Silence ruled the mountain.
As he flew over the forests surrounding it, Vainqueur’s sharp senses failed to pick up any sound outside of the wind. The goblin had warned him of fairies making their lair around the area, but none had intercepted them so far. Birds and animals had also emptied the area for miles. He could smell warm, decomposing flesh on the ground, listen to the sound of buzzing flies, but otherwise, the land seemed empty.
“Your Majesty!” Manling Victor called out from his zmey’s back, a depressed Knight Kia holding him by the waist. “Look!”
Vainqueur glanced down, noticing a trail of rotting plants starting in the middle of a forest and progressing all the way to the mountain’s shining crater. Grass had turned purple, trees had been uprooted, and the remains of deers, pigs, and fairy thralls paved this sinister road. The line was completely straight, unnatural and methodical.
Vainqueur briefly thought of his poisonous dragon cousins, who ruled the marshes and bogs of the world. Yet, if one had caused this disaster, he would have expected acid pools, random devastation, and vermin to settle in the area.
Instead, whatever creature did that made a beeline for the crater, killed everything in its path, and chased away all the locals for miles.
“This reeks of undeath and rot,” Vainqueur hummed the air.
“Yeah, I can feel the necromantic energies from up here. No wonder normal wildlife ran away.” Manling Victor turned to his fellow rider. “See, Kia? We may fight someone tough enough for you!”
“It’s all meaningless,” she replied, her eyes wandering in the distance. “All meaningless.”
Useless! Vainqueur knew she would prove unworthy of being in his party, and time proved him right! She didn’t even have the strength to ride on her own griffon, forcing Manling Victor to give her a lift on his zmey’s back!
The dragon said they should have left her behind, but Manling Victor, thinking only with his breeding sword, insisted on taking the knight along. He truly needed to push his minion into the arms of a tastier, better partner. Where was Batling Charlene when he needed her?
As they reached the frosty mountainside, Vainqueur smelled a familiar scent nearby, immediately diving instead of continuing the ascension. Within seconds, he found a fellow dragon eating roasted pigs, surrounded by a manling, a wyrmling, and a pile of items.
“Cousin Genialissime!” Vainqueur announced his presence from above.
“Cousin Vainqueur!” The other dragon abandoned his food to wave a hand at him, his dragonling looking up at his parent.
“Henry!” Friend Victor greeted his fellow manling. “Long time no see!”
“Gorynych says hello too!” the zmey said with much less gracefulness, landing nearby.
“A zmey.” Genialissime looked at the creature with disgust, but unlike Vainqueur did not ignore its existence. Instead, he turned to his dragonling, to better warn him. “And that is why you cannot hump your sister!”
“Gorynych too young for that!” the zmey defended his nonexistent honor, while his rider climbed down from his back, Knight Kia remaining where she was, lost in her own mind.
“Is that the Shining Knight?” Manling Henry asked upon noticing Kia, completely mesmerized. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh…”
“She’s had a tough day,” Friend Victor replied. “She needs rest.”
“Yes, forget her,” Vainqueur replied, focusing on dragon matters. “What are you doing here cousin? Eating trolls and burning forests for money?”
“I am making money, but we have nothing to do with this slaughter.”
Manling Henry glanced at a roasted pig. “Something killed it with an [Insta-death] effect, alongside scores of animals and plants. A very powerful [Lich], [Reaper], or more probably, a local Shinigami monster.”
“And it left no loot behind,” Genialissime complained.
“Whatever it was, it came only to kill,” Manling Henry said grimly.
“Concerning,” Vainqueur replied, but figured out he would kill whatever caused it when they raided the crater. His eyes settled on the pile of items nearby. “If it is not the loot left behind, then what is this?”
“Ah, but my newest stroke of genius!” Genialissime boasted. “You see, I was discussing with Henry the best way to make money as a dragon, and I realized something. You remember how many people asked me for help committing suicide in the past?”
“Sometimes, I wonder if the lesser races take our help for granted,” Vainqueur nodded. “We do not have to help them die, but we do it for free. I say we should charge them for the privilege.”
“My thoughts exactly. I always collected the things they left behind, swords, ringies… but they weren’t shiny enough for my hoard. So Henry suggested we sell them!”
“Like a merchant?” Vainqueur was appalled. “But that’s minion work!”
“Which is why Henry does the sale while I provide the unshinies and supervise,” Genialissime replied with pride, having found the perfect loophole. “My chief of staff even oversaw a deal with this goddess of commerce, Shesha.”
“That greedy snake?” Vainqueur breathed smoke. “She is treacherous and overpriced.”
“I know how much she hurt you, Cousin Vainqueur, but Manling Henry managed to secure an advantageous deal.” Genialissime showed them his hand and the golden, Ouroboros ring on it. “This tele-ring teleports us to the entrance of dungeons where adventurers are ready to pay extra for emergency supply, and in exchange, we grant her a one one-tenth! Win-win!”
