“What?” Celia said, shocked beyond belief. “That makes no sense! I… no.”
“Tell her, Caradon,” Melos said, sitting heavily on one of the room’s few remaining intact chairs. “Tell her how you’ve been lying to her all these years.”
Celia looked up to Caradon-
-and saw the old man bow his head. Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes.
“Daddy?” She whispered, feeling hope sink in her chest. Feeling the first sting of betrayal.
Sighing, Melos gestured, and the sheets holding Celia fell away. She took a few hesitant steps, then ran to stand before Caradon. She stared up at him, eyes wide and uncomprehending.
“Celia…” Caradon started, then choked. He cleared his throat, opened his eyes, and the pain within them made her flinch back. “I’m your grandfather. Amelia was my daughter, not my wife.”
“You raised Amelia well, Caradon. But you never did like me much.” Melos shrugged. “Not that it mattered. She loved me.”
“And you killed her!” Caradon found his anger once more, his hands whipping out, grabbing fast to Celia’s shoulders.
“Ouch! Dad-” Celia bit her tongue. She couldn’t call him that anymore, could she? Then what he’d said sunk in. “You! Did you…”
“No!” Melos looked shocked. “No, no no no no. I swear to you, I swear!” The armored figure fell to his knees, stretching out a gauntleted hand. Celia flinched back, and pain flashed across the demon knight’s face. Then his visage hardened, and he glared up at Caradon. “Was that what you told her, you old fool?”
“I told her nothing of her father.” Caradon said, his own face harder than stone. “And please, I can read between the lines. Six heroes go down into the dungeon, and the dark knight alone returns alive. Then the King ‘mysteriously’ passes away. And who takes the throne, but the lone survivor?”
“You have no idea what went on down there, old man. You have no idea how I lost my wife!” Melos roared, climbing to his feet, glaring down at Caradon’s stooped frame. “How I lost the few people in this world who trusted me!”
Celia tore from Caradon’s grasp, and ran to the corner, huddling, her hands over her head. “Stop it stop it stop it! Please stop fighting! Please just… stop…”
Above them, Threadbare stirred.
He didn’t quite understand the situation, not in its entirety, but Celia needed him.
Slowly, carefully, he tried to work the blade loose. But he had no leverage. He put his paws against the ceiling and pushed, trying to get it to come out of the wood…
A red 3 floated up, and he stopped. He was too soft, and the cut was too wide. He couldn’t wiggle free of the blade without damaging himself. He bent over as best he could, staring at the hilt. How? How could he get off this without literally tearing himself apart?
Below him, Melos was talking again. “I’m… sorry, Celia. But the truth hurts, and there are things we must set straight now. I don’t want…” He palmed his face. “I never wanted this.” He said, waving a hand at the house, the destruction, Caradon’s battered form… and the creature beside him, who was currently filing her nails. She looked up, put the nail file away, and smiled cheerfully at him.
“You’re doing fine, my love. It’ll work out.”
“I seem to recall ordering you to never lie to me.”
“And I’ve kept that pact. Master.” She'd never said who it would work out for, after all.
“She wears her face!” Caradon roared, his face blotching red. “She speaks in Amelia’s voice! What did you do, you blasphemous…” The old man’s anger faded, burned through him like a wildfire. “What did you do?” he whispered.
“What I had to, Caradon. I’ve always ever done what I had to and only that. Which is why my friends trusted me, they knew I only did what I had to. You never saw that, in your self-righteousness. In your arrogance.”
“Please just stop,” Celia whispered again.
Threadbare tried another wiggle, and tore another seam. Stuffing spilled out, and a fleck drifted past Caradon’s head, just as Melos shifted to look at Celia.
Caradon looked up.
Hope filled his eyes, and he spoke under his breath, barely a whisper.
And words flashed in front of Threadbare.
Caradon Gearhart has Invited you to join his party! Do you wish to accept? y/n?
And the old man’s eyes filled with hope, as Threadbare thought yes. Hope and pride, for his wayward creation, for the first time ever.
Melos spoke again. “Do you know that I was the one who sent her to you, Caradon?”
