“Run!” Zuula bellowed, and proceeded to ignore her own advice, charging the ogre with her spear leveled.
“You run! You run too!” Garon cried. “No, wait!” But then there was no more time for talking.
The problem, she thought as the tree trunk whistled over her head, was that she didn’t have enough willpower.
Zuula got in between the Ogre’s legs and jabbed the spear into its muscular calves, trying for the ankle and failing. A red ‘1’ rolled up.
Your Spear skill cannot be leveled farther!
Level up your highest class to exceed your limit of 10!
At least they’d come through to their new lives with full generics and class skills for their level caps, that was a small blessing, Zuula dodged a stomping heel, very thankful she had a ten in that, too. The ogre slowed its charge and turned to try and deal with her.
But no, the problem was willpower. The correct thing to do with an ogre when you are level 1, is to run from it. But her willpower was at half orc levels, and nowhere near what it had been when she was alive. She’d ground that willpower, through eight children, half of which had survived infancy. She’d ground it through arguments and good times alike with her husband. Ground it since her early days with her first tribe, learning to stand up for herself even when they gave her shit for being a halfbreed. All that was gone now, capped by the husk she wore. If she’d had it back, she would have acted differently, used her brain rather than rushing in.
But Zuula’s instincts were too strong. She was half an orc, and she would fight. And she was half a human, so she would die for her loved ones. And though a far, far better thing to do would be to run, she couldn’t. She couldn’t override her instincts here… and so she jabbed and tore at its feet, sending up ‘1’s and ‘2’s. It wouldn’t be enough. Not nearly enough. It was slow enough she could shift from attacking, and pray her 10 dodge skill saved her, but sooner or later-
-And then she was flying, hitting a tree at full speed, and everything became darkness.
“Oh… damn it! Run! Mom! No!” He charged after her, almost activated his wings, before he remembered that he hadn’t tried flying yet.
WHACK! Garon blanched, as the little Zuula doll flew into the woods. “Soulstone! Make a Soulstone and go get her spirit, now!” He screamed at Missus Fluffbear.
“I can’t! Mopsy won’t move!”
“Leave her!”
“No! She’ll die!”
The problem, Garon thought as the ogre turned to the stunned cat and started walking forward, slobbering, was that he didn’t have enough charisma. Years he’d spent polishing that, years of learning to talk without either of his parent’s accents, and being surprisingly well spoken. Years of dealing with people… all down the drain, thanks to an inconvenient death. If he’d had it back his team would have listened, and he could have organized them, got them to safety at least. But he didn’t have that, and so different, more drastic measures were called for.
The dragon darted forward, roaring, not daring to breathe fire for fear of toasting himself… but the ogre turned to look.
Then it glanced over at the cat, and started forward again. Fluffbear was pleading with Mopsy, had jumped off and was trying to push her, but the Cougar’s fear was horrifying to see…
…so Garon leaped into the air and bit the ogre’s loinclothed rump as hard as he could. “Chomp!”
A red ‘33’ drifted up and the Ogre’s bellow shook the forest, as he whirled, flailing at his ass. The thing was literally too dumb to find his ass with a single hand, so Garon was able to scramble free before getting squished. He slashed at it with surprisingly hard plush claws, scoring ‘8’s and ‘9’s, evading the tree trunk before it could come down on him.
“Fucking go save Mom!” He screamed at Fluffbear-
-and the Ogre scooped him up by the tail, and brought him up towards its gaping mouth…
“I Command you to Stop!”
“I Command you to stop!” Madeline screamed once more, and this time the ogre didn’t resist, staring at her as she brought all her diminished vampiric will to bear. Then Sparky drifted over, belching fire at the ogre, who dropped the dragon and scrambled back. “Bloodsucker!” She shouted, leaping up, aiming for its arm-
-and missing, to clatter on the ground, next to Garon who was shaking his head and backing off.
The problem, was willpower, Madeline thought as she got clear of those stomping feet, grabbing Garon by the wing and dragging him off. If she’d had more willpower, and more moxie to fuel her command skill, she could tell the ogre to go fuck off and it would have to listen. But she’d lost all that, thanks to being dusted by Threadbare’s crew. And now here she was a part of them, and she couldn’t pull her weight, because her will was a pale shadow of what it had been, trapped in a wooden husk.
She winced, as the Ogre slammed its club into Sparky, and a red ‘84’ rose up as the least elemental winked out of existence. Then it turned back to its plush prey.
