“No!” Threadbare's voice was last in Graves' hoarse yell.
“She's got Silent activation! She's fully buffed! Pile on her quick!” The death knight followed his own advice, stabbing at the daemon as his skeletons charged her from behind. Pulsivar pounced from the side, and with her arms still tangled around and in Celia's corpse, Anise blocked frantically, turning Graves' blade aside with the girl's armored corpse.
But Threadbare had other priorities. Shoving down his page, biting back his rage, and keeping his head despite the pain, he knew what he had to do. “Speak with Dead. Soulstone. Celia, get in here quick-”
It shattered, and his paw went with it as Anise somersaulted over Graves and kicked his arm off. Threadbare flew back, bounced off the wall, and coughed in shock as a red '64' rolled up from his shoulder.
Your Golem Body skill is now level 24!
CON +1
Your Toughness skill is now level 18!
Max HP +2
Anise whirled as Pulsivar's claws raked her back, and hissed as a red '32' rose up. She spun in place, lashing out with one heel in a sweeping round kick, and the cat cried out in pain, knocked backward.
“She's a glass cannon!” Graves yelled. “Keep on her!”
Threadbare didn't know what a glass cannon was, but he was pretty sure he'd seen Pulsivar straight up murder soft targets before, and Anise sure as heck wasn't one.
“Mend Golem,” he said, and as his arm dissipated from the floor and reappeared, he snapped his scepter out to face her. “Harden. Flex. Self-Esteem. Guard Stance. Bodyguard Pulsivar!”
And THEN he launched himself into the fray, just as she shook Cecelia's body to the floor, her hands still full with her grisly trophies.
“Oh, if you could have seen the look on your faces,” she sneered, dodging like a champion, and taking down the three skeletons with three fast scissor kicks. Pulsivar danced around and she feinted at him, then slammed her heel into Graves' chest, so hard that he grunted. A red '24' floated up.
Then she turned to Threadbare, ducking under Graves' retaliation. He waved the scepter at her. “Nice toy,” Anise purred. “Disarm,” she snapped, her bloody hand blurring down and punching it free from his grasp.
“I don't need it!” Threadbare yelled, and charged her, claws swiping. “You murderer!”
With Celia's head she fended off Graves' blade, and she laughed as she hopped easily over Threadbare's swipes.
But eventually, one got through.
Your Brawling skill is now level 34!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 23!
Your Weapon Specialist skill is now level 16!
A red '17' rose up, and Threadbare frowned. Her flesh was tough, tougher than humans were supposed to be.
And every time he succeeded against her, he gained a stat or a skill. With the full power of his intelligence, and a rising dread, he knew what that meant.
She was way, way stronger than he was.
He'd kind of gathered that, from the way she'd killed... killed... He shoved that from his mind, and fought harder.
Then as she tried to crush Pulsivar's spine with a quick stomp, he found himself moving, lightning fast.
Your Bodyguard skill is now level 7!
Was all the warning he had, before she smashed him to the ground, knocking his hat free.
But he had no bones to break, or organs to squish.
Your Golem Body skill is now level 25!
He clawed her ankle for the trouble, in the split second before she hopped away.
Your Brawling skill is now level 35!
Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 24!
Your Weapon Specialist skill is now level 17!
It hurt him more to realize how weak he was against her. How he'd failed Celia in the clutch. If he'd spent the last two days training, instead of making golems and helping the town prepare, then maybe, maybe... but no. There was no time for regret. He'd gained levels, lots of them, but they'd all been in caster jobs, for the most part. All he had combat wise was raw bear levels and his duelist tricks.
So why fight her like a warrior?
He rolled to his feet, as Graves rained down Dolorous Strikes, and Anise parried with her forearms, catching the flat of the blade and knocking it away, hands still full of her gory prizes.
Time to get creative.
“Soulstone-” he started, “Animus!” he yelled, and though he wasn't fast enough to dodge that wasn't the goal.
Her shoe met his hand, and the damage was worse this time, but it didn't matter. He'd cast the spell, and touched the target. That was his goal, and it was worth the soulstone's destruction, and his arm hanging by literally threads.
He staggered back, holding it on. “Invite shoe!”
Your Animus skill is now level 35!
