“You've been awfully quiet,” Cecelia remarked to Threadbare, as they sat waiting in the darkness of Madeline's pack.
“Have I?” Threadbare asked.
“Yes,” Zuula said. “Dis whole time we down here talking wit de dwarves.”
“Oh. Well...” He turned in Cecelia's arms, snuggled in a bit as he stared up at her from an inch away. “This was pretty much your idea. I figured you had matters well in hand, and you did. The King was very impressed by you. And I used the time I didn't have to talk to look at people.”
“Okay. That's good.” Cecelia snuggled him closer.
“Looking at people. Yeah.” Garon said, tossing his hatched up and down and catching it one-handed. The overall effect, given the proportion of his size to his weapon was of a minotaur juggling a greataxe. Threadbare supposed it was good for his dexterity, if nothing else. “The Lurker's out there somewhere, probably wearing a friendly face.”
“Or an unfriendly one,” Threadbare said. “Those ministers are pretty highly placed officials, with lots of things to keep them busy, aren't they?”
“Yeah. I caught that too,” Cecelia said. “And here we get FOUR of them. I initially thought it was him showing us good faith, showing that he was taking us seriously, even with the problems in my plan, and the downsides I hadn't foreseen. But it's not that at all, is it? He doesn't trust his ministers. Not completely.”
“Oh. Oh shit, I think I see it. Goddamn, that's clever,” Garon said, catching his axe and sliding it back into its harness. “He's doing three things at once. He is showing us good faith. At the same time he's putting four of the most likely ones to be false in a place where they've got three others and us watching them at the same time. And to top it off, he's tempting the Lurker to take a whack at us, rather than one of his people.”
Zuula whistled. “Okay, dat's almost orky. Zuula approve.”
Cecelia sighed. “I'm liking the idea all save for the last part. The notion that it's a minister makes a lot of sense. The reports I saw were from about this level of official. Any of them could be compromised, or worse, replaced. A legendary grifter and master of disguise could easily be a dwarf for a few months or more.”
“It could also be a test of us,” Threadbare mused. “To see how we handle the situation.”
“Well, how would dwarves handle the situation?” Cecelia asked.
“They'd shut up, get on with their business, and try to survive the Luker's sudden-but-inevitable betrayal,” Garon said. “Dwarves are Sturdy, and if you want to impress them, you have to take hits and not complain.”
“Hand,” Zuula said.
“Yes, we know the Lurker's with the Hand,” Cecelia said.
“No. hand.” Zuula said, pointing.
And indeed, a gloved hand had entered the pack. None of the toys recognized it. It dropped a single piece of parchment, and withdrew.
Threadbare hopped out of Cecelia's embrace, and went and read it. “It's Beryl. She says not to resist or try anything funny or we'll get our... heads blown off. There's more words than that but most of them are not very nice.”
“Yep, that's Beryl,” Garon grinned. “I'll go first.”
The hand returned. Garon plopped himself into it, and vanished.
A minute crawled by. Then two. Then three more.
Zuula was practically vibrating with impatience and frustration by the time the hand reappeared, and beckoned. They went along peacefully, one at a time-
-and reappeared in a room full of junk.
A purple-haired dwarven girl who had to be Beryl was there, talking with Madeline off to the side...
...and there, placing him gently on the ground, with Garon riding on his shoulder, was a tall, green-skinned man with solid yellow eyes. He was clad in leather from head to toe, most of it a greatcoat broken up by bandoliers, with metal contraptions hanging off of it. He had a short, floppy hat that looked a lot like Mordecai's old hat to Threadbare's eyes, and he was looking down at the three of them with amazement at friends and family he'd thought long gone.
“Hullo Mom,” Jarrik said, swallowing hard. “Long time no see.”
“Jarrik!” Zuula leaped into the air, grabbed his shirt, and buried her face in it.
“Give us a few, okay?” Garon stage-whispered to Threadbare and Cecelia.
“Of course.” Cecelia smiled, and headed over to Madeline's side.
“Motherfucking shitcrackers,” Beryl shook her head as Cecelia strolled up. “I guess this is an occupational hazard for animators, huh?”
