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“Honestly I have no idea what she was trying to achieve,” Emmet rumbled.
“Something to do with making a demonic version of you, we think,” Threadbare said, looking down on the trudging, battered golem walking next to Reason. He and Cecelia were sitting atop the mecha-turned-lesser-armor-golem, trudging west. Below, the rest of their friends mingled with the dwarven army. King Grundi’s Kneelchair, in its warwagon configuration, kept pace with them a few hundred feet away.
Emmet was with them, and not with the other prisoners. The dwarves had objected to that, until Threadbare pointed out that if Emmet really was planning treachery, it wouldn’t matter WHERE he was.
They finally backed down when Threadbare told them Emmet was his brother, and that he’d take full responsibility for the guy.
“Yeah, making a daemon copy of you would be the most likely conclusion,” Cecelia said. “The parts she tore out of you are- are the parts she ripped from me.” The doll smiled. “If it’s any consolation, when we mended you up, they probably vanished right from her hands. I like the idea of the frustration she must have felt from that.”
“I did have a heart but it was for show. The head was… damaging. I barely survived that,” Emmet said.
“So she was able to hurt you that easily?” Threadbare asked, worried. “That worries me.”
“Not so easily!” Emmet sounded offended, just a touch. “I surrendered. I deactivated all skills and buffs. And then she commanded me not to resist her attacks.”
“And you listened to her?” Cecelia said.
“I had no choice! She COMMANDED me. She used three scrolls to do so.”
“Oh,” Cecelia said, putting her hands to her mouth. “Oh gods she’s got command golem scrolls.”
“Oh no. Those again.” Threadbare rubbed his head. “I’m to blame for her getting those.”
“I was very stupid when she gave you the quest to bring her the scrolls. And it was a public quest, so I got it as well. And…”
“…yes. That was why you couldn’t find me after we became scouts. I was out delivering them.”
Cecelia was silent for a few minutes.
“I wish I hadn’t,” Threadbare said, “everything that followed was my fault. When they came for Caradon, you could have fought them off, Emmet-“
“No,” Cecelia said. “No, he couldn’t have. The house was a wreck, things were messed up, and my father had brought overwhelming force. Don’t… don’t beat yourself up over this. It wouldn’t have made a difference in the end. It just would have meant more deaths. They would have found another way to get what they wanted.”
“I do not understand what you are upset about,” Emmet rumbled, “I do not know the details. But the current state of affairs is not displeasing to me. I have found a way to satisfy both my honor and my family, as General Mastoya suggested.”
“I spoke to her after the Inquisitor commanded me to do something I did not want to do. Together we found a workaround. And it has worked.”
Cecelia looked at the bodies they were passing, then at the small train of human prisoners… which included four knights that hadn’t stopped staring at her since they’d first laid eyes on her porcelain form. She gave Sergeant Tane a good hard look, then turned away. “What exactly are you saying? Mastoya wanted this to happen? I find that hard to believe.”
“It is…” Emmet said, pausing. “It is not enough to do the good thing, or to have justice on your side. You must also be strong enough to win. To survive. Or else good and evil don’t matter.”
“I think,” said Threadbare, glancing over to Garon and Zuula, where they were walking happily alongside Jarrik and Mordecai, “that we need to have a good talk with her when we catch up to her.”
They found her in the depths of the cells, guarded by two grey-cloaked women who muttered “Scouter,” as they approached, then nodded and faded back into the shadows. Mastoya watched them come through the cell bars, looking rather ordinary out of her battle plate. Someone had taken the fingerbones out of her hair, and she was painstakingly braiding it back up into a knot.
For a good long second, Threadbare and Cecelia looked her over, and she looked back.
“And?” the imprisoned General asked.
Cecelia spoke. “I didn’t come back from Outsmouth. That wasn’t me, these last couple of weeks.”
