On one side, a flock of twenty Valkyries armed to the teeth.
On the other side, two Epic level adventurers and a ferocious dodo.
Yeah, not a fair fight. The poor ladies had no idea how outmatched they were.
Victor examined the flock, and realized that many of them had already been killed on the island. Yet somehow they formed a battle line right before him. “You can revive your own,” the Vizier guessed. “That’s how you knew I captured her soul.”
“We Valkyries can collect worthy warriors who wish to fight forever in Lord Wotan’s halls. That is our [Einherjar] ability.” The new leader of the flock, a black-haired maiden wielding a spear of light, landed on the beach right in front of the Vizier. She pointed her weapon at his head. “But you trapped Sigrun, and we cannot bring her back. Release her at once.”
“I don’t understand everything, but you won’t get far making threats.” Kia raised her sword, surrounding it with light.
“This does not concern you, human,” the Valkyrie replied, very much oblivious to the [Paladin]'s true identity. “We have no quarrel with you.”
Kia wasn’t impressed, and neither was Victor. Since Gorynych and Vainqueur were in the vicinity, their group had the advantage. Even Dodolion looked placidly at the flock, calm and serene.
Still, the Vizier would rather avoid a fight if he could. “I think we all need to calm down here."
“Release our sister and we will be on our way,” the Valkyrie leader insisted, “We will take her back by force if needed.”
“Wait,” Victor caught on. “Would you be willing to negotiate peacefully for her release?”
The war maidens exchanged glances, while their leader frowned at him. “Why would you give her back without a fight?” The concept of a peaceful discussion sounded almost foreign to her. Apparently she only made her demand as a courtesy.
“I dunno, because threats and violence aren’t the answer to everything?”
|Charisma check successful!|
“What do you want then, dragon thrall?”
“I know your master yet lives,” Victor said. He had learned from Akhenapep that every buried evil would escape at one point, no matter how tight the seal. “I want him to stop coming after us. Talk him out of it.”
“Impossible,” the woman shook her head. “Lord Wotan made an oath to the fairy queen, that he would bring her the dragon’s head.”
“His word once given he never breaks,” Sigrun’s shade added with pride, seen only by Victor. “Not like you shifty mortals.”
An honorable kind of fairy? Good, the Vizier would work with that. “What was the exact wording?”
“Bring me Vainqueur Knightsbane’s head, and I shall grant you the soul you crave.”
As he thought, he had found a glaring loophole in it. “Then, here are my terms then,” Victor said. “I will release the soul on three conditions. First, you will answer all our questions as best as you can. Second, after we are done, you will depart this island peacefully. And third, if and when Wotan comes after us again, I want you to convince him to parley instead of attacking on sight. If he picks a fight with Vainqueur afterward, that will be his funeral, but I want him to sit down and negotiate with us for ten minutes.”
The Valkyrie leader pondered his offer, before answering. “I cannot promise my lord will listen, but otherwise… you have our word. We will answer your questions, leave this place without harming anyone, and we shall carry your message to Lord Wotan. If you release our sister.”
Finally, a villain with common sense.
“Are you sure about it, Vic?” Kia whispered to him, low enough for the fairy thralls not to hear them. The [Paladin] hadn’t relaxed at all, her blade firmly pointed at the flock. “We can take them. If you release that soul and let them go, that means problems later.”
“Maybe, but we won’t get many opportunities to learn about the fomors’ operations,” the Vizier replied. “I say it’s worth the risk.”
“Stop whispering among yourselves and ask your questions,” the Valkyrie leader ordered. “I have no desire to stay on this island any longer than needed.”
Right, right. “What’s your name?” Victor asked the leader.
“Brynhildr, who is the fairy queen who sent your master after us?” He already suspected the answer, but he wanted confirmation, and to see if the ladies lied to him.
“We know her as Mell Odieuse,” Brynhildr replied truthfully. Apparently, while loyal to their master, the Valkyries couldn’t care less about the other fomors. “She looks like you humans yet is anything but. She is a cruel beast of great power, and many fairy lords crowned her as queen.”