“What? Impossible! Amelia…”
“Amelia was dead. I put her ashes in an urn, and entrusted her and Cecelia to Emmet. It took the last command golem scroll she’d left behind, but I sent him on to you. I knew you wouldn’t trust me if I showed up with her, but you’d trust Emmet when he showed up with your infant granddaughter crying in his arms. You’d helped make him, after all, you and my wife, working together.”
“You were the one? Why?” Caradon paled. “I wondered, but I figured… some sort of failsafe…”
Meanwhile, above him, Threadbare found his form charged with power he could barely imagine! The old man had two skills that applied, one from animator that charged his personal creations in his party with power proportionate to his will, and one from golemist that buffed up any golems in his party.
But though they raised all of Threadbare’s attributes and his maximum HP, they did nothing for his wounds.
Threadbare tried to tug the sword free again, but even with his strength, he had no leverage. And as he turned to put his paws on the ceiling again, his buffed intelligence told him that he’d literally rip himself in two if he wasn’t careful, so very careful with this.
Fortunately, his agility had just gotten the biggest buff it had ever had. He started to squirm again…
“I sent her to you as soon as I knew I had to take the throne. I knew I had enemies, and would have more, who would strike at me through her. And I knew you would raise her right.” Melos sighed. “And I wanted you to have some time with your granddaughter, old man. I’m not the monster you think I am. I just use monsters.” He gestured, the demonic faces in his armor leering and gnashing their teeth. “But as hideous as demons are, they pale next to the evil that men do. When I found out that you’d turned traitor, started helping the resistance, I gritted my teeth and let it be. You were old, senile, but I'm used to spite. I kept a watch on you and let you be. But then I beat Balmoran, and captured the Earl. He talked before he died, Caradon. He told me of the betrothal. Of how you’d planned to marry Celia to the son of my most treacherous enemy!”
Celia lowered her hands. Face puffy from tears, her body shaking like a leaf, she stared at Caradon. “What?”
The house groaned and shook, and Melos shot a glance back. “Party screen,” Caradon muttered, then he paled. He shot a look up at Threadbare, and shook his head. “Stop,” he mouthed. He’d seen Threadbare’s hit points. He knew what would happen if the teddy dropped now.
Unnoticed, Anise followed his gaze, glanced up to Threadbare as well. She smiled, then turned her eyes to Celia, drinking in the girl’s shifting expression.
“Betrothal?” Celia asked.
Caradon flinched. “We had to… we had to keep you safe. We thought he would win…”
“He promised Balmoran an army of golems, with you commanding them. And your bloodline to theirs, so they had a legitimate heir to the throne.” Melos said. “But that’s neither here nor there. Now I have Emmet, upgraded to its full potential. And I have you, and with Balmoran gone, we are finally, finally safe.”
“I don’t feel safe at all,” Celia said, shivering. “I’ll never feel safe again.”
And Threadbare writhed, to hear the pain in her voice. He reached out again, as another seam gave, and a red 5 spilled past his head. But he couldn’t get past the hilt that trapped him in place.
“Come. Anise, take her home. I’ll get Caradon into custody.”
Celia stepped back into the corner. “I don’t… I don’t know… Who to trust…”
“It’s a moot point,” Melos said. “You have to come with me now, and you don’t have the power to stop me. That’s how the world works. It hurts me too. I have to do what I must and I hate it. That’s what growing up’s all about, Celia. That’s what Caradon has been sheltering you from. But we have far too much to do. We have responsibilities, and- oh just go with her Anise, that fucking fire is going to drop the wall in a few minutes.”
Celia shook, as Anise approached, offering one red-nailed hand. Her head twisted back and forth between Melos and Caradon. “You won’t hurt him? Please? If I go with you willingly you won't hurt him?”
“I won’t hurt him. But he must answer for his crimes. You won’t see him again for a very long time, I’m afraid.”
She gave Anise her hand. Anise handed the scrolls off to Melos, pulled out a crystal, and threw it to the floor. “Teleport Castle Cylvania,” she declared.
And in a flash, both of them were gone.
