The Giant Jarl strode toward the little bear, club raised high. It was stone, an ancient column of some sort that had grips hammered into it, and it whistled as it came down at Threadbare.
Who, fortunately, was agile enough to not be there when it hit, so hard that the floor shook again.
Your Dodge skill is now level 13!
He looked back to see Pulsivar scrambling away, and sighed, chasing after the cat. Though as giant footsteps echoed behind him, he wasn’t sure he was doing Pulsivar any favors at all.
“Over here! Quickly!” He heard his voice call, and saw a furry hand beckon from behind a pillar… then looked past him to see Kayin and Graves hesitating.
“That’s not me!” he shouted. Then threw in “Guard Stance!” because here came that club again-
-and this time he didn’t escape.
It caught him in the back, knocking him into the air, to thump against the wall, then bounce to the floor. A red ‘139’ drifted up, and he gasped, rolled to the side, and stood up.
Grinning, the giant pulled her club back, and took a few more steps toward him-
-and then his friends swarmed her from all sides.
“I Challenge you!” He called to her, dusting his shoulder off-
Jarl Greta Sumvonesdottir resisted your Challenge!
-but his efforts didn’t get through her Cool. Unlike the Lurker, he hadn’t honed his social skills to insanely good levels.
Which was a problem, because he saw, from his slightly removed perspective, that another Graves had entered the fight.
“Look out! A fake Graves!” But his small voice was lost in the din, and the bellowing, and the clamor of the fight. Horrified, he saw one of the Graves move up behind Cecelia and glance down at her unguarded back…
“I Challenge you, Lurker!” He yelled through the Minorphone.
Your Challenge skill is now level 11!
Startled, the false Graves and Cecelia whipped around to stare at him, and both caught a giant boot for their trouble-
-as what he’d thought was the real Graves shanked Zuula in the back of the head and ran off giggling, shape blurring as he darted behind a pillar. Zuula, enraged, pulled the dagger from her head and threw it at the giant.
“Um…” Threadbare canceled his challenge against the very real Graves, and started dropping Mend Golem spells instead.
Graves, for his part, stood up painfully and whipped out the wand he’d prepared, triggering a three-charge burst and healing himself up to full.
And also getting the giant's full attention.
The Jarl threw off Kayin, who’d been climbing her with claws out the whole way, swept her club around until the cats and Fluffbear backed off, ignored Garon hacking into her boot, and strode toward Graves and Cecelia. She swung the club high in the air…
…and then the Wherewolf ghoul made its attack.
Graves had kept it in the back, Threadbare realized. Waited until the others were clear. He wondered why that was so, for a second…
…then the ghoul leaped up, grabbed her fur dress, and spewed rancid filth all over her face, and Threadbare stopped wondering.
The blue giant backhanded the ghoul away, then staggered, and as the party watched, her face turned green. Red numbers started slinking up from her… not huge, but it was having an effect.
“Don’t just stand there!” Graves yelled, waving the ghoul in again, this time biting and clawing, “Get her!”
Threadbare closed the distance-
-and a trio of knives sunk into his belly, knocking him across the floor. He rose, glaring past the columns, to see his own face grinning back at him, holding up another set of knives, before juggling them into the air and sending them winging at him one at a time. “Dance, golem!” The Lurker shouted.
He tried, but the guy had good aim. Threadbare managed to make it behind a pillar while he had HP left, and skilled up a few times while he mended himself. The fight raged past him while he did so. The little bear winced as the ghoul got turned to pulp under one giant heel, and checked out the Jarl’s hit points with his deathsight.
She’d lost a fifth, all told. Threadbare shook his head. They needed to coordinate. This wasn’t undoable… but unfortunately the Lurker realized that too.
“New plan-” He heard his voice call through the Minorphone. What? No, the magic cone was still on his belt… This had to be another thing the daemon could do.
“-Everyone scatter, I’ll tank her for a bit!” He heard the Lurker finish
“Ignore that!” He yelled through his own minorphone. “Stay on her together!” He said, running forward… and cringing as his own friends shot him suspicious glares. Glares that faded, as he used the last of the Minorphone’s juice to shout at the giant. “I Challenge you!”
And this time it stuck.
CHA +1
Your Challenge skill is now level 12!
