The vampires were true to their word, and happy to have company that they didn't either have to eat, run from, or convert. Though Threadbare was ready right away to go and put paid to that evil old ghost witch, they managed to talk him into waiting until daylight.
“She'll be weakah then,” Madeline said. That was her name, Threadbare had learned a few hours into their three-way game of Grindluck. “Most undead things ah. Us too, but we got tha common sense to stay outah tha sun. Which is why tha Cat Queen only sends her troops around in day.”
The thing upstairs howled again, but they all ignored it, and kept playing their respective card games.
“You should probably be out of the town by then,” Bennett the miller pointed out. “I'm sure you're pretty tough, but she's got a lot of skeletons and even a few ghouls and wights.”
“Whites?” Threadbare asked, laying down two reds.
“Nah. Smart undead, with blue glowing ahhs.” Madeline lay down two oranges.
Missus Fluffbear lay down two greens, winning, and happily watching a LUCK +1 flash across her vision.
Madeline ruffled her head, then started sorting through the well-worn deck again, pulling cards to her two-card hand, discarding, and attempting to get two matching colors. “So what happened to yah little gal? She get old and stop playing with toys? Because I may have ta go visit her for a bite if she got that stupid. Toy like you, ya don't throw away.”
“Oh no, nothing like that,” Threadbare said, drawing and discarding, drawing and discarding. “It turns out her Daddy was her grandfather and her father showed up and took her back. I got impaled in a house that burned down and collapsed and spent five years digging out.”
The vampires jumped. Threadbare shook his head. “Oh, sorry. Missus Fluffbear spent five years digging out. I mostly just got myself un-impaled.”
“Woo. When family drahma goes wrong, amirite?” Madeline shook her head. “Sorry about that. So yer free. What ah ya gonna do now?”
“I'm going to find Celia and I'm going to save her.” Threadbare slammed down two purples, the strongest hand in the game. “I might have to fight the king.”
“Well, I don't know how he figgers inta it, but powah to ya, little bear!” Madeline grinned toothily. “Tha King's an ahss. Killed tha old one and spent fifteen yeahs runnin' this kingdom inta tha ground. Look at this place!” She waved her hand around. “He set it all on fyah! Well not him personally, tha soldiers, I mean. They killed everyone they could catch. I saw the fyah and came into town. Even... saved... a few people on tha way.”
“Thanks for that, by the way,” Grimble spoke up. He was back in a corner with the other vampire spawn, playing a much more interesting card game.
“S'aw right. Ya good company, ya know?” Madeline sighed. “Knew it was coming. Soon as tha north folded, and Balmoran fell, all the little revolutionaries and resistance fightahs that had gathered heah were next. But nobody listens to the vampaiah, huh? Now Balmoran's gone, tha dwarves are next on the chawpin' blahk, and only tha ranjahs up in Jericho's Reach ah keepin' them alive. They'll be gone too soon, and tha King'll have total control. Of what's left ah this land, anyway.”
She riffled the cards, reshuffled them. “Mordecah even dragged me to a few of tha resistance meetings down heah, thinkin' I might join. Old men and women and young stupids whispering about how they'd smuggle magic items and train up to fight when tha time came. All waiting for a mysterious gal who was tha true heir to turn up an' lead them. Cowahds, most. Useless.”
“You knew Mordecai?”
“Oh yah. Tried to put the bite on him one night when I caught him wanderin' around my turf, and wound up pinned to a tree, getting' a lecture on how I, of all people, should know bettah than to judge by appearances. We came ta terms. I kept people away from one of the approaches to this old guy's house, and he let me live. Unlive. Whaddeva.”
“I like him. He's my scouts master.”
“Oh, ya a scout too? Nice! Real weird mix you got going theah.”
“Most of it was accidental.” Threadbare sighed. “I'm still figuring out how to make it all work. There's so much spread out over so many things.”