The ground shook as the ogre stomped after her, but she saw Fluffbear finally manage to snap Mopsy out of it, mount up and head toward the woods. “Soulstone” she thought she heard the little bear cry, and nodded in satisfaction. Zuula might be a bitch, but Madeline didn’t wish her dead.
Garon was shouting something, but it was hard to hear over the ogre’s bellowing. “I’m thinking it’s time to cut and run!” Madeline bellowed back. “Get into tha trees, and-
All of a sudden, Garon snapped his head up and slowed. “Say yes when he gets to you!” He said, with hope in his eyes.
“What? What ah yah…”
“Hello,” Wind whispered in her ear, in Threadbare’s voice. “Here is a quest for you please.”
“Yes?” Madeline said, glancing back. They were gaining distance on the ogre, but it wasn’t showing any signs of giving up the pursuit. They’d gotten into the woods, but it was running after them, slamming into and knocking over small trees as it went, club sending up sprays of mud and rock as it dragged it, roaring.
A few seconds later, she heard Threadbare bellow in a far louder voice than expected from somewhere distant. “Organize Minions to Beat that Monster!”
“How tha fuck?” She screamed at Garon, as they ran. She felt… better. Not by a lot, but better. A buff? Had to be.
“The Minorphone! He’s using it! Keep running!”
“The what now?”
Threadbare’s amplified voice yelled out again. “Hello, this is my Emboldening Speech. I know he’s very big, and you’re very small, but I believe in you and think you can do it. That’s all.”
It was stupid.
But it was the kind of stupid that refilled her depleted moxie, and buffed her sanity. By a bit, anyway.
“Oh you clever bear, it’s offering gold so I can Do the Job!” Garon laughed. “And Party Buffs! Why not? Fight the Battles!
That didn’t seem to do much, but every little bit helped. And with clearer sanity, she knew what she had to do. She leaped on Garon’s back, and held onto his wings. “Get ready ta burninate him! Endure Faia!
“That only stops some of the damage to me!” Garon said. I’ll burn to death!”
She glanced back. The ogre was picking up ground. The plush doll haunters had to go around obstacles, he could barge right through. “You’d ratha be thumped ta death? Trust me, Gar! I got you!”
“All right!” Garon whirled, waited until the ogre was in the middle of a group of thornbushes, and screamed for all he was worth. “BURNINATE!”
Fire exploded out from Garon’s mouth.
A thankfully reduced ‘92’ exploded up from Garon’s head.
And the Ogre caught the full blast, bellowing and stumbling back as a red ‘124’ washed over it.
“Aaaagh!” Garon howled as he burned, and red ‘1’s started to flicker up-
“Endure Faiah!” Madeline yelled. “Manipulate Faia!” She cleaned the flames from Garon, added them to the burning brush around the ogre, and laughed maniacally.
“Fucking ow!” Garon grumbled. “Blood is- shit! No coins!”
The ogre, maddened, pushed out of the flames and made for them.
“Run around tha faia!” Madeline commanded. “I’ll try ta get him again!"
It had been very disappointing, to find out as an elementalist, that she couldn’t throw fireballs from the get go. Almost as disappointing as finding out that it was a sanity-based class, and here she was, all moxie. But thanks to Threadbare’s trick, she had a little more oomph to go on. And so, as the ogre chased them around the fire, she teased and pulled blazing flames from it, scooting out lashing tendrils and bursts at the monster, pinging it for 5-10 hit points a pop.
“How long can you keep that up?” Garon yelled, slurring his words a bit, his head charred and lopsided from his own breath.
“About a minute or two a pop! I got enough juice for maybe tree moah manipulates!”
“Keep it up- shit!” Garon ducked, as the ogre hurled a tree branch past his head, shattering against a nearby trunk, spraying splinters everywhere. “Ow gods!”
“Just run fastah!” Madeline urged, peeling fire off and flailing it at the ogre.
“On the plus side,” Garon said, as they ran around and around the gigantic, growing, blazing beacon, “Now the bears won’t have any trouble finding us.”
“Zuula? Zuula?”
Go away. I be dead, Zuula thought, irritatedly as she floated in the black nothingness, thoroughly pissed at being a one-hit kill.
“Zuula- there you are!”
Zuula sighed, as she saw the glow of a soulstone approach… but it looked different, this time. She opened her mouth, and-
-wait, she had a mouth? This wasn’t right. She wiggled her arms, and-
-arms! Dead people didn’t have arms! Therefore…
Zuula burst out of the mud puddle, yelling and trying to clear her mouth, sucking in air.
