“This means war!”
The pyramid trembled, as Vainqueur’s roar echoed through the treasure chamber. In his fury, his tail hit a wall and caused it to shake.
“Your Majesty, calm down!” Victor pleaded before he could collapse the place on them.
“Ah, that takes me back,” Furibon said from within his scythe. “I should not rejoice at the sight… but I do.”
“You, shut up,” Victor replied, while Jolie attempted to calm her uncle.
“Uncle, we can still find new treasure—”
“This is not about the treasure!” Vainqueur roared back, his niece cowering at his outburst. “This is a personal insult and challenge to my authority as the first, and greatest, dragon adventurer!”
As Vainqueur loudly declared the Third War of the Hoard on Icefang and ranted about his grievances to his niece, Victor noticed that Kia remained eerily calm. She was busy examining the mummy left behind by icefang, ignoring the dust falling from the ceiling.
“The mummy hasn’t risen,” Kia said, after finishing. “They plundered the pyramid’s treasure room, but no mummy rose.”
“So what?” Victor asked, before catching on. “Oh, I get it. If it was a dungeon’s true treasure room, then the corpse would have attacked or cursed the invaders.”
“The Tower of Sablar was said to reach the skies, and this pyramid is smaller than other dungeons I visited,” Kia replied. “The bulk of the structure is probably below us, with the room serving as a decoy to deter foolish intruders.”
Icefang must have called it quits after grabbing the first batch of gold he could find; meaning there could still be treasure left behind. How did he knew Vainqueur would loot it soon afterward though? Something didn't feel right. “So there may be a secret passage, either in this room or the next.”
Kia nodded, examining the walls Vainqueur hadn’t smashed. Strange hieroglyphs covered the murals, representing scenes of elves prostrating before a giant worm as it moved to eat the sun. Victor recognized the iconography as the symbols of Sablar, the worm god of time, destruction, and earth.
Allison had told him Sablar’s worshippers took over the elven empire which ruled the continent, before drying it out. The magical cataclysm they caused wiped out their entire civilization.
Could the pyramid be only the tower’s tip, with the rest buried under the sand?
A picture, so small that almost no one would notice, caught Victor’s attention. A skeletal beast surrounded by icy, chilling winds, whispered words to a pharaonic figure. An immense, pointed tower overshadowed them, the creature looking at it with a malicious grin.
“Vic, can you read the pictures?” Kia’s fingers trailed on dust-covered runes. “I don’t know the elf language.”
“That is not elven,” Furibon said from within the scythe. “That is R’lyehan.”
The tongue which the Moon Beast used? In that case, Victor tried his hand at reading it, translating the words out loud thanks to his Perk. “The password is: Wormlike Apple.”
The second he ended his sentence, Victor was swallowed by a flash of violet light. He had left the treasure room for… somewhere else. A place filled with such thick darkness, that he couldn’t even see his own hands.
“[Death Candle],” Victor cast, a ghostly will’ o wisp materializing in front of him, and illuminating the room.
A dark, closed room crawling with animated corpses.
Victor immediately raised his scythe to find himself surrounded by eight undead knights three times as tall as Kia herself; monsters wearing heavy armor thick enough to resist artillery fire, and massive swords which could easily cut horses like cheese. These monstrous beings glanced down at him, their crimson eyes shining in the darkness.
“A trap room,” Furibon guessed, taking pleasure in his ‘owner’s’ impending trouble. “I had one but your dragon master smashed through it.”
“Guys?” As no one answered, Victor readied his scythe, ready to defend his life. “You want a piece of me? Come at me!”
But they did nothing.
The knights stood there threateningly, observing him as if he were a prop.
“Hello? You aren’t going to kill me.” No answer; the knights didn’t even move an inch. “Hello? Can you understand me?”
No answer. Either they didn’t care, or more likely, couldn’t.
They weren’t sentient. Fearsome automatons, but vulnerable to his [Deadfriend] Perk nonetheless.
“Okay…” Victor didn’t question his luck, glancing around in case the stone room had murals with other trick passwords; it didn’t. “Why didn’t Kia and the others follow? I blurted out the code out loud.”
“You must say it in their native tongue,” Furibon said. “Your Perk translated your words into R’lyehan, but your friends will not have the same privilege.”
Come to think of it, why hadn’t Vainqueur summoned him back to his side? This being a trick room, maybe it blocked teleportation effects?
He would have to find his way out. Bugger. Victor walked out of the room through the only gate, the dead warriors leaving him be.
Victor found himself in an underground maze of stone stairs and corridors, kept in much better shape than the levels above. His will o wisp familiar provided him with much-needed light, guiding him around.
Rusted, steel golems dusted off the various rooms like workers, while undead warriors patrolled the area. Victor guessed that no sentient creature would stick around keeping a silent tomb after the first century, leaving only mindless automatons to defend it.
