The last spadeful of dirt went over the raccants bodies, and Threadbare watched as Missus Fluffbear solemnly tamped it down with her jury-rigged spade. She'd gotten quite good at digging, if he was any judge of the matter.
He still didn't know why she'd buried the Raccants that Threadbare had killed in their fortified camp, or why she shrunk back and trembled whenever Pulsivar was around. For some reason she feared the big cat...
...well, to be fair, he was pretty scary if you didn't know him. Or if you were something small and edible. Or if he wanted to play with you and got rough. Or when he loomed out of the night, with only yellow eyes visible and glaring.
But Pulsivar had accepted her well enough after Threadbare cleaned and pressed her, and anointed her with the last of his soap powder from their old home. The scent had a calming effect on Pulsivar. So eventually she stopped trying to hide from him and got on with the raccant burial.
It was hard to tell, but he thought she looked sad. Had the raccants treated her well? She'd gotten that broken spade from somewhere, and the tiny knots in the twine that bound the fork to the remnants of the handle were small enough to be of raccant doing.
Perhaps it was best she didn't know that he and Pulsivar had killed this bunch out front. Yes, that seemed wise. He was glad his wisdom was getting up to large numbers quickly, life would have been difficult or short without it.
Letting his new companion finish her job, he checked the party screen again, A level 5 toy golem, and a level 2 bear, and also a tailor and a miner. She'd figured out the secret of “yes,” then. He'd guessed that, from how she'd accepted his party invite instantly.
Which meant that she could probably use some equipment. Threadbare looked back to the loot that he'd gotten from the cave. He'd spent some time using his enchanter skill, the one called “Appraise,” leveling it up to 5 and investigating each object that wasn't total trash.
Most of it was junk. His scepter went into his pants pocket, fitting in despite its size thanks to the miracle of hammerspace.
The Ringtail Master had a coat and that cone thing he was shouting from, which was evidently called a “Minorphone.” he also had a whip that Threadbare didn't know how to use, and that did small amounts of moxie damage to big cats with every strike. He only knew one big cat and he liked him, so Threadbare pushed that to the pile he was making to the side. He added the rubber and brass clown horn to that pile as well, then he came to the last item.
The Ringtail Master's coat. It was red with mismatched bright buttons up the front, and had two triangular tails on its backside. It was heavier than it looked, and it had a ton of pockets, and Threadbare fell in love with it on sight. He slapped it on, and felt the usual mental readjustment as his attributes shifted.
The Minorphone got tied with string, to hang over his back. It was kind of bulky compared to his size, but it let him activate its magic to amplify his voice twice a day, which had the side effect of enhancing his voice-related skills. Since he was soft-spoken, it was bound to be useful.
That left the whip and the clown horn, and a few of Celia's knives... He took one for himself, then set the rest aside for Missus Fluffbear.
Four things left, then. The first was another couple of doses of that glittery dust, red this time. And also some vials to keep it in. This reagent stuff was the component for another of his enchanter abilities, as was the second item, a level one red crystal. According to his appraise, it could be used to enchant permanent magic items, but he had no idea how.
The third item was Cecilia's old doll, Beanarella. Much torn, very chewed, and dirty, he hastily mended her and cleaned and pressed her back to her original condition. If nothing else she could be an animi, even if she was about his size. Maybe he could jury rig a harness, or a back-pack like Celia had?
The fourth was a red octahedron the size of one of his paws, cool to the touch, and glowing with flickering green numbers. It looked very much like a miniature version of the the red crystal, that had been in the strange place with the green pillars and the blackness all around. He'd thought it a crystal for Enchantment at first, but... the appraise hadn't worked right. All it had turned up was the name of the item.
He tucked it away, for later research.
With the item sorting done, he looked at Missus Fluffbear, who looked back, smiling because she had no choice. She couldn't talk. He could fix that, given time, but... his common sense told him that coming at her throat with scissors wouldn't go too well.
And with Eye for Detail confirming her stats, he knew that explaining a lot of things to her was going to be tricky. She needed an education. A better one than he'd gotten.
Well. He could help with that. But first things first...