She hadn't changed much. Her hair was in four purple-and-black braids, not two, and she wore a simple black haltertop and pants with wide pockets. The boots were about the same, thick enough to walk across beds of nails without her noticing or caring, but the goggles were new. Propped up on her forehead, they were smeared with ash and grime, as was most of her face below it, save for the white patches around her eyes where her goggles had covered.
“Hazard?” Cecelia asked.
“Being turned into a toy. Though daaaaaamn, you're a quality one. Someone put a lot of work into your face.”
“That would be him.” Cecelia jerked a thumb back at Threadbare, who doffed his hat and bowed.
“Holy shit! The little fucker himself! Man, it's all reunion up in here.” She slid her hand out from behind her back, and put an ugly twist of metal and wood up on a nearby shelf.
“Is that a pistol?” Asked Cecelia, craning her neck to look at it. “I've never seen one before.”
“Yeah. Don't have to be a gunslinger to use one.”
“But if ya are then they're pretty badass,” Jarrik threw in, then turned back to whispering with Zuula and Garon.
“Shaddap, braggy,” Beryl scooped up a wrench out of a nearby junkpile, hucked it at his head. Without looking at her he caught it, put it down, then kept on talking with his family.
“That's some serious dextahrity,” Madeline remarked.
“And it ain't limited to his hands,” Beryl leered, as she waggled her tongue between two spread fingers.
“Is that supposed to mean something?” Threadbare asked.
“Holy shit you talk now?”
Your Adorable skill is now level 33!
“I made my own voice after I got frustrated with being silent.”
“After that one time in Catamountain I can't say I'm surprised.” Beryl's face darkened. “Man, that was a good run. Even if things did turn to shit just after.”
“So... what happened, exactly?” Cecelia said, hopping up on a nearby overturned crate. “After we dropped you off in Taylor's Delve, I mean?”
“I wanna hear this too,” Garon announced. Jarrik strolled over, balancing his mother and his brother in his arms, kicked a pile of gears out of a chair, and sat down.
“Not much to tell,” Beryl shrugged. Then she grimaced. “Not much good anyway. I got back told Da, and he gathered the family. We stopped long enough to let our neighbors know what was going down, then it was down the escape tunnel we'd dug years ago, with the ones who believed us.”
“People didn't believe you?” Threadbare asked.
“Taylor's Delve was full o' folks who went there to get away from civilized places, an' resistance fighters,” Jarrik said. “The first kind of folks didn't believe 'er, and forted up. The second wanted ta fight.” Once a little high-pitched and reedy, his voice had deepened as he'd matured. There were muscles under that coat too, his former gawky slimness growing into the full weight of his mixed heritage. “Can't blame Beryl for th' ones what stayed. The ones what died.”
“Like me,” Zuula said, and Jarrik winced.
“I'm sorry, Ma. By the time me an' Bakky got there, it was all done, and you were... Well.”
“Is okay. Work out for best.”
“He and Bakky got to us just as we were about to collapse the tunnel,” Beryl said. “We let'em come with.”
“Bak'shaz!” Zuula and Garon said, simultaneously. “He alive too?” Zuula grabbed Jarrik's collar and shook it, while Garon tried to pry her fingers loose from his brother's clothes.
“Yeah. He was. Probably still is,” Beryl said. “He left a few years back, got tired of living in cramped tunnels. Went looking for the Rangers.”
“A few years... we- the Crown had the observation posts set up early in the conflict. How did he get past those?” Cecelia frowned.
Jarrik shrugged. “I'd montaged him through Scout by then, done my best to train 'im like Da would, and shadowed 'im through. By that time Porkins was dead so it was just 'im ta worry about, and 'e got through easy.”
“I think losing Porkins was what got him to move on, honestly,” Beryl sighed. “The little guy was never the same after that.”
“Wait,” Cecelia said. “How did you get to Taylor's Delve in the first place? The last time I saw you the woods were on fire, there were enemy soldiers and scouts all around, and you were going to save your Father.”
Jarrik fell silent. Beryl sighed, moved over, and reached up to rub his shoulders. He slipped a hand back over hers, covering it completely, and squeezing in thanks. “Long story short, we failed. Saw'im get taken down by one a' his best students. Feller named Jericho.”