Anise paused, a strange look on her face, then she gasped as her now-conscripted footwear constricted.
The strength of an animus is influenced by the creator's will, and enhanced by the Creator's Guardian buff. In Threadbare's case, this was pretty considerable. Bones cracked, and a red '97' rose up. More damage, smaller red numbers from behind as Graves and Pulsivar pressed the advantage.
Your Creator's Guardians skill is now level 26!
But Anise was strong, very strong, and had tricks of her own. “Flexible Stance!” she called, and twisted out of the shoe with a quick boneless hop and kick, then kicked her other shoe free for good measure, backflipping onto the giant bed.
“Animus!” Threadbare yelled, slapping the sheets, “Invite sheets!”
“Ah ha ha ha ha no,” Anise said, squirming free with a quick movement, and hopping on one foot up to the bedpost, perching on it, balancing on her unbroken appendage and sneering down at them. “Probably the most amusing part of this? You seriously think you have a chance! Let's have some music for the shattering of your hopes and dreams! Dark Chant!
And an unholy wailing arose from nowhere, a wailing chorus, as dark, deep music swelled and pulsed. “Cron, Cron, Vhand Syncd, Cron, Cron Vhand Ypbind!”
The music skirled and gnawed, but not at their sanity, as the old ones' dark chant did. No, it targeted their moxie, and Threadbare felt his courage slowly leaking from him.
“We have to shut that down or she'll play keepaway until we're quivering wrecks!” Graves yelled, as green numbers fled upward from his skull. “Do you have anything, bear?”
“What is she, exactly?”
“A daemon!”
“Then I've got this!” Threadbare said, rummaging in his pockets until he found the sole twist of green reagent that he'd been keeping since Taylor's Delve. “Ward Against Daemons!”
Your Wards skill is now level 2!
He slammed his hand to the ground, and the powder traced into arcane sigils, stretched out to trace patterns over the room...
...and the music slowed, and faded into a bare murmuring, as Anise hissed. Red '1's started to curl up from her. “Fine!” She spat.
And that's when Pulsivar pounced. He'd spent a precious twenty seconds leaping up to the bed and creeping through the covers, going after the woman who'd murdered his kin. With a Caterwaul that failed to yank any sanity at all from her, he struck, raking his claws down her back-
-and coming up short suddenly, as she twisted, caught his throat, and grinned. “Transfer Wounds,” she told him.
Pulsivar howled as his foot cracked, his back exploded into pain, and he twisted free. That was one of his lives down.
Anise cast him aside, then put her formerly-wounded foot down, with a sigh of relief. But the gnawing of the wards continued, and she smoked faintly as her flesh burned.
“Clever. And I don't have anything with me to dispel that right now,” she said, casting a frown at Pulsivar's limp form, and at the animated sheets that were moving him to safety, handing him down to Threadbare.
“Innocent Embrace!” Threadbare said, hugging his friend.
You have healed Pulsivar 120 points!
Your Innocent Embrace Skill is now level 13!
Anise rolled her eyes. “Pathetic. Well... not so much. You've lasted longer than I thought you would.” She hopped down, dodged the sheets. “I was hoping you'd go down as easily as this mewling bitch did. But then, I DID use my tier two job skills on her.” She waggled her hands and blood dripped from their payload. “And now I don't have to waste moxie with silent activations.”
Graves inhaled sharply, and the color drained from his face. “What! Tier two? Oh no.” He looked at the remnants of his skeletons. “Bony Armor!” he said, as the few unbroken bones flew up to replace the cracked ones overlaying his armor.
“Crane Style! Focus Chi to Feet!” she called, and hopped away from the still questing sheets, grinning. “Oh, and Drain Life!” she yelled.
Pulsivar screamed, as black energy crawled over him, scarlet blood flying from him to the daemon.
“No!” Threadbare said, as the cat fell, a glaring red '123' exploding up from the feline's body.
But his tail twitched, and he was still in Threadbare's party screen, still alive, so the little bear kept his cool. The focus was Anise. Anise had to die. Only then could he help Pulsivar. Only then could he save Celia. Save her soul, even if her body was gone.
