The vampires of Taylor's Delve had learned long ago, and at great cost, that they couldn't spread out and sleep through the day with individual coffins. The Cat Queen hunted them by day, and her minions had good enough senses of smell that they could find the graves. And once she found a reliable source of bodies to make ghouls from, it was easy for the enemy to dig them up, and dump the shrieking vampires out into the sunlight to sizzle. Madeline had lost too many spawn that way, before the Angst caught on. (An Angst is the proper word for a group of vampires. Crows have murders, wolves have packs, vampires have angsts.)
So now they spent days under the tavern, in the tunnel network they'd hollowed out with time, patience, and strong undead hands. It had multiple escape routes, and it was big enough that they could lure in any ghouls who managed to dig their way into the tunnels, and dispose of them. One on one, the Cat Queen's minions were no match for the vampires. But it was never a one on one scenario, which was why they were down to Mads and her three spawn.
Well, four, but that one wasn't much use. Still, she'd taken the trouble to drag him downstairs, lashed to his bed, as usual. Thank Nebs for small favors that the original owner of this building believed in wide staircases.
He'd gone silent hours ago, though, and Madeline sat, stroking his brow. Had the little bear succeeded? She'd sent him out there because she thought he had good odds, but the glory of it was that it wouldn't hurt her position either way. She'd risked no loss to herself or to her angst by putting the toy golems in danger, so she'd done it.
She did know that this was the calmest she'd seen Garon in ages. “Ding dong the witch is dead,” she hummed, smiling down as Garon's red, red eyes squinted up at her.
“I can't feel her. What did you do?” he rasped.
“I didn't do nathing. Some teddy bear mighta killed her, though. Well, de-ainmahted her, I mean.”
“No!” He surged against the bindings, and Madeline jumped back, hand upraised. “She was my mother!” Garon howled.
“She was holding ya back!” Madeline yelled, her patience at an end. “I saved ya, not her! And we need ya strength if ya want to keep on existing!”
“I never asked for this!” bloody spittle flew from his mouth. His tusks had grown since his undeath, they cut into his lips when he talked. Madeline winced, and shook her head. If he wasn't so gods damned cute, I swear, I'd leave him out to bake.
“Look. Ya spent five years fighting me. Fine, whatevs. Vampy puberty, most a yas go through it. But what's it gaht ya?” She spread her hands. “Can't beat me. I'm ya mastah. Got hooks in ya brain, Garon. Fight as ya want, at tha end of the naht, it's my will be done.”
“Mother told me...” Garon rasped, his throat raw, “Being an orc... means never stop fighting...”
“Yah, but yer only half an orc, huh? Five years ya defied me, so now maybe you give me five years of peace for a change?”
He roared, and Madeline rolled her eyes, and turned to go-
-and ran straight into Grimble. He held up a grubby peace of paper. “We've got mail.”
“This just got slipped under the door.”
“I told yas not to go upstairs after dawn!”
“Somebody knocked. Ghouls don't knock.”
“Fahkin... what's it say.” She grabbed it from the grifter, and peeled it open.
I destroyed the ghost witch like you asked. She hurt me pretty badly, so I can't leave her clearing right now. The ghost witch was guarding a dungeon core, and I want to give it to you. But I think the Cat Queen knows. Please send help as soon as you can!
I'm sending this message to you with Missus Fluffbear. Please come as soon as night falls.
Madeline's eyes went wide. “Winnah winnah chicken dinnah!”
“We tried ta draw three of a kind and gaht a full house. Get Darla and Barrett ready. We march at night.”
“What about...” He nodded past her, at Garon, still howling and frothing.
“I gaht him.” She said. “Maybe he'll want ta pay his respects.”
Silence. “My respects?” Garon croaked.
“Yeah, the one that croaked yer mah? No shit, it was this taukin' teddy bear guy!”
“Came inta town with a troop of toys, wearin' a top hat and full a' jobs. One of'em was necromancer, and so I sent him ghost witch huntin'. And he succeeded! Now we're ganna go and get tha booty from him.” She sighed. “Innocent little guy. I almost feel bahd fah playin' him.”
“Innocent, yes,” Garon's face fell into a blank expression. “So he went out there and beat up my mother, huh? Did he know the details beforehand?”
“Pssh, why bothah with that?” Madeline shrugged. “Not like he had a stake in her survival anyway. Come on, are you with us or naht?”
“I'll go with you,” Garon said. He'd learned to be very careful with his words over the years. But Madeline heard what she wanted, and unbound the heavy chains holding him to the bedframe.
Outside, they ran into the rest of the spawn. Grimble held the letter up to her, frowning. “Are you sure this isn't a trick?”
“What? Please. From that little beah?” Madeline laughed. “You saw how gullible he was!”
