was a game taught to very young children. It pretty much did what it said, allowing them to get their luck up to the point that they could survive a walk outside without heavy armor, the best buffs available, and a small party of higher level relatives.
She taught him the game, and they played as the fire burned down. It was a fairly simple thing where you tried to match cards, and kept the cards you matched. It did indeed help his anemic luck, giving him four points worth as the hours passed.
The strange girl kept up a chatter as they went, talking about how she used to be a minion in a smaller dungeon, before it got busted up by the King’s troops, and her master had gone and gotten splattered. She’d tried to blend into the local town, but it hadn’t gone so well.
“Too many scouts. They can look at yah and see yahr status. Just like that. Well, the good ones can anyway. So I found my way out here. Lahts of folks don’t look too hahd at strangers who mind their own business. I can even go into Taylah’s Delve now and again. It’s nahse. Lonely sometimes, but nahse.” She sighed, and put her cards away, looking up at the moon. “Thought about making my own dungeon, but what’s the point? Used ta be you made one, it was fun fahr the whole region. Brings in adventurers, tourists, falks who spend mahney. But nah the King’s running tha show, yah gahtta have permits ta go into dungeons. Yah gahtta hand ovah all ya magic loot when ya get out. And if people staht cheating or if he feels like it he sends in tha troops, and they mine it out and break tha core. Where’s tha fun in that?”
Threadbare examined her carefully, and shook his head.
“Raht. Ah’m glad we had this talk, mistah bahr.” She ruffled his head, and reclaimed her cards. “Ya little gahl’s lucky to have yah. Ya take care of her, aright?”
He nodded, and she faded into the shadows and away, as the first light started to appear on the horizon.
Finally, Celia stirred, as the dawn’s light fell on her face. “Mfrafef. Feh? Fah!” She sat bolt upright, put her hand squarely on the bloody dead goat carcass, looked down at it, and screamed.
Five minutes later, after she’d calmed down, she started cleaning and dressing the goat. Well, trying to. Well, she got maybe a few pounds of usable meat off of it. Goats were way harder than rabbits, as it turned out.
“I’m still so thirsty,” she croaked, her voice rattling around inside her throat like a stone in a bowl of dust. “Do you think there’s any water around here?”
Threadbare wandered off into the trees, looking left and right. “Okay, just… don’t go far,” Celia croaked, trying to cook the goat without burning herself too badly. “This cook job is really tempting…”
It took about twenty minutes of searching, but eventually Threadbare found a small stream.
Your Forage skill is level 5!
But he didn’t have any good way to bring the water back.
He thought about it for a bit, trying to scoop it up in his hands. It seemed an insurmountable problem, right until the point he remembered what happened to him every time he got soaked.
The little bear flopped into the water, got himself good and soaked, and waddled back to the campfire, leaking with every step.
“Threadbare! What did you… oh. Oh, that works.” Celia smiled. Then she picked up the little bear, put his knife to the side, and wrung out his limbs over her mouth, greedily gulping down the droplets that squirted out.
Being made of cloth had a few advantages, after all.
“Aw, your feet are all muddy. Sorry. Well, the rest of you’s a little stained too. Daddy can clean you once we get home.” She winced. “Nineteen hours left. I need to get a move on.”
But it took half an hour more to cook and eat the goat meat. Then ten minutes for Threadbare to lead her to the little stream, so she could more properly drink her fill.
After that, he seemed pretty insistent on tugging her in one direction. “You’re sure?” She measured the cliff ahead of her with her eyes. “We’ll have to go around that, there’s no way I can climb it.”
He was insistent, nodding up and down over and over again.
So she followed him, and after quite a bit of walking, she found her way up to the top of the ridge where he was pointing, and looked to the northwest. “Waitaminute. I know that tree!”
It was indeed the tree that Mister Mordecai had her examine during their hike up. “I’m just seeing it from a different angle, that’s all.” She considered the rocky escarpment between herself and the tree. “It’s a long way, but it’s a clear shot. Come on, let’s go!”
Three hours later, she sat at the base of the tree, looking up it.
Threadbare looked up it as well, button eyes held by the hypnotic patterns of the bees high up in its branches, hard at work making wildflower honey. And within him instinct stirred again.
“I don’t think I can climb that, not as weak as I am,” Celia told him. “But if you could climb up there and look-”
Before she could say another word the little bear scrambled up the trunk, fell down, scrambled back up, got twenty feet up, fell down, and got up for a third try.
Two climb skill level ups later, he got up to that tantalizing beehive.
“Threadbare! Just ignore it. Please go to the top and-”
The bees landed on him as he crept closer to it. He heard Celia’s words, but he could no more look away than he could sprout wings and fly from the branches. Slowly, carefully, as the bees hummed and settled on him, stinging him with stingers that did absolutely nothing he crawled over to the hive and pushed his paw into the papery structure.
