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The place was called the Oubliette.

 

It sat under a crumbling ruin outside of a quiet farming village on the border between Abraxo and Gnome. The place was well-known to be cursed, and glowing lights could be seen on the night of the new moon, when the cries of the damned from the Gothic wars rose to keen their unholy angst to the unlit sky. Those that ventured too far into the ruins were never seen again.

 

It was a good script.

 

It had worked well for Pandora up north. But the problem was that unlike Pandora, Oubliette was a mixed village. It had halvens, and they were smart and cautious enough to stay the heck out of the ruins, but it also had a sizeable population of humans, and so the place lost a few dozen every year. Most of them were teenagers, looking to work off teenage stupidity, or hoping to find hidden treasures or lost swords that would prove they were secretly chosen ones or something like that.

 

Which left the builders of the place with a problem.

 

They'd spun the story that nobody who ventured there was ever seen again.

 

If they wanted to keep that story going, well... they couldn't let people come back, now could they? And more importantly, the bodies could never be found.

 

Which meant that they had some hidden graveyard, or some gruesome means of corpse disposal that wouldn't be stumbled upon by any of the nearby villagers or passing travelers. And after combing the land for a few miles around, Chase and her friends had determined that it had to be inside the prison itself.

 

That was both a problem... and an opportunity.

 

After all, getting someone into the prison alive was impossible, unless they were a member of a very exclusive species. Conversely, getting someone into the prison while they were dead was useless.

 

But after a week of looking at it, at throwing the divinations and putting pins on the tackboard and arguing plans, they'd decided to do just both of those impossible things.

 

So here Chase and Renny were, sneaking through empty hallways, past half-empty barracks and around wary sentries.

 

“Just like old times,” Renny whispered in her ear.

 

Chase resisted the urge to shush the little golem, settling for patting his side instead. He'd been kind enough to use his 'Clean and Press' skill to un-soil her clothes after she'd gotten back up from her feigned death, and she was still grateful. He did little things like that without asking, just the solid sort of friend that a halven could appreciate.

 

Besides, he had illusions covering both of them, rendering them unhearable, unseeable, and un-smellable. At least, that's what he said. As one of the people who knew it was an illusion, she wasn't affected by the spell and had to trust in his skill. Which she did... but she used every bit of her stealthiness to back it up. You never knew what kind of protections you were dealing with, in a place like this.

 

And thinking of that, it was about time to check ahead once more.

 

Foresight,” Chase muttered, and the world stopped.

 

This was her greatest trick, her biggest advantage.

 

Chase was, among other things, an Oracle. Her career and the most exciting times of her life had started with accepting the Oracle job, and she had never looked back.

 

It was an Oracle's job to look forward, and Foresight did just that, letting her look forward in time.

 

So Chase watched as the world turned flat and pale and a ghostly version of herself stepped forward, following the course she'd decided to take. She watched herself walk forward to the center of the cross-corridor, glance around...

 

...and promptly fall through a trapdoor in the middle of the intersection.

 

Okay, that was unexpected.

 

After a few more seconds the world unfroze... and the pain rose in Chase's chest.

 

Foresight had a price. In addition to the fortune it cost to use, the skill almost seemed to want to push its wielders to do what they'd seen... or some variation of it.

 

So instead of walking out into the middle of the hall, Chase eased out along the wall, heading out into the cross-corridor, but around where she'd seen the trapdoor.

 

The pain in her chest eased but didn't vanish completely. She waited a few more seconds until it did.

 

“What did you see?” Renny whispered.

 

“A trapdoor. Right in the middle of the floor.”

 

“I'm not surprised. This prison is smaller than the other one, and from what I've seen so far they have fewer guards. Traps would help secure the place without tying up valuable manpower.”

 

“That's... pretty smart,” Chase admitted.

 

“Oh, I read all about this in my dungeon theory and survival class!” Renny's tail wagged a bit. “We should keep an eye out for intersections and doors that don't see a lot of use.”

 

“Right. Well, we've mapped out most of the guard's quarters and the working areas and storage. Time to go see if we can find our friend...”

 

Seven Foresights, six dodged guards, and a well-timed Pickpocket later, they found his cell.