Grimble's grifterly instincts fought with him one last time, but lost. “Yeah, that is a pretty ridiculous notion. He's just a foolish little toy, after all.”
“Woodn't last five minahts in a propah dungeon,” Madeline agreed, as the vampires suited up. Darla handed Garon his axe, for the first time in years, watching him to make sure he wouldn't get stupid. But he just slid it into his belt, sneering.
“What've you got to be happy about?” Darla whispered. She'd never liked the half-breed much.
“Oh, I'll tell you later,” Garon lied.
He never did tell her, but by the time it came up telling wasn't necessary.
In the green light of her cave, the old lady squinted at the letter.
I went looking for a dungeon core like you asked, and I found one. The ghost who had it is dead, but I need help. I'm really hurt and I need Pulsivar to take me to safety. He knows the way.
But I think the vampires know where I am. Please hurry! I just hope this letter reaches you in time.
“Hm... hm... well isn't this interesting, my dearies?” the old lady said, stroking a small tabby cat as it tried to flee. It clawed at her futilely, feeling its flesh writhe under her spectral touch. Where her fingers stroked, fur turned white, white as snow.
The cat screamed. The old lady smiled benevolently. “Oh, you're hungry my dear? Of course, of course. You there, Command Undead, lay down for feeding time.” she snapped at one of the just-returned ghouls. Snarling, eyes rolling in hatred, the ghoul did as it was told. Instantly, from the rear of the cavern, dozens of cats descended, ribs thin against their hides, mouths open and hungry. The ghoul vanished under a furry carpet, screaming as it became prey, instead of predator.
It was a good system, as far as the Spectromancer was concerned. The ghouls went out and ate the dead, regenerating their gruesome flesh, then they came back and the cats ate from them. Sure, some of them fell ill and died, but she just woke them up again and they were right as rain. She looked forward to putting it into widespread use once she had a little more territory to her name.
Miss Tocksy put the tabby down and it ran from her, on trembling legs. She paid it no notice, turning to one of her Wight Tigers. “What do you think, dearies? Do you think we should bring Spookums to him? Hm... He does so like it here.” She rose and walked back into the mineshaft. The dead cats came out to meet her, purring. The living ones fled for their lives. She walked past green glowstones set into the ceiling, past the old cart with two cougar skeletons harnessed to it, past all of that until she got to the back rooms. There, the black bobcat lay exhausted, grooming a cougar a third again his size. The cougar flinched back from the spectromancer as she entered, and Pulsivar studied her with unimpressed eyes. Then his yellow gaze shifted to the Wight Tiger, and his tail lashed, furiously.
“Come now Spookums, Mopsy, everyone's friends here,” Tocksy said. “How would you like to go walkies?”
Mopsy retreated. Her heat was about over, and the all-consuming fire that had filled her was quenched. Now self-preservation was kicking in.
“Come,” Tocksy insisted. “Walk.”
Mopsy, having learned lessons painfully, and still with the white scars across her fur to show it, followed meekly. The spectromancer's touch could and had drained her moxie to dangerously low levels.
Concerned, Pulsivar followed, freezing as the Wight Tiger rumbled. Yellow eyes met blue ones, and narrowed. The bobcat did not like the smell of these weird predators. He thought they might need a lesson.
Then Mopsy looked back to him, and that beautiful, earthshaking odor filled his nose again. Completing that mating season quest had got him a level, and been pretty enjoyable overall. So he followed her, ignoring the Wight Tiger with the utmost dignity as they passed.
“Yes,” The old lady mused, as her ghostly form floated through the mine. “Let's bring everyone for walkies...”
The vampires were the first on the scene. “Grimble, up in tha tree, watch for theah ahss.”
“On it.” He had a pretty good stealth, even before he'd been vamped. Up he went, peering into the night. The worst of the Cat Queen's servants had glowing blue eyes, and they were visible from a long way off. But the woods were thick and they were cats, so he stayed sharp.
“Shit, what happened here?” Darla said, walking into the clearing, with her spear and shield out.
“Was it always like this?” Barrett asked, pestle at the ready.
The graves, already disturbed, had been full-on wrecked. Most looked empty, and soil and bones were strewn all over the place. The burned-out hut was a tangle, and what looked like poofy cloth was all over the place, hanging from the charred timbers and broken skulls.
“Stuffing. That's stuffing,” Madeline said. She gnawed her lip at the implications, and felt sorry for the poor little bastard. “Mistah beah? You okay?” She risked calling.
Something in the hut stirred. “Missus Fluffbear? You theah?” She approached.
It scrabbled more, and she leaped onto the ruins, threw planks aside for all she was worth...