Your Forage skill is level 6!
He pulled free a dollop of angry bees and some sort of brown liquid that smelled divine, it smelled like nothing he had ever scented before, and while bees stung his button eyes he inhaled the scent, and slowly brought the goop to his mouth-
-only to pat against the cloth patch that served him as a tongue.
The teddy bear had the distinct feeling there should definitely be something going on there. He tried again, and the only thing that happened was that the bees got more pissed off.
With a shake of his head at the disappointment, Threadbare resumed his climb up the tree. Honey pulsed from the hole in the hive, dripping down. And Celia, for her part, shrugged and held out her hands, catching it and licking it eagerly off her palms. The bees weren’t coming after her, and food was food out here. She’d burned a lot of energy walking this far, and this would keep her going. She checked her status as she ate, sighing as her stamina ticked back up after every slurp.
After a while, Threadbare crawled down. The bees had long ago given up trying to sting the weird little scavenger, and were concentrating on patching their hive, so that was all well and good.
“Did you see the rock? That was the next thing, that boulder you nearly fell from,” Celia asked him.
Threadbare nodded, and pointed.
It took most of the rest of the day, but they made it back to the rock, and from there they could see the house, and retrace their path back. As night fell for the second time, Celia staggered into her front yard, hair sticky and stained with honey, pine needles, sweat, and dirt. Threadbare rode with his arms clamped around the back of her neck, sitting on her pack, knife stowed away so he didn’t accidentally cut her.
And as Celia lurched up to the door and put her hands on it, words flickered into Threadbare’s sight.
Go Home quest complete!
Congratulations! By becoming lost in the wilderness and finding your way home you have unlocked the Scout job!
Would you like to become a Scout at this time? y/n?
Threadbare read it. The long words didn’t quite make sense, but he knew what scouts were. Scouts were Mordecai! He wanted to become a scout.
The words vanished, and instantly he felt better. And more words flashed by.
You are now a level 1 Scout!
You have learned the Camouflage skill!
Your Camouflage skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Firestarter skill!
Your Firestarter skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Keen Eye skill!
Your Keen Eye skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Sturdy Back skill!
Your Sturdy Back skill is now level 1
You have learned the Wind’s Whisper skill!
Your Wind’s Whisper skill is now level 1!
And if his eyes could open any wider, they would have.
Celia, her stamina refilled, jumped straight into the air and almost banged her head on the porch. “Yes! Wow, yes yes yes!”
The door opened, and Caradon stood there, smiling. “I am so, so very proud of you.”
“I followed Mister Mordecai’s instructions!” Celia beamed, dirty as she’d ever been, with some fried goat tendon sticking out between her teeth.
“Yes, you did. That’s the quest complete then. Take this, you’ve earned it.”
Do What Mister Mordecai Says Quest Complete!
You have gained 1000 experience
Threadbare looked on in amazement, as everything got more awesome.
You are now a level 7 Toy Golem!
+2 to all attributes
You are now a level 2 Ruler!
You are now a level 2 Scout!
He looked at his paws, flexed the muscles of his stuffing. Yes. Yes, this was good. Quests did this? Quests were good, then!
For his part, Caradon hesitated. “Two thousand experience? What…” He shook his head. “Getting senile. Must have upped it a bit.”
“What was that, Daddy?”
“Nothing, nothing. Come on in. Dinner first or… no, bath first, I think. Mordecai’s already here, but no dinner for him. He’ll be asleep for a day or so.”
“It’s a trick they have at higher levels, to delay sleeping. Here, let’s get you clean. Ah, him first.”
One quick Clean and Press on Threadbare later, and he was left to his own devices, downstairs. That was fine. He thought that maybe, just maybe, he could try to write something now.
He remembered seeing paper in the study, so he wandered that way. And sure enough there was paper, and there were plenty of ink quills and parchments…
…but more interestingly, one of the books on the desk glowed with a strange, shiny light.
Threadbare opened it. It was the hollow book with the scrolls, and they were glowing. Vaguely remembering something about these, he picked them up, and instantly a chime sounded, in his head.
More words appeared, and FINALLY, he was smart enough to read them all.
Step one of help Anise Layd’I complete!
Take the scrolls to the hidden chest downriver!
Oh right, right, that thing she’d asked Celia to do, before Celia got mad at the lady for some reason.
Well, it was a quest, right? Quests were good.
He shut the book and put it back neatly like Celia had taught him. Then the little bear toddled out the open back door, hopped down from the porch, and set out toward the river.
They found him in the yard after a frantic search four hours later, muddy, quite battered from having to shank another gropevine on the way, and a bit worse for the wear, but he seemed happy.
After all, why shouldn’t he be? He was 500 experience and another bear level richer!
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