One quick tailoring job, using the scraps of leather and cloth retrieved from the junk, and he had a backpack. Another tailoring job, and a skill up this time, and he had a miniature version of his own apron, modified with a few extra straps sized for a whip and a horn.
“I have something for you,” he told Missus Fluffbear. She took it, turned it over, examining it from every angle. Then she tried to tie it around herself, and he winced as her paws dropped it over and over again.
He resisted the urge to help. This is how she could get better at dexterity, by trying over and over again.
Finally she managed, and he showed her how to tuck the coiled-up whip in its pocket, the dagger in its sheath, and the horn through the buckled loop meant to carry it. The horn itself was almost as big as she was, so it dragged on the ground when she walked.
“Here, it does this.” he pressed his paws against the bulb of the horn, and squeezed.
“So if you have to make noise-”
“Not all the time, please-”
HONK HONK HONK HONKITTY HONK HONKLY HONKS
He was starting to see a flaw in his plan.
Pulsivar, unnoticed at the edge of the clearing, flattened his ears and slunk off into the woods.
Threadbare tried to get her to stop honking, and after a few minutes she did. She still seemed quite happy with the gifts overall though, pulling her dagger with one hand and her whip with the other, and waving them around in excitement.
He left her to that, and turned back to Beanarella. She really would eat up a lot of packspace if he carried her along, and he didn't like that notion.
So why not do something about that? Have her walk under her own power? Not as an animi, but as something more permanent, and hopefully more powerful?
He put the doll down on the ground, got out a dose of yellow reagents and the red crystal, and whispered “Toy Golem.”
The little bear watched as his hands moved of their own accord, and a yellow bar appeared before his vision, hollow but filling up as his appendages worked. They sprinkled the glittering reagent in patterns over Beanarella, before putting the crystal right over her heart.
Your Toy Golem Construction skill is now level 2!
He sagged, as about a third of his sanity went out of him. But he was successful, oh was he succesful.
You have created an (average) Toy Golem Shell!
As first tries went, he thought it wasn't so bad.
Well. One more step to go, then.
Laying his paws on Beanarella's forehead, he stared into her painted eyes.
Your Golem Animus skill is now level 2!
She stirred under his hands, and Missus Fluffbear left off flopping the whip around and shanking weeds to come stare at the newly-risen doll, as it sat up. Her thick neckless head twisted on its cloth body, looking around left and right, before fixing on her creator's button eyes.
But there was nothing behind her painted eyes. No spark of life. She just sat there, looking up at him, and waiting.
Well, he had expected that. But still, there was a sense of disappointment. For a little while longer, at least, he and Fluffbear were the only ones of their own kind. That he knew of, anyway.
“Invite Golem,” he told Beanarella, and then she was in his party.
Your Invite Golem skill is now level 2!
You are now a level 2 Golemist!
One Eye for Detail (and skill up) later, he checked out her stats. Her physical stats were... average. Better than he'd had starting out, and he didn't know why. She had solid thirties in all her physical stats plus perception and luck, and a decent armor and great endurance.
But on the other hand, she had nothing mentally. No moxie, no cool, no mental fortitude, no sanity. And her fate was N/A. He didn't know what that meant. She did have the adorable, innocent embrace, and bodyguard skills, though, along with magic resistance and golem body, so that was good. And a little confusing.
“Why are you like this?” Threadbare asked her in his tiny voice, and she didn't answer.
Missus Fluffbear, sensing his confusion, tried to cheer him up.
HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK-
She was interrupted, as a piercing scream shook the heavens. And before any of the little toys could react, a screaming eagle drawn by both the shriek of the horn and Fluffbear's abysmal luck plummeted from the heavens and snatched her up, just like that!
“No!” Threadbare shouted, running after it as it flew away. “Stop! Stop!” To lose her, just like that, after everything they'd gone through...
But the eagle flew on, its prey in its hands. Threadbare had nothing, no skills or spells that would work at range. Nothing that would help him at a distance.
So he ran after the bird, despairing as it flew high... then despairing more, as a small black speck dropped away from it, straight toward a rocky slope.