“Why did you…” Cecelia covered her face. “Did it make a difference to you, that I’d been replaced by a daemon? I thought you cared about your troops! I was under your command! Why didn’t you…”
“Do what, precisely?” Mastoya said. “Tell the King that his daughter was a daemon? For all I knew he’d ordered it. If that was the case, then I’d be dead or out of command. And if it WAS the Inquisitor who’d just killed you? Then I MIGHT be able to tell him, but if he believed her over me, or she got wind of it, I’d be dead or out of command. Stage a coup? Go traitor?” Mastoya hawked and spat in a nearby chamber pot. “Fuck that noise. My troops wouldn’t have followed me. My only worth, my only chance of doing anything was if I remained a General and gave you the chance that you needed. And I did.”
“The chance that we needed?” Threadbare asked.
“Yes. You want to break the cycle, right? You want to claim the throne and stop the wars and get rid of the demons, right?”
Cecelia said nothing. But evidently it had been a rhetorical question, as Mastoya continued. “Five years we’ve been fighting this war. Five YEARS. The nation was invested. IS invested. This isn’t just pride, it’s the heart of who we are. Good, evil, it doesn’t matter. We threw ourselves into it. Through orders, through drafts, or through volunteering, it’s Cylvania’s war. And if you hadn’t won? Then there’s no way you could achieve a lasting peace, later. You had to decisively beat the Crown. And you had to do it in a way that SHOWED my troops they were beat. And you did. You’ve won.” She lay back on her cot, staring up at the ceiling. “Deposing the King? Taking the castle? That’s just the finishing blow. Won’t be an easy one, but it’s inevitable, now.”
“If only that were true,” Cecelia whispered. “The final struggle’s just starting.”
“Did you know that all of Cylvania is inside a massive dungeon?” Threadbare asked.
The half-orc sat up and stared. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
They explained, and she listened, eyes getting wider and wider.
“This… this explains so much.” She clenched her hands on the cell’s bars. “Why he’s like two different people, depending on his mood. He…” She looked down at Cecelia “He ordered me to kill the dwarves. All of them. No mercy, no surrender.”
“You disobeyed that order?”
“I told him to his face to get a different general. He was over me, roaring with fury, and then it just- cut out.” Mastoya’s face turned ashen. “He pretended it had been a test, and commended me for not fighting him on those orders. When I’d just refused them seconds ago. I thought he was mad. Now you’re telling me he’s a dungeon monster.”
“Okay. This makes me feel better. I wasn’t betraying the king I’d sworn to serve, then. I’ve been working against a monster who’s usurped his place, more or less.” She sighed, smiling. “That makes me feel better.”
“I don’t really care about your feelings,” Threadbare told Mastoya.
“Threadbare!” Cecelia gasped.
“I don’t. It doesn’t matter why you did things. It only matters what you do.” Threadbare pointed up at her. “And a whole lot of people died today because you decided to put your code of honor before them.”
“You know nothing of it!” Mastoya yelled. ”My code of honor is THEIR code of honor! I couldn’t ask them to compromise themselves, just because-”
“Because you thought you were following a mad king into oblivion. So you didn’t tell them. You chose for them.” Threadbare continued.
“That’s what Generals… that’s what Generals DO.” Mastoya said, staring at them. “Don’t you understand? How could you understand?”
“I understand,” said Cecelia. “You coward.”
Mastoya flinched back. “What?”
“You didn’t trust them. You didn’t trust them to make the right choice. You thought he was MAD, and you went ‘oh well, guess we’ll keep on with the plan, just do things a little more nicely,’ You didn’t tell them because you didn’t trust them with the decision. And the dead? They’re on you. Meanwhile you’re in here trying to sort out your FEELINGS.”
“I’m in here because the rangers fucking put me in here, you little dolly dummy!” Mastoya roared.
“No, you’re in here because you looked at evil, and you looked at good, and you thought ‘meh I don’t care so I’ll go with whoever’s stronger!’ Cecelia stalked up to the bars, shaking her ceramic finger. “You didn’t CARE! You put yourself in here! You chose POORLY. You are a HORRIBLE person.”
