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Eventually, the laughter faded. Beryl resumed her resting scowlface. "All right, fun time's over. Jarrik, do your thing, okay?"
 
"On it. Camouflage," he whispered, and faded, as his skin took on the colors and patterns of the surrounding rocks and darkness. Threadbare could just make out his outline, as he jogged toward the winding tunnel exit that led into darkness, at the end of the chasm.
 
There were two more exits out of here, the little bear saw. Both had daylight filtering down into the tunnel. The bigger one had a massive grate set across it, with glowing red runes carved into it. SEALED BY ORDER OF THE CROWN a nearby sign instructed.
 
"Jarrik's going to go see if the boss we just beat has respawned. Well, bosses, I guess," Celia said, as she brushed dirt and dust from Threadbare.
 
"Boss," Beryl said. "My Ma told me about the Cataphracts. They think and fight as one. Which is why we can't go back through there again unless-"
 
Jarrik faded back into view. He did not look happy. "They're back."
 
"-fuck a duck we waited too long." Beryl rubbed her eyes. "I wish you'd been a little earlier Threadbare."
 
Threadbare walked over and gave her a hug. Beryl glared down at him suspiciously, then deigned to rub his head. In some ways she reminded the little bear of Pulsivar. Lots of noise and swagger, but good to have at your back.
 
"Well. Now what?" Celia asked.
 
"First things first, get those dumb clothes off of your bear. I can't look at him without laughing. Second, let me think..."
 
"We could always run past the Cataphracts," Garon suggested.
 
Jarrik shook his head. "Naw. They're set up in a formation that puts most of 'em between us and tha exit. And they're spread out enough I can't camo past them and go get help. They'd detect me an' well, SHUNK."
 
Shunk sounded pretty bad to Threadbare.
 
"And even if we get through, there's tha rest a tha dungeon. Tha other bosses will 'ave respawned. An' most a tha monsters."
 
The group chewed their lips. The odds were very, very bad.
 
"How about the chasm Threadbare came out of? We got rope," Bak'Shaz pointed down into the pit.
 
Garon shook his head this time. "We've got rope but nothing to attach it to. That grate will fry anything it touches, and the closest tie-off point is in the Cataphract room. And even if we did, those Stalagmites are set really close together. I don't know about the rest of you, but I haven't been grinding agility. They'd flat out kill me if I fell on them. And if they'd kill me, sorry, but they'd turn any of the rest of you into gibs."
 
"And there's no telling what Threadbare went through to get here," Celia said, stripping off Threadbare's 'clothes'. "His sewing kit's out of all the patches that came with it, it looks like he had to resort to cutting patches from, uh, from... ahem."
 
"What?" Garon asked.
 
"Nevermind," Celia hastily tucked away the frilly remnants of her best set of panties. "Oh hey, he made little packs for himself. How cute!"
 
"Smart bear." Garon sighed. "Beryl?"
 
"Coming up empty. It kills me, Clerics get Divine Transit at level ten. That would solve all of our problems! But I'm one level short, just one friggin' level!" She pounded her chainmail skirt, with a jingling clash. "If only we had a couple of decent fights, or maybe one big one, I could get there. But there's no monsters in here. And the Cataphracts are too tough. We burned up all our coins so Garon can't use his twisted rage-blood is gold combo, so there's no way we'd get the experience without fatalities. They're just too smart and too tough."
 
Threadbare walked over and tugged on Garon's leggings, then pointed to the remaining exit.
 
"What? No. That goes to a puzzle, but I don't think we have the components for it."
 
Threadbare started ambling that way. "Oh gods! No, hold on!" Celia said, and gave up sorting through his clothing as she hurried to catch up.
 
"Don't go far!" Beryl yelled.
 
"Relax, it's just a catapult," Garon said. "Nothing else out there."
 
The cave opened up onto a high ledge, far up the second mountain. It overlooked the final mountain, about five hundred feet away. On an opposite ledge, some sort of large tarp secured to a matching cave entrance flapped in the wind.
 
To the side, Threadbare could see a long stone bridge, stretching over to another, larger entrance into the mountain. A pair of Flaming Tygers paced back and forth there, not that they had anything to guard against. Judging by the angle of the bridge, it led to a corridor that ended at the runed grating.
 
Sitting on the ledge, pointing toward the opposite cave, was a heavy wooden device. It had a bunch of ropes rolled up on a tightly bound crank, and a wooden arm with something like a huge spoon on the end. However the spoon had no back to it, just a bunch of hooks on its inner rim. It was like a ring on a stick.
 
