Far, far east of Gardemagne sprawled the lands of Serica, the Eastern Continent. Among the countries fighting to control it, few could rival the Jade Empire.
This enormous, fertile landmass was famous for its culture, military power, riches… and the wise dragon philosopher advising the imperial family. Sometimes, it even granted audiences to outsiders looking for answers and wisdom.
Waiting in front of the golden gates of the dragon’s temple, the sorcerer mused at the irony. He would seek advice from a dragon on how to escape the shadow of another.
After hours of waiting, a bald monk in golden robes came to announce him. “The Jade Dragon, great Sifu, and guru of our beloved emperor, will grant you an audience,” the man said. “You are to respect the protocol. Do not contest the Sifu’s logic, do not question the Sifu, do not insult the Sifu.”
Most of his face hidden beneath a hood and illusions, the undead bowed in agreement, hoping the creature would not recognize him. The Jade Empire may have been half a world away from Ishfania, but Vainqueur had spread his humiliating story to anyone who would listen to him.
The doors opened dramatically, the undead warlock floating after the monk while they moved through them.
The Jade Dragon welcomed the lich in a great hall supported by golden pillars, with twenty other monks bowing to him. The beast was a much different creature than its western cousin, a dignified, jade-scaled snake with a lion’s mane, deer horns, and lizard legs. The creature rested comfortably on an enormous cushion, which the sorcerer could tell the dragon filled with golden coins instead of feathers.
“Approach, disciple,” the reptile spoke.
The undead nodded, bowing before the creature. “Oh, great Jade Dragon. The rumors of your great wisdom have reached even my ears. I traveled far and wide to find you.”
“You are a skeleton, you do not have ears,” the dragon missed the point. The lich shuddered at being reminded of Vainqueur’s stupidity. “What is your name, undead?”
“F—” Furibon stopped himself before he committed suicide by dragon again. “Flubby.” The name came out on impulse, and he immediately hated it.
He had spent too much time with V&V.
“Bony Flubby, you should be very wary when presenting yourself before my kind,” the Jade Dragon said. “I heard that the cursed Goldslayer Furibon, the most evil lich to have ever existed, has been set loose. The seal was broken by fairies.”
“A shame,” Furibon lied.
“Most of my cousins would react badly to an undead seeking audience with them, but I am wise and wealthy. Welcome to my free, and I say, free, introduction to cultivation.”
The monks let out a chant, giving the dragon the air of a divine teacher.
“One hundred times your power, one hundred times your magic, one hundred times your life!” the Jade Dragon shouted with passion. “I, Master Jade, will teach my secret shortcut to cultivation mastery! So you can earn more wisdom than you could ever imagine!”
Furibon politely listened without saying a word, as he had been asked.
“I have been in your place, working hard, not getting what I deserve,” the dragon ranted, clearly more interested in hearing himself talk than listening to the lich’s demand. “But I invested in myself, in my knowledge, until I reached power you mortals can only dream of! Who here wants to cultivate immortality?”
This smelled like a scam of some kind, and Furibon didn’t have a nose anymore. Yet the monk who introduced him knelt before the dragon, in awe of his presentation.
“If your thoughts are holding you back, then have faith.” The dragon extended his tiny arms at the golden pillars. “For I am rich! Do you want to be rich and immortal too?”
“I already achieved immortality,” the lich pointed out.
“Undeath is not true immortality! Can you enjoy the taste of cattle now? The warmth of gold on your skin?”
“It is true that lichdom has… weaknesses…” Furibon admitted, having balked at the loss of certain fleshy bits before undergoing the procedure. “But I made peace with them.”
“Only because you have a poor manling’s mindset!” the dragon lambasted him. “You must invest in yourself! I usually charge fifty-thousand gold coins to teach my secret cultivation techniques.”
If Furibon wasn’t dead already, he would have had a stroke. “That’s theft!” he couldn’t help but complain.
“But today, I will exceptionally show you the way to enlightenment for twenty-five, yes, twenty-five thousand gold coins!” Which was still theft. “Would you expect me, the Inventor of Cultivation, to teach the secrets of ultimate power for anything less? Would you?”