“I can do that too!” Graves yelled. “Drain Life!” and he pulled bloody health back from Anise, who hissed and changed directions to land next to him. “Shield Saint!” Graves yelled, blocking a flurry of vicious kicks, that struck with a force they hadn't had before. His shield and armor dented and buckled every time they hit square on, and Threadbare raced to try and take some of the pressure off of him. But how?
Healing Pulsivar was out. The cat was faking death, and healing his friend would just draw attention to him. The bobcat's hit points were no match for Anise's damage potential, if she shifted her aggression to him.
No, he had to keep her busy until the gnawing damage of the ward did its work. “Animus Blade!” he yelled, flipping his dagger into the air and diving towards the fight. Sneering, Anise dodged easily...
...but she wasn't his target. “Innocent Embrace!” he called as his arms wrapped around Graves's armored calf.
You have healed Herbert Graves 130 points!
Your Innocent Embrace Skill is now level 14!
Anise managed to kick the dagger out of the air, wasting a few seconds. “Ah, Crane stance is no good for finishing things quickly. Can't Tiger stance, because, well, my hands are full. Of your little girl. Awww... too soon?”
“Shut up!” Threadbare yelled, finally losing his cool. “Drain Life!” Black energy stretched toward her... and failed.
“Woops. Looks like you need more practice,” Anise said, advancing on them. “And I know your weakness, little bear. I've been studying your breathing, every time you speak.”
He put his hand on his mouth-
And the daemon whirled, plucked up the dagger she'd de-animated between her toes, and sunk it to the hilt in his chest with a single twisting toss, nailing him to the wall.
He coughed, surprised, and no sound came out. My voice box! She's cut it!
“And so you end this, silent and helpless, just like you were so many years ago. Now, then-”
“Drain Life!” Graves shouted, and she shrieked as it tore a red '54' from her.
“Will you stop!” She screamed, and leaped after him.
No, Threadbare thought. Not this time! I won't be helpless again! And with a mighty push, and a ripping that tore him from throat to gut, with a red '252' spilling from his body, he heaved himself from the wall. Stuffing sprayed, and oh, it felt wrong...
Your Golem Body skill is now level 26!
CON +1
STR +1
Your Toughness skill is now level 19!
Max HP +2
Anise sneered, and started toward him-
-and stopped, as he ripped two beads from where they'd been hidden in his blingy chain, and smashed them to the floor.
You have been healed for 119 points!
You have been healed for 125 points!
The front of him zipped back up, the stuffing wisped back into him, and inside, in his throat, he felt whole once more.
Threadbare took a breath. “Testing. Yes, I thought someone might try that at some point.” He had one mend golem bead left, but didn't think it prudent to tell her that. “Now where were we?”
For just a second, she seemed worried. For just a second, her face twisted as she realized what she was up against.
Then, reality flickered, and kept flickering. Anise and Graves paused. “Oooh, the master's stepped out,” Anise cooed. “You realize that your last chance to run is now? Thirty seconds, and this dungeon will be toast. Then you'll have nowhere to hide.” She slammed her foot into Graves again, shattering his shield, and sending him back with repeated kicks.
“No,” Threadbare whispered. Fluffbear can't come in here! She's far too weak to handle Anise right now!
Truth be told, he wasn't sure he could handle her. Not at all.
“Corps-a-Corps!” Graves yelled, and suddenly, to everyone's surprise, he was shoving her against the wall, blade pinning her leg by the ankle.
She blinked at him.
“Get her please!” Graves howled.
Threadbare came in on one side, and Pulsivar stirred himself, leaped in on the other, ripping into her toughened flesh.
And she laughed.
“Getting in close with a succubus? Unwise. Dark Kiss,” She whispered, and then she leaned forward, and wrapped her arms around Graves, flipping his visor open with her teeth and kissing him full on the lips.
With a moan, he withered, flesh shrinking against his bones as he toppled with a crash of armor that was now much too heavy for him-
-and just as he fell, so did the dungeon. Pulsivar retreated, and Threadbare leaped onto Graves. “Innocent Embrace!”
Nothing happened.
Whatever was wrong with him, it wasn't something healing could fix.
