Cecelia Quest 3
The good news (besides Threadbare’s second interminable Very Special Chapter about racism) is that it does look like this book’s climax is actually going to be about Cecelia and Threadbare confronting one another as enemies rather than pulling a bait and switch where Cecelia and the stormtroopers show up just after Threadbare has left. The people of Outsmouth say they have nowhere else to go and don’t know how to live except by fishing, so they formally swear allegiance to Threadbare, Lord of Outsmouth, and get ready for a fight. Now Cecelia’s inbound with two hundred trash level stormtroopers and a couple of mid-level knights and casters. At the beginning of the chapter, she meets with Zuula’s daughter, and the dialogue dances around the fact that they both know Zuula but have opposite opinions on her without actually getting either of them to realize this:
“Well, nothing can make or break you like family. I should know that. I owe everything I am to my father, as well. Well, that and surviving the barn fire that was my mother. Fucking green bitch.” Mastoya barked laughter. “Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the rotten tree.”
“I’m sorry. The only half-orc woman I ever knew was a good mother”
“Would have been nice to have that kind of mom,” Mastoya said. “Ah well. The past is past. All right, Dame Ragandor, you’ll have your shot.”
This is another bomb under the table moment, where instead of making the reader wonder what’s going on right now, the book is making us wonder about what will happen next. Narrative law demands that eventually Mastoya will confront her family (unfortunately, I do not find it likely that this will result in her killing Zuula permanently), and here the narrative alludes to the question of which side Cecelia would take in such a confrontation.
After getting the small talk out of the way, they get to the point of the meeting: There’s an old one cult in Outsmouth, which means the whole town has to be completely torched. Cecelia is not a fan, but is convinced that there isn’t any other practical way to quash the cult and prevent them from ushering in the end of the world. Also, Cecelia still hates Anise Lay’di specifically for “wearing her mother’s face” even though, again, Cecelia never knew her mother, so why is this violation so personally compelling for her? Anise also gets on her soapbox about how daemon cults are okay but old ones are doubleplus ungood. I’ll leave out the second part, because it’s the first I’m interested in:
“Yes. Daemons just want to show people the folly of virtue and torment the weak until they either get stronger or perish so that they stop sucking down resources,” Anise said, matter-of-factly.
This is a pretty stock villainous philosophy, but it is a philosophy beyond “mwahaha, mine is an evil laugh,” so normally I’d approve of this sort of thing. For this story specifically, though, isn’t this basically just Zuula’s philosophy? Like, sure, there’s some minor differences – Zuula is explicitly indifferent, rather than opposed to, traditional virtues, and she advocates immediate murder of the weak rather than torment that may eventually result in murder of the weak – but its fundamental principles are identical. Is this intentional? Is Threadbare actually going somewhere with this? Or is this story so lacking in self-awareness that it can give a protagonist and an antagonist explicitly stated near-identical philosophies in the same book without even noticing? If it is intentional, they’d better wrap that up by the end of this book, because after Outsmouth, I doubt I’m ever reading Right To Arm Bears, even if the title is kinda funny.
In any case, it all ends up with Cecelia leading the aforementioned couple hundred stormtroopers towards the town, where they get ambushed by Threadbare’s advance guard. Cecelia loses at least one scout, although I’m not sure how much this has blinded her, and her casualties are otherwise minimal. Mostly, it allows Darth Villainous’ side to gather some information: There’s an animator and a necromancer working for the other side, the one going by Annie Mata and the other called Dreadbear.
“We advance,” she decided, bringing Reason around to stomp forward again. “Necromancer or no, animator or no, our goal remains the same.”
“And this Dreadbear who’s leading them now?”
Cecelia passed the dead cart, with the scout now on it, staring at her with accusing, unmoving eyes. She looked away.
These were the first who had died in her service. They wouldn’t be the last, and she hated it. “He’s a traitor too. He dies with the rest of them…”
It feels weird to say this coming right off of Outsmouth, when Threadbare had another mid-plot slump in which it destroyed itself trying to moralize about racism while actually being pretty racist, but we’re again seeing more of the bomb under the table, and Threadbare feels like it’s finally outgrowing its obsession with the reveal to instead focus on actually building tension.
