The chapter opens with Threadbare’s party trying to figure out how to get into a village as an animator show. Because…apparently they can’t just walk in and be like “‘sup, we’re golems?” My guess is that wandering golems are usually monsters, so the village would react with hostility, but the book doesn’t actually say. In any case, Threadbare’s got a lesser golem carved into the rough shape of a human and wearing gloves and hood and so forth so that “she” will look passably like the animator leading the show.
While he’s trying to get the voice right, we get this bit:
“You’ve got decent volume, just… I don’t know, work on the voice a bit. Remember how Celia was. Only older.”
“Like Zuula,” the plush orc grinned.
“Sweet Nebs no, don’t try to talk like Zuula.[“]
Is the book actually noticing that its accents are annoying? That’s the least of the problems with Zuula as a character, but still.
Also, isn’t that Garon talking? The lack of dialogue tags (there’s more dialogue after my cut, but no tag) makes it hard to tell, but from earlier context it seems like this is supposed to be Garon and Zuula talking. It’s definitely not Threadbare or Dark Threadbare, and it doesn’t sound like Madeleine’s accent. So why is he calling Zuula by her first name?
As the wagon rolls into town, Madeleine’s helping Threadbare practice being a regular human being in the back so he can direct the animator (named “Annie Mata”) appropriately:
Madeline chuckled. “Absolutely Missus Mata! Tell me how’s the family?”
“Oh they’re ingrates, they never call or send lotters.”
I’m trying to remember if characters other than Threadbare have used this joke. As a personal tic of a single character it’s already getting kind of old. It was funny the first time and all, but this joke seems to crop up once a chapter.
On their way in, the party investigates a dolmen. Turns out tonight the stars are right, even though the previous (non-Cecelia) chapter said they weren’t. Has it been a day? Whatever’s happening, this eldritch horror tries to break into Threadbare’s dimension and starts causing serious sanity damage, so they all evacuate before it can escape. Threadbare decides that even though they’ve taken lots of sanity damage and Zuula’s busy doing a dream quest for a reason she declined to share with the party (probably so it can be a big twist later on), they need to get into town right away to warn them about potential danger.
There’s that Alfred Hitchcock quote about the bomb under the table. Watch the video, it’s only a minute long and I think it’s worthwhile to hear it in Hitchcock’s own words. Threadbare has a serious problem with the reveal, which means the audience never gets to see that bomb until it’s going off, which makes a lot of the build-up scenes dull and aimless. This is one of the rare occasions where the story has actually shown us the bomb. A couple of bombs, in fact. Cecelia and Threadbare are headed to the same place for the first time since book one. Threadbare’s headed off to warn a town of Cthulhu cultists that an eldritch horror is waking, thinking that they’re just regular villagers. Finally, the audience is asking ourselves “what’s going to happen next” rather than “wait, what the Hell is going on?”
And yet I still can’t shake the feeling of dread that the Cecelia bomb is going to end up being a dud, that she’ll end up arriving only after Threadbare has left. The Outsmouth plot, at least, feels like it will probably be resolved on time. Threadbare will get himself and his party into some amount of trouble with the cultists, and then they’ll find some way out of it, in what will hopefully be an interesting and exciting manner. What I’m reasonably certain won’t happen is that Threadbare will show up, it’ll turn out the cultists were actually a minority who’ve just been arrested and safely imprisoned by the town guard, and everything is perfectly fine.
Regardless of what the future holds, right now Dark Threadbare is swearing a code of chivalry as a knight in order to get some buffs going.
“It couldn’t hurt,” Garon said, glancing between the road and the dolmens. “Have you decided on a code of chivalry yet?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Might come in handy, a passive defensive buff that builds. Certainly couldn’t hurt. I have the feeling we’ll have to end up fighting that thing.”
“All right! I pledge mine blade to this Code of Chivalry! I, Missus Fluffbear, pledge to protect my friends, and feed my kitty on time, and beat up bad people! And bad things!”
Seems like you get buffs for adhering to your code for long periods of time. Has anyone ever figured out the obvious exploit of writing a Code of Chivalry that amounts to “I pledge to do whatever the fuck I want?” I mean, it’s already Zuula’s philosophy. Regardless, I like the contrast between Dark Threadbare pledging to feed her kitty on time while Cecelia and the rest of the Dark Side party are swearing to obey the Darth Villainous.
