Eventually the humans in the more central part of Cylvania noticed "hey, there's dwarves over there now," and the usual messages and envoys were sent, tables were thumped, voices were raised... and then envoys were received, handshakes were offered, coins changed hands, and the dwarves, under King-Grundi-under-this-mountain-here-no-not-that-one-the-big-one-you-idjit, (The transcriber was later fired,) walked away with the rights to the land UNDER the remote branch of the Skygrope mountain range, so long as he didn't expand his holdings horizontally, and represented Cylvania to the rest of the dwarven communities in Disland and beyond.
"...and that's why we can't have nice things," Garon finished.
Your Adorable skill is now level 32!
“Different matters,” said Montag. “I'm to see if you can contribute anything useful to the war effort and offer you a useful price for it.”
“If you've got any information useful to us on the covert side of things, that's my department,” Hidon said. “We'll pay you if you tell us anything interesting.”
“And I'll arrange anything you need during your stay! And be your liaison for day-to-day matters,” Gurdun said. “You'll be staying in Yorgum's house while you're here.”
“Oh. Fluffbear will like that. I didn't know he lived so close. Is he as nice in person as he is when she prays?”
The two clerics looked at each other, and clamped hands over their mouths. “She means a temple to him. He doesn't actually live there. Most of the time,” Montag said, while they fought to keep straight faces. “Maybe visits every few centuries or so, so to speak.”
“Right,” said Threadbare. And he turned to Bazdra, who'd remained silent through most of this. “And what are you here for?”
“I'm here to make sure you don't die or get yourselves killed.”
The rest of the group slowed, half-dressed and looking back in confusion. “Excuse me?” Cecelia asked.
“The Lurker's among us again,” Hidon said. “We've had two officials die of mysterious causes in the last month. He's in deep this time.”
“You know he's here? That was one of the things I was going to tell you, once I was sure it was safe!” Cecelia burst out.
“What do you mean, again?” Threadbare said.
“We've killed him twice, and he keeps coming back.” Hidon said, simply.
“How?” Garon said.
“Daemon shenanigans, we're assuming,” Bazdra said. “We've killed other Hand members before, and they've come back, too. This war would be over by now if they'd only stay dead.”
“I see.” Threadbare rubbed his head. “I'm glad I didn't risk killing Anise when we might have had the chance.”
“The Inquisitor. She's Amelia Gearhart's daemonic form.”
“Oh. Her. I've heard of her, never met her,” Hidon said. “She hasn't been in action yet.”
“She will. She's got Emmet with her now, and Cecelia... evil Cecelia, I mean. They're going to reveal that the Hand are the survivors of the Seven and rally the kingdom around them. Oh!” Threadbare said, toddling over and reaching into a nearby cubby. “There's my rod. Good, I was beginning to worry.”
Silence from the dwarves for a bit. The other three looked at Hidon, who nodded. “Okay, that's worth a bit.” He pulled out an abacus, tallied a number, and wrote it down on a scrap of parchment before handing it to Gudrun. “Anything else we can use, information-wise?”
“We'd better talk as we walk,” Montag said. “The first reports should be coming back now.”
“Reports?” Threadbare asked.
“We launched an assault last night,” Bazdra said. “Come on then.”
Reclothed and re-armed, the toys and their living companions followed the ministers back across the main hall, through another archway, and down several long flights of stairs. Madeline looked on as they went, snout swiveling as she examined the architecture. “Nice. Most of it. Some of it's too smooth, though. Mahgic?”
“Earth Elementalists, to smooth the rougher parts out,” Montag said. “This is young as dwarven holds go, and we had to shift to war footing in a hurry. Don't worry, we've made drawings of how it was before, and we'll put it back that way after we're on a peacetime footing again.”
“Why would you do that?” Fluffbear squeaked.
The four dwarves stopped and stared at her, as if she'd asked how tasty dwarven babies were.
“You're pretty ignorant, aren't you?” Bazdra said.
“Say what now?”
“Keep moving. I'll explain it,” Gudrun offered. “If I can. Okay. So... hm. You know Aeterna is the goddess of time, yes?”
“I think Yorgum told me that.”
“Hee hee! He told me about you, dear!”
“Did he now...” Bazdra shot her a suspicious glare.
“Oh hush. He told me when I prayed at Grundi's request, the same as you did. Canceled each other out, we did.”
“Say what now?” Glub flared his fins. “I'm lost.”
“So the two most venerated gods in our hold are Aeterna and Yorgum,” Gudrun said. “They're also rivals. Aeterna insists that nothing survives given enough time, and Yorgum says hold my beer.”