“Time's up, darlings,” Anise smiled, turning to see who had arrived to challenge her. “Now where's that dungeon's... master...” she trailed off as a small figure appeared, leaping from the shallow water of the cove.
Heavens Blade! Holy Smite!” Squeaked Fluffbear, and with a howling, thoroughly unhappy Mopsy bearing her forward, charged the daemon with everything she had. She rode past, gouging her glowing dagger along her ankle, sending a red '43' up.
But Anise didn't move.
Anise turned, staring drunkenly at the little black bear, who reined in Mopsy and glowered up at her. “Leave them alone!”
“You... you...” Anise said, shaking. “No... how... no... Amelia!” She roared, her voice mingled with something inhuman and deep, bellowing, filling the chamber, “You fight me on THIS, Amelia? This TOY! You... I...” She fell to her knees, and blood pattered out of her eyes, bloody tears spilling onto the sand of the dark cove under the church.
“Fluffbear,” A woman's voice said, hissing from Anise's throat. “Her name is Missus Fluffbear. And you can't HAVE her!”
Threadbare stared.
For a second, he was tempted. For a second, he though they might be able to end it, here and now. Could he? She was tough, but if she was paralyzed...
She's not paralyzed, his common sense told him. And hitting her might snap her out of it.
WIS +1
And then, to his great relief and horrible guilt, a voice resounded in his mind.
“I'm safe! Graves has me!”
“Celia. Oh Celia, I'm so sorry..”
“Run! Run before she kills you!”
“What she said!” Kayin yelled, from her own soulstone.
“We're leaving!” He yelled to Fluffbear. “Go!” He gathered up his dagger and scepter, stowed them.
“But I have to-”
Anise stretched out a trembling hand as Mopsy carried the little armored teddy bear up the stairs, followed by a very done Pulsivar, who'd lost all the lives he cared to tonight, thank you very much.
For his part, Threadbare ran to Graves. “Can you run?”
“No...” Graves held up a hand, trembling, with the glow of full soulstones leaking from within. “Take them and leave me!”
“No. No one else dies!” Threadbare decided. “Can you hold your breath?”
Behind them, the demon screamed in two voices, but the strange one was already fading.
“Yes?” Graves said.
“Good! Animus! Invite Armor!” Threadbare slapped his breastplate, and under his mental directions, the suit rose and ran into the water with Threadbare clinging to Graves' hand and the precious cargo they'd nearly died to protect.
“You stupid bitch,” Anise hissed, voice breaking, warbling as she rose, panting, to her knees. “You only delay the inevitable. And as for you-” she turned her head to the toys, and the withered death knight...
...and her eyes widened as she saw only ripples in the dark water of the cove.
She stood, wincing at the damage she'd taken. At least the dungeon's destruction had dispelled those damnable wards. “You got lucky!” She bellowed. “Run! You have nowhere to go! I'll find you, and when I do...”
Anise smiled, looking down at the body parts she'd successfully kept intact, throughout the fight. “I won't be alone,” She finished, looking down at Cecelia's pale, surprised face. In her other hand, the princess's heart beat its last.
Underwater, mere dozens of meters away with Graves holding his breath as best as he could as his newly-animated armor carried the crippled Death Knight along the bottom of the lake, Threadbare heard the daemon shout, and only now, with the danger gone, did he sag in defeat.
He would have done anything to have spared her this.
Threadbare had failed his little girl, right when she needed him the most.
The hunter's cabin was deep in the marsh, long abandoned, and well-shielded from the sight of the town. Which is why it had been a drop-off point for the reagent smuggling trade, back when Catamountain had still been in existence.
Graves and Threadbare emerged from the shallows near the shack, to find the place quiet. Too quiet.
“It's...” Threadbare spat the last water from his voicebox. “It's me. This armored guy is a friend, too.”
“T'ank goodness.” Zuula said. “Dreadbear. Fluffbear and cats tell us what happened. We sorry. We so, so, sorry.”
Threadbare hopped down from Graves' shoulder, and held up his paws. Two soulstones glittered between them. “We're not all lost. Do we have any yellow reagent left?”
“About ten vials.”
“Good. Good... I...” He sagged. “I don't know what else to do,” he whispered.
