In a deep stone pit, ten times his size, with chicken wire lining the top and a cheering raccant audience calling for blood, a little teddy bear looked upon the twisted form of the one he’d come to save, and despaired.
For about a second. There was murder in his enraged comrade’s button eyes, and he needed to do something about that. “Command Golem! Stop and stand down.”
It was the first time he’d ever used that skill, but he was pretty sure the words that followed made no sense at all.
Invalid target!
What? Why?
Then she was charging, and her axe caught him in a sideswing, knocking him off the rounded side of the pit, to tumble several yards away in the arena. He shook his head as a red ‘21’ rolled up from his wound. Suddenly all that time leveling flex seemed time well spent.
“Command Golem! Missus Fluffbear stop!”
Invalid target!
Okay, no, something was going on here. But the enraged black teddy bear was charging for him again. Threadbare dove to the side…. But got clipped anyway, as she kicked him this time with claws roughly about four times the size of his own.
12 hit points later, Threadbare stood back up again. He needed time to think this over and she wasn’t going to give it to him. But fortunately he was much, much stronger for his size, and much, much more nimble than he had any right to be. Not gymnast class, not anywhere near that yet, but far more than most. He ran and jumped, catching the bottom of the chicken wire lining and boosted himself up, out of her reach.
Your Climb skill is now level 13!
Instantly the crowd started booing him, and throwing nuts, bits of moldy bread, and the other snacks they’d been eating. Threadbare ignored them and looked down at the growling, murder creature swiping the air underneath him with heavy, sweeping strokes. She didn’t look like she was in a mood to talk, so that was out. Was there another way to sort this out?
He had a lot of stuff to apply, here, but did he have anything useful?
Why yes, yes he did. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt anything.
“Eye for Detail.”
Your Eye for Detail skill is now level 2!
And as her status opened up, he twitched in surprise.
He hadn’t been able to check her, not while they spent all that time in that darkened basement, but he was pretty sure that what he was seeing didn’t match what she should have. According to this, her name was “The Bearserker,” her race was Construct, and her job was Optional Midboss. She was a fifth level midboss. No toy golem or bear jobs to be seen, and that just wasn’t right.
Aside from that, her stats were surprisingly anemic. Everything was in strength and hit points. She hit hard, for her level, and had an okay Axes and Choppas skill, but her defenses were shabby. Not much sanity. Not much moxie or fortune. Decent endurance and about four hundred hit points, but this didn’t line up with what he knew of her at all.
Fuzzy hands poked at his paws, and he turned to see the nearest group of raccants pushing at him through the chicken wire, trying to shove him back into the pit. They wanted to see stuffing, dammit!
Threadbare tried to climb away from him, but there were a lot of onlookers, and one of his paws was forced free. Only a matter of time for the other, he knew.
But that was fine. A great weight had been lifted from him. This wasn’t Missus Fluffbear, couldn’t be her. It just looked like her, somehow. He didn’t know what was going on here, but he did know this;
He was free to beat the stuffing out of this misshapen mockery of his friend with impunity.
And he had a hitherto unused toolset to use to do so that was just ducky for the occasion.
“Guard Stance! Challenge Bearserker!”
Your Guard Stance Skill is now level 2!
Your Challenge Skill is now level 2!
Instantly the strength drained from his limbs and his paws felt clumsy-
-but that was fine, because he felt… faster, for a lack of a better word.
The raccants easily pushed him free from his last pawhold, and he twisted in midair, dodged the oncoming swipe, and landed on the handle of the axe, arms up in a boxing stance.
AGL +1
Well, why not try everything he could? “Fancy Flourish!” The little bear’s arms darted out in a spray of quick jabs, as the bear huffed and puffed, shifting his legs back and forth on the axe handle like a little boxer.
Your Adorable Skill is now level 17!
Your Work it Baby skill is now level 5!
The Bearserker has resisted your Fancy Flourish!
She twisted the axe in her hands, and he dropped down, managing to roll and just barely dodge it as she struck down at him.
Your Dodge skill is now level 6!
