Pastor Elpy Hatecraft lingered for a moment more, dwelling on the artifacts of an antediluvian nature retrieved from the very depths of what in aeons past had been a submarinic trench. The local peasantry had mistaken it for a mere lake, and more ignoramuses they, for It was clearly a hoary relic from a bygone age, when squamous tentacles reached forth deep from umbral places beneath the earth, to rend and manipulate the soil and the geography about them. Lake? Bah! The Brobdingnagian body of water the quaint and curious locals referred to as Lake Marsh deserved a far more Sesquipedalian surname. He had a few in mind, but he’d been waiting until the engraver got back to him with quotes, for changing all the signposts.
Unfortuitously, the engraver wasn’t a member of his society of forbidden lore (and bingo twice a week,) or else he could have offered elevation into the highest eldritch mysteries of the Society of indefatigable exploration of the unknown elder antiquities. Namely, the bleachers that Hatecraft permitted the most elevated brethren to utilize while they observed the chamber of blasphemous conception, during the rite of manifestation.
But all that, as had many of his more enabling and eminently profitable plans, had evaporated like morning dew as inaction turned to action, and he’d awoken from his late-night slumber to the tintinnabulation of bells, bells, bells, and the somewhat unanticipated revelation that a revolution had occurred, thanks to the brethren and sistren on watch receiving the long-awaited sign that great YGlnargle’blah, an inscrutable entity that Hatecraft had chosen specifically for his dormancy and turpitude, was, in fact, engaging in unanticipated somnambulism.
Which was not Hatecraft’s plan at all.
“Load faster! Make haste!” He commanded the beast, and it muttered and grumbled, in its loathsome way. The barbels on its cheeks twitched in time with its irritable susurration, its very existence evidence of an uncaring cosmos full of helpless gods, a form that offended the reasonable man’s eye and raked at the very sanity of all logical onlookers.
Mainly it was the pants.
The brethren and sistren had put their foot down about that, they wanted YGlnargle’blah’s envoy to wear pants when he wasn’t engaging in blasphemous rites. Which was absurdity of the first order, but they HAD insisted, and so the herald of the octopodlian apocalypse, the evidence irrefutable of the truth of YGlnargle’blah, and the prominent celebrity in the rite of blasphemous conception now had to wear canvas shorts when he was off duty, as it were.
Initially concerned but somewhat relieved to find that this increased the eagerness of the female gender of the society to engage upon the rite of conception, Hatecraft had grudgingly agreed. He would have hated to give up his Saturday nights at the peephole, after all.
But the pants proved no hindrance to the primary usage that Hatecraft employed the thing from below the waves at this minute; namely, engaging in longshoremanship of a most mediocre quality. The beast dropped half the crates he loaded upon the boat, and Hatecraft was reduced to mere scrabbling at the sands in the hidden cove, uncovering every fallen coin from every shattered container, and ensuring that not a single silver candlestick or precious metal adornment that he’d painstakingly milked from the society’s coffers went astray.
The small bell he employed as both an early warning system and a doorknocker doled out its brazen peals, and Hatecraft hurled imprecations and threats at the beast, until it revolved its bulging, piscine eyes, and retreated to the depths of the dark cove, descending beneath the boat until such time as his viridian orbs and herring-enhanced exhalations could best be utilized for the purposes of intimidation.
Besides, when encountering a fellow ineffable lore-seeker, even one within the same blasphemous pantheon, it was best to have an ace kept in the proverbial hole.
Arranging his features into a pleasant countenance, Elpy Hatecraft pushed his spectacles up on his narrow face, and smiled at the stranger as she entered the cave below the church, escorted by half-a-dozen of his acolytes. “And you would be Miss Mata,” he greeted the woman, her robes jaundiced and unhealthy as doubtless was her quaint and curious obsession. “Welcome to the true temple of the Society of indefatigable exploration of the unknown elder antiquities.”
“Thank you. It’s good to be here,” Said the woman. “I had no idea this little cave was here, you can’t really see it from the outside.”
Elpy smiled, and gestured to the small hole in the wall where the lake entered, luxuriant with weeds and verdant marshgrass, offering concealment of the most fortuitous sort. “Yes, that’s the objective. Are you here to join our incipient revolution, my dear Miss Mata?”
“Actually I was wondering if you knew anything about a girl named Celia. She’s the King’s daughter.”