...and yelped, as the floor collapsed under her, where someone had dug with tiny paws, and weakened the supports For a second there was way, way too much sharp wood crunching in all around her-
-but fortunately, the heart's a very, very small target and she hadn't played all those years of grindluck for nothing. A trio of red '37's burst up around her, and she swore as Barrett helped her out.
“Fahck! Fahck!” She hissed, pulling jagged planks out of herself. Vampires got their wood allergies at level 5, and she was ten levels past that. The splinters in her burned, and distracted her.
Grimble wasn't as distracted. “There!” He yelled, pointing at a small skeletal form high in a tree. To the vampires it stood out as clearly as if it was in bright daylight.
And it didn't hurt that green light shown from its skull, green light dancing against red glowing crystal. The bonikitty had a dungeon core in its head!
The little bear's plight forgotten, “Fast as Death,” Madeline hissed, and dashed toward the tree, moving at a speed no living thing could match-
-but then the (unliving) cat was bounding from tree to tree, heading deeper into the woods.
“Aftah it!” The vampire girl bellowed, and her angst fell in behind her, moving slowly, much more slowly.
Garon lagged behind a bit, slowing to look at the ruins of the hut more closely. For a second, sorrow passed over his face...
...sorrow broken, as a top-hatted teddy bear faded out of the shadows, and tossed a clinking bag at his feet.
Garon stared down at him, and bloody tears wept from his eyes, as he stretched out a hand.
“Garon, please listen closely” whispered Threadbare. “I have a quest for you...”
A few hundred feet into the woods ahead, Darla glanced back when she heard the mad half-breed whoop. What was he on about now?
“Do the Job! Forced March! Fight The Battles! Follow The Dotted Line!” She heard him yell.
Ah, good, he was taking matters seriously now, she thought, and turned back to the chase.
The Spectromancer heard the shouting from half a mile out, those hated bloodsuckers calling back to each other through the woods, shouting to “Catch it! Run it down!”
That poor bear! Picking up the pace, she waved and her army of squalling dead felines followed behind her, along with two very puzzled living cats. Unseen, from his position behind the Cat Queen, Pulsivar nudged Mopsy as he ran, and swerved off towards the woods. The cougar eyed him, but did not follow, and eventually he swerved back, looking annoyed.
A coughing roar from behind him, and the bobcat jumped, shot an angry glance back at the Wight Tiger. Yellow eyes met blue again, and death shone in both gazes. This would only end one way, they both knew. And it was only a matter of when.
“Oh my dear what did they do to you!” The Spectromancer's voice rose up in a wail, and the tiger broke the staredown, lumbered after its mistress.
The Cat Queen stood in the clearing, looking up at the fluff scattered around the wrecked hut. Then her eyes narrowed. “Puffweed fluff?” She said, peering at it more closely. And it was. Here in the mountains it bloomed far earlier than it did elsewhere, and someone had wadded great masses of it together, wetted it down to look like stuffing.
For all her obsession, the Queen was no fool. “This is a trap! Retreat, dearies, retreat-”
She broke off, as a lone bonikitty jumped into the clearing, and a small figure leaped after it, flying with no visible means of support. Madeline the vampire landed on the skeletal cat with both feet-
-and the dungeon core flew out of the destroyed skull, flashing green numbers on red crystal in the darkness, as it lay there for all to see.
“You killed her!” The Cat Queen screeched, as her minions piled into the clearing behind her, and the vampire spawn formed up around Madeline. Then the furious Spectromancer's eyes fell to the dungeon core. “Mine!” She spat.
Madeline grinned, as she scooped it up. “Cahm and take it, then.” Oh, this was perfect! The she-bitch had always hidden behind her minions before. But now? Now they had a shot at taking her out directly.
Then the horde of growling, hissing bonikitties and cat wights slid out of the trees, and Madeline's grin faltered a bit. My, there were a lot of them.
And then it was too late for regrets, too late for anything but violence.
One of the oldest orcish games, often played in variations among other species and known by other names, is called “let's you and him fight.”
It's typically used when a weaker tribe is caught between two bigger tribes, and when done correctly, can ensure that the weaker tribe is the strongest one around. For a while, anyway, because orcs aren't good at lasting dynasties or the whole “not-picking-fights-against-bad-odds” thing.
When done incorrectly, the poor game-playing tribe's bones are made into toys for clever children to play with, to remind them not to be too clever unless they can pull it off.
Bones flew as undead cats died, but not before tearing into wounded vampires. The vampires were stronger, true, but their defenses weren't that great. They relied upon blood to heal their wounds normally, and well, the undead they fought had none.
But the undead were weaker, much weaker, and as they fell the Cat Queen burned sanity to raise new skeletons from the bones around the hut. Sanity she wouldn't replace, unless she somehow gained a level. And at the level she was, that seemed unlikely.