Then it was up again, dancing toward her legs, paws up, jabbing at her with claw swipes as she turned, trying to cleave him. He was only doing about ten damage a hit, but she was having a lot of trouble connecting. The few hits he took did about double his, but he was wearing her down. And as he fought, he threw in Fancy Flourishes, managing to land a couple through her willpower, despite his inexperience with the skill.
Your Fancy Flourish skill is now level 2!
A green ‘6’ drifted up from her head. Moxie damage.
Your Fancy Flourish skill is now level 3!
Another green ‘6’
But he dropped it once he started feeling tired. He was still using claw swipes after all, and that was more important in the long haul. He didn’t have a chance of zeroing out her moxie, and he wasn’t sure what that would do anyway. So instead he settled for trying to pound the stuffing out of her.
Your Brawling skill is now level 23!
Critical Hit!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 19!
DEX +1
Critical Hit!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 20!
AGI +1
Critical Hit!
Your Brawling skill is now level 24!
But as time went on, he noticed something. She was getting torn up, yes…
…but her strikes were hitting harder.
Your Toughness skill is now level 15!
+2 Max HP
When they connected, they tore him up something fierce. He watched a red ‘40’ roll by with alarm. He was down maybe half, he didn’t have time to stop and check. All it would take was one lucky crit on her part, and bad things would surely happen.
Come to think of it, she’d had a skill called “Power from Pain,” hadn’t she? If this was it, it was troublesome. She couldn’t have much left, hit-point wise, but…
He ran, getting some distance, and the crowd booed again. Was there a way to turn off guard stance? He concentrated, still running with a bear behind, and felt it click off. Instantly he slowed a bit, and the axe almost swept through his head.
Your Dodge skill is now level 7!
But before she could try a backswing, he leaped, and caught the chicken wire again. Instantly the raccants surged toward him, but that was fine. He had what he needed; a breather.
“Mend! Mend! Mend! Mend! Mend!” He shouted, over and over again as they pushed and shoved at him. He maxed the skill when it hit 15 and kept going. After about the ninth casting they managed to knock him loose, and the Bearserker’s axe narrowly missed him with an upswing. Without time to think, without time to re-establish guard stance he hit the ground, grabbed her leg, and tore great swipes of it free.
And this time, without guard stance gimping his damage, he managed to tear right through her plush paw. She crumpled, falling to one knee, and he grabbed her shoulder, hauled himself up, and tore through her plush head. Red stuffing spilled out, and the overmuscled Bearserker fell. The crowd went wild, and Threadbare clambered down, shaking. He was tired, so tired, but there was no way that hadn’t-
You are now a level 2 Duelist!
+3 AGL
+3 DEX
+3 STR
Ah, there it was. His pools refilled.
Then a hissing noise filled his ears, just audible under the roaring crowd. He looked down to see yellow dust pouring out of the Bearserker’s skull. He’d seen that dust before, long ago… it was the same dust that his creator had almost turned him into, when he was first awakened.
His creator had taken great care to bottle it. Threadbare didn’t have bottles, but he had apron pockets. He started scooping it up and pouring it into his pockets… but found that after he’d gotten about half of it in a pocket, the other half wouldn’t fit. Curiously, he experimented, and found he could put the remaining dust in another pocket. He just couldn’t mix the two of them. There was a point where they wouldn’t fill up beyond.
Threadbare looked up, only to watch the Bearserker’s corpse disappear in front of his eyes. Gone, just like that. What the heck?
A creak interrupted his reverie, and he looked up to see the portcullis shuddering downward as it started to close. No other way out of this pit! He ran for it, managed to just get under it before it shut.
The corridor beyond was dark, with lighted doorways off to the side, each blocked off by a portcullis, and a chest at the end of a stone door. And there, fading into view not ten feet from him, wisping into existence from nothingness, was another Bearserker.
Thoroughly freaked out and not wanting to fight a murderous midboss in the tight confines of a tunnel, he ran past her. The stone door opened as he approached, but he slowed, tempted by the treasure chest.