Hatecraft found his angle of conversation entirely derailed. Intellect temporarily disengaged, he blinked at the shrouded woman from behind his spectacles, mouth opening to emit a rather undistinguished croak. “Bu-what?”
To his amazement, the woman started to twitch, and mutter in disjointed exclamations. “You didn’t know- Well she is, I saw him- of COURSE I’m sure- Zuula knew. Zuula, please explain it- Hold on he’s looking at me funny, I think it’s still on-” She fell silent.
Hatecraft pulled of his spectacles, as his mouth moved, trying to make sense of the entirety of the inexplicable affair. Ultimately, he directed his gaze to the acolytes, who were looking at each other and whispering.
And to his horror, he realized that they were staring at the boat, encumbered to the brim with boxes, barrels, and crates, with a few shattered containers gleaming with unrevealed treasure in the dim green glowstone lanterns that he’d had to rig extremely carefully to get just that right shade of ‘eldritch’.
“Ascend the stairs forthwith,” he told them. “I can ensure that the treasury is moved to an infinitely more secure location myself, and I must communicate with the blessed messengers that are afflicting Miss Mata’s mentality in an insalubrious manner.”
Daav turned to Phred. “Wot’d he say?”
“Ah, he’s just moving the stash. And he wants to talk to the lady alone.”
“Aw, I wanted to watch,” Mhorty sighed.
“Psh, don’t get greedy, it’s not even Saturday. And she might say no. Come on, let’s get going then. Bye Pastor!”
“Farewell!” Elpy flapped his hands at them, in the sacred sign of the guardian marshfowl that he’d taught them early on in his theocratic regime. It looked impressive and did absolutely nothing save stretch the fingers, but it pleased the congregation nonetheless and a few of them even dropped their spears to return the sign.
With much clattering and a few lingering suspicious looks from some of the less-fervent acolytes at the boat full of treasure, the acolytes departed.
Hatecraft waited until he heard the door upstairs shut, and marched forward to Mata, shaking his finger in her face, chastening and intimidating simultaneously, he was certain. “You’re no devotee of the Thing In Yellow! If you were, you would have surely drawn comparisons to this subterranean sanctuary to the lake of Holi, in lost Corcasa!”
“I never said I was a devotee to anyone,” said Mata, returning his gaze unblinking, eyes just visible through her veil. “I’m a little confused about why your cult thought road signs were significant.”
Hatecraft smiled. “And now I’m certain that you’re no cultist. We don’t call ourselves by such plebian apellations. Tell me, Miss Mata, what brings you to Outsmouth? Are you perhaps here to spy on our holy revolution?”
She still didn’t blink. “I’m trying to find news about my little girl. But I don’t think she’s here. She’s the king’s daughter, and I’m worried about her.”
Now, and only now, Elpy blinked. That wasn’t the alibi he was expecting an agent provocateur to operate underneath. He pulled back from her, retreating to rally his ruminations, and best consider the concepts to conjugate. “You claim to be a mistress of royalty, then? A jilted mother, seeking her royal bastard?”
“I don’t think you should talk that way about Celia. Please apologize.”
“Celia? You claim to be Princess Cecelia’s maternal originator?” Elpy laughed. “Unless you’re Amelia Gearhart under there, that statement is magnificent within its ludicrousness. If I were you, I would observe your perambulation warily around such worrisome embellishments.”
“I never claimed to be her mother. Her mother’s dead. She’s my little girl, that’s all.”
“Mmm. Madness, then. Insanity and fixation… fortunately I know all about such afflictions.” Elpy spread his arms wide, convinced he was dealing with a madwoman. “I think, that I can recommend religion. You’ve already paid your dues, as it were,” he nodded to the boat. “Would you enjoy true enlightenment?”
“No thank you. You lie to your friends too much.” To his horror, the woman walked over to the boat and picked up a sack. “And these are our coins. Why did you take them?”
“Wartime requisitioning,” he snapped, hastening over and removing the sack of lucre from her grasping, gloved digits. “A small fee to contribute to the coffers of the holy revolution.”
“Yes, but you didn’t want that revolution to happen,” Mata pointed out. “So it looks an awful lot to me like you’re using it as an excuse to steal.”
A cold, nameless dread began to creep up Hatecraft’s spine. His appendages numbed, as the air in the cove seemed to grow malign, and arctic, almost gelid to his frantic inhalations. “What did you say?” he whispered.