“That's rough, yo.” Madeline said, shooting a glare at the back table, and the other vampires who were rolling their eyes hard at the little bear's “problem.” The vampire girl shrugged. “I miss him too. Real enlightened about monstahs and all. But now that he's gone, I'm free to do a few things I've been meaning ta do for a while. There's a dungeon out that way by ma old stompin' grounds, and I'll need a core soon. Should be a cakewalk, too. Tha little fuzzy bastiches won't know what hit'em!”
“What's a dungeon core?”
“Jeeze, raht, I forgat ya green. It's... there's something that powahs dungeons, makes them dungeons. It warps tha land around them, makes the one who controls it and anyone he chooses immortal. Sort of. It makes copies of them, and adventurers come an' fight tha copies ovah and ovah. It also makes copies of any loot and magic that's in 'em, up to a point. Sometimes they need restocking. Hell, sometimes it improves items, even, or changes 'em.” She shivered.
“Sometimes it changes the monstahs who run them, too. I think that's what happened to tha Cat Queen. Spent too long as a midboss in a dungeon that closed, and now she wants to go back to tha only thing that makes sense to her.”
“Dungeon cores sound really powerful.”
“They ah, but they have a weakness. There's always a way to get to the core chambah in any dungeon, into tha place where sanity ends and tha numbahs rule all. Dangerous to get in there, but if you can, you can seal or take ovah tha dungeon. If ya seal it, ya get a core. If ya want one, I mean.”
“So why do you want one?”
“Well...” The little vampire sucked her teeth. “I uh, might have some plans latah. Just got to settle stuff with tha Cat Queen first. So if ya ever find a dungeon core, bring it to me, and I'll make it warth ya while.”
“Okay,” The little bear agreed. He'd make sure to keep an eye out for anything like that. “Which dungeon was near your place?”
“Oh, this bunch of raccants got tha notion ta put one togethah. Found or got a core somehow, I danno. I'll go settle theah hash latah.”
“Wait, raccants?” Threadbare put his cards down. “I was up there just-”
“Dawn,” Grimble interrupted.
“Shit. Ah, we'll have to continue this convo latah, okay?” Madeline said, as the other vampires went around the room, sealing the windows with heavy shutters. “Do me a favah and don't come back in heah during the day. Night's okay, but not day. Got that? Do NOT.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Good. Now take ya friends and scoot. Remember, get clear a town and take out that ghost witch! Then come back tonaht and we'll tauk more.”
“Absolutely!” Threadbare and company marched out of the door. Grimble shut it behind them, started to bar it.
Knock, knock, knock.
Grimble paused, looked to Madeline, who rubbed her eyes. “Yah?”
“Excuse me, but where is she again?”
One set of directions shouted through a door later, Threadbare lead Missus Fluffbear and Beanarella out of town to the south, down through the hills, into a wooded valley.
Some of the trails and fallen houses to the sides looked familiar. He'd been this way before, he thought.
Eventually, he came to a hollow. Crossing a running stream, he came into a clearing with charred trees, and the remnants of a large, burned hut on a small hill. Rows of gravestones filled the clearing, overturned and shattered, the soil all around them disturbed.
A feeling filled this place, and Missus Fluffbear shivered and honked mournfully. Threadbare felt it too, but he was too busy staring at the new words in front of his face.
A restless spirit wishes to speak!
“Speak With Dead,” Threadbare whispered, readying his scepter for a good witch-thumping.
Your Speak With Dead skill is now level 3!
The sunlight wavered, turned brilliant white. The graves were pale marble now, against the black soil and gray, gray grass. The stark black wood of the burned planks turned to obsidian, and faded from view as faint outlines grew around them, forming the shape of a hut.
“Wait. This is where Mordecai and his family live!” Threadbare gasped. “What happened to it?”
And from the spectral beaded curtain, out swept a green arm, the only speck of color left in the world. “Come in, child. Come in.”
“Zuula!” Threadbare knew that voice. He burst through the curtain, with a really-unsure-about-this Fluffbear on his fuzzy heels.
Inside, the hut was bigger than he remembered, even with shattered, black beams poking through the wispy stuff that made up the beds, the floor, and the rest of the features. In the middle, humming over a white fire, was a familiar green woman with gold, gold eyes. She smiled at him, and cast something in the fire. “Dreadbear! All grown up... and with a little girl. Or a mate?”