“Oh geeze! Clean and Press!” Fluffbear said said, offering her a paw and ignoring the mud spattered on her teddy-bear sized breastplate and shield. “Are you okay?”
“Status,” Zuula croaked with her newly cleaned mouth.
Then she blinked. That couldn’t be right.
“Zuula only half-dead. Huh! But he hit her with a bonebreaking-
No bones.
“Then she hit tree, hard enough to turn insides to-
Her insides were literally stuffing.
Come to think of it, she had leveled up that golem body skill a few times, over the course of her bashing.
“Huh. Huh!” And slowly, Zuula smiled. “Slow Regeneration. Yes, come on Fluffbear, move over.” She wiggled up behind her on Mopsy’s back. The cat bore it, too frazzled to argue.
“Oh!” Fluffbear said, “Look at that!”
“Look at what?”
And then Threadbare’s quest flashed in front of her face. “Yes!” Zuula whooped, and laughed even more as he shouted buffs through the minorphone. “Okay,” she said, with her intelligence and will up to the point she could think clearly. Well, clear enough, anyway. “We need to fight this thing smart. Stop fighting like warrior. Fight like shaman.”
“Um. How?” Missus Fluffbear asked. “I don’t-
“Not you,” Zuula punched her breastplate, with a ‘thunk’. “You do warrior t’ing. Ogre not hit as hard as we t’ink. Zuula, though, Zuula fight like Shaman.”
Zuula grinned, as her slow regeneration stitched her back up and pulled her burst stuffing back in through its seams. “Secret Herbs and Spices.” She scanned around, then nodded and pointed. “Dere! Go dat way!”
“Shouldn’t we go find the others?”
A section of the forest blazed to life, as a distant “Burninate” echoed from a few hundred yards away. “Dey be fine. In fact, dis perfect! Move fast, we got herbs to pick!”
“I’m running out of endurance!” Garon screamed back.
“At least tha faiah’s getting bigger!” Madeline said, ducking another hurled branch. Only a matter of time until the ogre got lucky.
“That’s not a good thing!” Garon yelled, narrowly managing to leap a burning log, dragging his tail through it, and hissing…
…but his endure fire buff was still up, thankfully, and he survived the damage. The little dragon corrected his course to go wider around the blaze.
The ogre just bashed through it, sending a red ‘8’ up to the heavens. Madeline sighed. “Status.” No, there it was in black and white. Seven sanity left, and she needed three more for another round of manipulate fire.
Low sanity. That must by why I’m standing, she realized, crouching on the dragon’s back, and eyeing the distance to the ogre. That must be why the idea sounded good, she thought, as she hopped free.
“Eh, it’s only a body. See ya next go round!” She hopped off, and annoyed, the dragon skidded to a stop, circled around.
The ogre slowed, too, grinning. Its hide was scorched to hell and back, its butt hurt from where the little green thing had chomped its cheeks, and it was really, really hungry. Finally, the prey had given up.
It opened its mouth wide-
“Now!” Zuula yelled.
“Go Mopsy go!” Missus Fluffbear pulled on the cat’s harness, sending Mopsy streaking into the clearing. As she went Zuula waved a big wrapped bundle of herbs through the fire, igniting them. Then as the ogre stared, open-mouthed, she hucked the bundle right into its maw.
Surprised, and running on instinct, it shut its mouth and swallowed.
And oh boy, was THAT a mistake.
Ogres are one of the few races in Generica that lack any kind of ability to vomit.
Its bellow shook the trees, as the little toys scattered. It ran hither and yon in the burning woods, screaming and howling, smoke pouring out of its mouth.
But then it found everything was slowing down.
The smoke from its mouth turned into a snake and turned to look at it. The ogre giggled. It was really funny, even with the pain in its gut.
Then its legs drifted off and floated away, so it stopped running to watch them go. It tried to wave bye-bye, but its hands had eyes, and so it winked them instead.
At some point the meat fairy came out and started showering him with turkey legs.
Then everything hurt at once and suddenly all the ogre could see was darkness.
Against the burning remnants of the woods, the hut, and the clearing, the little toys and their pet cat stood triumphant, splattered in ogre blood, thoroughly drained. Once Zuula’s secret blend of eleven herbs and spices had finished its work on it, and slapped it with a thoroughly hallucinogenic high, they’d closed on it and torn the ogre to bits. It had taken literally half an hour, and they were all tired. Golem endurance is very high to start with, but fighting really does take it out of a person.
