Jotunher was big. 

A great stone house, hundreds of feet tall, it sat in a shielded mountain valley, on a free-standing pillar of stone that had to be miles wide. Cleft from the rest of the range by force unimaginable in times long gone, and surrounded on all sides by impassable peaks, the house of the giants was reachable only by one large, and quite-guarded stone bridge.

“Do you think they see us?” Missus Fluffbear squeaked.

“No,” Hidon said, curtly, digging out a pair of daggers. “They won't until we get within a few hundred yards, or if we take a shot at them at range.”

“Is their eyesight really that bad?” Garon said, looking over the archway the parties had just emerged from, and the large, open steps down to the edge of the circular gorge. “We're pretty hard to miss, out here.”

“Some think it's their eyesight, or their dimness. Others think that being dungeon monsters does something to their perception.” Bazdra said, before she ran through her buffs. “Shield of Divinity. Shield Saint. And here, Aeterna's Blessing of Constitution on Cecelia.”

“Hm?” The armored doll glanced around. “Oh, thank you.”

“Aren't you going to buff up too?” Bazdra asked her, frowning.

“Right, right. Um... Shield Saint.”

“We all should,” said Threadbare. “Hm... Keen Eye. Flex. Makeup. Self-Esteem. Strong Pose. Deathsight. Guard Stance. Harden.”

Skill ups rippled past his vision, and he dug in his pack, applied makeup to his face.

“A camouflage pattern?” Hidon said, beard twitching as he fought to keep his scowl.

Your Adorable skill is now level 34!

“I'm buffing one of my Scout skills.”

“That, uh, that was a lot of Model stuff, wasn't it?” Bazdra asked, curiously. “What kind of mix are you going for here, exactly?”

“Mix?” He said, nudging Pulsivar, as the rest of the party put up their applicable buffs. The cat hopped down a step, and the rest of the party followed suit, clambering down the mildly-icy, four-foot-tall steps with various degrees of trouble. “I'm not sure I understand. Oh, does anyone else want a harden?”

Pretty much all the golems and doll haunters did, and Threadbare smiled as the skill rose, in fits and starts. Long ago that would have drained his sanity entirely. Now it only dented it a bit.

“She's talking about your jobs,” Hidon said, hopping from step to step with nimble ease. “We don't see many models among our people. But I guess one of your purposes is to look cute, so it's understandable.”

“I didn't plan any of my jobs, not really,” Threadbare said. “But they've proven surprisingly useful, so I guess that's all right.”

“We're pretty much all alive again, kinda, because of his necromancer and golemist combo,” Garon said.

“It's different for us,” Bazdra said, dangling her feet over the side and hopping down, repeating the process with each step, and grimacing at clatter of her armor with every drop. “Do you know much about dwarves?”

“You like gold and ale and making stuff,” said Madeline, fluttering easily from step to step, with Kayin on her back. “That's about it.”

“We get five crafting jobs. And five adventuring jobs,” said Hidon. “So we have to plan carefully. Unlike humans, who mainly stumble around, and grab whatever looks shiny, we have to weigh our choices carefully, check with our elders, and see what helps the clan the most.”

“Five. Geeze. I mean, don' get me wrong, a while back I woulda thought three would be stupid amounts. But yeah, that's pretty rough,” Madeline sympathized.

“Well...” Hidon said, sliding down the last step, and staring out to the bridge, “The thing to remember, is that jobs are still new to most of us. It's only been about forty-three years since they came about and the whole world changed. To a dwarf? That's not so long. There's a ton of us that still respect the old ways. Hell, some of our kin back north, when last we spoke wi' em, had decided to ignore jobs entirely and do things the old-fashioned way. Which is a bit extreme, in my eyes. We used to have some folks like that down here, but, well...”

“What happened to them?” Cecelia asked.

“They died early in the war,” he said simply. “Now it's only the more pragmatic ones left, like me. I've been using my jobs to great effect, and they're the only reason I'm still alive. Because so, so many of them are so good when I'm fighting dirty.”