Mastoya closed her eyes, and sat on the cot. “I know,” she whispered. “Knew that all my life.” Tears leaked from under her eyelids. “Never had a chance, I guess. Tried. Never found a place where I could do some good.”
The little bear squeezed through the bars, and moved up to her. “Then maybe it’s time to change that.”
She opened her eyes, and stared down at him. “How?”
“Three chances. Garon tells me that’s how many you should give family. You aren’t my family, but Garon’s very much a friend, so I think three is fair. You’ve used two of them. One when you turned down Garon’s offer the last time we were here. The other when you fought a war that you didn’t need to. But we have one more chance for you.”
Mastoya spread her hands. “Alright. What do you want from me?”
Threadbare shook his head. “No. It’s not for me to say.”
“Your family. All of them. Garon and Jarrik and Mordecai and Bak’shaz and yes, even Zuula.”
“I will never forgive her.“
“I don’t care if you forgive her or not, but you have to talk to her. Because without her blessing you won’t get that third chance. And we’ll do what we’re planning, without your help, and more people will die and maybe everyone. So if you must blame her, AFTER her death, AFTER you settled your troubles with her in blood, then you aren’t the person we need for this after all.”
“Bak’shaz went to the Rangers when they rose up. We just found out he was here today,” Cecelia smiled. “He’s so grown up now.” Then her smile disappeared. “Jarrik went to the dwarves, and the Hand’s daemons almost killed him. Because of this battle that nobody needed to fight.”
Mastoya sat her jaw, glared… and the glare faded, as she looked away. “I… don’t know if I can face them.”
“Up to you,” Cecelia said. “They’re all outside. Waiting to talk to you. They want to talk to you. And what they decide, after that, determines whether or not you help us or not. So it’s up to you, General.”
Threadbare walked out of the cell, offered her his arm. She took it, and together the two toys left the cellblock.
“Well?” Bak’shaz asked, as they came out. He was taller than Jarrik now, a gangly youth just out of puberty, with a turtle-shell helmet and boar’s leather armor wrapped around his lanky frame. “What do ya think?”
“I think we need to get ready to move, with or without her. This will go easier if she’s on board, but… she’s a mess,” Cecelia sighed. “If we can’t get her along willingly then we’re better off without her.”
“Well. Thanks for tryin’, anyway.” Bak’shaz shrugged. “On us, now.” He headed down to the guardroom, to round up the rest of his family. Threadbare and Cecelia headed upstairs, and found themselves joined by Madeline, Fluffbear, Glub, and Emmet on the walk up.
“I have never had a sister before. I am still ascertaining how I feel about having a brother.” Emmet told the little black bear currently perched on his shoulder.
“It’s great! Do you like kitties?” Fluffbear said, bouncing up and down a bit.
“I do not know. I have never been permitted to have a pet.”
“Oh no! That’s horrible! You can share mine, and see if you like her. If you do we can get you one of your own!”
“There’s something different about you, Missus Fluffbear,” Threadbare said. “Have you gotten a bit bigger?”
“I’m a grizzly now!”
“Oh! That would explain it.”
“A grizzly bear?” Cecelia scrutinized her. She was perhaps two inches taller then she had been before. “I’m not seeing it.”
“I can hug really, really hard now. It’s awesome! I’ve got good hugs for good guys and bad hugs for bad guys! I am the decider of the embraces! Hee hee!”
“Never change, okay?”
“Oh that’s an easy promise for golems to make,” Fluffbear said.
“It is, isn’t it?” Cecelia said. “And that’s what we are now, more or less. There’s no going back, is there? This is it, isn’t it?”
“Stahting to sink in, huh?” Madeline said, bumping her sympathetically with the side of her muzzle.
“It didn’t until my body was dead. If it was my body at all, and not just… mostly daemonflesh.” Cecelia sighed. “I’ve been trying to sort out how I feel about it.”
“I’m still very sorry about that,” Threadbare said. “I forgot she was being affected by Mastoya’s spell.”