Unfortunately for the owner, time hadn’t been kind to the guards. Most of the golems had fallen into a state of disrepair, enough that some had collapsed and now crawled with their arms. Their design reminded the visitor of Rolo, and he figured the golem may have come from this stock.
While the defenses could have easily taken down any invader in their early days, Victor’s group could probably force their way through.
“Hey, can you point me towards the exit?” Victor asked one of the undead guardians, which ignored him. “Furibon, is there a necromancy spell which could take them over?”
“I would teach it to you if you had the tier level needed to cast it. These are Tomb Defenders, among the most powerful kind of undead to exist. A group of them could swarm and overwhelm a dragon.”
Victor doubted they could take down Vainqueur unless in large numbers, but decided not to linger long, in case their programming could overcome his Perk.
After twenty minutes of wandering around the tomb though, he realized this would be easier said than done. The dungeon had many rooms, all of them identical and lacking in anything other than walls and space. He began to cut marks in the stone to note his path, and quickly realized he had walked in circles.
“Where is the treasure?” Victor wondered. “Hell, where are the decorations? Who would build a tomb containing nothing but stone?”
“You think the tomb of a cult worshipping entropy would care about post-mortem materialism?” Furibon taunted him. “Followers of Sablar do not value anything that does not come from the earth.”
“Wait, you knew this tomb might have no treasure? And you said nothing?”
“I hoped that you and that dragon would die for nothing, is that too much to ask? Also, have you tried the second room on your left?”
Victor glanced in that direction, finding a room he hadn’t marked yet. He stepped inside, finding it to be slightly different from the others.
For one thing, a black sarcophagus laid in the center, covered with worm symbols and purple gemstones. Murals similar to those of the fake treasure room adorned the walls, alongside decorations such as canopic jars on pillars and scimitars.
One of the decorations contrasted starkly with the others by its brightness: a golden shield covered with gemstones, attached to the wall in front of the sarcophagus. Victor’s [Eye for Treasure] immediately identified it as a [Crest].
“Trap,” Furibon replied.
Victor first glanced at the sarcophagus, in case it was a mimic or some other dangerous device. He warily knocked at the surface with his scythe, remaining at a respectable distance.
When no mummy rose to kill him, Victor turned to look at the crest, poking it with his scythe. Instead of causing the roof to collapse or the like, he received a notification.
|Use [Crest] to break the Class ceiling?|
Crest used! You can now progress up to level 60!
For using a [Crest], you gained the [Crested] Personal Perk.
[Crested]: You moved up from ordinary adventurer to folktale hero. You can now access more prestigious classes.
Victor panicked, as the sarcophagus began to open from within, with a loud, squeaky sound. A chilling wind filled the room, bony, bandaged fingers seizing the edge of the coffin.
His scythe acting as his only protection, Victor found himself staring back at the most terrifying mummy he had ever seen. A monstrous creature clad in old, dusty green robes, with bones made of black obsidian. The bandages holding them together were scrolls covered with hieroglyphs; a funerary mask hid its skull save for two glowing lights in place of the eyes. The entity radiated malice and sorcerous power, the invisible pressure it released dwarfing even Melodieuse’s.
Victor immediately activated his Monster Insight Perk, to find the creature’s weakness. He was already fighting in an enclosed space, so he needed any advantage.
Black Pharaoh (Undead/Eldritch)
Weak against Spirit, Life, and Holy.
Strong against pretty much everything else.
The great calamity of a previous age, and one of the superbosses of Outremonde. The Prophet of Sablar who ruled the southern continent from behind the scenes, before destroying it with a magical superweapon. Can cause sandstorms and quakes, raise armies of the dead, and kill you with a mean look.
Recommended party level to take him on: mid-80s.
Run, Forrest, run!
“Trespasser,” the powerful being spoke with heavy words, the magic in his words making the room tremble. “Is it time to end the world?”
“No!” Victor blurted out in panic.
“Oh?” The ancient mummy sounded… confused, the power in his voice gone. Before Victor knew it, his confusion turned to annoyance. “Then scram, fleshbag.”
The ancient terror laid on his back and closed his sarcophagus.
Victor stood there, astonished by the absurdity of the situation before Furibon drew him out of his trance. “Run, you idiot!” the lich said, panicking. “Before he changes his mind and destroys us both!”
Following the wise advice, Victor immediately attempted to bolt the hell out of the room, but the stone door hadn’t risen back up. He examined the hieroglyphs, searching frantically for any password which could teleport him out.
Unfortunately, before he could find a switch, the sarcophagus opened up again, Akhenapep rising back from it; a lot less dramatically this time. The mummy’s glowing eyes peered at Victor with a hawk’s focus.
“Wait, fleshbag,” the mummy spoke, all the gravitas of his previous tone replaced with curiosity. “If this is not the end of the world, why are you there?”