“Money!” the dragonling said.
“My son Courageux is helping us with the business,” Genialissime said, proud of his runt. “I am teaching him how to negotiate, so that he can one day lead his own minion team.”
“We also recover the stuff left behind by adventurers who do not survive the dungeons and sell it again,” Manling Henry said. “It’s working very well so far.”
“Ah, corpse looting,” Friend Victor nodded. “The cornerstone of the adventurer economy.”
“It pays well, at almost no risk to myself,” Genialissime said, proud of his discovery.
“Interesting concept, but I leave it to you,” Vainqueur told his cousin. The dragon preferred to earn his money the dragon way, through conquest and eating lesser creatures. “Still, it would be shameful of me not to help. Minion.”
“Yes?” Manling Victor asked, immediately ready to serve.
“Buy an item for me, with your own money,” Vainqueur asked. “I want a gift.”
“This will be your first sale, my son!” Genialissime told his dragonling. “Go supervise Henry!”
The dragonling nodded, observing Manling Victor while the minion examined the stash of items. The Vizier immediately zeroed in on a white, translucent gem. “A [Psi-stone of Positive Energy]?” Henry said. “Great choice.”
“Yeah, especially since it can help against whatever creature destroyed the countryside,” Manling Victor said, turning to the dragonling. “I’m ready to give ten thousand for it.”
“More!” the tiny dragon answered.
“More!” the dragonling insisted, accepting nothing but the best. “Seventy thousand!”
“Seventy thousand?!” Manling Victor panicked in the face of such a ruthless negotiator. “That’s theft!”
“You too poor?” the dragonling asked. “You too poor!”
“I’m not paying that much!”
The dragonling pouted, looking up at his angry father with confused eyes. “Friend Victor,” Vainqueur whispered to his minion. “Indulge my little cousin once removed.”
“But Your Majesty, my [Claimed by Shesha] perk already offers a twenty percent reduction,” the Vizier whispered back. “It’s that overpriced.”
“Minion, if a wyrmling doesn’t understand that the world revolves around his whims, he will grow into a shy dragon. Like a manling! I will not allow this. A dragonling’s confidence and self-esteem must be constantly reinforced, so he grows bold and confident.”
“I assume Your Majesty speaks from experience?”
“Of course. I mean, who else would the world revolve around? Knight Kia?” Vainqueur laughed at his cunning joke.
“I also suppose that Your Majesty won’t share this purchase’s cost?”
“Minion, do not be stupid. Do your duty.”
The Vizier sighed, cast a spell, and summoned a bag of gold.
“Getting bullied by a dragon child...” Manling Victor grumbled, before offering the payment to the happy Courageux. “I wonder how long it will take for my checks to start bouncing now.”
“Congratulations, Courageux!” Vainqueur acclaimed the dragonling, who raised his head with dragonly pride.
“You negotiated like a true dragon!” Genialissime added while patting his wyrmling’s head. “That’s how you do it my son! You show them how much you’re worth!”
Vainqueur immediately claimed his gift, the stone embedding itself in his spine, right behind his skull. It magically resonated with his own [Psi-stone of Mind-Shielding], creating a soothing sound before returning to dormancy.
You gained Resistance to [Necromancy] effects, and you gain twice as much HP from healing magic!
Your [Psi-stones] are resonating! You gain +2 to INT and +2 to LCK as long as you wear both!
“I recently recovered a few items, which may interest you,” Manling Victor told Henry. “Especially a magical rope, but I wouldn’t touch it without gauntlets.”
“No money!” the dragonling interrupted, showing himself a true dragon once more.
“Nah, I was looking towards trading it for [Potions of Increased Vitality] or [Elixirs against Fatigue], if you have any. I’ve found a teacher willing to introduce me to the [Fiendish Rake] class, but due to my extremely high level, he suggested a very dangerous, Cybele-sponsored ritual.”
“A ritual for [Fiendish Rake]…” Manling Henry blinked. “The Kamacybele?”
“Can you give me an address? I will send you them in bulk. I still owe you one for putting Lavere six feet under; now I can finally show up in Haudemer without risking an assassination attempt.”
“How is Lynette by the way?”
“She is... open-minded.”
Leaving the manlings to discuss their breeding tactics, Vainqueur turned to his cousin. “Will you join us? We shall hunt fairy quarry in the mountain’s crater.”
“I will pass on this one,” Genialissime replied. “My tele-ring is already tingling. However, I heard about you declaring war with the fomors. Is it true that they sent Dragonbane Wotan after you?”
“Yes, and I destroyed him.”
Genialissime whistled, impressed. “Well, if they unleashed Dragonbane, then this is truly getting serious. If you ever need help burning the fairy’s nest in Prydain and put them back in their place, my mate and I will happily answer your call.”
