The castle groaned under the weight of demonflesh, spikes protruding from the walls, and buzzing swarms of flies and stranger insects seeping forth from gore-dripping holes between the cracks. It was strongest down here in the labs, and the allies fought with all their might against the twisted things that lunged at them out of the darkness.
But the rangers had spent years honing their craft, the dwarves were sturdy and unimpressed, and the golems ran interference for Threadbare and his friends with all the fanaticism that a former-fish-cult-turned-immortal-warriors could bring to the matter. Bleeding and spiky walls? Unspeakable horrors? Pfft, wasn’t a big deal. The worst they could do was KILL you, and eh, they’d been through that already.
“We’re here,” Garon said from ahead, and Threadbare and Cecelia moved through the shattered doors, It was an open laboratory, with a curtain of green light shifting back and forth inside a door-less cabinet.
“Looks kind a’ like a wardrobe,” Jarrik said, hands flickering nervously as he checked each pistol in his harness.
“Well, we know theah’s a witch inside.” Madeline said. “Not too shoah about a lion, though.”
“Give me time,” Interrupted one of the plush toys, brushing his mane back, and the group shared a nervous chuckle.
“Is everyone ready?” Threadbare asked, dismounting from Pulsivar. The big cat nudged at him, but Zuula hopped down from Mordecai’s arms and snarled in his own language. Pulsivar moved back to Mopsy, sulking. “Everyone healed up?” Melos’ entropic effect had worn off a few minutes back, thankfully. Healing worked again. They would have been pretty bad off if it hadn’t.
“Ready!” Chorused every teddy bear in the group. Like Threadbare, they’d stripped down to their fur, leaving their gear in piles outside the doorway. All save for Missus Fluffbear, who had a different task entirely.
“Right,” Madeline said, positioning herself next to the wardrobe. “Glub, give us a song. Fluffbeah, do the clarity.”
“Clarifying Song! Whoa oh. Gonna keep it going long, whoa-oh…”
“Aura of Clarity!”
With her sanity regeneration bolstered, Madeline started handing out Endure Fire spells.
Threadbare nodded. “I suppose it’s my turn. This is your King’s Quest. Kill all the daemons.
“Kill all the daemons!” Roared the golems.
“And I’ll Organize Minions even though that’s not a nice name for you, so I’m sorry.”
“We don’t mind being minions!” Roared the golems.
“You’re really my friends, to be honest, it’s just the name of the skill.”
“We love being your friends!” Roared the golems.
Threadbare smiled, and picked up the bag full of soulstones left over from the Brokeshale battle. “Remember! If she shatters your stone, find the bag! Nobody dies permanently!”
Garon interrupted before they could cheer. “All right! Party captains, like we rehearsed… Do the Job! Fight the Battles!
Their roars shook the ceiling. As did those of the dwarves. The rangers, at least, were a little more quiet.
Threadbare turned back to his friends…
And stopped, staring at a dreadlocked green teddy bear with tusks. “Um…”
“Beast shape not work way Zuula think it do,” the shaman told him. “It be fine.”
“Got the fahst wave done,” Madeline said, resting and regaining her sanity. “I’ll be in with the last. If you kill Anise quick I don’t mind.” Threadbare handed her her laurels, and she grinned. “Thanks.”
“You saved me family, Mister Bear.” Mordecai told him, kneeling down. “And Celia girl saved me. We’ll back yer up. Just survive, remember what I taught yer.”
“I’m looking forward to the rematch,” Graves said, locking his visor in place. His new dwarven helm completely covered his mouth, but they got the gist of his muffled words.
“Bitch is going down,” Kayin drew her thumb across her throat. “And I’m not desu to say that.”
“It’s smiting time!” Missus Fluffbear squeaked, bouncing up and down on Mopsy.
Glub just kept singing his song, but he shot them a thumbs up.
“Yeah, let’s go fuck her up,” Beryl grinned wide. “I owe her some pain.”
Pulsivar just slurped his crotch. It seemed like as good a time to groom as any.
Emmet offered a hand. Threadbare shook it. “We will fight well, just as we were made to do,” his big brother rumbled.
“He’s not wrong. One more fight, Threadbare.” Garon hugged Threadbare, and got a hug right back. “We’ve got this. Now let’s go Raid!”