Threadbare controlled his animi, directing the dummy out of the wagon. She held up her arms, yellow sleeves flapping in the darkness.
Then the runner came back, with a lantern. He waved it down there, and the guards on the wall blinked to see her, clad in all yellow, masked and veiled.
Comprehension and hope dawned on their faces. “You… you’re…”
“Wait!” Said the one who’d whispered loudly. “Have you seen the yellow sign?”
Threadbare thought fast.
There HAD been a sign on the route, saying “this way to Outsmouth,” and it WAS pretty yellowed with age.
“Yes, yes I have, my boy.”
I am down for a Threadbare comedy of errors.
Threadbare Shakespeares his way through the gate, and on the way past, the guards shout after him:
“I look forward to seeing your play later!” The whisperer in the darkness called. “I always dreamed of visiting Lost Corcasa!”
The city you’re looking for is “Carcosa” and it’s in the public domain. Is this a typo, or does Threadbare feel the need to make slightly altered names for Lovecraftian entities? Maybe Andrew Seiple doesn’t know they aren’t copyrighted?
The wagon rolled on through the town, most of it silent and dark. Garon sidled up next to him, and snaked his head around to Threadbare’s fluffy ear. “They’re cultists.”
“It’s a job. A bad one.[“]
Eh, it’s a living.
[“]There’s only a few types of cultists tolerated in the kingdom, and those aren’t them. I think… I think we’re looking at a full town of cultists. Or enough of them that they’re in charge.”
I mean, I don’t know why we’d care what cultists Darth Villainous tolerates in his kingdom. I’m also a little bit disappointed to see the comedy of errors only lasted one scene, but stretching these things out without becoming repetitive can be difficult, and it’s certainly better to make it work for one good scene than to kill it over the course of a whole chapter.
The cultists direct Threadbare and co. to put on a show for “the blessed children” in the church. Who are, of course, evil fish people spawned from an eldritch horror. They open their viciously fanged maws, and that is the chapter.
The chapter opens from Zuula’s perspective. Left behind by the rest of the party, she wakes up from her dream quest and heads to the church door, bursting in to discover…
“Oh, you’re awake,” Threadbare said, lifting up a silver altar cup, and gesturing around the makeshift table. More cups, various trays, and all sorts of religious knickknacks and ornaments adorned the low structure. The fish things were staring at her.
Zuula pulled the spear free from her chest. “Slow Regeneration.”
“Mom,” Garon started. “Don’t.” His own fez wobbled, and fell off.
Zuula marched forward.
Madeline stood, “Hey no, whoa, they’re kids, don’t—” a tiny candle-snuffer slid from her head, and she tried to catch it.
“It’s okay! Don’t hurt them!” Fluffbear said, scrambling from her seat…
Zuula slammed her spear against the table, hopped on the nearest seat, and bellowed “Where Zuula’s hat?”
There was a pause.
“What? We gonna have a tea party, she need a hat too. Isn’t dat right, child?” She asked the batrachian half-breed next to her.
On the one hand, I like a lot of things about this scene. I like the subversion of the usual Lovecraftian miscegenation tropes by having the weird fish kids just be actual kids who want to have a tea party, and the perspective switch used to make it hit as a punchline, by having Zuula come in on the tea party in progress instead of killing the joke by dragging it out with a full depiction of how they realized the kids would want a tea party and then setting one up using the materials available. It’s even kinda funny to have the party’s murderous psychopath looks like she’s about to turn this into a combat encounter after all, and then she’s just being particularly belligerent about demanding she be included in the tea party.
But it does stand in the shadow of the fact that Zuula is evidently considered psychotic enough to murder children for looking weird, even by her own son. This despite the fact that the narrative wants her to occupy a mentor role to Threadbare (it helps that she is slowly ceding this role to Garon, but again, Garon is one of the people who thought she was about to murder children). It’d be one thing if the narrative just admitted that yeah, she’s a psychopath who believes that might makes right, but she has a familial connection to a party member and a livid hatred for their primary enemy, so she’s at the very least an ally of convenience. Belkar’s inclusion in the Order of the Stick added to the party and Zuula’s could too – if.