On its side, burned into the wood, was the word RACKET.
 
"I've seen pictures of these in books," Celia explained. "Beryl's a tinker, she knows machines, and she thinks it can throw people across, but it's broken." She tapped the ring. "We don't know how to fix it. It's probably a shortcut to the Dungeon's Master, so I don't know if that would help our situation any even if it was."
 
Threadbare ambled to the edge of the ledge, knocking a pebble with his paw, as he did so. It tumbled off the cliff and fell hundreds of feet, disappearing into fog.
 
"Yeah, that's probably instant death," Celia said, keeping a careful hold on his arm. "Come on, let's go back inside."
 
"Oh!" She said as she got in. The rest of the group was huddled around Threadbare's packs, sorting through his loot.
 
"Hey, that's..."
 
"Keep your knickers on. The few you've got left, anyway. We're looking for something to help us survive this," Beryl snapped.
 
"Of course, that's fine. What did he pick up, anyway? I didn't look too closely."
 
"Well, he got a kick-ass dagger for you to animate, so you're getting that for now," Beryl slid it across the ground to her, and Celia picked it up and frowned at it.
 
"Status. Oh, wow! Yeah, this will be great for an animus blade."
 
"It improves our chances a bit. Let's see..." Beryl slid open the scroll, and her eyes went wide. Her gauntlets shook, rattling the chain mail sleeves coating her arms as she surveyed the paper. "This is a tinkering recipe! Holy fucking shit he found a tinkering recipe!"
 
"Really? That's good?"
 
"Those things are really rare," Garon explained. "Beryl's a tinker, and most of the rest of her family are smiths and tinkers. That recipe, whatever it is, is worth a whole lot of money to them."
 
Beryl whooped! The dwarven girl shot to her feet and literally jumped for joy. Maybe. It was hard to tell under the chain mail skirt. "It's a flying machine!"
 
Instantly Jarrik laughed and scooped her into a hug, kissing her passionately. She kissed him back, grabbing his ass as she did so, and still laughing into his mouth.
 
Celia turned beet red and looked away, clearing her throat.
 
"Get a room," Bak'Shaz whined.
 
"Bitch, I've got a cave and no reason to keep quiet so don't tempt me," Beryl said, popping her mouth off of Jarrik's.
 
"Okay. If we're really lucky, let's see... here... well, shit."
 
"What?" Jarrik said, squinting at the paper.
 
"It's a single seater. And it takes wood and cloth. Lots of wood and cloth."
 
"Well." Celia said. "We've got our clothes. And the wood from the catapult."
 
"And it takes a flight skill to manage."
 
"Um..."
 
"Yeah, I didn't know that was a thing either."
 
"I did," Garon said. "Mom can shapeshift. She told me if I stuck with shaman I'd learn that skill eventually."
 
"Ah-huh. And how many crashes did she say you'd have when you were starting out?"
 
"Let me put it this way. She said the best way to survive and learn the skill is to cast slow regeneration before I tried."
 
"Doesn't matter," Beryl sighed, as she read further down. "It also takes a Mark I Fizznocker engine. This is too high end for me to build, guys, even if I had the parts. Hell, it might be too high end for my Da. Which is a pity, because we've been looking for something like this for years."
 
"Won't the guards just take it like the other magic items?" Celia asked.
 
"Nope. It's nonmagical. Their wizard's scan won't detect it. Yeah, technically this belongs to Threadbare since he's not in the party. We'll have to do some formal negotiations with you Celia, see if we can buy it from you. This is too valuable to us, no matter how much it'll cost Da."
 
Celia considered. They'd had a pretty big argument, when she tried to convince the dwarf to help save Threadbare.
 
Technically, Celia's conviction had been the one to land them in this situation. So... "Then it's yours for free when we get out of here, no negotiations necessary." Celia decided.
 
Beryl's jaw dropped. "What? You... you're just GIVING it to me?"
 
"Yes."
 
"But... I..." Beryl stared straight ahead, and for a second Celia thought she'd done something wrong.
 
Then Beryl lifted up in her strong arms, and hugged the hell out of her. Celia squeaked, and tried to avoid being grated like cheese against the other girl's chainmail.
 
"Thank you," Beryl choked out. "We owe you a debt. Know now you're a friend to clan Wirebeard."
 
"Can she do that?" Garon whispered behind her.
 
"Sssh," Jarrik cautioned.
 
Finally, Beryl put her down. "Right. Right, ahem." She cleared her throat, mopped away something that she stoicly pretended wasn't a tear, and glanced back to the little pile of loot. "What else do we have?"
 