“I’ve had enough ov hyu leetle bear!” The giant roared, whirling her club in the air, and breaking cleanly through a few pillars. “FIMBULVINTER FROST!” She bellowed.
And the world turned white.
A snowstorm roared in through the windows, filling the air with flakes and ice, and sending visibility straight to hell.
No! This is the sort of thing the Lurker will…
Will use to get Cecelia, he realized.
“Call Golem,” he whispered, and grabbed onto her arm the second she materialized, almost catching her sword in his belly for his troubles.
Your Call Golem skill is now level 4!
She shouted something, but it was lost in the storm.
And then the storm was fading, as fast as it had come, leaving half his party frozen in ice… and a shadow around him, spreading, growing as Cecelia screamed and pointed up-
-then braced herself, and shouted “Corps a Corps!”
And it worked.
A foot above Threadbare, her rising blade met the Giant’s descending club, and Threadbare gasped as the stone ground on metal above his head, Cecelia’s skill allowing her to effectively parry a ten-foot-tall column with an eight-inch-long steel blade.
“Hold her!” Threadbare yelled, heading toward his frozen friends. “I’ll free them!”
“I gaht this!” Madeline said. “Call Faia! Shape Faiah! Minah Elemental!” Madeline ripped flames into the air, spun them in spirals, de-icing Glub, Zuula, Garon, and Mopsy and Fluffbear, and sending a roiling, bonfire-sized elemental towards the Jarl, who yelped and pulled her club away from Cecelia’s desperate clench. The giant backed up, swinging at the fire elemental, trying to simultaneously tag it and stay out of reach of the flames.
“Ectoplasm!” Graves shouted, and a sticky ball of gooey translucent stuff splattered against her boot, binding it to a nearby pillar. The giant stumbled, then shrieked as the flames burned her…
…until knives shot out from behind her, whistling through the fire elemental and dispersing it. Angrily, the giant started to pull her boot away from the sticky ghost goo.
And Threadbare jumped, as wood clattered up behind him, turned as Garon waved. “We need to shut down the Lurker!” he whispered. “We can’t fight him and this giant at the same time! Ideas! Give me some!”
Threadbare thought. He racked his brain, put his high intelligence and wisdom to work, ignoring the raging battle behind him, ignoring the yelps of his friends and the bellows of the enraged giant.
And finally, he came up with something he thought might work.
I’ll have to leave the party. For a minute. And I’ll need you to do something. Here’s what…”
After he heard it, Garon grimaced, and looked at the group. “I can give you half a minute. Beyond that we’ll have casualties!”
“Half a minute it is!” Threadbare said, rummaging in his clothes, and running over to Cecelia. “Tell me when!”
Cecelia was very surprised when he asked for her help, but she nodded when she heard what he wanted. “In my pouch! Just tear the whole thing off my belt!” She said, lunging forward to shield Madeline against a nasty club strike, and sucking down a red ‘52’ for her trouble.
Threadbare chased after her, grabbed her pouch, and ran away, rummaging through it.
“Now!” Garon yelled, and Threadbare hoped that it WAS Garon, because if not…
…no time to worry about it. He left the party, and started casting, whispering under his breath, and dropping things in his hat.
“Hold her!” he called back to Garon, as he moved into the light of one of the big windows. “I’ve almost got the daemon ward enchanted-“
And abruptly the hat was whisked from his hands, as the Lurker darted out of hiding, and snapped it onto his own head. “I think not!”
The Lurker’s triumphant grin lasted for all of a second.
And then it turned to a horrified rictus, as things squirmed under the hat and bit into his head.
Animated mice. Five little cloth mice, not even worth a note in Threadbare’s inventory. The things he’d used to scout ahead, through dollseye, now animated and with the full force of his will backing their bites.
The hat was about as strong, as the Lurker found when he tried to remove it. The daemon panicked, twisting and struggling, managing to get part of the brim free as it wrapped around him, struggling to keep him grappled…
Now!” Threadbare yelled, whipping aside when he heard the hooves clattering behind him-
-And Garon yelled “Rammit!” as he collided headfirst into the Lurker…
…knocking him through the window and away.
Garon has invited you to his party!