“Guard Stance!” he snapped, doing everything he could to maximize his ground speed and skilling up at the same time. Then gritting his metaphorical teeth and pushing his agility to the limits, Threadbare ran!
He burst out of the treeline in time to see Missus Fluffbear on her feet, trying to snap the whip at the plummeting form of the Screaming Eagle. With a wince, he saw the whip rebound on her and flick one of her button eyes clean off, as a red '10' floated out of the poor toy. “Mend! Mend!” he yelled, restoring some health to her.
The eagle, amazingly, failed to scoop her up. And as it passed overhead, Threadbare gave a mighty leap-
-and caught its lower talon, dropping guard stance to secure his grip, hanging on with both paws.
The screaming eagle was caught entirely by surprise. It was also no match for a teddy bear who had the strength of a muscular human at this point, much less one who had sharp, sharp claws. With a cry of despair it tumbled and crashed as he tore at its wings.
Somewhat battered but no worse for it the little bear stood up-
-just in time to catch Missus Fluffbear's whip in his face as she hurried over to help.
He would have rolled his eyes if he could, as the sad little '0' drifted up from him, but instead he settled for mauling the heck out of the Eagle. Fluffbear stabbed it repeatedly as well, and in short order it stopped moving.
Happily, she honked the horn again, and Threadbare put his hand on her shoulder, shook his head. She got the message and stopped.
“Let's go back to camp.”
The gropevine wasn't an entirely unexpected encounter, when it lashed out and caught Missus Fluffbear. He knew they were native to the area, so it made sense. The second screaming eagle was annoying when it came in, but they were in the trees so it couldn't make a good grab in time to escape as Threadbare pounded it until it fled.
Beanarella caught up to the group at that point too, and she helped a bit with the kicking.
And then the Wizz-blizzards following in Beanarella's wake caught up, too. Little solid clouds made of ice with mean eyes and pointy blue hats, they came in dropping force blasts and hovering around and generally being obnoxious.
Missus Fluffbear seemed to recognize them, and took great joy in whipping and shanking them, aiming at them with long expertise. They seemed to focus mainly on her, though a few wayward shots hit Threadbare and mostly ricocheted. They fell or fled, as the toys fought them, and Threadbare went through a few more mendings. And also got some mileage out of a skill he hadn't leveled in a while.
Your Magic Resistance skill is now level 5!
Your Magic Resistance skill is now level 6!
Then it was another gropevine, which Threadbare was certain hadn't been there when he ran through.
The third screaming eagle actually managed to get its claws around Fluffbear and haul her up-
-only to be pounced upon by Pulsivar, who dropped from a high tree and broke its back with his weight.
“This is getting ridiculous,” Threadbare said, as they finally got back to the little stockade. “And I think I know why. Eye for Detail.”
Your Eye for Detail skill is now level 7!
Her luck had actually gone up a point since the last time he checked it. But it was still pretty lousy, at 26.
“Come on,” he patted Pulsivar, and took Missus Fluffbear's paw. “I think I know someone who can help.” Beanarella fell in behind them as they walked, leaving the buried raccants to their rest.
As they went, he selected a few more skills to level along the way. Better now, than in the heat and stress of combat. Harden, Guard Stance, and Emboldening Speech seemed like good ones to practice. And so he cautiously crept through the woods with his paws up ready to block punches, enhancing Missus Fluffbear's hide, and rambling on about duty, bravery, and the right to arm bears. He also kicked on Noblesse Oblige, which he'd been thoroughly forgetting about, and watched it slowly start leveling as his party benefited from the buff. His primary attribute seemed to be wisdom, and with luck as miserable as Fluffbear had, she could use every bit of common sense she could get.
It DID keep her horn honks to a minimum, for which he was thankful.
It had been a long time since he'd been this way, but he still knew the route. He lead them through the woods, to a large boulder, and down a goat trail to a valley down below the wooded slope. Eventually the trees grew more weathered and worn, and as the afternoon wore on, he could see the first gray line of stones there in the dead trees.
The strange girl who lived around here had a card game, he knew, one that had helped him when his luck was pretty abysmal. Maybe she could help again?