“Come to Murmurin on Samhain,” Vainqueur advised. “I must settle a bet with Icefang on that day, and I will go on the warpath right after my inevitable victory.”
“Ah, with pleasure! It would be great if Jolie and my wyrmlings could play together again.”
“A party? Can Gorynych come?”
“No!” Vainqueur snarled, the zmey lowering all his heads.
The dragons exchanged farewells, Vainqueur returning to his ascent while his cousin and his retinue teleported away. Manling Victor and Knight Kia followed right after him.
As they approached the crater above, the energies from the mountain pushed back all clouds in the vicinity; even those summoned by the zmey’s mere presence. Vainqueur pierced through the aurora, sensing its power.
|[Elemental] attacks will be greatly empowered while in the [Supercharged Powerstone Field].|
As he flew over the crater’s edge to look within, Vainqueur found his suspicions confirmed.
The mountain was more powerstones than dirt. The inside of the crater wasn’t full of snow or lava, but a landscape of unshiny, rainbow-colored crystals. Crimson and blue stalactites rose amongst flat pink plates, next to countless mining pits. Someone had dug up tons of these crystals recently, turning the area into a radiating cheese.
And as he flew over the place, Vainqueur quickly noticed something within this alien place.
An enormous, reptilian creature was trapped within the crystals below, like a bug in amber. Vainqueur couldn’t properly see the entity beyond a vague, dark shape, but it was huge; even bigger than him!
A disgusting fairy and its minions had settled in the middle of the crater. Manlings wearing black robes with the symbol of that worm, Sablar, formed a circle right above the sealed creature’s head, chanting obscenities in the ancient fomor tongue.
As for the creature leading the congregation, Vainqueur immediately identified him; a monstrous vermin made of various bugs combined into the shape of a nightmare. The progenitor of the Mell clan, general of King Balaur, and foremost sorcerer among the fairies.
“Mag Mell.” The sight of the creature awoke Knight Kia from her depressed trance, putting a nasty snarl on her face.
Still, he had changed a bit since the last time Vainqueur saw him. A monstrous amalgam of various insects, Mag Mell had kept his spidery lower half and his left centipede arm. But the rest of his body had evolved; a scarab-like exoskeleton covered most of his upper torso, while translucent, moth-like wings allowed it to fly. His eight-eyed head had grown longer and more fishlike, gaining a fleshy lure and gills. A shroud of flies, locusts, bees, and maggots crawled on his body like a living, ever-shifting armor.
And he noticed Vainqueur.
“Knightsbane,” the fairy hissed, turning its horrible head to look at the two dragons looking down on him from above. “Bekele. You live.”
Vainqueur did not hesitate, and neither did Knight Kia. Both unleashed fire and flames upon the group without warning; empowered by the area, they burnt twice more than usual.
“[Enhanced Beehive Barrier].” The bees from Mag Mell’s vermin shroud projected hexagons of green light, forming five layers of a thick shield. Knight Kia’s ray of light pierced two and Vainqueur’s flames four, but the protection held. “I sent King Wotan, and he failed. I sent Mell Lin, my own spawn, and he failed. I sent King Balaur, and he failed! Mag Mell is tired of being disappointed!”
“And you will die disappointed, fairy!” Vainqueur declared boldly, activating his [Spell Purge] and falling upon that insect like a falcon.
“[Swarmwalker].” Mag Mell’s whole body collapsed into a wide swarm of slithering insects, spreading across the crater like a flood and avoiding Vainqueur’s claws. His manling assistants weren’t so lucky though, the dragon crushing them under his feet.
“Damn, a freaking [Druid]!” Manling Victor spoke up, while his zmey circled above the crater. He and Knight Kia rained spells from above, but swats of the swarm already fled through the mining pits.
“You are late, Knightsbane, too late by half.” A pile of maggots assembled into a facsimile of Mag Mell’s face. “We excavated the stones we need, and the great beast will wake up soon. The servants of my worm already sung it their song.”
“You slaughtered your own thralls, warlock?” Kia taunted the fomor from above as she incinerated its head, only for another to spring up.
Much to Vainqueur’s surprise, the dragon could have sworn Mag Mell’s new swarm face briefly twisted into the briefest hint of regret. “I asked the lords of this land to join us, to share in our power and victories. They refused. So my daughter asked them herself, and when they would not be allies, she made them fuel for her ascension. I wished to create the ultimate weapon against the New Folk who spoil our world... and I succeeded.”
He did not sound happy about it.
“Show yourself, coward!” Vainqueur ordered as he incinerated the swarm, hoping that he could somehow kill the fairy this way.
“This is useless, Knightsbane,” the fairy hissed, the last of his swarm crawling away. “The Kaiju will wake up soon, to trample your city to dust. And Mag Mell will watch.”
What was a Kaiju? Some kind of food?
The crystals below him began to shake, answering his question.