“To tell the truth, I'm surprised you're not trying to get us to ambush the guards over there,” Garon said. “That's about what I'd expect from an Assassin/Bandit/Burglar mix.”

“This is your run,” Hidon shrugged, glancing back to Bazdra. “We don't think you should be here risking your fool necks. So I want to see how you do before I start suggesting complicated tactics and tricks. And if you can't handle the guards, then it's better we know it early so you can go back to Guddy's place and eat cookies and let us get on with more important work.”

“That's kinda harsh, desu,” said Kayin.

“Yeah man, we got this. Maybe. Dang those ladies are big.” Glub stared across the gorge, at the two blue, fur-clad women, standing to either side of the portcullis. Each of them was twelve feet tall, and the parts of their arms and legs that were visible rippled with pure corded muscle.

“I don't like the fact that the gorge is all around us,” Threadbare said. “It would be all too easy for one of us to get knocked over the edge.”

“See, that's a thing we don't have to worry about,” Bazdra said. “Dwarves are Sturdy. We don't get knocked back. Ever.”

“Still not too late to turn back,” Hidon offered.

Garon shook his horned head. “Nah. Madeline, fly under the bridge, I want you on rescue duty. Mom, those grasses on the edge, are they enough to get vines from?”

“Yes. Is easy.”

“Great. Give us some vines and ready them to catch anyone who gets flung. And do the owl thing and backup Madeline.”

“But Zuula want to shank a giant bitch!”

“Mom... It's party experience. You'll get a share anyway.”

“Not much with greedyguts dwarfs taking big share! Dey be twice our levels, Garon!”

“Greedy?” Bazrda said. “Greedy! We're here to keep you alive, you ungrateful green fool!”

“Bah! We not need you!”

“Guys, save it for the giants. Mom, there'll be plenty of regular fighting when we get inside.”

“Better be. Zuula really need to kill some'ting. Been days Garon, whole DAYS.”

“Hey,” Threadbare said, hopping down from Pulsivar and hugging her. “We wouldn't have gotten here without you. Without everyone. You're all very useful, you're all my friends. And I hope you are, too,” Threadbare looked up at Hidon and Bazdra.

The offended cleric sighed, and finally nodded. “Friends. Whee.” And if her voice held very little enthusiasm, then nobody called her out on it.

Hidon was made of harder stuff. “I'm waiting to see what you can do before I share a drink with you.” He glanced across the bridge. “They'll throw snowballs as you come in. Be ready for that.”

“Snowballs doesn't sound too bad,” Cecelia said, putting her visor down.

Two minutes later, as chunks of ice and rock and snow the size of footstools whizzed overhead , and exploded on the bridge, Cecelia apologized profusely and repeatedly to Graves as he ran alongside her, shielding her from rocky shrapnel.

Threadbare was the first to arrive, leaping off Pulsivar as the black bobcat pounced on one of the giants, wailing. “Adjust Weight!” the little bear cried...

...and ballooned into a puffy, oversized version of himself about twice his regular mass

“Hum,” he said, narrowly avoiding a Giant-sized boot.

Your Dodge skill is now level 10!

“No, not much help,” he decided, and canceled the skill, deflating rapidly and moving in to slash at the very angry giant as she tried to simultaneously get fifty pounds of angry Pulsivar off her head, and smash the weird little toy in front of her into teddy bear paste.

The second giant moved up to help her fellow guard...

...and promptly got her own face full of stabby feline as Kayin leaped off of Madeline, daggers slashing. Then Garon's group crashed into her, and Threadbare's party arrived to back him up, and there followed about five minutes of violence. The giants found themselves massively outnumbered, by small targets who had maxed out their buffs and worked together with practiced tactics. Not only that, the tiny terrors were backed up by dwarves who were a lot easier to hit, but had much better defenses and were smart enough to back out and heal up when hits go through. Inevitably, the guards really didn't have a chance. They were built like the ogre had been, many hit points but only middling armor, and the toys were much stronger now, especially with Glub's heartening song rocking the beats of that battle.