Madeline inhaled, sharply. “Wait...”
“Yeah. That Jericho. At tha time he was still loyal. He tracked us to Oblivion Point, told us he was sorry, and that he'd try to make sure that da survived. Told us to escape, keep our heads down, and tell no one of what happened that night. He also said that the wilds were crawling with scouts and soldiers clearing the place, and we'd never make it frew if we went reg'lar ways.”
“Yeah, that's about right,” Madeline said. “Why do you think I was on the outskirts of the Delve ta begin with, Gar? Buncha gahds stahted hunting around my graveyahd.”
“Then how did you escape?” Threadbare asked Jarrik.
“We walked th' Oblivion.”
The toys stared, stunned.
“You can do that?” Cecelia asked. “I thought nothing could cross it.”
“Oh y'can't cross it,” Jarrik said, tugging at one of his gloves. “But if ya go a little ways in, and walk ALONG wiff it, and don't go too far towards or away from it, ya can run 'long it like a bearing in a track. An' if ya walk in tha right place, it cuts right frew solid fings... mountains, trees, whatnot, an' crosses right over gorges an' drops and suchlike.”
“I had no idea,” Cecelia whispered. “That's... incredible.”
“It's fucking unsafe, is what it is,” Beryl snorted. “Show'em, Jarry.”
“I am, I am, hold yer knickers...” He tugged the glove up, and held off his hand. His pinky finger was a stump, gone to the first knuckle. “It's dangerous 'cause you got ter stay in exactly tha right middle part. Get too far out, an' you don't come back. But walk too close to tha inside edge, an' ya walk over air an' fall, or worse, walk out inta something solid.” He flexed his finger. “Like I almost did. Most of me pinky's part of a mountain or summat now.”
“You no do somet'ing dat stupid again,” Zuula said. “Howling darkness out dere. Green numbers eat you alive.”
“We might 'ave to,” Jarrik said, sighing. “If the war goes bad, it's a last-ditch plan for th' hold. Our backs are lit'rally up against it. Me an' tha other scouts been training, as careful as we can. Still lost a few. And if yer add tha rest o' the hold's folks inta it? No way we won't be countin' our dead if we do it, which is why it's a bad idear.”
“Which is why winning the war seems to be the best outcome,” Threadbare said, staring up at a friend he'd never expected to see here. “We want to help you do that.”
“Yeah, why are you here? What's all this about ghost golems? We filled you in, let's hear your story.” Beryl said, scooting around to a chair, flipping it around, and straddling it while she leaned her head on her hands.
Threadbare told her about the mess at the house, and how he'd come to start his epic quest to save Cecelia, with Zuula and Garon joining in on their part of things. Cecelia took it after that, explaining how she'd been fighting for the wrong side, and how she'd died.
“Ouch. Shit. Ah...” Beryl ran a hand through her hair, tugging on her braids. “No offense, but you uh, solved a problem for us when you did that. Remember how we'd named you friend to our clan?”
“Yes. But that debt's gone now, with my old life.” Cecelia sighed.
“Hey. Look. It means we can start over, yeah? And this time you're not secretly the daughter of our worst enemy.” Beryl smiled and reached down a grubby hand. “Pleased to fucking meet you.”
Cecelia took it and her shoulders dropped as she relaxed. “Thanks! To be honest I was a little worried.”
“Well, you're a cleric of Aeterna. Bazdra said-”
“Bazdra? Bazdra Coaler?” Beryl snorted. “She's not the boss o' me. She guards the shrine and advises the King, but she's not my clan. Which is good, because she's been a right asshole the last few months.”
“The last few months? Really?” Cecelia asked, glancing towards Threadbare.
“Yeah. Ah... let me show you.” She kicked through the scrap on the floor, forging a path to the nearest door, and opened it up.
Instantly, glowstones lit up, revealing a long, high-ceilinged hall, with a pair of iron double-doors on the end large enough to admit three ogres abreast.
Inside the hall were five wire-and-cloth-and-wood contraptions, with wooden blades sticking out in front, and metal boxes on the rear. Each had two seats, set into the curving wooden bodies.
“Those look a little like that tinker diagram we gave you,” Threadbare said.