“Oh good!” Threadbare said, running back to the fight. “Nobody died!”
Though it wasn’t for lack of trying, a glance at the party screen told him. He settled in to tanking, and healing his friends up.
And without the lurker interfering, it went much more easily. Fluffbear switched on her Clarifying Aura, using Righteous Taunt to switch attention to her whenever the damage got too much for him. Glub doubled up on that with his song of Clarity, and between the two of them, the healers had enough juice to keep things going so that the rest of the group could focus on damage.
It still wasn’t easy. All the knights and the bears had to get a rotation going, swap tanking duties so the rest could recover. And Graves ended up burning every last charge in his drain life wand, recovering from a critical hit. But they made it work, and though there were a few close calls, the Jarl’s hit points dropped, and dropped, and dropped.
But while it was going on, Threadbare kept a keen eye on the entrance. The Lurker would be back, he was certain of it. But he’d have to take the long way around. If he could’ve climbed up via a shortcut he would’ve, Threadbare knew, but he’d moved through the dungeon like anyone else. So sooner or later he'd be back.
It did turn out to be later, as Madeline, flagging, and low on Moxie, managed to recharge just enough to get off one last Burninate.
The flames died, and there was giant-sized Threadbare, three-feet tall, looking in at the scene.
He saw a giant on her last legs, a group that was battered and drained but still going, and two resting cats, licking their wounds.
And as the Lurker’s eyes fastened on Pulsivar, and his grin widened, Threadbare realized what he was going to do.
Three knives left the Lurker’s hands, spinning mercilessly towards Pulsivar, wounded Pulsivar, faithful Pulsivar, who looked up with whiskers quivering.
Time stretched as Threadbare dived, no time to call out, only time to run, run and hope he could get close enough to save his friend-
And Pulsivar leaped, straight up in the air.
The first knife spun lazily around, tore through the bobcat's paw, sending a red ‘62’ upward. Threadbare leaped-
-the second knife missed both of them, whirling just past Pulsivar’s head…
…and the third and final knife sunk deep into Threadbare’s back, as his bodyguard skill kicked in, blocking the strike that would have taken Pulsivar between the eyes.
They hit the floor together, and knife still sticking out of his back, Threadbare scrambled to Pulsivar and hugged him with all his might.
You have healed Pulsivar for 150 points!
Your Innocent Embrace skill is now level 16!
He reeled as sanity left him, reserves tapped, only the song refilling him now, but slowly, slowly…
And when he turned around, the Lurker was gone.
“Where…” he said-
The stone club fell to the ground.
The Jarl fell to her knees.
“Yes!” Garon whooped.
And then the giant collapsed, slumping to the floor.
“Everyone!” Threadbare said, “I’ve lost track of the Lurker!”
Then his view was crowded by words, as the levels hit.
You are now a level 16 Toy Golem
+2 to all attributes
You are now a level 13 Ruler!
+3 CHA
+3 WIS
You are now a level 8 Scout!
+3 AGI
+3 PER
+3 WIS
You are now a level 10 Duelist!
+3 AGI
+3 DEX
+3 STR
You have unlocked the Disarm skill!
Your Disarm skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Riposte skill!
Your Riposte skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 13 Animator!
INT +3
You are now a level 17 Golemist!
INT +5
You are now a level 18 Golemist!
INT +5
“Remember, he’s going to try to seal the dungeon!” Cecelia said, looking around. “I’m not sure how you do that, but…”
“There’s a chambah, there’s a way into a chambah,” Madeline said, taking to the air and flapping around the hall. “Look foah green! Green light!”
“Yes!” Zuula cheered.
“You found it?” Garon charged back to her.
“No, she gots dese,” Zuula waved the giant-sized set of golden laurels. “Dey let you rest!"
“Not the time Mom!” The wooden minotaur snapped, then returned to searching…
…as reality rippled.
“Oh shit,” Graves said, patching himself up.
Then, from behind them, a surprised warble. A surprised FELINE warble.
Threadbare turned, staring…
…at Pulsivar. Pulsivar, whose form was shifting, and flickering, not quite in time with the reality pulse, not to the dungeon’s rhythm, but to his own.
For Pulsivar had just hit level twenty-five.
And he’d managed, with one life left to him after the Lurker’s botched attack, to rank up.