A few more creatures approached as they found their way down into the swampy valley, but Pulsivar's presence seemed to keep them at bay, and none of the screaming eagles that occasionally swooped by seemed inclined to attack. They all knew the Black Death, by sight or by smell, and there were better ways to die than by getting within leaping distance of the region's apex predator.
They came to the stones as he had long ago, and Missus Fluffbear grew interested, toddling around and staring at the writing that filled them. Threadbare followed behind her, reading each one as he went, and tracing the letters with his paw. This had helped him, he remembered, back when he was trying to figure out letters and words, figure out the world.
Celia did this for me, he thought, and bowed his head as his paw shook on the stone. For a second the despair crept on him again-
-but only a second. He smiled down at Fluffbear's anxious face, and patted her head. “See? This one says here lies William Walt, I got hungry and it wasn't his fault.”
But the girl he'd met here was nowhere in sight. He even checked around with Scents and Sensibility...
...and caught a strange smell, coming from the east.
It was like Pulsivar, but not Pulsivar. Like a couple of Pulsivars, because the scents were subtly different.
The big black bobcat perked up instantly as soon as he smelled it, bounding off that way, excited.
“Wait!” Threadbare insisted, running to keep up....
...which is about when the first skeletal hand leaped out from behind a gravestone, and tried to strangle Missus Fluffbear. Not a skeleton, just a bony hand, moving of its own accord.
She didn't much care about getting strangled and it was dispatched easily enough, but by the time they were done with it, Pulsivar was gone from sight. Missus Fluffbear, for her part, was oblivious to Threadbare's distress, waving her arms in the air excitedly.
Her Toy Golem level had gone up to six on the party screen, Threadbare saw. Not too surprising given how much fighting they'd been doing all that day.
“Pulsivar?” Threadbare called, hauling out the Minorphone and triggering its magic. “PULSIVAR?”
The sound was much louder than expected, and it rolled off the hills, echoing back and forth. But the black cat did not return.
So Threadbare fired up his sniffer and followed his scent. It was pretty easy, after all. His friend stuck to the strange cats' trail like a close-knit stitch in a seam.
Your Scents and Sensibility skill is now level 17!
He didn't know why Pulsivar was so worked up about this. He had no way of knowing that it was smack in the middle of bobcat mating season, and one of the scents that Pulsivar had picked up belonged to a female close to heat. If he'd known that, he probably wouldn't have understood it in the first place. Toy golems didn't generally have to worry about hormones, and in any case, he already had a method of reproduction that involved a lot less drama and biology.
Another dead hand later, they came to a place where the ground was torn up. Muddy stone boxes lay in deep holes, lids off, and the stones above were crooked and fallen. The scent of cats was all around-
-and then Fluffbear was falling into the pits, and that took a while to sort out. Fortunately Threadbare had plenty of string, and eventually he just tied her to him and kept on walking whenever he felt the string tug and jerk. Seriously, she was lucky to have him along for this.
In more ways than he knew, actually. Every time he helped her out of a predicament, she ground a little more experience for her luck. She'd already gone up a couple of times since the day started.
Eventually, Threadbare came to a deep set of ruts in the ground, straight and surrounded with pawmarks. Big ones. The ground was torn up here, by something Threadbare had never seen before. It smelled of... death. Old wood and old death, very old. And... rusted metal? And cats. Really strongly of cats.
And sure enough, Pulsivar was following it. He'd stopped to piss on one of the gravestones, but after that, ZOOM, if Threadbare's nose was right.
Sighing, the little bear gathered his party and marched on after the tracks.
Oddly enough, they didn't have any encounters on the way. He was uncertain if this was because Fluffbear's luck had hit a certain point, or if Pulsivar had cleared the way for them.
The actual answer was due to a completely different factor, but he had no way of knowing that yet.
They broke new ground, walked through land that meandered between the hills, past the occasional fallen shack or burned out barn, and Threadbare activated Keen Eye whenever the trail got too near them, making sure there wasn't anything lurking in ambush and skilling it up a bit. Twice they snuck past bears, actual honest-to-gods black bears, foraging peacefully. That was good for another two levels of stealth.