“This is Missus Fluffbear. She's not a little girl or a mate.”
“Then a friend.”
“Oh yes! And there's Beanarella. She's just a golem.”
“Oh, dere's something... yes. Hard to see. It has no soul, so Zuula cannot see so good. Side effect of being dead.”
“Oh.” Threadbare wasn't sure what you were supposed to say about that. Celia had spent a lot of time fussing about trying to make sure her friends didn't die, that she'd infused him with the gravity and horror of it. That and his own skunk murdering ways had drummed in the lesson that people were supposed to try really hard to keep their friends from dying.
He wasn't sure how you were supposed to feel or what you were supposed to say to someone who was already dead. Sorry didn't seem to cut it. And other useful pleasantries he'd picked up from listening to small talk like “how's the weather,” or “how are you feeling” didn't seem appropriate.
Then a thought occurred to him. “Wait, did the evil ghost witch get you?”
“Ghost witch?” Zuula stared at him with her unblinking eyes. “Only ghost around here be Zuula.”
“Oh. It's just that the nice vampires in town said-”
“Nice vampires? Nice vampires!” Zuula hissed, and the spectral walls shook. Her hair blazed up around her, whipping to and fro in an unfelt wind. For a second the mask on the wall blazed, opened its ghostly mouth and screamed, red glowing from its mouth and eyes. Missus Fluffbear hid behind Beanarella, and Threadbare stood up from the seat he'd taken, alarmed. “Is no such t'ing! Evil vampires! Filthy bloodsuckers! Stealing Garon! Stealing her son!”
“Wait, what? Please, I'm very confused,” Threadbare said.
Finally, the dead shaman calmed down. “Come to tink of it, so is Zuula. You talking about old woman ghost? She necromancer, not witch.”
“I don't know, maybe. There's this crazy cat lady necromancer trying to hurt the nice vampires in town, and a ghost witch who's making one of them crazy. And I'm supposed to be able to deal with the ghost witch because I'm a necromancer too and I don't have any flesh for her to wither or life to drain or something.” Come to think of it, he wasn't so sure about that second part. He didn't know much about ghosts, or what they could do.
“Wait. You necromancer?” Zuula raised a see-through eyebrow.
“Yes. That's how I can talk to you like this.”
“Zuula be wondering why you so... solid-looking. Hm! This change everything? Come out.” She motioned to the curtained doorway leading out of the hut. Perplexed, the little bear followed her out. “Vampires be telling you not everything. Dey maybe lying.”
Zuula froze, mid-step. “Hoo boy. You is still green, yes?”
“No, I'm mostly brown. I'm wearing red and black though.”
“Lying is when you say something wrong to make people act how you want them to.”
“That doesn't sound nice.”
“It isn't. Friends don't lie to friends, mostly. Sometimes by accident.”
“Lying sounds... bad. And a little confusing. Why would you say something wrong on purpose?”
“Well, it okay to lie to bad people. How does... ah, Zuula can see we got lessons to teach... hey, you fading.”
“Oh! The spell must be wearing off. Speak With Dead!”
Your Speak With Dead spell is now level 4!
You are now a level 2 Necromancer! INT+3 WIS+3 WILL +3
“There we go.” And indeed, things seemed more solid now. “And I just leveled up by casting that spell and talking with you!”
“Really? Just like that?” In the doorway, Zuula tilted her head. “What level you go to?”
“Two? Bah, you not necromancer. You bone-diddler. Come on. We gots show and tell. First she show, then she tell.”
Threadbare followed her outside...
...and wow, there were a whole lot of THINGS out there all of a sudden. Really thin things, with hollow eyes, made of bones. They were about the size of humans, and many of them were broken or missing pieces.
“Men come to kill Zuula, along with rest of town. Zuula fight.” The scene blurred, and suddenly the bony things wore flesh and armor, fighting and falling to a flying half-orc as she blurred through the sky, sweeping groups of them aside with her club which evidently exploded every time it hit. “Zuula do good for a while...” The scenery shifted, and Zuula held a dragon in each hand, bashing the mighty beasts together. “...but eventually fall. Stupid daughter, stupid firstborn working for king. She come. We fight.”