Here he was, filled with the most strength and resilience he’d ever had, and he was powerless to stop it. Any of it.
The fire raged on, snapping and popping, filling the room with smoke as Melos stared at Caradon.
“I’m not going into custody, am I-” Caradon’s speech cut off as Melos crossed the room in two fast strides, grabbed him, and shoved something in his mouth. Caradon gagged and coughed, but the demon knight forced him to swallow.
“What… wha…” Caradon twitched.
“Numbing powder. I won’t hurt you because you won’t feel a thing.” Melos pulled out a curvy dagger, and put Caradon on the bed, just out of Threadbare’s sight. “The perks of being a cultist, you learn to say things very, very carefully. I promised Celia I wouldn’t hurt you, and that she wouldn’t see you again for a very long time. She won’t, she’ll have a long life ahead of her. You’ll have plenty of time to reminisce with her in the afterlife.”
“No. You leave me in a hard spot, old man. I have to do something horrible, because of you. You see, you’re the only Golemist left in the kingdom. The only one who’s cracked the unlock for that. You had the right idea with an army of golems, after all. Golems don’t betray you. Golems don’t lie. I could use an army of loyal, tireless, honest monsters. And I don’t think you’re going to teach me golemist, are you? Not even if I ask nicely.”
Silence for a bit. Melos barked joyless laughter. “I figured. And I’ll need it to teach Celia, for her to follow in her mother’s footsteps, since you held her back too long. I can’t trust you near her, Caradon. You spoiled her for too long. You made her weak. I’ll make her strong, so strong, and I’ll hand her a kingdom all of her own. But first, I need golemist from you. Fortunately before I became a ruler, I was a cultist. And we have a ritual, just for this.”
“You… bas…trrrrd….” Caradon slurred.
“It works a bit easier if I’m in your party, but you’ll never invite me so oh well. Still, it should do. You’re all alone here, Caradon. Golems can’t learn, Amelia taught me that, so it’s just you and me. The rite will benefit the closest person if you’re not in a party, and well, here we are. Any last words?”
“Go to Hell….”
“Every night, Caradon. Every night. Rite of Reclamation!”
Words popped up in next to Threadbare’s head.
CARADON GEARHART HAS OFFERED YOU A PRIVATE QUEST
DETAILS: SAVE CELIA. I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT. I AM PROUD OF YOU, MY SON.
REWARD: NINE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY TWO EXPERIENCE POINTS
COMPLETION: WHEN CELIA IS SAFE
DO YOU WANT TO ACCEPT THIS QUEST? Y/N
Yes. Yes he would. He didn’t know how he would do it, but he would.
Threadbare shuddered, as he heard wet noises below him, and Caradon fell silent for the last time.
But the King was not silent. The King was bellowing in rage.
More words flashed all around Threadbare, filling up his sight.
Through blasphemous ritual you have unlocked the Animator job!
Would you like to become an Animator at this time? y/n?
Through blasphemous ritual you have unlocked the Enchanter job!
Would you like to become an Enchanter at this time? y/n?
Through blasphemous ritual you have unlocked the Golemist job!
Would you like to become a Golemist at this time? y/n?
Through blasphemous ritual you have unlocked the Wizard job!
Would you like to become a Wizard at this time? y/n?
Through blasphemous ritual you have unlocked the Smith job!
Would you like to become a Smith at this time? y/n?
Yes! Yes to all of those! Those jobs would give him the strength he needed to save Celia!
You are now a level 1 Animator!
You have learned the Animus skill!
Your Animus skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Command Animus skill!
Your Command Animus skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Creator’s Guardians skill!
Your Creator’s Guardians skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Eye for Detail skill!
Your Eye for Detail skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Mend skill!
Your Mend skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 1 Enchanter!
You have learned the Appraise skill!
Your Appraise skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Glowgleam skill!
Your Glowgleam skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Harden skill!
Your Harden skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Soften skill!
Your Soften skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Spellstore I skill!
Your Spellstore I skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 1 Golemist!
You have learned the Command Golem skill!
Your Command Golem skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Golem Animus skill!
