Giants, though rare creatures throughout the bulk of Generica, are fairly common in the Northlands. Like the dwarves, this particular batch had migrated down from Mighty Hallas, seeking opportunity and a new start away from their more troublesome associates, enemies and allies alike.
Originally, Jotunher was supposed to be a twin settlement to Jotunhim, a steading ruled by the Jarl's brother.

Then she'd gotten her hands on a dungeon core, and the original plan had gone... a bit out of the window.

Giants have the “Living Large” skill. Which means that they usually alternate between two attitudes; hangry, and lazy.

So when the Jarl, after playing with the dungeon core a bit, figured out how it worked, she'd seen some of the benefits right away. Unlike most giants, who are— to put it charitably— rather slow, she'd managed to grind her intelligence up to a respectable fifty-two.

Which let her realize “hey, if I stick all these delicious foods and alcohol stuff in the loot pillars, and put my friends in the midboss and mob pillars, then we can pretty much eat forever in a never-ending party without doing a lick of work!”

And so when the dwarves finally tunneled back to that end of the mountain, they found Jotunher nestled just inside the Oblivion, and full of happy, torpid giants. Dwarves being dwarves and the old enmity being what it was, they send in raiding parties. Some of them survived, some of them didn't, and the chief shrugged her shoulders and begin setting up a proper dungeon, adding to it as her whimsy took her. After all, the little hairy ones sometimes dropped good loot, and that got added to her hall of treasures. And it wasn't like they could REALLY kill her people. Best Jarl ever!

Okay, so she might not have figured out ALL of how the dungeon worked, but whatever. It worked, and that was enough. She'd come to appreciate the benefits of life as a dungeon master.

Her subjects, on the other hand, had not.

Though she had no way of knowing it, being stuck in a dungeon slot for long has a way of wearing on one's perceptions. It ups aggression tries to mold behavior and urges, push those in them into acting in accordance with a script that tries to encourage and provide dramatic conflict with visitors.

All else falls by the wayside.

Some monsters, such as strong-willed undead or daemons can resist it. Dragons don't usually notice, because they're used to the unending weariness of the march of time anyway. But for most mortal races, it wears most people in those slots down, especially if they're not mentally strong..., for example, most giants.

The ones in the feast hall, gorging themselves, had barely noticed when the doors slammed shut. They did that sometimes, as people came and went. No big deal.

They hadn't even looked up when the handsome stranger stood there, holding a frightened doll in one hand and a pistol in the other, taking stock of the situation. Nor had they noticed when he shook himself, and shrunk down to the shape of a three-foot-tall teddy bear in a red coat and a black top hat.

They sure as fuck had noticed when he shot Hralph in the face, though. Especially Hralph.

The entire long table had gone silent, as the gunshot echoed, and the feasters stared at the murderous stranger.

“My name is Threadbare and I think all of you are stupid fartsniffers!” He cheerfully announced.

As one, they rose and charged him, bellowing in rage.

And after a few injuries, some broken furniture, and a slight divergence into a food fight after Hregina accidentally beaned Hronda with a hurled ham, they realized that the little bastard had disappeared in the confusion. Angered, the mob of giants spread out throughout the hall, and began looking under chairs, lifting the covers of serving dishes, and peering behind tapestries for a small bear who desperately needed to be flattened. And maybe farted on, because who's the fartsniffer NOW, huh?

(That's about the extent of witty retorts among giants, as they go.)

With one shot and a little trickery, the Deciever had created a sticky situation indeed for Threadbare's group.

He didn't realize, however, that they'd been told about the entry hall by Hidon, just prior to his arrival.

And while they didn't realized just what he'd done, they'd heard the gunshot through the doors, and guessed the gist of his plan.

So when the doors slammed open again, about thirty giants, giancles, and a couple of ginephews and ginieces whirled around with axes and clubs out, they didn't see an adventuring group led by a small bear who desperately needed pounding.

They saw two badly wounded guards, staggering in, leaning on each other. “Get help...” one of them croaked, before slipping from her compatriot's grasp and hitting the ground.