“They are. That flyer was a dangerous, shitty contraption that almost got me killed the first few times I flew it.” Beryl grinned. “These though... these are about done. About ready. They'll change the war once we get them out there, get us some wins...” Then she sighed. “And fucking bitchqueen supreme Bazdra Coaler is squawking about how they need more testing, first.”
“I thought Montag Steelknife was the minister in charge of new weaponry,” Threadbare said.
“He is, but the training for it goes through Bazdra. The... oh, we need a word for people who fly this thing. The flyers, the controllers, they need to be approved by Bazdra's ministry. They choose who gets allocated to what jobs and she's arguing that this is a job. Even though it isn't, you just need the flight skill.”
“The flight skill, you say?” Garon remarked. “Hm...”
“Yeah. They're two seaters, and you need someone flying it. One person to fly, the other to drop bombs over the side.” Beryl puffed her lips, and made a farting noise. “Easy as mud. Still pisses me off... Montag swore he'd back me up on this, ram it up Bazdra's arse if he had to, and he hasn't. Normally the dude's braver, I don't know what's gotten into him the last few weeks.”
“Could be he's jus' backed off 'cause Bazdra had a deaf in tha' family,” Jarrik said, trying to console her.
“Did she?” Cecelia squinted.
“Yeah. 'er husband died accidental-like two weeks back. Didn't get 'is coin, since it weren't in battle. Word is she's tore up somefing fierce about it.”
“Which doesn't matter because she should fucking do her job so fewer of us die!” Beryl thumped the wall in anger. “Bitch needs to calm her tits right the fuck down.”
Threadbare listened, the light almost seeming to gleam in his button eyes. “You know, we've talked with both of them recently. And a fellow named Hidon Fingers, and a nice lady who's putting us up in Yorgum's house, called Gudrun Scarstone.”
“Hidon? Yer sure?” Jarrik asked, eyebrows rising. “That guy's been out a sight th' last few months. He was in charge a' the Oblivion run training until he disappeared for a while. Word is he was in some deep mission for th' King.”
“Black beard, wears a hood, smells of garlic?” Threadbare asked.
“Yeah, tha's him.”
“Well regardless, if you got Gudrun looking after you, you're good,” Beryl nodded. “Everyone knows Granny Guddy. She's big on the home crafting part of Yorgum's religion. And the most senior cleric in the faith who isn't on the front.”
The four toys shared a look. “Probably not de Lurker, den.” Said Zuula. “Is good. We probably not come back to house full of dead friends.”
“Nobahdy knows we left anyway,” said Madeline. “I made sure of that. Stealth, camo, the wahks.”
“Yes, but it's the Lurker,” said Cecelia. “We have to play it safe.”
“Yeah. About that. What the fuck.” Said Beryl. “The Hand?”
“Yeah. This is the part it gets complicated,” said Cecelia. “We're pretty sure the Lurker's infiltrated this hold. We think he's one of the four ministers. We think the King knows that, and is playing some kind of complicated bluff to try and get him to reveal himself by taking a whack at us, or... well, me, because I'd be problematic to the Hand's plans in the future.”
“We're here because we need some help stopping that,” said Threadbare. “If he just tries to kill her, we can soulstone her again, but there are some sneaky things he could do that would end up with her permanently dead. And that's... unacceptable,” said the little bear.
Beryl nodded. “Yeah, all right. How can I help?”
“Some of us are going to run the dungeon soon.”
“Whoa. Much as I'd like to go, that's... no. That isn't the Catamountain.”
“We know,” Garon said. “Which is why we don't want you going in. We want you watching to see who's waiting to ambush us when we come out.”
“Tryin' a lure...” Jarrik nodded. “Da would've approved. But It's a lure what could go wrong,” Jarrik said. “This is one a tha Hand. You give him a shot at Celia, what's ta stop him grabbing her an' escaping?”
Threadbare smiled. “I have an idea, there. Do you happen to have any green reagent?”
“I can get some. Why?” Beryl squinted at him.
He told them, and Zuula laughed. “Oh! Is perfect!”
