“You can still back out. Garon’s going to be right there. He can give you Scout back.”
“No… no, no, I said I’d go through with this.” Cecelia sighed, and tugged her clothes more firmly about her. A rich, grape-like purple, draped with emeralds, it covered her modestly, and directed attention upwards to her hair, which had been stuck in place with a box full of golden pins.
“I don’t think you’ll regret it. It IS a very good job, particularly for someone who’s going to be doing a lot of negotiating. And the buffs ARE nice.”
“It… I’m wearing clothes that I made myself. It just feels… no, it’s silly for me to be arguing about this. I know, I know, most of the kingdom gets by like this. It’s just that until now, clothes were things that came from other people. I feel like my work is going to be tested, and I know it’s a stupid thing to worry about but if I’m worrying about this I’m not worrying about the news, or how to sell our idea to the others.”
“It’s a good idea.” Threadbare said. He wore a matching purple suit, in lieu of his normal clothing. Though he’d kept the Toy Top Hat. The gribbit envoy would be very disappointed if he didn’t.
“Yes, it’s a good idea, but that doesn’t mean much when it comes to politics. Father taught me that.”
“I’m not entirely sure he was the best one to follow when it comes to political advice.”
“True, but I don’t really have many other role models to go by, here.”
“Well you’re going to be your own model soon, then you can roll however you please.”
“Threadbare! That’s not what I-” Cecelia stopped when she saw his smile, and laughed. “You’re right. I’m worrying about nothing.”
“Probably.” He looked up at the double doors they’d come to, and knocked gently with his scepter. After a minute, Emmet opened them.
Threadbare had made the armor golem’s suit himself, and with a silent sigh he took in the rips, tears, and scuffs the giant metal golem had inflicted upon it. And the stain in the crook of its arm, where a tiny, fluffy dog dozed guiltlessly.
“Welcome,” Emmet said, then turned and announced in his brassy voice; “Councilor Gearhart of Central Cylvania! Councilor Threadbare of Central Cylvania!”
“There y’are!” Called King Grundi. “Come on over! We were just talkin’ about Taylor’s Delve.”
“Oh? How’s the expedition going?” Threadbare and Cecelia found their seats at the large, round table. It took some time to clamber up the chairs provided for them.
No one was quite comfy here. At the other end, Jarl Greta Sumvonesdottir sat on a pillow the size of a King-sized bed, her blue knees well above the table’s edge. King Grundi and Bazdra Coaler stood to one side of her, with Jericho the ranger next to Grundi. Hidon Fingers and Beryl Wirebeard took the flank on the other side of her, with Garon sitting next to Beryl. Next to the little wooden minotaur Longcroak the Gribbit Envoy nodded, his own top hat flopping as he spoke. “Well, goes well. Many carts, much traffic through Outsmouth. Much trade. Golems very happy. We are very happy.”
“There’s no trouble with the eggs, right?” Cecelia said. The first time they’d encountered the frog monsters weighed on her mind. No matter how reasonable gribbits were at the council table, they couldn’t shake the age-old instincts that drove them to aggression whenever predators neared their eggs.
“Trouble? No trouble. Don’t have spawning grounds in Outsmouth or near Outsmouth where landsfolks can reach. Outsmouth is just… com-mute. For wu-rk,” Longcroak belched the last word. The gribbits were still adjusting to the new ideas.
“And there’s enough fish for you and everyone else?” Threadbare asked.
“Oh yes. Big lake. Take only what we need. Golems don’t eat. Plenty of fish to sell across land.”
“Which is seriously helping with the expedition,” Garon said. “We’re clearing the area in record time, between the folks you loaned us,” he nodded to Jericho, “and those of us who are golems. We don’t have to sleep, and the living folks have plenty to eat… so long as they like dried fish, anyway. We… do have a request, though.”
“Oh?” Threadbare asked.
“The Oblivion’s gone, and the Thundering Pass is reachable from the Delve again. That’s the only way in or out. We’d like a garrison…” Garon took a breath. “And we’d like Mastoya to lead it.”
“Out a the question,” King Grundi said, folding his frail arms.
“Mastoya? De vun who beat us?” Greta rubbed her chin. “Vhy is she out of der question?”
“Putting her in charge of anything military is risking a coup,” Hidon scowled, tugging on his beard. The covert ops dwarf stared over at Cecelia. “We’re already hearing rumors of unrest in the Central region, folks wanting the ‘good old days’ back.”