Well, that wouldn't do!

The giants surged forward to help the fallen one up, firing questions at the still-standing guard, who shrugged.

Unnoticed, a tiny red dragon wrapped around a totally silent knight ran from the door to the nearest side-passage. As they reached it, the knight glanced back, and the remaining guard's eyes rolled up in her head as she collapsed. 

They made it down the hall, around a few corners, and came to a stop.

“I can't believe that wahked,” Madeline said.

“...” Graves replied, lips moving without sound. He frowned, and sound returned to him. “I'm just glad the bear had that silent killer bead left over from the infiltration run. I'm not a stealthy person.”

Madeline plopped her pack down and started drawing out their friends while Graves listened back the way they came.

“Were there any problems?” Threadbare asked, as he came out.

“No. It worked perfectly. The zombies distracted them and we got past.”

“Good. Garon? Can you check?”

“Sure thing. Follow the Dotted Line.” He looked down, then shook his head. “The Lurker's resistant or something.”

One of Garon's mercenary skills let him find the shortest path to a given quest objective. Before they'd entered the dungeon, before they'd even left their quarters, Threadbare had given them all a King's Quest to take down the lurker. Then to give himself the quest, he'd sworn fealty to Garon, who had shared the quest that Threadbare had given him BACK to its originator.

They'd done that last part to mainly see if they could. It was possible, and raised some interesting notions for ruler-based shenanigans later.

“I suppose that makes sense,” Threadbare said, after a bit of thought. “If it were that easy to find him he wouldn't have caused so much trouble.”

Kayin cleared her throat, as she faded into sight, losing her camouflage. “There's one guard at the junction up the hall, and a lot of doors off. It's like a maze back there, from what I can see.”

“You think they'll hear us in the main hall if we take him out?” Graves asked.

“It's a her,” Kayin said. “I think.”

“Nah,” Madeline said. “I know how dungeon mobs think. They'll stick to theah paht of things and not go roaming unless we draw'em.”

“There's a question, though. The guard, is she actively searching or hurt?” Cecelia asked.

“No,” Kayin confirmed.

“Then it's almost certain the Lurker didn't come this way.”

“Or he slipped by with stealth,” Garon said. “But we need to go deeper in, regardless.”

Cecelia sighed. “Remember, our goal isn't to 'win' this dungeon, it's to catch him before he seals it. We need to catch him before he gets to the final boss.”

“Not what I meant. Mads?”

“Dungeons have a way of funneling you to the end regahdless of how you go,” the red wooden dragon spoke. “If we don't follow his path exactly that's fine, so long as we can make it in time to catch him when the paths convahge.”

“Let's go, then,” Threadbare decided, mounting up on Pulsivar's back and waving the rest along with his scepter. “Kayin, any way to sneak past this one?”

“Not without risks. It's a narrow junction and she seems pretty sharp.”

“Down she goes then.”

There was a time when that would have bothered me, Threadbare reflected as he rode Pulsivar into a charge, ambushing the surprised guard.
AGI +1
Your Ride skill is now level 9!

Most of his early life had been spent fighting for survival. First against the cat who he'd soon befriended, then against a horde of ravenous rats, and eventually graduating to struggles against undead and weirder things.

But like the defense of the town had been, giants were people of a sort, and every claw swipe he landed on them, every bruise his scepter left on her skin, he was reminded that he was helping kill something that was like his little girl, just on a bigger scale.

Your Clubs and Maces skill is now level 10!

To that end he forgave the occasional axe hit or kick the giantess got in on him, because it was quite understandable really. But he was happy to switch over to support once the rest of his crew followed him in, and took over the slashy duties.

She IS a dungeon monster. That does make a difference. What he'd seen so far seemed to suggest that dungeon monsters weren't truly alive in the first place, that you could kill them and they'd just come back time and again.
Like the Lurker. And a connection teased in his mind there, before he brought it back to the fight.

