In the safety of his vault, Vainqueur Knightsbane took a handful of coins from his hoard and showered his niece with them.
He had allowed his niece to rest on his hoard, until its warmth helped her forget her captivity at the hands of the bat-beast. Yet, in spite of his best efforts, she remained quiet and slightly scared of the outside. “Uncle,” Jolie finally asked him. “Do I have a birth defect?”
“Of course not!” Vainqueur reassured her. “You are almost as perfect as me!”
“But Dad died, and they hurt me!” Unfortunately for her uncle, Jolie may be young, she was also smart for her age. Her lost horn would constantly reminded her of her imprisonment. “You always told me pain was a birth defect.”
“Because you were too young for the truth,” Vainqueur said, having himself only learned about this shameful secret of dragonkind recently.
He could no longer spare her feelings.
“Pain and death…” Vainqueur struggled to find the right words, to deliver the terrible truth. “Pain and death are not birth defects! Every dragon suffer from them!”
Jolie’s eyes morphed into the purest expression of dread and horror. While she understood the truth deep down, to hear it from her beloved uncle must have shaken her to the core. “Even you?”
“Even…” Vainqueur’s voice broke. “Even I.”
The revelation scared her even more of the outside.
"Jolie, through my journeys, I learned that true confidence is not being ignorant of death,” Vainqueur told her, trying to cheer his niece up. “True awesomeness is being me: fighting to the bitter end because I know that despite the risks, I will always prevail. Because I am me. Even Death bows before my strength, wealth, and peerless genius!”
“So if I grow strong and big and rich like you, I can overcome death?” Jolie’s head perked up.
“Exactly!” Vainqueur encouraged her. “But you cannot become as amazing as me if you stay at home all day. You have to grow fat on cattle, cultivate the best minions, destroy your enemies, and get rewarded for it with wealth! That is the dragon way to happiness!”
His words lit up the fires of enthusiasm in his niece’s eyes.
His vault’s doorbell echoed through its walls, Vainqueur grumbling as he opened the large door.
He found Knight Kia waiting in front. “Is Jolie—”
Vainqueur began to close the door before she could finish, intent on keeping her out. But unfortunately, his niece had heard the voice. “Kia!” She immediately rose up to welcome her perverse excuse of a minion, forcing her uncle to keep the gates open.
“I’m so sorry,” the Knight apologized while hugging the dragonling; as if it would make up for her sin of minion incompetence. “I should have stayed with you all the time. Did they cut off your horn?”
“Yes, and they took my blood too! They tried to seal Uncle in a bottle!”
The Knight scratched Jolie behind the ear, the way Vainqueur often did; the sight made him envious, although he was too good to show it. “This is just the beginning,” Knight Kia said. “Once a Fomor has its mind on something, it never stops.”
“You’re not leaving again?” Jolie asked her minion.
“No, this time I will stay with you constantly,” Kia said, “At least. until you have enough levels to defend yourself. I will train you until you become a [Paladin] so unstoppable, that you will eat vampires for dinner.”
“Good, because if I find out if anyone hurt my niece again on your watch, there will be nothing left of you to breed,” Vainqueur warned the manling, and he meant it.
As for the fairies, the dragon could no longer ignore their schemes.
Now was the time for action.
Sitting on the back of his horse, backed by a legion of clerics, kobolds, and ghouls, Victor glanced at the barricaded house in front of him. It had taken most of the day and last night, but this was the last warehouse to raid.
“Sir, what do we do?” Jules asked, glancing at the shut windows.
“If she’s not out in five minutes, break the door and kill them all,” Victor told his troops. “No quarter.”
Fortunately, the door opened and Savoureuse walked out. A dozen vampires followed her, their hands on the back of their heads. Charlene closed the procession.
As Savoureuse told them, the Nightblades had already turned her into a vampire. Her skin had turned dead white, her eyes crimson, and her body had slimmed considerably. She looked more attractive and confident, in a predatory kind of way.
“We’ll find a way to cure you,” Victor promised her, climbing down from his horse while carrying his bazooka.