That was a very interesting question… Victor’s mind worked furiously to find an excuse, the Black Pharaoh was clearly not very patient.
“I was… checking up if everything was fine!” Victor lied through his teeth. “See if you were still there and ready for the big day!”
“Ah.” The mummy pondered his words, seemingly believing him. Victor thanked the gods for his Perks and their charisma bonus’ against monsters. “It is true that I have not woken up for centuries, but as you can see, I am perfectly fine.”
“Yes, indeed,” Victor nodded. “Since you are indeed perfectly and dangerously unalive, I will take my leave.”
Victor could have sworn the pressure had grown tenfold.
The Black Pharaoh quickly raised a hand, casting a spell faster than the chief of staff’s brain could compute. “[Epic Magic Scan].”
It took every ounce of willpower for Victor to keep a straight face, as phantom text appeared in front of the mummy. The pharaoh began to mutter something to himself, draining information from him at an accelerated pace.
“Victor Dalton. A strongly chaotic shade of neutral.” It seemed legalizing necromancy and the Nightblades pushed his karma from goodish to chaotic. “A Red Dragon Monster Knight... Reaper, very good... and… Grand Vizier of the V&V Empire, and prophet of the Moon Man?”
Victor kept his mouth shut, as did Furibon, while the mummy finished reading his scan, the words vanishing. “Fleshbag, why is the Grand Vizier of some remote empire visiting my tomb?” the monster cast a quick spell to punctuate the danger, “[Greater Detect Lies].”
Okay, so… no trickery.
Maybe half-truths could work. He didn’t have to say the full truth, just avoid lying.
“I have come to search for the mythical artifact called the Bottle of Mot,” Victor admitted.
The mummy nodded to himself, unsurprised. “I see how it is,” the superboss said. “Necromancer, why did you not tell me your real reasons for waking me up?”
Play along, play along, play along! “Because you’re intimidating, and I thought you would think me for a thief. I had a terrible time last time this happened.”
“I may be intimidating, but you will never usurp your emperor with this attitude. Nor do I recommend it yet. You may be just starting, or I assume you are considering your low level, but your mindset leaves much to be desired. I do not share my advice with every would-be cultist who knocks at my door.”
“It is not enough to wear robes, manipulate an emperor from behind the scenes, and steal souls to become a true Grand Vizier,” the mummy continued. “You need a special mindset. You cannot imagine the number of advisors cut down by pesky paladins because they wanted to be emperor in place of the emperor; instead, you should make your emperor a powerless figurehead, so your enemies will blame him instead of you. Thus you can justify claiming power by removing an ‘evil ruler’.”
The mummy sounded very patronizing, like talking to a child, but Victor didn’t dispel his misconception.
“Patience is the mother of victory. Your time will come. What matters is not to appear in charge, but to be. Step by step. I assumed your soul familiar would have taught you that.”
“Victor has much to learn,” Furibon said with an obsequious, servile tone, eager not to contradict the almighty mummy. “But he is rash and rarely listens.”
“The student’s faults lie with the teacher, and I detect a lie in your sentence,” the pharaoh rebuked the lich. “How many countries have you conquered yet, fleshbag Victor?”
“One,” Victor quickly replied, the mummy clearly unimpressed. “But we’re just getting started!”
“Then clearly you need guidance. This should be the moment where self-righteous gods like Mithras or Seng empower a group of knights and peasants to cast you down. They have done so for centuries, and so they are very good at it. So you must be better, starting with the basics. Do your empire’s legions have face-concealing helmets?”
“Good. Does your lair have air vents a gnome could crawl through?”
“No,” Furibon replied, before pausing. “Do secret passages count?”
“There are secret passages in the castle?” Victor asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I h—” Furibon caught himself. “Because it wasn’t the time.”
“You must do away with secret passages, except for escape routes,” the mummy said. “This is the second stratagem. Next is the third stratagem, ‘Become an only child.’”
Victor wisely decided not to interrupt the creature, as it went on to deliver a full tirade about killing holy knight whenever possible, and the best methods to do so. The chief of staff hoped he could stall long enough for Vainqueur and the others to rescue him.
How long would it take?
Two hours later...
“Stratagem thirteen, ‘the rule of fire.’ If you kill someone, especially a cunning rogue, shoot the corpse with a volley of arrows to be sure, then cremate it. Finally, disperse the ashes to the winds. That way, they will not rise to bother you again, as an undead or second born.”
“Huh?” Victor asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. “Even if deities intervene? Asking for a friend.”
“The more savaged the vessel, the harder the task, even for gods. Undead are cheap to make with the corpse intact; dispersed ashes are harder. Now, stratagem fourteen, ‘the law of no last request.’”