And a level of Scout. This one brought some surprises with it.
You are now a level 5 Scout!
You have unlocked the Alertness skill!
Your Alertness skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Best Route skill!
Your Best Route skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Forage skill!
You already know the Forage skill... +5 levels added to it instead.
Two new skills, and his spent energy refreshed? Yes please!
Curious, he pulled them up on his status screen.
ALERTNESS Level 5 Cost: N/A Duration: Passive Constant Alertness has a chance to auto-activate all your sensory-enhancing skills for free in the event that you are ambushed or about to encounter unseen danger.
BEST ROUTE Level 5 Cost: 15 San Duration: One hour per scout level Activate while examining a visible terrain feature. Examines the best route from your current location to your destination, and marks it visibly. Everyone in your party can see the best route trail. The higher the skill, the better the route found. At high levels it will detect and detour around dangerous monsters and towards treasure and resources.
Okay, that Alertness one was handy as heck. The other one he could see using sometimes, maybe. Right now it didn't matter, because he had tracks to follow.
Night fell as they walked. To Threadbare it made little difference, thanks to his new cave bear eyes. But Missus Fluffbear was having a bit of trouble, so they slowed down a bit.
Then they crested a ridge, and he saw lights.
The glowing lights of windows. There was a big building out there, and several shapes beyond it, which his darkvision revealed to be wrecked and scorched buildings. A few of them were intact, though, but they were all dark, save for that big one.
He knew this place. It was Taylor's Delve. What had happened to it? Why was only one building lit up, and most of the rest smashed up?
Threadbare debated. The trail he was following went past the town, veered away from it. But those lights were intriguing. Then his string pulled tight again, and he sighed as he hauled Missus Fluffbear out of a ditch. It was getting too dark for her to see well, and her perception needed work. Pulsivar was still visible on his party screen, and he was doing fine.
That decided him... the big cat could take care of himself for a night or two, if it became necessary. He had for five years, after all. He'd be fine.
So Threadbare untied the string, took missus Fluffbear by hand, and with Beanarella stomping stoically behind, led the group down the hill and into town.
Once it had planks in the street, but now they were scattered and rotten, overgrown with lichen and the first shoots of new spring plants. But the toys were light and noiseless, as they crept up on the lit building.
Your Stealth skill is now level 9!
Threadbare debated, then waved Beanarella over to one of the windows as an idea struck him. He guided her to just under the windowsill, then climbed up on her back and peered in.
It was a big room inside, with a staircase going up to another floor. Candles lit the room, and a big bar filled the back of it, with stools lining the run of it. A mirror behind the bar had been thoroughly broken, and a pale man with overlarge fangs polished a glass.
At the tables, a rough-looking woman in a breastplate arm-wrestled a sturdy-looking man wearing a miller's apron. They too were pale, and their fangs stuck out inches from their lips as they grinned at each other. The woman kept winning.
Then, someone howled upstairs, and the building shook. Threadbare barely kept his balance. The patrons inside looked up nervously, then looked back at each other once it subsided.
The voice that howled seemed almost familiar, though Threadbare couldn't put his finger on it.
Threadbare hopped down. It seemed all right. Maybe these people could help him find Pulsivar, or tell him what was going on.
He rejoined the nervous Missus Fluffbear, and lead her around to the door. It didn't budge when he pushed it, so he hauled out his scepter and poked at the door handle, trying to turn it. That didn't work, so he tapped the heavy club against the door instead.
Noise from inside, some hushed discussion, and the man behind the bar opened the door, his lower face covered with a cloth mask. “Why hello there... travelers...” his voice trailed off, as he saw no one in front of him. Then gold flashed in the edge of the vision, and he followed his eyes down to the little bear's top hat, and the immaculately dressed teddy bear under it.
Your Work it Baby skill is now level 7!
“Hello,” the foot-tall toy said, looking up into the man's red, red eyes. “Can we come in?”
“...sure? Ah, wait... uh... enter freely and of your own pill.”