“Cure what?” Charlene replied. “My newfound immortality?”
“You’re not mad about your current situation?”
“No! Being a vampire is marvelous!” She put her hands on her hips, flaunting her new figure, “I feel so much healthier and stronger! I will have to hide from the sun when I run out of elixirs, but I will stay young forever! I no longer feel the ache in my back!”
Victor thought she would feel conflicted about losing her humanity, but she took it awfully well. “Good to see you back then.”
“And let me tell you, things will change,” Charlene replied, her bloody eyes full of authority. “When I find that traitor Croissant, I will suck him dry, and not in the way he thought I would.”
Victor had already planned to decide his fate with his sister after the current matter dealt with. “Where is Emile Lavere?” he asked the prisoners. Lucie’s second-in-command was the last loose end he had to address.
“We trapped him in his coffin when he refused to surrender,” the assassin replied. “None of us here will fight for a dead woman.”
“Shoot the coffin with arrows, check the corpse, then cremate it,” Victor ordered Jules, the necromancer entering the house with an escort to do the dead. With Emile gone, they had defanged the guild’s leadership in Murmurin.
As for the minions… “You have fought the law,” Victor warned them. “Caused us a lot of trouble, sowed chaos, and threatened the emperor’s subjects. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“We surrendered?” a rogue said. “Shouldn’t you be a tiny bit merciful? I mean, Sav got away with it.”
“Not really,” Savoureuse sighed.
“I condemned her to five years of community service,” Victor said, and by that, he meant cook duties. “And unlike you, she fully cooperated.”
“Then we are sorry, and we won’t do it again?” one of the vampires responded bashfully.
“Yeah, you’re scary, sir,” another rogue replied. “And also very handsome!”
“Phooey, and here I thought you needed a backbone to become a [Assassin] these days,” a new, mocking voice taunted the cowardly killers. “I stand corrected.”
Victor raised his eyes, noticing someone on the roof.
A humanoid crow with feathers as black as the darkest night, and eyes shining like stars in the dark. He wore a ridiculously extravagant crimson harlequin costume and swung a scythe full of wailing souls. The way he hopped on the roof, he clearly delighted in his coyness; and somehow, watching him felt wrong.
How did he manage to sneak up on everyone? And why did he look exactly like… like...
It couldn’t be.
“Who the Happyland are you?” Victor pointed his rocket launcher at the newcomer.
“I’m Deathjester,” the birdkin harlequin announced himself with a mock bow, before leaping off the roof and gracefully landing in front of Victor. “God prince of crime. Accept no substitute.”
Deity (guess my type! Avian/Divine!)
Strengths and weaknesses mean nothing to me; all bend to my will.
Yes, that’s me, I’m the real deal. The patron god of criminals, troublemakers, tricksters, and birds (because birds are awesome). I’ve killed every type of creature at least once, even Mithras at one time. I could give you the gory details, but that would make for an entire black comedy novel.
“That’s the real one,” Victor muttered in shock. “That’s Deathjester!”
The entire minion regiment pointed their weapons at the birdkin, while the Nightblades, including Savoureuse, instantly bowed before their patron deity. “God!” they sung in respect.
Deathjester responded to the display of force by raising a talon, transforming every spear and arquebuse aimed at him into feathers, much to the kobolds’ surprise. “Now, you all know my history with the law,” the crime god said. “But I come in peace. Honest.”
Victor didn’t know how to react. He had grown unimpressed with the gods, but this one was murder incarnate, and Evil with a capital E.
“Thank you, thank you, you are too kind,” the deity responded with vanity, clapping his hands, “As implausible it may sound, I’m not here to kill anyone. In fact, I came to give you my blessing… and ask you to spare my followers, even if I’m a bit ashamed of their cowardice.”
“You’re… applauding me?” Somehow, it felt shameful.