Furibon suddenly realized that the differences between eastern and western dragons were purely cosmetic. This… this snake oil pitcher advised the imperial family? How had this nation not collapsed already?
The lich turned to the monks, who whispered among themselves about the ‘opportunity of ten lifetimes.’ Clearly he wouldn’t get any help from them. “Oh, great dragon—”
“Super Sifu Guru Jade, or SSGJ,” the dragon replied. “With capital letters for each. I can tell the difference. If you wish to progress on the path of cultivation, you will have to learn proper etiquette first.”
“Super Sifu Guru Jade,” Furibon loathed saying every word. “I suffer from a disease called [Stockholm Syndrome], which can affect even the undead. I began my quest to cure it weeks ago, visiting villages, fetching items for wizards, until a chain of deals led me to your doorstep.”
“There is no disease which cultivation cannot cure, with hard work, gold, and money.”
“Great SSGJ, I have no interest in cultivation.” As an undead, he would not get any of its benefits, if this meditation mumbo jumbo was even real. “I came to you looking for a cure.”
And only because his own magical research failed to get results.
“And when you have this cure, what will you do?”
Well, Furibon would cure himself of his irrational fondness for Victor Dalton, and then...
And then what?
Ishfania had fallen, and he would never, ever work with Vainqueur in any shape or form. Furibon firmly intended to avoid the dragon until he died of old age or of his own greed. Managing a dungeon and creating monsters had grown stale after a century of holding watch over the Castle of Murmurin. He also had no hobby.
What would the lich do after curing himself? He had no idea!
“Exactly, you have yet to find your passion,” the Jade Dragon said, sensing his doubt. “Which you will find if you pay for the higher levels of initiation.”
“First things first,” Furibon replied. “My passion can wait for when my health begins to improve.”
“If you wish to cure your disease, you have to commit to your spiritual growth,” the Jade Dragon said. “Buy my initiation package first or scram.”
Furibon sighed, but being as desperate as he was to free himself from his past, he accepted. “I brought gifts outside your palace.”
The dragon lowered his head, the monk who introduced Furibon whispering to him. “Good, good.” The beast nodded to himself, before turning back to the lich. “Congratulations on reaching your first cultivation level! As a reward for investing in yourself, I will gladly provide you with the shortest path to a miracle cure.”
This better be worth it. Powerful spellcaster or not, Furibon didn’t have unlimited funds.
“On the northern plains of what you mortals call the New World, in the orc lands, there is a great, flying casino dungeon run by the powerful warchief Manitou,” the Jade Dragon said. “One of the prizes he offers in his tournaments is the legendary artifact, Panacea, which can cure all diseases. Even imaginary ones.”
Furibon’s head perked up in happy surprise. And here he thought he had flushed his wealth down the toilet!
Manitou? Panacea? The names were enough to divine the dungeon’s location.
“But you don’t need it,” the dragon replied. “Now, if you want the true super-secret of immortality and health, you need to ascend to a higher cultivation level.”
“I will settle on this one,” Furibon replied. “Thank you for your wisdom.”
“That is why you will stay mortal and poor,” the Jade Dragon booed him, imitated by his monk minions. “If you cannot invest in yourself, if you do not make the effort to become a true cultivator, then I can do nothing for you. You are beyond help.”
Furibon shrugged, excused himself, and teleported away.
As it turned out, finding the dungeon had been harder than getting in. A rarity among these places, the owner opened its gates to challengers.
The few who could fly of course.
This dungeon was by far the most luxurious place Furibon had ever seen, putting even Vainqueur’s new golden city to shame. All the walls and pillars were made from chiseled marble, covered with tapestries, carpets, and mosaics; gemstone candelabras cast light on slot machines, roulette, and card table.
Most of the creatures populating the dungeon were orcs, but Furibon recognized giants, elves, fairies, demons, and even a phoenix among them. Most of the orcs and fiends served as the staff, while the others played the games; and the devils present seemed familiar to the lich.
On a closer look, the undead warlock realized that most of the slot machines were actually stylized steel golems, with hands and feet; Jackpot Golems. Here he thought these exp bags extinct, hunted to death by adventurers.