Jarrik went in the back, and rummaged around. “I'll go an' be yer watcher. I'll foller yer back, then shadow yer when ya ready for tha dungeon run. Jus' wear somethin' red on yer hat, Threadbare.”
“Trust me, he's way better at it than I am,” Beryl said. Then her eyes narrowed, and she moved up to loom over Cecelia and Threadbare, shaking her finger in their faces. “Just so we're clear. If you kill him I will fuck you and not in the fun way. I will find a way to screw you so hard your ancestors will be sore in the morning. You'll go in our book of grudges, and if I don't settle it my children will. We clear?”
“Ber...” Jarrik started.
“Yes dear?” She looked at him and grinned, a manic smile wide on her face as her braids rustled from the sudden movement.
He sighed. “Ne'er mind.” He turned back to the toys. “You do yer fing, I'll back yer up when 'e strikes.”
“Thanks bro,” Garon said, reaching up one wooden fist. “Just watch yourself, okay?”
Jarrik grinned, and reached down to bump his fist to Garon's. “Oh, don't worry 'bout me none. Picked up a few tricks since I got here.” His free hand found its way up to his bandolier, and ticked down the curved wooden handles sticking out from it.
“Pistols?” Cecelia asked.
“Oh yeah. Let's just say I don't use a bow no more.”
“Mordecai would not approve,” Zuula said.
“Oh!” Cecelia said. “Speaking of him, there's something you should know. He's alive too. And he's free. I freed him.”
Garon, Zuula, and Jarrik all turned to stare at her.
“What?” Garon gasped.
“It all started when Anise fooled me into thinking there was a test...” She related how the daemon had tried to trick her into killing Mordecai, and she'd freed him from his prison instead. “Father sent the Ninja after him, but he escaped. Father was furious after that, but he kept his word and I went to the front.”
“This is the first time you've mentioned that,” Threadbare said.
“I know. I'm sorry. We've been so busy, and...” she sighed. “He was mad. They tortured him.”
Zuula's spear quivered in her hands, as she shook, rage filling her tiny plush body.
“But he's free now. I'm... I'm hoping he joined up with the rangers. He probably did. If Jericho was one of his old students, I don't see-”
“Celia,” Zuula said, her voice low.
“Yes?” The porcelain princess whispered.
“We done with the talky and the planny and the dwarven shit and the plotty bits?”
“I, er...”
“Cause Zuula really want to go fucking kill some shit, and de sooner de better.”
Jarrik laughed, and her son, her son who was a man now, knelt to embrace the tiny doll with both arms. Zuula bit irritatedly at him for a bit, then subsided, sighing. “Welcome back Mom,” Jarrik said. “Missed yer.”
“Miss you too Jarrik. You treat Beryl good, yah? Zuula want grandchildren.”
“Uh, yeah, about that, it probably ain't gonna happen-” Beryl started, but Madeline bumped her leg with her snout.
“Sh. Trust me on this. Just shush.”
“Yeah, okay, whatevs.”
“Yes, I think we're done,” said Cecelia.
“Let me go find that reagent for you.” Beryl said, rummaging around.
Ten minutes later, the toys were back in Madeline's pack, while the little dragon returned to the temple of Yorgum, emerging in through the same upper-story window she'd left from. Zuula spent most of the trip silent and brooding. Cecelia tried to apologize a few times, but Garon stopped her, quietly pulled her off to the side.
Threadbare, for his part, spent most of the trip thinking. They had a lot to do, before they went to the dungeon. Hopefully he could get a head start on it early tomorrow, when the supplies arrived.
As it turned out, though, he didn't get a start at all.


“Ah, there you are!” Gudrun's voice echoed through the work room. “I was wondering why someone had fired up the kiln.”
“Oh. I'm just skilling up my sculpting,” Threadbare said, showing her the row of pots he'd just finished firing. It hadn't been the main reason he'd started working here, but he'd finished THAT part of things an hour ago, right before dawn. “I'm impressed by your facilities.”
Yorgum's temple had every sort of crafting tool and workstation known to men, dwarves, or stranger races. Including a few things that were for purposes and crafts that were hard to decipher just by looking at them.
“Now that you're here I can help make golems. Would you like to observe?”