“We read your diary. We know you wanted to be important, so you came here to research the old one, and try to get people to do what you told them to do. Then you found the monster, and IT did what you told it to do. And that’s when you killed the old priestess and the librarian.”
“How…” Elpy rubbed his forehead. His diary! He’d completely forgotten about that aggravating tome during the relocation of his quarters to a location more suiting to his magnificence! “So what? You’ve only sealed your fate!” He hissed, striding forward to admonish the woman, ignoring her inscrutable arrogance. “With one word to my faithful they would engage in your agonizing and ultimately lethal defenestration!”
“I’m sure that’s very bad, but Zuula’s talking with them now, and showing them the book. I don’t think they’re very faithful any more. They’re pretty mad, to be honest.”
Hatecraft’s mouth snapped shut. He looked up at the wooden ceiling above, noting for the first time the creaking of footsteps on the church floor above. Many footsteps. And just audible above them, a low, ugly muttering. The sort of muttering simple rural fisherfolk do when they find out that their savior and prophet is just a pathetic basement-dwelling ‘nice guy’ with some kinks involving calamari.
“Who are you!” He bellowed into the unblinking woman’s veiled face. “Take off your mask!”
“Mask?” She said, as she tilted her head quizzically. “I wear no mask.”
Silence, for a long moment.
“You’re, er, you’re wearing one right now,” Elpy pointed out.
“Oh, that. Technically it’s a veil.”
Elpy had had ENOUGH. “Great Cmpylyah’s Curse on your Constitution! Dark Bolt!” he screamed, blasting her backwards with eldritch lightning!
A red ‘99’ escaped into the sky, and she staggered, and fell to one knee. Elpy ripped the veil away from her face-
-to look upon charred wood. “Ah. An animator,” he sneered, kicking the crippled puppet to the sand. “So that wasn’t a lie, at least. Clever. I would hunt your real embodiment down, but my chronological excess is approaching its end, in this approximate location. I think I shall employ the egress, and leave you to enjoy the consequences when this town’s inevitable doom approaches, whether it be from eldritch consequences or more mundane genocide.” He hopped on the boat, gave three knocks.
The water churned, then stopped. Hatecraft frowned, and knocked harder.
“No, don’t go anywhere,” The charred wreck of the mannequin said. “Not after we went to all this trouble to come to you.”
With a surprised warble, the beast burst from the water, trousers rent and dripping.
And to Hatecraft’s astonishment, he was followed by three dripping, weed-covered, unnatural little forms…
Threadbare charged out of the water, dropping the stone that he’d used to weigh himself down when he walked along the bottom of the lake.
Beside him, Garon did the same time. From his back, Madeline pointed at the really big fishman they’d run into under the boat. “Back off, scaly!” She shouted.
Threadbare opened his mouth to say something to Hatecraft, but water came out instead.
This could be troublesome, he thought, as Hatecraft shrieked and threw black lightning at him. Fortunately, the little bear was small and nimble.
Your Dodge skill is now level 8!
He needed to get his mouth clear, and the guy wasn’t giving him time to do it. So Threadbare decided to try one of his little used tricks. He leaped forward, onto the boat, and hugged the guy’s outstretched arm. Golden light flared…
You have healed Elpy Hatecraft for 110 points!
Your Innocent embrace skill is now level 12!
…but Elpy had a surprisingly good will, for someone who had so thoroughly failed to resist his own urges. Or maybe Threadbare just needed more practice.
Your Fascination skill was resisted!
“Get off! Evacuate!” Elpy screamed, shaking his arm. But the little bear’s strength was much more than the cultist’s. Threadbare spat water into his face, trying to clear his voice for speech.
“Fevered Strength!” the cult leader hissed, and Threadbare’s arms slipped as the thin man bulged with muscles. Then the little bear was flying backward, hitting the wall of the cavern, and bouncing to a stop.
“Dark Chant!” Hatecraft roared, as he grabbed a gaff hook and leaped out of the boat. And from everywhere and nowhere, from the place between the worlds, carried on ineffable winds from places no man was meant to see or hear, came words that were terrible in their strangeness. “IO! IO FORTRAN! CMPYLYAH RPL WEBQL NPL FORTRAN!”