 

It wasn't much to look at from the outside. A steel door festooned with bolts, with a sliding grille in the middle of it. It was at head height for a human, which put it well above Chase's reach.

 

From just beyond the door, she could hear the jingle of chains. It was almost rhythmic, like a heartbeat. Something was testing its bonds.

 

“Okay...” Chase puffed out a breath. “This has to be it. Renny?”

 

Phantasmal Picture,” Renny said, pointing at the door.

 

The jingling stopped. Then metal clinked on metal. Three times, a pause, then three times once more.

 

That's him all right,” Chase said and put the keys toward the lock. Then she stopped. “There's no way this isn't trapped. Foresight.

 

It was. And the violence that Chase saw in her vision made her eyes go wide.

 

Hurrying, wincing against the growing pain in her chest, she tried Foresight after Foresight, using each one to explore the outcome of choosing of a different key. Finally, on the seventh try she found the one she was looking for.

 

The pain abruptly disappeared as she fitted key to lock. She sighed in relief and turned it, hearing multiple tumblers slide back all at once.

 

The door swung open revealing a shadowy room. Inside, glowing faeries flitted about, playing in the darkness. That must be Renny's illusion, Chase knew. And the second she realized that, the faeries faded, became see-through.

 

She shifted her attention away, as the man at the back of the cell rattled his chains.

 

He was huge... a slab of meat and muscle, with a tangle of dirty white hair and a ratty beard that ran well-down his bare chest. Old scars traced along mighty thews, and a pair of glaring, dark eyes glittered from the tangle of his untrimmed bangs.

 

He looked like an ogre from a fairy tale... except for the black vest and leather pants that stood emblazoned with bright red arcane symbols. Ugly looking ones, that suggested the type of magic that was hungry for blood and screaming sacrifices and dark deeds in the dead of the night.

 

If Chase didn't know him, she'd run from the cell just as fast as her furry feet could nope her out of there.

 

“Wizaard, are you all right?”

 

Chains jingled as he lifted his head. He could move... barely, but Chase's breath caught in her throat as those wicked eyes bored into hers. “That weak Muscle Wizaard isn't here, little girl. I'm the Murder Mage now.”

 

“Could you...” she cleared her throat. “I'm sorry, this is bothering me more than it should. Can you change back, please?”

 

There was a long pause, as those crazy eyes considered her. Then he nodded. “Heel-Face Turn,” said Bastien.

 

It was as if all the tension in the cell had drained. As if the light had shifted. Now Bastien's hair wasn't a dirty madman's tangle, but just a bit disheveled and wild. The eyes weren't glittering with malice but blinking nearsightedly. And curiously enough, the arcane symbols on his vest had definitely shifted to friendlier-looking variants. “Okay,” Chase said, shaking her head. “Never go back again, please. It hurts to think of you like that.”

 

“That's the perils of high charisma,” The Muscle Wizaard rumbled. “When I'm in face mode, anything I do that's good or makes me likeable gets buffed. When I'm a heel, it's reversed. Anything I do that's bad or makes me hateable gets buffed. But yeah, I like being a face a lot better. So, can you get me out of these chains? I want to change out of these clothes. They just don't feel right when I'm facing.”

 

Chase held up the keys... and paused. “They aren't actually locked. They look like they're made to be on there permanently.”

 

“Oh. That's a problem.” The Muscle Wizaard frowned. “I can't change outfits while they're on.”

 

“That's not good. A lot of our plans go out the window if you can't change your outfit.”

 

“We've got another problem,” Renny said. He'd hopped off of Chase's neck to inspect the chains more closely. “I'm seeing runes carved into these. I'm no wizard, but I'd guess that they'll do something if they're broken.”

 

“Could be an alarm trap. Could cook Bastien like a sausage.” Chase gnawed her lip. “This isn't good.”

 

“What do the cards say?” Bastien asked.

 

No time for a full reading. But a quick one might help. Fortuna.

 

Chase cracked open her carrying case, reached past the painted metal cards, and drew one of the pasteboard cards free.

 

On it, two men in mage's robes sat at a table, poring over a map and drawing arcane symbols in the air. “Two of wizards,” Chase said, wracking her memory for the meaning. “Planning. Discovery. Moving on ahead with an idea of how to proceed.”

 

“That doesn't sound like breaking the chains will kill him,” Renny put in.