But that wasn't quite right, was it? Not all dungeon monsters were that way. Madeline was a dungeon monster who'd developed and escaped, and gone on to be a... well, you couldn't call her a good person, not with a straight face, but a decent one given the fact she knew she was a monster and never felt the slightest guilt about it.

At the end of it, when the guard toppled and fell, swarmed by small foes who overwhelmed her with bodies and attacks, he knew that it didn't matter. This was what Cecelia needed, to save her Kingdom, her people.

He sure would be happy when it was all done, though. Perhaps then they could get back to tea parties and hugs.
And it WAS good to see his friends rejoice, and get more powerful and confident as they went from victory to victory.
Speaking of which...
You are now a level 7 Duelist!
You are now a level 15 Golemist!
You have unlocked the Bone Golem skill!
Your Bone Golem skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Call Golem skill!
Your Call Golem skill is now level 1!
“Anothah one down!” Madeline cheered. “Goldfindah!” she chanted, and coins popped out of the giant's pockets. Then Zuula took over searching duties, while Kayin nodded and faded into camouflage again.

“Any route, desu?” The catgirl asked as she stared down three identical corridors.

“Look for the larjah passage,” Madeline advised. “Main routes are the way to go.” She nuzzled her coins greedily. “Theah we go! High Dragon level tree! Woo!”

“Cecelia?” Threadbare said, “I think I just got a skill that could save Marva here and now. Do you see any problem with me doing that immediately?”

“Not a bit,” Cecelia said. “Please do!”

“Call Golem”, Threadbare said, staring at the first Cecelia's name in his party screen.
Your Call Golem skill is now level 2!

Immediately, Cecelia's body double stumbled forward, appearing from thin air. She cringed, then looked around... and immediately glomped Threadbare. “Thank you lord! I was so scared!”

“It's all right,” he said, hugging her back. “Where was he?”

“I... don't know. He's running around looking like you, King Dreadbear!”

“Not unexpected.” The teddy bear gently pried the ex-cultist loose, just as Kayin rematerialized.
“That way,” the catgirl said. “Just past two more guards it opens up onto a hillside for a bit. There's some giant shepherds and herds of giant sheep and goats and stuff. It looks like there's an entrance to a tower of the hall across the way, but if we step careful we might be able to evade most of the herds.”

“I, I lost the sword and shield you gave me,” Marva said, turning to Cecelia. “I'm sorry.”

“No, no, you've got nothing to apologize for!” Cecelia said, taking her shoulder with one hand, and touching her face as Marva tried to look away. “If anything I'M the sorry one. You risked your neck for me, because of me, and it almost went bad. I owe you a big favor. Garon, can we get her spares?”

“Oh yeah. Mads?”

Madeline rummaged in the pack, and pulled out a few spare doll-sized weapons. The temple of Yorgum had been good for grinding their craft skills last night, in more ways then one.

Thus armed and re-equipped, Threadbare slapped a few mend golems on those who needed it, and the group hurried to the next set of guards.

That fight didn't go quite as well.

Even with the same tactics that they'd employed against the gate guards, handling two at a time was rough. Especially without a pair of experienced and sturdy dwarves there to help take the pressure off of them.

And in the more confined space of the hallway, it was harder to encircle and swarm the guards, harder to dance out of the way of their clubs. Threadbare was very glad he'd gained a level and refilled his sanity in the last fight, because he was stuck tanking as best he could and casting mend golem over and over again.

On the upside it was doing wonders for his golem body and toughness skills. And his defensive duelist skills were getting a workout, too.

The downside was that his friends were getting hurt, pretty badly hurt. At one point Pulsivar took a bone-shattering hit, bounced off a wall, and got up and limped away, leaving droplets of blood on the floor behind him, with a whole '1' hit point glaring on Threadbare's party screen. “Fluffbear!” he yelled, as he leaped onto the giant's chest, holding its tunic while he jabbed it in the jaw repeatedly. “Heal him please!”

“On it!”

The giants went down, finally. And Threadbare went over to hug Pulsivar, who lay there, panting, grooming his bloody fur.