Even Threadbare, with his strong mental fortitude, felt his sanity escape as the chant tore at his mind…
Meanwhile, on the beach, Garon and Madeline faced off against an eight-foot, scaly being. It had the head of a catfish, with glowing green eyes, and a blubbery layer of fat over way too many muscles. Initially freaked out over their appearance, it now seemed to be getting angry. “WRRBLGLRGLE BLAH!” The thing spat, standing legs akimbo, its baggy pants brushing the ground.
“Burninate it! I got yer back!” Madeline yelled. “Endure Faiah! Manipulate Faiah!”
Garon hosed the fishman down with water, as he tried to speak.
“Oh.” Madeline said. She’d kept her mouth shut no problem underwater, but the plush toys… well, they WERE pretty porous, weren’t they? “Uh oh.”
Then Garon twisted and jumped to the side, as the fishman kicked at them, and Madeline, with her substandard ride skill, went flying. “Mothafuckah!” She ate sand, and picked herself up, just as the chant started. “No!” She howled, as the alien words ripped through her head... “Not again!”
On the other side of the cavern, Threadbare winced, as a Dark Bolt ripped through him, sending a red ‘47’ into the air. Then Elpy was upon him, stabbing down with the gaff hook. Threadbare dodged again, tried to clear his throat, but couldn’t. His friends were losing heart, as the dark words ripped sanity from them, he saw blue numbers flowing up and away, way too big in Madeline’s case. He had to stop that. But how?
The gaff hook caught him square on, impaling him through the gut.
Your Golem body skill is now level 22!
Your Toughness skill is now level 16!
Max HP +2
The bear grabbed the spear, and started to pull himself up. Elpy shrieked, and started battering him against the stones, the beach, whatever he could reach. It damaged the little bear, but the golem kept up his inexorable climb.
And as he did so, the answer came to him.
“I don’t know if this will work,” Mata said, in her creaky, mildly-charred voice, “But this is my Emboldening Speech.” Elpy froze, and looked toward the dummy. “This man and his monster have been doing bad things and lying to the people they should be helping. So let’s stop them. There’s no way he’s tougher than the ogre, and you did great on that.”
Your Emboldening Speech skill is now level 8!
To Elpy’s horror, the puppets straightened up, and the sanity escaping them shrunk and slowed. His abomination, however, clutched its skull, as the dark chant continued its work. The beast never HAD been immune to the blasphemous sanity-over-time spell.
Then furry paws seized Hatecraft’s fingers, and pain ripped through his hand as bone snapped. Fevered Zeal granted strength, yes, but at a cost to constitution. He hurled the spear, and the bear free…
…and the bear threw itself off the spear, yelled “Fancy Flourish!” In a still-waterlogged voice, caught the wall with strong legs, and fell to the ground, landing on both feet and whipping the spear around in a dazzling display.
Threadbare smiled as he saw a green ‘12’ escape from Hatecraft. He smiled more as skill-ups flew by.
Your Fancy Flourish skill is now level 7!
Your Work it Baby skill is now level 31!
Too many foes! Hatecraft started toward the dolls on the beach, charging them while their backs were turned-
Hatecraft wasn’t distracted. He kicked at Madeline, but his foot came nowhere near her, as the challenge debuff threw his aim off. She dodged, and shouted “Call Faiah!” Red fire, not properly eldritch at all, licked up from her hand and hit him in the crotch. Hatecraft staggered back, shot a look at Threadbare, who was examining the gaff hook.
“This is sort of a blade, isn’t it?” Threadbare asked, his throat finally clear of water. He studied the double-sided spear blade carefully.
“What?” Hatecraft wheezed, batting at his burning balls.
Threadbare brought the spear down hard on a rock, so hard that the little teddy bear bounced into the air.
The spear blade broke off. Threadbare walked over and tossed it into the air. “Animus Blade,” he said, as it whirled. “Invite broken spear thing.”
Your Animus Blade skill is now level 9!
“Technically it’s a gaff,” Hatecraft hissed, his grammar offended at the improper education displayed in this plebian plushie.
“Yeah, it’s a gaffe all right!” Madeline yelled. “And you made it! Whoops!” She went flying backward as the abomination managed to boot her a good one. “Ow!” then “AGH!” as the dark chant swelled, and another blue number ripped from her skull. “Little more encouragement here boss?”
Threadbare charged Hatecraft, as the reverend recovered from his roasting and seized up a board with a nail in it. The two fought, claw to wood, as the little bear shouted emboldening speech after emboldening speech.
Meanwhile, Garon bit at the catfish thing, ripping its pants and tearing into its scaled flesh. But the thing was tough, and though it was slow, the few hits it managed to land popped seams and burst stuffing.