And then Fluffbear and Zuula came out of the deep shadows by the shack and hugged him, and Threadbare sobbed, gasping, tearless eyes staring into the night. He couldn't cry but he could try, and in time it made him feel better.
“Erm,” Graves said. “My helm's at a bad angle and it's very dark here. What exactly is going on?”
Threadbare glanced back the way they came. The swamp was thick here, in this little inlet off the lake. Nonetheless, he patted Zuula and Fluffbear until they backed away, then strolled up to the side of the cabin away from the lake before saying “Glowgleam.” His hat lit up, and he dialed it down until it wasn't blinding, and put it on the porch. “Clean and Press.” he threw in, cleaning the water from it, and getting rid of his own dampness as well.
Inside the shack, Pulsivar and Mopsy looked up from a serious nap session, and glared at him. Did he have no consideration for the hard work they'd done tonight?
To the side, Annie Mata's cart lay, with the tailgate of the wagon open and a crate stacked high with glimmering soulstones on it.
“Alright dudes!” A cheery, burbling voice called from the shore. “I think that's the last of- whoa! A soldier!”
“Friendly!” Graves wheezed. “I'm friendly! Don't shoot!”
“He okay, Dreadbear say so,” Zuula confirmed.
“You can talk now?” Threadbare glanced over, as the fishman doll stepped from the shadows. Made of wood, stuffed with ejectable stones for ballast, and with leather air bladders that let him submerge and rise with a bit of work, the fishman they'd taken to calling Glub had adjusted well to his new existence.
“Yeah. Got tired of you and Fluffy having to do that deadspeaky thing. I leveled when I was trying the thing with the boats. Turns out bards get another borrowed skill at fifth level, so I stuck this thing called “Knack for Languages” into it. I'm runnin' it now, it's totally baller.”
Glub had never had an adventuring job option before, and had liked the notion of being a bard the most from what he'd unlocked in his old life. Which was fortunate, as his rejuvenating song had helped Threadbare regain sanity faster while they prepared the defenses and evacuation of the town.
And his aquatic nature and darkspawn trait made him the perfect fit for the last part of plan 'nobody dies permanently.'
“Dese de last? You sure?” Zuula asked, taking the soulstones from him.
“Yeah. Hey, did Garon and Mads make it back?”
“No. They're in the stones somewhere. I hope,” Threadbare said. “We need to check. Speak with Dead.”
Immediately a hubbub of voices erupted from the crate, and Zuula's arms. She sighed, and hopped up on the tailgate, and chucked the stones in with the rest.
“Please, please, one at a time,” Threadbare said. “Garon?”
“I'm here.”
“I'm heah.”
Graves started, and his armor rattled. “Mads?”
“Herbie? Holy shit! Little Herbie, all grown up!”
“Wait, you know each other?” Threadbare rubbed his head.
“Yeah! Back when I was tryin' ta blend in with Cylvania City's nahtlife, my gang had this little kid that ran errands for us. Somewahn's brother. Smart kid, for a street rat. Now heah you are, all... ooh. What happened, man?”
“Long story. A daemon kissed me. And from what my status screen tells me, it looks like it's a curse. My strength's currently a three.”
“Oof. Dat bad,” Zuula said. “Can't do nutting for curses. Need a cleric, 'bout twenty level or so. Or Oracle. Or wait until daemon remove curse.”
“I don't see that happening, I don't think,” Threadbare said.
“Hello?” Celia's voice asked, and the toys froze. Threadbare buried his face in his paws. “Zuula? Garon? You're here too?”
“Yes,” Zuula whispered. “Yes child, we are. Dreadbear, what is dis? How...”
“She was the one in the steam knight,” Fluffbear squeaked. “Threadbare thought her voice was familiar, but we didn't know until the fighting got in the town. And we heard the soldiers yelling about Captain Ragandor.”
Garon spoke up. “Yeah. We had to try to talk to her. Mads and I gave up on the divebombing runs and we pulled back to the church so Threadbare could set up the neutral ground, try to defuse the situation. Then that fucking assassin came out of nowhere.”
“Sorry about that, by the way,” Kayin spoke up. “If it's any consolation the little nasal one and the cultists there did for me, too.”