Oblivious to the drama, Bak'Shaz had kept sorting through the loot. "A tigerseye gem. Worth some money but no help. Unless you can blood is gold it, bro?"
 
"Nah. Only works on coin," Garon shrugged.
 
"Um, we got his cape. Which sized to him when he picked it up. I don't think we can wear it."
 
"His cape does something?" Beryl asked.
 
"Yeah, bullet time."
 
Jarrik's eyes got wide. He snatched up the little blanket, tried to button it around his wrist. "Nothin'. Damn. Woulda been nice."
 
"Yeah, he's the only one who can use it, so..." Bak'shaz handed it back to the little bear, who put it back around his neck with a gravitas he hadn't had before the model job.
 
"It's really that good?"
 
"It would let bro here dodge a massive spell," Bak'Shaz hooked a thumb back towards Jarrik. "Or let him stop time, fire a dozen arrows, then start time and the arrows would all hit at once."
 
"Wow." Celia studied Threadbare, who waved back. "What's a bullet, anyway?"
 
"Beats me," Jarrik shrugged.
 
"The only other thing he's got in there is these." Bak'Shaz held up the two balled up tangles of intestines.
 
"Ick. Why did you even touch those, Threadbare?" Celia made a face.
 
Threadbare shrugged. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
 
"Wait, hold on," Garon said, leaning in. "I found one of those on that Lion Eyes midboss we took out. I left it there because I thought it was just a tanner component-"
 
"It is. It's catgut," Bak'Shaz interrupted.
 
"-right, but it looked exactly like these. I think we're looking at a key item, here. Key items, anyway."
 
"Key items?" Celia blinked.
 
"They open up new sections of the dungeon, or you need them to solve puzzles," Beryl said. "It's a long shot, but maybe there's a hidden puzzle around here."
 
Celia stared at her. And behind her eyes, gears turned, and the young animator's 89 intelligence earned its keep.
 
"Beryl?" She asked, very carefully, "this dungeon is big on puns, right?"
 
"Yeah, it's one of the silly ones. They do stuff like this."
 
"What if that catapult isn't a racket. What if it's an unstrung racquet?"
 
Celia's grin shone in her moment of triumph.
 
The rest of the group was silent.
 
Finally Beryl asked "What's a racquet, then?"
 
Twenty minutes later, they finished stringing the catgut through the hooks around the enormous catapult's ring.
 
"Wait!" Garon said.
 
"What?" Celia asked, her throat dry. It had taken about five minutes to explain the concept of badminton racquets and another five to sell them on the notion of, well, this.
 
"Just so we're clear, we're hurling ourselves across the gap to fight the boss, in hopes that he's less of a lethal fight than the Cataphracts were, in the hopes that he'll provide enough experience to level Beryl up so she can cast her dungeon escapey spell."
 
"Divine transit," Beryl clarified.
 
"Right, that."
 
"Yeah," Celia nodded. "I know. It's really bad odds, but-"
 
"Okay. Give me a quest and offer the tigerseye as a reward."
 
"What?"
 
"I get bonuses when I'm on quests with material rewards."
 
That was a good idea, so she did it.
 
"Do the Job!" Garon intoned. Then he smiled. "There we go! Hey, skill up! Mff. Not much. I haven't had much chance to level this yet. But hey, every bit helps. Then once we get in there I'll use fight the battles, that'll help us all more."
 
"That's the party buff, right?" Celia asked.
 
"Yeah. Oh, wait... Do you want any of your little pets out for this?"
 
"Just the dagger. Which leaves... crud, I guess I could stuff a pet in there, otherwise that leaves us with six."
 
"Nah. There's a little guy here who's earned his place," Beryl said. "Invite Threadbare."
 
"That won't work," Celia said. "You'd need one of Daddy's scrolls to-"
 
Threadbare has joined the party!
 
There was a pause. Celia stared at the little bear, mouth open.
 
"Guess it does work," Beryl grunted. "Okay, party screen." She stared at the air in front of her, eyes getting wider and wider as she went. "The fuck?"
 
"What?"
 
"Okay, Greater Toy Golem you told me about."
 
"Yeah."
 
"Bear makes sense."
 
"Uh-huh."
 
"Bak'Shaz, you said he had scout levels, right? And Celia, you taught him tailor?"
 
"Yes. I'm very glad that worked," Celia said, still trying to wrap her head around the fact that the golem had just done something she'd been repeatedly told he couldn't do.
 
