Raccants had a number of advantages over their basic species. Raccoons were mostly nocturnal, and avoided doing anything in the day if they could help it. But Raccants were a bit more flexible, and had more energy on the whole, thanks to a good endurance bump from their upgraded job. They could operate in the day or night or both, so long as they got some sleep at SOME point.
Which was a good thing, as the presence of the creature they knew as the Black Death mostly came out at night. Mostly. Over the last year, as it had started preying upon them, the fuzzy ring-tailed garbage hoarders had been forced to make a somewhat-fortified camp outside of their lair. To any passing human it would have looked like a teeny, half-hearted, randomly-built fence around a few kids tents. To the raccants it was their castle, their bastion to defend to the last, a masterpiece and triumph of engineering that would make any humans who saw it fall in love with it and adopt them all out of respect for their ingenuity!
Not that there were many humans around. At all. Which sucked, and made for some hard winters. And a lot less interesting trash. They’d been forced to forage further and further afield because of that, with mixed results.
But the simple truth of the matter was that between the fortifications, the fires, and the noisy patrols they sent out at night to walk around the perimeter, the Black Death had only picked off a few of them over the winter. So it was working, and they were proud of it.
Which was why it was a bit of a shock when a small brown teddy bear fell from an overhanging tree branch, straight into the middle of camp, into the smoldering coals of the campfire. Hurridly he got up and patted the embers away from him.
It was a good thing he had an apron. The sturdy little garment kept coals from his soft belly, otherwise he might have caught on fire right then and there.
A few of the raccants appreciated the craftsmanship, even as they reached for weapons.
Your Work It Baby skill is now level 3!
Threadbare tried a smile. He had been trying to get to the pole of the nearest tent to slide down it, but the end result was the same. He wanted to try talking to the funny creatures, first. They were only about two or three times his size, and perhaps he could sort out things without a misunderstanding.
“Hello,” he said, in his soft, quiet voice. With a cavity about the size of a grape to work with, it was barely audible, even to the relatively good hearing of the raccants. “I’m looking for Missus Fluffbear. She’s like me but black, and this big.” He put his hand at about his waist. Or where his waist would be if he had one.
This was kind of exciting, he’d never been able to talk things out before! The Raccants gathered around him, poking at him curiously with clubs. He pushed one away before it could rap him on the ear. “Please can you give her back?”
The largest of the raccants, one with a pair of stars made out of wet and dirty wood on his shoulders, tied there by uneven strings, swaggered up to him and chattered something that Threadbare completely failed to understand.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak that.”
The Raccant leaned over, grabbed his apron, and examined it. His wooden mask, which looked like a fat-cheeked blunt-nosed fuzzy thing, read “HMSTR,” and it was very close to Threadbare’s face.
“Yes, that is my apron.”
The raccant plucked the scissors out of their sheath, and started picking out the other tools and items, handing them back to his subordinates. Threadbare, with a strength that surprised the big raccant, yanked his apron back and smoothed it.
“No,” the little bear said.
Instantly the raccants closed ranks, pointing with sharp sticks and brandishing clubs. Threadbare shook his head.
Well, he’d tried.
The big raccant brought his club bashing down on the tiny bear-
-and blinked behind his mask as a crimson ’1’ rolled up from Threadbare’s noggin.
Threadbare hauled back and punched him in the mask, sending him staggering back, as a red ‘18’ rose into the air.
Your Brawling skill is now level 21!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 2!
And then the rest of the Raccants, thoroughly spooked by the little creature, and aggravated at the intrusion, piled in on the teddy bear.
They might as well have been attacking a wall. Threadbare had flexed before he went up the tree, and between the buff and his thickened hide and stuffing, their clubs and spears did little. Still, there were many of them, and they could each take several hits, so his own counterattacks weren’t thinning the numbers by much. And every now and then, one of them would get lucky and crit, and sneak anywhere from five or fifteen points of damage through.
Finally Threadbare accepted that he was going to have to play for keeps… especially when he saw a black from materialize out of nowhere, leaping over the fence and moving up to the back of the group fighting Threadbare. These Raccants were dead, he knew. Might as well get some practice in before they went down.
And the next time he got a chance to fight back, he went for a swipe instead of a punch.
