Every dragon had to face a minion war at one point.
These events, where minions envying one another escalated into fighting, usually happened over breeding matters; or at least it did, the last time Vainqueur employed goblins. Two of his lackeys had dueled over a female while he was on a hunt, and he came back to his lair to find the dispute had spiraled into a full-blown civil war.
Worse, they had left his hoard unattended while killing one another!
The survivors of his furious reaction had learned their lesson, but Vainqueur had forbidden minion sexual harassment ever since. So afraid for his wealth, he had even abandoned his matchmaking hobby. His trust in Friend Victor, and his chief of staff's utter inability at breeding on his own with strangers, had been the only reasons he made an exception.
Since he had only employed one kind of creature at once in the past, the Great Calamity never had to deal with ‘race conflicts’ which plagued multi-species minion troops.
“You dirty pigeon scam!”
First time for everything.
Standing outside the Nethermart, with his head reaching over the rooftop, Vainqueur observed the scene with a disapproving eye.
Feathered Miel had been brought by Vainqueur’s guards, mostly for her own protection. She kept her arms and wings closed, fearing for her life, while a crowd of fiends led by Malfy’s lawyers surrounded her threateningly.
Tasty Malfy himself had grown sick and feeble, crumpled in a wheelchair and spitting green blood. A succubus nurse tended to him, while he sent glares to Feathered Miel. “See?” the lawyer said. “Our client recognized his attacker!”
“I did nothing to him!” Miel protested. “This is a misunderstanding!”
“You monopolistic heaven-lovers could not survive in a competitive market, so you tried to murder your competition!” the fiend lawyer accused Feathered Miel. “Infercorp patented this method! This is a violation of our intellectual property!”
“I am an angel, I do not poison people, even fiends!”
“Liar!” One of the demons, a fiendish gargoyle, showed his fangs, as if ready to jump at their rival.
Vainqueur interrupted them by shaking the whole building with his claw. “I will not allow minions to kill one another without my approval unless my chief of staff does it.”
“But Your Majesty—”
“Fiend minion, you are starting to sound like dragon food. Are you dragon food?”
The demon, once reminded of the food chain, wisely shut up.
“Explain to me what happened,” Vainqueur ordered. “We will deal with this matter the dragon way: by eating the guilty party.”
“I can testify,” the demon lawyer said. “Malfaisant, my fellow attorney and I were on our way to see Your Majesty’s grand speech when the angel interrupted us. Malfaisant, aware of her deceitful nature, told her to scram…”
“But then she said she wanted to join the winning side,” the other lawyer said. “Since Infercorp offers a sizable bonus for fallen angel headhunting, and she oversaw Mr. Victor’s insurance file, we decided to humor her on neutral ground.”
“Angels are too cowardly to poison the competition, so we did not use tasters when she offered us a drink.”
“Or so we thought! She served us Holy Water, and Malfaisant could not spit it out quickly enough! She ran away while we were tending to our poor manager! Even now, he cannot speak to condemn this treacherous attack!”
“Feathered Miel, what do you have to say for your defense?” Vainqueur asked.
“Look at me,” the angel replied, widening her eyes in a way reminding the dragon of cat kittens. The fiends booed Feathered Miel in response. “Gaze into the face of a poor innocent lamb, sent to the slaughter.”
Vainqueur did not understand her point. “You look like a mammal manling, which means ugly by default.”
“Your Majesty, I was obviously impersonated!”
“Then where were you when this happened?” one of the demon lawyers snarled.
“I was working on Mr. Victor’s insurance file in my office!” the angel protested. “His Karma Credit Score is so terrible, I had to rework it from scratch!”
“That is why you attacked our manager,” the lawyer accused her. “You knew our Grand Vizier would choose the superior afterhealth care, and so you tried to kill the better Extraplanar entrepreneur in your jealousy.”
“Typical crime of passion,” his fellow added. “Your Majesty, she is obviously the Mother Teresa of Crime!”
“Mr. Victor is devoted to the safety of his soul,” Miel protested, joining her hands. “I know his heart is true.”
The fiends exploded into a strange kind of laughter before one of the lawyers cleared his throat. “If your heart is true, then certainly someone can provide you with an alibi.”
The angel bit her lip. “I spent the entire time alone in my office.”
“So you have no witnesses!” the lawyer accused her. “Your defense does not hold!”
Vainqueur put his peerless, brilliant deductive mind to work on the case. While on the surface, the angel was clearly the culprit, a lifetime of hearing excuses had made the dragon attuned to noticing lies; and the feathered snack sounded truthful.
Could a deceitful villain impersonate her? If so why? To exploit an existing rivalry and set his minions against one another? This sounded familiar. Too familiar.
|Intelligence check successful! You recognized the criminal pattern from flimsy evidence, like a crime fiction protagonist!|
“Minions, this is the same method which our foes used to send Icefang after me,” Vainqueur said. “The true enemy is trying to divide us.”
Feathered Miel breathed in relief. “Thank Heaven, Your Majesty’s eyes see true!”
“The true enemy, Your Majesty?” the lawyer asked, confused.
“It was obviously Furibon in drag and false wings,” Vainqueur said.
“Your Majesty, I do not understand,” one of the fiends said, unable to see the brilliance of the dragon’s logic. He probably had fifty in intelligence, or maybe even less!
“In the absence of evidence, we must assume the responsible party is the most likely suspect,” Vainqueur enlightened them, “who is the vile Furibon, who must be destroyed, and those who treacherously released him!”
The lawyers exchanged glances. “But Your Majesty, the most likely explanation is that she did it!”
