“This is the Nightblades’ warehouse,” Manling Victor told his master from the back of his flaming horse, as a troop of minions encircled a stone house in broad daylight. “Where they stashed the stuff they smuggled into the country.”
“To think that I spared them the evil of taxes, and they repaid me by killing my food,” Vainqueur complained.
Their wizards and priests finished examining the house from the outside, in case the occupants had set a trap. The dragon smelled the air, the warehouse reeking of spice, grave dirt, and fresh blood; it reminded Vainqueur of a farmer’s slaughterhouse.
Corpseling Jules, as the most experienced necromancer in the country, told the group everything about vampires. “According to Lord Victor, they are alchemical vampires, created through blood elixirs rather than the Red Death plague. Which means that besides keeping their vulnerability to sunlight, they lack most of the standard vampire’s weaknesses, have higher stats, and possess special abilities such as turning into blood.”
“Lavere could walk under the sun, as did the one we fought in the Winter Kingdoms,” Manling Victor said. “We have to assume that they all can resist it.”
“Who?” Vainqueur asked, not remembering the name.
“The Nightblades’ leader.”
Oh. It didn’t matter. The queen of rats would give him no more trouble than any other of her kind. “Do vampires burn?” Vainqueur asked the important question.
“Oh, yes,” Corpseling Jules nodded. “I believe they even have a Fire vulnerability. They take triple damage from it.”
“Then, minion, why did you use so many words to describe a problem, when the solution is so obvious?”
“I am not worried about Your Majesty’s capacity for killing,” Manling Victor said. “We have enough priests to repel them, and I don’t think they’re stupid enough to pick a fight with you around. Unfortunately, they’re probably keeping Charlene as a hostage.”
“Our werewolves could not find her, even with her scent,” Corpseling Jules said. “Which implies magic.”
“No one eats my manling minions,” Vainqueur said. “Except for me, when I need emergency rations.”
“Your Majesty’s concern for my kind is heartwarming as ever,” Manling Victor said with his usual strange tone. “Perhaps he could remove the roof with the grace he is known for?”
“Minion, there is something very strange about the way you worded your sentence.”
Manling Victor froze in place. “What about it?”
“You said a sentence, but somehow your tone implied that you believed the opposite,” Vainqueur explained. “But it is not a lie, because you are not truly disguising your intent and you would never deceive me. It was as if I were meant to divine the true meaning from your voice alone.”
His minion silently looked at his master, his face hidden behind his new helmet.
“But that cannot be since that would mean you find me clumsy, and you love me. You love me more than anything.”
His chief of staff spoke no answer in return, which made his master worry for him. “Minion?”
“Your Majesty can understand sarcasm now,” Manling Victor finally spoke up, his tone having turned emotionless and distant. “Your Majesty can understand sarcasm.”
“What is sarcasm, some kind of magic?” Vainqueur’s head perked up. “Can I learn it?”
“It’s… it’s a stress relief method manlings use when they feel tense.”
“Saying a statement while implying the opposite makes you happier?” Vainqueur frowned. “Minion, I am very worried about your mental health. You should work more.”
“Thanks, it really helps.”
“You did it again,” Vainqueur said. “Friend Victor, you should not feel tense. I will protect you and recover your outdated breeding partner.”
His minion simply looked away.
Vainqueur ripped the warehouse’s roof with his hand like he did with farmers’ barns when doing groceries. However, this time, he didn’t find any cattle worth eating inside, nor even a foe to kill.
In fact, he found nothing but empty crates. “The vermin have left already!”
The Kobold Rangers broke the door in response, kobolds swarming the warehouse.
“Your Majesty, Lord Victor!” Red Ranger quickly hurried out of the warehouse with a paper in his claws. “I found this in a crate!”
“[Detect Magic Trap],” Corpseling Jules cast on the paper. “It is safe.”
Vainqueur’s Grand Vizier grabbed the scroll and read it. “Great. This is just great.”
“Minion, you should see a healer,” Vainqueur said. “Or breed. Mammals feel happier after breeding, do they not?”
His minion sighed. “Later, Your Majesty. They have Charlene and want to meet me at a location outside of the city’s limits, at night, for an exchange. I can bring two bodyguards.”
“Oh, good,” Vainqueur said. “I and my army makes two.”
“They heavily insisted against Your Majesty coming. If they see you within a mile of the location, they’ll cancel the deal.”
“You said exchange?” Corpseling Jules noted. “Who do they want?”