 

No. But this discovery interpretation worries me. Breaking the chains will probably trip an alarm. We'll have to move fast once we break them.” Chase slid the fortuna card back into its case... then drew out the silver-edged metal cards. She was careful, here. They were sharp, made for throwing, and rather magical. Which is why they'd had to slip them onto her 'corpse' after the guards had their Wizard scan her for suspicious auras. “We might have to fight a bit.”

 

The Muscle Wizaard sighed. “Think you can avoid casualties?”

 

“I don't know,” Chase admitted. “I hope so, but I don't have many skills that are suited to nonlethal takedowns. We need Cagna here for that.”

 

“You let me worry about taking them down,” Renny patted her knee, the highest point he could easily reach.

 

“All right.” Chase nodded, figuring out the ways the plan would have to shift. “First things first. We'll locate the other prisoners, sort out who's in which cell, and then go find some tools or something we can use to break the chains.”

 

It took time and work to make her way into the other wings of the prison. Though comparatively small to the first one she'd explored, it was still a large structure, and it had enough guards that she had to step lightly and rely upon her Foresight.

 

Fortunately, midway through inching past a very nasty and messy falling ceiling trap, words flared into existence, words that only she could see.

 

Congratulations, you are now a level 16 Oracle!

CHA+3

LUCK+3

WIS+3

 

 

With a sigh and a shudder, Chase let the feeling wash over her. She loved leveling up. The power it brought her; the knowledge that she was literally getting better, improving herself... it was addictive. She knew this, knew that she was perhaps putting herself into danger a bit too much because of the rush.

 

But it still didn't matter. When Chase thought about it, she knew that she'd be doing dangerous things regardless. She'd wanted adventure, and gotten a life full of it. She might as well reap the benefits!

 

More importantly, the level up filled up her depleted energy stores. She'd spent a lot of fortune getting to this point, but the presence of traps and the necessity of dodging guards made Foresight necessary. She had a lot of fortune, but without access to the potions to regain it, the only source of renewal came from level ups.

 

But now that had happened, she couldn't count on it happening again.

 

“We need a Burglar,” Chase whispered to Renny, in the darkened hall. “Someone who specializes in this sort of thing, and won't spend tons of energy getting around safely.”

 

“Well, we don't know who was in here originally. Maybe they'll have something useful?”

 

“Oh no. No no no, bad idea,” Chase muttered. “Better the dragon you know than the dragon you don't.”

 

“Well if we don't locate your 'dragons' in the first place, it's a moot point, isn't it?”

 

“Right. On with the show,” Chase nodded, and got back to work.

 

It took half of her newly-restored fortune to locate the other prisoners.

 

There were three of them. Two she knew, one she didn't. All were behind closed doors, and she had absolutely no way of knowing which prisoner was in which cell.

 

At least, I wouldn't have any way of knowing, if I didn't have skills to cover this sort of thing, Chase thought to herself, feeling just the tiniest bit smug.

 

Finding an unoccupied storeroom, she sat down and broke out the cards. “Fortuna,” she said, and drew three of the painted pasteboards, laying them out one by one towards the rough direction of each of the cells.

 

The card for the westernmost cell showed ten priestesses kneeling in front of an altar, in front of a happy church full of worshippers. But... it was upside down.

 

“The ten of clerics reversed,” Chase considered. “Twisted bonds with family or community. Disharmony. Expectations unmet, and misplaced faith in people.”

 

Oh... it's her,” Renny's voice held a note she rarely heard from the little fox toy. It sounded a bit ugly on him.

 

“You know what we're here for,” she told him. “And that one's a lot more controllable than her buddy.”

 

“She's still vile.”

 

“No arguments there. Though Thomasi DID speak well of her, comparatively...” Chase considered the next card, the northernmost one.

 

It portrayed a standing stone, with a man stepping out of a portal in the air next to it. Both stone and something in the man's hand shone with arcane energy. And like its companion, it too was upside-down. “The Waystone reversed,” Chase mused. “Aggression, mindless progress, lack of direction. Overall loss of control.”

 

It's him,” Renny said, and hugged his tail. Unlike the revulsion he'd spoken with earlier, this time his voice only held fear.

