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A note from Andrew Seiple

A question for you all... we're approaching the end of the story. Maybe a week, maybe more or less, depending on life, the universe, and everything.

There will be sequels. There will be spinoffs. The rate of their appearance depends on how sales go.

I guess my question to you... is that I can put things like worldbuilding bits, and RPG notes in here. Or I can stop posting on it until there's new, actual, story to post that has to do with Threadbare.

Which would you prefer to see? Supporting stuff and RPG beta rules? Or would you rather not get notifications for new chapters that aren't, strictly speaking, chapters?

The Dwarven language has fifty-two words that all mean defense. They only have three for offense, and one that invokes both concepts. That word is “Lavasten,” which means, “Cleaning the foe from a more defensible position, so that we can take it and dig in later.”
 
Most human tacticians treat this as a joke, until and unless the time comes when they find themselves in conflict with dwarves.

When that happens, they usually don't find the word and its meaning funny anymore. Or anything else, really, unless they're tough enough to survive, and smart enough to make sure the dwarves don't take the battle PERSONALLY.

Dwarves have fifty-two words for defense.

They have eighty-nine words for grudges.

And hoo boy, had Melos made it personal.

So when the Crown forces moved in, they moved in the way that years of losses had taught them to do.

Slowly.

From up on one of the foothills surrounding Brokeshale mountain, a massive part of the stone that had peeled away from it like bark falling from an old log, Threadbare watched them come. Well, as best he could. His perception was good, but they were very far away.

Cecelia was having an easier time of it.

“What is the word for that tube thing?” Threadbare asked, looking up at his little girl.

“It's called a telescope. A nation east of here invented these things, back before the Oblivion. Want a look?”

Threadbare took it carefully between his paws. It was heavier than he expected.

He nearly fell over when he looked through it, though. The teddy bear had NOT been expecting the extreme close-up.
But Threadbare adjusted, and stared through the telescope, sweeping it around from one end of the valley to the other.
It didn't take long. The Valley was only perhaps fifteen miles across, and just a bit wider from the Crown-controlled lines to the Mountain. He could tell the Crown's territory by the moats that they'd carved out in front of their observations posts, put there to help detect dwarven sappers. The dwarves were big on earth elementalism, along with traditional mining techniques and devices that humans just couldn't match. So the moats were an imperfect defense, but they'd kept the dwarves from breaking out and encircling them, which would have been the end of the war.

“What are those yellow bird things out in front?” Threadbare asked. “The ones with the riders.”

“Wark Knights. It's not actually a job, they're just tamers who learned how to be decent fast cavalry and skirmishers. They're our first task, actually. They're sensitive to noises transmitted through the ground, so Mastoya's using them to find out which tunnels the dwarves are in right now.”

“When you're fighting an army, first put out their eyes,” Garon said.

“We don't have to do that, do we? That sounds rather cruel.” Threadbare worried.

“No, it's just an expression,” Cecelia reassured him. “All we really have to do is scatter them, then get down to the checkpoint.”

“Then it's ah tahn,” Madeline grinned, glancing back at the far end of the peak, and the winged dolls climbing aboard Beryl's fliers. “So let's get this pahty stahted, huh?”

Cecelia took the telescope back and snapped it shut, handing it to Garon. “Here. You'll get more use out of this, maybe.”

“Well, Kayin will. I'll be busy trying not to crash.” The three toys walked toward the flying machines, and the dwarves waiting beyond.

Garon peeled off, and Cecelia and Threadbare kept walking, back to the mouth of the tunnel, and the enormous steel barrel poking out of it. Dwarves called back and forth to each other, rolling spheres the size of tables along the ground. For all their size, they were light. They were, after all, mainly filled with cloth.

“You're the last,” Beryl said. “And the heaviest. We can probably put you the most on target, but everyone else is going to have some variances, no help for it. So don't get fucking stupid all right? I don't care what dungeons you've done, you can't take on an army without help. Just... oh, just don't die.”

“That's actually the decree I gave everyone.” Threadbare smiled. “They liked that. They liked the quest more though, I think.”

“Quest?” Beryl raised an eyebrow. “Shit, if you're just giving them away-”

“You have to be one of his subjects.”