But we’re not in the hypothetical alternate reality where this book was written with Zuula as an ally of convenience to the good guys who could otherwise have been a villain. In this timeline, Zuula’s supposed to be a source of wisdom. Now, granted, it’s not as bad as Zuula actually having to be restrained from killing kids, but the fact that people thought she would be makes it super weird that they consider her a reliable source of advice.
In any case, Zuula’s discovered two things while dream questing: First, dream quest can induce sleep even in golems, allowing them to restore sanity rapidly even without being able to eat or sleep normally. Second, the entire town will be wiped out in a couple of days, no humans left, including human-fish hybrids.
Threadbare gets the Annie Mata facade up and running and starts talking to the surprisingly welcoming and home-y cultist Marva.
“Why DID you hide your cult?”
“Because the garrison weren’t our neighbors. Or our friends.” Marva’s smile faded, and she smoothed Madeline’s dress down, and tucked her into the crook of her arm. “They took the best of our catch, and they took our sons and daughters as conscripts, and when the dwarves killed the Hornwoods they didn’t care or interfere. They didn’t want to start another war, they said. The Hornwoods deserved it for claim jumping, they said. Then just a few years later the dwarves accused the King of killing Taylor’s Delve. Of trying to kill the dwarven clan that lived down that way. And the dwarves declared war on the Crown anyway, and taxes went up, and conscription went up, and it looks like the King DID maybe kill off an entire town.”
She’d started rocking Madeline now, unconsciously, holding her like a baby. “And my daughters died fighting dwarves. And I’ll never get to hold them again.” She was crying now. “So yes, we hid our cult. But now we don’t have to. Now we’re free.”
This is the most villainy King Melos has gotten up to all book. Now, his position as a bad guy was pretty firmly established back in book one when he burned down Taylor’s Delve because some number of them were rebels. I bring this up because, why didn’t Cecelia get directed to here? This is the King’s men doing bad things on his actual orders, that thing up in Pads was a rogue governor acting illegally.
The party begins investigating the cult, which is led by someone named Hatecraft. The pun there is falling flat for me, because come on, that’s not even really a pun and anyway Lovecraft always wrote about the investigators so it’s weird to cast his expy as a cultist. That said, Hatecraft is a sufficiently metal name that I’m willing to let it slide. Their investigation soon brings them to the library, where they discover that Hatecraft is really good at blessing fishing boats, like, way better than the priest of the goddess of storms was. Also, said priest mysteriously died, so I’m giving like a 70% chance he was murdered, but this Outsmouth arc has been surprisingly good about subverting expectations so far. Their investigations bring them to the library basement.
[T]he toys piled down, ignoring the ladder entirely…
…and stared in silence, at the tiny room below. And the horrific images plastered on the wall. Sanity damage rippled through them, all save for Threadbare, who took off his top hat and rubbed his head, puzzled.
Fluffbear was also spared. She squinted around, with her dagger out and ready. “What is it? I can’t see!”
“Good,” choked Garon. “Someone please cover her eyes. Or get her out of here.”
“What’s wrong?” Threadbare asked. “It’s just more pictures of tentacles. Well, I mean, there’s women in these pictures, too. And they sure don’t look comfortable. But that’s not really anything to fuss about, I’d say.”
If a bit of hentai causes sanity damage, then I must have one Hell of a Willpower score, or whichever stat it was that grants sanity armor. Like, this kind of thing isn’t even my kink, you just stop being alarmed by it after like a week. The Threadbare reaction very rapidly becomes typical. Fair enough in-universe that probably no one in this medieval pastiche has been to /d/ to get that immunization, but out of universe it’s a weird reference to make. Your audience is mostly split between people who consider tentacle porn pretty typical and people who are averse enough to it that they probably don’t want it included in a book they’re reading, so who is this scene for? People who’ve heard about it but dare not look it up for themselves, I guess. Is that common?
A pack of cultists storms in and Threadbare uses the Annie Mata doll to get arrested in their stead. It’s implied that she is possibly getting tentacled herself. Which, again, leaning on that is super weird given the tone of the rest of the story. In any case, the chapter ends with Threadbare’s party resolving to pursue Annie to “where it all began,” and I’m kind of disappointed to find that we appear to no longer be subverting anything and instead it’s all just getting played straight, but then also getting really weird, and then lampshading how weird it is, which doesn’t actually make it better.