 

“Yes,” Chase said, swallowing a bit. “Which means that the final one, the unknown, is behind the easternmost door. We can probably remove that one from consideration.”

 

But, curiosity overwhelming her, she gave it a look anyway, and got a thoroughly unexpected surprise.

 

“The three of hearts? What?” Chase blinked.

 

Somehow one of the metal throwing cards must have gotten mixed into her deck. Frowning, she pulled another card.

 

This time it was the eight of hearts.

 

Feeling a trickle of uncertainty, feeling the hand of fate above her she pulled once more. This time she was sure it was pasteboard between her fingers, she was sure it was one of the fortuna set...

 

...but when she put it down, she saw that it was metal.

 

And it was the eight of hearts. Again. Even though she only had one eight of hearts in the deck, and it shouldn't have been possible to draw it. Again.

 

“Three. Eight. Eight.” Chase swallowed. “I don't know what this means, but this is deliberate. This...” she shook her head. “We can't afford to ignore this, whoever it is.”

 

“Good. That will be the first place we hit, then,” Renny said, rummaging around in one of the nearby boxes, and pulling out a hammer and chisel. “Shall we get a move on?”

 

“Let's,” Chase said, still unsettled. She swept the cards back into her case, and took the hammer and chisel back from Renny. “We know where we're going and what we're doing. It's time to go unleash our Wizaard.”

 

Twelve minutes later, all hell broke loose.

 

Chase had been hoping for a silent alarm.

 

Something that maybe just notified the Enchanter who'd made the chains, a spell that would tell him and only him that they'd been broken. Then he would have had to go alert someone else, and that would give Chase and her team precious seconds to work with.

 

A silent alarm would have been nice.

 

But no, the second the chisel cut through the chains, a great whooping siren filled the air, rising and falling, filling the prison with noise. Shouts from afar, and Chase grimaced as she brought the hammer down one last time. “There!” she said, as the links fell away, and the Wizaard twisted, sloughing metal off as he struggled.

 

“They're coming!” Renny said, peering out the doorway. “They haven't noticed the illusion yet.”

 

Chase watched through the wispy mantle of the illusion as guards approached at a run. The illusion they'd settled on was a simple one... those were the most effective and believable kind.

 

So when the guards ran up and peered through the open door, they saw what they were most afraid of; an empty cell, with broken chains littering the floor.

 

Completely failing to see or hear the grunting, squirming Wizaard who was actually there, they turned and yelled back down the hall, charging off into the distance. They had their plans to follow, for such an eventuality.

 

That was good and bad, but it gave Chase and the rest a moment's grace... a moment that Bastien used to shake loose of the rest of the chains. “Ah! Ouch. Goodness. They put them on a little tight, I'm all pins and needles.”

 

“We're going to need Cagna,” Chase reminded him. “Please hurry, there's no time to lose!”

 

“Of course! Call Outfit.

 

Then he blinked.

 

“Oh dear.”

 

Oh dear?” Chase asked, staring at him. Call Outfit was supposed to instantly change his clothing to an outfit of his choice. In this case, it would have been a cleverly-sewn jacket with a huge backpack that Cagna would currently be sitting in. It was their clever way of getting Cagna into the prison.

 

Except that maybe it wasn't clever enough, because the skill had just failed.

 

“The words are telling me that my skill failed due to intervening magic,” The Muscle Wizaard said, rubbing the back of his head with one meaty mitt. “Something about a teleportation ward.”

 

“Oh, that makes sense!” Renny piped up. “They're imprisoning powerful people with magical stuff and skills. They'd want to stop stuff like waystones getting through that.”

 

“Wait, didn't you use waystones to get to Pandora?” Chase frowned.

 

No, we teleported next to it. Nobody used any waystones inside the prison itself.”

 

One good thing,” said The Muscle Wizaard, “this means that they won't have more reinforcements coming in either.”

 

“But we're down Cagna.” Chase rubbed her face. “Not good. Okay, this doesn't change the plan. We need to go get a look at the mystery prisoner.”

 

“Hold on!” Bastien said, blinking shortsightedly. “Are you sure that's a good idea? You know the old saying, better the dragon you know...”

 

“I know, I know. But the cards...” Chase shook her head. “We're wasting time. They won't be guarding him as well. Let's go!”