“Yeah, fuck that noise. Uh, sorry bear. Grundi's my king, that's not changing any time soon. Hopefully.” She coughed. “Just out of curiosity, what's the quest?”

“Win.”

She laughed, braids bouncing. “All right. Get in the ball. We're starting the sequence in five.”

The dwarves nearest them cracked open the sphere of the bronze orb, showing layers and layers of cloth and padding, with twenty of the new teddies clustered around it. One waved, and almost tumbled some of the padding out of the sphere, until one of the dwarves cursed him out and tucked it back. “Stop moving! Time for that when you're all in.”

Cecelia moved into the padding, nestling herself carefully. Threadbare piled in next to her, mend golem beads at the ready. Then darkness, tight darkness, as the dwarves sealed the orb... followed by movement as they rolled it upslope.
“All right,” Threadbare said, there, in the middle of the pile of golems. “Everyone hug, just like we practiced, please.”

“Sir?” One of the smaller bears squeaked. “Can I say it's just an honor?”

“I think you just did. Oh, wait. Thank you!”

“He thanked me! Eeeeee!”

“We'll only be hearing this for the rest of her life,” another bear grumbled.

“Ah, let her have it Frenk, let her have it.”

Rumbles from outside, clanking, metal scraping against bronze. “They're lowering us in,” Cecelia said. “This won't take long.”

“Right. First rule?” one of the bears spoke, “Nobody fart.”

They all got a laugh out of that. Except Threadbare, he'd never really gotten why fart jokes were funny. It was just a thing humans did.

The minutes crawled by, in that dark, cramped space.

And then-

WHAM!

The impact pushed him back into the cloth, pushed them all against each other, with the Steam Knight armor at the very back, and the soft toys flattening out, all surrounding Cecelia's ceramic body in their center.

It would have broken bones in a normal person's body, but as it was...

Your Golem Body skill is now level 33!

“Woo!” Someone yelled. “Easy skill up!”

“Easy? Easy? Shit man, you're nuts!”

“Canned nuts!” Someone else yelled, and they all laughed again. The pressure eased, bit by bit, until the toys almost felt like they were drifting.

“We're falling now,” Cecelia said. “This is going to be the hard part. Hug tight!”

Beryl had listened with wide eyes when Cecelia told her of how they'd escaped Fort Bronze.

Then she'd started sketching, and doing math.

The dwarves had steam cannon, they'd been developed early on as counters to Fort Bronze's armaments. But the steam cannon had never been able to get the range they needed to shell enemy territory.

However, super-light shot, filled with stuffed animals and other toy golems, packed into a wooden shell that broke away and allowed the round to fire without disintegrating... well, that was different.

And when you threw Zuula into the mix, Zuula who'd recently re-learned her twentieth level skill that let her call winds... well, things got INTERESTING.

It took far less time than it seemed.

CRUNCH!

Red numbers drifted up, golems screamed-

-and golden light flared, as their innocent embraces fired off, a massive flare of golden light, that drowned out the sunlight now flooding in from the broken shell around them. Padding exploded outward, as did teddy bears.

And Cecelia, who tumbled across the ground, coming to a rest with Threadbare grimly hanging onto her hands, digging his heels in to slow and stop her.

“Are you all right?”

“I think so. Status.” She nodded. “Only down a bit- uh oh.”

“Hum,” Threadbare said, as he looked up at the big, yellow birds and their armored riders, staring down at him.
Down and past him, to where golden feathers fluttered to the ground, and a pair of big bird legs twitched under the mass of the broken bronze ball that they'd used to traverse the battlefield.

The dwarves had put the shot a little TOO close to the targets.

“Keep them busy!” Cecelia hissed in his ear, and made a dive for the cannonball... and her armor, still packed securely within.

Threadbare looked up at the vanguard of the Wark Knights and waved.

Your Adorable skill is now level 44!
Your Adorable skill is now level 45!
Your Adorable skill is now level 46!

“It's the bear! Get him!” An officer called from the rear, spurring his bird into a slow trot as he leveled his spear.

“Are you sure, sir? I mean, look at him! He's just standing there!”