The scene shifted again, showing a towering figure twice Zuula's size, battering her down relentlessly with a sword as tall as a tree. Zuula shifted into a bear, and Missus Fluffbear waddled forward to reach out to it, but Threadbare caught her and pulled her back. Zuula continued, oblvious. “She fall. As is right, orc fights orc, strong win. But... unclever son interfere.”
Everything flickered, and Garon rushed in from the side. And just as the scene faded, the towering, white-armored figure turned and impaled Garon with one thrust. He reached for his side, with his dying breath, but the swordstrike had cut his coin pouch as well. The figure lifted him up, as coins spilled down, and Garon the Mercenary fell limp reaching down for coins as his blood dripped onto the gold.
“She was in rage. He was in rage. Zuula does not blame. Bad business, but that is for stupid Mastoya to deal with. Cannot help her no more. But Garon...”
Now the scene was in black and white. The dead lay in piles, and a small, familiar figure crept out of the woods. Madeline, the vampire. She came to Garon...
...and Garon twitched. He reached up to her, and instantly Madeline leaned down, mouth gaping.
There was a CRUNCH, and both of them faded from sight. “She steal Garon. Turn Garon into undead.” Zuula spat. “Filthy undead! Not trust undead! No nice vampires. Zuula go to him, call to him all night long, every night. Remind him he is orc! Remind him to FIGHT! And he listen.”
“Wait, you can't trust undead?” Threadbare frowned. His common sense was telling him something. “Assess Corpse.”
Your Assess Corpse skill is now level 3!
Zuula was a level ???? Haunting Spirit. The bony things were level 5 Shoddy Skeletons.
“You're telling me I can't trust undead, but you're an undead too,” Threadbare pointed out.
“Well, that different. Zuula an orc, first. Humans weak, they go undead, they become all undead. Orc is orc, whether or not they alive. Orcs not lie to good people, like filthy vampires.”
“What's so bad about them?”
“They eat people! So do orcs, okay, but we honest about it. And if you win fight with orc you can eat orc, is no hard feelings. But dese vampires bad because dey got Garon, and Garon not want to be vampire! He hate it. Zuula can tell. Is mother's bond.”
“Oh no,” Threadbare put his paws on his head. “They fooled me. They tricked me into thinking you were an evil ghost witch so you'd stop helping Garon fight.” He was a smart bear, and a wise bear, and now he had all the information to make sense of the situation. And he did not like what he saw. “The vampires have Garon, and the Queen of the Cats has Pulsivar. I have to get them both back!”
“Wait, who is Pulse Liver?”
“Pulsivar. He's a cat. He was a tomcat but now he's a bobcat, a big black bobcat. He followed the smell of some strange cats. The vampires said he went to the Cat Necromancer, and she'd never let him go. Wait, maybe they were lying about that part?”
Zuula considered. “Maybe, maybe not. Hm... It occur to Zuula that you maybe caught between two warring tribe, here. Why not go see where Pus Liver is-”
“-him too. Go see how he is. If he with Cat Lady, ask for him back. Cat Lady been by here to talk, she seem pleasant enough, if a little weird. Smart enough to leave Zuula alone, anyway. See what she tell you. Den come back and talk with Zuula if you still alive.” She shrugged. “Hell, come back talk with Zuula if you dead, too. Shouldn't make no difference eider way.”
Threadbare nodded. Then he went up and gave her knee a hug. “Thank you.”
“Oh child.” Zuula squatted down and ruffled his head. “You got a lot of worries. Got a lot of growing up to do. Come back to Zuula, she t'ink about how to help you when you gone, and after you back we maybe see about making you proper orc strong.”
“I will,” he promised, and then as the ghostly parts of the world faded back and color started to return to the area, he took Missus Fluffbear's paw and lead her out into the trail. He checked the party screen, to make sure she hadn't gotten in any trouble there-
-and got the shock of his life, as he realized she was now a level 1 necromancer, in addition to her other jobs. Why? What...
