The Nightlands were just as Victor had imagined them to be: dark.
Ever since the powerful vampire Orlock had cast a dark ritual over the land, the entire country had been trapped under a veil of eternal twilight. While it was noon, dark clouds obscured the skies and dimmed the sunlight. The flora on the ground looked twisted enough to survive in this kind of environment, from forests of black thorns to roses with eyes.
They had noticed a lot of giant bats and wolves on the roads below, as the duo flew further north; they didn’t seem to attack anyone though, making Victor wonder if they were vampires in disguise.
Every crossroad also had a small shrine dedicated to Mithras, and all villages had a statue of the deity. From what Victor had gathered, King Orlock believed the light god would grant vampires a reprieve from the sun if he made his country pious enough and stamped out all the ‘heretics’ he could find. The deity never answered the vampires’ prayers, but Orlock never got the memo.
Their inability to find a quest, and the revelation that someone tried to kill him in his sleep, had soured Vainqueur’s mood for the trip, making him crankier than usual. “Minion, are we there yet?” the dragon complained, as they flew over a castle straight out of Dracula’s Remake. He carried the bag full of Renoir’s coins and cows in one hand. “This place stinks of meat, blood, and garlic.”
“The map says the next member of the legion is…” Victor stopped above a graveyard, between the castle and a nearby village. “There.”
The chief of staff landed among gravestones, his dragon partner crashing loudly nearby; and unfortunately, their arrival immediately awakened the citizens of the graveyard.
An army of ghosts and wailing specters emerged from the gravestones in a nightmarish procession, swarming the dragon first with hate in their empty eyes.
Vainqueur slapped them.
Victor’s eyes widened, and so did most of the ghosts’, as the dragon backhanded the closest specters as if they were mosquitos. “Your Majesty can slap ghosts?” the vizier asked, astonished.
“I have a Gladiator Perk for that,” Vainqueur replied. “I am Vainqueur Knightsbane. I can poke everything.”
The specters immediately collapsed into white smoke.
“Come back!” Vainqueur ordered, disappointed. “Give me treasure!”
Victor doubted ghosts would have dropped anything, instead checking Mot’s map. The document led him right in front of a random marble, gravestone.Ming the Gnome.
“Your Majesty, I think our target is very, very dead.”
“Then raise him, so I can punish him myself.”
“I don’t think I can raise someone who has been dead that long,” Victor said, as he read the tombstone. “He’s been buried for half a decade, and more to the point, he was insured.”
“Minion, this place stinks of undead!” Vainqueur roared angrily. “Are you telling me we have found the only manling who didn’t have the sense to rise up after his inevitable demise?”
“A gnome.” It didn’t calm Vainqueur at all. “So, what are we doing, Your Majesty? We return home?”
“Why would we?” Vainqueur replied, both frustrated and confused. “I lost twenty kilos flying all the way to this place, and except for my rightful settlement and new levels increasing my sweet stipend, we have no treasure to show for it! I will not come back empty-handed!”
“This trip informed us Your Majesty has a dangerous enemy after their head,” Victor pointed out. “Renoir’s weapon was an AK-47, but my [Eye for Treasure] Perk told me it has been magically modified to never run out of bullets.”
“Akawhat?” Vainqueur repeated, confused.
“A weapon from my world,” Manling Victor continued, confusing Vainqueur even more. The vizier forgot his partner had never cared about Earth at all. “Like Maure’s Iron Eagle. What is the likelihood these incidents aren’t connected?”
“Of course someone is after me, minion. I am the greatest dragon in the world. Someone is always after me. Which is good, since it means free food is delivered to my doorstep.” Victor could tell that in spite of his bravado, the attempt to kill the dragon in his sleep had infuriated him. “The question is whom? The fairies?”
“The more I look at it, the more I believe the fomors may have indeed planned this,” Victor nodded. “They’re the main creatures with a vested interest in seeing Your Majesty gone, even before you gained levels, and Melodieuse gave Maure weapons from my world. That is the same MO as this Hamelin.”
Of course, Vainqueur had no idea what a MO meant, but he was too proud to admit it openly. Victor had learned to notice when he wanted his partner to explain him things without asking directly.
“In both cases, the method was the same: giving advanced weapons to intermediates and let them dirty their hands.” Victor had a few ideas about how they obtained those weapons but had nothing concrete yet. “I also think the Adventurer Guild may be implicated, or at least infiltrated. They’re the only organization which knew we would raid the Tower of Sablar—”
“Pyramid, Manling Victor.”