Cecelia Quest 4
I don’t usually bother with subtitles, but I note this one because it’s called “the Fall of Outsmouth,” but we’re only 76% of the way through this book, and I doubt we’ll be more than 80% through by the end of this chapter. Sure, shave off the final 5% of the length for backmatter and sneak peeks of the sequel and other stuff that isn’t actually the story, but that still leaves us with 15% of a book to get through. Is that all gonna be denouement? The battle for Outsmouth feels like it pretty much has to be our climax, is this one chapter really going to be the whole thing? Is Threadbare just going to spin its wheels for another three chapters after that?
Going into the fight, though, the book is doing a good job of keeping us appraised of the relative strength of both sides. Back in Cecelia 3 it gave us a rough estimate of the town’s total population: Several hundred, of which we can expect most will be combatants, because they’re all in life-threatening danger and the mechanics of this setting are such that practically everyone is at least capable of fighting as a trash mook, plus, of course, Threadbare and his party (which the fishman has maybe joined? It wasn’t clear). We also got a vague overview of Cecelia’s own strength: About 200 trash stormtroopers, a handful of her own knight party members including the ex-necromancer, Anise Lay’di, whatever the Hell she’s capable of, and the aforementioned smattering of mid-level scouts and casters. We even get some pretty precise details on her remaining scouting capabilities:
Cecelia gnawed her lip. “Something isn’t adding up here. They’re acting too… sane. We need more intelligence.” She took a deep breath, released it. It was time to put more men into danger. “We have three scouts left, yes?”
“Yeah,” Renick confirmed. “A seven, a six with some oddball support jobs, and a four.”
So that one scout they lost earlier was actually a fairly hefty loss, representing a fourth of Cecelia’s total recon capability.
So far, Sew You Want To Be A Hero has followed a remarkably similar trajectory to Stuff and Nonsense: A strong start a really bad middle bit in which Threadbare has a Very Special Chapter about racism and completely undermines both its own anti-racist theme and the overall quality of the book with horribly botched execution, and now it looks like we might be finishing up with a pretty good beat. The aimlessness of the first book has even been taken care of. Threadbare gets periodically distracted by side quests because he’s got Compulsive Hero Syndrome, but the conclusion of one side quest doesn’t leave him aimlessly wandering until the next presents itself like Celia got up to in Stuff and Nonsense. He has an overarching goal and whenever he’s finished saving one of his friends from trouble, he orients himself back to pursuing that goal. If only the story could’ve dropped its obliviously racist critiques of racism.
While scouting out the town, Cecelia learns that several townsfolk, especially children, are being escorted out into the wilderness by animated toys. She comes to the wrong conclusion:
“They’re not animi. They’re golems. Those families are being escorted by golems. Little golems that think and learn and love their children, and will fight to the death for them.” Celia swallowed, hard. “I wondered where he’d gone, after father told me grandfather escaped his prison. Now I know. Oh gods—” she said, putting two and two together and getting five-hundred-and-ninety-seven. “—he’s even calling himself Dreadbear, to hide his real identity. He’s hiding here somewhere, talking to them through magic mouth on that poor little teddy. It all makes sense now!”
I assume that Cecelia is unaware that Threadbare is sapient. On the one hand, he was mute when she had him. On the other hand, he is very clearly capable of independent problem solving. But it has been like five years. So Cecelia thinks she’s about to have a confrontation with her grandfather, who is actually legit dead, unlike every other fucking character in this series. Scouts also report that cultist children in heavy robes are being fed into a dolmen to an elder god, and they assume that they’re sacrifices to summon him (this is almost certainly just evacuating the fish children to the old one’s underwater domain, where their parents cannot follow).
When the battle is joined with an attack of eldritch horrors on the right, we almost immediately get more weird Bowdlerization:
“Rally Troops!” Renick shouted. “Let’s send these eldritch fuckers back where they came from!” She heard the right flank roar with approval, as their moxie got a decent buff.
Oh yeah, I can do that too. She risked an unshielded glance at the walls, found them near, and snapped her arbelest arm back up as arrows clattered off Reason’s helm. “Rally Troops! The gate’s right there, let’s go knock that fumper down!”
Clearly the goal here is to establish “fumper” as a specific tic of Cecelia’s, but particularly in the context of trying to rally troops, it sounds lame as Hell. Mechanically, the exact words of the rallying speech probably do not matter because this is LitRPG and if you pay your sanity points you get your buff, but it still reads lame to the non-NPC, regular human being audience.