Your Golem Animus skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Invite Golem skill!
Your Invite Golem skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Toy Golem Construction skill!
Your Toy Golem Construction skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 1 Smith!
You have learned the “Refine Ore” skill!
But the last one came up with words he’d never seen before.
You cannot learn the wizard job at this time, all adventuring slots are full!
Seek out your guild to forget an existing job!
Nothing to help his strength or constitution! He wasn’t in much of a better situation Threadbare realized, mind churning with the enhanced power from his buffs. He had to think fast, figure a way off of this stupid sword before-
Your party has been disbanded.
-and there went his stat boosts.
Below him, Melos put two and two together and got fifty-seven.
“The Scout!” he hissed. He rushed from the room. “Take the scout alive! I want him alive!”
Grimly, Threadbare considered his chances. He could probably do it, he thought. One last good lunge, hope it didn’t rip him completely open, and he could be off the blade. Then he’d find his way outside, go to find help, and try to communicate matters to Cecilia’s friends. It would be hard, but they could find a way to save her. He would find a way to save his little girl!
All it would take was one good push, and a little luck…
…a flash of black fur caught his sight. Movement below? Threadbare stared down, as a teddy bear half his size toddled out from where she’d been hiding, and looked around.
Then she looked up at him.
And the house collapsed, as red numbers flashed by Threadbare’s vision and everything went dark…
Mordecai sagged in the tree. Out of arrows, out of stamina, out of sanity. His quivers were empty. Through hit and run tactics he’d dragged them off into the trees and the hills, combing wide for him. They’d find him, soon. He’d trained their scouts well.
He’d had to put down his own students, this night. Every corpse who wasn’t armored was a face he recognized, and he hated it. What had it been for? What had it all been for?
Four jobs he’d pulled up from the unlocked jobs section of his status screen and added, strictly for the benefit of getting their level up pool refills. Four times he had refilled his stamina and sanity. Four times he’d gone back in, using One Last Arrow to pull ammunition out of nothing, and channeling his stamina into his other archer skills. He’d harried the troops, worn them down through hit and run tactics, and used Arrows of Light to take down the second dragon. But it had taken everything he had, those four times, and now here he was, hiding in a tree, with men spreading out his way and one more goddamned dragon above.
“Status,” he whispered, and the old scout glared at the jobs he’d grabbed, for no other reason than to buy Caradon time. Alchemist, Assassin, Bandit, and Bard, the first four on the list of options.
Beyond, the house groaned and shivered, and Mordecai closed his eyes as it fell into fiery ruin. His last hope was gone. He’d been buying time for nothing. The king’s voice rung out, ordering him to take the old scout alive. Mordecai wasn’t the brightest man, but he figured he knew who that was.
“Fuck it,” he growled, and below him the King’s scouts twitched at the noise and started toward his section of the forest. “Damned if I’ll give ‘im tha pleasure!”
If you’re going to go out, go out in style. He went down to the job listings, and found the next one in line… and chortled at the appropriateness.
“Yeah…” he drawled.
And then Mordecai was a Berserker.
“Rage!” he bellowed, and leaped from treetop to treetop as the dragon came in. His agility, already off the charts, was boosted as his vision turned crimson, and he leaped up to meet the big beastie, grabbing ahold of its harness and swinging up to meet its very surprised rider. Unfeeling of his wounds, with stamina full to bursting, Mordecai yelled “Headbutt!” and slammed his skull into the rider’s helm.
But no matter how good Mordecai’s attributes were, the Rider wasn’t too far a level from him, and the newly-trained Berserker’s skill was only at level one.
The rider dropped his spear to draw his sword-
-and Mordecai caught it, broke the heavy spear into two, and wailed on the rider with the two improvised clubs, rattling his armor, knocking him free of the dragon. With a wordless howl Mordecai leaped on him and rode him down, watching red numbers fly out of him, riding him onto the mountain and into a tree, clubs flashing as he hammered him to death and beyond.
And as the all-too-short rage faded, and the crimson washed away from his view, he realized that there were words there now.