 

“I just leveled up, by the way!” Renny said. “Plenty of sanity for illusions!”

 

It was harder to sneak through this time. The guards were active and moving, and The Muscle Wizaard was not a stealthy person.

 

At some point the siren cut out, and that was worse. That meant that the enemy had found no trace of their escapee, and had shifted patterns. Time was running out...

 

On the upside, Chase knew where the traps were, now.

 

At last they stood in front of the easternmost cell, peering around the corner, safely ensconced behind one of Renny's Phantasmal Pictures. Nothing fancy, just a view of an empty corridor.

 

There were six guards, all told. Chase recognized Matteo, and felt a twinge of guilt.

 

“They're between us and the door, though,” she muttered, half to her group and half to herself. “Do we really have any choice?”

 

“Sure. We could go and surrender. And spend the rest of our lives locked up forever,” Renny said. “Or I could hit them with barf gas and we could send in Bastien to mop up.”

 

“Hang on. Something's niggling about in the back of my head. Six... why are there six?” Chase frowned. Then it hit her. “The party limit is seven! They're in a party, and the seventh one is somewhere where they can alert reinforcements if he notices his friends fighting!”

 

INT+1

 

“So once we finish them, it isn't over,” said the Muscle Wizaard.

 

“No. They'll know where we are,” Renny mourned. “It'll be downhill from there. If only we had Cagna.”

 

Chase put her hand on his head, skritched between his plush ears. “Don't despair. Whoever's in the cell is a prisoner for a reason. Remember, this is a player. They're powerful, they're chaotic, and they're trouble. Once we let them out, the guards will have far more to worry about than us. And that'll buy us the time to get to the others.”

 

“All right...” Renny said. “I hope you know what you're doing.”

 

“Mostly,” Chase admitted. “Twenty percent or so. I'm open to better ideas.”

 

They didn't have any.

 

“All right, let's do this!” The Muscle Wizaard slapped his thigh, and stood up from his squat. “Flex. Strong Pose. Let My Muscles do the Talking!” His body bulged as even more muscles popped out of his toned frame, and the massive Wrestler readied to charge.

 

For his part, Renny pointed down the hall. “Phantasm! That Je Ne Sais Quois!”

 

Half the guards doubled over, while the others gagged, and grabbed at their noses...

 

...and when they looked up, blinking, The Muscle Wizaard was there.

 

Chase watched, ready with her throwing cards if anything came up that he couldn't handle. She needn't have bothered. The Wizaard specialized in fighting gangs, in battling groups. He was a master at taking down foes at close range, and as one tried to squeeze behind him he spread his arms wide and roared “Signature Move! You Shall Not Pass!”

 

And somehow the guard couldn't.

 

Once The Muscle Wizaard's specialty was activated, the skill prevented all but the most determined or slippery foes from going around him.

 

At that point it became a matter of attrition. The guards hauled out their shortswords and got to stabbing and hacking in the tight confines of the corridor. That was trouble, because The Muscle Wizaard had no armor at all

 

Fortunately, he wasn't alone. And while Chase couldn't throw past him for fear of causing friendly fire, that wasn't her main role anyway.

 

Lesser Healing!” she called out, as a nasty swipe took off part of his cheek.

 

You have healed Bastien for 40 points!

 

His face knitted back together and he didn't hesitate, dropping both hands down in an overhead slam that put the guard to the floor. Another one took advantage of his all-or-nothing style to impale him through the gut.

 

Lesser Healing!” Chase commanded again, and again, more of her sanity fled as the spray of blood turned into a trickle.

 

You have healed Bastien for 40 points!

 

Your Lesser Healing skill is now level 45!

 

All told, it couldn't have taken more than a minute, perhaps two. The guards lay on the ground, groaning, and Chase hurried forward with the keys. Remembering the traps on the last lock, she used her Foresight, trying key after key in visions and watching herself die over and over again. Once, twice, thrice...

 

The fourth one did the trick, and the cell opened. She held her breath as it did so, and Renny and The Muscle Wizaard moved up next to her.

 

Foresight,” Chase said one last time, and watched her ghostly self open the door.

 

And what she saw made her jaw drop.

 

“You have got to be kidding me,” she whispered, as the vision faded.