The raccant fell back, staring at its slashed arm, and the ‘26’ oozing out of it. The bear had claws!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 17!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 3!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 4!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 5!
Your Brawling skill is now level 22!
The claw swipes helped, but it was still a slog. But as Threadbare watched, Pulsivar went to work. He took down three of them one by one, swift, silent pounces that ended in blood and corpses. Finally, the remaining raccants noticed, and the second they did, they panicked!
The Black Death was upon them!
This was far too much. Raccants didn’t have much in the way of moxie to begin with, and caught between a bear and a dark face, they broke like twigs and ran in all directions, scrambling over, around, or in some cases THROUGH their shoddily-prepared fence.
Threadbare nodded. Pulsivar, however, wasn’t done. He started to bound off after one fleeing varmint, paused as another one stumbled, and fell behind-
“No,” said Threadbare, walking up to him and putting his paws on the big black bobcat’s chest.
Pulsivar paused, eyes narrowed, then sat down nonchalantly, and gave his fur a few good licks. Proper grooming was important before a meal. And during a meal. And sometimes after.
Threadbare smiled in relief, and petted Pulsivar. And smiled even wider, when his experience from the fight and comforting his friend rolled a long-awaiting pair of jobs into their next level.
You are now a level 10 Toy Golem!
All Attributes +2!
You have learned the Bodyguard skill!
Your Bodyguard skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 3 Model!
Checking Dietary Restrictions time counter…
Your Dietary Restrictions skill is now level 15!
Buff adjusted accordingly!
Threadbare watched them flash by, then breathed a sigh of relief. As interesting and invigorating as all that had been, he couldn’t pause now. He was in unknown territory, and the best scout he’d ever met had taught him that you don’t waste time in unknown territory. He needed to repair, regroup, and renew his search for his missing friend. “Mend,” he whispered.
You have mended Threadbare!
You have been healed for 5 points!
Your Mend skill is now level 2!
Wow, that was pretty pathetic. He tried it a few more times, skilling up to level 5 and getting an int boost before he was fully repaired. He’d caught a few of crits back there. Small crits, but crits nonetheless. At least the amount he mended himself by varied, it even broke double digits a few times.
And at the end of his healing, he got another notice;
You are now a level 2 animator!
He shook his head. Why was he leveling so much? Compared to the things he’d been through, that had barely been trouble.
But then he stopped and thought about it. There had been a good dozen raccants in the camp, and they’d all jumped him at once, fighting well together despite their relative weakness. He hadn’t dropped any of them, really, Pulsivar had done most of the work toward the end of the fight. Yeah, if that had gone on a few more minutes they would have battered him down, or put him in a bad spot. He had some stuff that he could try if things got desperate, but… well, he had no idea how most of it would work.
As far as leveling up went, he thought that what was happening was that he was getting experience in the jobs that he used to get through each particular fight or tough spot. Golem, now, that was understandable. It had been a long time since he leveled golem, and since he’d done that he’d been hurt the worst he’d ever been, and only survived years by dint of being what he was. Model? Well, his apron had made a positive first impression and he’d been talking a lot at them. So social skills. And he had flex and self-esteem going, though it was hard to tell if those counted as well. Duelist had probably gotten a little bit. And bear, though that hadn’t leveled. Animator made sense because he was doing some actual healing with actual consequences using an animator skill, mend. And it was low level so a few spells and the animating practice he’d done to date were enough to bring the overall job to level two.
And here he was woolgathering again! In an unsafe location. He turned to Pulsivar, ready to get him rolling-
-only to find the cat messily devouring the choice bits of one of the raccant corpses.
Oh. Well, uh, they’d be here a little while then.
So instead he gathered up the trampled and muddy supplies that the raccants had taken from him, used Clean and Press on them, (skilling up twice,) and put them back in his pockets. The scissors were last, and they didn’t need cleaning, thankfully.
Then he paused and looked around.
The raccants that had ran into the woods were long gone. Whether they’d be back or not, he couldn’t say. But the mine entrance loomed, and that was where they’d have Missus Fluffbear, if indeed they had her at all.
He was pretty good at taking hits, but unless Pulsivar’s new form had gotten a lot sturdier, then the big cat wasn’t. And in that mine, in tight quarters, the big cat would have a harder time using his mobility and sneakiness.