"So why in the ninety-nine hells does he have ruler and model and necromancer levels?"
 
That brought silence.
 
They all stared at the little bear.
 
He shrugged.
 
Garon broke it. "Models get that thing where they get bonuses or something from wearing clothes, right?"
 
"I think so. Don't know much about them," Beryl said, eyes unblinking on the teddy bear. She'd poked a molehill and been blindsided by a mountain.
 
"Well then, give him his clothes back," Garon said. "We need every edge we can get right now."
 
"But they're made of my-" Celia broke off.
 
"What?"
 
"My... I mean..."
 
"You can get new crotchrags," Beryl told her. "Sew his gear back on him."
 
Blushing, Celia did so. Then they piled into the catapult.
 
"Necromancer," Celia said, staring down at the bear, clutched tight in her arms. "So you can cast spells too, now?"
 
Threadbare shook his head and tapped his mouth.
 
"Right. We'll do something about that." Visions of teddy-bear led zombie apocalypses filled her mind. "After I talk with Daddy. Most definitely after that. This is... yeah, I think something's gone off the rails here."
 
"Yeah," Garon said, unslinging his battle-axe, and gripping the side of the racket. "Us."
 
And he cut the rope holding the arm in place.
 
"You could have just thrown the levvEEERRRRRRRRRRR!!!!" Beryl screeched, as the party went flying.
 
WHUMP! The tarp against the cave entrance on the opposite cliff gave way, billowing inward, as they fell into a pile of thousands of balls of yarn. The tarp flapped, loose, as the youths sorted themselves out.
 
Celia cast Animus Blade, and sent the magical dagger whirling around her, dancing with grace far beyond her normal blades. Then she checked her static rod, and took a deep breath. "Ready."
 
Garon pulled out the Cataphract shield he'd earned from the last fight, and hefted his well-used battle axe. "I'm good."
 
Bak'Shaz waved his slingshot and shrugged. But he was wearing the Lion Mane he'd snagged from the Lion Eyes boss earlier in the day.
 
And Jarrik nocked an arrow, and shared one last kiss with Beryl.
 
"Right," Beryl said, smacking her lips and clearing away the last remnants of her black lipstick, "Let's go get this fucker."
 
A flight of stairs later, they came to the Master's Chamber.
 
Tall, vaulted ceilings filled a Cathedral like-hall, complete with an altar up front, covered with well-thumbed copies of "Cat Fancier". Balls of yarn were strung across and around the candle-sconces, hanging between the pillars and draping down, ends blowing in the draft from the high windows. It had the reek of a thousand thousand litterboxes, and as the group stood coughing, Threadbare took the bump up to his Scents and Sensibility level, and shut his nose off as fast as it could go. To either side of the altar stood large chests, overflowing with coins.
 
"Hoomins!" A voice boomed from above. "Ceiling Cat is watching you!"
 
A blur of white above, that shifted away as a door slammed open, next to the altar. Greenish eyes glared out. "And Basement Cat will swallow your souls!" Came a hiss that would have put Pulsivar to shame.
 
"Oh sweet Aeterna," Beryl gasped. "A two part boss!"
 
"Um, excuse me?" Celia raised her hand.
 
"What?" The white blob above in the ceiling poked out through its hatch, silvery eyes shining with a gentle light, extending into a halo that surrounded its head. "What is it, my child?"
 
"I'm the only human here."
 
There came a pause.
 
"Right, sorry," Ceiling Cat apologized. "Hoomin, I am watching meOWWW!" A red '43' drifted up as Jarrik pegged it with an arrow, and then there was no more time for grammar correction.
 
"Holy Smite!" Shouted Ceiling Cat, dropping from the ceiling, paw glowing as it became surrounded by a silvery outline of a much bigger appendage. It aimed for Jarrik, but the scout dodged, and Garon took it on his shield, grunting as a red 25 drifted up from him. "Fight the Battles!" he roared.
 
Instantly, Threadbare felt... heavier.
 
You are affected by a temporary party buff!
+7 STR
+7 CON
+7 Armor!
+7 to all weapon skills!
 
Ceiling Cat flipped off the shield, landed, and darted back in clawing and scratching-
 
-just as Bak'Shaz screamed. He was on the floor, being dragged backwards. Basement Cat had charged out, nabbed him, and was trying to carry him off into the darkness.
 
"Oh no you don't! Come on Threadbare!" The dagger zipped out at Basement Cat, and Celia angled for a clear shot, readying her static rod. Threadbare, for his part, simply dashed in and unleashed his ultimate attack! Before Basement cat could react, the little bear hugged him!
 