By attaining level 25 as both a scout and an archer, and killing a foe using two weapon style while in the wilderness, you have unlocked the Ranger job!
Would you like to become a ranger at this time? y/n?
Mordecai stood, stunned, staring at the air. “Yeah,” he whispered.
The ranger skills and stat boosts scrolled by, but he closed his eyes. Decades he’d sought that job, that job that nobody knew how to get anymore, that job that had evaded him for so long. And now, here at his last stand, he’d unlocked it. His jobs were full now, he knew. That was fine.
But seriously, what the hell kind of weird unlock WAS that? What did two weapons even have to do with being a ranger?
“Here! He’s here!”
Grinning, Mordecai whirled. “One Last Arrow!” He snapped, pulling an arrow from what had been an empty quiver a second ago…
….and realized he’d dropped his bow during his berserk rampage. “Shit.”
The scouts dogpiled him, punching and kicking, and he fought, but he was already wounded and tired, so tired, burned through so much stamina in one last mad rush.
Jericho, his own student, looked at him sadly, watching on with his bow down. He had one arrow nocked, just to make sure. Mordecai fought anyway, glaring at him…
…then a rustle in the bushes, and Jericho glared to the left. Mordecai, struggling to get free of the beatings, managed to shoot a look left-
-to see Bak’Shaz looking on with horror. “Run, boy! Run!” Mordecai whispered to him through the wind, and Bak’Shaz withdrew into the underbrush.
Mordecai sagged with relief, which fled as he saw Jericho’s eyes. He saw too!
But Jericho lowered his bow, and nodded once to the old scout. Mordecai bowed his head. He’d taught the lad well, after all.
Five minutes later, bound, he was unceremoniously thrown at the King’s feet. The bare-visaged demonic helm glared down at him, crimson metal gleaming in the light of the burning house.
“You were his last companion, weren’t you? You’ve got that vital job, the one nobody else in this kingdom has. And let me guess, you’ve no intention of teaching it to me.”
Mordecai looked at him. “Yeah,” he said, “Thass right. And the secret dies wi’ me.” He had no clue why the King cared about the ranger job, but he wasn’t about to hand it over to this son of a bitch.
“No lies detected,” one of the armored troops to the King’s left said. The tyrant shook his head.
“Nothing’s ever easy. All right, bring him. We’re done here.”
Zuula struck from the storm, on spirit wings, gliding silently as an owl. She killed, then swept back into the rain-filled night. She’d borrowed owl skills, using her spell, and they came in useful when one wanted to kill quickly and quietly.
Every time she struck another soldier down, she’d call in the thorny vines she’d summoned to rip at another group of soldiesr, keep them panicked and shouting. The totem mask boosted her strength to obscene levels and let her strike down the soldiers with a quick flurry of blows, shattering armor and spilling blood to the ground.
One of the drums in the distance fell silent. “It’s a toy!” She heard one of them shout. “Just an animated toy!” Zuula grinned. The girl had done her job well. She commanded the four remaining drums in her party to pound louder, and dove down to snatch another soldier up. He cried in her arms, turning to look at her, and she jammed the pointy end of her warclub through his visor. He died, choking and she dropped him.
“Burn the trees!” She heard the officer call, and she grinned with wicked glee as she soared back past the treeline, knowing what was about to happen.
The dragon overhead beat massive wings, burst through the rain, and its rider gave a sharp command. Flames billowed forth, coating the trees, coating the hut, coating a few of the screaming soldiers who didn’t get out of the way in time.
And every firework that she’d had Jarrik tie into the treeline went off at once, sending up flares and bursting lights and smoke trails in a hissing, brilliant roar of pyrotechnics.
“Unclever fools!” Zuula boomed, as she flew up, flew up to the dragon, reeling as it threw its rider, reeling as she caught it around the neck, hung on like a monkey, and clamped her club against its windpipe. “You come to kill an orc at night?”
Zuula choked the dragon out, shooting glances back as it died, doing her best to keep an eye on things as it tumbled through the sky, trying to shake her.