But it wasn't entirely one-sided.

The giants were a hell of a lot faster than the ogre had been, and a lot more accurate. Their hits hurt, and Threadbare found himself splitting his duties, tanking, getting in the occasional slash to keep his giant focused on him, and dropping mend golem spells when his friends fell back. Graves stepped up a few times too, to take the pressure off of him, withstanding shield-rattling hits, hacking with dolorous strikes, and getting off a drain life now and again when the hits got to be too much.

The good news was that his fears about being knocked off the cliff were mostly unfounded. The giants only seemed to be able to do that with a skill called “Sving for de bleachers!” When they yelled that, the toys knew to get clear.

All except for Cecelia, who got caught square on, and went sailing. Threadbare grimaced, and fought harder.

“Got her!” Zuula yelled, and Threadbare let out a puff of relief.

That's about the point he heard the gunshot. They all did, as it rang out behind them.

“What's that?” He called. “Zuula, Madeline, tell me what's going on, please.” He said, slapping the giant's club aside. And as they had through most of the fight, his skills rolled on, climbing as he fought against the stronger opponent.

Your Parry skill is now level 14!

Threadbare checked the giant's hit points with Deathsight, nodded, and cut her down with a few claw swipes, before turning to look for the source of the shot.

Your Brawling skill is now level 47!

Your Weapon Specialization skill is now level 36!

Your Claw Swipes skill is now level 35!

There was movement, up on the cliff, and something fluttering at the edge of it. He squinted, regretting that he'd never ground Keen Eye that much. Then he caught a glimpse of silver hair. “Is that Gudrun?” he turned, just as Garon brought down the other giant, toppling her to the ground where she lay unmoving.

“It's Gudrun. She's hurt,” Madeline whispered back. “I'll escort her in.”

“Gudrun?” Threadbare asked. He turned to check on his group, found them intact, and healing up. Glub and Fluffbear saw to the golems, which was good because his sanity was down a bit from that fight. Bazdra was busy tending to herself and Hidon.

Greater Healing. Almost lost your princess there,” Bazdra shot him a sidelong glance. “Sure you want to keep going?”

“Definitely. I have a question, though. Can either of you think of why Gudrun might be here?”

“What? Why?” Hidon looked down at him. “You're sure?”

The bear pointed back up the stairway descending the cliff, and the two dwarves stared, at the red dragon flapping around the elderly dwarf easing her way down the stairs.

“Yeah, we need to search and be gone before the two giants come back,” Garon said. “Zuula, Glub, search the corpses. Hidon, are we clear to open the door, or is there another way in?”

“Well, if you want to avoid going flying again-” Hidon shot a glare at a very chastened Cecelia, “-then we'll want to go in the front door. There's a feasting hall just beyond, full of giaunts and giuncles, but they won't engage if you stick to the walls and don't take a poke at them. Getting all their attention at once is suicide unless you can trick them. But we can move into the side passages and deal with things one at a time there.”

“Let's wait a bit,” Threadbare said. “Graves? Contingency plan four?”

“On it.” He moved over to each corpse. “Done searching?”

“Yeah,” Zuula said, tossing a pair of large pouches up and down. “Coins. Snacks.”

“Good. Zombie. Zombie.

Bazdra flinched as the guards groaned and rose. “Is there a need for this?” She snapped.

“If the guards show up again, then they'll have to fight undead guards. We can escape while they do,” Threadbare said, keeping his eye on Gudrun who was stomping across the bridge, brandishing a pistol-

-at Hidon, who raised his hands and looked dumbfounded.

“You!” Gudrun said, shifting her bloodspattered robe around with one hand, as she pointed the smoking gun at Hidon. “What are you playing at!”

“What?” Hidon said. “Nothing. Fighting giants.”

“He has been,” Garon said.

“Not a minute ago he was trying to kill me!” Gudrun said, her glare not leaving Hidon.

“He's been here with us all this time,” Threadbare said.

“Want me to tell her?” Madeline's voice whispered in his ear.