“All the fucking time,” Bazdra rolled her eyes.
“They're rivals. But we honor both, most of the time. Though rarely there are occasions we can't, like with you all.” Gudrun said.
“With you so far. Kinda,” Fluffbear said.
“Today we found we might not. See, the King asked us to pray to you for advice about necromantic golems. Now the thing about gods is the more secrets they give away to mortals in prayers, the more their rival gets to act. In this case they got asked about you simultaneously, so we know all about why Aeterna doesn't like the notion of you one bit, and why you're very dear to Yorgum.”
Cecelia frowned. “What? But we adventured with a cleric of Aeterna, years back. She was entirely fine with Threadbare.”
“It's not that,” Bazdra said. “And it's not who you are, personally. It's what some of you are. See, you're undead, and she dislikes those to begin with, but they're not anathema because all undead fade with age. It just takes longer. But those of you who are haunting golems? You're in forms that will never decay, provided you give them a little maintenance, and don't require sustenance, ever. Golems are acceptable because they grind down over time. Takes ages, takes forever, but eventually they stop working. You? You can ensure near-immortality with a little effort, or the right class feature. Just hop golem bodies endlessly.” She sighed. “And that's not good at all.”
They walked in silence for a bit.
“I never even thought of that,” Garon said. “Immortality, I mean.”
“Zuula did,” the half-orc spoke up for the first time in a while. “Is one reason why she going to die after she see dis business done. Too tempting odderwise.”
“Good on you,” Bazdra smiled. “Which is why Aeterna has nothing against YOU per se. It's...”
“She's worried that some of our own people would be tempted,” Gudrun said. “And she's right to worry. Dwarves have had problems with undead for millenia, it's why our laws are what they are.”
“And our own dead, who need bodies?” Graves interrupted. “They've been in there long enough, they're going to start going mad, unless we can get yellow reagent, and lots of it.”
“We don't care what you do there, so long as they don't cause trouble,” Gudrun said. “But... it would cause serious problems with the King, the Clan Heads, and the temples if we just gave you yellow reagents. That's not our way.”
“Right. Dwarves take gifts very seriously. But if we buy them?” Garon spoke up.
“That's just trade.” Gudrun grinned, sharklike, with bad teeth. “Though a lot of our reagents are going to the war effort right now. So it'd cost you.”
“Mind you you've earned about four or five vials from what you told me about that Hand,” Hidon said.
“What if they eahned it back?” Madeline said. “Like a couple of hundred gahlems to help you fight? They get the bahdies fahst, then eahn it back in battle?”
Montag sighed. “Wouldn't work. Undead are a touchy subject to begin with. That would be seen as the King compromising the laws out of desperation. I'm sorry, but we can't do that. But... we can help you earn the reagents you need. You ah, you mentioned you were a Steam Knight?” He looked down at Cecelia, his eyes aglow.
“Yes. And Threadbare's a golemist, and we'll be happy to montage them to anyone you want-”
“For a reasonable fee, of course!” Garon interrupted.
“Just one apiece to start,” Montag nodded, pulling out his own abacus, and writing down another number, before handing it to Hidon.
“I'm not their merchant contact. Sweet Nebs, you're offering THAT much?” Hidon scowled, and handed the two slips on to Gudrun. She read them and whistled. “Okay, so you're up to twelve vials, assuming the market hasn't shifted since this morning.”
“Nah, I think I'd like to Haggle that if I may,” Madeline grinned. “After all, these are two unique tier-two jahbs we're talking about heah...”
Five minutes, three halls, and two staircases later they settled on enough coin for fifteen vials of yellow reagents. Graves nodded, happy. “That should take care of the ones who are worst off.” He shifted the crate full of soulstones in his arms. “Really, that'll buy us even more time. They'll see we're following through on our promises.”
“All right,” Threadbare smiled. “Let's have a sit down with them later and see what bodies they want, so we can build them something that will make them happy.”
“I'm assuming you're Caradon's work?” Montag blurted out. “Because seriously, you're amazing. If we can get a few dozen like you made...” he glared up at Bazdra, who glared back, “...BY a dwarven golemist or two, WITHOUT undead inside...”
“I'm sorry. I can only make unintelligent golems so far,” Threadbare said. “It's probably a higher level skill. And also most of us are... born... with horrible luck. It's very dangerous. For us and all around us.”
“Speaking of that,” Hidon said. “We're almost there. If you value your lives, stay silent and be respectful.”