It was a good time to get out of the clearing, honestly. The rain was dying down as the winds let up, and more than that, the hut was on fire. The fireworks had been one of the little traps she’d laid.
The hut itself was another, Or rather, the piles and bundles of dried herbs that lined the walls of the hut had been a trap.
By the time Zuula had killed the dragon and flown back to the clearing, billowing greenish fog filled the air. The pattering rain had dispersed it a bit, but without her Poison Resistance, Zuula couldn’t have safely gone back in.
The men who had been stuck breathing the smoke hadn’t been shamans. They didn’t have poison resistance. Zuula found them stumbling around the clearing, hacking at trees and each other, frothing through the visors, and she killed them, one by one. It was hard work and tiring work, and by the time she was done, her buffs were about half gone. So was the smoke, but that was fine, it had done its job.
The middle-aged woman sagged, leaning on her club, feeling sweat pour off her mostly-naked form. Tiring, this. Four children and a lot of days tending the hut had softened her, made her fat. But this wouldn’t be a thing, soon. Soon she could rest.
And more armored forms moving through the woods meant her job wasn’t done yet. Zuula took to the trees again, flying up, silhouetted against the burning hut-
“Dispel magic!” A woman’s voice snapped.
Zuula tumbled to the ground, shorn of her flight in the space of two words. But she pushed it aside, for she had bigger problems.
She knew that voice.
“Mastoya…” she hissed. “Traitor girl! Unclever daughter!”
“Hello mother,” A woman, clad in form-fitting white armor, enameled plates assembled into a spiky mass of metal. She wore no helm, and her face was as green as Zuula’s. But all-too-human eyes found her mother’s, seeing even through the glow of the totem mask, and Zuula felt her stomach roll.
“Stand down, mother.”
“I have the authority to take you alive. You and my brothers.”
Zuula sneered. There was only one way this night would end. “You been lied to, or you lying.”
“So that’s it, huh? You’re going to kill me like you did the rest? I knew some of them. Some of them were worth a damn, mother. They didn’t deserve you. Nobody deserves you.” Mastoya drew her sword, blade shining with blue runes, crackling with ice as she pointed it around the clearing.
Zuula hefted the club, and hesitated. She’d built things into the totem mask, yes. She’d built them in there to protect her mate. Protect her tribe. Protect her… family…
The mask’s strength faltered, and Zuula closed her eyes. So this was how it was to be.
“Orc means tribe,” she said to Mastoya, her biggest failure and strongest child. “Orc means family.”
“Well,” Mastoya said, reaching up to run her gauntleted finger along the scars her mother had given her years ago. “You’re half right.”
They fought in the rain, gentle now, too gentle to help. Between the remnants of the fire and the glowing runes of Mastoya’s armor, there was too much light for Zuula’s darkspawn skill to help her. And every time she cast a buff, her daughter would dispel it.
“Corps a Corps! You taught me how to fight you,” Mastoya hissed, as they struggled, blade to club, and the freezing glow sapped Zuula’s stamina. “I’m a cleric now, a priestess of Ritaxis. The Goddess of War!” Mastoya shoved her back, and Zuula staggered, off balance.
“And a knight, too! Pommel Strike!” Mastoya yelled, striking her mask with her heavy hilt. Wood cracked, and Zuula fell back again, trying to regain her footing. But Mastoya would not give her the space, and her blade flashed, getting past Zuula’s guard, carving through her armor and skin and chilling her blood.
Finally, Zuula had enough. “Beast Shape Five! Bear!” The shaman roared, throwing her club to the side and spreading her arms.
“Dispel Mag- shit!” Mastoya yelled, finally out of sanity. In front of her, her mother grew larger. The newly-transformed black bear lashed back at the armored knight, and Mastoya hissed as she fell backward, slipping in the mud.
“You drove me to this!” She yelled, after the third claw swipe ripped along her side, buckling the plates and cracking a rib. “Twisted Rage!” Mastoya screamed…
Zuula fought, but was no match for the raging half-orc. Her daughter’s blade clove into her again and again, and the black bear staggered, slumped to the side, and fell.
Roaring in triumph, Mastoya closed in for the kill, sword raised high, any sense of mercy gone to the fury.