Then the Bearserker roared, and Threadbare saw a green ‘12’ lift out and float up above him. Yeah, no, the treasure chest wasn’t worth it. He darted through the stone door and it ground shut behind him, cutting off the sound of the Bearserker’s lumbering approach.
Whew! Threadbare looked around him, at the tunnels lit by an obscene amount of stolen lanterns. Back to the old familiar corridors, it looked like.
The little teddy bear Flexed, and Self-esteemed himself again, watching those buffs skill up, and refocused his mind on the task ahead. He’d been separated from Pulsivar back there. He had no doubt the big cat could take care of himself, and a quick check of the party screen showed him still there, still in relatively good health.
Then the cat’s HP went up as he watched, and Threadbare chuckled, the tiny sound breaking the silence of the cave. Pulsivar was grooming himself, had to be. “Good kitty,” Threadbare whispered, and toddled off to find him. He activated Scents and Sensibility along the way, hoping to catch the big cat’s scent, and make his task easier.
He did find Pulsivar’s scent… at about the same time the first Trash Mob found him.
One minute later, the trash mob was in ruins, Threadbare was a few coins richer, and down a few hit points. He mended himself, resumed the hunt, following the scent trail-
-and got jumped by another Trash Mob.
Midway through, he got smart. What exactly was animated trash?
“Eye for Detail.”
Your Eye for Detail skill is now level 3!
Yep, they were animi. Also a slime, which was weird, but whatever. He was new to this whole animator thing, that was his excuse.
Well, he’d wanted to come in here with minions, hadn’t he?
Five Trash Mob encounters and five skill ups to Command Animus and Creator’s Guardians later, Threadbare was feeling a bit lightheaded but he had a full party. True, they were literally garbage, but they were his garbage, and they could take hits like no one’s business. Well, not compared to him, but they were good for their level, anyway.
Having a bunch of Trash Mobs in his thrall let Threadbare pick up speed. He got jumped a few times more, but his garbage goons swiftly made junk of the offending Trash Mobs. And it turned out, that grinding through trash mobs using animi was enough for another animator level.
You are now a level 4 Animator!
+3 DEX
+3 INT
That was a welcome refresh. Binding all those trash mobs had cost him a bit over a quarter of his sanity, mending had taken more, and the fights had drained stamina a bit. All back in a heartbeat, thanks to a timely level.
And after a time, the mounting weight of the coins salvaged from dead Trash Mobs stretched his apron tight around him, and started working on another skill as well.
Your Sturdy Back skill is now level 6!
Threadbare followed the scent deeper into the tunnels. He knew he was close behind, when he found shredded remnants of other trash mobs along the way. “Party Screen,” he said with relief…
…and gasped when he saw that Pulsivar was down to half of his hit points. “No!” He ran forward, following the trail as fast as he could, trying to move at top speed without losing it. But it was hard, and to his horror, Pulsivar’s hit points kept dropping, five or six at a time…
…until they stabilized at about thirty. Threadbare didn’t let up, until he came to a red lacquered door, standing slightly ajar. Gold-painted letters on it announced to the world;
Threadbare burst through the door, trash mobs following, clanking and tumbling…
…to find a room filled with paper screens, currently shredded. The floor was full of torn up mats, and odd looking weapons made from junk hung on the walls. Pulsivar was nowhere in sight, but lying against one wall, gutted with stuffing bursting out of her shredded hide, was Missus Fluffbear.
No, this wasn’t her. This version of her had white fur mingled in with her regular black color. Also she was two feet tall, nowhere near the six inches she started with. About half the size of the Bearserker.
Just to be safe, though….
“Eye for Detail”
Your Eye for Detail skill is now level 4!
No, this one was something called a “Trash Panda.” Another midboss, by the looks of it. Another construct. Huh, wait, she had the Fancy Flourish skill as well…
That’s about the point that an ungodly racket sprang up behind him, and Threadbare whirled to find a big black bobcat ripping one of his bound Trash Mobs to bits.
“Wait! No!” He ran and hugged Pulsivar, and the cat startled, surprised. Golden light flared.
You have healed Pulsivar 90 points!
Your Innocent Embrace skill is now level 10!
Your Fascination skill is now level 3!