“They’re the only organization which knew that we would raid the Pyramid of Sablar and that we would attempt quests in the Harmonian League.”
“Manling Charlene betrayed me?” Vainqueur growled.
“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t rule out that someone intercepts her letters.” Especially since she sent reports to Gardemagne and has asked around to get information on the Blue Rose Legion. “But their ability to anticipate us suggests they’re watching us closely.”
Vainqueur didn’t like the implications at all. “Friend Victor, are you suggesting that the fairies have infiltrated my minions?”
“It’s a possibility.”
The thought filled Vainqueur with anger. “How can anyone be ungrateful enough to betray me, like goblins? After I allowed them to live?”
“It’s just a supposition,” Victor replied. “But this is why I suggest we should go back. It’s getting harder to find quests the usual way, and while I left a semi-functional administration to handle things in our absence, the longer we stay away from Murmurin, the more we invite an attack.”
Vainqueur thought about it long and hard. “No, Manling Victor. We are not turning back,” the dragon replied, before explaining himself, “The Winter Kingdoms, where the next villain on my list lives, is also home to Icefang’s lair. While it is cold and dreary there, we will eat two cows with one bite.”
Victor immediately caught on. “You want to investigate the local adventurer guild there, and find out who sent Icefang after us.”
That… That was surprisingly well-thought. Sometimes he forgot Vainqueur’s intelligence score had steadily increased since they first met.
“And claim the settlement owed to me. It is not about revenge, Manling Victor, but something far more important. Money.” The great dragon let out a yawn, as he put his travel bag on the ground. “We will go tomorrow. I am tired, hungry, and want to sleep.”
“Here?” Victor would have preferred to sleep anywhere but in a graveyard in the middle of nowhere.
“You can sleep against my hot scales if you are afraid. I will keep you warm and safe like my gold.”
“No, I’m f—” Victor stopped, as Vainqueur gave him the stare. “Okay, fine.”
As usual, Vainqueur snored too loudly for Victor to get a good night's sleep. All he could do was close his eyes and straddle the line between sleep and drowsiness, his head against his partner’s belly.
Sleeping against Vainqueur felt strangely comfortable though. His scales radiated warmth, like a chimney, and it helped shake off the frosty night. Victor had realized he had become more sensitive to cool temperatures since he leveled in the [Monster Knight] Class, and taken to wear thicker blankets in his bed.
Thankfully, no one was stupid enough to approach Vainqueur, not even the dead.
“Hey. Hey. Psst.”
Apparently not. Victor opened his eyes, finding a cowled, white-skinned man standing near him. The dragon’s presence hadn’t deterred him.
“Hey,” the man repeated, showing his fangs. “You got blood?”
“Blood?” Victor repeated, drowsy.
“I need my fix, quick. The gov’ got my supplier after he spliced his blood with fairy dust. You can’t get away with nuthin’ nowadays.”
Why did Victor always attract weirdos? It must have been the robes. “I don’t have blood,” the vizier lied.
“You aren’t a dealer?” the vampire looked confused. “‘Cause you look the part.”
Definitively the robes. “I’m not a dealer. I just want to sleep.”
“You sure? ‘Cause I can pay good money for a sip—”
“I can’t sell my blood, it’s against my religion,” Victor deadpanned. “Now scram please.”
The vampire junkie cursed but scurried off.
Unable to sleep, Victor busied himself by checking his stats.
Victor "Minion" Dalton
Level: 35 (Monster Knight: Red Dragon 20/Reaper 14/Grand Vizier 1)
His Skill was his highest base stat? And here he thought his Luck had dipped in the negatives, but it was nothing to sneeze at.
He checked Vainqueur’s stats next. Instead of [Old Money], the starting Perk [Grand Vizier], [Is-No-Good], didn’t increase drops, but allowed him to constantly check his liege’s location and stats.
Why did the very essence of the class assumed he obsessed over his superior?
Vainqueur "Best Dragon" Knightsbane
Level: 38 (Emperor 12/Gladiator 8/Witch Hunter 10/Kaiser 7/Dungeon Breeder 1)
No wonder Vainqueur started to plan ahead; his intelligence had begun to catch up with Victor’s own. Maybe the [Geomancer] Class would help him increase it and gain more common sense?
The vizier felt slightly jealous when seeing the gap between their abilities; while he knew he would never rival Vainqueur in sheer strength, the sheer gap in charm made him insecure. He should definitely follow Henry’s old advice and level in a Charisma-oriented class; twice Victor had met someone he couldn’t talk down, and in one case it ended in his death.
