The Castle of Murmurin looked better than anything Vainqueur could have imagined.
An immense, foreboding structure of black stone, the dungeon stood on a rock in the middle of a crater full of hot lava, the black smoke surrounding the place giving it a spooky look. The remains of a half-destroyed stone bridge linked the volcano’s edge to the castle’s entrance, a stone doorway more than large enough to fit Vainqueur through - unlike that stupid temple.
A ring of stone bound the castle’s numerous towers and fortifications, overseen by magnificent dragon statues. The structure had one pointed tower larger than all others at the center, Vainqueur catching glimpses of shadowy forms through stained glass windows. Clouds of carrion birds and crows flocked to the roofs, hungry for manling blood, while giant worms roamed the magma below.
It had lava. It had a food reserve. It had towers.
In short, it was the perfect lair where to stash his hoard!
The land outside the castle was considerably less impressive than the building itself though. The volcano was suitably big and bordered the western sea, but the countryside was an unsightly patch of badlands and arroyos. The soil was brown, flowers and plants scarce, while under the southern horizon, Vainqueur could see the beginning of an immense red sand desert. The remaining manlings had built a small village at the foot of the mountain, while the dragon noticed a few primitive encampments near the desert’s border.
Vainqueur would have preferred more than one village to supply him with cattle, but the castle made up for the poor neighborhood. “Strange,” he mused to himself, with his minions providing the audience, “I can remember flying over this region two centuries ago, and it looked much greener.”
Not that the great dragon cared. He was already in a good mood, and a mere glance at his flying hoard cheered him up.
Manling Victor and the minions had created an ingenious device: a flying ship.
By exhaling without igniting his breath, Vainqueur provided hot gas to fill a giant bag of made of silk, paper, and other stuff; merchants from around the Albain Mountains gave them up when the dragon asked kindly. Somehow, when powered by his marvelous breath, the enormous balloon could lift even a ship.
Working together - continuously in the case of the kobones, who never slept - the minions created a wood ship, much smaller than the balloon, and which could carry the hoard. The kobones powered wooden helixes with pedal, allowing the ship to change direction thanks to a wheel operated by Manling Victor. Vainqueur had asked that the ship's bridge be open, so he could see his hoard inside and catch any treasure flying overboard.
It had taken the minions a good week to finish the ship and sew the balloon while Vainqueur watched, but in the end, it worked out.
While Manling Victor had worked on the ship's design, the Kobolds had discussed other methods to fly the hoard, which included: using stuff called 'magnets'; strapping bird wings to chests; putting everything on throwing discs and then launching them above the mountains; and finding a magical bag which would make the hoard tiny. Vainqueur had shot down that suggestion immediately.
While the dragon had liked the winged chest idea the most, he was satisfied with the final result. No longer did he need to carry his gold the old-fashioned way! He only had to fly next to it and occasionally provide hot air.
“Good job, minion Victor,” Vainqueur congratulated his chief of staff, as he flew next to the ship. “I am proud of being your master.”
“Yeah, I noticed the iPad’s files held schematics for planes, so I thought maybe they had information on aircrafts; and I guessed a dragon's breath had to work on some sort of gas to catch fire. We aren't going to cross the Atlantic with that airship, but it will do for short distances.”
“Only our chief of staff could access the true power of the Apple of Knowledge!” Red chirped. "And it worked on its first try!"
"It flew on its first try after we crashed the eight prototypes," Manling Victor pointed out. "You know, I wouldn't have been able to design anything like this while back on Earth. The eleven Intelligence points I gained since really showed there."
Vainqueur didn’t understand half of what they said, too happy to care. “Minion, you will land my hoard there after we are done with the introductions,” the dragon pointed at a small, isolated valley, “Away from thieves.”
“Sure,” minion Victor said, glancing at the castle while keeping the ship above the crater's edge. “I’m pretty certain the owner must have seen us coming.”
“Good,” Vainqueur replied, hovering above the volcano’s edge. “What is his name again?”
“Minion, announce my presence to that Furibon.”
“Is Your Majesty really, really sure they want to do that?” Manling Victor took a deep breath, then shouted towards the crater, his booming voice causing the crows to flee, “FURIBON! King Vainqueur Knightsbane, King of the Albain Mountains and greatest adventurer to ever live, wants to have a talk!”