The Bobcat abruptly stopped attacking the mob. When the mob went after Pulisvar, Threadbare called it off. Then the big cat was purring, and licking his face.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Threadbare patted him until he backed off. If he was right about what had happened last time, then Midboss corpses didn’t last forever. They had to loot it and hurry away. Threadbare salvaged a yellow cloth belt from the fake Fluffbear’s corpse, wound it around his waist, and hurried on through the only other door out of the place, with Pulsivar and his Trash Mobs at his heels.
After the door shut behind them, Threadbare checked his status screen. Nice! The belt boosted his agility and dexterity, and gave a bonus to his Fancy Flourish skill. While he was there he checked his new pants, and found them good as well. They’d be handy for storing his scepter if he ever got ahold of it again.
Missus Fluffbear had been holding it when the raccants dragged her off. Maybe it was still in here?
The corridors they ventured into were different from the rest. As they went down them, the trash mobs disappeared, replaced by the occasional wandering raccant carrying thin paper boxes full of strange-smelling stuff that crunched underheel after Threadbare and his party fought and slew the wandering monsters. He lost the Trash Mob that Pulisvar had wounded, but scarcely noticed as the scenery changed.
The corridors now had brightly-colored flashing lanterns strung along them, and occasionally they passed a rolling red-and-white striped ball, or a bit of cloth arranged to look like the outside of a tent, strung up along the stone tunnel. A strange music started to play in the distance, cheerful and upbeat and bouncy.
It was all more than a little surreal, and Threadbare was glad when they emerged out into a huge cavern, as brightly-lit as day. All around them, to his horror, were stands full of Raccants, stone steps laid out like bleachers. But on the upside, at least some of them thought his pants looked cool.
Your Work It Baby skill is now level 6!
Directly ahead were three rings, each the size of Caradon’s property.
One ring held an arrangement of scrap wood hammered together with poles and ropes in it. A raccant was balancing on a wire stretched between the two highest poles, twirling a parasol and resplendent in a tutu.
Another ring had a small wooden wagon with a bulging cloth cover over it, zooming around. On closer inspection, raccant feet were visible just under the wagon, trampling along and driving it in circles.
A third ring held an oversized raccant in a mask that said “LYIN”. He had a mane made out of straw, and wore big brown pajamas. Currently he was sticking the head of a small doll in the mask’s mouth, then pulling it out again. With a shock, Threadbare recognized Beanarella, Celia’s old dolly!
“Welkim! Welkim!” A voice boomed from overhead. Threadbare and Pulsivar jumped…
…as a portcullis dropped behind them, sealing off the tunnel they’d come through.
“Tooda gray test shon nerf!” The voice continued, chittering, as a platform lowered from the ceiling, revealing the biggest Raccant yet.
This one had a different mask from the others. It said “HOOMIN,” and bore a warped caricature of Mordecai’s face. Threadbare could tell by the bushy eyebrows. Made from real bushes.
The Raccant was dressed in a long red coat with tails, in addition to his own, fluffy ringed tail. He bore a whip in one hand, and a cone that he shouted through in the other, and on his head was a tiny top hat. A familiar tiny top hat. Threadbare had worn that many a time, during tea parties!
“You took those!” Threadbare accused, his voice lost in the calliope music. So they’d salvaged more from the house, than just his friend! Well, he’d have it all back, then. Just a matter of beatings. He flexed, called up his self-esteem, and bodyguarded Pulsivar for good measure.
Your Flex skill is now level 13!
Your Self-Esteem skill is now level 13!
Your Bodyguard skill is now level 6!
The Ring-tailed master nodded, as the bear made his preparations and the cat hunkered low, freaked out by the noise and looking for something to kill to shut it up.
“Komm iffu dair! Chall enj all freerings to winna prise!”
Turning aside to the audience, he mock-whispered through the megaphone; “The prises beetings.”
Well, he was right. Just not in the way he intended.
Threadbare and Pulsivar rushed the first ring, and the tightrope walker hurled down circus balls at them, that bounced for minimal damage when they struck. Eyeing the distance up to her, and considering that she’d be throwing things at him the whole time he was trying to climb up there to get at her, and then he’d have to fight her while balancing on a tightrope… yeah, no.