And to her horror, Zuula saw a figure racing through the mud, a familiar figure running, axe out, rage shining in his own eyes. Garon, her second son, come too late, far too late and at the worst time. She had failed! Her child would die!
“Run, unclever boy! Run!” Zuula croaked.
And then all was bloody darkness.
Well, that had been a mess. Pulsivar had marked that new little bear for trouble, and fled at the first opportunity, retreating far back into the woods. Then there had been shouting, and fighting, and a whole lot of stuff he was quite sure was absolutely not anything to do with him. The rain had been unpleasant, too, while it lasted.
Those big scaly burny things in the sky had been right fucking out, though. Pulsivar drew the line at those things. He’d fled further, up into the hills, to his favorite sunning spot where he could overlook his domain and pee upon it freely. There he crouched, grooming himself sternly as a rebuke to the silly hoomins below.
It took quite a while to get done, so he took a nap. Tiring, climbing up this high. Took a lot of work. He hoped his hoomin appreciated all the trouble Pulsivar had gone through.
He woke hungry and killed a songbird on his way down, to whet his appetite until he got to his bowl of cream. He did hope his hoomin was prompt with it, sure, there had been some trouble last night but whatever. One had to have priorities, after all, and Pulsivar was sure that the old man had learned that by now.
The house wasn’t.
The house was a smoldering wreck.
Pulsivar stared at it, tail twitching.
His cream was going to be late!
The word rolled across his view, in total darkness.
Threadbare had no way of knowing that he’d been just lucky enough, that the house had collapsed in just the right way to drop him into the basement without killing him.
Cautiously, he felt around. His life was literally hanging by a thread, he knew.
Then another paw tapped his. Smaller, hesitant, it tapped him then felt up his body. He felt something smaller hug him, and he hugged it back.
Golden light flared.
You have healed Missus Fluffbear 90 points!
In the brief flash of light, he saw the little black teddy bear, now good as new, studying him. Then the light faded. Missus Fluffbear. That was a good name.
Two little black paws found him in the darkness again, and started to tug-
-and Threadbare remembered, with a flash of horror, how he’d accidentally killed the stuffed skunk when he was trying to free it.
A red one floated up and he twitched, feeling something give way inside him.
It would be a just death. An ironic death.
He was so very hurt. So very tired. For a minute he thought about giving up, and letting the little toy kill him.
But then he remembered Celia, and he found his conviction again.
The skunk had been as weak, if not weaker then him, but Threadbare had a week of life and many class levels over the juvenile toy golem. He shoved her away.
She came back and tapped him with a paw, and he hugged her.
She tried to tug him free and he shoved her away again.
It took a while to get the message across, but eventually she stopped.
After a time, light came filtering through the cracks above. They were in a hollow spot, Threadbare could see. Most of his lower half was below the remnants of the roof, with the blade hilt twisted, jutting out at an angle. Threadbare’s stuffing lay coated in ash and grime, strewn about him.
Across the hollow, Caradon’s apron poked out of the rubble, the old golem-maker’s body below, laid to rest in the ruins of his house.
Missus Fluffbear waved at him, once she saw him, and he waved back.
She wasn’t trapped, he saw.
He also saw what looked like a small tunnel, formed by the hollow of a crumpled shelf. And beyond it, daylight.He considered it for a long while, considered the strange bear.
And then, insipiration struck.
He rummaged around at his side, and found his scepter. It had come through unscathed… he’d been holding it under his arm the whole time. Threadbare took it, and scraped along the floor, digging up grime and dirt and flipping it around. Levering it under fallen trash, and prying at it until the trash moved.
Then he pointed at the shelf.
Over and over Threadbare did this, with the patience of the inanimate. And eventually, he thought she got the message.
He handed her the scepter, and she toddled over to the shelf, and started trying to work it back and forth, using the little magical rod as a pry bar, scraping away at the floor and the trash.
More words appeared.
You are now a Level 4 Ruler!
Well, that was nice. Still didn’t help him much.