“Ah. About that...” Gudrun sighed, and flipped her long silver ponytail back from where it rested on her shoulder. “The markets are out of yellow reagent.”
“There was a run on it late last night, evidently,” she frowned. “If you can wait a few days, the miners should have a new crop when they come in from the Western digs, that's where most of it comes from.”
“Hm.” Threadbare said. “I don't know if our people can.”
“I'm sorry,” Gudrun said. “I told them it was King's business, and asked them to put the next batches aside for you.”
“Hey Mistah Beah, you gaht a bit?” Madeline poked her head around the doorway.
“Yes, of course.” Threadbare pointed at the pots, and adjusted the pack on his shoulders. “Here you go. Please use them well.” He cleaned the tools, sat them down, and headed into the main room, with Gudrun's thanks following.
Once he got back to their communal room, Madeline shut the door behind him, with a snap and a twist of her wooden maw against the doorknob.
“It's the Lurker,” Cecelia said, examining a tangle of copper wire. “This is his opening move.”
“Buying up all the reagents?”
“Not just that. I gave Gudrun a list of components I'd need to assemble a new Steam Knight suit. The most important ones suddenly sold out just before this morning.”
“She says,” Graves said. “What a coincidence, that she's the one doing the buying, and we are suddenly unable to get what we need to help with the war effort.” He sighed, and held up a sturdy steel shield. “At least the commonly available things came through, so I have arms and amor again. But the rest... it makes me wonder about the veracity of our hostess.”
“You think she's the Lurker? I don't see it. She had plenty of chances to try something last night. She literally knows where we sleep. Well, where you sleep, desu,” Kayin said.
“Maybe because she doesn't want to get found out. Moving against us here would be too blatant, if she's the Lurker.” Cecelia said. “But if someone else is, then they WILL move against us here, to frame her... Oooh, this is all twisty. I hate intrigue. It's all complicated.”
“Then let us make it simple,” Zuula said. “We go. We hunt giants as tribe. And when Lurker show, we stomp him to bits.”
“Captured alive, if possible,” Garon pointed out. “We know he can come back from the dead.”
“Right. Threadbeah, you got the thing?”
“Oh yes,” The little bear handed Madeline her pack, pausing to pull the object in question from it. “I think it came out pretty well, all things considered...”


After some quick logistics, the group suited up, equipped themselves, and headed out into the Hold. The dwarves they passed in the dim tunnels stared at them, gave them wide berths as the toys, their cats, and their lone human companion marched by.
Four minutes into the trip, Gudrun came puffing up, racing until she fell in next to Cecelia at the head of the group. “What... what are you doing? Where are you going?”
“We've heard good things about Jotunher. We thought we'd try our luck,” Threadbare explained. Cecelia ignored her, marched on without a word, face barely visible behind her doll-sized helm.
“I...” Gudrun shook her head. “We need to know when you're going to do things like this. The other ministers need to know!”
“We're old hands at dungeon raiding,” Garon reassured her. “We know our limits. We'll be back in a few hours at most, it'll be fine.”
“I... Don't go in! I'll let the others know.” Gudrun said. “Please just wait until we get there.”
“All right,” said Madeline. “Run fahst. We have lots to do, so don't keep us waiting, okay?”
Gurdun beat feet down the passage, and Fluffbear sighed to watch her go. “I feel bad for tricking her,” the small bear squeaked when she was gone. “She baked us cookies. I mean I couldn't eat them, but they looked good.”
“They were delicious,” Graves told her.
“You checked them, right?” Garon asked.
“Unpoisoned. Confirmed by my appraise,” Graves replied without missing a step.
All told, it took an hour to wind through the hold. The tunnels got smaller and smaller as they went, until Graves was stooping full time, and had to put his helm on to minimize the damage from collisions. Some of them were fairly dusty, and they passed by two guardposts, with suspicious eyes watching through stone slits as they did.
“What ah they gahding foah?” Madeline wondered. “They didn't even challenge us.”
“They're not here to keep people out of it, they're here to keep watch out for things that come out,” Garon said. “Must be why the tunnels are barely dwarven size. If it's a dungeon full of giants, no way they'd fit through here.”