“Victor, Vic, I’m the friend of all those who walk the path of chaos,” the deity said, patting him on the back, much to everyone’s silent astonishment. “Ever since you failed to steal that rapier from Vainqueur’s hoard, Outremonde has entered an era of change and confusion. You and that dragon are walking disasters, and I love, love it. Right now, you’re my favorite troublemaker. I’ve even decided to give you a sweet reward.”
Light shone on Victor’s left shoulder, through the armor’s chinks. He supposed the crow deity’s symbol had appeared on his skin.
You earned the [Claimed by Deathjester] Personal Perk!
[Claimed by Deathjester]: When you level up, you have an additional 10 percent chance to gain a Skill or Charisma point. You can falsify your Karma as you wish, and your lies cannot be identified by any magic.
“That should take care of your angel problem,” said the deity, clearly expecting Victor to commit insurance fraud.
“You know Shesha already claimed me?” Victor pointed out. “Shouldn’t you cancel one another?”
“Oh, you know, our portfolios have many gray areas,” the deity replied. “Like drugs or prostitution.”
Having been claimed by four deities, Victor wondered if he should catch them all. “Eh, don’t expect any ‘goodish’ deity to look on kindly to you,” Deathjester said, confirming that he could read the Vizier’s mind. “Except maybe Seng or Cybele, since you’re easy as they come.”
“Hey, what does that mean?” Did they consider him a manwhore upstairs?
“Not just upstairs,” Deathjester shrugged. “Now, I have an offer for you.”
“An offer you can’t refuse, or an offer-offer?” Victor asked, doubtful.
“I had something fresh with the Nightblades, and with Lil’ Lucie gone, the organization will fall into disarray,” the harlequin replied while ignoring the question. “And while I’m all for eras of strife, it will make law-loving Mithras happy, and his pleasure is my unhappiness. I also believe you have great potential as a villain, and not only because you followed one seminar.”
“You want me to take over the Nightblades?” the Grand Vizier guessed.
“Yes, but only if you spare my lovely assassins,” the deity confirmed. “Someone has to care for the dregs and outcasts of the world. So. Do you want to become the Napoleon of crime, Vic?”
Frankly, if he had asked months ago when Savoureuse offered him control of a chapter, he would have refused.
But now, Victor wasn’t sure what to make of it. Controlling the Nightblades would help repurpose their vast resources to serve his and Vainqueur’s interests, instead of the fomors’. He could reform the organization to make it something more productive than terrorists for hire. On the other hand… his karma would take another hit.
“I don’t really feel like a villain, or someone walking the path of chaos, as you say,” the Vizier argued. “If anything, I’m the main reason why this country is semi-functional.”
“You’re in league with Happyland, you lead a nation of monsters, made necromancy a state-sponsored trade, you’ve ruthlessly hunted your own kind to protect a greedy, destructive dragon… should I go on?”
“I did most of that for Vainqueur. I owe him my life.”
“You didn’t resist very hard even though he listens to you, and keyword is most. You’re the one who allowed fiends to operate there, without Vainqueur’s input. You’re not evil, because only angels believe in absolutes, but you’re not hero material either. Face it, Vic, deep down, you’re a hoodlum; if the kind with vision and virtues.”
“That’s a nice sales pitch,” Victor deadpanned. “What next, ‘join the dark side and get cookies’?”
“That’s the thing you don’t get yet: there are no sides, just whatever you want,” Deathjester shrugged. “So? Deal?”
Victor considered the deity’s words until the answer became obvious. “I accept.”
“Glad to hear that,” the god replied, before sliding a talon beneath his harlequin hat, and bringing out a letter. “Also, if one day you wish to go beyond a mere seminar and further your education in overlordship, my pals and I have a whole curriculum for aspiring social climbers. Here’s your invitation.”
Victor snatched the letter and examining it. The seal on the back represented a black lightning bolt, and someone had written the word ‘Scholomance’ on the front.
“Remember, Vic,” Deathjester said, ascending to the skies through a pillar of light. “Lie all the time, cheat, steal, screw the law, and paladins too! That’s the purpose of life!”
“Screw in what way?” Victor deadpanned.
“That’s the spirit, my boi!”