Threadbare looked around for an edge, and looked at the jumble of planks that made the “poles” that her tightrope wire was stretched between. They were pretty poor construction, and jiggled every time she ran back and forth up there.
Well. Why not?
“Animus,” the little bear breathed as he touched one of the supporting poles. “Invite Pole.”
Your Animus skill is now level 11!
Your Creator’s Guardians skill is now level 11!
The tightrope walker stared at him uncomprehendingly, up until the point that one of her supports suddenly twisted, went spastic, and jiggled her wire so hard she fell off the rope.
Right into Pulsivar’s waiting jaws.
The crowd oohed, aahed, and applauded. Her parasol fluttered down, pink and frilly, and Threadbare caught it, tucking it away into his apron with nary a thought. His eyes were on the next challenge. The wagon. He dismissed the pole from his party, leaving it to its own devices.
Well, maybe he could animate that too. He started to it, ignoring the cries and shrieks of the dying raccant as Pulsivar ate her, and stretched out a paw to slap it. But just before he could reach it, one of the cloth covers flipped aside, and a raccant spilled out, wearing a mask smeared with white and red makeup.
Then another.
Then another.
Then another.
But by that time Threadbare’s trash mobs had caught up with him. He left the curious raccants to the mobs, and slapped his hand on the wagon, even as it spilled out far more occupants than it could possibly carry. “Animus,” he declared, tanking hits as he got his paw on the little wheeled device. “Invite wagon.”
The Klwon Kar has resisted your spell!
Then the thing zoomed off, leaving him in a mob of… Klwons? Okay. The wagon stopped a little ways away, and spilled out more raccants.
They weren’t tough raccants, his trash mobs looked to be taking them down pretty easily, but they bounced all over the place, squirted him with weird water bottles that damaged his moxie, and ran around honking weird rubber and metal devices for no reason at all. Doing his best to ignore them, he ran after the car, managed to catch it, and slapped it again. “Animus! Invite Klo… Klw… Invite Kar!”
Your Animus skill is now level 12!
Your Creator’s Guardians skill is now level 12!
Thoroughly annoyed, Threadbare gave the Kar its marching orders, and it revved up, wheels squealing as the occupants inside shrieked and tried to escape. A few more got out, but then the little Kar zoomed at high speed across to the next ring and plowed straight into the unsuspecting “Lyin.”
For some reason it blew up into a big fireball. A red ‘264’ floated out from the debris, as did the charred remnants of the Lyin’s mane. Threadbare turned his back on the explosion, glaring at the remaining Klwns with button eyes.
Boy, there were a lot of them. Three of his Trash Mobs were down, leaving one more trying to hold back a tide…
…then a black shadow passed overhead.
Pulsivar came down, and went to work. Threadbare waded in as well, claws out and shredding. It was surprisingly satisfying. They’d worked up his temper with all those water bottles and klwoning around, and he took it out on them, killing with satisfaction for the first time ever.
And at the end of that fight, new words came up.
Congratulations! By killing in anger you have unlocked the Berserker job!
You cannot become a Berserker at this time!
Huh. Well… Threadbare felt slightly ashamed, for no reason he could tell. He slowed, looking around him at the carnage-
-then another stupid jet of water hit him, and he shrugged and waded back in. They had it coming.
Finally, the ring was empty of the enemy. Their strange corpses faded, leaving behind only one of those rubber and brass honking things. He didn’t see a use for it, but Threadbare picked it up anyway.
“Weldon! Weldon!” The Ringtailed Master chittered, and he hopped off the platform. “Clozure I’s an nopen wyde fordee prise! Nukkle sammisches!”
He rushed them, and got a face full of Pulsivar’s claws, reeled back snapping his whip at the big cat-
-to find Threadbare on the other side.
“Challenge! Guard Stance! Fancy Flourish! Grrrrr!”
Your Challenge skill is now level 3!
Your Guard Stance skill is now level 3!