You healed Basement Cat 80 points!
Your Innocent Embrace skill is now level 8!
 
Basement Cat paused. He dropped the squirming Bak'Shaz and stared at the little bear. "Thank you?"
 
Threadbare let go of him, puzzled. That hadn't worked.
 
"Uh, what the hell are you even wearing?" Basement Cat continued, thoroughly distracted by the bizarre figure's garb.
 
Your Fascination skill is now level 2!
 
Then a static orb slammed into the cat, and he howled again, lashing out at Bak'Shaz and Threadbare.
 
Well, Threadbare had claws too, didn't he?
 
Basement Cat blurred, fading in and out of sight, striking from unexpected angles, aiming for critical points on the little bear.
 
He found none.
 
Your Golem Body skill is now level 15!
Con +1
Your Golem Body skill is now level 16!
 
"Celia! Switch fire to Ceiling Cat!" Beryl called. "Basement's a rogue type, keep the dagger on him!"
 
"Got it!"
 
Threadbare didn't care about the long claws sliding into places his organs should have been, and the damage drifting up was a secondary concern. Celia would keep him healed there, if he needed it. So the little teddy bear swiped and clawed back, aided by the magical dagger which whirred by and cut into the boss' side every now and then, and Bak'Shaz, who got to safety behind the altar and pelted it with slingstones.
 
Five more brawling levels, two more strength, a point of luck, and six more Claw Swipes levels later, Basement Cat staggered back. Threadbare spared a glance to the others, found Garon tanking Ceiling Cat next to Beryl, supported by shots from Jarrik and Celia's static orbs.
 
"Lesser Healing!" The white cat mewed, flying just out of reach for a second.
 
"Yeah? I got that too, you little pussy!" Beryl yelled. "Lesser Healing!"
 
Garon grinned as his wounds sealed. "Thanks!"
 
The fight went on for a few more minutes, and gained the little bear another Brawling level, but Threadbare could see how it would end up. Which made him wonder... were these guys supposed to be the strongest monster here? The group was handling this one fine. Why had they worried about it so much?
 
He got his answer as the two polar opposite cats reached the same conclusion, glanced to each other, then disengaged and bound upwards, to stand on the altar.
 
"By our paw-ers combined," meowed Ceiling Cat,
 
"Call the ultimate magus!" finished Basement Cat.
 
"Come forth, Nekomancer!" The two cats blurred and bended together, mystical energies crackling and flaring, obscuring them from view.
 
"What the fuck you mean they got a final form!" Beryl bellowed. "Ah shit, uh, uh... Party Heal! Get ready, guys!"
 
"Mend! Mend!" Celia shouted, and Threadbare felt himself pull together. His cape fluttered in the wind, as the flashing light resolved...
 
Into a girl. Small, thin, wearing a black fur bikini, with white kitty ears. A twisty tail, made of swirling black and white fur, waggled behind her. "Nyaaaa-aaan," she purred, squatting on her haunches, and grinning big...
 
...showing very large, but cute fangs.
 
"Awwww," the youths chorused.
 
Threadbare wouldn't have joined in if he could've.
 
You have resisted the Adorable effect!
WILL +1
Your Stubborn skill is now level 7!
 
With a magic-item boosted leap, he hopped up on the altar, and bopped her in the face with a fistful of claws, sending a red '40' skyward.
 
AGL +1
Your Brawling Skill is now level 19!
Your Claw Swipes Skill is now level 16!
 
"Me-OWWW!!! That is NOT KAWAII!" She kicked him off the altar, and Celia caught him.
 
Your Toughness Skill is now level 9!
Max HP +2
 
"Yeah! You're not cute at all!" Celia shouted. Then the little girl looked down at her bear, and blanched, stared up in shock at the red '65' that drifted its way up above. "Oh no! Mend! Mend!"
 
The Nekomancer leaped into the party, slashing and gouging with unbelievable strength, and slowly but surely, the youths were driven back. Garon went down first, coughing blood, gasping as he hauled himself away from the fight.
 
"Shit shit shit! Lesser Mending! Lesser Mending! Lesser-" Beryl broke off as the Nekomancer caught up to her, ignoring the slingstones and arrows that thunked into her. Beryl raised her shield, and staggered backward as red numbers crashed out from her, glaring against her armor. That was the only thing that saved her, as she scrambled away.
 
Then Threadbare was there again, and punted away again, for another 57 points of damage.
 