“No...” Threadbare said. “No, I don't think he was trying to kill you.” He shook his head at Gudrun, and ended up looking at Madeline. “Don't tell her. We don't want to tell anyone about Jarrik,” he whispered back, through the wind.

Gudrun hesitated, looking from Hidon to Threadbare, to the rest of them.

“Guddy, lower the pistol,” Bazdra said, stepping in front of her barrel. “I'm pretty sure I know who took a swing at you, and it wasn't Hidon. Tell us what happened.”

“Quickly,” Garon said, peering in through the cracked door. Racous music and giant voices sounded from the aperture.

“We need to get moving.”

“Montag's missing,” Gudrun said, lowering the gun. “There's a lot of blood in his home. And some red doll's hair scattered around.”

“What?” Threadbare said, glancing over to Cecelia, who shrugged back.

“Ridiculous, of course,” said Hidon. “Almost as ridiculous as me trying to kill you.” his eyes were narrowed as he studied Gudrun.

“The King's looking for you,” Gudrun said. “He thinks you're in danger.”

“Yeah. It's got to be the lurker after us. But you should NOT be here!” Bazdra said. “You haven't delved a day in your life! This is NOT the place for you, Gudrun Scarstone.”

“Hang on a second,” Hidon said. “Where did I go after something that looked like me tried to kill you? And how did you survive in the first place?” Hidon asked.

“I ran here,” Gudrun said. “Haven't moved that fast in ages. Then as soon as I came through the archway, I saw you on the steps, watching the fight. I called out to you and you waved, came closer, and stabbed me. I fired my gun, and I think I got you. But you disappeared.”

Graves tilted his head, and adjusted his backpack, while Gudrun recounted the affair. “Did you make that musket yourself?” He asked. “It's ah, some nice work.”

“Of course!” She said. “What self-respecting priestess of crafts would I be if I didn't make my own weapons?”

Threadbare bowed his head. “Garon, please shut the door,” he said. “We're not going any further right now.”

“What? Why?”

“Do it, stupid boy!” Zuula bonked her spear against her son's noggin. “It DAT business.”

“Oh, oh, right...” he eased the door shut.

“Glad you're seeing reason,” Bazdra sighed. “We need to go back and settle this.”

“Well... you're half right,” Threadbare said, whispering mental messages through the wind. Graves, Fluffbear, and Glub moved behind Gudrun, cutting off her retreat back down the bridge. “We do need to settle this.”

“Fuck me running. The Lurker's here somewhere,” Hidon squinted around, pulling in to put his back against Bazdra.

“Yes, and I'm looking at him,” Threadbare stared at Gudrun.

Silence, for a long bit, broken only by distant winds howling through the gorge around them.

“Lurker? What are you talking about?” Gudrun said, staring around them, confused.

“You came in disguised as Hidon. But Gudrun was right behind you,” Threadbare said. “One of us saw you do that. Then when you noticed her behind you, you killed her. That was probably when the gunshot happened.”

She stared at him, eyes wide. “I'm me. I'm not any Lurker.”

Your Magic Resistance skill is now level 17!

Threadbare shook his head, as something passed over him. Most of his friends looked confused. Hidon sheathed his daggers.

Bazdra, though, scowled. She inhaled sharply, and slid her sword from its sheath.

Threadbare continued. “Your clothes are bloody, but you aren't wounded. And that could be because you healed yourself. But your clothes are still torn. You haven't fixed them.”

“Well yes, I'll fix them now, I've got a few seconds and plenty of tailoring supplies to do that-”

“But Yorgum's Godspell is mend,” Fluffbear squeaked. “It would have taken a second, and you didn't.”

Gudrun's eyes snapped open. “Well what if it slipped my mind! See, Godspell Mend,” she said, and her clothes drew together.

But there was no flash of golden light, Threadbare saw.

“I suppose that could have been true,” Threadbare said, “But when Graves called your pistol a musket you didn't correct him. On top of everything else, it looks very suspicious.”