“That’s very much a minority,” Cecelia said. “Mostly older folks who never fought in the wars, and minor nobles who profited from them. More talk than anything else.”
“Putting up a stone statue of Melos in the middle of the town square is a bit more than talk,” Jericho said. Then his eyes crinkled. “Even if it did vanish overnight. Leaving tracks that looked like it walked off its own plinth and just kept going.”
“I’m sure I don’t know anything about that,” Cecelia shrugged.
Threadbare knew plenty about that, and was wise enough to keep that to himself.
Cecelia continued. “In any case they didn’t ask my permission before putting it up, and it was in violation of public land usage regulations. Baroness Rhoda found the fine lighter than the public humiliation of being served papers at the unveiling ceremony she planned. That turned out to be an empty plinth, anyway.”
“That’s good and well. But there’s always going to be a sentiment, a segment of grumblers,” Bazdra said, toying with the silver hourglass hanging from her neck. “It’s the cycle. Time and again it’ll happen.”
“Right. The grumbling will be there regardless,” Garon said. “Which is why putting Mastoya in charge of the vital garrison for the pass is a good move, because she’ll do the job regardless of politics or attempts to coerce her.”
Grundi scowled. “There’s nothing you can say to convince me that letting General Mastoya anywhere near a group of impressionable troops is a good idea!“
“Who said anything about General Mastoya?” Garon and Beryl shared a grin.
“What are you playing at, then?” Grundi scowled harder.
“I think SERGEANT Mastoya would do a fine job down there.”
Then Grundi laughed. “Oh, she’ll hate that!”
“Yep. It’ll be a training facility for the volunteer army. She’ll be responsible for troops in a way she’s never been before. And she’ll answer to the best officers that you can provide.” Garon moved his gaze from Grundi to Jericho.
Grundi nodded, grudgingly. “She’d be good for that. Decent with troops, just… too big on following orders to be a General. So long as she’s never an officer again we’ll allow it.”
The ranger filled a pipe, and nodded as he lit it. “Firestarter. We can give that a try. We’ll be watching her, of course.”
“Of course. Speaking of watching…”
“I suppose it’s my turn,” Jericho said, and stood, pulling out a map, giant-sized for the Jarl’s benefit. He unfolded it, and the toys hopped up on the table to get a better look.
The map showed all of Cylvania, and a few days travel beyond. “There’s nothing,” Jericho said simply. “Old roads, foundations where homes and villages used to be, empty ruins for the most part. Monster tribes in a few cases, none of the peaceful ones, either. Nothing we couldn’t handle, but…”
“Basically, we’re surrounded by wilderness in all directions,” Cecelia said.
Jericho shot her a sardonic look. “Mordecai talked to you, I expect?”
“Briefly. With everyone visiting the castle, I got a few minutes with him at most.”
“Mm. Well, that’s the truth of it. Best guess is that when we Oblivioned out, the nearby settlements that depended on our trade routes and proximity folded or got overrun. There’s no sign of the invading army that King Garamundi was so worried about, or that they even reached this far. Which doesn’t mean they’re not a week to the East, dealing with other business now, but… it seems unlikely. If they conquered the area a few years ago, I can’t see that they wouldn’t have a watch post set up, at least.”
“We don’t know what’s out there,” Threadbare said. “And we need to change that. I have an idea.”
“We have an idea,” Cecelia nudged him with her ceramic elbow.
“Sorry. Yes.” Threadbare rubbed his head. “We’d like to send out explorers. Not just people with the Explorer job, either, but people who want to go have a look around. Then come back and tell what they’ve seen.”
“Scouts, basically,” Jericho said.
“More than that. That’s the thing, really. We want varied skills and jobs. We want adventurers. Young ones.”
“My rangers can easily do that job.” Jericho frowned over his pipe.
“True, but how many of you are there? And all of you are very high level. Some of the highest we’ve got.” Threadbare shook his head.
“Which is the problem,” Cecelia said. “You’re already the peacekeeping force in the North and West, and you’re spread thin throughout Cylvania, spying on things so that the hotheads don’t turn unrest into rebellion. And that’s not getting into the fact that in the event of a threat, we’ll need you at home.”
“There’s the greater waystones, but they all go to Fort Bronze, since the central one’s broken,” Grundi shrugged. “And there’s only about ten waystones left, all told.”
“And they’re not getting replaced until we get an Explorer up to twenty-fifth level,” Cecelia said. “Which will happen faster if we send out EXPLORERS.”