...oh. Oh right. Repeated peaceful contact with undead. First the vampires, and now Zuula's ghost. And she'd auto-yes'd the job prompt when it came up. That must have been what happened.
Well, at least she'd gotten some good mental stats out of it, but Threadbare realized he'd have to be careful with what he dragged her into. She was literally very impressionable. If she wasn't careful she'd end up like he had, with all her options filled before she could speak or have much of a choice in the matter.
“You have to be careful, okay?” He told her, giving her paw a squeeze. She nodded at him, and honked her horn a few times.
“Does that mean you understand?”
HONKITY HONK HONK.
He supposed that was the best he could hope for. At least until he taught her how to write. Or figured out a way to do the stuff necessary to give her a voice without scaring her. So many things to do, so little time!
It took about an hour to get back to where he'd left the scent trail last night. Firing up his sniffer, he managed to locate it again.
Your Scents and Sensibility skill is now level 18!
He followed the trail past the town, back up into the hills, and the well-worn ruts picked their way up a stony path. Ramshackle remnants of wooden towers and metal tracks interrupted the trail every now and then, overlooking a large pit with steps leading down into it.
But up above the pit, at the base of the tallest mountain in the area, a mine shaft gaped open. Four times the size of the one that the raccants had occupied, it was lit from within by an eerie, glowing green light. It also had two bonikitties out front, staring solemnly ahead. One Assess Corpse and a skill up later, and he found that they were level 10 skeletons.
Well. This was troublesome. He approached, cautiously, gesturing for Missus Fluffbear to stay behind Beanarella.
He needn't have bothered. As soon as he got within a few hundred feet of the mine, a blue glow interrupted the green, and a familiar voice called out. “Oh, there you are, you precious little thing! Oh look at your tiny hat, it's so fitting!”
Your Work it Baby skill is now level 9!
You are now a level 4 Model!
AGL+3 CHA+3 PER+3
Checking Dietary Restrictions timer....
Your Dietary Restrictions skill is now level 20! Buff adjusted accordingly
He waved. That was the nice lady ghost he'd met in the Catacombs, back in the Catamountain. That was a good tea party, he remembered.
“Oh come in, come in out of the sun! It's so hard to see you with these old eyes. Do come closer, my dear.” The bonikitties stepped to either side of the mine entrance, and waved their skeletal paws.
Well, that was a good sign. And Pulsivar's trail did go straight to that mine. Threadbare checked the party screen, found the cat in good health, and wandered in, with Fluffbear and Beanarella tromping behind him.
“And you've brought some little friends!” The cat lady was much as he remembered her. See-through, still clad in her spectral top hat and ginger-pattern dress. She also had two very large creatures to either side, cats so big they dwarfed even Pulsivar, with dead flesh drawn tightly over bones, and blue glowing light where their eyes should be. Assess Undead turned up the truth of her, and her minions.
TOCKSY P. LASMOSIS – LEVEL ???? SPECTROMANCER
The big cats were both level ???? Wight Tigers.
“So what brings you to my neck of the woods, hmmmm?” She said, bustling about a small living space set up in the opening of the mine, opening cupboards that looked like she'd salvaged them from burned and fallen houses, and taking out broken crockery, laying it on a table that had definitely seen better days.
From further in the mine, Threadbare could hear the wailing of cats, big and small. He started that way, but stopped when the tigers moved in unison and blocked his path.
“I'm looking for Pulsivar,” he said. “The vampires said you had him. He's a big black bobcat.”
“Oh! You mean Spookums!” The cat lady smiled, and turned to him. Her eyes were wild, now, and Threadbare got the distinct feeling he had to tread carefully.
“He's having ever so much fun here, entertaining the ladies. Well, the ones I haven't had to wake up to their full potential yet, anyway. Like I woke Rajah and Regal, here.” She stroked one of the Wight Tigers, spectral hand sinking into its head. It purred, arching its neck, and its breath smelled of dried meat that had turned.
“Okay, but can he come back when he's done?” Threadbare asked. “I really need his help. He's my friend.”
