Vainqueur had never seen such an exquisite city. Everything, from the pavement to the walls, was made of gold. The builders had even painstakingly recreated an entire park, replacing the flowers, trees, and grass with superior golden duplicates.
“Look at these,” Allison said, pointing at gold statues standing all over the streets. While most represented lizardkin and other reptiles, they also included a great variety of species, such as manlings, elves, beastkin, and orcs; each statue having a wildly different clothing style, although all shared a look of unbridled desire on their faces. Truly the ancient civilization that built this place was a model of minion inclusiveness.
They even had a gold statue of the great wyrm Grandrake, greedily rubbing his belly with a maddened look on his face, in the central plaza. What a refined, dragon-friendly city! Vainqueur could spend an eternity there.
He would. “Minion!”
“Yes, Your Majesty?” His Doer of the Thing answered.
“After the goldslayer is vanquished, we will move the capital of my great empire, and my hoard, to El Dorado,” Vainqueur decided. “I finally found a place worthy of me.”
“There is something wrong here,” Untasty Allison said, growing more and more agitated. The lich’s nearby presence must have put her on edge. “I do not sense any plants inside the city’s walls.”
“When everything is made of gold, there is no need for green,” Vainqueur replied with pride, but it didn’t improve the dryad’s mood. But not even her whining nor Malfy crying out of joy every time he looked at Manling Victor could spoil the dragon’s mood.
“It is so clean,” Felix the cat commented. “But where are the minions cleaning it up?”
Indeed, El Dorado was incredibly silent. Vainqueur couldn’t hear any bird or local minion for the life of him, and he had excellent ears.
Not that he cared. Indeed, the more time the dragon spent walking on these roads of golden bricks, sensing the metal’s warmth on his scales, the more he felt at home. Vainqueur was not entirely fond of the Thaoten-like architectural style of the buildings, but he would get used to it.
With this city added to his hoard, he would win his bet with Icefang easily!
A look at a lead pyramid returned him to reality, and reminded him of the threat the city faced. “Sweet Chocolatine,” Vainqueur said. “Do the thing.”
“Do the thing? With whom?”
“The smelling thing.”
“Oh, right.” The werewolf sniffed the air, her excellent sense of smell put to the dragon’s use. She quickly caught a scent and guided them through a wide street, eventually leading the group towards a plaza, right at the steps of a flat-top pyramid.
They found him.
That fleshless, floating incarnation of pure evil. A monstrous abomination of golden bones and jeweled teeth, whose very appearance mocked a hoard's beauty. Silver-stained robes covered most of its unnatural body, which flew through the sacrifice of orphaned baby gems. Like a serial killer, he had poisoned five gold statues of manling warriors with the curse of lead, and prepared to murder a sixth with his bare hands.
“Furibon!” Vainqueur shouted.
“Vainqueur?” The lich recoiled in fear of dragon justice, cowardly using the surviving statue as a hoard shield. “VAINQUEUR!”
“FURIBON!” Vainqueur shouted louder. “I have crossed the ocean, conquered countries, defeated giants, so I could finally track you down!”
“... and you had nothing better to do?” the lich asked with contempt.
“What could be more important than destroying you, despoiler of the gold?! After you turned the moon to lead?!”
The lich remained silent for a long moment, as he absorbed the words. “That may be the stupidest thing I have ever heard you wyvern say,” Furibon rasped.
And like that, the lich added reptilian racism to his long list of negative qualities. “So you deny transforming the planet moon into a lead hellhole?”
“Happyhole, Your Majesty,” Malfy corrected. “The politically correct term is happyhole.”
“Oh, I see where this is going,” the lich let out a sound sounding like sarcasm, which made sense when faced with suicide by wyrm. “I turn a dragon’s hoard to lead once, once, and it is all people remember me for. Wonderful.”
“You turned a dragon’s hoard to lead?” Felix asked, hanging from Sweet Chocolatine’s arms. “That was stupid, even for a pile of dog food.”