“What,” Manling Victor replied. “They want Mot’s map.”
“Strange.” The necromancer joined his fingers. “Why not the Bottle? Do they know you sent it back to Barsino?”
“I can only see one reason why they would want the map,” Manling Victor replied without elaborating.
“It does not matter, I will not give the map to the servants of Furibon, who is evil and must be destroyed,” Vainqueur replied. “Like the last name on the list.”
“Your Majesty, Furibon is not behind every plot against you,” Manling Victor said nonsense and doubled down. “In fact, he said he had learned the lesson and let bygones be bygones.”
“And you believed him, minion?” Vainqueur growled, the pain of losing his hoard once still sharp in his heart. “Have you forgotten the atrocities the Goldslayer committed while he roamed the world? Someone willing to cross that line will cross any other, from lie to deceit!”
“Chief, this is obviously a trap!” Red Ranger protested. “They want to isolate His Majesty’s most valuable minion and eat him!”
“My empire shall not give in to the demands of lichlovers and manling cattle thieves!” Vainqueur roared, his minions letting out a war cry in response.
Manling Victor sighed. “I have a plan.”
His shout of misery echoed through the sand dunes, under the moonless night sky.
“Vic, what’s the matter?” As the highest level priest in the ‘Murmurian Army,’ Victor had selected Allison as his first bodyguard; she had traded her usual clothes for war, a flowery cloak, and a black wood staff. Thankfully, since V&V had steadily pushed further the borders of arable lands into the desert for the past months, her ability to move around had increased as well. “You’ve been cursing for hours.”
“He understands sarcasm now!” Victor snarled angrily from the back of his Nightmare Horse. He carried the rocket launcher in one hand, and the scythe with the other. Allison thought it made him look ridiculous, but he didn’t care. “I need a new stress relief method!”
“You could always murder demons and then cook them,” Allison deadpanned. “It worked wonders for Chocolatine.”
“You mean she was even worse before?!”
“Sir,” Jules, his other bodyguard, cleared his throat. “If you could please remain calm.”
“Yeah, you don’t need to shout, twoleg,” a third voice said.
Victor frowned, narrowing his eyes towards the source of the words.
Namely, the horse he was riding. “You can talk?”
“Uh, yeah, I can,” the horse, apparently a mare according to the voice, replied. “And from what I heard so far, I’m probably smarter than you.”
“Not impressed,” Victor snorted. “My previous mount could eat you.”
“Vic, are you talking to your horse?” Allison asked, apparently not hearing what the creature had to say. Victor assumed he only did so because his mount counted as a monster.
“Hey, you’re not the one carrying a winged dragon-slash-mammal crybaby on your back.” The horse glared at her rider. “You can fly, you lazy reptile!”
“Yeah, sucks to be you!”
“The name’s Noirceur, you pile of horseshit,” the beast snorted. “Since I like intelligent conversation, we’re not going to talk very often.”
“Just talk to yourself then.” Victor let out a deep sigh, ignoring the gazes Allison and Jules sent him. “I’m not crazy.”
“Vic, I can’t believe I’m saying this,” his dryad friend said. “But you should get laid more.”
|Skill check successful.|
Victor noticed shapes silently moving behind a dune nearby, their scent hidden by the wind. “They’re here,” the Grand Vizier warned.
His allies immediately began to cast protective wards, while Victor used the new necromancy buffs he learned from Jules. “[Protection from Undeath], [Breath of Life], [Fear Aura].”
You gain +4 check bonus against [Undeath] effects.
+100 temporary HP.
Chances to inflict [Terror] increased by 20 percent.
Within seconds, a dozen of shadowy, cloaked figures had surrounded them; Victor’s Monster Insight identifying most of them as vampires. Two of them forced a bound and gagged Charlene to move forward, stopping at a respectable distance from the opposition.
Charisma check partly successful.
Lucie Lavere can only read your surface thoughts.
Good enough. He hadn’t told Allison anything and ghouls like Jules were immune to mind-reading, so the Nightblades shouldn’t skim anything about their two secret weapons. The fact they had chosen a location near the city implied they might intend to retreat there though.
Victor noticed Savoureuse among the assassins, waving her claws at him. “Oh, hi Vic!”
“Oh, hi Sav!” Victor greeted her back. “What’s up?”
“I’m fine! I hope you’re not mad about my sudden but inevitable betrayal?”
“Eh, it’s part of the job.”
“I’m sorry, Vic. You are my friend, but they know where my family lives.”