Both sides were weakening themselves, and increasing the odds that the little group of friends would come out on top, and reunite with their lost loved ones.
“We pulled it off,” Zuula whispered to Threadbare from her crystal shell. The soulstone almost seemed to glow with a smug green light. Not too far from her, Missus Fluffbear peered through the weeds, with the quiet form of Beanarella sitting placidly next to her.
The final member of their party was overhead, unnoticed in the night, gliding on skeletal wings. It had a part to play later.
Threadbare nodded at Zuula's words, rubbing his head. He'd animated a piece of cloth and made an eye for it, sticking it into the bonikitty they'd animated. Dollseye had let him personally guide his undead thorugh the forest, but it had been a really rough chase. Even with Missus Fluffbear's newly-learned clerical blessing of agility on the lesser undead, it had only been a matter of time until the vampires caught it.
Fortunately, he had kept ahead of her just long enough.
The hard part was done. Well, mostly. “Why did we have to put you in the Soulstone, anyway?” He wondered.
“Dey not come around here if Zuula still here,” Zuula explained. “Dey know better. Fear her too much. So Zuula hide in stupid crystal shell dat sticks her at level fucking t'ree. You is welcome.”
“All right. Well I guess it's going... okay...” Threadbare said, as one of the Wight Tigers flew past him, with Madeline desperately pummeling it as it ripped into her. He winced to see it. She'd been nice. But on the other hand she'd lied, and he really needed Garon back. And his mother seemed to think it was right decision.
“Never fear, little Dreadbear,” Zuula chortled, mistaking his apprehension. “Zuula's time come. You wait and see.”
“Oh, no, I wasn't worried about that. I just think it's a pity-”
An armored form flew through the air, bounced off a tree, and got up. Darla stared down at Threadbare, Fluffbear, and Beanarella. “You're fine? And you're just sitting here watching? What the-” Comprehension dawned on the dead knight's face. “You bastards!”
“Command Undead, please sit down and be still,” Threadbare tried.
Spell failed. Target is in the party of a more powerful intelligent undead.
“Oh bother,” he muttered, as the vampire came for him, jabbing with her spear.
“Dolorous Strike! Dolorous Strike!” She chanted, gashing along his side with jabs that knocked him backward and tore his hide. For all his armor, she was good at what she did, and the little bear widened as twin red '64's escaped into the sky.
“Godspell mend!” Missus Fluffbear yelled, and some of it healed, but the vampire lunged forward and kicked her out into the clearing.
“No quarter, traitor!” Darla hissed.
“Let's hug it out,” Threadbare decided, arms spreading wide.
“Ha! Not going to fall to that one!”
“Oh. I wasn't talking to you, sorry.”
Cloth arms closed around Darla's greave, and she looked down.
To see Beanarella looking back up at her.
Light flared, and Darla screamed, as a red '100' floated up and the pulse of golden light illuminated the trees. The battle halted, and both sides turned to see the vampire fall, flesh ashing as the doll healed her. She was undead, after all, and the power behind its innocent embrace was divine. Power that would have mended living flesh scorched her unholy dead flesh to nothing.
Empty armor clanged to the ground, and Darla blew away in the breeze.
“Hoo hoo hoo!” The cat lady chortled. “Looks like you've been betrayed, dearie!”
“Threadbare, what the fahk?” Madeline yelled. “What the fahk!”
“No, it's okay,” the little bear said. “I tricked both of you, so that makes it okay. I think that's how orc rules work.”
“Orc rules?” Madeline asked.
“I knew it was a trap!” The Cat Queen howled. “Come on dearies, get me that core and let's get out of here. Go!”
“Fuck it, if he's a traitor, I got no reason not to fill up my belly,” Grimble said, turning his eyes to the big black living cat that he'd been eyeing since the start of this battle, the one that had been sitting on the sideline watching. “You fucked us over, we kill your friend, buddy!”
“You don't touch Spookums!” The Cat Queen howled, but then Madeline was on her, and she had other problems.
“No!” Threadbare yelled, but he was far across the field from Grimble. He ran toward him, shouting his buffs on the way, trying to reach the vampire in time.
“No no no!” Missus Fluffbear sat up from where she'd been kicked, and ran as well. She didn't have as far to go...
...but she needn't have worried. As soon as the vampire got close, Pulsivar nudged Mopsy the Cougar and leaped away, disappearing into the night.
“One pussy's as good as another,” Grimble snarled, turning to look at the cougar that eyed him with uncertain eyes. He advanced on her instead
“Holy Smite!” Missus Fluffbear yelled, and a glowing whip three times its size outlined her weapon, and the grifter screamed as it cracked into him, searing.