“Mmm. Why don't we have tea and discuss that,” the old woman smiled.
Beanarella was easily guided through mental commands, but he had to show Fluffbear how to sit. The old woman chuckled fondly, finding both toys thoroughly adorable. They had a good tea party, even if Fluffbear did keep dropping her cup.
Your Adorable skill is now level 19!
At the end of it, she sighed. “The vampires have told you all sorts of nasty things about me, I imagine. Really, I'm not so bad. I just want the Catamountain back, that's all. But those nasty vampires, and their impudent little girl want the same thing! And neither of us can start a dungeon with the other still here. It'd be far too easy to raid into it, and catch me alone in the Core Chamber, with all our friends locked away into the variable slots.”
“What's a variable slot?”
“I don't know, that's what Nekochan called them. Weird little girl, but just so cute! Killed me, when I tried to raid her dungeon, but I didn't hold a grudge. After all, it became my home! It was... it was my proper place.” The cat lady stared over her teacup. “Have you ever had a proper place, little bear? A place where everything was all right with the world?”
Threadbare remembered Celia's arms, and the hours of play, and how the little girl laughed when he danced for her, and how she liked it when he hugged her. “Yes,” he said, and the sorrow came over him again. “And I'll get back there again, some day. No matter what. But for that I need my friends. I need Pulsivar,” he rallied, remembering his mission. “Please can I have him back?”
She sighed. “Right now? No. I need his help. He's just too strong, he'd be a vampire killing machine, properly supported. But...” She scratched her chin. “I'll make you a deal. If you can bring me a dungeon core, or wipe out the vampires, I'll see about getting him away from my girls.” She smiled, as she brought the teacup up to her face, considering him with gleaming eyes. “Assuming he wants to go, of course. If it turns out he... has an awakening... and wants to stay here, well, you might just have to leave him in his proper place, hmmm?”
Her tone was different, Threadbare noted. A bit more smug. Awakening... she'd put emphasis on that word, and she said she'd awakened the wight tigers, and they were undead now.
Was this lying? He thought it over, and the very wise little bear decided that it might be bad to ask her that.
He needed to talk to Zuula, though. He was swimming in dark depths and didn't have a clear way ahead. “Thank you. I'll see what I can do. They are not nice vampires.”
“So glad we've come to an agreement!” The woman beamed. “And now I'm afraid you must be going. My ghouls will be coming back from... scavenging the village... shortly. They might react poorly if they find you here.”
“Okay,” Threadbare jumped down, and tugged at Missus Fluffbear until she followed. “No, you can't keep the cup. It's hers.”
That took a little explaining, and a few angry honks, but he finally got the point across. The little bear headed off back down the trail, just managing to clear it before a shambling group of rotting forms started up the hillside path. These were humanoid, but he didn't stick around to look.
Your Stealth skill is now level 10!
“Zuula! Zuula!” He yelled, running back towards the hut as soon as he got into the clearing. “Oh, right. Speak With Dead. Zuula! Zuula! She's going to kill Pulsivar and turn him into an undead-”
The clearing in front of the charred hut ruin was filled with skeletons, every one of them wielding a club. Behind them, Zuula stood, arms folded.
“Um... is everything all right?”
“Been t'inking about ways to train up you necromancy, little Dreadbear. But tinking hard work. Orc already know how to get strong. You want to be more than little level 2 bone diddler?”
“I don't even know what that last word means.”
“Just say yes.”
“Good. We train de orky way! Use necromancy and fight!”
And as one, the skeletons advanced on him, raising their clubs.
Five hours, six necromancer levels, and three new skills later, his training was interrupted by new words scrolling across his vision.
By slaying over a hundred undead creatures, you have unlocked the cleric job!
You cannot become a cleric at this time!
Cleric? Beryl had been a cleric, he remembered. But he was too busy to think on it, as he shouted out commands to his controlled undead, while running away from the still active skeletons. In the back, Zuula yawned and animated one of the ones he'd knocked to bits earlier, and sent it back into the fray.
Then a brilliant light flared. Zuula stopped. Threadbare stopped. The skeletons froze.