Your Fancy Flourish skill is now level 6!
Your Growl skill is now level 2!
The ringtailed master’s Woop Woop skill hurt their moxie, but they persisted. His Whippersnapper skill, which had bonuses against big cats, was thoroughly thwarted as half his attempts were intercepted by the bodyguarding Threadbare. And damn did Pulsivar hit hard.
The bear was no slouch either. And he could heal any damage the boss dealt.
Your Brawling skill is now level 25!
Your Weapon Specializaton skill is now level 6!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 7!
STR +1
DEX +1
Critical Hit!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 8!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 9!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 21!
Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 10!
Your Mend skill is now level 16!
Your Mend skill is now level 17!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 22!
At the end of it all, the outcome was inevitable. A level 6 boss in a rarely-visited and underevolved dungeon was just no match for a massively-multiclassed toy golem and a level 21 beast. Finally, the Ringtail master fell. Relieved, Threadbare swooped the top hat from the boss’s head, and replaced it on his own. “Mine!” he declared.
And to the victor, went the experience.
You are now a level 10 Bear!
You may Rank Up to a Tier II Bear Job at this level!
Would you like to do so at this time?
“Yes!” he declared. He’d made his choice long ago, taking everything into account. And then he fell down, holding his head, as it grew by a few inches. His eyes elongated, the buttons becoming bigger…
…and suddenly the bright light in here seemed a little TOO bright.
And then Threadbare was a Cave Bear.
Still a teddy bear, still a Greater Golem, but a bit thicker and with a bigger skull.
You are now a level 10 Cave Bear!
+10 CON
+10 WIS
+5 Armor
+5 Mental Fortitude
+5 Endurance
You have unlocked the Darkspawn Skill!
And that wasn’t the only level up.
You are now a level 3 Duelist!
+3 AGL
+3 DEX
+3 STR
But it was the final one that brought the most interesting results…
You are now a level 5 Animator!
+3 DEX
+3 INT
You have unlocked the Animus Blade skill!
Your Animus Blade skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Arm Creation skill!
Your Arm Creation skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Dollseye skill!
Your Dollseye skill is now level 1!
New skills… Threadbare shook his now mildly-larger head, and peered around with new eyes. If he could have seen himself, he would have noticed that the buttons were bigger, darker, so black that they almost seemed hollows within his head. And in there, a tiny gleam flickered like pupils.
The raccants in the stands had fled, he saw. For the minute the room was empty.
But… where was Missus Fluffbear? She had to be here!
He took a sniff. His Scents and Sensibility had helped him so often before…
And it did not fail him now.
PER +1
Your Scents and Sensibility skill is now level 16!
It was coming from… above? He lifted his new, sensitive eyes –
-up to where the platform shuddered, and slowly began to retract into the hole in the ceiling.
“No!” He grabbed Pulsivar, interrupting a perfectly good groom, and held fast to the scruff of his neck. The cat jerked its eyes to the little bear, looking mortally offended. “Up! We need to go up!” Threadbare pointed with his free hand. “Jump! Please Jump!”
Fortunately, he’d just equipped some very good charisma gear.
CHA +1
Pulsivar got the gist of it, and did his thing, running and leaping for all he was worth, as Threadbare hung on tight.
Your Ride skill is now level 8!
It was a very good thing that he was so light, and had gotten so strong.
They made the platform, the cat’s claws clicking and scraping as he caught the lower edge of it, flailed, and pulled himself up. All told it was a good thing he didn’t have a proper tail anymore, else it would have been severed as the platform clunked into the ceiling.
Threadbare let go, and looked around at the place…
…and realized that he was far, far out of his depth.
It was a void, a black void. The floor was stone, he could feel that under his paws, but there were no walls. Pylons filled the expanse, green pillars of light, flickering softly. In amongst a cluster of the pillars, a red crystal the size of Threadbare hovered, swaying up and down, as small lightning bolts arced between it and the pillars.
Some of the pillars had raccants in them. Others had jumbles of things. Coins, bits of treasure, familiar looking objects…
And one had Missus Fluffare, suspended in midair. She looked a little torn and dirty, but she was still intact, still six inches tall, and most decidedly NOT a Bearserker or a Trash Panda.