“Mm. To tell the truth I’m having trouble holding some of my people back,” Jericho said. “Not the rangers, the young ones, the survivors of Balmoran. They’ve been living nomadically so long that they want to go exploring. What exactly are you proposing?”
“That we set up a sort of club to go exploring, to go see what’s out there, and reclaim it, if that’s the right thing to do,” Threadbare said. “I was thinking it could be called the Reclamation Association of Generica.”
“Rag,” Beryl snorted. “Cute.”
Cecelia nodded. “Yes. We’ll set up lodges along each of the routes out of Cylvania, to make sure people heading out get the best training and support we can give. It’ll cost some money and resources, but in the long run, it’ll benefit us immeasureably.”
Grundi looked to Bazdra and Hidon. “How much money?” he asked.
Twenty minutes later, Jarl Sumvonesdottir was snorting with her head and most of her torso on the table, so loudly that everyone had to shout to make themselves heard over her. Forty minutes later they reached a settlement.
“Good,” Cecelia smiled, as Hidon passed around the contract, and every leader signed it. Even the giant, when they managed to wake her up. “There’s just one more thing.”
Hidon threw his hands up. “You literally could have said that before we all signed!”
“No,” Threadbare said. “This is more of an informal agreement. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. And talking it over with Cecelia and Beryl.”
Eyes moved to Beryl, who shrugged, and tapped the newly-minted symbol of Yorgum on her chest. “What? I’m his confessor.” It had been an amiable parting when she left Aeterna’s service for the god of builders, thankfully.
“Anyway,” Threadbare said, “I would like golems to be in as many of the exploration parties as possible. And for those living folks who want to do it to carry soulstones.”
The councilors turned to look at Bazdra.
“You’re putting me in a spot here,” the dwarven cleric said, steepling her fingers. “I told you the problems that would arise, given enough time. My position on those haven’t changed. Undead that can hop bodies and persist eternally are going to cause us problems, both with the mortal followers of the gods and the gods in general.”
“Actually I’m not putting you in a spot,” The little bear said, spreading his paws. “It would be in the contract if I was. I’m giving you the chance to say yes or no, and the society will abide by your decisions, without reservation.”
“What?” Bazdra blinked.
“We’re still trying to draw up rules for how to do the golem body-hopping shit without pissing off Aeterna or Nebs. NOBODY’s dumb enough to want a beef with the Goddess of Time or the Goddess of Death,” Beryl spread her hands. “So we’re giving you the shot to stop it cold turkey. But at a cost.”
“That cost being, a greater chance of permanent fatality among the explorers,” Cecelia said, into the silence. “At a time when we’re low on people already.”
Bazdra rubbed her eyes. “We don’t know what’s out there, do we?” She asked.
“Could be entire peaceful nations beyond the wilderness,” Jericho shrugged. “Could be hordes of dragons just outside our scouting range. We’re running blind.”
“I’m just worried that this will be a compromising decision,” Bazdra shook her head. “Trading the moral implications for extra security. This land tried that already, and look how THAT turned out.”
“It’s a good worry,” said Cecelia. “And I’m glad you’re concerned. But… well, doll haunters already make up a fifth of Cylvania’s population. We’re already compromised. Short of going out and killing all of them, myself included-“
“No one’s suggesting that!” Bazdra raised her hands.
“-I know, I’m just saying, the die has already been cast. Right now there are only two, possibly three sources for Golems in the kingdom. But eventually more people will learn the unlock for Golemist, even if Threadbare and the others never teach anyone else. And necromancer’s an easy unlock, that anyone can get from interacting with, oh, Doll Haunters or other undead.” Cecelia sighed. “They’re our people. We have nothing to gain and everything to lose if we treat them differently. They’re not going away, barring a major disaster. So we need to look at ways going forward. Which is why we want them represented in the RAGs.”
“How would putting them in every team help us with that?” Bazdra asked.
“Because,” Threadbare said, leaning forward, “this will let us test and see how the rest of the world reacts to the notion of sentient golems. And by seeding them in among the people most likely to run into the rest of the world, we get to find out how various nations, groups, and other sorts react to our discovery BEFORE they’re on our doorstep with armies.”
The Council considered that for a long moment. Then the dwarves were nodding. “When you put it that way… I can see the wisdom in it,” Bazdra said. “All right. I have no objections. Anyone else?”
“I got vun.”