Garon needed his skills, and he couldn’t get to them, his throat and mouth were choked with water. His superior air capacity worked against him. The Dark Chant wasn’t hitting him so bad, at least, it seemed like high dragons were resistant to that sort of thing, but even with Threadbare’s speeches it would soon take Madeline out of commission unless they could shut down the cultist.
Then Garon felt a familiar weight on his back, after he danced around the catfish man’s latest lunge. Madeline.
“Gar, do you trust me?” The wooden doll yelled.
“Gurgleglub! Blarfle!” Garon spat water, and settled for nodding.
“Good. Bloodsuckah!”” And Garon froze, as he felt tiny fangs rip into his neck…
Across the way, Threadbare staggered as Hatecraft broke the club over his head. The nail ripped his hat off, and tore a wide stretch of his hide open. The cloth flopped over his eyes, and he staggered back, temporarily blinded and feeling the blackness come on as the stuffing spilled from his head. “Mend Golem!” he yelled, three times to be sure.
Your Golem body skill is now level 23!
Your Toughness skill is now level 17!
Max HP +2
Your Mend Golem skill is now level 3!
You have healed yourself for 65 points!
Your Mend Golem skill is now level 4!
You have healed yourself for 68 points!
Your Mend Golem skill is now level 5!
You have healed yourself for 68 points!
“G-g-g-golems?” Hatecraft spluttered, staring in disbelief. His calves were a bloody wreck, but Zeal and fear kept him on his feet. “Inconceivable!”
“Yes. Golems,” Threadbare said, raising his bloody claws again. “Surrender. I don’t want to kill you. But you have to stop all this.”
“Burninate!” Came Garon’s bellow across the way, and the fishman roared as he cooked. “Ow ow ow!” Garon yelled, until Madeline scooped the flames from him and threw them away.
“Mend Golem,” Threadbare threw his way-
Your Mend Golem skill is now level 6!
You have healed Garon for 74 points!
-but the moment of inattention cost him.
“Dark Bolt!” Hatecraft screamed, and threw eldritch lightning at the wounded teddy bear…
…lightning that crackled and faded away.
Your Magic Resistance skill is now level 7!
“All right, then.” Threadbare waded in, claws swiping, watching his skill rise as Hatecraft backed up, hit points slashed down bit by bit.
But the pastor sneered, and grabbed up the haft of the broken spear. “Unholy Smite,” he said, and dark energy flowed into the improvised staff.
Then his eyes went wide, as a tiny little squeaky voice shouted from the stairs. “I can do stuff like that too! Holy Smite!” yelled Fluffbear. And with Mopsy warbling a battle cry, the mounted bear charged him from behind.
“There you are!” Threadbare sighed, as he tag-teamed Hatecraft, ducking under the man’s erractic blows. “Where’s-“
Fifty pounds of the gods’ perfect killing machine emerged from the shadows of the stairwell and pounced on the distracted fishman’s back.
Pulsivar had his priorities, and if he was gonna kill anything down here, it was going to be the guy who smelled like baked fish, okay?
The dark chant faltered and faded, as the enemies finally fell.
And when the angry mob of former cultists worked up the courage to head downstairs, they found a pile of battered toys doing their best to convince Pulsivar that he probably shouldn’t eat the dead fishguy.
He might be eldritch, after all. That shit could be contagious.
“You survive!” Zuula said, emerging from the crowd of cultists. “Good. Had devil of time convincing Pulsivar to go into dark basement full of bad words.”
“Yeah, what was that chanty thing? It sounded nasty,” Fluffbear squeaked, raising her voice to be heard as in the background the congregation took turns kicking Hatecraft. All but a few of the women, who were sitting next to the fishman and crying.
“Some cultist stuff, I guess,” Said Garon, whistling. “Ah. Thanks for the amateur tracheotomy,” he told Madline.
“Anytime,” Madeline burbled, and grinned. It had taken some doing to gnaw through to his flooded throat and let the water drain, but it had paid off.
“Oh, let me fix that,” Threadbare said.
“No need, said Garon. “Blood is…” he clutched his chest, where his hidden pouch full of gold coins was. But his words trailed off, as impulses he’d never felt before told him whoa now. “Actually why don’t you fix that. Yeah, no need to waste gold-“ his eyes opened wide. “I leveled! Sweet Nurph, I get plus twenty five to stuff? Oh fucking wow!”