“You got it wrong Steve,” the woman said, her voice muffled from her own mask. “It's will.”
“No, I don't think this guy is Will.” The bartender stepped aside, as the little toys toddled into the room, two of them peering around curiously. The miller had a mask on too, now.
The woman laughed, wringing her hands together at the unexpected parade. “So cute!”
Your Adorable skill is now level 18!
Your Work it Baby skill is now level 8!
For a long minute there was silence. The door shut, and the bartender coughed. “Ah, there's a... cold going around. That's why the masks.”
“Yep,” the miller nodded, his eyes red against his pale face. “So we don't give you colds! Although...”
“Yeah, what are you?” The armored woman said. “You monsters?”
“We're golems,” Threadbare said, and instantly the atmosphere in the room seemed to lighten.
“Whew, that's a relief!” The bartender said, sliding his mask off. “So are we!”
“Yeah, come on and belly up to the bar,” The armored woman said, taking a seat and shifting a spear on her back so she could sit down comfortably. “We thought you were travelers. Like we were, once.”
The three little toys moved up to the bar. Threadbare and Fluffbear looked at each other, and scrambled up to the stools, then on to the counter when they couldn't see above the bar. Beanarella stood placidly below, until the woman reached down and scooped her up, depositing her next to her party members.
“I'm glad you're not adventurers,” The guy in the miller's apron said, taking a seat next to Missus Fluffbear. “Most of the time they either run or fight. All but the very stupid ones.”
“Hey!” The woman snapped. “I was tired, okay?”
“Oh no no, it wasn't a knock on you, I'm just saying-”
“And the light was low! My astigmatism was acting up.”
“Right, right, sorry.”
“Hmph.” She flipped her blonde ponytail back, and stared back at Threadbare. “You are just the cutest thing, you know that? I bet you sucker people in that way, and then SHUNK!”
“No,” Threadbare shook his head. “No shunking. Mostly hugging.”
“Weird, but with that much gear on you I guess it's working out well.” The bartender shrugged, and took a bottle down. “Do you drink?”
“We don't drink... wine, either.” The bartender grinned. He had a friendly face, with two curly mustaches.
“Gods, don't remind me,” the woman sighed. “At least I found us that goat a few hours back. You're all welcome, by the way. Not naming names. Barret and Grimble.”
“Thank you Darla,” the miller said. The bartender just rolled his eyes.
Then the building shook again, as whatever was upstairs howled a breathless scream, that went on for minutes. Missus Fluffbear put her hands over her ears, and Threadbare patted her sympathetically.
When it was done, he asked “What was that?”
“Oh, uh, that's one of us who didn't wake up right.” Darla said, shuddering. “Pity, too. He'd be a hell of a fighter, but... eh, he wasn't human. Gets weird sometimes when you're not. Racial skills get stuck, and bad things happen. That's what the mistress says.”
Boards creaked overhead. “Oh, here she comes now!”
“So you must be a pretty high-level golem,” the bartender said. “Only ones I ever heard of aren't supposed to be smart. Did you luck out and get a monster job that lets you have a class level, too? We get one, but only because we had them to start, and only one comes across.”
“Your best one.” Darla said. “Gods I miss my berserker levels. But at least I've got the knight stuff, so I'm somewhat useful in a fight. Not naming names here. Barret.”
“Shut up!” The miller said. “What was I supposed to do? Not my fault my parents literally made me grind miller before I ran away to wizard school! Then I got vamped, and ten wizard levels went straight down the drain, just like that!”
“Guys, guys...” The bartender made shushing motions.
“Oh, I've got eight adventuring jobs,” The little bear said. “And two crafting ones.”
The room fell silent.
“That uh, that sounds like you're an adventurer to me,” the miller said, edging back a little.
“Maybe? I don't know. I don't think I'm a monster.”
“Barret, Grimble, ease up,” Darla said, as the miller drew out a stone club and the bartender slipped a hand under the counter. “He's weird, okay, but it's not like he's a necromancer or anything.”
“Oh, I'm one of those too,” Threadbare offered, helpfully.
Darla's face froze. “Oh boy. Tell me you're joking.”