“Party Screen,” Threadbare whispered again, checking out the cat’s HP. Still 145. Pulsivar was level 21, and he had only a little better than half Threadbare’s hit points. Given how nasty things could get, the little bear didn’t want to risk his friend’s death.
They needed something to stack the odds.
Well, he was a necromancer, wasn’t he? And there were corpses a plenty around, with probably some spirits he’d just made? That was how it worked, right?
So Threadbare reached out and poked one of the dead raccants. “Zombies,” the little bear whispered.
Your Zombies skill is now level 2!
The coprse got up, groaning-
-and died as Pulsivar pounced it, ripping it open.
“Um,” Threadbare said. “No, it is okay, see? Zombies.”
Your Zombies skill is now level 3!
Another corpse risen, and another corpse put down as the cat bit it and shook until things snapped.
Okay. That wouldn’t work. Pulsivar didn’t understand the whole undead thing. Come to think of it, neither did Threadbare, not completely. Maybe he’d practice it later, when the cat was out hunting or something. Though Pulsivar showed no inclination to leave Threadbare’s side, not since the morning. Finally the bear had just invited him to his party, and to his surprise, had instantly been joined. He wasn’t sure how, since he was pretty sure the big cat couldn’t read.
(He had no way of knowing that Pulsivar had found the secret to make the annoying words go away years ago, just like Threadbare had.)
The cat, proud of itself for taking care of the renewed threat, which had obviously just been a couple of the stupid prey playing dead, groomed himself of blood and guts from his meal.
Stuck, Threadbare looked around the campsite. Fortunately, he found something suitable in short order. The head Raccant in charge of the camp had his own throne in one of the tents. In actuality it was a salvaged high chair, for babies to eat from.
But it had legs, and it was wood, and by golly it would do.
“Animus,” Threadbare breathed as he touched it. “Invite Chair.”
Your Animus skill is now level 6!
Your Creator’s Guardians skill is now level 6!
Oddly enough, the tug from the casting was a little more draining than usual. Threadbare checked his status screen, and sure enough, he was down fifteen points instead of ten. Maybe because the high chair was big, bigger than him and made of wood?
Then, on his status screen, he saw his new bodyguard skill, and opened up its help prompt.
Level: 10 Cost: 25 Sta Duration: 1 minute per toy golem level
Name a target party member when activating this skill. For the duration, you have a chance of intercepting each attack aimed at them, so long as you remain within two yards of them. Multiple attackers or overwhelming amounts of strikes may reduce the effectiveness of this defence.
Feeling a lot better, Threadbare marched out of the tent. The chair followed, creaking and rocking as its legs stumped along. He was a little worried as they approached Pulsivar and the cat glanced up…
…then went back to grooming. He’d been an animator’s pet, after all, and would have been a familiar if Caradon hadn’t abandoned the wizard path years ago. Chairs could move, so what? That was just a thing that happened.
“Bodyguard Pulsivar,” Threadbare said, and toddled toward the cave, his high chair following behind.
Your Bodyguard skill is now level 2!
After a few minutes, Pulsivar followed. That little bear was being stupid again. Looks like it was up to the only adult around here to take charge of things.
Five steps into the mine, The darkness rose around them. Threadbare moved on cautiously, ready to cast a spell-
-and everything shifted.
Abruptly they were in a curving stone cave well lit with candles, and stolen lanterns, and music played from somewhere down the bend. Odd and thumping, it bore no resemblance to anything Threadbare had ever heard before. But then, he barely knew of music. Just a few songs that Celia would sing now and again… but thinking of that made his chest hurt, and he pushed it away because he had bigger concerns.
“We’re in a dungeon,” he told Pulsivar.
Pulsivar’s eyes flicked back and forth, as his tail lashed. Everything had suddenly changed, and he didn’t like that much. He liked the music even less, and a low growl rumbled out of his throat. Not a sanity-damaging one, thankfully.
“I know,” Threadbare tried to tell him, but his little voice was lost in the music.
Okay, that was a problem. He’d experiment later, and try to fix that. But for now? Finding his lost companion. So he set off again, and grudgingly, Pulsivar followed.
They came to the first cross corridor. Threadbare turned the corner-
-and was promptly jumped by a jumbled mass of junk and garbage.