“She shall be jailed until the treacherous lich has been stopped,” Vainqueur decided, ending the debate. “I trust my instincts, and I have spoken.”
The fiends fell into a heavy silence, unable to understand his genius.
Such was the burden of a sixty-four stat in Intelligence.
“So?” Victor asked.
Jules closed the metal door of Croissant’s jail behind them, deep in the dungeons below the castle. “He isn’t speaking. His accomplices put him under a magical [Protection against Truth-Detection], and the caster’s level is higher than mine.”
“Vainqueur should be able to break it,” Victor pointed out. “He can cancel any spell short of Melodieuse’s nowadays.”
“That’s not the problem,” the ghoul replied.“I don’t think he knows, but they also put a [Death Curse] deadman switch should this protection be dispelled. The one responsible is probably an experienced Necromancer, from what I could gather. I would put their Spellcaster level at more than fifty; maybe sixty.”
Furibon? He had the power and the motive, but Victor doubted he was involved. From what he had gathered, the lich had learned the lesson and wouldn’t try to mess with them again. Which other Necromancer had a bone to pick with Vainqueur, or worked with someone who did?
Victor had a likely suspect in mind. “Will the curse activates if he speaks?”
“I do not think so, but he seems to hate you more than he fears His Majesty.”
Victor sighed. Between this and Miel being under arrest, this was looking more and more like a giant mess. Amazingly, Vainqueur had made the right call and not jumped to conclusions; the angel was many things, but a poisoner wasn’t one of them.
He heard steps coming towards them, turning around to see Allison, Chocolatine, and Barnabas. The troll carried a huge crate in his hands, while the werewolf had brought a casket full of food for her brother. Her eyes were red from the tears.
“You’ve tortured my brother?” she asked, worried.
“What? Of course not, torture never works.” Also, it was inhuman.
Unfortunately, she misinterpreted him. “You’re going to trap his soul in your scythe?! Or send him to Happyland?!”
Who did she take him for, Sauron? “We’re not going to do anything to his soul,” Victor said. “But he isn’t going to get out of that jail anytime soon.”
“But you’re the government!” Chocolatine protested. “Can’t you make a little exception for your girlfriend’s family?”
Come on, the fact they were a greedy dictatorship sponsored by Happyland did not mean they were corrupt!
“Please don’t kill him,” Chocolatine begged him, a far cry from her usual quirky and confident self, “I know he made a mistake, but I’m sure I can set him straight! I can set him straight…”
“I swear I’m not going to execute him,” Victor promised. Frankly, if it had been almost anyone else, the Vizier would have threatened to feed him to Junior already.
“Can I… can I talk to him?”
Victor didn’t see any reason to disagree. Maybe she could even get him to speak. “I’m here if you need it.”
She nodded in gratitude, but didn’t answer. He let her open the door to Croissant’s cell, and closed behind him to give them privacy.
“Girlfriend?” Jules asked, the Grand Vizier sighing, “Victor, you are the bravest man I know.”
Yeah, right. Seeing Chocolatine mortified after her brother’s arrest had made Victor rethink about his reaction. After getting used to her quirky usual self, he hated to see her sad; it awakened protective instincts he didn’t know he had.
“How is the situation?” Victor asked the newcomers.
“The fiends still want Miel's head, although Vainqueur cowed them into obedience for now,” Allison said. “The situation in town is tense, but there’s more. Someone attacked the farms tonight.”
Victor narrowed his eyes. “Continue.”
“Rolo noticed the guards protecting the livestock’s hens had been hypnotized into sleep, while wolves massacred the cattle,” the dryad explained. “What’s wrong is that, when, Rolo arrived to chase them, they transformed into mist before he could get close.”
“I have yet to meet a wolf breed capable of [Mistform],” Jules said.
“Vainqueur took the attack on his food supply personally and started patrolling the farms. I believe it reassured the population, for now.”
Victor suddenly noticed something wrong. “Why didn’t Charlene come to inform me?”
“Vic…” Allison cleared her throat. “Charlene is missing. She wasn’t at her house or at the office, and the kobolds haven’t found her yet.”
A chill went down Victor’s spine. “Any ransom demand, or hint of where she could have gone?”
Allison shook her head.
“Do I hurry up and prepare to equip everyone for war, chief?” Barnabas asked, after having remained silent for a while.
“Yeah,” the Grand Vizier nodded. “What about my first order?”
“Work is done, chief,” said the troll, opening the crate to present his work inside.
Victor had ordered the troll to craft him a replica of his scythe, and a set of armor meant to synergize with his current classes. The final result was scary to behold, black plate armor with a tattered cape and a faceless, horned helmet. Barnabas had painted a crimson dragon on the torso, most probably to represent Vainqueur.
Hell Knight Armor
Protection: Physical +16/Magical +8
Weight: 16 kgs.
Bonus: +3 STR/+3 VIT/+10% Critical Damage/Auto-Regen/Unholy, Fire, Darkness and Curse Resistance/[Cursed] if wearer has good Karma.
A customized set of heavy armor once worn by the defunct order of the Hellknights (now rebranded as the politically correct Friends of Happiness); its steel has been infused with the boundless malice of a hundred debt collectors. Perfect for a dragon’s enforcer!
Speaking of Sauron, he wouldn't have disdained such armor; here died Victor's hopes of looking like a shining knight on a horse.
The scythe would be especially helpful against their enemy, for the Vizier had a pretty good idea who they were. Foes turning into mist in the dead of the night; fond of misdirection, surprise attacks meant to maximize terror, and hypnotism...
Croissant was right. Victor did let them in, invited these snakes to operate within their borders.
The Nightblades had come to Murmurin.