“She's with me,” Graves added, hastily. “Or rather we're with Dame Ragandor. Inquisitor Lay'di turned on us. She was the daemon that cursed me.”
“You're the one that got me? Eh, it was war, no hard feelings,” Garon said. “That body had problems. Dragon wasn't for me, as it turned out. No matter how powerful it was.”
“Now me, on the othah hand...” Madeline said, musing.
“Body?” Kayin asked, confused.
“Yeah, we'll all get new bodies!” One of the soulstoned villagers shouted. “And be born again, for real, not like Hatecraft's lies!”
“Right on!”
“Fuck yeah!”
“Easy, easy, please,” Fluffbear squeaked. “We have to tell the new ones about the deal, to see if they want to do it, too.”
“Deal?” Cecelia asked, warily. “I've had about enough of deals for the next few years. Too many daemons.”
“I've found a way to put soulstoned spirits into golem bodies,” Threadbare explained.
The clearing filled with silence, save for the muttering of the happy ex-cultists.
“Holy shit,” Graves finally gasped.
“Is it better than being a knife for all eternity?” Kayin asked.
“Yes. Most hauntblades and wraitharmors eventually go mad. But if you're talking a body with full manipulation, sensory abilities like a golem could provide, and a voice for ease of socialization... wow. That has possibilities.”
“You know something about this?” Threadbare perked up.
“A little. There are these guys called Spirit Mediums that are supposed to operate in those areas, but I never got high enough rank to have the clearance to learn about them. That knowledge is in the very restricted section of the archives.”
“I've unlocked that, but I can't take it. I think it's to do with golemist and necromancer.”
“From the rumors I heard, either animator and enchanter are viable combos with necromancer to unlock it. I was going to go enchanter, anyway, at some point. If you tell me how you did it, then I might be able to learn that job for you, help you out with this.”
“And why would you do dat?” Zuula said, frowning at him. “You was killing some of dese people not too long ago,” she pointed at the crate of soulstones, some of whom were murmuring angrily.
“Yes, and I'm sorry. We thought they were going to call up the old one, and that they were sacrificing children. Your little bear friend set us straight. And when the Captain turned on the Inquisitor, I turned with her. I'm an enemy of the Crown now, the same as you.”
“And the Crown has to stop,” Cecelia decided. “Stop killing its own people, stop helping daemons,stop driving entire towns to rebellion, stop these senseless wars that it started. It has to stop the lies, and it won't unless WE stop it.”
That got cheers from the assembled spirits.
And for the first time since he'd failed, Threadbare felt hope rising in his heart. He opened his mouth, closed it, and decided to ask the question that he hadn't dared to ask before. “Will... will you let me put you into a new body, Celia? Will you stay with us, and help us save everyone?”
“Of course, you silly bear!” Cecelia said. “I just got you back, there's no way you're getting rid of me so easily!”
Threadbare sagged in relief.
He'd done it.
She hadn't lived through the process, sure, but he'd saved Celia.
And with a soft chime, Caradon's last gift to him unlocked, and he became nine thousand, four hundred, and sixty two experience points richer.
You are now a level 13 Greater Toy Golem!
+2 to all attributes!
You are now a level 14 Greater Toy Golem!
+2 to all attributes!
You are now a level 15 Greater Toy Golem!
+2 to all attributes!

You are now a level 12 Cave Bear!
CON +10
WIS +10
+5 Armor
+5 Mental Fortitude
+5 Endurance

You are now a level 8 Enchanter!
You are now a level 9 Enchanter!
You are now a level 10 Enchanter!

You have unlocked the Boost +10 skill!
Your Boost +10 skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Disenchant skill!
Your Disenchant skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Spellstore X skill!
Your Spellstore X skill is now level 1!

You are now a level 6 Duelist!

He sighed in relief, feeling his pools refill. And with a slightly sharper mind, the massiveness of the tasks ahead of them came into focus.
“This won't be easy,” he said. “We'll need all the help we can get.”
“We'll go to the dwarves,” Cecelia said. “In this case, the enemy of my enemy really IS my friend. Beryl named me a clan friend, remember?”
“I think that was before she knew you were the King's daughter,” Garon pointed out.
That stunned the muttering and talking villager spirits into silence.