The thing smacked him with a tendril made of rope and old tools, clocking him for ‘5’ and knocking him against the wall. Surprised, he lashed back-
-and then Pulsivar leaped on it.
It was made of pretty sturdy stuff, and still had some fight in it after that, but Threadbare helped tear it to bits while the baby chair slowly kicked it, sending up ‘1’s and ‘2’s with its piddly attacks.
The little bear thought that maybe there was something hiding under the junk, but no, nothing was under there. The mob of trash had moved on its own and just slunk up and whacked him a good one.
Threadbare did find a few coins. A bunch of brown grungy ones and a couple of silvers. Garon had used those, Threadbare remembered. Maybe he could give them to Garon if he ever found the half-orc again? He tucked them into his apron pockets.
Two more trash mobs, a handful of coins, and a surprised raccant guard later, the tunnels opened up, and Threadbare gazed upon a large cave, with multiple seats and benches made from stalagmites, free-standing and in rows. Ropes and chains of lanterns hung from the ceiling, flashing with odd colors, and at least three dozen raccants sat on them or jumped up and down, dancing to the beat.
Garbage piled high around the cavern shook to the beat, piles of trash and even cans of the stuff shaking as it thumped on. Occasionally a can would boil over, and a new trash mob would rattle out, then head toward one of the corridors leading out of the cavern.
And up on stage, was a Raccant wearing a pair of baggy black pants, a gold chain, and some odd contraption over his eyes that Threadbare had never seen before. Though for once that wasn’t due to his ignorance. After all, very few people in Cylvania would have recognized a pair of sunglasses.
That Raccant was dancing his heart out up there, jerking spasmodically…
…up until the point he stopped, and the music stopped with him.
And strange figure pointed at Threadbare.
As one, the audience turned to behold the tiny teddy, and as one they rose, irate that their song had been disrupted. Wooden masks in the shape of every domestic animal glared at Threadbare, who looked to Pulsivar for reassurance-
-and found the cat gone.
The trash mobs, at least, left him alone. The Raccant mob didn’t.
At first, it wasn’t so bad. His buffed armor was good enough to reduce most of the damage to minimal amounts, and the high chair, though not as sturdy, rocked back and forth and gave as good as it got. But just as Threadbare thought he was getting ahead, the figure up on stage started dancing again, and the music jumped with him.
It was a heartening song, a song that fired the blood and strengthened the arm…
…and it wasn’t helping Threadbare one bit.
His enemies, on the other hand, drew strength from it! Their attacks turned from ‘0’s and ‘1’s to ‘3’s and ‘4’s, and to his horror, the little bear saw his high chair minion take a solid hit and collapse.
But maybe it was still salvageable? He lunged for it, opening his mouth to cast as he did. “Animus-“
-and his hand collided with a raccant’s mask.
Your Animus skill is now level 7!
The mask shivered and twisted, sliding so the eyeholes moved away from its wearers eyes, and the raccant backed off, clawing at it frantically. He stumbled back into two more of the mob, who left off attacking and shoved him away, trying to stay out of reach as he panicked and lashed out.
Well, why not?
Three more points of the animus skill, a point of dexterity, and six more castings later, he was down a fair amount of sanity, but half the mob was in disarray, and the other half was trying to stop them from trampling each other.
And finally Pulsivar made an entrance, slinking in from the side and starting to pick off the stragglers. One by one they fell, and Threadbare smiled as he popped his own claws. He’d found a weakness, now to capitalize on it!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 18!
Finally it was done, and they stood among the piles of dead concertgoers. Not one had fled, but this was a dungeon, so Threadbare didn’t find it odd. Monsters worked this way, in dungeons.
The figure on stage was not happy, not in the slightest. The angry raccant chattered, and the music switched again, a high set of pipes joining a beat that started and stopped, started and stopped.
Threadbare didn’t like it one bit. He darted over to Pulsivar. “Bodyguard!”
Your Bodyguard skill is now level 3!
Then he remembered his own plight, and the torn bits that were even now leaking stuffing. Not much, but enough to crimp his style. “Mend! Mend! Mend!”
He ignored the skill up messages from it, and ran to the high chair, slapping it with one paw. “Mend! Animus!”
But no sooner had it risen again, then everything stopped.
Then in a flash, the raccant was there, bashing the high chair to bits with a heavy hammer that he’d pulled out of literally nowhere.