And then the deity vanished before everyone’s astonished eyes.
Congratulations! For dismantling the Murmurin branch of the Nightblades through cleverness and cunning, reaping souls until you had your fill, and rescuing your master on horseback, you earned three levels in [Grand Vizier], two levels in [Reaper], one level in [Assassin] and one level in [Chaos Rider].
You earned the [Forktongued], [Envious], and [Soulmaster IV] Class Perks.
+180 HP, +40 SP, +5 STR, +2 VIT, +10 SKI, +5 AGI, +5 INT, +8 CHA, +7 LCK.
[Forktongued]: You gain a +5 bonus on Charisma checks when you tell lies.
[Envious]: technique, you can steal one positive ailment (such as Regen or Physical Ward) from an enemy or ally and apply it to yourself.
[Soulmaster IV]: Your knowledge of souls has opened you more paths to power than necromancy alone. You can now learn and use [Necromancy], [Rituals], and [Diabolism] spells up to Tier IV. Reaper levels now count as Caster levels for the purpose of class restrictions. This replaces [Necromancy III].
Congratulations! By gaining enough levels into specific classes, being chosen as the head of a criminal syndicate, and receiving the blessing of the god of crime, you can now combine [Assassin] and [Grand Vizier] into the prestigious [Moriarty] class.
[Moriarty]: An emperor of crime, a diabolical mastermind manipulating entire countries from the shadows. Specialties: Leadership, Illusions, Stealth, Small Weapons. Major growths in Skill, Intelligence, and Charisma. Perks affected: [Is-No-Good], [Blade Stinger], [Forktongued].
Well. He had work to do.
At the first hour after dawn, Vainqueur had summoned almost all of his minions at the central square, to address the population.
For things would change.
Vainqueur observed the inhabitants of his city, who had all gathered to listen to his wise words, from the lowest slime to the tallest dwarf. He could smell their worries, their fear. They had had terrible nights and seen Manling Victor’s own home go down in flames. They wanted reassurance.
They would have their fill, and more.
“Citizens of Murmurin,” Vainqueur cleared his throat, to begin his speech. “Long you have feared the night. For days, vampire insurgents led by Lavere the Bat have waged war against my city. They have burned your houses, slaughtered my cattle, corrupted the hearts of old minions, and threatened even what I cherish most. The rebels have cowardly hidden in shadows, trying to divide you through fear, and mistrust.”
His eyes settled on Malfy the Fiend and Miel the Angel. The former remained in a wheelchair, although he had recovered a little; the latter had had her identity cleared up, thanks to Vainqueur’s own genius and Repentant Savoureuse’s testimony. But now, both stood united against the true enemy.
“But the battle is over!” the dragon rejoiced, raising his left hand and clenching it. “The bat leader is dead by my flames, crushed like the vermin she was! As I speak, my forces, under the leadership of my Grand Vizier, are crushing the last pockets of resistance! For as long as you remain under my wing, all will fall before the Empire’s might!”
The crowd immediately reacted with joy, enthusiasm… but all of it subdued. While the most zealous of his minions applauded, as usual, most worried that these attacks were but the beginning of a war. The tension remained palpable. Vainqueur decided to relieve it, by handing out honors to the minions he felt deserved them. “Kobold Rangers, take a step forward.”
His oldest, most prized minions after Manling Victor gathered before him, bowing in line. They had covered themselves with glory in the darkest night, and today, he would reward them.
“When I found you, you were but kobolds,” Vainqueur said. “Yet I immediately saw the seeds of true minionship slumbering within you, ready to be unleashed. Now, you have grown in power, becoming the elite of my lackeys. You are everything a master could want from his servants.”
His minions shivered at his praise, bowing so deep that the dragon worried that they may break their backs.
“As a reward for your long and dutiful service, I promote you to Knights of Vainqueur, and Defenders of the Niece,” Vainqueur declared. “Thou shall protect and guard one of my three greatest joys: my beautiful niece, Jolie. You shall defend her as you defended my gold, and prevail where Knight Kia proved herself lacking.”