“I've studied the dwarves. That doesn't matter. A debt like that has to be paid, regardless,” Cecelia said. “I was planning to try and use it to forge a fair armistice after we'd beaten them, but this is even better. And if I can offer to montage some of their people into steam knights, then that's something else I can use to sweeten the deal. They've been trying to figure out the unlocks for those jobs for years.”
“Won't work,” Garon said. “The best bodies Threadbare can stick us in are toy golems. And whether it's the golem or the soulstone, whatever the case, we only get one adventuring job when we come across.”
“And one crafting jahb,” Madeline added. “I picked up jewelah in town, but didn't have time ta grind it. Might be that I can turn soulstones into haiah level crystals. Get us to wood gahlems, or what was that one you just unlocked yestaday, beah?”
“Clay,” Threadbare confirmed. “That one takes a level 2 crystal and a green reagent. I just used the last of that though, I'm afraid.”
“Well, you've got two people ready and willing to experiment right here,” Garon said.
“Three,” Kayin added. “Although I'm okay with being a toy, if I have to. You gave me some ideas when you killed me, little miss bitey.”
“Heh. I'd say ya had good taste, but eh, no tastebuds, so tha joke doesn't quite fit no moah.”
“If you can make me a spirit medium, I'm pretty sure that will help with the process,” Graves said, thinking it over. “I'll need a montage or two.”
“Four,” Threadbare decided. “Do you have that many job slots open?”
“Just exactly. Knight, Necromancer, Death Knight... yeah, four. Why four?”
“Death Knight?” Squeaked Missus Fluffbear. “What does that do?”
“I'll tell you later.”
“I want you to be a golemist too,” Said Threadbare. “It's the way I got the unlock for Spirit Medium and I don't know the other ways. And until we can get you uncursed, animator will let you animate your own armor so you can walk around and do things on your own. And this way, if I die and you survive, you're a golemist so maybe you can make sure I have a new body to come back to.”
“Oh. Shoot, that's a good idea.” Graves blinked, and looked down at the little bear. “Yeah, you're the Captain's teddy, all right.”
“Four montages, four days.” Cecelia mused. “Where are we, precisely?”
"Three montages," said Threadbare. "I can't montage spirit medium, I don't know that one. But the unlock is simple enough that I can show him how."
“More like two days,” Zuula said. “Toys and undead spirits don't need to eat or sleep or none of dat.”
“But I do,” Graves pointed out. “Uh... I'll need someone to hunt for me and scrounge up water.”
“No problem man,” Glub said.
“We out in middle of nowhere, Celia,” Zuula said. “Across de lake. Take dat army a week to get here, unless dey got boats and know where dey going.”
“No and no,” Celia said. “We're not outfitted for a long pursuit anyway, and I'm assuming that those boats with wheels were the last ones in town?”
“They were,” Glub said. “Amphibious assault craft!”
“Was that your idea? That was pretty clever,” Graves said. “Also can I sit down now?”
“Oh, yes, sorry. Here.” Threadbare directed the armor to sit, and smiled as he sat down, with Celia in his hands. “I'll let you rest for a bit, and when you're ready we can start the training.”
“I'll need to sleep and eat at some point,” Graves nodded. “Talk to me in the morning.”
“Well while they're montaging, there's a few things we can do,” Cecelia said, making the most of the situation. “I'll need you to fill me in on everything you know about the current situation, the King, Anise, and by the way who are you Madeline, I don't think we've met but you sound familiar somehow?”
“Heh! We did, actually, but it's been a few years. See, I was actually hiding out pretty close to yah house, and we met one naht when Mordecah took ya out inta tha woods...”
Threadbare walked into the rotting old shack as they chatted, put his back to Pulsivar, and rested. The big cat grumbled, and curled up with him, and Mopsy took his other side. Tails thumped, and he petted them, listening to his little girl's voice as she planned, and plotted, and caught up with old friends.
She sounded happy, and that was good enough for him, good enough right now.
The little band of friends had much to do, but that would come later. For now, though the night had almost been disastrous, they'd forged a somewhat happy outcome from it regardless.
And that was enough.
Spoiler: Spoiler



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Andrew Seiple


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