The lich also noticed a familiar face, barking orders to succubi waitresses; a dignified, insectoid woman, whose eerie beauty matched her ruthlessness.
“Lady Maure?” Furibon recognized the delicate creature as Isabelle Maure, his late master’s archdevil mother. “You are alive?”
“Furibon, long time no see,” the fiend replied, entertained by his presence. “What a pleasure to see you out of that scythe. Why would I be dead?”
“I heard reports of your demise when the dragons stormed Happyland.”
“Hell! HELL! I did not agree to that shameful brandwashing!” The archdevil calmed herself. “My corporation went bankrupt after my son’s demise, but I escaped with my life. The mess with Vainqueur Knightsbane has been a fiasco from start to finish.”
She didn’t say.
“Thankfully I invested in other side-ventures, such as this dungeon. While my influence has been greatly diminished, I am bouncing back.”
“What about King Maure?” Furibon asked, curious.
“His powerless soul moved back to my basement, which force him to spend time with me. Unfortunately, he is whining so much that I wonder if this is a curse in disguise.”
Furibon shrugged. While he felt some sliver of loyalty for his old master, even he had preferred to stay at the bottom of a castle rather than suffer his flamboyant presence.
A cave troll in life, Furibon had been born smaller and frailer than most of his kind; but also smarter. Unlike his kindred, who feared magic as their fomor masters’ tool, the future spellcaster obsessed over the power it could provide him. His early successes eventually caught the attention of Brandon Maure, who offered to sponsor his research on lichdom against his loyalty.
Furibon accepted the deal and rose to become his master’s second-in-command; eventually, the once-troll took levels in the [Lich] class and reached the respectable fifty-eighth level.
As a good lich, he had done everything to secure his phylactery. First, instead of choosing something fancy or a legendary artifact, he had bound his soul to a simple golden coin; knowing that adventurers destroying him would take his treasure with them. Then, he hid it in the New World, far, far away from the Mistral Continent.
All in all, his unlife had turned out well… until the lead fiasco.
“I tell you, lich, one day we shall reclaim my son’s market!” The archdevil pumped her fist. “I shall have my revenge against Infercorp and their representative, Victor Dalton, by guile or force! There will be a place for you at my side, in the great corporate army I will raise against—”
“No thanks,” Furibon cut her off.
The archdevil looked at him in surprise. “You do not seek revenge?”
“I learned my lesson.” Even without [Stockholm Syndrome], fighting that dragon and his sidekick was just stupid. Furibon had dodged karmic justice so far by avoiding heroes, and he would deal with Vainqueur the same. “Revenge is a sucker game, and I will not be trapped in a weapon again.”
“Coward! After all that my son did for you...”
“If you wish to confront them, and you will have my sympathy if you try, do not cry over the resulting disaster.”
Isabelle snorted arrogantly. “If you are not here to pledge allegiance, then what do you want?”
“To challenge the dungeon boss.”
“Manitou? You will find him at the card table.” Isabelle Maure glanced in one direction. “My door remains open if you change your mind about Ishfania. I could make use of your magical expertise.”
“Thank you,” the lich replied, although his decision was set in stone. “Allow me to return the favor by giving you advice on your situation.”
“To cut my losses and hide?”
“Make a deal with Dalton,” Furibon advised, having grown fond of the unfortunate human against his better judgment. “You have more to gain by working with him than against him. He is... weak of heart when beautiful women are involved.”
“Hmm… I will keep it in mind.”
Furibon then moved to the card table, almost immediately recognizing Manitou on sight: an obese, monstrously tall, tusked orc with vague goblin-like features. The green-skinned monster dwarfed his competitors in size, shamelessly flaunting his wealth by wearing dozens of necklaces, rings, a crown, and other flashy accessories.
“Oh, you are the new challenger,” the massive orc said upon seeing Furibon approach, a fiend fawning him with a giant feather. “You face Manitou, the King of Games!”
Furibon immediately cast [Advanced Magic Scan] on him, trying to glean any information he could.
SP: Infinite (Artifact?)
Type: Half-Goblin Orc Champion (Beast/Humanoid)
Weak to: Manslayer, Beastslayer, Lightning, Game Addiction.
Approximative level: Unknown.