“I.. I was just flustered,” Gudrun said, taking a step back, looking at the solemn-faced group behind her. “In fact, I-”

A blur of motion, Threadbare tried to get in its way, but was just too slow. Bazdra shouted a warning-

-and then Cecelia yelled, as she was scooped up, and Gudrun was backing up to the door, teeth bared, holding the little doll high. “No closer,” Gudrun said, her voice rippling, and changing, losing the grandmotherly tone, as it was replaced with something oily. “Or she goes over the edge. If she dies down there, you can't revive her, can you?”

Hidon twitched, but Garon slapped his arm. “No!”

“Clever boy. She's coming with me,” The Lurker sneered. “I was very glad you came to this dungeon. It's one of my goals, with this infiltration. You handed me two of them in one fell swoop, really, how could I resist?” Gudrun's form rippled, swirling and rearranging, growing until it was a handsome, smiling man, nude for a second until fine, flashy clothes swelled out of his skin and wrapped around him.

“Those ain't clothes, are they? They weren't earliah, eithah?” Madeline asked.

“Nope. And that wasn't a mend spell. I can talk like this at will,” The Deceiver smirked.

Cecelia twisted, looked to Threadbare for help. “Stay calm,” he whispered through the wind. “We'll save you.”

With absolute faith she nodded, and got shaken for her trouble. “Ah ah ah! Sit still, do nothing, and you might survive this, your highness,” The Lurker hissed, as he tucked the pistol under his arm and opened the door to the giants' hall with his free hand.

“And Gudrun?” Hidon's hands shook, gloved hands clenching around the daggers.

“I let her go.” The Deceiver said, gazing back to the steps leading down the cliff... and the misty gorge beyond. “Long drop. Short stop. Down there somewhere.”

“You bastard!” Bazdra snarled. “Why shouldn't we kill you now!”

“Because I WILL throw Princess Cecelia, and I'm smart enough to do it where your dragon and witch can't catch her, and where the vines aren't. And because if you let me go now, you'll have a shot at me when I leave. One way out, one way in, hm?”

“And exactly what do you mean to do here?” Threadbare asked, but without another word the daemon slipped through the door and slammed it behind him.


The muffled shot resounded from inside. Hidon turned to Threadbare, furious. “What! You honestly think you can trust a word that thing said? Your princess is as good as dead if you give that thing time, and you're just letting it go?”

“You're wrong on three counts,” Threadbar said. “First, I don't trust it, second, we won't give it time, and third... well, that wasn't my princess.”

Graves' pack stirred, and a porcelain arm poked out, followed by the rest of Cecelia. “No, but it's almost as bad. We need to get moving or he might kill Marva.”

“What?” Bazdra blinked. “Two of you? Oh. Oh, clever.”

Threadbare shrugged. “I baked a new clay golem this morning, and asked our dead for volunteers. We just needed someone who had unlocked knight at some point, everything else could be faked. Especially since they could modify their status screens to hide things. Marva was it.”

“Your whole dungeon run was to lure him out.” Hidon said, as light dawned.

“Don't mean to be a poop, but we need ta hurry,” Madeline said, staring at rippling patches of air. “The gahds are coming back.”

“You two, out. Tell the King what happened,” Cecelia decided. “We took care to Lurker proof our people so he shouldn't be able to impersonate us, but we've no preparations with you. If you're still around he'll try shenanigans.”

Bazdra started to protest, looked at the now roiling patches of empty space, and nodded. “We'll get word to the King.”

“Good. We'll go after the Lurker, try to get him to flee without time to prepare. We've got an edge there, we know what he's doing.”

At the edge of the bridge, Hidon stopped and looked back. “What? What's he doing?”

“I have an idea,” said Threadbare. “Get in Madeline's pack, everyone except for Graves and Madeline. I'll whisper the plan. Go! Oh, and be careful leaving the dungeon, we've got a friend out there. Go out slowly with your hands up, both at once.”

“He's going to seal the dungeon,” Cecelia said, before hopping out of one pack to another, as the dwarves' stunned faces went pale.



Spoiler: Spoiler



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About the author

Andrew Seiple


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