“There you are!” He sobbed in relief.
Pulsivar rumbled, low in his throat. He did not like this place one bit. Threadbare patted him. “Stay here please,” he said, then ambled toward the cluster of inhabited pillars.
As he approached each one, glowing letters faded into existence. One pillar filled with a pile of worthless junk got the letters MINION – TRASH MOB.
Another held one of the raccant guards. MINION – RACCANTEER
One held the bard he’d fought. MIDBOSS 1 - MC SLAMMER
Another held someone he hadn’t encountered… a Raccant with a blonde wig and a torn up dress, holding a weird gizmo with buttons and numbers on it. She had two labels; MIDBOSS 4 – RACCANT EVEN, and MIDBOSS 5 – THE VERY MODEL OF A VARMINT MAJOR GENERAL. Maybe she was in another part of the dungeon?
The one with Missus Fluffbear in it had two labels. MIDBOSS 2 – BEARSERKER, and MIDBOSS 3 – TRASH PANDA. He reached for it…
…and his paws frizzed, blurred and started flashing green. Ow! What was this? He pulled them back, quickly. It felt almost like… like that one time, back in the Catamountain, during the final fight when Celia had almost hit him with an electricity ball.
Threadbare turned, to look at the red crystal.
He moved up to the pillar under it, the one labelled DUNGEON BOSS – RINGTAIL MASTER.
And the Ringtail Master looked back. Shocked, Threadbare stumbled back, and the boss burst out of the pillar, reaching out to grab and claw at the interloper-
-and got promptly jumped by Pulsivar.
He went down easier this time. A lot easier. And his corpse didn’t disappear.
A soft chime echoed everywhere and nowhere, and words, green words writ large across the… sky? They were made of numbers, all zeroes and ones, and Threadbare shook to see them. They felt… wrong. Strange. If he’d known the word, he would have called them unholy.
NO MASTER DETECTED IN DUNGEON 01010010 01000001 01000011 01000011 01001111 01001111 01001110 01010010 01010101 01001101 01010000 01010101 01010011
Threadbare stared at the words. They made no sense.
He went back and tried to pull Missus Fluffbear out again… and again, his hands got zapped. No, no, that would do something bad. He didn’t know what, but it would be bad, his advanced wisdom told him.
What could he do?
The bleak landscape shuddered. For a second, there were stone walls all around, an old mine cart off to one side, and then it was the black and green weirdscape again. Pulsivar howled in fear, and ran to the bear, nudging him with his face. It was time to go, Pulsivar insisted, in cat.
But there was nowhere to go.
Was there?
Then the 30 changed to 29. Then to a 28.
Threadbare hugged Pulsivar, and held on tight. Was this the end?
It wasn’t.
When the numbers reached zero, the world changed.
It was a dark mineshaft, dingy, just one central cavern with a few small tunnels off of it. Threadbare looked around, his new darkvision drinking everything in perfect detail, as scents once again filled his nose. Raccant, mostly, but under it all, the welcome odor of Sandalwood.
He ignored the chittering Raccant Bard and whatever the Raccant Even was as the two of them fled, ignored the minion raccants who followed them out at top speed, with Pulsivar in hot pursuit. He ignored the various bits of loot littering the ground, and even ignored his Scepter, lying there, golden in the darkness.
No, Threadbare ignored them all as he walked up to the tiny bear, half his size, dazed and looking around in the darkness. And he hugged her. She stiffened, but then golden light flared from his innocent embrace-
You have healed Missus Fluffbear for 100 points!
Your Innocent Embrace skill is now level 11!
And a smaller golden light flared, as she hugged him back.
Missus Fluffbear has healed you for 10 points!
And while there was a lot to sort out, for now, he knew that all was well with the world. The loot could wait. He'd been too long in here already, here and whatever that... other place had been.
Scooping Missus Fluffbear up, he carried her out of the shallow mineshaft, and back into the daylight.
Spoiler: Spoiler



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Andrew Seiple


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