“Right. That settles that,” Madeline said.
“What?” Garon asked.
“Tell ya later.” She patted him. “Oooh, got a few levels myself. Vampaiah level five, good to seeya again.”
But Threadbare wasn’t listening. He was too busy watching his own level-ups scroll by.
You are now a level 11 Cave Bear!
+5 Mental Fortitude
You are now a level 4 Duelist!
You are now a level 5 Duelist!
You have unlocked the Parry skill!
Your Parry skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Swashbuckler’s Spirit skill!
You have unlocked the Swinger skill!
Your Swinger skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 8 Golemist!
You are now a level 7 Ruler!
Threadbare stared, sitting down hard. “My goodness. Wait, swinger? Is swinging good?”
The women around the fishman’s corpse cried harder, for some reason. “This is neither the time nor the place, okay?” Marva said.
“Er, right. Status. Help… Ah, that’s what it does. Ropes and chains and things. Okay.” He frowned. “Chandeliers? I’m not sure what those are.”
“Big piles of pointy wood that stupid vampaiahs hang over their heads in theah castles,” Madeline said, strolling over. “The smaht ones use metal.”
“Oh. Well I can swing from them really easily now,” Said Threadbare. “I suppose that might be useful.”
“Zuula relieved that you got dat particular usage of de word.” She said, heading over to the group. “What you do here?”
“I tried to get him to surrender.”
“He know de score. Cult angry. Dey just kill him anyway. Why you kill fishman, dough?”
“Well, he attacked us,” Garon said. “If he’d surrendered I would have let him back down, but then, well, he got Pulsivar’d.”
Pulsivar burped. His breath smelled fishy, but he still cast envious looks at the fishman’s corpse. The guy had been delicious, and the bobcat wanted him some more of that.
“I have a question,” Missus Fluffbear said.
“Sure. What’s-“ Threadbare froze. “Hold on. A spirit wants to talk. Speak with Dead.”
The world shifted. The former cultists went silent, and shifted uneasily, looking at the somewhat even creepier cave, and Daav cleared his throat. “We’ll uh, we’ll just take the bodies up, and uh… be off, shall we? Yes, why don’t we.” They beat feet upstairs, bearing Hatecraft and the fishman with them.
“Hello?” Threadbare asked.
“Yo,” a strange voice said from the direction of the underground lake. It was deep and smooth, and like all of the dead, it spoke to their minds and not their ears. “What’s up? Why’d you murder me, little dudes?”
“You’re not Hatecraft.” Threadbare frowned.
“Who? Oh, the weird little mean guy? Naw, son, naw.”
“That leaves one person. Are you the fishman?”
“I guess so. Yeah, that’s a good word for me.”
“Why did you fight us?” Garon asked.
“Buncha freaky ass little monsters and a motherfucking miniature dragon come outta nowhere? Fff, like you wouldn’t.”
“Ya got a point theah,” Madeline said.
“Why did you help the evil cultist hurt all these people?” Fluffbear said.
“Was that what he was doing? Didn’t look like it to me,” The fishman said, poking his head up from the water where he’d been resting his ectoplasm. “It was hard to tell with that guy. He was intense. And I never learned the language, so I didn’t really know what his deal was.”
“Why don’t you tell us what you do here?” Zuula asked. “You don’t look eldritch to Zuula, but dere cult involved so she want full facts before we err on de side of smacking old ones.”
“Old ones? Nah, just one. My man YGlnargle’blah. We be chilling with him under the sea. Used to rule around here, y’know? But the ocean over this place started shrinking, so when he said come with me if you want to live, we went.”
“Ocean? There’s never been an ocean around here,” Garon said.
But Zuula was shaking her head. “Dere was. Long ago. Way long ago.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while. So he called his children home, and we’ve been chilling in his airless realm of cool darkness ever since. But me, my family got on my case, wanted me to grow up and learn a trade. I tried to tell them music IS a trade and the band would take off any day now, but shit, man, they didn’t listen. So I went exploring, trying to find some good seaweed I could harvest, or maybe some new kind of fish I could sell, and I found kind of a door. It dumped me out in this weird-ass place. It was rough for a while, and I got pretty sick. Crawled into this cave, thought I was gonna die. That’s when weirdo found me.”