“What?” Zuula said. “You t'reaten us?”
“No.” The black-haired dwarf sighed, and pulled his hood tighter around his head. “If you piss them off we won't be able to save you.”
And with his warning ringing in their ears, they entered the Hall of Heroes.
A long gallery, low, with golden plaques glimmering on the walls. Each one had a name. Each one had a clan sign. And each one had a simple slot engraved in it, just a small lip, sticking out of the metal.
Looking down the hall, which stretched a good way back into the mountain, Threadbare could see that perhaps half the plaques had their slots filled, each by a single silvery coin.
The center of the hall was packed by dwarves, older dwarves, some standing with canes or with the help of others who were obviously family. They faced the front of it. Faced the King, who had parked the Kneelchair next to a series of tubes that ran down the wall and opened up next to him.
An unseen bell chimed, and the tube rattled. The King sighed, and reached a large, emaciated hand out, taking a cylinder from the opening in the tube. He opened it, and coins cascaded out, followed by rolls of paper, falling onto the sheets that covered his vehicle.
And the crowd murmured in dismay. An old woman in back started sobbing.
King Grundi unrolled the scroll, and bowed his head. “Agni Durable,” he said, and the crowd sat silent. The Kneelchair ground and clanked as he rolled down the gallery, next to a plaque. There he took one of the coins, and placed it in the slot, with trembling hands. Then he read the next name on the list. “Jasper Motherlode,” and moved across the hall, fumbling another coin out. Three more names he read, and then-
Another cylinder clanked in the tube, and the crowd groaned.
“They're the dead,” Cecelia whispered, and Threadbare grabbed her, hugged her as she held him back, as the ancient king read the names of the dead, and gave them their final due. All this while their relatives, the ones who couldn't fight, who had stayed behind, stood and waited and hoped against hope.
Some sobbed. Some cursed and wailed, or stomped away flushed with anger, pulling beards or biting back tears.
But almost worse than that were the ones who were silent. Who reacted when they heard a name, but simply stood there, watching, as the hope drained from them. Left them hollow, like dwarf-shaped outlines in the world.
Four cylinders came down the tube in total. Each had perhaps fifteen to twenty names, all told. And when it was done, and the crowds had gone to grieve or enjoy the relief that their kin were still alive and hadn't been named, only then did the King clatter up to them.
“My son thought peace possible,” King Grundi told Cecelia. “He fought with that hope. And he fell with it.” The King's hand stretched, out to point at one section of the wall, with two plaques.
And in Dhurlem's plaque, sat a coin.
“So no,” said King Grundi, “There will be no peace. We will win or we will die here. Do you understand me, she who was Princess Ragandor?”
“I do,” she said. “And I'm sorry. But more death won't help you or your son or your people.”
“No, but about seven will. King Melos. His Hand. And that thing wearing your mother's face. Will you help me with that, Cecelia?”
“Kill my father...” She looked away. “I...”
“Mm. No, it is too much to ask.” The old dwarf's face twisted with compassion. “Tell you what. Help me handle the others, and you leave him to us. A trial and justice if we can take him alive, and death in battle if not.”
Cecelia let out a long breath. “He killed Caradon. His own father in law.” Behind her, Hidon's eyes widened and he pulled out the abacus again. “Yes,” Cecelia decided. “I won't kill him but he has to answer for his crimes.”
“Good. What do they have so far?” The King asked.
Hidon handed Gudrun another slip of paper, and Grundi looked them over. “Hm. Decent start. You, Cecelia. Steam Knight? You'll need new armor, then.”
“Yes, but our bodiless refugees are the first concern. We need to get them settled before we help ourselves.”
Grundi smiled. “You would've been a good queen for your people. Tell you what...” He rolled the Kneelchair up to the Emberglow plaques...
...and as his ministers gasped, he took out his son's coin.
Cecelia caught it by sheer reflex, as he flipped it to her. “This should cover the components she needs for a new Steam Knight suit. And if it doesn't, talk to the tallyman and take mine.”
“Sir... no...” whispered Bazdra.
“My heir's dead, I'm the last of my clan here, I've got no blood who might need it after I die,” Grundi snapped. “What are two pieces of Adamant in the face of all that, hm?”
“Adamant!” Garon shrieked, and stared around the room. At the hundreds of coins, filling hundreds of plaques. Just sitting there, next to the candles... “This is... the cost must...” He snapped his mouth shut. “This is the safest room in the hold, isn't it?” He said, conversationally.