Fluffbear looked up from his side and shook her head. “He lost a life.”


“He has the Nine Lives skill, just like Kayin. But he's on life number seven now. Two more to go, then...” she hugged Pulsivar too, his fur rasping as it ruffled against her armor.

“No. No, I don't want him to die!” Threadbare said. The cat switched from grooming himself to licking them, tongue rasping against their plush hides.

“Maybe...” Cecelia looked over at Madeline. “Maybe we could put him back in the pack? Just for this run?”

“Maybe for more than that,” Garon said. “We're up against some pretty tough customers, and bobcat levels aren't going to cut it. I mean...” he sighed. “As a cat, he's totally badass. But he's still a cat. Up against giants, and daemons, and everything else... if we want him to survive, we should maybe stop bringing him into battle.”

“That might be good. He doesn't get any of my tamer bonuses, like Mopsy does. And his armor just.. isn't. I used to think we could soulstone him if the worst happened,” Fluffbear squeaked, “But I'm not sure he'd be okay with this. Or like living as a golem.”

“We should have this discussion outside. Until then let's keep him out of danger,” Threadbare decided.

But Pulsivar was having none of it. When they pulled out the pack, he refused to go back in. Even with Fluffbear offering treats.

Finally, Zuula shook her head. “Speak with Nature,” she said, and snarled for a bit. Pulsivar growled back. Then the shaman shrugged. “He say no.”

“No? But... I don't want him to die,” Threadbare said.

“Incoming,” Kayin said, looking at the rippling air.

“He say it his choice. And he rather die fighting for family, den hide safe while dey all risk. Besides he say you all lost wit'out him, silly hoomin toys.”

With that all there was to it, and no hope of changing the proud cat's mind, they hurried away from the respawning guards and into what the local giants referred to as the 'Sheep level.'

And there the toys got a rude shock. Kayin's estimate of evading trouble had been far, far too optimistic.

The shepherds weren't a problem as all. The shepherds dropped their crooks and ran, as soon as trouble started.

But the things they were herding weren't sheep at all.

They were Wooly Bullies, and the bigger males among them had horns and strong territorial instincts.

“Bah!” They called, as they sighted interlopers.

“Ram!” They shouted, as they used Rammit skills to knock the golems around the grassy fields, sending them tumbling as Threadbare and his friends fought the herds.

“Oh Ewe!” Their mates called out, affectionately, as they used healing nuzzles to keep the males fighting fit.

The group had come prepared to fight giants, big slow things that took a lot of punishment and hit really hard. They hadn't come prepared for endless waves of sheep, which were faster things that took a bit less punishment, and nibbled more weakly, but more persistently. And worst of all, the damned things didn't run. No matter how many of the herd had fallen, the wooly bullies didn't stop coming.

But for all that, they were up against golems, with only a few living allies to worry about. Golems had great endurance, and it took a lot to get them tired. Twenty minutes into the fight Graves and the cats were flagging, but with a few shouted orders by Garon and Threadbare, the toys reorganized themselves into a loose square around their living allies.

And for a while there, it looked like it was working. They moved across the field, slowly, sending wool flying and standing resolute against sheep the size of great danes. Glub's song rose above the bleating, a song of clarity this time, so Threadbare and the healers could keep everyone in good shape. The giant fights had been sprints, races to take them down before they killed someone. This was more of a marathon, a grinding ocean of wooly meat that needed to be converted into mutton.

They didn't notice the midboss until it was among them.

Threadbare's head snapped around as Cecelia... no, Marva, screamed.

There, under a white pelt with eyeholes, was something brown, with glaring red eyes, and big, big jaws, all the better to bite Marva with. It was gnawing her, looking very surprised, as its teeth rasped on porcelain and metal. It spat her out and she tumbled, barely avoided a Ram, and hurried back to the group.

“Wolf in Sheep's clothing!” Garon yelled, and then the creature was leaping into the center of the formation, howling in fury...
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About the author

Andrew Seiple


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