“... it seemed like a good idea at the time,” Furibon said, reveling in his odious historical negationism. “Why am I defending my choices to a cat? Truly I have hit rock bottom today. I feel my intelligence score decreasing just by talking to you.”
“Hey, Furi!” Having partly recovered from his dwarf addiction, Manling Victor waved a free hand at the enemy. Vainqueur wanted to scold him, but instead focused entirely on the lich; he needed to save the gold statue hostage, no matter what.
The lich pointedly ignored the chief of staff, before noticing something out of the ordinary. “Dalton, why are you only wearing boxers and a scythe? No, on second thought, I do not want to know.”
“Get away from the gold statue, you monster!” Vainqueur ordered. “She is innocent!”
The lich let out a deep bellowing sound, which Vainqueur took for a sigh. “I was genuine when I said I never wanted to see you lizard again, and every word you say only reminds me of why. Can we not coexist by ignoring one another?”
“So long as you threaten all that is golden in the world, I shall never rest!” the dragon emperor roared, the ground shaking from the strength of his belief. “I saw the lead pyramid, Furibon! Once your [Transmute Gold to Lead] was a weapon against dragonkind, but now it has become a twisted, perverse addiction!”
“This is different! I am trying to save everyone from this self-replicating gold! If I do not transform El Dorado to lead, the New World is doomed!”
All of Vainqueur’s fears came at the forefront of his mind, as he realized just how deep the lich was willing to sink into depravity. Worse, his minion seemed corrupted by his foul, twisted words. “What do you mean?” Manling Victor asked, his mind overtaken by the villain’s insanity.
His heart torn at the thought, the dragon decided to sacrifice the gold statue hostage for the sake of the greater wealth. With a fearsome roar, Vainqueur opened his mouth and unleashed a mighty fireball at his nemesis before he could drive Manling Victor insane.
Time seemed to freeze for a brief instant, and a split second later, Vainqueur’s fireball only melted gold. The lich had teleported out of the path, coating his body in a stone-like substance and magical protections.
[Curse of Greed] activated.
You can now turn matter to gold on touch.
Awesome! “Fall to the poke!” Vainqueur unleashed his ultimate attack, rushing at his foe with a lone finger raised; empowered by greed and fury, the dragon moved faster than lightning.
“You… you reptilian fool!” the lich snapped. “The more you spread it, the stronger the curse gr—”
The dragon poked his foe in the skull without a word.
At once, the blessed power of greed activated, instantly turning the entire lich into the purest shade of gold. The floating undead crashed on the ground, sealed once more.
“How did Your Majesty do this?” Malfy asked, amazed by his master’s goldliness. “Did you gain a new level?”
“That was… easy…” Friend Victor said. “Too easy.”
“This is divine punishment from the gold itself!” Vainqueur replied, refusing to let his minion’s sour mood spoil his victory. All his new levels had paid off! “I saved El Dorado! And now it is mine!”
“I still think we should look around for a trick,” Manling Victor said.
Vainqueur grumbled. “Fine, fine,” the dragon said absentmindedly, too eager to test his new power to look for imaginary enemies. “As you wish, minion. I will repair the damage Furibon did to my city with my golden poke in the meantime.”
“Oh, can we come with you?” Chocolatine asked. “This place looks amazing!”
“Certainly, my minion,” Vainqueur said, glancing at her and the cat in her arms with interest. “Certainly.”
|Empathy negated by [Curse of Greed].|
He wondered how much they weighed in gold...
This place gave Victor the creeps.
He couldn’t put his finger on why, but that whole city gave him chills on his back. And no way could Furibon be taken down so easily.
Climbing the stairs of the pyramid and examining the temple at the top had only exacerbated his intuition. The hall he, Allison, and Malfy currently occupied should have looked magnificent, with its shining column and its central altar illuminated by a hole in the roof above.
But outside the main effigy representing a startlingly beautiful woman at the center of the room, the many statues around him felt wrong; from the greedy looks on their faces to the scenes of fighting they represented.
“Mr. Victor, this temple is [Cursed],” Malfy said, his usual cheeriness replaced with unease. “I can tell.”
