Completely forgot to have a Threadbare post on Monday, so instead we’ll have three for today, and I’ll stick the usual Tuesday article on Wednesday instead.
Threadbare plays cards with the vampires, some kind of heavily luck based game that helps get Fluffbear’s stats higher. While there, the subject of Threadbare’s mission to save Celia from King Melos comes up, and from there, how much the vampires dislike Melos.
“S’aw right. Ya good company, ya know?” Madeline sighed. “Knew it was coming. Soon as the north folded, and Balmoran fell, all the little revolutionaries and resistance fightahs that had gathered heah were next. But nobody listens to the vampaiah, huh? Now Balmoran’s gone, the dwarves are next on the chawpin’ blahk, and only the ranjahs up in Jericho’s Reach ah keepin’ them alive. They’ll be gone too soon, and tha King’ll have total control. Of what’s left ah this land, anyway.”
So apparently Balmoran isn’t the last pocket of resistance? Earlier it sounded like King Melos was already the king of everywhere reachable, but now there were two, maybe three different entities outside his control? Depending on whether these Jericho’s Reach guys are their own polity or just an organization within the territory of either the dwarves or Melos. Why did Caradon hide out within Melos’ borders when he could’ve been in dwarf territory? If Melos knew Taylor’s Delve was full of rebels all along, why did he wait ’till Balmoran fell to torch the place, especially when Balmoran is apparently not even the last formal resistance? If the dwarves and Jericho’s Reach capitulate, is there going to be another rebel territory that turns out to have been resisting Melos all along? That last question is the really important one, the one that all these little questions add up to: Is the Rebel Alliance going to be able to just keep pulling out new allies as the plot demands? Because it’s starting to feel that way, and it’s hard to care whether the dwarves bite it when they’re completely interchangeable with whoever the next final bastion of anti-Melos resistance turns out to be.
She riffled the cards, reshuffled them. “Mordecah even dragged me to a few of tha resistance meetings down heah, thinkin’ I might join. Old men and women and young stupids whispering about how they’d smuggle magic items and train up to fight when tha time came. All waiting for a mysterious gal who was tha true heir to tahn up an’ lead them. Cowahds, most. Useless.”
Why wait for the true heir? Royal bloodlines only matter if people think they matter – and people do not think these kinds of things matter just because that’s the local culture. Shit like this goes out the window in a fucking heartbeat when it becomes inconvenient. It’s much easier to make up excuses why bloodlines don’t actually matter anymore even in the face of two decades of professing firm and unyielding support for the importance of bloodlines than it is to actually stick to a principle like that. Sure, you can imagine specific people who actually do take the hard road and stick to that principle, but these “useless cowards” don’t sound like it. Actual medieval feudalism propped up the importance of bloodlines because that shared fiction was where the nobility drew their legitimacy from, which means every noble from every kingdom had a vested interest in preserving it. For feudal nobles, perpetuating the narrative of bloodline granting legitimacy is the convenient road. Why would these peasant rebels care so much, though?
They start talking about dungeon cores, which is clearly the weird hexadecimal thing Threadbare got earlier, but the conversation is cut off by the approach of dawn, when undead are weakest. Golems are unaffected, though, so Threadbare’s off to put the hurt on the ghost witch. In the same conversation, it comes out that the Cat Queen in the area “used to be a midboss” and is very strongly hinted to be the one cat lady boss from the catacomb in book one, but haven’t we just established that dungeon midbosses aren’t the same as the creatures that generate them? So if Madeline’s right about the Cat Queen actually being a former midboss and not just being a former midboss template, does that mean we’ve confirmed that dungeon inhabitants are sapient?
Some of the trails and fallen houses to the sides looked familiar. He’d been this way before, he thought.
Eventually, he came to a hollow. Crossing a running stream, he came into a clearing with charred trees, and the remnants of a large, burned hut on a small hill. Rows of gravestones filled the clearing, overturned and shattered, the soil all around them disturbed.
I’m guessing this is Zuula’s old house, what with the fire damage, the graves for fallen soldiers matching the ones outside Caradon’s, and the hut being described as on its own.
A feeling filled this place, and Missus Fluffbear shivered and honked mournfully. Threadbare felt it too, but he was too busy staring at the new words in front of his face.
A restless spirit wishes to speak!
Don’t you fucking dare.
And from the spectral beaded curtain, out swept a green arm, the only speck of color left in the world. “Come in, child. Come in.”
“Zuula!” Threadbare knew that voice. He burst through the curtain, with a really-unsure-about-this Fluffbear on his fuzzy heels.
There is no god.