“Oh yeah,” Hidon confirmed, recovering from his shock. “Little doll girl, I hope you know the honor the King just paid you.”
“Why?” Cecelia said, staring down at the coin, and up to the King.
He smiled, sad then, eyes misty. “Because he, too, believed in peace.” He glanced over to Gudrun. “Get them settled. Bazdra, keep them alive. The rest of you, come with me.”
“So we've pretty much got free run of the place, so long as Bazdra or the other ministers are with us, right?” Kayin asked.
“Yes,” Threadbare said. “Though we need to be careful. The Lurker is probably going to try to kill anyone of us he can catch.”
“He can try,” Zuula said.
“He can do more than that,” Garon said. “If the Hand are actually the remnants of the Seven, then the Lurker's probably what remains of Graham.”
“Oh shit,” Madeline said. “That's wahse than just assassination.”
“What's worse?” Fluffbear squeaked.
“Graham was a con man, a grifter for the greater good,” Cecelia said. “The first one to unlock the gambler job... well, in Cylvania, anyway. He favored range attacks, bluffs, and cons that usually put the Seven's foes in a bad tactical position. If the daemon has any of his skills, he's going to come at us using people, and in a way that we won't be expecting. He was also a master of disguise.”
“Can he disguise himself as a doll?” Graves asked. “If there's size limitations we might be good.”
“Right.” Graves sighed. “Groups. Nobody does anything alone until this is over.”
“That's going to be a bit rough,” Garon said, glancing toward Zuula, then quickly away before she could see him. “I mean, some of you have valuable jobs to montage, and armor to build, but some of us won't have much to do. I... I'd really like to help here, but I don't know how.”
“I've thought of that, actually. I think there might be a way you could help, you all could if you're willing,” Cecelia said. “I'm going to be stuck putting together my new armor, and montaging.”
“I'll be montaging as well.” Threadbare said, then frowned. “Maybe not. I taught you golemist.”
“You did, though I've barely used it. But I see where you're going with this.” Graves nodded. “I could montage it to other people easily enough.”
“Good.” Cecelia leaned forward. “Gudrun tells me the two coins will cover the Steam Knight armor and the reagents to golemize most of our dead, but there's about forty or so left-uncovered. So we need a lot of money... or we need more sources of reagents. And since we're free to roam the city, we've got every legal reason to enter the dungeon that they've got down here.”
“Wait, whoa, dungeon?” Garon said, leaning forward. “I've never heard of one here.”
“Oh yeah. It's a well-kept secret outside these halls. I only knew about it because of the Lurker's intelligence reports. It's legal to go in, unlike a lot of the Crown-controlled dungeons were. The downside is that it's way more dangerous than Catamountain was. You know how that one was all about cats? This one's themed around giants.”
"Worth a shot," Zuula decided. "Ogre went down pretty easy, all t'ings considered. How hard giants be?"
"Mind you, that's also going to be a lure. We'll raid in and out of the dungeon, and try to tempt the Lurker into ambushing us when he thinks we're weakest- emerging from a dungeon." Cecelia explained. "But I've got an ace to play, there."
"Yeah?" Kayin said, scooting in closer.
"I couldn't say anything before, because there were too many people listening, but we've got an old friend, one who'll probably be happy to help us. If she's alive, and if she's here. But I can't imagine she WOULDN'T be here."
"Oh?" Garon asked. Then, "oh."
"Yeah. Once things are quiet, let's break out the dollseyed mice, Threadbare, and do some exploring. And if we're very, very lucky we might be able to track down Beryl Wirebeard..."