The rest of the group spread out, shouting, looking for the dungeon core entrance, but Threadbare knew that it was already too late. So instead, he sighed, said “Call Outfit,” and put his hat back on his head, then went over and sat down next to his friend and held his paw between his own as Pulsivar worked through the changes.
“Mrrrp?” Pulsivar asked him, stretching out with one black paw, as his hide shimmered…
And though the paw didn’t seem to come anywhere near Threadbare, the little bear felt Pulsivar patting his face.
Curious, Threadbare reached out with one of his own paws, and Pulsivar’s face rubbed against it… fur wrinkling.
Except the face was a good meter away. And bigger, much bigger. It felt bigger, too, as he petted Pulsivar, going by touch alone. The cat felt like he was twice his bobcat size, or more.
Threadbare reached out with both arms, and the big cat leaned into his embrace, invisibly, while his image flickered and firmed up, showing two disembodied teddy bear arms hugging him. Yep, definitely larger than he had been.
“I wonder…” Threadbare climbed up on the unseen cat’s back…
…and his own image appeared, feet away from him, mounted on Pulsivar as Threadbare himself faded from view.
And though the little bear had no way of knowing it, his oldest friend had become that rarest of all feline monsters;
A dreaded Misplacer Beast!
But that was something to ponder later, as blackness winked away, and green numbers flickered…
…and coalesced into a blue crystal, shining with red numbers, in the hands of Threadbare’s hatless, three-foot tall evil twin.
And then the world was full of falling giants.
And rains of food.
And kegs and cups full of liquor falling to the ground.
And shrieking sheep.
All these things and more exploded out into the space where the dungeon had once filled, rendered from a scenic, jagged gorge and pillar, with a mighty hall…
…down to a rather small mountain valley, with some half-built huts, a few patches of raggedy grass, and an ordinary-looking hillside.
“Vhat de hell. Vhat de hell hyu done hyu vorthless little bear!” The Jarl bellowed, much shorter and fatter now that she was out of her master’s pillar. She struggled to her feet, hefted a club rather more dinged and busted up than it had seemed through her master’s projection, and glared around… until her eyes fixed on Threadbare.
Around her, at least two dozen giants, mostly women, lay groaning or comatose. Food and items of loot lay strewn all over them.
“Not me!” Threadbare said, pointing at a running figure, heading upslope. “Him!”
The figure let out a laugh…
…that ended in a surprised squeak, as it crested the ridge.
“Hello there!” King Grundi’s voice boomed out. “I brought cannons!”
And then the world was thunder, as the Lurker dodged for his life.
The dwarf lord had come for daemon blood, and he’d brought company.
“I don’t know vhat’s going on, but I’m still blaming hyu!” The Giant Jarl pointed down at Threadbare…
…who looked up at her, solemnly.
“I’m sorry. Would you like a hug?”
The giant queen paused, confused. “Vhat?”
Threadbare pointed at her side, and the hilts of small daggers protruding from her generous rump. “I’m guessing he called you nasty names like fartsniffer and threw daggers at you until you chased him. He’s very good at that.”
“Vell hyes, hyes hyu did.”
“No, it wasn’t him lady, he was with us the whole time,” Madeline said, laying a wing across Threadbare… or trying to, and missing. “The hell?”
“It’s Pulsivar’s new thing, I’ll explain later.” He hopped off, and toddled toward the giant, arms open wide.
She raised her club, glaring. “Up hyu lot! Up and get him…” she looked around at the somnolent giants, as they refused to obey. “Vhat’s wrong vith hyu?”
And then the little bear was embracing her furry boot, and light glowed.
You have healed Jarl Greta Sumvonesdottir for 160 Points!
Your Innocent Embrace skill is now level 17!
Your Fascination skill is now level 9!
Your Adorable skill is now level 35!
“Oh.” Jarl Greta said, easing her club down. “Vhell, I guess it vasn’t hyu, den.”
“It was him. Want to go hit him a bunch?” Threadbare said, pointing at his howling, dodging duplicate, who was having a very bad day of it as canister shot raked the hit points from him one blast at a time.