“Vic, I…” Unfortunately, the second she laid her eyes on him, Allison put her hand on her face as she struggled not to laugh.
Victor tightened his hold on his scythe, embarrassed. What the happyland did he do while drugged? Miel no longer answered his telepathic calls, which meant she had probably left the plane, and whenever he asked for an explanation, Malfy started crying.
“Sorry.” His friend managed to somewhat regain her composure, although she clearly struggled to. “Vic, there is indeed something very wrong with this place. This is a temple of Cybele, but my goddess does not respond when I try to contact her for advice.”
“How is that even possible?”
“I assume another deity has a stronger influence over El Dorado and blocks out the others.”
Yeah, that wasn’t suspicious at all.
As for that gold transformation, when did Vainqueur gain a new level? True, Victor hadn’t checked all of his favorite dragon’s abilities recently, and he had a way of pulling powers out of nowhere… but why did he have the feeling it was connected to the strange statues outside?
|Intelligence check successful!|
“Allison, Malfy, we have a big problem,” he said, the two looking up at him with shared unease. “I do not think the statues outside are actually statues. I think they’re people.”
“And you would be right,” said a rasping voice.
Victor turned around almost lazily, the lich floating from behind a golden pillar. “Dalton,” Furibon said, very much ‘unalive.’
“Furi? That was a decoy outside?”
“Yes,” the lich replied, annoyed by the nickname. “I learned my lesson. Fighting dragons is stupid, and yours even moreso.”
Aha, he was right! “So… how is your [Stockholm Syndrome]? Hanging on?”
“I cured it, but thank you for asking. How is your [Lima Syndrome]?”
“Still coping with it.”
“I have a cure if you need one.”
“Vic, didn’t he capture you?” Allison asked, astonished by the surreal scene. “Why are you treating him like a friend?”
“Eh, we decided to let bygones be bygones a while ago,” Victor shrugged. “I would have rather talked to you before Vainqueur, but…”
“We do not have much time,” Furibon cut through the pleasantries. “I need your… your…”
Since the lich clearly struggled with that word, Victor cleared his throat. “Our help?”
“Yes, your help. We do not have much time. Knightsbane fell under the curse’s influence, like the members of my expedition. You only have to look outside to see the results.”
“Expedition?” Allison frowned.
“He is a registered adventurer now,” Victor shrugged. “I kept tabs on him.”
“I assume Vainqueur doesn’t know about that.”
“I stand by what I said, I have no intention of ever setting a foot in Ishfania again,” Furibon declared. “If you leave me be, so will I. But in his current state, your dragon will not listen. He can already turn what he touches to gold, and the worst is yet to come. After a time, his greed will get the better of his sanity.”
An ugly picture formed in Victor’s mind. “They turned each other to gold,” he realized, horrified.
“When the cursed ran out of flesh to turn to gold, they started touching themselves,” Furibon said, before stopping. “Not the best phrasing, but you understand my point.”
“What about Choc?” Allison frowned, suddenly worried. “Why haven’t we been affected?”
“If they are not Claimed, undead, or fiends, they are already doomed. Undead and fiends are naturally resistant to curses like this, and the Claimed in my group were shielded from its influence. It makes me believe it has a divine origin. And the more the curse spreads, the stronger it gets.”
If Vainqueur fell under its sway, it would become unstoppable. “How do we stop it?” Victor asked, remembering what Xolotl told them. “Our guide told us an ancient evil slumbered in the city. Maybe it is the cause?”
The lich shrugged. “I have pinpointed its source to a sealed temple in the city’s center, but I cannot break the magical barrier around it. I settled on turning all the gold I could find to lead to weaken the curse, but with Knightsbane under its influence...”
“I can get in with [Skeleton Key],” Victor said. “If we can slip past—”
“Miiinnnniiiooonnnnsss…” Vainqueur called from outside the temple; his voice should have been endearing, but just came across as sinister. “Where are yoooouuu?”
… oh gods.
It was a horror movie, and Vainqueur was the slasher villain.