He’d stopped because it was hammertime, and broken it down, just like that.
Threadbare popped claws and laid into him- or tried to, anyway. The bard could dodge like nobody’s business, thanks to his Raccant Touch This skill.
And for the first time in this fight, Threadbare started to worry.
Your Toughness skill is now level 13!
That hammer hit hard. Pulsivar came arrowing in on the side, got in a good swipe, but the bard was made of sturdier stuff, and he returned the favor-
-as Threadbare suddenly found himself pulled a few feet over, just in time to take the hammer hit instead of Pulsivar.
Your Bodyguard skill is now level 4!
Your Toughness skill is now level 14!
The fight went on for a bit, and Threadbare switched from trying to shred the guy to just trying to survive, letting Pulsivar do the real work. Fortunately that was a good strategy, and in the end, after three dodge skill and two more bodyguard skill ups later, the raccant fell, glasses shattering, and Threadbare sagged into Pulsivar, hugging his wounds away with what remained of his sanity.
You have healed Pulsivar for 80 points!
Your Innocent Embrace skill is now level 9!
He was gambling here…
…a gamble that paid off, as the words appeared again, and he felt his reserves refill.
You are now a level 9 Bear!
+3 Mental Fortitude
You are now a level 3 Animator!
Digging through the remnants of the raccant, he found that somehow the creature’s hammer had disappeared, but the gold chain and the baggy pants remained. The black pants almost sparkled, some kind of glitter worked into the material. They were too big for him-
-but he had a trick for that, now didn’t he?
Your Adjust Outfit skill is now level 2!
He took a sniff of them.
Your Scents and Sensibility skill is now level 15!
“Clean and Press!”
Your Clean and Press skill is now level 4!
They fit nicely, adjusted by magic to teddy bear size. Oddly enough, they only had one pocket in them, and it was really deep. Bigger on the inside than it should be, judging from the outside. But when he tried to put some of his coins in there, the pocket sealed up. It unsealed when he moved his paw away. Weird, he’d mess with that later.
Draping the gold chain around his neck, he picked the largest tunnel that didn’t look like it went back the way they’d come, threw another couple of mends on himself, and stomped forward. Pulsivar followed, relieved that the noisy music was now gone.
Six more trash mobs, and a small group of raccants later, Threadbare’s nose twitched at a T-junction in the cave. He took a snuff… and smelled Sandalwood.
Missus Fluffbear! He hurried to the right, completely ignoring the sign on the wall.
BEWAR THE BEARSERKER
In his haste, he completely missed the tripwire. His little legs hit it, and his disproportionate strength snapped it like thread.
The floor under him fell away as the trapdoor opened, and the bear plummeted.
Pulsivar, just as surprised as Threadbare, stared, then readied to jump… and gave a frustrated howl, as the trapdoor slammed shut in the big cat’s face.
Smooth, greased rock slid by under Threadbare’s pants, which flapped in the wind of his passing. He flailed for a grip, found nothing, and spilled to the ground as the slide leveled out and opened up into a wide space.
More stalagmite benches surrounded the edges of the cavern, with chicken wire between the cheering raccants occupying them and the pit below. The pit Threadbare was now lying in. He stood up, brushing himself up, and looking around. The slide behind him quickly sealed as soon as he looked at it, a stone door slamming shut as its counterweight tripped. He walked over and poked it desperately, fearing for Pulsivar.
Your Adorable skill is now level 16!
Your Work it Baby skill is now level 4!
Then a ratcheting metal noise came from behind, and Threadbare turned, slowly. The scent of Sandalwood filled his nose, and for a minute his heart leaped…
…until he saw what was emerging from the darkness under the rising portcullis.
Four times his size, with fur of pitch black, and bright-red button eyes, the plush toy was a walking behemoth. It bore a full-sized lumberjack’s axe in both paws, and the weight of it strained the teddy bear’s seams, revealing wisps of stuffing spilling out from stretched thread.
And worst of all, he recognized it.
“Fiyt! Fiyt! Fiyt!” Chanted the Raccants above, and the giant-sized Missus Fluffbear roared, headbutted the wall next to her three or four times, sending up red ‘20s’, and turned to glare at him.
And all Threadbare could do was stare, aghast. "Oh no. What did they do to you!"
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