Classes identified: Gambler, Pro Gamer, Cartomancer, Beastmaster, Warchief, Unknown? Perks could not be identified; hidden by [Card Trick].
The boss of the Sky Casino, a nerd/weeb hybrid and one of the richest monsters in the world; owns an enormous collection of magical items and powerful artifacts. Manitou is obsessed with alien games from the world of Earth, which he makes real with powerful magic.
“I have come for the Panacea,” Furibon said. “Give it to me.”
“I do not give nor do I trade, but I can wager,” the orc lord replied, amused. “My Panacea is a priceless item…”
“I have a wealth of magic items to compensate you.”
“But none of them as priceless to a lich as their phylactery,” the orc immediately zeroed in on the undead’s weakness.
Furibon was in no hurry to become a slave again but decided to hear the creature out before blasting him to death. “At what game would I have to best you?”
“The only games worth fighting your soul over.”
The orc snapped his fingers, a fiend servant immediately teleporting to his side with a suitcase. The creature opened it before Furibon, revealing its content: decks of cards, representing monsters, humans, and other creatures.
“Human children’s card games!”
Furibon resisted the urge to put his hand on his skull. Typical orc.
“But not any games,” the boss doubled down. “Earth games, three of them! To gain the Panacea, you will have to defeat me at Evolve Monsters; Magik the Joining; and Egyptian Duel! And if you lose even once...”
Getting rid of his last link to that dragon was worth almost any cost.
“I will also start any game with the powerful artifact ‘Heart of the Cards’ activated,” said the boss. “Which allows me to draw any card I wish from my deck, instead of drawing them in order.”
“What?!” Furibon choked. “That’s cheating!”
“I am the boss,” the monster replied. “You did not expect the fight to be fair?”
Furibon suddenly wondered why bothering to play that game, when he could simply take the gift by force. With his magical might and immortality, he should crush that orc in no time!
Too many times, the lich had rushed into battle or committed stupid deeds on impulse. Turning the dragon’s hoard to lead had been one, and antagonizing Victor when he had nothing to gain had been another.
He had to think tactically. Overpowered or not, a card was a card! Sound strategy would always prevail over cheating!
“I will consider it,” Furibon replied. “But I ask for time to learn the rules, and resources to build powerful decks first.”
“I grant you three days.” The orc grinned. “You shall have access to my entire card collection, except my Heart of the Cards. The fight may not be fair, you shall have a chance to win. Do you have a monster theme in mind?”
“Dragons and Undead.”
Lots of traps.
- Three days later, four hours after the start of a desperate struggle...
That was it, the final battle; and it wasn’t going well for him.
Furibon’s Card Points: 600.
Manitou’s Card Points: 2200.
“You have fought well, lich, but your soul is mine,” Manitou gloated, drawing his last card from his deck and launching a final attack. “[Metal Slimeking], destroy his [Dracozombie] and deplete the last of his points!”
The mercury slime swirled around the zombie, ready to finish it off… but leaving itself exposed to a counterattack.
“You activated my trap!” Furibon revealed his hidden ace. “[Lead Poisoning]! All metal monsters on the field will be destroyed!”
The mercury slime began to turn to lead before it could swallow his dragon.
“Impossible,” Manitou panicked. “My [Metal Slimeking] prevented you from setting any trap!”
“But by destroying my [Scythe Lord] three turns ago, you activated his special ability. I can use any trap in either of our card crypts!”
“That is… stop!” Manitou looked into the pile of discarded cards, finding the [Scythe Lord] monster among them. “I check the effect first!”
It took five minutes for the orc to read the enormous wall of text detailing the card’s abilities, during which the game stalled to a boring crawl. Furibon sung to himself while waiting for his inevitable victory.
“You are not pulling a fast one,” the boss said, “I missed that line between the twentieth and the twentieth one!”
“As I knew you would. Now, your time is up.”
“I can still change the issue!” the orc replied, furiously looking at his hand, “I can find a solution…”
“You fool, all this duel, you have executed flashy strategies, none of them would have worked unless you drew the one card you needed,” Furibon gloated, “But since you set the trap on your turn, you will not have the chance to draw any miracle card.”