But there was a moment for all things, and for now Victor needed to sleep. He closed his eyes, trying to block out Vainqueur’s snores...
“Gamete Prophet… Gamete Prophet…”
“WHAT?” Victor snarled, as he opened his eyes again… only to find himself facing an enormous, tentacled abomination against nature.
“What is this insult to biology?” Furibon asked, waking up from inside the scythe. “I do not understand a word of what it says.”
“Hello Gamete,” the creature said, taking Victor’s reaction in stride. “We met a few solar cycles ago.”
“Thul-Gathar?” The vizier recognized the Moon Beast whom he met in Murmurin. “Hey, what’s up?”
“I am good, Gamete. Now that I am no longer summoned by skinbags, I could finally eat that telepathic spider and write my own fantasy novel. It is so good, your kindred go mad and remove their eyes when they read it.”
“It’s a common problem.” He already received a few complaints about Pink Rangers’ works. “You want me to proofread it? Or something else?”
“It is time to meet your destiny, Gamete Prophet,” Thul-Gathar said. “Father has chosen you for a divine mission.”
A divine… a divine mission? “I must fulfill a prophecy?”
“Yes. You are the chosen one.”
Victor’s heart skipped a beat, and he held his breath. Then he squealed like a schoolgirl. “Yes, yes!” He immediately leaped back to his feet. “What kind of prophecy? Saving the world from the fomors?”
He knew on some level that with his luck, there had to be a catch somewhere, but the idea of a traditional adventure appealed to him so much...
“No,” Thul-Gathar replied, disappointing the vizier slightly. “You are to usher in an age of exploration, by leading the Moon Man’s people to the Promised Land.”
Huh, so Victor was the new Moses? “I won’t have to stay in a desert for forty years, right?”
“No. You will lead Father’s flock to the Mooooooon.” The Moon Beast trailed the word as if to make it sound more dramatic.
“A place called Moon for some reason, or the actual Moon?”
“Not the ‘Moon’, Gamete,” Thul-Gathar replied, waving a tentacle at the darkened sky, “The Mooooooon!”
“Can I do it the American way and fake the moon landing?” Victor asked with heavy sarcasm.
“No, Gamete Prophet. That is not an option.”
“Then what is?” Victor snapped back, his enthusiasm gone. “Build a medieval rocket and send everyone upstairs? Use a teleportation spell?”
The Moon Beast sighed. “Listen, this is not my idea, Mammal Prophet. This is Father’s divine demand. The Moon Man wants his flock together in friendship on the Moooooon, and he chose you as his shepherd. I am to visit every carbon-based mammal priest of his and tell them you shall lead the way to the stars.”
Could he give back his ‘Claimed by the Moon Man’ Perk? Victor sighed. The things he did for stat growths… “Do I have a deadline?”
The creature considered the question. “Father did not mention one.”
“Awesome, then I will deal with that after I am back from my current quest.”
“There will be a great reward for your deed.” Victor raised an eyebrow, while Thul-Gathar’s tentacles moved in a distractingly dirty way. “Yes. A great, great reward.”
At this point, Victor doubted it would be worth the hassle. “Any pointers?”
“Use [Protection against Madness] when you reach the Mooooon,” Thul-Gathar advised. “Your flock will need it when they see the dark side’s tentacles. The truth will shatter the weaker minds.”
The racket had disturbed Vainqueur’s sleep. “Minion…” the dragon growled, as he glanced at Victor and the squid abomination. “What is it? Why are you talking to squid food?”
“We will meet again, Gamete Person. Remember your destiny.” Thul-Gathar vanished before Vainqueur tried to squash him for a treasure.
“Your Majesty, it seems that I must go to the moon,” Victor said, refusing to say it the way Thul-Gathar did.
“The moon is not a planet, Your Majesty.”
“Of course it is. It is round and up in the sky.” Vainqueur’s head perked up. “Minion, is there gold on the moon?”
“I… I dunno, Your Majesty.” Since there were creatures on Outremonde’s Moon, there should probably dungeons or treasure located there. “Maybe? Probably?”
“Aww, but there are no dragons on the Moon, right?” Vainqueur raised his head at the skies, squinting at the faint moonlight piercing through the dark clouds. “There are no quest stealing dragons on the Moon…”
Something in his tone chilled Victor to the bone, while the dragon’s eyes widened with glee.
Oh no… oh please no...
“Manling Victor, you are a genius!”