Jarrik fell next, holding his side and gasping as he bled on the stone floor, and the Nekomancer chuckled. "Hee hee hee! Is that all you've got? You're no match for meee-eeee nyan nyan nyan..." She posed, somehow managing to get her bikini-clad boobs and butt in the same line of sight.
 
Then a static orb bounced off of her, sending up a red '24' and she turned.
 
To glare at Celia.
 
"Oh no!" Celia whispered, bringing the dagger in front of herself. "Stay back, or-"
 
"Blood Is Gold!" Garon thundered, and the entire group and the boss froze, and whipped around to stare over by the altar-
 
-and past it, to one of the large, coin-filled chest, that now looked a lot-emptier.
 
Next to it knelt Garon, glowing with health, one hand buried up to the elbow in the loot. He grinned at the Nekomancer.
 
"He-ey! My shinies!"
 
"Oh you're gonna love this, lady." Garon sneered. "TWISTED RAGE!" He howled, and as the Nekomancer charged him he scooped up the treasure chest with one arm, muscles bulging and popping open his leather armor as he roared pure hatred at the boss!
 
Seconds passed, as Celia and Threadbare stared. The half-orc's immense, boosted strength brought his axe crashing down again and again on the head of the Nekomancer, and her claws flashed so quickly that they could barely see them. Red numbers flew up left and right, blending together so much they couldn't tell whose wounds were whose.
 
"Blood is Gold!" Garon howled again, and the coin level in the chest shrunk again. Then he hit the Nekomancer harder.
 
"Don't just stand there, help him!" Beryl yelled.
 
"Right!" Celia tried for an angle where she wouldn't catch Garon in the crossfire, but it was tricky. She sent in the dagger, and waited for her moment.
 
"Divine Shield!" Beryl yelled, pointing at Garon as energy flared around him. Some of the numbers got smaller, but not by much. "I'm almost dry!" The cleric yelled.
 
"Analyze Monster!" Bak'Shaz took a look, and paled. "She's only down to half!"
 
"Half?" Celia shrieked. "He's almost out of money! When that happens..."
 
"We need a distraction," Beryl called back. "So he can switch chests!"
 
And Threadbear knew what he had to do.
 
The first major boss battle of his life had been against a housecat, after all. And this girl seemed to be at least part housecat.
 
He ran toward the fight, pushing himself to the limits, leaped for her, saw he was going to miss-
 
-and time slowed, as his Paws Button cape sped him up to the point where everyone else was in slow motion.
 
Hitting the ground, Threadbare marched over, grabbed the Nekomancer's tail with both hands, and hung on. He knew what was coming.
 
Time renewed-
 
-and the Nekomancer flipped out.
 
"AH! Getitoff getiitoff getitofff!" She screeched, breaking off the fight and bouncing from pillar to pillar, flipping around, slamming the little bear against the stone again and again. If he'd had bones they would have been jellied, if he'd had internal organs they would have been ruptured. But as it was...
 
STR +1
Your Ride Skill is now level 3!
Your Golem Body skill is now Level 17!
Your Ride Skill is now level 4!
"Mend!" shouted Celia
CON +1
Your Ride Skill is now level 5!
Your Toughness skill is now level 10!
+2 Max HP
Your Ride Skill is now level 6!
Your Brawling skill is now level 20!
Your Golem Body skill is now level 18!
Your Ride Skill is now level 7!
 
"Mend!" Shouted Celia.
 
All told, it lasted for far less than it seemed it did.
 
Finally, perhaps a minute into it, Threadbare heard a rip, and went flying. One of his arms was gone, he realized, shortly before he hit a pillar and fell, cloak flapping, dragon hat dangling to one side, the stitches torn.
 
"My tail! You brute! I'll use your stuffing for my litter box-"
 
"Ahem, " Garon said.
 
She turned, and her eyes went up three sizes as she shrieked. "Not again!'
 
"Again!" Garon roared, his arm buried into the coins of the other treasure chest. "Blood is Gold! Twisted Rage! RARRWRWRWRWARWQGQGQHQGHAERWAWEAW!!!!"
 
It took every last bit of stamina they had.
 
But finally, finally, they brought her down.
 
You are now a level 9 Toy Golem!
All Attributes +2
You are now a level 3 Ruler!
CHA +3
LUCK +3
WIS +3
You are now a level 3 Scout!
AGL +3
PER +3
WIS +3
 
Threadbare dusted himself off, went over and picked up his arm, leaking stuffing with every step, then hauled out the sewing kit and started patching himself up.
 