“But when did you—” Manitou gasped. “Wait… back then… back then, on the first turn… that was the card you discarded?! You planned this all along?!”
Yes. Yes, he did.
His magic finished its good work, destroying that infernal goo and leaving Manitou exposed. “Now that your [Metal Slimeking] has been destroyed I attack you directly with my [Dracozombie].” Furibon pointed a finger at Manitou and then declared with boundless joy. “This is the end!”
The illusory dragon opened its mouth and finished the duel by blasting the casino’s boss with a tiny blast of purple fire.
|Manitou’s Card Points: 0.|
As the illusory monster vanished, Furibon let out a blissful cackle.
By defeating Manitou through judicious use of destroyed creatures, returning from the dead in the middle of the duel, and developing a new Undead Lockdown strategy, you have earned two levels in [Lich]! You earned the [Undead Crown] Class Perk!
120 HP, +40 SP, +4 VIT, +1 AGI, +1 INT!
[Undead Crown]: Immediately [Enthralls] other undead, and inflicts [Terror] on other types, with a successful CHA check.
“Impressive,” Manitou said, sounding genuinely astonished. The spectators began to clap with respect for their performance. “First your midgame maneuver, now this… you shall now be known in the gaming world, as Furibon of the Counterattack.”
“You fought well,” the lich replied, the final battle having been a very close call. “I admit, I enjoyed playing these games.”
“A deal is a deal,” the orc snapped his fingers, a demon butler handing Furibon a strange, magnificent golden cup full of a strange purple liquid… and a [Crest].
Yet, this one differed from the one that the lich had used to break past level 30. This one seemed to be made not of gold, but solid, multicolored light, like a coalesced rainbow. “Is that…” Furibon trailed, astonished to see one.
“A [Heroic Crest], necessary to break past the sixty level ceiling,” Manitou confirmed. “Take it.”
“I… I cannot.” These particular Crests were so incredibly rare and difficult to obtain, that even Brandon Maure himself could never obtain one. Yet this monster gave one away so casually. “This is too much.”
“It has been a very long time since I tasted defeat,” Manitou said. “I had grown too confident in the power of the Heart of the Cards over luck… when card games are all about tension, risk, intelligence! Your Undead Lockdown strategy was brilliant, and rekindled my love for the sport!”
Rekindled his love…
The battle had awakened something in the lich’s heart too. For the first time in decades, he had genuine fun. Traveling the world in search for a fabled artifact, discovering new places, putting his unlife on the line… Furibon hated to admit it, but his time in Victor’s scythe had given him a new appreciation of the adventurer lifestyle.
That was it.
That was what he had missed all along.
The lich grabbed the cup, and lacking any throat, splattered the liquid on his skull.
|You have been cured of the following ailments: [Stockholm Syndrome], [Midunlife Crisis] and [Seasonal Depression]!|
Much to Furibon’s surprise, the cup seemed to magically refill itself. Truly an artifact worthy of its reputation. At long last, he was free from the last chain holding him back to Ishfania. The lich now had a new unlife ahead of himself.
He knew what he had to do.
Furibon’s head perked up, as he presented himself in front of a wood desk. A receptionist from Barin’s adventurer guild, some petite tanned woman, welcomed him with a smile. It was a nice change from the horrified glances the rest of the staff kept sending him.
“I would like to register as an adventurer,” Furibon said.
“I thought so,” she chirped. “Although we never had an intelligent skeleton before.”
“A troll lich.” To his amazement, she didn’t even blink. “You are not surprised?”
“Oh, you know, we had dragons, vampires, orcs, slimes… I must warn you that newcomers have overcrowded the market. Finding work as an adventurer nowadays is tougher than ever.”
“I know, but I relish the challenge. I would like to sign with the exploration fleet I heard about.”
“Good.” Without skipping a beat, she handed him over a pile of documents, and an adventurer plate. “Please fill your file, take your plate, and welcome into the adventurer family.”
The lich glanced at the plate, and the metal it was forged from.
It had to be lead. “I am level sixty,” Furibon pointed out. “Should I not skip to gold?”
“Six, sixty, same,” the receptionist replied with a cheeky smile. “Everyone starts with lead here!”
Call it Karma.