“Nope.” There were feet on the creaking stairs now as someone descended, but Threadbare's attention was on the little trio around him. “See? Assess Corpse.”
Your Assess Corpse skill is now level 2!
Instantly words appeared over all of the humans' heads. Darla was a level 4 lesser vampire spawn and a level 9 knight. Grimble the bartender was a level 5 vampire spawn and a level 7 grifter. Barret was a level 8 vampire spawn and a level 21 miller. And for some reason, they'd all lost their smiles, and drawn their weapons.
“What's wrong?” Threadbare asked, sliding his hand down to his pocket, where he'd tucked the scepter.
“You!” A voice squealed, and Threadbare turned, to see the mysterious girl he'd met so long ago! She still wore the green-and-poka-dotted scarf around her head, but now she had a ragged black dress to go with it, and some big black boots that stomped as she charged him, scooping him up into a hug. “Mistah baah! Gahd, it's been so lahng, how ah yah?”
“Hello!” Threadbare said.
“You can tauk now? Holy shit!”
“I made my mouth myself,” said Threadbare, and hugged her back.
It was a very good, very lucky thing that he'd long ago turned off the auto-activation of his innocent embrace skill. Otherwise that night might have ended very differently.
But as it was, the lesser vampire spawns relaxed as their master giggled.
Finally, she put him down on a table, and he got a clear look at the words above her head.
Vampire level ???
“So what brings ya ta my neck a the woods?” She grinned, toothily, pulling up a chair. Darla came over and plopped Missus Fluffbear and Beanarella down as well. “And ya brought friends, too? Wow!”
“I'm wondering if you can help me,” The bear said. He pointed at Missus Fluffbear. “She needs to play that card game you played with me. A lot. Also I'm looking for a big, black bobcat. He's a friend of mine, and I don't know where he went to. He suddenly ran off.”
“A big bobcat, yah say?” The girl's face grew guarded, and she shot the bartender a look. “And a friend ah yahs?”
“Oooh... bahd luck if he's around heah, then.” She shook her head. “Grimble, why don't ya explain?” She winked at the bartender, who smiled, covering his mouth for a brief moment as he mouthed the words “Silver Tongue.” Threadbare had no way of knowing that silent activation was a grifter skill, nor would he have known what silver tongue did anyway.
The grifter started his con. “Yes, my friend. I fear our little community is at war, with an evil necromancer! Which is why we were a little alarmed, earlier. Just a brief misunderstanding, haha.”
“Haha,” Threadbare agreed, not knowing why he should, but he did. He had no way of knowing his better-than-average willpower and actually-fairly-decent cool were being deftly suborned by the grifter's enhanced charisma.
“Her thing, her style if you will, involves cats. Living ones, and when they die, she brings them back. And alas, they always die. So if she has your friend...”
“No!” Threadbare jumped to his feet. “She can't kill Pulsivar!”
“Ah, yes... her killing Pulsivar. Yes.” Grimble shot a glance at Darla, who hurridly tucked away a cat-fur pouch. “Anyway,” he continued, “we've been fighting against her evil ways, but she's ever so strong, and being a necromancer, we're weak to some of her attacks. We've been trying to enlist the help of our best fighter, but alas, he is cursed. There is a strange spirit to the south, an evil witch who has cursed him so that he cannot join us.”
“Fartunately the witch is strahng enough to resist tha Cat Queen too,” the vampire girl said. “But it's only a mattah of time till the Cat Queen snares that spirit. Then our best weapon is against us, and a powaful ghost witch is on all our ahssess too.”
“If only someone could go out and kill that ghost witch,” The bartender said, clapping his hands to his chest. “Someone who didn't have life to be drained away by her shuddering touch, or dead flesh that withered at her grasp...”
“I could do that!” Threadbare said, completely buying into the narrative.
Impressed, the grifter and his master shared a glance. They didn't even have to offer a quest!
Outside, ears perked on a feline head, and a moth-eaten feline corpse twitched out of its resting spot under a window, and rattled away into the night, eyes of solid blue necromantic energy glowing in the darkness.
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