“How the hell many teddy bears are there on this battlefield, you think? Fucking get him!” The bird loped into a canter now, the rider's spear coming straight toward Threadbare.

“It's funny you should ask that question...” Threadbare said, spreading his arms. “Guard Stance.”

Your Guard Stance skill is now level 22!

And then the rest of the toys charged in, from all sides, from where they'd been scattered. No time to retrieve armor or weapons, none to organize, it was just a score of fuzzy, tiny growling targets, panicking Warks, and yelling riders.

The officer managed to regain control of his mount, wheeling around-

-and staring goggle-eyed at the dapperly-dressed teddy bear hanging by one paw from his spear.

“...there's quite a lot of us now, you see,” Threadbare finished.

And then he launched himself at the rider, claws out and swiping.

CRUNCH!

Another bronze orb hit the ground, a few hundred meters away.

WHUMP!

Another descended, thirty seconds later, as the bears fought and the air filled with golden feathers and bits of stuffing, and the Wark Knights fought desperately against a foe they'd neither trained against nor were prepared for in any way. The birds beaks were actually the most dangerous part of the whole thing, as the toys were mostly prey-sized, but the golems were far tougher than their usual meals. Threadbare managed to knock the officer sprawling, sent him running in one direction, then leaped off the bird as it ran the opposite way. Looking around the battlefield, he charged back to his troops, shouting mend spells as he went.

And then from the wreckage of the bronze orb, Cecelia's voice rose, triumphant and high.

“Cast in steam and steel, raise thy blade! All systems go!”

The bronze half-sphere flew upwards, and Kindness rose from the wreckage, cloth padding spraying loose as it ripped free.

Five feet tall, in enameled red armor, smokestacks churning white smoke from either pauldron, it had a backpack-like boiler about as big around as it was. Though the blade it bore was only four feet long, it was wide and large and heavy. More like a slab of iron than a sword...

The other arm held the best and heaviest shield that the dwarves could spare her. She'd used her own tinkering and smithing skill to add more armor, heedless of the weight. It probably wouldn't stop a cannonball, but anything less than that wouldnt' do much.

At the sight of their foe, the surviving Wark Knights turned and fled. They knew that call. They knew what it signified. And even a midget Steam Knight was still a Steam Knight.

“Is everyone all right?” Threadbare called.

“Harb and Jeri are down!” One of the bears replied.

Threadbare ran over to their torn, still forms, and dug in their chests, searching for Graves' last gift to them... and after some rummaging, removed two intact soulstones. He sighed in relief, and put them into the backpack that one of the dwarves had been happy to turn into a Pack of Holding.

Then the bear's hat was suddenly gone from his head. He blinked at it, saw it lying there on the ground, with an arrow in it. Something flickered past him, and he snapped his head around to see that the front lines of the Crown forces had moved up while they were fighting the Wark Knights. They'd forsaken a slow march for a steady charge, and the first archers were just now ranging them.

“We should go. Now!” Threadbare said, waving, and the teddy bears fell in behind him.

“But their weapons and armor...” Cecelia turned to the shot they'd arrived in, where most of their gear was still stowed. “No, nevermind. No time to dig them out. Go! I'll hold the rear!” And she galloped after them, shield behind her, doing her best to run cover for the slower teddies.

The toys fled. And the pursuing army found out one of the truisms of fighting teddy bear golems.

That running them down, without supporting cavalry or some obstacle in the way, is pretty hard to do.

Golems start with a good endurance, and teddy bears get more on top of that. Actions that would stress or strain a human are barely noticeable to bears, and simple commands like “Oh hey run that way and don't stop,” have resulted in golems crossing nations, descending into the depths of the sea, and occasionally coming out on the shores of other continents.

Mind you, these were intelligent golems, so they didn't have that particular issue, but the long and short of it was that the pursuit didn't go as well as their commanding officer expected.

But humans had longer legs, and their ire was up. And they'd been given very specific orders about teddy bears, so they persisted.

They didn't see the danger until it was too late.

The teddy bears were hard to see in the first place, given their size and the various rocks and scraggly grass strewn around the valley. The regular line troops hadn't been in a position to see that they'd crawled out of the bronze shot. To them, the various craters and bronze fragments they passed were just missed artillery shells.