Even when all the enemy can do is sit there and stare into the distance, waving at hallucinations.
Then the levels started rolling in, and they were cheering, hugging, and embracing. All save for Mopsy. She’d leveled too, but she was too busy meowing in confusion, as her body grew a bit.
Just a little bit. She was a tamer’s pet, so she was capped by the tamer’s level.
“Hahaha! Back to de level five shaman!” Zuula danced with joy. “Four Toy Golem and five half orc levels too. But shaman for de win! Hello Dream Quest! Zuula miss you so!”
“Level fahve elementalist! Woo! New skills! Oooh, one of them gives me a moah sanity. Nahse! Wait, it ain’t all that much. Eh, whaddeva.” She frowned. “Only level three vampire? But level foah toy golem? What gives?”
“I got level four golem too,” Garon confirmed. “Merc’s back up to five. Gods, that was a lot of… a lot of…” He frowned. “Wait. Uh... Uh oh.”
“My dragon level’s still one.”
“Oh. Shit, that’s rough man. Wait, so some races get levels fastah than othahs?”
“I’m a knight!” Yelled Missus Fluffbear, raising her dagger. “Yay! And more levels!”
“I guess that’s how it works. Dragons take a lot to level.” Garon looked like he was going to cry.
“Fuckin’ Nurph, amirite?”
“Fucking Nurph,” Zuula confirmed, patting Garron’s wing.
“Meh, whatever,” Garon shook himself. “Still a dragon. Did you see that Burninate?”
“I still see that Burninate,” Said Threadbare, on foot, guiding a very reluctant Pulsivar through the trees. “I think that maybe we should move to some place that isn’t on fire, please.”
“When did you show up?” Zuula asked.
“Ten minutes ago. But I didn’t want to steal your kill. This was all to train you, even if it didn’t work like we planned. Erm… you might want to…”
A burning pine tree five times the size of the ogre slammed down ten feet from the toys, spraying embers everywhere. They jumped and screamed, and Mopsy was gone, baby, gone.
“…Move…” Threadbare finished. “Well, no harm done. Yet. let’s go then.”
Once clear of the now-burning hollow, Madeline looked up at Threadbare as he rode along on Pulsivar’s back. He had black and white makeup on his face, in the shape of a handsome, mustached man. She’d seen the like on many playing cards, before.
“Nice paint.”
“Thank you. It’s a model skill. It’s boosting my Organize Minions skill right now. I guess this is the Ruler makeup.”
“If I evah get moah jahbs, that sounds like a useful one ta pick up.”
“Model or Ruler?”
“Both. Eithah.”
“I would be happy to teach you.”
“Hate to interrupt lovefest,” Zuula spoke up, “But we ready to move on out of village now, Zuula t’ink.” She glanced back at the fire. “Might have to anyway. Wind comin’ from south. Maybe not be village left in a day or two.”
“Eh, that town was dead anyway,” Garon said. And then they were all howling with laughter, as the bears looked on.
Fluffbear looked at Threadbare, who nodded, and they laughed too. It seemed appropriate.
The mirth lasted until Fluffbear noticed how badly injured Garon was. “Oh! Oh I should mend you! Hold on, let me-”
Threadbare put a paw on her. “May I try? I just picked up a new skill.”
“You leveled from that?” Madeline looked up. “In what?”
Silence, as they walked. “That confirms it,” Garon said. “When your golems do something big, you get part of the experience. Speaking of which, you owe us some gold.”
“All right. Before that, though… Mend Golem.”
Garon’s head put itself together, mostly. “Sixty-five? Lordy.”
Threadbare smiled. “Okay, that was pretty decent. Now you can mend him the rest of the way please,” Threadbare rubbed his chin. “And that’s what it does at skill level one. Dear me.”
“How’s the cost?” Garon wondered, as Fluffbear godspelled him back up to full.
“Four times as much as a mend. Only works on golems. But…” Threadbare’s scepter glittered in the distant firelight as he swept it around his friends. “Well.”
“Well.” Garon nodded. And yeah, it was. This wasn’t the existence he would have chosen, but it beat the alternative. Besides- he glanced over at Madeline as she rode on his back, looking back at the flames. The company wasn’t so bad. And the pay was... the pay! “Oh yeah! Gold? You owe us that.”