The shittiness of Zuula’s character has not abated even slightly:
“She steal Garon. Turn Garon into undead.” Zuula spat. “Filthy undead! Not trust undead! No nice vampires. Zuula go to him, call to him all night long, every night. Remind him he is orc! Remind him to FIGHT! And he listen.”
“Wait, you can’t trust undead?” Threadbare frowned. His common sense was telling him something. “Assess Corpse.”
Your Assess Corpse skill is now level 3!
Zuula was a level ???? Haunting Spirit. The bony things were level five Shoddy Skeletons. “You’re telling me I can’t trust undead, but you’re an undead too,” Threadbare pointed out.
“Well, dat different. Zuula an orc, first. Humans weak, they go undead, they become all undead. Orc is orc, whether or not they alive. Orcs not lie to good people, like filthy vampires.”
“What’s so bad about them?”
“They eat people! So do orcs, okay, but we honest about it. And if you win fight with orc you can eat orc, is no hard feelings. But dese vampires bad because dey got Garon, and Garon not want to be vampire! He hate it. Zuula can tell. Is mother’s bond.”
You might think that Zuula being blatantly hypocritical twice almost on top of one another would be some kind of intentional tell that her perceptions are biased to the point of being detached from reality, that Garon would actually be way better off if he were just a vampire since apparently eating people was always gonna be a thing he did, and that Zuula’s haunting is abusive and narcissistic. You might think that, but by the time you got to the end of that sentence you probably figured out that I wouldn’t be framing things like this if that were actually true:
“Oh no,” Threadbare put his paws on his head. “They fooled me. They tricked me into thinking you were an evil ghost witch so you’d stop helping Garon fight.” He was a smart bear, and a wise bear, and now he had all the information to make sense of the situation. And he did not like what he saw. “The vampires have Garon, and the Queen of the Cats has Pulsivar. I have to get them both back!”
Granted, bridges aren’t completely burnt here, because the INT bonus doesn’t necessarily mean that Threadbare’s conclusions are perfectly accurate, just more accurate, and recognizing that the vampires were lying to him can qualify for that even if failing to recognize that Zuula is also lying to him suggests there’s still room for improvement. But given how the narrative has handled abusive non-humans so far, including Zuula herself, I don’t see any reason to believe that this is the direction things are headed.
Threadbare talks to the Cat Queen, who is indeed the same undead cat lady from the catacomb, and who is holding onto Pulsivar with the intention of turning him into an undead. So, uh, it’s not really clear why the vampires bothered lying, when the Cat Queen really does mean to harm Pulsivar and Zuula’s ghost really is incapacitating one of their most capable allies. The only thing they had any incentive to keep secret from Threadbare was something they didn’t actually know, which is that the ghost witch had a previous relationship with Threadbare.
In any case, Threadbare goes back to Zuula and Zuula starts raising a bunch of skeletons to fight Threadbare with so he can powerlevel. She doesn’t seem to have any limit to the number of skeletons she can raise. Also, Fluffbear becomes a cleric, is briefly spoken to by a god, and Threadbare finally gets around to making her a mouth.
“Wait,” Zuula said, her eyes getting even wider. “Dey both want a dungeon core? Who dey?”
“The Cat Lady and the Vampires.”
Zuula stood there, thinking for a bit. And then she shook her head. “No, no. Wouldn’t work. Zuula be bound here. Got no way to come along with. If she could come with you, would work. But she can’t, so… no. Pity. Was awesome idea, too. Big violence, many asses smote.”
“I want to do that!” Missus Fluffbear spoke up. “The nice god told me to!”
“Wait. You’re stuck here?” Threadbare asked.
“Yes. Bound to hut. No way to go, no vessel to carry her.”
“Hmm… Status.” Yes, yes that worked the way he thought it did. “I may have a way around that. Soulstone.” Your Soulstone skill is now level 2! A black crystal materialized in his paw. About the size of a small apple, it seemed to draw in the light around it.
Jesus Christ, why can’t this story just ditch this character? She’s a shitty stereotype, a hypocrite, and regularly evangelizes a blatantly villainous might-makes-right ideology in a way that the narrative constantly draws attention to yet treats like a character quirk rather than an existential threat to everyone around her. Like, is Threadbare just going to be okay with it if Zuula kills and eats Celia? Because the implied threat behind her philosophy is that she’ll murder basically anyone if the fancy happens to strike her, which is supposed to be “fair” because other people might murder her back, except that this means literally all murders are fair because that is obviously a risk run by anyone who lives in a world where violence is even conceivable. Like, Zuula doesn’t just kill people in honorable duels or whatever. She uses ambush tactics, booby traps, numerical superiority, magic, and she’s specifically said that lying to enemies is okay – nothing is actually off-limits. She says lots of words about honor, but there are no tactics or targets she considers dishonorable.