And so, the first wave of teddy bears charged through, into the green-lit darkness beyond. “Camouflage,” Threadbare whispered, and followed them.
Your Camouflage skill is now level 14!
It was different from the raccant dungeon, Threadbare realized on the way end. The dark space between this world and the next wasn’t unbroken blackness. There were four green discs spinning, weird distorted, uneven things, that drew the eye-
-and then the world turned to fire.
But Madeline had buffed him before he went in, buffed him like everyone in this wave, and half of the damage simply evaporated. He didn’t burn, he merely smoldered, and then he was out and through the wall of fire and running faster.
“Command Golem! Destroy all golems!” he heard Anise shouting from ahead. The scrolls, of course. If he’d walked through the portal alone, she would have targeted him with it. But lost in a crowd of forty others who looked very much like him? She didn’t have the luck to hit him with it straight off the bat. Even if she had a way to see through his camouflage, which he doubted.
Anise was on his to-do list, but he had a few things before that. Threadbare looked around.
Black nothing, most of it, a floor that felt like stone but wasn’t. A wall of fire in front of the portal, blocking the way, burning with oily smoke. Green pillars, far more than had been in the raccants’ dungeon, some small, some large. And in the center of it, a throne, with an old man’s corpse on it, his eyesockets burnt out. His body was broken, many times over. As was the throne, the tinker-like gadgets on it and the pipes running from it shattered and sparking green energy. The pipes ran to pylons, columns of green light… and four of those held gems, he thought, glittering on their podiums. The rest held what looked like lumps of charcoal.
Bodies lay about the largest column. In it floated a handsome, nude man… the Lurker, Threadbare realized. His eyes were shut, and he had his hands clapped to his ears.
The rest of the Hand and Anise moved among the columns, battering down the teddy bears. Threadbare searched until he saw the Legion, flanked by a pair of enormous red dogs that breathed fire. He wasn’t calling in swarms, so Threadbare mentally crossed him off his list, for now. Limited pools meant that the summoning daemon wasn’t the immediate concern.
The blackness above flashed with green light, and Threadbare looked up- and gasped. The sky was crammed full of numbers. Flickering, reeling drunkenly in long strings, like a woven tapestry of ones and zeroes and other digits… but this was a tapestry full of holes. Black spots writhed and danced among them, like slimes quivering and trying to engulf prey. And where the void touched the numbers broke and dissolved.
It looked wrong.
But enough was enough. Now that he had a sense of what he was up against, it was time to fulfill his part of the plan.
Threadbare dropped the pack of soulstones behind a column, rummaged in a pocket, and pulled out a vial of green reagent. “Ward against daemons!”
Error! Coordinates for Ward_0125123 not found!
The reagent didn’t flow into a ward, and Anise’s mocking laughter rose above the din of the battle. “Fool! This is far outside of what you think is reality! Wards don’t WORK here.”
Her voice was approaching, and Threadbare muttered “Camouflage” before slipping back into the darkness, running for the nearest knot of teddies.
Not three seconds later she rounded the column, stared at the nearest bunch of teddies, and whipped a scroll out from her pocket. “Command Golem! Destroy all golems!”
The scroll turned to black ash, and she snarled. Then she leaped in among them, landing with her legs in a perfect split, hands flashing as she dealt out a flurry of furious fists. Her hands hit and tore, and two of the teddies died in a heartbeat.
And from the side, Threadbare crept closer, eyes fixed on the scrolls poking out of her pocket. This would be a risk, but…
“Firestarter,” he whispered, stretching out a paw.
Your Firestarter skill is now level 12!
At the sound, Anise slammed her hands into the ground and whipped her feet around, like a scythe cutting grain. Caught square on, Threadbare went flying back, out into the darkness. Anise backflipped to her feet, kicked the last couple of golems left, and looked around.
“There you are!” She said, striding right for Threadbare.
“I suppose I am,” he said. “Call Outfit.”
Your Call Outfit skill is now level 6!
His clothes materialized around him, and instantly, he felt much better.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” she said, reaching toward her pocket…
…and shrieking in surprise as her hand hit fire. With a look of disbelief she dug into her pocket, cursing, whipping out the wad of burning paper. “You worthless little toy!” She snarled, casting the ruined scrolls aside, as fire burned and arcane sparks flew off in all colors.