“Your Majesty honors us,” Red spoke for the entire team, all of them had tears in their eyes; although it must have been water condensation for the undead ones. “And we shall bring glory to you in return!”
“I know, minions. Now, kiss my ring.” Vainqueur offered them his hand, which they all embraced; the dragon quickly moved on to the hero of the day. “Allison the Dryad, step forward.”
The dryad sheepishly approached.
“Once I disdained you, for I did not consider you minion material.” Too skinny, and he could not eat Rolo. In time, he had come to appreciate the golem’s ability to supply him with food, enough to forgive this defect. “You have proven yourself worthy of my trust.”
“Uh…” the plantkin didn’t find her words, too intimidated by the honor. “Okay…”
“For your deeds against the insurgents, I now make you my new wizardry teacher. You shall assist Manling Victor in making me even more powerful.”
“So… keep doing what I’ve been doing already?”
“Yes, but now your contribution is recognized,” Vainqueur said, showcasing his generosity. “Now kiss my ring.”
After she did, albeit with less enthusiasm than the Rangers, Vainqueur addressed the crowd again. “However, citizens, as a good dragon, I shall always tell the truth. The vampire insurgents were but the soldiers of a much older threat. The fairies.”
“Fairies?” “The Fomors?” “They’re back?!”
Vainqueur listened to the whispers of his lackeys, finding out that they feared his old rivals, as much as they respected dragons. Their ancestors had died at the hands of these creatures, or toiled as slaves.
“This time, however, they have gone too far. They spat at a volcano.”
To punctuate his declaration, Vainqueur let out a stream of fire at the skies, instantly silencing his adoring fans.
“Minions, the fairies declared war on me,” Vainqueur said, smoke coming out of his nostrils. “By freeing the Goldslayer Furibon from the seal which kept his evil contained, attacking my minions, and threatening my niece, they broke the dragon-fomor peace, which has held since the morning of the world. If they have forgotten who won the first war, I shall remind them in the second.”
The great dragon proudly extended his wings, so all his minions could bask in his full majesty.
“For I, Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of His Name, Great Calamity of the Age, Defender of the Hoard, Greatest Gladiator, Genius Presidente, and Emperor of Murmurin, Ishfania, and the Albain Mountains, declare war back on the fomors!”
|Charisma check successful!|
His servants raised their hands in bloodthirsty acclaim, eager for revenge. “War!” they shouted all at once, their screams becoming deafening, “War! War! War!”
“The Mell clan, which has opposed me since my awakening, shall learn its place! Nowhere in this world will they feel safe from my wrath! I will burn their lairs to the ground, empty their pens of cattle, and claim their wealth as mine!”
Vainqueur waved his hand in a dramatic fashion. “As the first measure, I hereby order the creation of the Vainqueur Watch for Thorough Fairy Destruction; an institution dedicated to finding new and creative ways to deal with the fomor problem! I invite any creature willing to fight the good fight, to join this golden crusade!”
None applauded this decision more than the dwarves; they had eagerly welcomed his orders to prepare for the return of Furibon, and could not wait to test their weapons on new targets.
“As my second measure, it is time for the country to live up to my reputation,” Vainqueur said. “All of my minions will train and be equipped, so that one day, very soon, we shall take the fight to the fairies, instead of letting them invade us again! I shall expand this empire beyond this city, across the sea and into the island of Prydain! Under my wings, we shall prevail!”
As his citizens applauded the declaration, Vainqueur abandoned himself to his imagination, thinking about the future. He already salivated at the thought of the vast treasures which the fomors would surely drop. He had much work to do, for the fairies were vicious. They had crafted golems that could challenge even him. They had modernized, as he did when he embraced the dragon System.
He would have to modernize his empire too. While the growth of his hoard remained his priority, he would ensure that his empire grew stronger under his rule. While he had been content to let Manling Victor handle minion affairs, he would now provide direct guidance, until his dominion had grown tenfold.
And one day, very soon…
He would conquer even the Moon!