Cecelia crashes through the gate in her steampunk Iron Man armor and the defenders dump some oil on her:
Her mentors had briefed her on this. Fire, sticky fire like Geek’s fire from alchemists or oil or tar from sieges, could roast a steam knight alive in their suit.
Cecelia is about to straight-up massacre a town, which is, in turn, doing its level best to murder her. Granted, Threadbare’s evacuating it and Cecelia has already decided she’s not going to bother hunting down the fleeing townsfolk to focus on securing the summoning dolmen to prevent the ritual, but still, tonally speaking this is a weird time to introduce a pun.
Which is why, like most problems she’d come to, Cecelia had given a lot of thought and experimentation to finding a good solution. And in this case, the solution involved the outer layers of quilted cloth she’d sewn around Reason’s helm and front. “Clean and Press!” Cecelia shouted, and sighed in relief as the first few flaming arrows clattered off of her, seconds too late.
On the other hand, this is a clever use of an otherwise trash power that I really like. Would’ve been better if the quilts on the armor had been set up in advance, but the Clean and Press power has been around since I think chapter 1 of Stuff and Nonsense (definitely no later than chapter 3), so at least part of this was set up properly.
After the stormtroopers surge in to take the fight to the defenders on the wall, Cecelia gets a report from an imp sent by her assassin/knight buddy identifying Dreadbear’s location:
Cecelia cleared her throat. “Tell Kayin to take out the dragon if she can. Leave Dreadbear to me.” Gods, if Dreadbear was what she thought it was, she wasn’t sure she could kill it. She really, really hoped she could take him alive. Get him away from Grandfather, to a safe place where she could break the little golem away from the rebel lies the old man had been teaching it.
So apparently Cecelia does know that Threadbare is independent. Why, then, did she earlier assume that Threadbare’s speech was a result of a magic mouth Caradon used to speak through him? Does she not know that it’s possible to add mouths to golems that they can use for themselves? Shouldn’t it be obvious that Threadbare has in fact done that, seeing as how he’s their necromancer and he needs to talk to activate his spells?
Finally, the arrows against her slackened, and she stood, to see the shattered gates before her, and most of her army fighting inside the town. No good place for her there, so she waited, observing, for the bodies to move so she could squeeze in without trampling her own people.
And then the level-up flashed across her field of view, and she sighed. She’d hit level five steam knight, finally. “Status, help,” she said, and settled in to read and best think how to synergize her new tricks into her tactics.
Is this really the time? This does not seem like the right time to be checking out all your new steam knight tricks. People are dying for you right now.
Kayin, the assassin/knight, gets ganked by Threadbare’s party, but don’t worry, there’s necromancers on both sides so death is completely meaningless for all named characters:
“Speak with Dead.” He chanted, and Kayin’s voice echoed through their minds.
“Hey Cecelia. Got the dragon, fucked up the escape. Bad assassin, no cookie.”
“Where!” Cecelia said, shaking, feeling the tears burst from her eyes. “Show us where!”
“Southwest, by the church. They’ve got a rallying point there.”
“ON ME!” Cecelia bellowed, and surged ahead, breaking Steam Knight protocol. Her friend was dead, and by the gods she’d make her killers pay.
Cecelia seems super broken up about this despite the fact that her friend is clearly not for-real dead, what with how she’s still talking to her and everything. Like, there’s no time limit on these soul gems. You can keep Kayin around forever. Also, why is surging ahead against steam knight protocol? You’re a giant tank and your only ranged weapon is a big arbalest. That’s not exactly a chain-gun or a tank cannon. It’ll do a lot of damage, sure, but it’s still hard to hit more than one target with it. Having a super-effective sniper weapon does not a good artillery class make. Given the armor’s durability and heavy melee damage, you are definitely best off at the front where you can hack enemies up with your big-ass sword and absorb attacks with your nigh-invincible armor.
And this is kind of reinforced when Cecelia charges into the church and totally wrecks Madeleine’s puppet form in melee. The departed souls of the defenders retreat into soulstones down in the lake, where it looks like Threadbare is holed up along with Dark Threadbare, Pulsivar, and Zuula (Garon and Madeleine having lost their golem bodies in the church). There, Threadbare has used his dungeon core to create a dungeon that looks like Cecelia’s old house. So apparently this whole “fall of Outsmouth” thing was just the warm-up.