“Fomors elect a common leader only during wartime,” Kia pointed out. “They are too proud to stand a higher authority otherwise. What do you mean by many?”
“Many fairy lords of Prydain and Mistral bent the knee, save our own Lord, Baba Yaga, and loners like the Jack O’Lantern. She sent emissaries north, west, east, and south across the world, to the unseelie, the yokai, and the rakshasas, offering power in exchange for loyalty.”
“And for what purpose?” Victor asked grimly.
The entire Valkyrie flock looked at him, as if he were an idiot to even ask. “To exterminate the mortals.”
He walked right into that one.
“Lord Wotan said no though,” Brynhildr admitted.
Victor frowned. “He refused?”
“There is no honor in killing creatures who cannot kill you in turn,” she replied with great pride. “A true warrior’s worth is determined by the mettle of his foes.”
“Lord Wotan coexists with the people of your Winter Kingdoms,” another battle maiden added. “So long as they leave him alone and do not interfere in his dragon hunts, neither does he bother them.”
“You won't convince me that a fomor can care about humans,” Kia spat.
“Lord Wotan cares not,” Brynhildr admitted. “But he does not take pleasure in killing your kind either. He only seeks the blood of dragons and other worthy foes. While his kindred attacked civilians to gain levels, he hunted zmeys and dragons to prepare for yours.”
Well, Victor guessed that like on Earth, not all psychopaths were genocidal serial killers. “In the volcano, I heard him speak about Balaur’s crusade. He said it had been a threat to his own race.”
“It was,” Brynhildr nodded, Kia stiffening at this. “Lord Wotan thought this war pointless, and time proved him right. Fomors were few and are now fewer. Unlike you mortals, they cannot replenish their numbers easily. Since he would not bend the knee nor serve in her armies, the fairy queen asked him to hunt your dragon lord for her gift.”
“So, if I follow,” Kia said. “This Odieuse can somehow give fomors souls, and thus access to the System, in exchange for their service. How does she do that?”
“Mag Mell, Odieuse’s father, used the blood and bones of dragons to create a new crest: the Soulcrest. One that empowered our Lord with a soul of his own.”
Bones and blood? “The kidnapped dragons!” Kia immediately guessed the obvious cause.
“Grandrake told Vainqueur that old dragon magic could create souls,” Victor grumbled, putting a hand in his hair. “Damn, Mag Mell must have reverse-engineered it somehow.”
“I am not familiar with the term,” the Valkyrie admitted. “Nor do I know how it works. I leave magic to spellcasters.”
“How many Soulcrests does Odieuse have?” Victor asked.
“One. But unlike your System’s crests, it can empower as many warriors as needed.”
Victor didn’t know what to make of this. On one hand, reliance on one artifact meant that destroying it could cripple the fairies’ war effort. On the other hand, the item could reasonably give the entire fomor race access to the System in a short amount of time. “Where is that crest?”
“I do not know,” the Valkyrie replied. “I only saw it once at a stone circle in Prydain, during our lord’s soul ceremony.”
“Mag Mell must probably keep it on hand all the time,” Kia suggested. “Too many of his experiments backfired in the past to let that artifact out of sight.”
“Do you know what Odieuse is planning?” Victor fished for info.
“She said that she would summon ‘arrows of light’ on Samhain, the night when fairy magic reaches its apex. Arrows that metal men would fire with great bows, to burn all the formors’ enemies to ashes. Lord Wotan brushed her off, so I do not know the details.”
So the slime prophecy foretold. In all likelihood, Victor had found that ‘Hateful One’ he should help Vainqueur defeat. “And what will they do once they have these arrows?” the Vizier asked. “Attack Gardemagne?”
“Not Gardemagne,” Brynhildr said while looking straight into the Vizier’s eyes.
“You declared war first.”
“Where is Odieuse?” Kia asked, frowning when Wotan’s servants failed to come up with an answer. “Mag Mell?”