And every eye, spectral eye, or hollow eyesocket in the clearing turned to look at the hovering form of Missus Fluffbear, as she lifted off the ground, turning slowly in a column of light.
Missus Fluffbear, who had cracked the secret of “yes” to make the prompts disappear. And whom Threadbare realized, calling up the party screen, was now a level 1 Cleric.
“Speak with Dead,” Threadbare muttered. “Wait, give us a minute here Zuula. Please, I... I don't know what's happening.”
“Puny gods be touching her, is what,” Zuula said, waving a hand as the skeletons slithered back underground, to their graves. “She be choosing now. Hope she chooses wisely. Hope you taught her well.”
“I've barely taught her anything at all.”
“You taught her enough for now,” a voice that wasn't his whispered in his ear. It was like a Scout's Wind's Whisper, but so much louder, and the voice that spoke it shook him in every part of his stuffing, as it spoke. “You taught her enough. But soon you can teach each other. Go with my grace.”
Then the light shuddered and disappeared, and Fluffbear floated to the ground. She stared around wildly, and ran up to him.
“What is it? Did you hear the voice too?”
She nodded frantically, and pawed at his mouth. Then pawed at hers.
“Do you want me to stop talking?”
No, no, no, went her head, and HONK HONK HONKILY HONK HONKS went her horn.
Light dawned. “You want a mouth so you can talk!”
Yes, yes, yes went her head.
“Okay, but it's going to take a little while. I guess we don't need a river to look in, since I'm working on you. I'm going to have to cut part of you open to do this, are you okay with that?”
She was. And she sat still bravely, as he took his scissors and made the cuts, then fiddled around with his tailoring materials until he could get everything just right. Then he sewed her up again, and stepped back. “Give it a try.”
“Op. Akka. Pom. Bukkle.”
“Try saying what I say.”
“I aying at I ay.”
“No, use your lips. Oh, hang on.”
“Pie Aying Pot I Pay.”
“Right, your tongue is different because you're so small. Let me adjust that...” A few snips and some new structures later, and she was mimicking his words pretty well.
“What happened? When you became a cleric?” He asked, once she had a pretty good grasp of talking.
“There was a light. A lot of big things looking at me. Then a man came forward and said he would help me. He had a big hammer like my old friend Scoops used to. His name was Yorgum, and he said he was the god of builders.”
“He said I needed a mouth and to bug you until you made me one. He said that the monsters have to leave this town so it can grow again someday. And that we're really special because there's so very few like us, at least right now. And that he couldn't tell us too much because of rules, but we should ask the nice lady about some of the weird stuff you found. And to go smite all of their asses. What's an ass?”
“I think it's the part you sit on.” Threadbare concentrated. The rest of it didn't make much sense. “Weird stuff? I don't have too much of- oh, wait a minute.” He turned back to Zuula, and rummaged in his pack, pulling out the red crystal with flickering numbers. “You're a nice lady. Do you know what this is?”
Zuula's ghostly eyes grew wide. “Dat be a dungeon core! How you get dat, little bear?”
“This is what they both want?” He asked, confused. “How do you even make dungeons with this? There's no help prompt.”
“Wait,” Zuula said, her eyes getting even wider. “Dey both want a dungeon core? Who dey?”
“The Cat Lady and the Vampires.”
Zuula stood there, thinking for a bit.
And then she shook her head. “No, no. Wouldn't work. Zuula be bound here. Got no way to come along with. If she could come with you, would work. But she can't, so... no. Pity. Was awesome idea, too. Big violence, many asses smote.”
“I want to do that!” Missus Fluffbear spoke up. “The nice god told me to!”
“Wait. You're stuck here?” Threadbare asked.
“Yes. Bound to hut. No way to go, no vessel to carry her.”
“Hmm... Status.” Yes, yes that worked the way he thought it did. “I may have a way around that. Soulstone.”
Your Soulstone skill is now level 2!
A black crystal materialized in his paw. About the size of a small apple, it seemed to draw in the light around it.