“Minion, do not forget ‘Great Calamity of this Age,’” Vainqueur chided his lackey. “I worked hard on earning that one.” So many princesses abducted... the dragon promised himself he would grab one after moving in.
Unfortunately, the current owner teleported outside the castle before the minion could correct his mistake.
Furibon the lich was a skeleton, larger than that of most of the puny races, with a long serpentine neck and a manling-like skull. His bones seemed made of gold, the teeth of jewels, while the empty eye sockets shone with a bright, purple light. The creature wore expensive, red and purple robes like living wizards, but while it had long, thin arms, it lacked legs. Magic alone allowed it to fly.
And it had a nice crown, whom Vainqueur immediately wanted for himself. “I wonder what is his level… let's use [Observe]...” Manling Victor’s eyes widened. “Fifty-eight?!”
The undead flew upward towards the dragon and his flying hoard with a speed that rivaled Vainqueur’s. The lich stopped right in front of the ship's bridge. “Greetings, mortals,” the lich said with a deep, frosty voice. Vainqueur noticed the air chilled out around him. “His Majesty King Vainqueur Knightsbane, and Victor Dalton, I assume?”
“Indeed, I am King Vainqueur,” Vainqueur replied proudly, happy at being shown proper respect. This day just couldn’t get better.
“You face Furibon, archmage of Ishfania," the undead replied, "Welcome to my humble abode. It has been so long since I have had living visitors. My creations are so… eager to fight.”
“You know our names?” Manling Victor spoke up. “You were expecting us?”
“My lord and master, King Brandon Maure, warned me that you helped Gardemagne retake the fortress of Rochefronde by destroying his chosen agents, and stole the Apple of Knowledge." The creature's 'eyes' moved to examine the ship. "I see that you already peered in its forbidden knowledge."
They did what with Rochefronde? Vainqueur hadn’t paid attention back then.
"Have you come to return the artifact to its rightful owner?" the lich asked, "I hope not. I would have to spare you in that case."
“As if anyone could take what belongs to me,” the dragon taunted the lich with disdain.
The creature let out a deep sound which Vainqueur thought to be a laugh. “Why not play a game for it, then? You are adventurers eager to challenge my castle, are you not? The lack of victims bores me so very much; your feeble minds cannot fathom the number of trap designs I went through over the last half a century. When you are immortal and tasked with holding a crumbling ruin, you have to occupy your time somehow.”
“By making death traps?” Minion Victor asked with a strange tone. "To each their hobby."
“A sarcastic mortal,” the lich replied with the exact same tone, except it somehow sounded more scathing. “How original. [Black Curse].”
A black aura surrounded Manling Victor, instantly draining all colors from his skin and bringing him to his knees.
The sound the minion made though… Vainqueur had never heard such a ridiculous sound in his life, and neither did Furibon, who let out a chuckle. "Still standing? Then, let us try again. [Black Curse].”
Victor collapsed to his chest this time, almost falling overboard. “Chief!” the kobolds and kobones immediately rushed to his help.
“Why did it not make an amusing sound this time?” the lich wondered.
“Because I already… learned your monster Perk… wanna see?” Manling Victor raised a feeble hand at the lich. “[Black Curse]...”
A black aura surrounded the lich, who shrugged it off. “A [Monster Squire]. How amusing, trying to fight me with my own Perk. Maybe I should cut the greetings short and cast down this ship from the skies, and you with it.”
“Stop bullying my minions,” Vainqueur warned the creature, moving between the flying ship and the lich. “He is my chief of staff. To attack him without my permission is to show me disrespect and commit suicide by dragon.”
“Oh? You wish to fight? I admit I would rather test my creations on you first, but if you wish to skip directly to a fight, I will take back the Appl—”
Bored with the conversation and eager to claim his new castle before dinner, Vainqueur fingerpoked the lich in the chest.
The blow sent him flying towards the castle, but the creature’s flight stabilized before it could hit the walls. “You…” the lich fumed with cold anger. “You lizard, how dare you touch me? I will mount your head on a spike in my library!”
He survived the poke.
The lich survived the poke.
“How dare you survive the poke!” Vainqueur complained, raising two fingers. “Now I will have to use half my hand to destroy you!”