 

“What?” Renny asked. “Is it safe?”

 

Wordlessly, obeying the compulsion and dispelling the rising pain in her chest, Chase pushed the door open.

 

And in the well-lit, comfortable cell, a black and white bear-man wearing comfy robes looked up from the bamboo shoot he was gnawing on, and smiled brightly. “Knee How!”

 

Silence fell, as the three friends considered him.

 

The bear-man pulled out a pair of spectacles and considered them back. Then his gaze went past them, and he jumped up in horror, pointing at the fallen guards. He shouted a long string of gibberish, and waved his hands in the air.

 

Hands, not paws, Chase noted absently. He was a beastkin, much like Cagna. But that didn't matter now. “Look, you're a player, right?” she asked. “A player? Can you fight?”

 

More gibberish, and now he was stepping back, looking alarmed.

 

“No time for that!” said The Muscle Wizaard. He darted forward, and grabbed the bear-man by one arm, dragging him along. “If you can't fight you'd best come with us!”

 

Oh gods,” whispered Chase. From down the hallway she could hear running feet. Running feet and the rattling of heavy armor. The guards knew where they were now, and were coming in fast. “Run! To the northern cells, quickly!”

 

“Chase, are you sure?”

 

“No!”

 

They ran anyway, and as they did, the bear-man clung to Bastien's arm for dear life.

 

“Hey, you,” Chase said, feeling winded. “We're going into trouble! Do exactly as we say, okay?”

 

He looked at her and nodded. “Oh kay!”

 

“Good, you do speak sometimes, that's good,” Chase panted. “Do you have a name?”

 

The bear-man nodded, and thumped his chest. “Yubai! Yubai Gold!”

 

 

CHASE'S CHARACTER SHEET

Spoiler: Spoiler

 

 

 

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Andrew Seiple

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Chronim @Chronim ago

Thanks alot for the chapter!

UnihornBarbarian @UnihornBarbarian ago

A panda beastkin player my deepest desires I didn't know I had have been fullfilled. Great stuff looking foward to more the Threadbare universe is so great!

Seviradi @Seviradi ago

ONE OF THE PLAYERS IS A FUCKING GOLD BOT (SELLER?)

AAAAAGHHGHHHHHDHDDHDDHH

I THOUGHT I HAD A HANDLE ON THIS SERIES

I WAS SO WRONG

oh my god this is the best fucking twist I've seen in a long, long time.

argusthecat @argusthecat ago

I'm weirdly psyched to see how a high frequency auction house bot functions as a real person.

Tacroy @Tacroy ago

If the panda dude is Chinese, then 3 - 8 - 8 is a pretty good draw for him according to standard Chinese numerology - 3 may mean "live" or "split", and 8 means "prosper", with 88 meaning "twice the joy" (despite the unfortunate Nazi connotations).

Going a bit deeper (and probably in a weird direction), directly translating the numbers to hexagrams in the I Ching leads to:

  • Hexagram 3: "Sprouting", "difficulty at the beginning", "gathering support", or "hoarding".
  • Hexagram 8: "Grouping", "holding together", "alliance".

Which sounds like a fairly normal character arc for a new guy joining the party.

So I guess our small medium's powers still work when applied to a different, uh, medium.

Saucierpeter @Saucierpeter ago

Think a gold bot sells respawn tokens? Or if he connects to an auction house imagine the items available that no one's been able to get since the change. Do you think he would accept fools gold?

    hoven @hoven ago

    Assuming they are a real player and not a "bot" program that got stuck I would assume they wouldn't have much in terms of cash shop items (unless they helped them farm a lot faster). I would assume lots of respawn tokens wouldn't fit into this although it would depend a bit on the price IRL of the tokens and how much they could make selling gold or power farming during the time it saved them.

hoven @hoven ago

"Knee How" = 你好 = Nǐ hǎo = Hello

Good lord a Pandaran (or whatever Generica's equivalent is) player who is a gold seller...

Just when I think I have a handle on things and you wan't be able to surprise me.

Blankdom @Blankdom ago

Just wondering, but why don't the guards have any Mercenaries? They have a skill, Secure the Perimeter, that lets them detect life around them, if I remember correctly. It'd have been a good way to scout for enemies, and there's probably an unlock for it, by combining Scout.