Threadbare used the opportunity to break and run for it, whispering “Camouflage” as he went.
“You only delay the inevitable!” Anise screamed. Behind her the last of the teddy bears fell, as hellhounds tore it to shreds. The three figures rushed to join her, spreading out at her command, searching for the little toy.
And not finding it.
Your Stealth skill is now level 18!
“A few dozen teddy bears. Really, what did you hope to achieve?” Anise said, flicking her gaze over to the Cataclysm. “Renew the wall.”
Wordlessly, the beautiful brown-skinned woman did so.
“Did you think to soften us up? Did you think to weaken us?” Anise laughed. “It was no trouble at all to deal with you. I lost a few scrolls, so what? We’re barely wounded. And every second that the one you call the Lurker is in there, more of your puny little kingdom dies. People, animals, even the crops… every tragedy you can imagine, he’s inflicting on Cylvania right now. Every nightmare Melos had ever hoped to prevent, happening at once. And everyone will die in torment.” She stalked around the pillars, looking for the little bear. “Why?” She said. “Why bother coming here? You’ve LOST.”
Threadbare weighed his options, and sent along a Wind’s Whisper. “I wonder,” Threadbare’s voice whispered in her ear, “why you didn’t do this sooner, if this is what you wanted. Everyone dead, I mean.”
Your Wind’s Whisper skill is now level 20!
She smirked. “It was funnier to make Melos and the rest of you fools do it to yourselves. But in a pinch, this’ll do.”
“And I wonder,” Threadbare continued, “If you know how to work this dungeon at all.” He paused, then sent a third whisper. “Or if you’re just playing it by ear and hoping it works the way you think it does.”
Your Wind’s Whisper skill is now level 21!
Anise laughed smugly, as she moved past the throne, eyes peeled, looking for him. “Are you looking for the part where I tell you how to fix this mess? Forget it. I know what you’re trying to do, and it’s already hopeless. I just killed the only one who might help you with that,” She grinned over at Melos’ slumped corpse, lying in a puddle of blood, his head gone.
“Oh, he’s dead? That’s all?” Threadbare whispered. “Well, that part’s easy. Speak with Dead.” Said the little bear, stepping out from behind the throne.
Your Speak with Dead skill is now level 25!
Melos rose from his corpse, whole again, in ghostly form, staring about him.
But Threadbare didn’t have much time to examine him. Instantly, Anise was on him, foot catching Threadbare, and sending him flying. He bounced off a pillar, rolled a few times in a shower of green sparks, and scurried to his feet. “Fry him!” Anise shrieked.
The Cataclysm hurled a bolt of smoking flame-
“Manipulate Faia!”
-only to see it turn aside.
The daemons froze.
The daemons turned to look at the entry way.
And at the wall of fire that had been quietly been pushed out of the way with elemental magic, and reshaped into an enormous fist, with the middle finger fully extended.
“Good distrahction, boss!” Madeline said, ripping the golden laurels from her head. “We’ll take it from heah!”
“Get’em!” Garon yelled, and the second wave of toy golems charged.
“Mend Golem, Mend Golem,” Threadbare said, putting himself back together, before slipping away again. “Camouflage,” he whispered, fading away, moving toward Melos, who turned to meet him with a sorrowful gaze.
Behind him, the daemons started up a dark chant, hailing Cron and Vhand…
“Dispel Magic!”
-but Beryl was having none of that.
Threadbare did his best to ignore the fighting at his back. He didn’t have the sanity to heal, like he normally did in these fights, and Anise would shred him if he tried to tank. No, he had to trust his friends to handle them, and focus on the third task in his checklist.
“We don’t have much time,” Threadbare whispered, drawing close to Melos. “How do we fix the Oblivion?”
“If I knew that I would have done it!” Melos raised his hands. “Do you think I wanted this?”
“Well, what have you tried?” Threadbare asked.
“I… I’ve been trying to get enough wizards and enchanters skilled enough to take a look at the damn thing, but… I think she’s been killing them,” Melos muttered, glaring at Anise. “So I haven’t tried a hell of a lot. I’m in over my head, here. I was.” He sighed. “Cron’s balls I’ve made a mess of things.”