So they were pretty well blindsided, after the toys let them go past, then emerged from the craters and attacked them from behind.

And from the back, glancing into the rearview mirrors of her small mecha, Cecelia was in a good position to see this. “Hey!” she yelled to Threadbare, who was easily leading the pack.
 
“Yes?”

“Stop running!”

“Why?”

“We need to save our friends!”

Immediately the little bear swerved, kicked up dust, made a full turn and ran back toward the fight. Cecelia turned with him, sending up a spray of dirt and gravel, as she pointed her blade. “Steam Scream!”

REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Green numbers swarmed from the heads of the Crown troops, as the miniature mecha charged. And Threadbare and eighteen other teddy bears followed in her wake, claws out and ready to fight!

Some of the Crown infantry broke right then and there. Caught between an ambush of living dolls, and something they knew they'd barely be able to scratch, a few of the less-disciplined troops routed. Rallying cries filled the air, as their officers hastily spent moxie like water, restoring what order they could. As for Threadbare, he let Cecelia take the brunt of the charge, and focused on moving around the battle, mending where he could, and inviting and kicking the golems in and out of his party to buff up the ones who needed it most at any given moment.

For all that...

For all that, it was a close one.

The Crown troops had levels on the townsfolk-turned-golems. They also had weapon skill, and knight levels, which made them hard to hurt. Their officers blended in a mix of mercenary, mostly for the group buffs and the self-healing.

The golems, on the other hand, had a weird mix of levels among several classes, Knight and Archer being the most common, along with the ubiquitous cultist, levels, of course. But they also had skills boosted by repeated dungeon runs, in a semi-controllable situation. Some fought with small crossbows, other bore metal armor and tiny blades, and each one of them had strength far, far out of proportion to their forms.

It was bloody on both sides. For every two of the Crown troops that fell or fled, a golem was ripped asunder, or decapitated. At some point in there, Threadbare got an animator level. Not that he noticed, he was too busy helping his people survive and harvesting soulstones from the fallen.

In the end, three factors won the day for Threadbare's allies. The first was the small size of the golems. They had managed a successful ambush, and were in among the foe, making it impossible for the Crown forces to hold any kind of line, or bring the bulk of their force to bear against the, well, bears.

The second was the fact that the golems outnumbered the troops in this section of the line. Two hundred little bears and other soft plushie golems had been jammed into the shells and dropped on and around the biggest concentration of Wark Knights. A few had suffered destruction during the drop, but most had survived, armed up quietly, and found themselves in an ideal ambush spot.

The third thing in Threadbare's allies' favor was Kindness.

Cecelia's Steam Knight armor was an unstoppable engine of destruction, a man-sized machine stomping around the battlefield, hewing about her with the overlarge sword. She might not have had the knight levels she once did, but she had the defense she needed to tank pretty much anyone in the unit they were up against, and the raw strength to blow through any armor, whether it be with a steel-capped knee, her heavy blade, or a nasty headbutt when people tried to corps-a-corps her.

In the end, the soldiers fled...

...revealing a double line of archers beyond.

“Loose!” Their Captain ordered.

Four golems went down immediately, standing stupefied at the sudden danger. Their colleagues grabbed their bodies up, dropping weapons to do so.

“Run!” Cecelia yelled, and they fled again... and this time there was no pursuit. But there were arrows, so many arrows... and a droning, in the sky above them.

“What?” Cecelia yelled. “They're not supposed to be near us, they're supposed to go after the main battle lines!”

“What if the main lines came to us?” Threadbare called back, holding onto his hat, the arrow in it bouncing and jouncing with every hurried step. “I think we got their attention!”

“Oh sweet Nurph.” Cecelia took an arrow in the boiler, slowed. “Mend!”

“Are you holding up alright?”

“I leveled but my pools didn't recharge! Steam Knight problems.”

Arrows fell, and golems staggered as some of them hit. “We can't escape in time. Take cover everyone!”

The golems hit the dirt, putting shields overhead where possible, keeping still and taking cover behind rocks where it wasn't.