“Oh Threadbare…” She reached over and rubbed the back of his head, where the hat didn’t cover. He leaned into it. “No. It’s fine. Daemons are nothing but trouble. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have worked out, and… well, I wouldn’t really be alive, either. Just trading one shell for another.”
“You got a pretty good shell now,” Glub said, as they reached the top of the stairs and started down a long hall, past a pair of dwarven guards.
“Thanks Glub.” She smiled. “Well. There’s no point in feeling sorry for myself. We just saw an abject example of that, and I’ll be hanged before I go that route. One more thing to do, one more thing to get through, then we can figure out life, the universe, and everything.”
“There you are!” Kayin said, waving to them from next to a pair of large, oaken doors. “You’re late, desu.”
Emmet moved forward and pushed the oaken doors open, revealing one of the mess halls of Fort Bronze. It was vast, and it was empty… save for King Grundi, his honor guard, Hidon Fingers, and a stubble-bearded human clad all in grey. The stranger studied them for a long moment as they came in.
Your Adorable skill is now level 47!
“So you’re Caradon’s legacy…” The man murmured, walking over and kneeling down, offering a hand.
“One of them. I’m Threadbare. He’s Emmet. She’s Missus Fluffbear. And these are our friends.” Threadbare put his paw in the man’s hand and shook.
“I’m Jericho.” He turned blue eyes to Cecelia. “I’m sorry for the circumstances, milady.”
She shook her head. “It’s all right. I’m very glad Mordecai found his way to you.”
“You made Bak’shaz very, very happy, when he told him how you’d saved him.” Jericho smiled. “I’m glad you made the right choice.”
“Believe me, so am I.” She shook hands with him as well, and he escorted the toys to the table.
“Now that’s all well and done we’ve still got a Kingdom to save,” King Grundi said. ”But before that, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page. So as to prevent trouble afterwards and all.”
“Trouble?” Cecelia asked.
“Aye.” Grundi shared a glance with Jericho. “I’m just going to hammer it straight, here. We don’t think you can be queen.”
“Okay,” Cecelia said. “Who gets it then?”
“I mean, there’s a number of reasons why, and it’s not a dig against YOU-“ Grundi caught himself. “Okay? That’s all you have to say?”
“I never wanted to be a queen in the first place. It was just the duty I thought I had to do. But I’m not the heir anymore, now am I? Not by dwarven law.”
“It’s more the undead thing for the people of the North,” Jericho said. “Well, the immortality thing in general. We don’t want immortal rulers on Cylvania’s throne.”
“But it’s that last part we’re having some disagreement on,” Grundi said. “Cylvania’s throne.”
“We’re hoping you can help break our disagreement.”
“Me?” Cecelia asked.
“Well, all of you,” Grundi said. “You may not be good candidates for ruling, but let’s face it, we have no prayer of victory without you, we’ve only got this far because of your help, and if you can handle Melos and save us all then I really don’t want to have to fight you if you disagree with us THEN. So I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter NOW.”
“What’s the disagreement?” Threadbare asked.
“For years we’ve fought because we’ve dreamed of a Cylvania at peace,” Jericho said, flexing his gloved fingers, running down them with his thumbs in nervous habit. “The survivors of Balmoran, and we who joined them, I mean. Driven into the woods, forced to a nomadic existence, down to a tenth of the population we once were. The dream has been to reunite the country with the Tyrant’s fall.”
“And I’m saying that there ain’t no country left,” Grundi’s voice was uncharacteristically soft. “You got the west, that’s what, four villages? Then a few villages in the East. South’s gone, lad. Taylor’s Delve and Grubholm and Outsmouth were the last holding it. They’re gone. There’s no point in having a Cylvania anymore.”
“Grubholm’s still there, but it’s all gribbits now,” Cecelia spoke up.
“Gribbits? The frog monsters? That’s no good,” Jericho said, frowning. “We’ll have to clear them out once-”
“No!” Fluffbear jumped up. “They’re nice froggy people! They helped us sneak in here!”