“You can talk now? I knew you were faking, you little fur bitch!”
“I don't know what that means!” Missus Fluffbear yelled back, and kept on whipping him.
Threadbare sprinted in-
-and then one of the Wight Tigers was in front of him, and he skidded to a halt. “Please move.”
The tiger clawed him, bit him, picked him up and shook him-
-then gasped, as two claws slashed into its cheeks, tearing its lower jaw loose as the bear dropped to the ground, crouching.
He didn't look as damaged as things the tiger bit normally did The dead feline had no way of knowing that golems whose bodies were developed enough were resistant to the cold, dead touch of wights.
Though it was good for skilling up, mind you.
Your Golem Body skill is now level 21.
“Just don't die!” he tried to call to Missus Fluffbear. Then he waded into the Wight Tiger, claws flashing.
Meanwhile, Missus Fluffbear's lash left black streaks on Grimble's flesh, as it tore through his shirt, but he ignored it and marched toward her. Scooping her up with his far-superior strength and size, he took hold of her head with one hand, and her body with the next as she flailed and fought and tried to squirm free. “I did this to my sister's dolly once, when we were kids! She cried for days!” the vampire roared as he started to pull-
-and then black fur flashed out of the darkness.
If he'd been undamaged, perhaps he could have survived it. But Grimble had been hurt, fighting the Cat Queen's forces, as hurt as Darla had been before her fatal hug, and he had nowhere near Darl's hit points. Pulsivar tore through him like a blender through jelly.
Missus Fluffbear fell, nodded her thanks as she patted her stitches. That... that had been too close. “Godspell Mend,” she whispered, and waved to the big cat. The bobcat stared at her, licked his paw, and groomed himself-
-and promptly got blindsided as the other Wight Tiger leaped on him, growling.
It was go time, and the two disappeared into a tangle of limbs, and caterwauls, and roars, raging across the woodline.
Fluffbear started to chase after them... and a coughing growl interrupted her. She turned to see Mopsy the Cougar slinking closer, eyes on the little furry creature.
“Um...” Missus Fluffbear said, picking up her whip from the ground. “Good kitty?”
Mopsy roared and leaped.
Back in the center of the clearing, Madeline ignored the bonikitties on her back, clawing and chewing at her head and neck as she tore another handful of ectoplasm from the Cat Queen.
“Damn you!” Tocksy yelled. “Command Undead! Lie down and do nothing!”
But Madeline resisted. “As if!” She ripped a bonikitty off her neck and threw it into the spectromancer, sending her tumbling backward through the air. Then she took a few precious seconds and tore the little cat skeletons loose, grinding them to splinters in her bare hands.
“Status,” the Spectromancer chanted, and blanched even paler when she saw how low her sanity had gotten. Not to mention her hit points. It was time to call it a night, she thought. Escape, evade, and come for the impudent little girl later. “We'll settle this another night dearie. Goodbye! Hoo hoo hoo-"
Suddenly the clearing shook, as a broken wooden mask rose from the ruins of the hut, eyes filled with red, red light and mouth roaring out fire as it rose.
And all of the bones littering the clearing, all of the soldier's skeletons that had been exhumed, stood up at once. They tore into the remaining undead cats, and the dead ripped each other to pieces.
“Hoo.” Zuula finished, as her ghost materialized. The air trembled, and the Spectromancer and the vampire fell to the ground. “Welcome to Zuula's house,” said the ghost witch. “First rule? No flying. Second rule? You never LEAVE!” Zuula roared, as her mask fitted itself to her face.
“Garon? Garon! Tauk some sense inta her!” Madeline yelled... and turned to see her spawn's axe coming straight for her face. “Oh you fahka!”
And then master and spawn fought. No quarter asked or given.
Meanwhile, at the treeline, Threadbare finally felled the Wight Tiger. His buffs had saved him from much of the damage, and a few mends put him right. “Fluffbear?” He called, hearing only feline yowling, and the lash of a whip... a whip that fell silent after a few seconds. “Fluffbear!” He ran toward his friend.
Then he hesitated. On his party screen, Pulsivar's hit points were dropping. Fluffbear's were stable, if only at half their normal level. “Fluffbear?” he said, turning away a bit, looking for his bobcat.
“I'm fine. I think... I think she's sorry,” Fluffbear called.
“What?” He squinted over, and among the trees, he saw the cougar cringing. His darkspawn skill let him pick out every old scar, every tracery of white in her fur. And she smelled... she smelled afraid. And also she smelled like Pulsivar.
“Okay, if you know what you're doing.”
“No. But I think it'll work out.”
“Okay...” He turned and ran for Pulsivar.
In his hurry, he sped right past the vampires.