“Probably Prydain,” Brynhildr replied evasively.
“Any lead you could give us?”
“We do know the location of their kindred, the piper Mell Lin. The fairy queen put him in charge of a place where fomors could gain levels quickly, near what you call the Jade Empire. The stables, I believe.”
“The [Exp Farm], Brynhildr,” another Valkyrie said. “That was its name.”
The title somehow sent a chill down Victor’s spine. “What do you know about that place?”
“Only that Lord Wotan wanted nothing to do with it.”
“That Mell Lin is probably the same piper that helped and then left the Nightblades to die,” Kia said. The two asked for more details, but the Valkyries didn’t know much. As it turned out, Wotan’s attack on Vainqueur was a one-time favor only.
And since this proud lord of lightning never swore fealty, Odieuse didn't let him into her plans. The Valkyries knew nothing of Prydain’s defenses, the fairy queen’s forces, nor even what Odieuse could do.
“Do you have any other question, mortal?” Brynhildr asked, growing impatient with the interrogation. Victor exchanged a glance with Kia, just as worried as him, but they had no idea what else to ask. The Valkyries already gave the group a lot to think about.
“We honored our word,” the Valkyries pointed their weapons at the duo, “Now it is your turn.”
A part of the Vizier, the one that went to Scholomance and dealt with devils regularly, didn’t feel bound to honor an agreement with a group who tried to kill him. Now that they knew enough, he and Kia could probably slaughter this flock now and not have to fight them later.
On the other hand… something else came to mind, and if there was a single chance to pull it off…
“Well, Sigrun, I would have said we had fun,” the Vizier told the soul in his scythe, “but that would be a lie.”
“I hope Odieuse kills you,” the ghostly Valkyrie replied, completely unrepentant. She made Victor miss Furibon even more than he already did.
“How kind, but she already did.”
Using tricks learned at Scholomance, Victor let her soul go free, the ghostly shade escaping its prison as a tiny speck of light. Brynhildr immediately caught it in her free hand, appraising the [Reaper] in silence. “Surprised?” he asked her.
“A little,” Brynhildr replied, keeping her sister’s soul within her tight fist. “But next time we meet, it shall not be as friends.”
“Should we truly leave, Brynhildr?” one of the maidens asked her captain, considering going back on her words the same way Victor did. “He and his fellows can kill us permanently.”
“About that ‘leave’ part of our bargain, I have a way to make you stick to it…” Victor cleared his throat and then shouted. “GORYNYCH!”
“Yes, master!” The zmey immediately rushed at the beach, Noirceur the horse struggling not to fall off his back; rainfall started right as he showed up, obscuring the sun much to Kia’s chagrin.
The three-headed dragon noticed the Valkyries, his tail instantly raising up like a dog having spotted a rabbit.
Victor pointed a finger at the horrified warrior maidens. “PRINCESSES!”
Facing an inbred, three-headed dragon rushing in their direction while throwing sand everywhere, even the fearless Valkyries backed down. “Retreat!” Brynhildr fled and her comrades fled while Gorynych opened his wings to pursue them, throwing Noirceur off his back in his hurry. “Retreat!”
|Congratulations! For successfully exchanging non-violently with fomor thralls and learning valuable information, you earned +2 charisma points.|
“So?” Victor asked, watching his mount chase after the Valkyries across the whiskey sea.
“This is bad,” the [Paladin] replied. “This is really bad. Samhain is Halloween so we have… what, two months before the fomors attack Murmurin?”
“Unless we can catch Odieuse and strangle this new Century War in the crib,” Victor said, Kia giving him a strange look, “Sorry, too much time spent among demons.”
“Where should we start? We don’t know where she or Mag Mell will be outside of Prydain. As for that [Exp Farm], we could spend years exploring the Serica continent without locating it.”
“Brynhildr mentioned yokai.”
Kia considered his words, and then put a hand on her face. “I hate Japan.”