“What? What d’ya mean?” Grundi asked, leaning forward in his Kneelchair.
“She’s sayin’ that theah actually decent folks. Just a bit territorial,” Madeline said. “Which maybe brings up a point. Might not be many human settlements left, but theah’s some groups of monstahs out theah that might be on boahd with being all civilized and the like. Or at least not having to fight humans. Er, and dwahves, too.”
“Like raccants!” Fluffbear spoke up. “They’d love to help humans! They’re just… kinda bad at it,” she admitted.
“That’s a point,” Cecelia said. “Leaving out goblins and ogres and the other things that can only be trusted to be malicious, there’s creatures living here now that might be up for… something. We can’t have the old Cylvania back, but we can maybe make a new one.”
“We might be able to help with that,” Threadbare said. “A lot of monsters seemed to react better to us than they did to humans. Perhaps we could travel around and see if they’re interested in… what, exactly?”
“In a council,” Grundi said, steepling his fingers. “Aye. That would work. Better than the dwarves having to take over the whole damn thing. My folk have tried ruling over humans before, never goes well. Never ever.”
“I’m honestly not sure if it would work, but…” Jericho rubbed his stubbled chin. “So long as neither of you are planning on seizing the throne once this is all said and done, we can focus on DOING it, rather than trying to maneuver for the spoils afterward. All right. I’ll agree to this. We’ll give a council a whirl, and sort out the details afterward.”
Grundi nodded, and snapped his fingers. Hidon pulled out a mass of parchment, ripped entire sections of words out, taped a few new sheets in, scrawled quickly, and handed it up to his King. The King read it over, nodded, signed, and slid it to the rest of them.
And with a few strokes of a pen, Cecelia signed away any claim she might have on the throne. The rebel leader signed his part, and Grundi nodded with satisfaction as he stuffed it into one of the compartments of his armrests. “Now that that’s done, how are we going to take down Melos? Without killing everyone, I mean?”
“You told Jericho about the dungeon situation we’re in?” Threadbare asked.
The ranger nodded. “We’ve suspected something like this was going on for a while. The Hand show up as midbosses, it’s plain as day on their status. Speaking of which, we’ve got maybe a week before they respawn. Possibly less.”
“Less than that,” Threadbare said. “The daemons are our real foe. Anise lost here, and right now she doesn’t know the fort has been taken. But once word of that gets out, we’ll lose our backdoor into the castle.”
“Backdoor?” Jericho asked.
“The Waystone chamber,” Cecelia said.
“That’s a deathtrap.” Jericho shook his head. “The security on there is ludicrous. We’ve considered and rejected it. Even if we had the passcodes, it would be almost impossible to survive, let alone get through with a force that could storm the castle.”
“Ah, but when you throw a mastah merchant into the mix…” Madeline leaned in.
“I see what you’re thinking, but it won’t work. The very first thing that happens when you teleport through, is a battery of dispel magics, from the wizards on duty. So merchant’s packs explode, the invasion forces in them are revealed, then the room seals and…“ he trailed off, as he realized.
“The room seals and fills with poison gas,” Cecelia finished. Then with a grin, she reached up and tapped her nose.
“Okay, so you don’t care about that. But there’s the other traps to consider, and the guards beyond. And that helps your lot, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t think you can do it alone. You’ll need us for backup, and even if you can, I don’t know, golem through all the traps, we can’t.”
“Which is why I’ve got a plan. And in an hour I might just have someone to help with the initial breach…”
It took five hours, actually, before Mastoya caved in, and agreed to help.
But that was more than enough time, for the golems to wrap up their dreamquests, refill their pools, and ready themselves for what lay ahead.
They said their goodbyes, and took one last look around Fort Bronze.
One way or another, they wouldn’t be coming back.
Waystone duty was boring. The guards on shift hated it, the four wizards encircling the chamber and watching through windows above hated it, and the alchemists in the slaughterpits below hated it.
That changed the second that the bell tolled. The guards went from numb boredom to wide-awake adrenaline.