No worries, though. Miss Fluffbear could take care of the way out. Now he just had to get off the hilt without dying. Somehow.
Days passed, with only the sound of the little black bear scraping away at the obstacle in front of her. The embers above finally went out, and it grew cold, cold in the basement…
…and one of Threadbare’s hitherto unused skills kicked in.
Animalistic impulses surged, as his body saw that it was damaged, and he was in a good place.
And so, Threadbare hibernated for the first time ever.
He woke much later, to the continued sound of Missus Fluffbear’s scraping, and two messages flickering up past his view.
You have healed yourself up to ERROR
You cannot heal to full, due to foreign objects in your wounds.
Your Hibernate Skill is now level 2!
Your Dietary Restriction skill is now level 2!
Due to keeping a flawless diet, all attribute pool maximums are increased by 4!
The light was different now, outside. The black bear had dug a pretty good hole, he saw, but nowhere near what they needed to get through the tiny space.
However, his wounds were indeed healed… up to a point.
More hit points meant more room to try to get free, didn’t it?
Threadbare twisted and tugged, and worked more of his stuffing around the hilt, slowly getting free, one rip at a time. But he only made it another inch or so.
Missus Fluffbear dropped what she was doing and came over to try to help, and again he had to convince her not to. It was harder to shove her away this time.
He realized that scraping and digging had been increasing her strength, most likely. Though… just how long had she been at it, to get this strong?
Eventually he damaged himself to the point where he couldn’t pull free any further.
At which point his body took another look around, realized that he was still hurt and still in a cool, dark place underground, and it knew just what to do.
Threadbare lost count of how many times he blacked out and regained consciousness, but the time came when he awoke to a racket. He looked around, saw that the basement was empty.
The hole under the shelf, however, was big enough for a teddy bear to fit through.
Threadbare angled, just managed to get a view-
-and stared right into Missus Fluffbear’s face as she crawled back up the hole, toward him. She stretched out her arms, offering him the scepter, trying to plead, he didn’t quite know.
And in the next second she was yanked backward, and at the very end of the hole, Threadbare got a glimpse of a black furry hand. And a wooden mask with the word ‘BUNY’ scratched on it.
It took several more times and even a couple of bear levels to work more of himself free, hibernate, and repeat the process. Finally he got clear of the now-rusted sword hilt. It left brown stains on him as he went, and he searched around the basement until he found what he was looking for. Caradon’s apron…
…and the tailoring tools inside it.
Once he was patched up he crawled through the tunnel, pausing at the exit. Nothing. Birds singing. Tree branches rattling in the wind.
Gathering his courage, Threadbare pushed through and out, grimy and battered, smeared with rust, smeared with grime.
The house was ruined, and creeping vines grew over it now. Birds called, and not a single soul was in sight.
Threadbare patched himself up, raising his tailor skill, leveling as he went. Plenty of cloth to work with, though at one point he went in and snipped off the parts of the apron he could reach, getting as much material as possible.
And then the little bear sat and considered.
He had to save Celia. He had no idea how much time had passed, or where she was.
He should probably save Missus Fluffbear, or find her at least. Maybe she didn’t need saving? He didn’t know. But she was young, he knew, and he remembered how hard, how very very hard it had been when he was young. So he would find her and help her.
He would save his little girl, and everyone else he could. For them, he would never stop trying.
But none of this would be possible unless he did something first. Something very important.
Threadbare toddled down the path, walking faster as he went, past the overgrown remnants of a raggedy man, past the neat row of graves dug on the hill, unmarked with stones only saying “they fell in the line of duty,” and he kept on walking until he reached the river. There he stared into his reflection.
It took him a long time, more tailoring levels, and an unlocked tailoring skill to figure out how to do it. The sun was at the other end of the sky by the time he was done, but finally he had a small hollow in the right place in his head, and some twisty, waxed threads right where the air could push through them, when his stuffing muscles drew it just right.
For too long he’d been silent and dumb. Well he wasn’t dumb now, and he knew just what to do.
Threadbare took his first breath.
“Status,” the little bear said, in a quiet little soft voice that was completely lost in the burbling of the rushing river.
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