And as the Lurker managed to stagger down the hill, with the first waves of dwarves in hot pursuit, he slowed as Threadbare’s group came charging from behind, the furry little bear clutching the giant woman’s frosted braid tightly, and pointing at the daemon with one tiny claw.
The Lurker skidded to a stop… glanced around… and headed for the nearest sheer cliff.
He couldn’t go back through the mountain, the dwarves blocked that entrance. He couldn’t go away from the mountain, he’d hit the oblivion square on, and he had no clue of Jarrik’s trick for navigating it.
But as they watched, he changed, into something that was all spindly arms and legs, and big claws.
“He’s going to go over the mountain!” Garon shouted in horror.
“Like fun he is!” Madeline said, pumping her wings harder.
“No, stay back! One on one he’ll munch you!” Garon called.
Dwarven musket fire pinged and rattled on the stones around him, as the Lurker, Dungeon core flickering red and blue in one clenched hand, leaped twenty feet up to the sheer cliff of Brokeshale mountain and started to climb.
“Cannons! Get cannons on him!” Grundi called.
“No good! They won’t elevate that high fast enough!” A dwarven voice called back.
“Jarrik. Jarrik!” Garon called, and his brother was there, coat thrown over his shoulder, squinting up at the rapidly retreating Lurker. “Swear Fealty to me!”
“I’ll get you the quest and buff you up just fucking bring that thing down!”
“Sure bro, yer the boss. I swear.”
Garon pointed at the Lurker. “Organize Minions! Fight The Battles!”
Jarrik measured the distance. Hundreds of yards already, dozens more vanishing by the second. The thing was built to climb, and climb fast.
“Musket.” He said, reaching out to the nearest dwarf.
“Do it!” Garon screamed, when the dwarf hesitated.
And Jarrik snapped the sturdy dwarven rifle up in front of his eye, sighted down it, and chanted. “Aim. Far Shot. Crippling Shot.”
Then he sighted a bit more, the musket tracking as he focused, focused-
-and fired.
A pause.
Red drifted up from the daemon to the sky. the Lurker paused.
Then the thing stretched, and flailed, falling backward, falling downward, shifting as it went-
And Jarrik’s coat went flying. “Two Gun Mojo! Quick Draw!”
The coat hit the ground.
Four smoking pistols hit the ground.
And Jarrik stood there, the two pistols left in his hands smoking, his bandoliers empty of guns, squinting as five red numbers rolled out of the falling Lurker so quickly they appeared as one mixed, mangled, mess.
Which, incidentally, best described what happened to the lurker when he hit the rocky valley floor from his fall.
The dungeon core bounced free, skittered, cracked against a rock, and Threadbare and his friends collectively held their breath…
…but it was made of tougher stuff, and merely ricocheted out to land at the feet of the Jarl.
“It knows its master,” she grunted in satisfaction, and reached down for it-
-then froze, as about thirty dwarves brought their muskets up to bear on her, cocking hammers back in unison.
And Threadbare and his party all heard the chime of a quest completed. The Lurker had been taken down. Not alive, as they had hoped, but that was fine.
Garon, though, Garon got a slightly different notification, and stood there, jaw open in shock.
“I… oh my gods.”
“What?” Zuula asked.
There came the sound of metal wheels grinding through stony dirt, and King Grundi’s kneelchair crested the hill, escorted by the rearguard. “Well! That’s the bastard dead again,” said the king, grimly. “That fucker’s taken too many a’ mine down, but at least we don’t have to worry about him for another month or two.”
“Who de hell are hyu! Vhy hyu raiding my stead anyvay?” Jarl Greta said, waggling her club at him, and almost getting shot for her troubles.
“Guys,” Garon said, vibrating with excitement.
“Your stead? Why did ya put a perfectly good dungeon in my land!”
“Hyour land? Ve vas here first!" Greta scowled, and nudged one of her groaning subjects with a foot. “Come on, get up, ve gots some claim jumpers to run off.”
“Now hold on here, you great blue tart!” The King snapped, shaking an aged fist. “Pretty sure we were here first, just underground, that's all! It's still our land!”
“May I speak, please?” Threadbare offered from the giant’s shoulder.
“Vhat?” She turned to glare at him, a glare that softened as he patted her face reassuringly.
“You’re using an outside part of these lands. He’s using an inside part. I really don’t see the problem.”