“We are all a big happy family,” a cowled figure said, Victor recognizing the voice as Lucie Lavere’s. “Even if some of them turned into black sheep.”
“Sheeps,” Allison replied, making Victor roll his eyes.
“I understand now how you took over the Nightblades,” the Grand Vizier told Lavere. “All of the upper echelons have become your vampire spawn.”
“A very sweet deal, you will agree,” she replied, keeping her face hidden. “Especially once that vulnerability to the sun is dealt with.”
“Emperor Vainqueur officially revoked your invitation on these lands, by the way,” Victor said, but it didn’t make her bulge.
“Dalton, we are predators. Does a fox need a rabbit’s permission to hunt him?”
“Really?” Allison frowned. “Then why the myth of vampires needing invitations?”
“Usually, because they are polite,” Jules replied.
“We bleed people to live, but we are not savages,” one of the undead assassins said. “We are undead of culture.”
“Yeah, it’s you living who don’t respect anything nowadays!” another complained.
“I’m surprised you showed up in person though,” Victor told Lavere. “There must be a very good reason why you took the risk to face Vainqueur.”
“You have something that I want,” Lucie confirmed, offering them her hand. “Give me Mot’s map, and I will release your assistant.”
“Afraid your name is on it?” Victor taunted her, her cold silence confirming his thoughts, “You’re Destra, the fourth member of the party. That was your name while alive. I thought you said fighting dragons was stupid?”
“It is, and I’m the one who convinced my team not to wake Vainqueur up, or touch his hoard,” the vampire confirmed, the irony of the situation not lost on Victor. “It worked very well for me. Immortality, knowledge, power…”
That explained why she had Savoureuse establish a chapter in Murmurin. She didn’t care about the region but wanted to keep tabs on Vainqueur in case he chose to hunt her down. Now that he had tracked down her teammates, she had moved into action.
“But you can’t be a good criminal mastermind when anyone can locate you with that map,” Allison guessed.
“And I doubt the fomors were happy that you lied to them,” Victor added. He remembered their last discussion when the vampire explained she could walk under the sun thanks to fairy flowers. Hamelin probably supplied them to her, in exchange for favors. “You have to know you are in a no-win situation. You may be powerful, but a bunch of thieves and hired guns will never defeat Vainqueur.”
“Fighting dragons is stupid,” Lucie replied. “Which is why we won’t. We were tasked with disrupting this fragile country, and we will. We will starve your citizens, frighten the merchants, assassinate your leaders. We will retreat into the shadows too fast for that clumsy dragon to catch us. No one will feel safe. Your terrible economy and existing tensions will do the rest, tearing this place apart.”
Argh, she intended to attack them with basic economic principles! “Not gonna happen.”
“You’re on the losing side,” Lucie said. “You just don’t know it yet. So I’m going to make you and your friends a one-time offer: ditch the dragon, get back into the fold, or die.”
“Already did,” Victor replied. “The answer is: nope.”
“Nope,” Allison added, while Jules shook his head politely.
“Too bad, because I do not believe in second chances.” The vampire shrugged. “But we don’t have to fight tonight. The map, against the girl.”
After Victor checked Charlene with [Monster Insight] first.
Doppelganger Inveigler (Fairy/Humanoid)
Strong against Fairy, Mind-Control, Poison, Illusions, Paralysis, Sleep, and Truth-Detection.
Weak against Manslayer, Cold Iron, and Silver.
A fairy working as a spy, assassin, and occasional actor. A master infiltrator capable of shape-shifting, mind-reading, and truth-hiding; very pissed that your [Monster Insight] could detect his true nature in spite of all its natural immunities to scry magic and perks. You wounded its feelings! Also, it was a trap.
“That Perk of yours is so annoying,” Lucie Lavere said, before instantly casting a spell. “[Accelerated Nocturne].”
She unleashed a wave of impenetrable darkness around herself before anyone could react.
The terrain has been temporarily changed to [Dark Underworld].
Nocturnal creatures, fiends, and undeads on the field have their stats increased, and will be harder to turn. All non-nocturnal creatures will suffer from the [Blind] ailment. Monotype, non-undead creatures will be animated as undead if killed on the field.
“Summon-” Victor began.
|Field effect cancelled.|
The darkness dissipated before he could finish his sentence, revealing the minions alone in the desert, with only a small crater for company. True to their word, the Nightblades had vanished back into the shadows, rather than to fight.
Victor would keep his door locked at night.