“Oh...” Zuula said, approaching it. “Wimpy. Can feel it tugging, but so weak, so weak. Still, if she don't resist...” She touched it, and her form blurred, oozed into the stone, and was gone. A fleck of green light flickered, deep in the crystal.
There was a pause.
“Level fucking one?” Zuula's voice shrieked, bouncing around inside the stone. “No. Huh-uh.” She shook, and the soulstone shattered as she burst out of it. “Not gonna ride in such a puny vessel. Total refuse. Professional orc pride on line.” The spirit folded her arms and pouted, which looked weird on her tusked face.
“Maybe it's that low because my skill with it is so low,” Threadbare mused. “Or because I'm only a level seven Necromancer.”
“Well! Zuula know cure for dat!” She grinned, and up came the skeletons again.
They trained well into the night, but soon hit diminishing returns. Fluffbear got some good cleric levels, but Threadbare only got two necromancer level-ups, which didn't seem to affect the Soulstone quality. So he switched to casting Soulstone over and over again, skilling up as far as he could given his sanity limitations. In frustration he appraised it using his neglected Enchanter skill... and leveling that job up as well.
You are now a level 2 Enchanter!
DEX +3 INT +3 WILL +3
That was nice, but the appraise turned up bad news for Zuula. “Well, my skill's at twenty-four now. So your effective level in the soulstone is going to be a three. I think it's one level for every ten or fraction of ten,” Threadbare said, showing her the crystal. He knew what fractions were now, he realized. And a lot more math besides. Benefits of sudden intelligence boosts, he supposed.
Zuula wasn't any happier with level three than she was with level one. “What! No. No, a t'ousand times no!”
It took a lot of pleading, every bit of charisma he had, and finally pointing out that her son was on the line to get her to relent. Finally, begrudgingly, she oozed into the crystal. Threadbare blinked, as new information came up on his appraisal. “It's a level one crystal now.”
“Which mean what?”
“I could use it to make a toy golem. Or do enchanting stuff with. Maybe.”
There was a long pause. “Maybe don't try dat while Zuula in it.”
“Yeah, I don't know what that would do.”
“I could ask Yorgum,” Fluffbear offered.
“Bah, what do Gods know of it. No, listen, Zuula got more important stuff on how to kick all undead asses. Zuula got great idea. Now she go with you, and we make sure both sides lose, and we get you friends back. Interested?”
“Of course I am,” Threadbare said.
“So you got de dungeon core, right? And dey both want it, right?”
“So let us give it to dem. At the same time...”
QUICK REFERENCE: THREADBARE'S NEW NECROMANCER SKILLS
THREADBARE'S NEW NECROMANCY SKILLS
DEATHSIGHT Level: 5 Cost: 10 San Duration: 5 minutes per necromancer level Automatically appraises the hit points left to any creature you look at. May not work on level ???? creatures.
INVITE UNDEAD Level: 5 Cost: 10 San Duration: 1 Hour per necromancer level Invites the targeted undead to your party. Non-sapient undead who are not already in a party will automatically join if this spell is not resisted. Intelligent undead always have the option of refusal.
Level: 5 Cost: 15 San Duration: Permanent Animates one skeleton or skeletal fragment into a skeleton. Requires a spirit.
Equipment Apprentice Tailor's Apron (+4 Armor, +4 Tailoring) Baggy Pants of Hammerspace (+5 AGL, +5 CHA, Allows hammerspace for one blunt weapon) Poor Quality Bling Ringtail Master's Coat (+5 CHA, +5 LUCK, +5 Armor, +5 Fate) Rod of Baronly Might (+5 CHA, +5 WIS, +10 Cool) Yellow Belt of Bravado (+5 AGL, +5 DEX, +5 to the Fancy Flourish skill) Toy Top Hat (CHA +10)
Inventory Assorted Copper and Silver coins Clown Horn Tailor's Tools 2 Doses of Red Reagent 1 Doses of Yellow Reagent Minorphone (Enhances voice and social skills focused through it twice per day) Soulstone: Zuula
Quests Save Celia
Unlocked Jobs Berserker, Cleric, Cook, Tamer, Wizard
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