Threadbare crawled up under Cecelia, as she stood there, shield overhead, arrows raining off of her. Red zeroes and ones flew up, mostly, but the occasional lucky crit tagged her for ten or twenty. “Let me,” Threadbare said. “Mend, mend, mend...”
 
“Thanks. Oh. Oh boy. It IS the main force behind us. And they're using razor arrows on me, not good! We need to get to the rally point. Just another mile to go, but...”

The droning deepened, and both of them looked to the skies.

Three of Beryl's fliers hung in the skies above, wings wobbling, air blades or whatever they were in front of the contraptions, pulling them forward. And as they flew down from above, black specks came falling down from them, specks that grew and sprinkled over the archers and the troops behind them like pepper...

...and then the first wave of explosions rippled through the Crown forces.

“Gather the fallen!” Threadbare yelled, and went to grab soulstones while the archers were disrupted. “Get the stones then run north! Keep going north!”

Now that the arrows weren't falling, he could see across the valley. The dwarves HAD made an appearance at some point, some point he hadn't noticed in the chaos. They had emerged from their tunnels, to take on the forces to either side. But they'd left the center to the golems, and they were too hard-pressed to aid. Threadbare winced as he saw dwarven shields splinter under a full-sized Steam Knight's heavy foot... a Steam Knight that looked their way, and started stomping over with a purposeful stride.

“Cecelia!”

She looked over. “Oh hell. Inkidoo.”

“That's a bad thing?”

“Not the worst but still lousy. Run!”

The golems didn't have to be told twice. They left the fliers to bomb the front lines, and completely missed the Dragon Knights flying over to intercept them, and the wave of flying golems leaping off the fliers to harass and target the dragon riders.

But that's what happens when you're fleeing for your lives against something that can singlehandedly stomp you and all your friends into mush.

The problem was, Inkidoo's knight didn't seem inclined to give up.

And unlike the human troops, his machine didn't have muscles to tire. And it took really, really big steps.

“We're not going to make it!” Cecelia yelled. “Oh... fump it. Go. Keep a soulstone ready for me.” Cecelia slowed and turned Kindness around, looking for a good spot and finding it on a field full of loose stones. “I'll buy you time.”

Threadbare stopped. He looked at her, looked to the fleeing golems.

The fleeing golems who slowed, and looked at him. “Go!” Threadbare said, offering his pack full of souls to the nearest one. “We'll buy you time.”

The teddy bear looked down at Threadbare's offering, and shook his head. “No one dies, remember?”

“Yeah!” Another one shouted, as she slowed down. “We're not leaving you, Lord!”

“Besides,” a plush bunny in a matronly dress said, winding up her crossbow, “we almost beat a steam knight that one time, right? What are the odds this one has a fireproof blanky?”

Threadbare stood still, as an idea occurred to him. He remembered an unexpected ogre, and how Zuula had dealt with the thing...

“Can you hold him?” He asked Cecelia, as Inkidoo slowed, blade out, and moved in for the kill.

“For a little while!”

“Please do!”

Behind him, the archers started firing at the knight, and the cries of “Razor Arrow!” rose to the skies... as did the red numbers. The knight was a big target, and the archer skill bypassed some of his armor. Not much, really, but it was enough to turn zeroes and ones into twos and fours. With a groan, Inkidoo whipped its shield up toward them, raising its blade high, and bringing it down-

-to miss, as Kindness sped to the side. “Animus Blade! Animus Blade! Animus Blade...” Cecelia called six times over, and from compartments on Kindness, daggers whipped out and started their swirling assault. She tried to close in, caught Inkidoo's foot in her chestplate for her trouble, but the daggers whittled scratches into its leg while she got her footing.

But she didn't rebalance fast enough. Inkidoo's shield slammed down on her helm, crunching it, and Kindness fell. The shield rose and fell three more times, and Kindness only survived by getting its shield in the way, getting driven into the ground a little further with each savage strike. The Animus Blades carved away, but it took the damage, as its rider mended it whenever it got noticeable. And when the tiny steam knight was good and planted, Inkidoo drew back its massive blade-

“Get him!” A tiny voice yelled.

And the golems attacked.