“You should have let me die!” Garon roared. “Twisted Rage!” He battered Madeline with the axe, and she weathered it, tanking the ones she couldn't dodge, battering him back, ripping the axe from his hands, and throwing him down.
“You think I didn't notice ya leaving my pahtay? Ya think I didn't expect this?” She hissed, ripping open his throat with straightened fingers. “I'll take my blood bahck now, ya traitah!”
“Mads,” he croaked, grinning up at her as his hand slipped to his side.
“What? I'm drinkin' heah!” She said, lowering her mouth to his wounds.
“Blood is Gold,” he whispered.
She had enough time to blink in surprise as his wounds disappeared. And then he was throwing her off, and slamming her down on the remnants of the hut, and all the pointy, pointy boards sticking up out of it...
Meanwhile, Zuula walked slowly after the Spectromancer, who flew around and around the clearing, sobbing. Every time she tried to leave the clearing, it hurt. A feeling like fire drove her back, burned at what was left of her flesh. “Why?” She sobbed, feeling her strength leak away. “Why are you doing this? I just wanted... I just wanted to live alone with my dearies...”
“You kill you dearies,” Zuula said. “You hurt dem. You keep dem hungry and bound and scared. Not natural. Not right. But dese are not reasons why Zuula kill you,” The ghost witch said, hair fluttering out behind her in long dreads, as she gave a sudden hop and caught the Cat Queen up in her grasp.
“Then... why?” Tocksy said, struggling, clawing at the implacable ghostly hand holding her.
“Because Zuula stronger den you. And she hungry.”
And Tocksy's screams filled the clearing as Zuula's mask gaped wide and began to feed.
Across the clearing, far from murder, Missus Fluffbear stared at the Cougar she'd whipped into submission. The whip Threadbare had given her had been enchanted for something like this purpose, though she hadn't known it. It had stripped the cougar's already anemic moxie with every strike, and brought her to zero. The big cat, thoroughly whipped, rolled on her back and exposed her belly and neck, crying like a kitten.
“I'm sorry,” Missus Fluffbear said. “I... I didn't want to hurt you. You attacked. Me, I mean... Oh.” The little black bear toddled forward, and hugged her tightly.
Golden light flared again, and the cougar's wounds mended.
And a large feline tongue rasped against the black bear's head. “Does this mean we're okay?” Fluffbear asked.
Through befriending a wild beast you have unlocked the Tamer Job!
Would you like to become a tamer at this time?
And Missus Fluffbear blinked, as new skills and attribute boosts appeared before her...
Threadbare got to Pulsivar, in time to see the Wight Tiger shake itself and flee. Unbound by its mistress death, it had no reason to remain here.
“Oh no...” Threadbare ran up to Pulsivar, who looked up at him, from a pool of his own blood. “Are you...”
Pulsivar sat up, painfully, and started grooming himself. Threadbare watched his hit points move back up into double digits. That had been way, way too close. “You just stay here, okay?” He gave the big cat an innocent embrace, healing him as much as he could. Wow, those were getting hard on his sanity.
And as the golden light flared, he saw a figure stagger up from the hut, and bring a makeshift stake through another's chest. “Garon?” he asked.
Garon has left the party.
Madeline's fangs glistened in the darkness, as she buried them in Garon's still form, and drank deeply. With a soft sigh, Garon slumped to the ground, body dissolving, leaving only clothes behind.
“No! Garon!” Threadbare clapped his paws to his mouth. “What have you done?” He whispered in the darkness.
“I've wahn,” Madeline said, glaring as Missus Fluffbear came up to stand beside Threadbare. “Gaht tha dunjahn coah, Cat Queen's dead, and my wounds ah mostly healed, thanks ta that drink. That idiot.” She sighed, looking forlornly at his ashes. “What did he expect? The fight was ovah once I got a command in through his will. Only a mattah of time.”
“You kill Zuula's son...” The Ghost Witch thundered as she faded in, walking toward the vampire.
“What's it to ya, lady? He had it comin'.”
“Soulstone,” Said Threadbare, followed by “Speak with Dead. Garon? Yes, could you get in here please? Ah, thank you.”
“He never be free while he vampire,” Zuula explained. “Now we got maybe some room to wiggle with.”
“Yeah, ya know what? Fahk that.” Madeline tucked the dungeon core away in her torn dress, and adjusted her head scarf. “You played me from beginning to end. I think I'm gonna fahking take you all ta stuffing.”
“Zuula recommend against dat,” the witch hissed, through her mask.
“Pfft. Ya don't scare me, lady. I'm too strong for yah touch. And as fah as yer no retreat trick works, you spent a lot of powah heah, can't hold me heah much longer. I feel it weakening. And you lot?” The vampire's finger traced between the toys, and the cats slinking up to stand next to them. “Ya all torn up from the fight. I ain't fresh, but I can kill my way through ya.”