Your Tailoring skill level is now 10!
You are now a level 3 Tailor!
DEX +1
PER +1
 
And just as he finished, he noticed that new words had appeared before him.
 
By defeating a foe using a level 20 or higher weapon skill, you have unlocked the Duellist job!
Do you wish to become a Duelist at this time? y/n?
 
Well, any job was a good job!
 
You are now a level 1 Duelist!
+3 AGL
+3 DEX
+3 STR
You have learned the Challenge skill!
Your Challenge skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Dazzling Entrance skill!
Your Dazzling Entrance skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Fancy Flourish skill!
Your Fancy Flourish skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Guard Stance skill!
Your Guard Stance skill is now level 1!
You have learned the Weapon Specialist skill!
Your Weapon Specialist skill is now level 1!
Searching...
Your Weapon Specialist skill is currently set to: Brawling!
 
That felt weird, but good. Threadbare flexed his paws, feeling separate pressure points rise and fall beneath them. It was like he had claws under there that weren't claws. He picked up the tailoring kit one handed, and marveled at the ability to do so.
 
"What the fuck?" Beryl said, staring at Threadbare. "The little shitter just leveled into duelist."
 
"To be fair, that was a pretty swashbuckl-ey move back there," Garon said. "Kinda fits."
 
"This is definitely not supposed to be happening, I'm pretty sure," Celia said. "Threadbare, just... let me talk to Daddy before we do any more adventuring, okay?"
 
"Tell me ya got to level 10," Jarrik begged Beryl, who nodded, sweaty-faced, bruised all up and down her side, but with a big grin.
 
"I did. I can get us out of here."
 
"Oh, give me that tigerseye, will you?" Garon asked Celia. "Quest's done."
 
She handed it to him, then hugged the fat youth tightly. "Thank you."
 
"Eh. Most of our loot's gone. Except some small gems, and a few of magic items we'll have to turn in so there's no point in getting attached." He scooped up an armload of weapons and armor. "Let's go. Experience is its own reward, looks like."
 
"Divine Transit!" Beryl said, and the world blurred around Threadbare...
 
...and instantly, they were back at the beginning of the dungeon.
 
"Oh this is gonna make things so much easier," Beryl grinned. "Thanks, guys. Good party."
 
"Good party," Celia agreed. Level 9! In one day she'd gone up two levels! And that wasn't even counting her gains as a scout, and an enchanter. She was so close to her level 5 skills she could taste it...
 
...but it was time to go. Night had fallen while they were up there, a trip that was supposed to take perhaps half the day gone way late, due to Threadbare's unexpected fall.
 
They walked out of the entrance, and headed back to the gatehouse. It was shut once more, and the guards were on the dungeon side of the gate, now. Atop the gatehouse, a man dressed in blue robes, with a bushy beard, stared down at them.
 
"Halt and surrender your unregistered magic items," the guards demanded.
 
"Sure. It's a good haul, the Crown should be happy," Garon said, offering the collection from the chest one by one.
 
"Come on, get his little cape too," he reminded Celia.
 
Forlorn, she handed over the Paws Button cape, the dagger, and the Static Rod. "I think that's it."
 
"We're done here too,' Beryl said, after checking with the brothers. Come on-"
 
"Analyze Magic," The old man in the gatehouse window said. Then his eyes narrowed. "Check the bear."
 
"What? No!" Celia said. "He's not a magic item, he's a golem, that's all."
 
"Yes, and there's something in him that's registering." Said the wizard.
 
"Don't-" Then one of the guards tore Threadbare from Celia's arms. He fought back, but the armored man ignored his attacks, squeezing each part of him, compressing the stuffing. Red zeroes flew upward as he swiped at the guard, to no avail.
 
"Something inside him," The guard said, then Threadbare shuddered as the man casually tore his side open, and a red '120' floated up into the air.
 
Your Golem Body skill is now level 19!
Your Toughness skill is now level 11!
Max HP +2
 
"Don't you rip him up-" The other guard moved past Threadbare's field of vision, halberd leveled, and he heard Beryl shouting.
 
And the guard holding him pulled out the scepter. A tiny golden thing, with a teddy bear's head on it.
 
"There it is," said the wizard. "Trying to smuggle out items, hm? Trying to cheat the Crown?"
 
Threadbare feebly grabbed for the scepter, and the guard tossed him aside. Jarrik just managed to catch him, before he went over the edge of the cliff.
 