Surprised, the rest of the Council looked up to the grumpy giant. “We gots to do der north first. Exploring it, I mean.”
“Ve’re out of de Sunfire mead. And de only brewery what makes it vas up dere, last ve knew, so ve gots ter go north first.”
“What?” Grundi shrieked. “I told you to nurse that stuff!”
“It ain’t even been four months!”
“Yah, and It vas only t’ree kegs! Ve ain’t made of stone, dammit! It’s SUNFIRE!” Her bellow rattled the table.
About an hour later, after placating the surly Jarl, the Council resolved a few other minor issues and broke up.
“Did you get it?” Threadbare asked, on their way out the door.
“Hm? Get what?”
“Oh yeah.” She grinned. “I read the skill descriptions during the dull parts of that meeting.” She sighed. “We’re going to be having one of these every few months for the rest of our existances.”
“Or until we are destroyed,” Emmet said, falling in behind them. The small dog in his arms snapped awake at the motion and barked a few times, on general principle. Emmet scratched it with the tips of his fingers until it thumped its tail against his chest, and settled.
“You really shouldn’t let him pee on you,” Threadbare said.
“Did he?” Emmet looked down. “Oh. My skin is not so sensitive to that.”
“It’s all right. Clean and Press.” Threadbare looked him over, and threw in “Mend,” for good measure.
“But yeah. Council meetings for the rest of our lives…” Cecelia said. “Or maybe not. When the time comes we can hand off the reins to someone else. Once things are a little more settled.”
“Reason might be a good candidate. She’s taking her name seriously,” Threadbare said. “She likes books and debating things.”
“She’s coming along well, then?” Cecelia shot him a concerned look.
“Oh yes. We had a Zuula and Fluffbear on hand for the luck buffs before I gave her the greater upgrade. Armor golems don’t get any better mental stats, so it’s a good thing we did. Also a good thing we were in the middle of nowhere.” Threadbare frowned. “I’m still not sure where those maxicores came from. Anyway, she’s got six adventuring jobs and three crafting ones. I think that’s the best I can do right now, but I’ll keep working on it. I might be able to get that number higher for future greater golems.” He stirred, as he remembered a detail. “For her first job she wants to be a knight just like her mother.”
“Her mother? Who- oh.” Cecelia clapped her hand to her mouth. “You told her I was…”
“No. Not to begin with. She remembers you, vaguely.”
“Much like I remembered you?” Emmet asked, “from before I had thoughts?”
“We think so. I told her of you after she brought it up and started asking who you were.” Threadbare smiled up at Cecelia. “Would you like to meet her?”
“I would. She’s… where, exactly?”
“About a day to the north.” Threadbare sighed. “In a pretty burnt patch of forest. I think… that I need to talk to Jarl Greta about renting her dungeon core for a while. I could use it to make a controlled safe space for Greater Golems to grow up in, and get their luck up before they go out to the outside world.”
“So long as that’s the only experimenting you’re doing with dungeon cores, I’m fine with that,” Cecelia said. “Yes. I would like to meet her. Maybe tomorrow, though? It’s been a very long day.”
“It has. Shall we retire?”
“Yes. Once I get out of these clothes.”
Minutes later, Cecelia sat in her bedroom, dressed in her nightgown and brushing her hair. She didn’t need to wear the one or do the other, not anymore, but it comforted her. Pulsivar curled up next to her, hogging most of the bed, even though he appeared to be on the edge of it. Even in sleep, his Misplacement effect continued.
And hanging his hat on the rack, clad in only his fur, her teddy bear joined them, hopping up on the small bed and waiting until Cecelia hugged him tight. She was smaller now, and her arms and body were much harder, but it was close enough for him. She was still his little girl.
She settled back in bed, next to the warmth of Pulsivar’s invisible fur, and smiled. “Ready.”
“Dreamquest,” Threadbare told her. With Garon’s help, he had swapped out Scout, then Montaged and taken Shaman, and ground it up as fast as he could. It was nice to be able to talk to Pulsivar, and some of the skills were handy. But mostly he’d just got it so that Cecelia could sleep, and dream whenever she wished.
And for now, for a little while at least, his girl’s eyes closed, and Threadbare snuggled in against her, while she slept.
For this, for her, he had cast down a tyrant, defied daemons, and saved a kingdom.
And it had all been worth it.
THREADBARE'S CHARACTER SHEET
Name: Threadbare Age: 5 Guild: Reclaimers Association of Generica
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 4 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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