“Oh. Thank you for reminding me,” Threadbare said. He tilted his head to the side and concentrated.
“What? Remind you of what-”
About half a ton of skeletal dragon plummeted down from on high, claws tearing and fleshless maw rending.
Five years ago, Zuula had killed a lesser dragon. And she'd marked very, very well where it fell. Well enough to tell Threadbare where it was, so he could go and animate it as a skeleton.
The dragon itself eventually got smashed to pieces by the irate vampire, but by that point the teddy bears were able to bring her down without casualties.
And oh, did Threadbare reap the spoils.
You are now a level 11 Greater Toy Golem!
+2 to all attributes
You are now a level 5 Ruler!
You have unlocked the Appoint Official skill!
Your Appoint Official skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Organize Minions skill!
Your Organize Minions skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Swear Fealty skill!
Your Swear Fealty skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 10 Necromancer!
You have unlocked the Drain Life skill!
Your Drain Life skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Mana Focus skill!
Your Mana Focus skill is now level 1!
Threadbare smiled over at Fluffbear... who smiled back. Next to her, a cougar the size of a housecat rubbed its cheek against her, while a very puzzled Pulsivar sniffed the cougar.
“Wasn't that cat bigger not too long ago?” Threadbare asked.
“She's my pet now. I'm a tamer now. It did that when I accepted the job.”
“Wow, this is better than I thought it would be, that's a relief,” Garon said from his soulstone. “Hi Mom.”
“Son! You is free! Now we can pass on to odder side.”
“Pfft, why would I want to do that?”
“I have too much shit to do.”
“You dead! You supposed to move on!”
“Zuula didn't because she had to make sure you didn't get trapped in eternal undead hell! Well now you not.”
“No, but Mastoya is.”
“She wasn't herself when she stabbed me. It was the rage. We both came down from it then, and I looked into her eyes. She was crying, Mom. She was hurting so bad.”
“She fucking killed you.”
“Yes. And she didn't want to. Kill you? Yes. Kill me? No. It's going to eat at her, Mom. I need to go and stop that. I need to forgive her.”
Silence for a long while. “You unclever son.”
“This is like that sprouts t'ing, isn't it?”
“Never ate'em, never will.”
“Fff. You should really just go. She sort it out. Join us eventually one way or other.”
“What was it you told me about being an orc? That you never stop fighting?”
“So I won't stop. Hey Threadbare, I know it's a lot to ask, but can you get me to Mastoya? I can at least throw party buffs on you. I think. Gods, this is weird, not having a body.”
“I've been thinking about that, actually,” Threadbare said, looking over to Beanarella's limp form. She'd evidentally been destroyed in the crossfire at some point. He moved toward her, pulling out his tailoring tools. “I could maybe make you a body. If the spells interact like I think they might.”
“Seriously? I'm down. What's the catch?”
“Well, if it works, you'll be in a golem shell. Like me.”
“I don't know, and it uses up the crystal. I don't know what happens to you, then.”
Garon thought it over. “What have I got to lose? Let's do it.”
“Pfft. Unclever child. You not going this alone.”
“Zuula stick around to make sure you not suffer. Look at you, children all! Green, and not in good way. Someone gots to be responsible adult here,” said the half-orc who'd happily engineered the massacre of most of Taylor's Delve's undead population because she thought it would be an awesome fight. “Guess it gots to be Zuula.”
“Okay. But I need something called yellow reagent to make it work. And I've only got one dose of it left. It's... I need to be a good enchanter to make more of it, and I'm not yet. I think,” confessed Threadbare. “It's hard to practice without materials.”
“Oh, that's what ya need, is tha yellow stuff?” Said a nasal voice. Threadbare whirled, to see Madeline's fading form lounging against a tree. That's right, he DID have Speak with Dead going, and well, she counted too.
“You still around?” Zuula hissed, stalking towards her.
“Whoa, whoa lady, let's cut a deal heah,” Madeline said, backing up. “You want yellow reagant, I want a new body.”
“You tell Zuula where it is or she eat you!”
Madeline laughed, and strode right up to the ghost. “Destroy me and you never get it. We hid it well.”
Zuula clenched her fists...
“Okay,” Threadbare said. “I feel bad about tricking you anyway. Even if you were hurting Garon.”
“Yeah, you should feel bad!” Madeline stalked over to him, shaking her finger. “I trusted you, beah! And you screwed me ovah, and got all my friends dead!” She sighed. “Okay, they were only my friends because I made them my friends, but the point stahnds.”