“Self-pity later, please,” Threadbare asked, shooting a glance back. Graves and Fluffbear were leading a line of wooden toys against Anise. It wasn’t going well. Meanwhile, the other half of the strike force was focusing on the Ninja, while Madeline countered the Cataclysm and dealt with the hellhounds’ fiery breath. That was going a bit better, but still not well. “I need helpful suggestions. What happens if the dungeon is sealed?”
“The other ones forming the barrier will still be open. Everyone dies,” Melos said, shaking his head. “The Oblivion sweeps inward and everyone will go into the numbers. No one comes back from them.”
“Okay, how do we close the other dungeons?”
“You can’t.” Melos pointed at the green, warped discs between the core chamber and the rest of reality. “The throne adjusts the space in the dungeons. They’re… stretched out, to form the oblivion. And the throne is wrecked! There’s no way to un-stretch them! They’re stuck at WIDE. If they were returned to normal, you could enter them, one by one, and kill the pygamlion animus that’s holding each one open. But with space distorted? Nothing would survive that. Not even you, little golem.”
Threadbare looked at the Throne. “Mend.”
Invalid target! Unidentified item.
Melos laughed, ruefully. “Don’t you think that’s the first thing I tried? You can’t mend the throne, you can’t mend the exhausted cores. It just doesn’t work.”
“The active cores. Is there something we can do with those?” Threadbare pointed at the glittering gems.
“No!” Melos shouted, covering his mouth in horror. “I had that idea too. I threw a Dark Augury for that one,” Melos said, pointing at a pile of gore and guts assembled into a blasphemous pattern. “The vision was horrible, but true. If the throne were intact, it might work. But if the cores are removed BEFORE this dungeon is sealed, even a split-second sooner, then the part of the Oblivion they make up EXPLODES instead of IMPLODING. You’d wipe out an entire region, for each one you removed, and then the other three would be stressed harder to compensate, and the Oblivion would snap around into a smaller space…”
Threadbare shook his head. He looked back at the battle, saw Emmet manage to get his hand around the Ninja’s leg, and get shanked repeatedly for the trouble. His brother staggered, guarding his helm and eyes, as red numbers leaked from the cracks in his armored shell. And then the Legion was on him, summoning up another giant hellhound to replace a fallen one, as his friends worked like mad to keep him at bay. This isn’t going well.
He looked around the room. Looked up. “What are those?” He said, pointing up at the sky, at the shattered numbers and the voids.
“I… don’t know,” Melos said. “I think it happened after we broke the throne. It’s been getting worse ever since. Like cloth wearing down. Losing threads, losing thickness. Getting thinner.” Melos shuddered. “I fear it. I fear what it means, when those holes join, and everything ruptures. Like space itself is… threadbare, I suppose. Just waiting to rip away completely.”
“So it’s broken,” Threadbare said, staring up at it.
“I… suppose? But not in any sense that could be…“
“Mend,” said the little bear, stretching up a paw.
And one of the holes shrunk.
“…what.” Melos said.
“Look!” Threadbare said, pointing at the entryway. One of the warped disks was noticeably LESS warped now. And less like a disc. There were shifting colors on it now, there was just a hint of depth.
“My gods,” Melos said, looking like he might cry. “You can’t tell me it was that simple.”
“Celia!” Threadbare whispered, through the wind. “Look up! Mend the holes in the sky!”
A second, while he wondered if she’d gotten the message. Two. Five. And then…
Then, as he watched, the holes started shrinking. Green numbers filled the gaps in between them, flowing now, moving with more vigor.
The battle slowed, as both sides noticed the changing light. “Everyone” Threadbare shouted. “Everyone who can mend, mend those holes in the sky!”
“No you don’t!” Anise shrieked, and went straight for Cecelia…
Only to be forced back, dodging, as Jarrik emptied all his guns at her.
“Mend!” Shouted Cecelia.
“Mend!” Graves muttered, behind the muffling visor he wore to keep Anise from kissing him again.
“Godspell Mend!” squeaked Missus Fluffbear, as she moved Mopsy out of the fight, much to the cougar’s relief.
And the holes shrunk. The discs in the entryway flexed, and gained shape… until they were portals again. “Keep her busy,” Threadbare whispered to Garon, spending five more points of his dwindling sanity. “I’ll go sort this out!”
