Okay. So. Celia and her new black friend are climbing up the mountain to a dungeon, where they will slaughter monsters for XP and gold while cursing the government for regulating their blood sport. For whatever reason, only the tamer kid is with Celia right now, and the others are gonna catch up later. Also, they meet a dwarf lady on the way, who I think was mentioned at some point towards the end of chapter 9 during technical difficulties.
The ankh on her steel breastplate gleamed silver, though, and Celia thought it looked familiar.
“Is that a holy symbol of Aeterna?”
No, you dumbass, it’s the symbol of the avatar of the eight virtues of Brittania. This is basic gamelore! Is Caradon even giving you an education at all in your remote, unabomber-style hideout?
“Just so you know, girl, if you try to steal my boy I’ll rip your tits off,” Beryl grinned, showing flat, even teeth. “Do you understand?”
So you’re threatening to paw at her flat, pre-pubescent chest? Or to wait for her to develop breasts for you to tear off? This is a weirdly sexual threat to be delivering to an eleven year old girl. Also, Beryl’s dating seventeen-year old Jarrik, isn’t she? I admit I get these guys confused a lot since they were all introduced right on top of each other, but it would definitely make sense for the oldest one to be the one with a girlfriend. Which means that Beryl is a high school age girl who feels like an eleven year old is a threat to her relationship. That level of jealousy is a serious red flag for abuse.
Celia shuddered. This dwarven girl cussed worse and more in the few minutes she’d known her than Celia had ever heard before in her whole life.
And she’s bad at it, too.
They reach the dungeon, the king’s guards are jerks for a bit, and hey, at least they’re engaging in some actual villainy. Up until now the very concept of maybe regulating the constant state of civil war the countryside is in has been treated as wrong, but maybe Threadbare can rebuild itself back to the king using a dungeon monopoly as a means to amass and subsequently abuse power. There’s not really any coming back from fucking Zuula, but we can still put some lipstick on this pig.
The guards let them into the dungeon with no fuss on secret orders of the succubus, who, I remind you, already has the scrolls she wanted. Okay, sure, maybe she needs to line some other ducks up for her big master plan, but we have no idea exactly what those ducks might be, no idea how close she is to completing her plan, and thus still have no sense of stakes. We’re nearly two-thirds in and the villain is still just making vague references to having a plan and not actually doing anything that is in any way directly relevant to our protagonist’s anemic goals.
The lions were tough and fast, and the tactic they fell back on was using the dragon toy to soak up their initial pounces, then send Garon, Beryl, the Animus dagger, and Threadbare in to wail on the large felines while Celia, Jarrik, and Bak’shaz pelted it with slingshot stones and arrows. Celia mended Threadbare and the dragon when necessary, and Beryl healed everyone else.
Just in case you were worried that Threadbare might start relying on interesting combat scenarios to liven things up a bit, nope, we are back in the “detached tactical summary” mode that nearly ruined the rat fight. Maybe they’ll turn this one around with another Threadbare-as-underdog scene at the end like what happened in chapter 3 and this book can at least crawl back up to where it was when it was merely wearing out its welcome and not offensively stupid. When was the last time we were able to wring a decent fight out of this thing? Chapter 6-ish? Chapter 6 was the gropevine fight, I think, which was okay. I’m pretty sure chapter 5 was the screaming eagle, which is the last time I remember actually enjoying a fight for the fight, but the gropevine had the “look, I’m just trying to murder people in a perfectly family friendly way” gag going for it.
“Okay, we’re clear. This shelf is a safe space,” Garon said, plunking down on a rock.
Does that mean we can talk about how your mother is a racist stereotype without getting into an argument about it?
“That’s not water, is it?” Celia asked.
“Nope. Want some?”
Jarrik’s hand landed on her shoulder, as Beryl’s eyes went wide in shock. Her face reddened, and her eyebrows wrinkled in anger. “Drink with her! It’s a dwarf thing!” Celia heard Jarrik whisper to her through the wind.