At last, they came to a final corridor. Beyond, the wind howled past a huge archway, built with curves and lines that were much cruder than the ones that filled the dwarven halls. Natural light, the first they'd seen in over a day, gleamed in from outside.
And footsteps rang in the corridor behind them. “Hey!” Bazdra called, barely breathing hard as she ran up to them. “What do you think you're doing?”
Hidon materialized from the shadows behind her, arms crossed, with a disapproving look on his face. “You do know where you are, right?”
“Oh yes,” said Threadbare, glancing around from his perch on Pulsivar's back. “We know it's dangerous. We shall be very careful.”
Hidon and Bazdra shared a look. “Is there any way we can talk you out of this?” Bazdra asked.
“Nope,” Zuula said, folding her arms.
“You have no idea how much of my time you're wasting.” Hidon rubbed his eyes. “Fine, let's get this over with quickly. Invite us in.”
“What?” Threadbare said. This wasn't the plan.
“Invite us in. The King's orders were to ensure your survival,” Bazdra ground out. “We know Jotunher, you don't. We'll even settle for half-shares.”
“Hey now,” Hidon said. “Don't go crazy there.”
Threadbare looked at the groups, and rubbed his head. “Ah. Garon, can you take them please?”
The wooden minotaur thought it over. “I... suppose. I'll have to... well, Fluffbear and Mopsy could transfer over to yours. It'll mean that both groups are running without pets. On the upside we'll both have a full seven.”
The toys and their friends reshuffled, and Bazdra frowned. “You're sticking me with the group that's all golems? My party heals aren't going to be much good there. I should go with the cats, and the human-”
“No, no, it will be fine,” Threadbare said. “He can heal himself, and Fluffbear will look after the cats. Please trust me, we've worked well together before.”
“You're sure?” Hidon squinted at Garon. “Because I only count six in Threadbare's group. The two bears, the two cats, Mr. Graves, and Cecilia. She could shift over there easily enough.”
“Oh, six, right, six,” Garon said. “Slip of my tongue. But no, no, it works better this way,” Garon said. “Besides, I'm a shaman and so's mom. There's enough healing to go around. We need you in a more tanky role...” he told them, as he led them forward, after inviting them into his party. “So, please tell me about your jobs and specialties, if you would...


A few minutes after they departed, Jarrik heard Madeline's voice whisper in his ear. “We're in. You in position?”
“Yeah,” he wind's whispered back, keeping his back to the wall, and settling in for the long-haul. His camouflage and stealth skills, long-practiced these last five years, had let him slide past the auxiliary guard posts easily. And his Keen Eye was up, as he glanced up and down the hall, leather coat pushed back far enough that it wouldn't creak and give him away.
Now comes the hard part. Waiting.
As it turned out, he didn't have long at all to wait.
After a few minutes, his ears twitched, as footsteps echoed down the corridor. He looked over to see a hooded figure run past, black beard flapping as he ran for the archway.
That's Hidon. But he just went in... Jarrik started to inhale as realization crashed in, then held his breath. Can't make a sound.
Hidon slowed anyway, stopped as he got to the archway, and glanced around. His gaze passed over Jarrik without registering and kept moving. Then a flash of steel as he pulled a dagger free, and he was gone.
Well. That settles that. Jarrik drew one of his pistols, and checked the primer-
-and barely had time to snap the chamber shut and freeze, as another set of footsteps pounded down the hallway.
Silver hair trailing behind her, Gudrun ran like her life depended on it, hands holding her skirt up as her boots trampled the floor, puffing and panting.
She too slowed as she came to the archway. Jarrik held his breath as she glanced around. Then a flash of steel, as she drew a pistol of her own, and she was gone, into the dungeon.
Shit, Jarrik thought.
Then he shrugged. Whatever the case, his role hadn't changed. He moved to the corner of the room, dropped his camouflage, and drew out his pipe, tamping it full of tobacco. Once it was lit and smoking, he unbuttoned his coat, and faced the archway.
“Hidon and Gudrun just came in after yer, one at a time. Both armed,” he whispered to Madeline. “Tell my bro good luck, and bring everyone back alive...”
Spoiler: Spoiler



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Andrew Seiple


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