“Not alone you’re not!” Garon said. “Kayin, go with him!”
Threadbare bolted for the first portal, and Kayin hurried in behind him, keen eyes piercing his camouflage.
With a ripple they were through, into another darkling plain… this one tiny. Only a few columns gleamed green here, and in the central one, stood the statue of a beautiful dwarven woman, motionless, staring out at the world.
Then a flicker behind him, and Threadbare glanced back in time to see the Ninja cartwheel through the portal, hurling shuriken straight at him.
“I don’t know how to fix this! But I can fix her!” Kayin yelled. “Go! I’ve got this!” The catgirl growled and launched herself at the black-clad figure, and knives flashed and flew between them as they moved, almost too fast for the eye to follow.
Threadbare ran straight up to the column. “Get out! Please get out!” he said, but the statue didn’t move.
He poked the green light around it, found the light no barrier, and smacked the statue on the leg with his scepter. “Hey there! Please come out!”
It did.
The Pygmalion statue charged out, and tried to stomp on him. Threadbare danced back, and weighed his options.
Well. It WAS some sort of construct, wasn’t it? “Eye for Detail.”
Behind him, Kayin shrieked. There was a sound of tearing cloth. But the spell told Threadbare what he needed to know, as he dodged away. “Command Animus, accept my invitation!”
And he invited the statue into his party. It stopped trying to stomp him, turned, and charged the Ninja.
Reality flickered, as numbers appeared in the sky. Threadbare ran back, pausing to grab up Kayin’s torn body as he went. “Are you alive?”
“That’s a good question,” she coughed. “But yeah, just lost another life.” The ninja had cut her clean in half.
He shoved Kayin in his pocket for now.
Behind him, stone shattered, but that didn’t matter, because he was back through the portal. “Zuula! Vines!” he called. “Block the portal!”
But it was Bak’shaz who reacted, reaching into his pack and throwing a flowerpot down in front of it. It broke, plants and dirt went everywhere…
“Call Vines!” Zuula said, and then there was a wall of plant matter, that rippled and churned. Something behind it struggled, writhed, trying to get out…
…too late.
A scream echoed, trailing off, as the vines pushed inward to the empty space where the dungeon had been. The ninja was gone.
On the loot pedestal, one of the glittering gems churned for a bit, then popped, like an overheated glowstone. “One down!” Bellowed Melos’ ghost. “It’s working! Keep at it!”
“Go!” Roared Anise, and across the field of shattered toys, the Cataclysm roared towards Threadbare as he ran for the next portal. Then he was through, and already, already he could hear the air burning at his back-
-and turning from him. “Manipulate Faia!” Madeline yelled, swooping in behind the Cataclysm.
“How many of those do you have left, little dragon?” whispered the daemon, as fire traced arcane patterns on the black ground below her, and flaming tentacles rose up. “And can you withstand a magma kraken, I wonder?”
But then Threadbare was smacking the statue, and backing up as it came out kicking. “Command Animus, accept my invitation!” The statue hesitated, then arrowed straight for the Cataclysm.
“Yeah, I ain’t fighting that thing, sweethaht,” said Madeline, swooping over and grabbing up Threadbare, then beating wings back to the portal. “Seeya!”
“Get he-“ The Pygmalion statue tackled the Cataclysm, and the daemon shrieked. “Get this off of me!”
Then they were through the portal. As soon as they were, the vines went up again. “Out of sanity!” Madeline whispered in his ear as she put him down. “What do you want me ta do?”
“Go tell the dwarves that it’s their turn,” Threadbare said, glancing around. That was two daemons down. But Legion was calling in armored fiends now, Anise was still going strong, and his friends were flagging. Pulsivar was down, Threadbare saw with horror, but he couldn’t tell how bad it was. Sloopy the Snake was dead, torn into bits. As were most of the toys who’d followed them in.
No time! He raced through the next portal…
…and a brace of the armored fiends followed, pushing past Mordecai and his family, taking the hits, to race in after the little bear.
He was faster though, and he reached the control pillar with time to spare, smacking the statue and dodging its return strike, luring it out of the pillar. “Command Animus, accept my invitation!”
Threadbare sent it towards the daemons…
…who weren’t advancing. They were guarding the exit, spears and blades out in a phalanx.