This was an unscheduled incoming arrival.
“Dispel Magic! Dispel Magic! Dispel Magic! Dispel Magic!” The wizards did their thing. Nothing exploded, so the guards relaxed. A bit, just a bit.
“You have ten seconds to utter the passcode! Fail and you die!” The sergeant on duty called through the grated door. “Ten nine eight seven-”
“Gladius Piscine!” Mastoya snapped. “Fort Bronze has fallen. Get ready to shatter the waymark!”
The guards paled, and stared beyond her, at the pillar in the center of the room. For twenty years it had stood, emblazoned with glowing glyphs, allowing easy transit from the center of the Realm to the Eastern and Western edges. “Ma’am? I…” The sergeant stuttered. This was way, WAY above his paygrade.
“FUCKING DO IT!” Mastoya yelled, slamming her gauntlet against the door. “AND GET ME OUT OF HERE BEFORE THEY STONE IN!”
“I… I…” The sergeant said, after she was past the barriers and traps. “Yes Ma’am. Will you, will you sign the logs at least?”
Mastoya looked at the book. She picked it up and ripped it in half, with such force that the wooden toy on her belt jiggled and rattled. “I’m calling in Damocles protocols and you want me to sign the fucking book that is irrelevant after today?” She snarled.
The sergeant swallowed, and turned gray.
“Do it, before-”
The bell tolled. The wizards doled out dispel magics, and were answered by arrows. LOTS of arrows. “Rapid Fire! Razor Shot!” Mordecai and Jericho bellowed in unison, and mages screamed as glass shattered.
“Damocles!” The sergeant bellowed, running for the door. “I declare and authorize Damocles! Blow the room!”
Mastoya snarled, and pushed her way through the mob of guards. Behind her, the gas rolled in, the explosions started to shake the room…
…and unnoticed in the chaos and fury, two rangers used temporary waystones to return back whence they came.
Five minutes later, as guards rushed past her, she turned a corner, opened a door, and walked into guest chambers that hadn’t been used in months.
“Alright,” she cleared her throat. “We’re safe.”
“Dude,” Glub said, untying himself from her belt. “That was intense. Waymark!” he said, as he touched the floor. “You got the thingy?”
She handed him the Greater Waystone, and without a word, he took it, and faded, disappearing from Castle Cylvania…
…and reappearing back at Fort Bronze.
With a sigh, Mastoya sat on the bed, and looked in the mirror. Soon the little fishman golem would be making waystones, and handing them to the invasion parties. Soon the room would be full of invaders. And the last one to arrive would bring her the waystone that would take her back to her cell.
Her part in this was done.
And though she’d never admit it, for the first time in years, she was very, very relieved she wouldn’t be around for what came next.
Ruler Skills Appoint Official - Level NA Emboldening Speech - Level 19 Identify Subject - Level 10 It's Good to be King - NA King's Quest - Level 15 Noblesse Oblige - Level 37 Organize Minions - Level NA Royal Audience - Level 22 Simple Decree - Level 15 Swear Fealty - Level NA
Equipment Journeyman Tailor's Apron of fire resistance (+6 Armor, +10 Tailoring, Resist Fire 9)(+3 Armor, +5 Tailoring, +5 Resist Fire from WIB) Okay Quality Bling Ringtail Master's Coat of fire resistance (+5 CHA, +5 LUCK, +5 Armor, +5 Fate, +10 Resist Fire 10)(+2 CHA, LUCK, Armor, Fate, +5 Resist Fire from WIB) Rippen Tear Cloak (+10 to brawling, +5 Armor)(+5 Brawling, +2 Armor 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) Golden Laurels (Enables the REST skill, usable every two hours.)
Inventory A Folded-steel Dagger (Dagger Level 10) Tailor's Tools 5 vials of Green Reagent. 1 Vial of Blue Reagent A pouch of assorted crystals, rank 1-4. Minorphone (Enhances voice and social skills focused through it twice per day)
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