“Called his children home…” Garon slapped his face with one paw. “He won’t call the cultists home at all. YOU’RE his children, not the human cultists.”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t be a good place for humans, where I come from. It’d be kind of drowny.”
“So why you making fish babies?” Zuula asked. “You horny or something?”
“Gh. Yuk. Don’t remind me.” The fishman sighed. “That little weird dude insisted I get it on with half this freaking village. Those smooth bodies, and- ulp- hair everywhere… Blrp… mf. Man, I guess I’m glad ghosts can’t vomit but I kind of want to, y’know? At least he started letting me have a bag I could put over their heads. I think he convinced them it was part of a ritual or something. And he kept summoning tentacles and things while I was trying to get it over with. Some messed up stuff, I tell you.”
“I don’t understand,” said Missus Fluffbear. “Not any of that.”
“We’ll tell you later!” The doll haunters chorused.
Fluffbear pouted. “Well, okay. I had a question anyway-“
“Whoa. I’m dissolving. Is this good?” The fishman interrupted.
“You going to you afterlife.” Said Zuula. “Is normal dead stuff.”
“But my afterlife ain’t here!” The fishman’s voice rose. “How will YGlnargle’blah find me!”
Zuula considered. “Soulstone him, Dreadbear.”
“What? Oh. Good idea. Soulstone.”
“What’s that?” The fishman spirit walked out of the water, and stared. “Dude, it’s like an angler trap, only a lot more interesting…” He reached out to touch it… and flowed into the stone.
“Weird,” The soulstone pulsed blue. “It’s tight in here, but comfy.”
“We can put you into a new body, if you like,” Said Threadbare, politely. “Or we can take you to YGlnargle’blah’s circle. He seems to be acting up lately.”
“Oh, that ring of stones thing? I’ve been looking for that! It’s not in the lake anywhere, and it’s supposed to be underwater, that’s what the old writings say.”
“Old writings from when ocean be here?” Zuula asked.
“See, dis why you not trust books. Ocean be long gone, remember?”
“Do you know why YGlnargle’blah is awake?” Madeline asked.
“He’s awake? Aw shoot. I was worried he’d notice me leaving. He’s like… think of a really protective grandfather. He used to walk the world and get it on with hot scaly chicks back in the day, most of us are descended from him. Then that Konol guy, the new god, did his thing and YGlnargle’blah had to go to the aether. So I think maybe YGlnargle’blah finally came looking for me. Man, I’m in so much trouble.”
“No so much,” Zuula said. “You dead now. But wait, more blood of yours is around.”
“The little nippers? Yeah, they’re cuties. Even if some of them have… urg… hair.”
“What will he do if he comes through the dolmen circle?” Garon asked.
“Who, YGlnargle’blah? He can’t. Not until the walls are way thinner and Konol’s all the way dead. But I guess he can stand on the edge and yell until I come back.”
“Okay, dat not add up,” Zuula said. “Zuula definitely had visions that humans be wiped out in a couple days, here. Mediocre old one standing on t’reshold and being cranky not do dat.”
“If not the old one, then perhaps something else?” Threadbare asked. “What could kill everyone here in a day?”
Thanks to Threadbare’s noblesse oblige boosting their int, they didn’t have to think too hard.
“This village, which recently rebelled against the Crown? And killed every garrison member who didn’t run? And revealed their forbidden religious beliefs for all to see?” Garon said, flapping his wings. “Oh lordy, the army’s on its way.”
“I still have a question,” Fluffbear squeaked.
“What?” Threadbare turned to her, and everyone else glanced over.
“What’s a paladin?”
A little later, the group came upstairs to the church. Smoke filled the air, and through the open doors they could see a burning pile of robes and fezzes. The fish children sat glumly around it, watching their tea party stuff burn. The now-regularly-clothed ex-cultists were standing around in small groups, talking. All save Marva, who was sitting on a stone bench, with two of the little fish children curled up next to her, sleeping. Threadbare could tell they were asleep by the way their eyes didn’t glow.
“Hello sir,” Marva cleared her throat as Threadbare walked out, cleaned from the fight. Immediately all eyes shifted to him. He coughed into one paw, nervously, as his “Work It Baby” skill shot up to its maximum level.
“Ah, hello. I apologize for fooling you with the dummy.”
“No, no, it’s all right. We talked it over, and we’re just glad you showed us the truth. That man-“ Marva snarled the word, “-tricked us all.”
“Oh. Well, yes. Um… there’s no easy way to say this. We think the army’s coming to kill everyone here.”