“De problem is he’s on my land, pointing der little boomsticks at me.”
“The problem is that it isn’t her land in the first place!” The King said, glaring around. “And look at this loot! I know half of this loot! It belongs to my people, who died in your deathrap of a dungeon!”
“Hey, not my fault hyu little guys kept crashing my party!”
“The party that you made illegally in my lands!”
“Ahem,” Cecelia cleared her throat. “Sir?”
“What is it, my dear?”
“Guys!” Garon said, jumping up and down.
“Hold on,” Cecelia said. “I was going to point out, sir, that you’re at war.”
“Yes! Which is precisely why we don’t need a tribe of troublesome giants-“
“A tribe of troublesome giants who my Father definitely would not be expecting to fight.”
Silence, then, broken by Garon’s wooden quivering.
“Huh. Huh!” Grundi said. Then he looked up at the frowning Jarl, who had her arms crossed, leaning on her club. “That’s… a point. Hum.”
“Fight who to the vhat now?” The Jarl said, confused.
“Someone we’ll pay you a lot of money to fight.” Grundi said.
“Bah. Money ve gots.”
‘And three kegs of Sunfire mead.”
That made her pause.
“Hyu ain’t got nothing like that,” she said, staring at him like he’d announced that he’d bottled the sun. Which was a pretty apt comparison, as anyone who'd ever been fortunate enough to actually taste the stuff could tell you.
“Oh, I do. It’s the last of my private stock, from the northern breweries before we were cut off.”
“Hyu svear to me it’s real. And mine if ve fight for you.”
“It’s real. By my beard and axe, it’s real.”
“Done!” She said, offering her enormous hand for a shake.
That settled, Threadbare and his friends turned to Garon.
“Guys, I just got a job unlock.” Garon said. “A tier two.”
“Okay. So what’s the fuss?” Madeline asked.
“It’s for Guild Master.”
That brought silence. Silence that spread to where the giant and the dwarf were settling terms.
“I can make guilds. It… I need to read the help screens, there’s so much stuff here. This… this changes everything.” Garon sat down with a bump.
“How?” Cecelia asked. “Just… how?”
“You have to be a Ruler, enough to assign or share a King’s Quest. Then you have to lead a party and use both mercenary and ruler skills to complete it. And it has to be a challenging one, requiring multiple parties to complete, and you have to lead one of them. Well…” Garon gestured around at his friends, and himself. “We did that. We can do this. We can form a Guild. We can crack level twenty five.”
“No,” King Grundi said, rolling over. “I’m sorry lad, you can’t.” Behind him, the Jarl went to try and rouse her people, not realizing just what kind of hangovers they’d gotten from decades of continuous partying.
“What? It says right there,” Garon pointed at nothing. “All I have to do is say “Form Guild The Threadbarren, and… what? What the hell?”
“Aye. It did the same thing when I tried,” King Grundi sighed.
“But…” Garon looked around, and the valley, and at the oblivion rolling in the distance. “We’re not in a dungeon.”
“Garon?” Threadbare asked, as suspicions rose in his mind, “What exactly happened when you tried?”
“It told me that I can’t create a guild while I’m in a dungeon.”
“Aye. Just as it told me when I discovered the job, four years ago, and tried it myself.” Grundi said, looking at Garon with sympathy.
“Maybe this counts because Jotunher was so close?” Madeline said, rubbing her muzzle with one claw. “We could go somewheah else, and-“
“No,” Grundi said. “There’s no place in Cylvania that isn’t in a dungeon. The whole land’s a dungeon.”
“He’s a midboss. That’s why he can die and come back,” Threadbare realized, pointing at the Lurker’s corpse, which was already fading.
“Aye, and King Melos, damn his foolish eyes, is the dungeon’s master.”
“How?” Cecelia asked, turning her ceramic eyes to the ancient dwarf. “How do you know this?”
King Grundi turned, painfully, staring past them. And as one the group turned, to follow his gaze…
…but there was nothing on the horizon, save for the black sheet of the Oblivion.
“We helped turn it into one,” King Grundi said. “They came to us for help, you see. It all started with the Seven, with their wizard, Grissle…”
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About the author

Andrew Seiple


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