“—On second thought, sure,” Celia said, and Beryl’s reddening face slowly went pale again.
I don’t know which culture should be offended by this caricature, but I’m guessing Scottish. I mentioned earlier that Zuula and Mordecai’s relationship is basically predator/prey kink with all sanity and forethought removed. Now we’re again seeing a human being required to cope with another species’ habits in a way that is destructive to the human, and here it’s not even a pre-condition of a presumably consensual relationship but rather something imposed on the human under threat of emotional and possibly physical abuse. Not only is portraying this imposition of cultural norms on outsiders as normal all kinds of fucked up, it also completely undermines the accusations of minority oppression against the king, because clearly we have a minority race able to impose her culture on the human majority, and it’s not clear whether or not Mordecai is being abused by Zuula. Maybe fight-sex is also his kink, or maybe he’s being pressured into it because the sex is good, but Celia is clearly in the latter category, just with peer pressure instead of being bribed with sexual favors.
Now, it’s not impossible for a government to oppress people one way while individual social circles oppress people the other. Indeed, it’s actually really plausible and realistic that the opposition sub-cultures tend to be bigoted against majority demographics, even against members of those demographics who have joined their social circle. Only a tiny fraction of those opposed to oppressive regimes are opposed to them on purely moral grounds. The vast majority of an oppressed underclass are more than happy to get up to the exact same oppression that they live under given the chance, and indeed often subject minorities-within-minorities to the same sort of abuse they receive from the ruling class. Most people who support justice do so because they personally stand to benefit from it.
I don’t really have any confidence that Threadbare is making that point, though. This is not a politically complex, nuanced examination of tyranny and resistance. It’s built on platitudes and stereotypes and Beryl’s clearly abusive nature isn’t ever going to be met with the total rejection from her social circle that it deserves. At best, she might at some point be scolded by an authority figure.
“Dungeons,” Garon said. “It makes monsters much sturdier than they would be outside of here, and it removes their corpses after a few minutes. New mountain lions will show back up soon. We’ll have to watch for them on the way out.”
Note: New mountain lions. Not old ones rezzing. So, confirmed, clearing dungeons is hunting animals purely for profit. It’s also confirmed a bit later on that these monsters do not leave the dungeon, which means they’re probably not a threat to anyone. They’re killing non-threats for money and then appending nature-y deep wisdom to it, despite the fact that they are thoroughly violating the actual ethics of the philosophy they’re stealing buzzwords from.
I’ve said before that a dungeon crawl would be interminable in written form. This chapter of Threadbare is my proof, especially since Andrew Seiple has generally been capable of making fights interesting in the past. It’s not that the writer can’t write action, it’s that dungeons are too thick with it to possibly keep things interesting the whole way through.
They eventually reach the first boss of the dungeon, a large flyer.
“You got a ranged attack item, and I’m still pretty good on healing,” Beryl said. “And we’ve got Bak’shaz on the slingshot and Jarrik with his bow. As long as we dodge when it comes in for attack runs, we should be fine.”
This is what gamers discussing a boss run sound like, when death is risking a few hours of inconvenience at most. I can imagine someone, especially a teenager, being this reckless even when staring actual death in the eyes, but I don’t see it passing without comment among five of them, with the only protest being “I don’t know about this, guys.” Sure, an aggressive personality like Beryl could buffalo the others into going along with it, but the scene isn’t written as a bunch of kids being shamed and intimidated by the biggest kid on the block into doing something life-threatening and stupid. It’s written as more aggressive players overriding the concerns of more cautious players in a setting where it is genuinely not a big deal if it turns out the cautious players had the smarter strategy.
Threadbare gets blown off the ledge by the bosses’ attack and is knocked out of the fight before it can get moving. Which is too bad, because for about a page there we were looking at a return to form, with a reasonably interesting fight against a specific enemy with new abilities rather than the tactical summary we’ve been getting so far.