“Your Majesty, powerful undead are immune to critical hits...” Minion Victor warned, regaining enough strength to speak up normally. “Use your breath!”
“[Magic Up],” the lich rasped, shining with a crimson aura. “[Greater Fire Res—”
Vainqueur just blasted him with a quick fireball, vaporizing him at once.
He instantly regretted it.
Congratulations! For taking a powerful lich by surprise and temporarily destroying it before your fans, you have earned a level in [Gladiator]!
+30 HP, +2 STR, +1 SKI, +1 AGI, +1 CHA, +1 LCK!
“Vainqueur, best dragon!” his minions congratulated him. “Vainqueur, Vainqueur, Vainqueur!”
“Where is the treasure?” Vainqueur asked, once the smoke settled to reveal nothing but dust. “He should have dropped a treasure.”
“That’s because he’s not dead, Your Majesty,” Manling Victor said, as he rose back to his feet.
“Of course he is. He is an undead, he was dead before I killed him.”
“Your Majesty, first, Furibon is a lich. Their souls are held by a container which will allow them to revive within a few days if not destroyed.”
Before Vainqueur could argue further, the lich materialized right back in front of them, powerful sorcery surrounding him. “[Greater Fire Resistance], [Magic Ward], [Stone Ward], [Accelerate], [Greater Evasion]."
"Already?" Victor squinted at the sight. "Shouldn't it take you days to recover?"
"I have a special Perk which accelerates the process. As for you, Vainqueur, I will teach you why your kind is—” The lich dodged Vainqueur’s attempt to poke him by flying out of the way. “Stop this at onc—” Again, he avoided a poke. “Stop this! [Crimson Barrier].”
A shining sphere of red magical surrounded the lich, blocking Vainqueur’s frustrated attempts at poking him with two fingers. “Better. King Vainqueur, I thought you would be an entertaining victim, but now I cannot wait to make a bag out of your skin.”
“As if,” Vainqueur replied with smug disdain. “A dragon has no weakness!”
“Is that so?” The lich flew to get a direct line of sight of Vainqueur's gold, on the ship's bridge. “Is that your hoard, King Vainqueur?”
No… “Do you not dare throw my hoard in the lava!”
“Throw that wealth in the lava?” The lich chuckled. “Do you take me for an animal, Vainqueur Knightsbane? What kind of wasteful monster would throw such a hard-won hoard into magma?”
Ah. Ah, thank the elder wyrm, that undead was a civilized fellow.
“I have a better idea in mind,” the lich said, raising both hands and calling upon purple sparks of lightning.
“[Transmute Gold to Lead]!”
Before Vainqueur’s mind caught on, his entire hoard turned from beautiful gold to unshiny lead with a bright flash of dark magic.
For a long, agonizing moment, the great wyrm was too shocked to compute the situation, his brain freezing inside his skull.
“Boss? King Vainqueur?”
"Ohoh, I 'lived' for centuries, and I never knew dragons could make that face."
“Minions, turn the ballon away. Let’s get the hell out of here now.”
“Turn the damn balloon away!”
“Well, King Vainqueur, now that I have taken what you value most, why not make a deal? Return the Apple to me at once, and I will change your gold bac—"
Vainqueur’s sight turned bloody red.
Attack Up! Attack Up! ATTACK UP! Fire Power Up! Warning: [Berserk] ailment!
Vainqueur instantly blasted a giant fireball at the lich, a projectile big enough that the few manlings who witnessed the attack in the past mistook it for a meteor. “[Teleportation].” The lich blinked out of the way before the fires could destroy him, the projectile hitting the crater’s edge and causing a large span of it to fall into the magma.
The lich reappeared nearby, observing the destruction with ominous silence. "In hindsight," he muttered to himself, "Maybe that was a mistake..."
In the ropes of berserk rage, Vainqueur blasted the entire area, castle and lich included, with fiery death. This time, Furibon was hit directly by a fireball, shattering his crimson shield and sending him flying through one of the castle's wall. One of the smaller towers collapsed on him.
Too angry to think, Vainqueur kept firing at the dungeon, melting the stone and blasting another tower into the magma. Immediately afterward a bright, yellow magical barrier surrounded the castle, shielding it from the dragon's repeated bombardment. The monsters in the magma cowered in fear.
Vainqueur furiously roared to the heavens, and the mountain trembled.