They’re not trying to stop me from sealing it, they’re trying to keep me here until it closes!
Threadbare ran forward, trying to pass, but their spears knocked him back every time. The damage wasn’t much, but they had weight over him, and his thoughts were scrambled. He was low on sanity, with no clever ideas, no tricks to pull-
And then Emmet was there.
Emmet had no clever ideas. Emmet had no tricks to pull. Emmet just had his fists, and a whole lot of daemon butt to kick.
And it was enough.
The phalanx broke, Threadbare leaped through, and Emmet caught him, backing off just as the portal wavered and disappeared.
“One more! Get it quickly!” Melos commanded.
“No! No you don’t!” Anise screamed. “Vevintarego? OUT!”
Grinning, the lurker stepped out of the central control pillar, pulled knives, and came forward to join the battle…
…and the main dungeon rippled.
Reality groaned.
“Get to the pillar! Get someone in there!” Melos yelled.
“Not a chance!” Roared Legion, and he ripped his hands through the air, and shuddering walls of daemonflesh rose to bar the way, as Anise laughed and laughed. “Close, but no victory for you!” She called. “Well, at least you’ll all die quickly!”
“Melos!” Graves yelled. “Get in there!”
“What?” The dead king stared at him. “What can I do? I’m dead!”
“Yes! You’re temporarily a ghost. A disembodied soul!” Graves yelled back. “And daemons can’t do shit with souls!”
The battle stopped.
Anise looked at him, leaped over to Melos, and put her hand through his head, so fast that her sleeves snapped in the air.
Melos stared back at her, unhurt. Then he grinned, and blew her a kiss.
Reality flickered again, and when it returned the former King was disappearing through the flesh of the daemonic walls, hindered not one bit by their physical forms. In a matter of seconds the flickering stopped.
“No!” Anise shrieked…
“Yes,” said Threadbare, emerging from the last portal with a statue following him. “You’ve lost.” Then he shifted back out of the way, as a double column of dwarves rushed in, taking up positions around the entryway, shields held high.
He pulled Kayin from his pocket, as gently as he could. “Mend Golem,” he told her, using most of his remaining sanity. She gasped as her lower half reappeared, and hopped to the ground.
Anise drew herself up, smiling. “Focus Chi to hands. Focus Chi to hands. Focus Chi to hands. Offensive Stance.” She said, as her arms disappeared into glowing, pulsing spheres of energy, roiling red and gold. The succubus sneered. “You saved your land. Bravo. But you really can’t stop me from killing my way through every last one of your friends, before I get to you. Twenty dwarves? Bah. Speedbumps. I’ve still got enough energy left to-
“NOW!” Yelled the dwarven captain.
Twenty shields hit the floor.
Twenty pairs of dwarven arms shifted to the wide-barreled blunderbusses hanging from their backs and pulled them over their shoulder with a smooth motion.
“DOWN!” Garon bellowed, and the toys and their friends dropped.
And thunder came to the darkened realm between worlds.
Martial artists had phenomenal agility.
But blunderbusses, designed to throw clouds of shot at short range, really didn’t care too much about agility. The daemons ate a full cloud of shot.
Legion rocked back, slicked with blood. One of his Hellhounds disintegrated. The Lurker vanished, then reappeared, holes punched straight through him as he dropped.
But Anise was made of sterner stuff. Bloodied, screaming in incoherent fury, she leaped into the dwarves, sending them down in crumpled heaps as her arms rose and fell, threshing, smiting them down, until-
“Corps a Corps!” yelled Cecelia, parrying her, staring up at her murderer with loathing in her painted eyes. Her blade locked firm to Anise’s fist, as the chi pulsed around them both, rippling and making Cecelia’s hair rise.
Sneering, Anise drew back her other fist-
“Corps a Corps!” Shouted a squeaky voice, and suddenly tiny black paws were wrapped around the daemon’s last hand. Anise froze, staring down at the little black-furred armored bear, snugged tight, dangling from her wrist. “You?” she whispered in disbelief.
“Me. Bear Hug! Innocent Embrace!” And Missus Fluffbear SQUEEZED.