“So I do. Although I’ve been thinking…
“You’re pretty big. What if we sewed you a pouch, and you used it to carry your own coins? So you could heal yourself whenever and wherever you needed?”
“I been thinkin’ about stuff like that too. Makin’ mods and gearing up ta help us survive and prospah.” Madeline said. “I got a crafting slot, and soulstones is crystals, riaht? So maybe I get jewelah, and make us some weahable soulstone necklaces or something in case tha worst happens…”
“And you is enchanter who need practice, so you put spells in necklaces,” Said Zuula. “Or other stuff we can carry.”
“Maybe something to make Mopsy braver?” Fluffbear said. “Also can you adjust her saddle? She’s bigger now and it’s a little tight on her, I think.”
Plotting, planning, and basking in the glow of their stat gains, the little party of friends made their way back to town to salvage what they could and move on before the fire got there.
“So where do we go from here?” Threadbare finally asked. “We need to save Celia.”
“North prahbably,” Madeline said. “There’s a little fishing town up that way. Most of our prey came from there. Dungeon huntahs, lootahs, trappahs. The ones we turned all said it was a quiet little place where folks just fished and mahnded their business.”
“Yeah, but we’re a bunch of toy monsters,” Garon pointed out. “Even for an insular, quiet community, that’d be a bit much.”
“Actually, Zuula been tinkin’ about dat,” The shaman spoke, feeling a lot happier now that she was about twenty points of wisdom and eight points of intelligence smarter. “Here is de plan…”
Meanwhile, many miles away, a man in green robes perked up. “Hey! There’s something to the south!”
“What?” His wife asked, shivering. It was cold and lonely up on this hill, and she was thoroughly fed up with waiting. The wind was coming off of Lake Marsh, and chilling her to the bone.
Entirely agonizing, because the fire pit was right there, with unlit wood stacked high, ready to go. They’d been sitting next to it, as they had every night that their turn came up, with flint and steel and oil ready to go.
But still, the stars refused to cooperate, and until they did, the fire had to remain unlit.
“Give me a second, let me get up here…” The man shimmied up one of the old dolmens, using one of the many tentacles carved into the sides to climb it. She winced as he put a foot into YGlnargle’blah’s eye. “Sorry lord,” she mouthed, just to be sure.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, nothing.” She coughed. “Just cold.”
“Well someone’s not. They’ve lit a whomping great fire out that way.”
“Out what way?” She moved over to the edge of the hill and peered. No way was she climbing a dolmen, the last time she’d done something like that had been a lot of donuts and about five blessed children of the depths ago. Which reminded her, she needed to pick up fish in the morning before she got back home. They’d been good lately, and it was fun watching their lidless eyes light up so as they got their special treats.
“South. It looks like a wildfire or something, it’s really going,” Harb said.
She froze. “Harb?”
“Yes Marva?”
“Harb, it’s a fire? A big fire that we can see from here?”
“A fire like the sort we were supposed to light when the stars were right, and YGlnargle’blah’s words echoed like terrible thunder from the dolmens to enlighten his children?”
There was a long pause. Then as one, Harb and Marva turned to look at the town of Outsmouth, a few miles to the north.
Outsmouth, in which their cult was eagerly awaiting the signal. The signal of a fiery beacon, from the south.
Harb and Marva looked to the stars, which were really, really, really not right. Then they looked to the dolmens, which were as silent as they’d been the last two years that the cult had been keeping sentries out here. Then they looked to the unlit fire.
And then they looked back at the blaze.
“You know,” Harb said, in that voice one gets when there’s something entirely horrible right in your sight, but you don’t want to acknowledge it, “That fire is pretty big. You can probably see it from town.”
“If you’re looking this way,” Marva said, in that voice one gets when one is trying to deny the horror, find some faint scrap of hope to lift one’s soul, even in the face of the death of all one’s hopes and dreams, “Maybe nobody’s looking this way. I mean, Ebbett’s on duty tonight, and he is a bit of a slacker.”
“Totally fell through on the last bake sale,” Harb said, desperately. “Probably asleep right now. Nothing to worry about-“
The two cultists turned to stare at the town.
Someone had started ringing the bells.
“Dead gods dammit Ebbett!” Harb and Marva wailed simultaneously, and looked at each other. Harb shimmied down off the stone, took her hand, and the married couple ran desperately toward town, hands waving, screaming at their distant brethren that no, wait, stop, it was all a big misunderstanding…
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Andrew Seiple


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