LUCK +1
 
"Mend! Mend! Mend! Mend!" Celia shouted, and Threadbare was mostly whole again. He leaped out of Jarrik's arms and squared himself, glaring at the guards, standing between the one with the halberd and his girl.
 
"I don't know why you decided to break the law over such a small trinket," said the guard holding the scepter, "but it makes no difference. You are under arrest, for smuggling. Come quietly and be tried for your crime or resist and die here, it's your choice."
 
THREADBARE'S CHARACTER SHEET
 
Spoiler: Spoiler

 

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My first fanart? Haha, wow! Thanks LadyUmberDragon!

For those confused over what I'm talking about, LadyUmberDragon has posted a picture of the Nekomancer in the comments below. It's on the second page of comments, though, so it's easy to miss.


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Lost Demiurge

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Granitefish @Granitefish ago

5 Bucks that's why they were suddenly let in. Also of note neither Beryl nor Bak'Shaz noted his Ruler levels. Presumably because they don't see them. Is it hidden from certian levels since Mordecai could see it?

Vintyr @Vintyr ago

That really unfair, the alarm didn't of when they entered!

Qanelin @Qanelin ago

Why would they bring any magic items out if they were just going to be robbed?

    Realm Reader @Realm Reader ago

    They didn't know, keep in mind that Threadbare cannot talk and he was the one who had the scepter which dropped from the rat king.

      Qanelin @Qanelin ago

      Not talking about the bears sceptre, I'm talking about everything else.

      Sesharan @Sesharan ago

      ...Huh. I hadn't thought about it, but that makes a lot of sense. They hate the king, the king takes all the magic items from dungeons, why should they bring any magic items out of the dungeon? Honestly, it makes so much sense that I have to assume it's been tried many times before, and that there's an established response.

       Something along the lines of banning anyone who doesn't bring out any magic items from ever entering another dungeon again, maybe? (For their own protection, of course- after all, anyone who can't bring out even a single magic item clearly can't handle any real danger, because the only possible explanation for not bringing out magic items is that they were beaten back before they defeated a boss.)

      FirstDragon @FirstDragon ago

      Yeah. This whole plot thread makes little sense unless there's some sort of registration process when you ENTER the dungeon. You go over each magic item you are carrying etc. And then the guards + wizard would have found or sensed the stuff in the bear then rather than at the end. And Sesharan's point about needing actual magic items to survive dungeons makes sense. Adventurers without magic items is like...er...dead adventurers? Which is maybe what the King is going for but the whole thing seems pretty unbelievable. One of the weaker aspects of the story IMHO.

      Sesharan @Sesharan ago

      "And Sesharan's point about needing actual magic items to survive dungeons makes sense."

      Er... I don't think I made that point? My point was that people don't like the king, so they wouldn't be inclined to give him the dungeon items.

      I mean, you're not wrong, higher difficulty dungeons probably do require magic items, but presumably that's what Enchanters and Smiths and other crafters are for. The King's "dungeon item tax" just ensures that he and his army always have a steady stream of the best magic items and enchanting materials, and that anyone who might feel rebellious has to make do with "shop items". And the fact that adventurers get to keep the money and experience means that dungeon delving is too profitable to avoid, even with the tax.

      Honestly, I think it's a great piece of worldbuilding. Totally something that an Evil Empire ruled by a paranoid king should do.

Pandaviking @Pandaviking ago

i don't like this ar all, i get that a story needs antagonists, but does it really have to be douchey goons? i find it almost cringeworthy...

Darvene @Darvene ago

I'm annoyed less at the fact he got thrown, and more with the loss of his awesome ruler item.

SlimeAction @SlimeAction ago

I though celling cat and basement cat are going to do fusion dance. Instead we got a neko. I'm not complaining.

Also, image of staff weilding necromancer teddy bear seems like a good book cover.

HyugaisJester @HyugaisJester ago

Good chapter. Glad they got reunited quickly. Hoping the baddies come along and mind control the guards again or someone steps in and provides satisfying plot armor. Or, they take the kids to prison only to have a satisfying prison break out arc.

Grevis165 @Grevis165 ago

Thank you for the chapter! Nice touch with the balls of yarn breaking their landing. And with not having threadbare destroy the end boss. (At least not yet :p)

I can see it now, he makes a Dazzling Entrance wearing his patchwork clothes, people are Fascinated by how Adorable he is Very Happy

ClickPause @ClickPause ago

Why didn't they do preliminary checks, so as to note what magical stuff they already had?

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Nakkus @Nakkus ago

That dungeon was insane. Great last boss. Thanks for the chapter.

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