A red ‘320’ burst up from Anise, as she shrieked, her bones cracking and her flesh melting to ash. Missus Fluffbear had put up Heavensblade and Holy Smite earlier in the fight, and they added in here as well. The succubus fell to her knees, as Fluffbear leaped from the ashen, crumbling remnants of her arm, wrapping her arms around her neck. “One more time for Yorgum! Bear Hug! Innocent Embrace!”
Anise fell. Cecelia sheathed her sword, and turned her back on the crumbling ashes, slowly walking away from the daemon’s remains.
The Legion gasped, turned to run-
-and got promptly knocked to the ground as Garon put his horns into the back of his knee. Zuula and Bak’shaz and Madeline fell on him, while the others tackled the last hell hound. In a hot minute it was done, and the daemonic walls withered to dust the second their summoner was dead.
In the silence, in the gasping of the dying dwarves, Beryl and Fluffbear and Zuula moved around the fallen, distributing healing while the toys checked, looked to make sure they were all alive.
The doll haunters, the ex-cultists had fallen to a man (and woman for that matter,) and Threadbare and Graves moved among them, collecting soulstones from the bodies. Graves made more whenever they found a broken one, and the ghosts that had been waiting on the fringes, staying out of the way, rushed in to fill them.
And then, Threadbare’s vision filled with words.
You are now a level 17 Toy Golem!
+2 to all attributes!
You are now a level 15 Ruler!
You have unlocked the Kingsguard skill!
Your Kingsguard skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Proclaim Treaty skill!
You are now a level 16 Ruler!
You are now a level 12 Duelist!
You are now a level 13 Duelist!
You are now a level 14 Duelist!
You are now a level 15 Animator!
You have unlocked the Deanimate skill!
Your Deanimate skill is now level 1!
You have unlocked the Distant Animus skill!
Your Distant Animus skill is now level 1!
You are now a level 16 Animator!
You are now a level 21 Golemist!
You are now a level 22 Golemist!
You are now a level 23 Golemist!
You are now a level 24 Golemist!
You are now a level 25 Golemist!
You have Unlocked the Greater Golem Upgrade skill!
Your Greater Golem Upgrade skill is now level 1!
The levels tore through him, refilling his energy, and expanding his mind. Threadbare felt things snap into clarity, felt everything crystallize. “So much,” he whispered, then turned to Garon. “The raid skill you used. The experience gets split a little more evenly among the survivors, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. Even though Fluffbear got the killing blow, it spreads it out among all parties involved.” Garon said, shaking his head. “My gods. She was…”
“Significant events, too, don’t forget that,” Cecelia said. “We just saved everyone. We just… oh gods. Didn’t we?”
“Yes,” Threadbare said, his high-powered intelligence running through the ramifications. “Without the dungeons that make up the outer wall, this is just an ordinary dungeon, now. Under the control of a strong-willed ghost.” He stared at the dungeon master’s column, and the see-through form of Melos, who looked back.
And for a second, he worried.
“Father,” Cecelia said, moving up to the pillar. “Come out. Please,” she said, beckoning. “Let’s end this.”
Melos looked down. He put his hand over his face, rubbed it. Then he stepped out. And as reality flickered, he knelt, staring at his daughter. “I’m so very, very sorry.”
“I know.” Cecelia looked up at him, reached out a hand. He reached out to touch it, sighed as it went through. “You remember, how you came to take me away from all childish things?”
“I do,” said Melos, fading with the dungeon.
Cecelia looked around, and smiled. “Be really fumping glad my childish things came to get me back.”
The dead king laughed then, the first honest laugh he’d had in over a decade.
And with that, he and the dungeon were gone.
The toys and their living friends looked around at the darkened labs. Old, dusty, dirty, strewn with broken equipment…
…and lit by purple and green light, as a violet crystal appeared with a snap in midair, trembling. They held their breath, all of them did…
…before it shattered, into millions of shards, and fell to the floor, green numbers wisping away, and gone.
“Well,” Threadbare said, in the silence, as he hunted around and found his backpack full of soulstones. “It’s over. Let’s go home.”
Pulsivar nudged him, purring, and Threadbare mounted up and led the way upstairs.
And with a mighty cheer, they all left the darkness and ruins of the past behind, and walked out into the sunlight.
Spoiler: Spoiler


A note from Andrew Seiple

Oh, don't worry. We're not quite done YET.

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Andrew Seiple


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