Swarming it from all directions, they piled on it, grabbing onto its legs and climbing upwards. Inkidoo paused, shook itself like a dog drying, and some golems fell, but the ones that dropped simply got back up and ran in for another try. Inkidoo swept about it with the sword, but the targets were so tiny and so mobile that the knight had trouble getting a bead on its prey.

So it planted the blade in the ground, and used its free hand to brush the golems free.

Which worked, up until Threadbare grabbed its fingers, and swung up to land on its helm, and squirm his way right through the visor slit.

Startled, the knight inside drew a misericorde and tried to stab him-

“Disarm,” Threadbare said, and managed to smack it from his hand with a timely crit.
LUCK+1
Your Disarm skill is now level 2!

“I'm very sorry about this and you should probably go get help right away,” Threadbare rummaged in his apron and pulled out a bright red seed pod. “Firestarter,” he said, and dropped it down in the workings under the cockpit, before scrambling out.

Your Firestarter skill is now level 11!

When they'd made Cecelia's hair for her new form, they had gone through several types, before finding the bright red, glorious stuff that was blisterweed pod silk.

Normally scorned because it caused hideous rashes among most who came into contact with it, they'd managed to boil it until it was nontoxic to the touch. Which wasn't a problem for golems, but Threadbare thought that she might like to get her head petted by friendly people at some point, and that it would be awful if they got bright red painful itchy rashes from doing that.

But he'd still had a blisterweed pod left over from making her hair.

Inkidoo's pilot froze, as red and black smoke filled the cockpit.

Then he turned and fled, with a horrible coughing echoing in his wake as he made for the lines, and the nearest cleric.

“Thanks,” Cecelia said, clattering Kindness to its feet, and swaying back and forth as the daggers coursed endlessly around her. “Er. Could you?”

“Certainly. Mend, mend, mend...”

WHUMP!

He jumped, and looked over in amazement as Inkidoo fell. “Oh my.”

“What did you DO to him?”

“I borrowed a trick from Zuula.”

Cecelia stood, flexing Kindness' arms, and retrieving her sword from where it lay. “Well I just got two Steam Knight levels, so it was a pretty lethal trick.”

Around them, the golems cheered, as their own levels shot up as well. That had been a major kill!

Threadbare found himself feeling a bit bad about it. “Oh. I really didn't mean to kill him.”

Threadbare, though he was intelligent, had no way of knowing that blisterweed was commonly used as an insecticide in small doses. Doses that were about the size of a twentieth of the pod he'd just set alight in an enclosed, poorly-ventilated space.

You are now a level 20 Golemist!
INT+5
WILL+5
You have unlocked the Armor Golem skill!
Your Armor Golem skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Flesh Golem skill!
Your Flesh Golem skill is now level 1!

“Two golems in one level?” Threadbare mused. “I need to read this. Are we safe?”

“I think so.”

“Status.”

“Whoa. Whoa no. No, we're not safe at all!” Kindness reached down and scooped up Threadbare, and Cecelia fled. “Come on! Let's go!” She called back to the other golems. “The tunnel's not far-”

“Hm? What?” Threadbare stirred, looking over her shoulder.

And right at the approaching form of Reason, its white bulk moving with purpose after Kindness. It shrieked as it came, that hissing screech that he'd heard once before, when Emmet killed it in the machine bay.

Emmet wasn't here now.

But two others were.

On its left flank and above the machine, a batlike daemon soared through the skies, with a black-robed figure on its back. To Reason's right, a woman on a red carpet sat in lotus position, surrounded by flames.

The Hand had come for a rematch.

And the fact that two of them were visible, meant that the ninja wasn't far behind.

But this was the last thing on Threadbare's mind right now, as he smiled back at Reason, and started Wind's Whispering, contacting the allies he could reach. “Cecelia?”
 
“What?”

“Whatever happens, no matter how bad it gets, we must NOT kill the daemon who's wearing your body...”
 
QUICK REFERENCE - THREADBARE'S NEW SKILLS
Spoiler: Spoiler

 

 
THREADBARE'S CHARACTER SHEET
Spoiler: Spoiler

 

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Andrew Seiple

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Belgarion @Belgarion ago

Thanks for the chapter!