“We know.” Marva rocked her fishbabies.
“You do?” Madeline asked. “Why you still heah, then?”
“We have nowhere to go. This is our home, and all we know is fishing. No other settlement would offer aid to people who used to be cultists, and with the kingdom as shrunken as it is, there’s no civilized place to hide. The wars ground everyone down. And we’d die in the wilds, if we tried that. Assuming the army just let us go.”
Threadbare considered. He turned to his little group of toys. “Are they right?”
“Yeah,” Zuula said. “King not hesitate to wipe out villages. Taylor’s Delve proof of dat, and wasn’t any cult shenanigans involved.”
“The army will mow through this town like a scythe through wheat,” Garon said. “Most of these guys are level eight or under. I mean, we’re not much farther than that, after that fight, but we’ve got jobs and golem advantages over them.”
“Golem advantages.” Threadbare rubbed his chin. “Marva, I saw a lot of treasure on that boat below. Are there any reagents and crystals in there?”
“Why, yes. The trade mostly dried up since Catamountain closed, but we used to be quite the black market hub back in the day.” The middle-aged fishwife smiled. “We donated everything we had to the… society… but nobody was an enchanter so it went unused.”
“I see.” Threadbare said. “You have nowhere to run. How would you like to fight?”
“Fight for what?” Marva said. “Our pastor’s dead. We have no one to lead us.”
“You do,” said Zuula, standing her full eight inches tall. “Bend your knee and swear, and Dreadbear save you all!” Then she went downstairs to smash open barrels full of loot from the boat, because she'd been right dammit.
The ex-cultists muttered. They discussed. And in the end, they decided, they had nothing left to lose.
One by one, with more trickling in from the rest of the town, including most of the folk who assumed they’d be slaughtered along with the cultists, the people gathered to place their hope and their dreams in the paws of one small teddy bear.
And on that day, Dreadbear, Lord of Outsmouth, first of his name, swore in subject after subject and gained three ruler levels.
He’d need them, for the ordeal ahead.
QUICK REFERENCE - THREADBARE'S NEW SKILLS
PARRY Level: 5 Cost: N/A Duration: Passive Constant While you have your specialized weapon drawn, you have a chance of parrying any melee attack you are aware of.
SWASHBUCKLER'S SPIRIT Level: 5 Cost: N/A Duration: Passive Constant Your Charisma buffs your Cool.
SWINGER Level: 5 Cost: N/A Duration: One minute per skill level Activate this skill to buff your agility and climb skill while swinging from ropes, chains, chandeliers, etc...
IT'S GOOD TO BE KING Level: 10 Cost: N/A Duration: Passive Constant You gain a tiny fraction of experience whenever one of your subjects does. Experience gained from higher level individuals goes directly to leveling your ruler class. Experience gained from lower level individuals may only be utilized for King's Quest rewards.
KING'S QUEST Level: 10 Cost: 20 Mox Duration: Permanent until changed Decree a public quest. All your subjects within earshot may accept. Any who fulfill the quest reap the benefits of the quest immediately.
Ruler Skills Appoint Official - Level NA Emboldening Speech - Level 11 Identify Subject - Level 10 It's Good to be King - NA King's Quest - Level 5 Noblesse Oblige - Level 20 Organize Minions - Level NA Royal Audience - Level 15 Simple Decree - Level 8 Swear Fealty - Level NA
Smith Skills Adjust Arms and Armor - Level 4 Refine Ore - Level 1 Smithing - Level 21
Equipment Apprentice Tailor's Apron (+4 Armor, +4 Tailoring)(+1 Armor, Tailoring, from WIB) Baggy Pants of Hammerspace (+5 AGL, +5 CHA, Allows hammerspace for one blunt weapon)(+1 AGI, CHA, from WIB) Poor Quality Bling Ringtail Master's Coat (+5 CHA, +5 LUCK, +5 Armor, +5 Fate)(+1 CHA, LUCK, Armor, Fate from WIB) Rod of Baronly Might (+5 CHA, +5 WIS, +10 Cool)(+1 CHA, WIS, +3 Cool from WIB) Yellow Belt of Bravado (+5 AGL, +5 DEX, +5 to the Fancy Flourish skill)(+1 AGL, DEX, Fancy Flourish from WIB) Toy Top Hat (CHA +10)(+3 CHA from WIB)
Inventory 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)
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