Seven hours later…
“Stratagem fifty-two, ‘No secret passages.’ Have architects check your lair for any secret passage you do not know about, then collapse them.”
“No secret passages,” the pharaoh cut off Furibon. “One closely guarded route for emergency escape, and nothing else. A secret passage will be found and used by enemies to infiltrate your lair. Collapse or booby trap them, or both.”
“Both?” Victor asked, scribbling notes on a scroll the mummy provided from his bandages.
“Have the passage collapse on the intruder when they reach the end. Then unbury the corpses, shoot them, then cremation. If one fleshbag is missing, assume it escaped.”
“That is brilliant,” Furibon said, impressed. “Why did I never think of it?”
Twelve hours later, after a passionate lecture about political intrigue, conquest, managing minions, public relationship, magical research, and architecture…
“And so, that is why the fleshbags must be provided with an endless stream of mindless entertainment, so they stay docile. Cats are good. Cats are distracting. When the helpless masses realize you intend to conquer and then destroy the world, it will be too late.”
“Amazing,” Victor admitted, so enthralled by the lecture he no longer had to struggle against tiredness. So many ideas! “What about assassin rings?”
“As said in stratagem forty-four, only employ those who fight for money, so long as you can outbid the competition. Those who fight for fun give the enemy sporting chances or turn on you when they can no longer rein in their murderous impulses.”
“But what if, hypothetically, the treasure is guarded by an immense dragon and cannot be used?”
The mummy pondered the question like a philosopher pondering a complex problem. “Offer them nobility titles. Do not ask them to work the land. Killers do not want to farm, they want to kill. A dog is a dog, not an ox. Each fleshbag in their place.”
“Like what Gardemagne should have done with the Scorchers,” Furibon added his viewpoint.
“The lesson is to avoid mercenaries and make them vassals instead. Make them work for more than money.” The mummy nodded to himself, satisfied with the seminar. “This covers the ‘One Hundred Stratagems of the Grand Vizier’.”
Congratulations! For following a retired evil overlord’s seminar, you received the [Vizier Education] Personal Perk!
[Vizier Education]: You gain a +8 Bonus to your INT when dealing with manipulation, strategy, statecraft, magical research, or plotting against your liege.
“Good. You have listened.”
“Were you a vizier?” Furibon couldn’t help but ask, the mummy nodding. “I thought you were the last elf pharaoh?”
“I was. How do you think I became a pharaoh? I wormed my cult into the upper echelons of the empire’s structure, corrupted it from within, then created this great tower to dry out the land in Sablar’s name.” The mummy cackled with malice. “I still remember my ‘master’s’ face when he realized the truth too late.”
Yeah, the centuries in his tomb hadn’t dulled out his evil. But Victor was aware he lacked the power to confront that monster yet, and so kept his mouth shut. “So, um… thanks for the lesson?”
“You are welcome. Seeing you, all eager to plunder magical artifacts for power, reminds me of my lost youth.” Akhenapep searched inside his sarcophagus, before handing Victor a beautiful, blue ceramic bottle covered with dust. “Here is the Bottle you were looking for. My minion is still inside.”
Victor blinked. “Your minion?”
“Yes, Mot, my minion. The key to keeping him in check is to constantly remind him of his lowly status, in every conversation you have with him. Or else he becomes rebellious. I have no longer any need for his services, so I bequeath him unto you. If you are smart, you will never grant him his freedom. Now go.”
“How?” Victor asked, pointing at the closed door.
The mummy looked at him as if he were an idiot. “Ask Mot,” the undead replied, before grabbing the edge of the sarcophagus, “Now, fleshbag Victor, I wish you good luck, as one vizier to another. Tell the other cultists that I am fine, and that I will rise on apocalypse o’clock.”
“Uh, sure, I will.”
“Anyone else interrupting my nap ahead of time, I shall kill.”
The mummy closed the sarcophagus, and Victor could have sworn he heard snoring noises coming from within.
Congratulations! For befriending and tricking an ancient dark lord back to sleep before he could cause havoc, you earned two levels in [Monster Knight]! You gained the [Slayer of Men] Class Perk!
+60 HP, +20 SP, +2 STR, +1 VIT, +2 SKI, +1 AGI, +2 INT, +2 CHA!
[Slayer of Men]: Your armed attack always count as [Manslayer] and inflict double damage to creatures of the Humanoid type.
Only one way to find out. Victor pulled out the bottle cap, a stream of black smoke erupting from it.
A small, tiny creature popped out; a bluish, miniature horned goblin with golden eyes.
The small genie let out a horrifying wail, making Victor step back. “What the—What the Happyland?”
“Hundreds of years trapped in a BEEPing bottle!” The genie replied, as his screams turned to tears of relief. “I’m out. I’m finally out. It’s over… I have space now… space… oh, gods… hundreds of years...”
Well, things just became a lot more complicated.