THREADBARE'S CHARACTER SHEET
Greater Toy Golem Level 15
Cave Bear Level 12
Ruler Level 12
Scout Level 7
Tailor Level 11
Model Level 10
Necromancer Level 11
Duelist Level 6
Animator Level 12
Enchanter Level 10
Golemist Level 14
Smith Level 11
Sculptor Level 12
Strength: 125 Constitution: 140 Hit Points: 335(435) Armor: 52(65)
Intelligence: 226 Wisdom: 204(211) Sanity: 430(584) Mental Fortitude: 42
Dexterity: 147(154) Agility: 118(125) Stamina: 275() Endurance: 62
Charisma: 120(149) Willpower: 211 Moxie: 331(460) Cool: 20(48)
Perception: 125 Luck: 92(99) Fortune: 217(324) Fate: 15(22)
Brawling - Level 43 (+14)
Climb - Level 13
Clubs and Maces - Level 9
Dagger - Level 9
Dodge - Level 9
Fishing - Level 1
Magic Item 1 - Resist Fire 13
Ride - Level 8
Stealth - Level 17
Swim - Level 5
Adorable - Level 32
Bodyguard - Level 7
Gift of Sapience - Level NA
Golem Body - Level 28
Innocent Embrace - Level 14
Magic Resistance -Level 16
Animalistic Interface - NA
Claw Swipes - 26
Darkspawn - NA
Forage - 13
Growl - 2
Hibernate - 37
Scents and Sensibility - 20
Stubborn - 9
Toughness - 20
Appoint Official - Level NA
Emboldening Speech - Level 19
Identify Subject - Level 10
It's Good to be King - NA
King's Quest - Level 14
Noblesse Oblige - Level 30
Organize Minions - Level NA
Royal Audience - Level 22
Simple Decree - Level 15
Swear Fealty - Level NA
Alertness - Level 3
Best Route - Level 3
Camouflage - Level 13(20)
Firestarter - Level 10
Keen Eye - Level 10
Sturdy Back - Level 13
Wind's Whisper - Level 15
Adjust Outfit - Level 4
Clean and Press - Level 15
Recycle Cloth - Level 1
Tailoring - Level 53(68)
Adjust Weight - Level 14
Call Outfit - Level 4
Dietary Restriction - Level 50 (+100 to all pools)
Fascination - Level 8
Flex - Level 20
Makeup - Level 10
Self-Esteem - Level 20
Sexy Pose - Level 2
Strong Pose - Level 15
Work it Baby - Level 50 (+50% to raw item bonuses)
Assess Corpse - Level 12
Command the Dead - Level 28
Deathsight - Level 8
Drain Life - Level 7
Invite Undead - Level 12
Mana Focus - Level NA (+11% to sanity)
Skeletons - Level 19
Soulstone - Level 45
Speak With Dead - Level 24
Zombies - Level 3
Challenge - Level 9
Dazzling Entrance - Level 17
Fancy Flourish - Level 13 (20)
Guard Stance - Level 19
Parry - Level 10
Swashbuckler's Spirit - NA (+14 to cool)
Swinger - Level 2
Weapon Specialist - Level 29 (Brawling +14)
Animus - Level 36
Animus Blade - Level 10
Animus Shield - Level 4
Arm Creation - Level 7
Command Animus - Level 19
Creator's Guardians - Level 27
Dollseye - Level 18
Eye for Detail - Level 20
Magic Mouth - Level 18
Mend - Level 40
Appraise - Level 30
Boost+5 - Level 14
Boost +10 - Level 2
Disenchant - Level 7
Elemental Protection - Level 9
Glowgleam - Level 26
Harden - Level 32
Soften - Level 31
Spellstore I - Level 25
Spellstore V - Level 4
Spellstore X - Level 1
Wards - Level 2
Clay Golem - Level 2
Command Golem - Level 24
Golem Animus - Level 47
Golem Guardians - NA
Invite Golem - Level 12
Mend Golem - Level 29
Program Golem - Level 42
Toy Golem - Level 56
Wood Golem - Level 12
Adjust Arms and Armor - Level 7
Refine Ore - Level 13
Smelt Down - Level 6
Smithing - Level 50
Detect Clay - Level 8
Mend Ceramic - Level 5
Refine Clay - Level 16
Sculpting - Level 58
Journeyman Tailor's Apron of fire resistance (+6 Armor, +10 Tailoring, Resist Fire 9)(+3 Armor, +5 Tailoring, +4 Resist Fire from WIB)
Okay Quality Bling
Ringtail Master's Coat (+5 CHA, +5 LUCK, +5 Armor, +5 Fate)(+2 CHA, LUCK, Armor, Fate from WIB)
Rod of Baronly Might (+5 CHA, +5 WIS, +10 Cool)(+2 CHA, WIS, +5 Cool from WIB)
Sneakypants (+5 Camouflage)(+2 Camouflage from WIB)
Yellow Belt of Bravado (+5 AGL, +5 DEX, +5 to the Fancy Flourish skill)(+2 AGL, DEX, Fancy Flourish from WIB)
Toy Top Hat (CHA +10)(+5 CHA from WIB)
A Folded-steel Dagger (Dagger Level 10)
A small jewelry box, now empty.
1 bead of Mend Golem (Level 15)
1 bead of Silent Killer (Level 10)
Minorphone (Enhances voice and social skills focused through it twice per day)
Berserker, Cleric, Cook, Cultist, Grifter, Spirit Medium, Tamer, Wizard