“I know. I do feel bad about it. But Zuula and Garon were my friends first and they needed my help.”
Your Adorable skill is now level 20!
“Fahk it. Can't stay mad at you. So whaddya say? Soulstone me, prahmise to give me a new bahdy, and I'll show you wheah we hide our loot. Ain't much, but we got plenty of yella dust. An' other colors besides.”
“I'll vouch for her,” Garon spoke up.
“Garon! She enslave you!” Zuula hissed.
“She's a monster. She was just doing what came naturally. You should know all about that, Mom. That nature thing?”
“Dat is low blow.”
“I'm not a knight. Mercs can afford to fight dirty. And anyway, she was nice enough, just... yeah. Didn't work out.”
“Thanks, Gar,” Madeline said. Then she looked at her hands, as they started to fade. “Uh? Might wanna decide quick, Mistah Beah.”
It wasn't much of a decision, really. “Soulstone.” He offered it to her, and she dove in happily.
That joy lasted all of five seconds.
“Level fucking three?” She screamed.
Zuula laughed her ghostly ass off.
The box didn't just hold yellow reagents. It had lots more red, plenty of orange, and even a few doses of bright, glittering green. Along with about three dozen crystals, most of which were level 1.
“Where did all this come from?” he wondered, as the teddy bears and their feline companions stared at the glowing hoard in the box.
“Item smugglahs, mostly,” Madeline replied. “Remembah those resistance guys? I searched theah houses aftah they were dead. Most of them made some coin this way. Which is in that sack to ya left, by the by.”
“Oh, thank you.” My, that was a heavy sack.
Your Sturdy Back skill is now level 7!
“There was a pretty brisk trade in illegal items from the Catamount,” Garon offered. “Used to be some of the wizards and guards could be bribed to look the other way, back before things got serious near the end. Items come out, and the really powerful ones got shipped elsewhere to help with the fight, and the lesser ones got disenchanted and sold as components on the black market.”
“This is what happens when you disenchant things,” Threadbare said, counting the vials of reagents. “That's what my appraise skill tells me, anyway.”
“You need to get better at a lot of t'ings,” Zuula griped at him from her own soulstone. “Gots to find focus. Is one reason Zuula come along. She gonna be your trainer, boy. You will hate her, before all is done. But you will learn. You will learn.”
“I love you, Zuula,” Threadbare said. “I won't hate you.”
“We gonna put dat to de test, little bears.”
Madeline cleared her nonexistent throat. “So, ah, about those bahdies... how does this wahk exahctly?”
“I can make toy golems. Maybe other kinds someday. It uses level one crystals, but soulstones are level one crystals. And it uses up yellow reagents. I just need to find or make toys, and prepare them.”
“Oh you ah in luck,” Madeline chuckled. “We ah, anyway.”
“Mrs. Fub!” Garon yelled. “Oh that's perfect!”
“What?” Threadbare looked down at his upside-down hat, and the soulstones he'd put in it. “What's a Fub?”
“It's a who. She was a toymaker before the slaughter,” Garon said. “It's where Mordecai got most of his toys from, before she started getting suspicious. Her shop came through mostly intact.”
“Oh! That sounds good. Let's go have a look.” Threadbare said, and the voices of the dead guided the little group out of the darkness of the secret hidey hole, and out into the newly-rising light of dawn.
QUICK REFERENCE: THREADBARE'S NEW SKILLS
APPOINT OFFICIAL Level: 5 Cost: 25 Mox Duration: Permanent until changed You may appoint one official per ruler level. This official, who must be one of your subjects, may accept oaths of fealty, and add them to your subject pool.
ORGANIZE MINIONS Level: 5 Cost: 15 Mox Duration: Permanent until changed You may choose one quest shared among your party members or subjects. While on that quest and working toward that goal, they gain a bonus to all attributes equivalent to your ruler level.
SWEAR FEALTY Level: 5 Cost: Special Duration: Permanent until changed Any individual may swear fealty to you, spending five moxie while in your presence or the presence of any of your appointed officials. They become one of your subjects and are subject to many of your other ruler skills and effects.
DRAIN LIFE Level 10 Cost: 20 San Duration: Instant Drains a small amount of life from a nearby foe and adds it to your hit points. Will heal regardless of physical form. Does not affect certain monster types.
MANA FOCUS Level 10 Cost: N/A Duration: Passive Constant Buffs your sanity pool by a percentage equal to your necromancer level.
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 A sack of coins. A Finely-Made Dagger (Dagger Level 5) A Dungeon Core Tailor's Tools A small jewelry box full of reagents and crystals, most minor. Minorphone (Enhances voice and social skills focused through it twice per day)
Unlocked Jobs Berserker, Cleric, Cook, Tamer, Wizard
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