This may be the toughest battle Vainqueur had fought yet. While he had the greatest hoard, his enemies were strong, and his minion was weak.
“Zmey!” Vainqueur snarled to Gorynych, who couldn’t decide which Monster Poker card to play. “What are you waiting for?!”
“Gorynych is anxious,” the zmey replied, his field empty of any defense to protect his last coin against an army of vicious [Carrot Warriors]. “Gorynych hates vegetables!”
“You can do it!” Noirceur the Nightmare Horse encouraged the three-headed inbred dragon. “Use your heads!”
The zmey hesitated, before clumsily playing a minion. “I summon the cutest [Black Rabbit], level 5!”
The illusion of a mighty, horned rabbit appeared on the field; after the final battle against the Forgotten One, Vainqueur had decided to employ a [Illusionist] dwarf minion to animate his duels full time. Kobolds screamed in fear at the sight of the vicious beast, doubly so when it devoured a [Carrot Warrior] thanks to its special ability.
“By eating a [Plant] minion, [Black Rabbit] calls help!” Gorynych said, a [White Rabbit of Inaba] appearing on the field. “Level 10!”
“My [Pumpkin King] is stronger!” Jack the fairy boasted ingloriously, his crowned pumpkin servant letting out a maniacal laugh. “I have fed him with [Strength Candy Bars]!”
“Rolo will turn these rabbits into sheep next turn,” his golem partner added.
Vainqueur refused to admit defeat, and especially not against a tinfoil-fairy duo, but he had to admit the situation was dire. Tinfoil Rolo’s [Farmland] field allowed him to summon [Vegetable] monsters each turn, which Jack’s [Pumpkin King] empowered. While nothing impressive, their overwhelming numbers of [Carrot Warriors] were a strength in themselves.
If Vainqueur could draw his [Best Dragon’s Breath] spell and incinerate the field...
|Scrying attempt negated by [Malefic Secrecy].|
“Are you trying to read my cards?!” Vainqueur glared at Jack. He knew he couldn’t trust a fomor to play fair!
“Jack never cheats,” the fairy protested. “His word to behave once given, he never breaks.”
“Hm, not that it will change anything,” the dragon replied, secure in his superiority. He then turned towards the minion in charge of drawing and holding his cards, while the audience cheered him up. “I have faith in my deck! Draw—”
Vainqueur stopped, as he sensed hostility and lightning in the air.
He glanced at the source on his left, to see King Wotan and Grandrake glaring at one another.
“Finally, Grandrake.” The fomor lord readied his spear, his Valkyries flying around him like a minion escort. “How long have I waited for this moment.”
Grandrake remained silent, while Vainqueur readied himself to intervene, even after his minion drew his winning card.
“You bested me once, and took my eye,” Wotan declared, pointing at his scar with the tip of his spear. “For centuries, the fires of revenge nursed my wrath. I have prepared, and trained, and sharpened my skills until I could grow powerful enough to avenge myself. The day of reckoning has come. An eye for an eye.”
“Excuse you,” Grandrake finally spoke up with a frown. “Who are you?”
A short silence followed.
“You do not remember me,” King Wotan said, his anger replaced by disappointment.
“I should?” the dragon asked, confused.
“You took my eye when I tried to rescue Princess Titania from your den.”
Grandrake observed Wotan more closely, trying to recognize him.
“After the first ten, you fairy knights all started blurring together,” Grandrake admitted.
The fomor king’s face remained a stone mask, but he could hardly hide his disappointment. Clearly, Wotan had put more effort into this rivalry than Grandrake, who had crushed the fomor and then promptly forgot about it.
“So wyrmlike,” Vainqueur said in admiration. Truly, forgetting your enemies was the best way to defeat them.
“I am King Wotan,” the fomor insisted. “Ruler of Asgard and Laponia.”
“Wot-Ah!” Grandrake nodded upon finally remembering Dragonbane. “You were that adorable child I slapped that time! My, you have grown into a fine knight!”
“Your Majesty?” A Valkyrie looked at her speechless creator. “Do we attack?”
“This meeting feels much less satisfying than I thought it would,” the fomor king admitted, clearly confused about how to proceed.
“I would be delighted to slap you again, but I have to find Breeder Dalton,” Grandrake replied, quickly dismissing the fomor in the face of much more important concerns. “The fate of countless princesses depends on him.”
“I cannot allow you to monopolize my chief of staff, Grandrake,” Vainqueur interrupted his fellow environmentalist. “While I am mindful of princess preservation, Friend Victor is already very distraught about his current litter. He already overbred once, I will not have him do so again.”
“I understand, Vainqueur, but can you imagine a world without elf princesses? The survival of the species trumps the desires of one minion!”
“Maybe,” Vainqueur conceded. “But Friend Victor is not any minion. He will reproduce when he feels like it.”
“Thanks, Your Majesty!” Manling Victor’s voice echoed in the minion crowd, although Vainqueur couldn’t pinpoint his location.
“You shall ignore me no longer, wyrm,” King Wotan thundered, raising his [Gungnir] at Grandrake’s throat. “I demand retribution. I challenge you to a duel to the death.”
“I will tolerate no such thing,” Vainqueur replied icily. “But if you want to settle this, I will gladly arbiter your dispute. You will duel the civilized way.”
“A minion battle?” Grandrake asked, hopeful. “It has been eons since I had one!”
“I meant something more epic,” Vainqueur replied, before glancing at his own Monster Poker battle.
While wise, his visionary proposal was met with denial and obscurantism. “No,” Wotan said. “This is ridiculous. I am not settling a grudge over a card game.”
“A card battle,” Vainqueur insisted. “And I did. I made peace with the Forgotten One, the most evil creature to ever walk Outremonde, in an epic Monster Poker match for the fate of the world.”
Vainqueur’s hoard was his world, after all.
“I am not playing a game,” Wotan replied haughtily. “I am a warrior.”
“If you are afraid to lose, you can simply admit it,” Vainqueur replied. “No one will mock you mercilessly, except me.”
Charisma check successful!
By passing the 150 charisma benchmark thanks to your items, you gained four stalkers!
“King Wotan fears nothing,” the fomor lord replied, minions swooning at Vainqueur’s cunning trick. “But I shall not settle a grudge over a game of chance.”
“Monster Poker is no game of chance!” Vainqueur replied, defending his new hobby. “It is a game of strategy, cunning, guts, and glory! Only square rooted intellects can comprehend its depth!”
However passionate his words, King Wotan remained doubtful. However, he wisely remained true to his word not to cause trouble in Murmurin. “I shall agree to an honorable trial by champion,” the fomor finally told Grandrake. “My Valkyries against your servants.”
“Ah, finally a civilized fairy.” The wyrm nodded. “I will bring my anti-knight defense force. They have been trained to fight false princesses, this will be a good test of their abilities.”
|Scrying attempt negated by [Malefic Secrecy].|
Vainqueur snorted as he returned to his Monster Poker party, wondering who could possibly try to spy on him right now.
Wow, crisis averted! And for once, Victor didn’t have to play mediator.
The Vizier found it rather relieving, standing on the roof of a house while still invisible. Although he would remain incognito until the festivities ended, he allowed himself a moment of rest.
|Scrying attempt negated by [Mini-Circlet against Greater Divinations].|
Goddammit, had Grandrake taken levels in a divination-oriented spellcasting class?
Speaking of spellcasting, now that he had access to Tier IX, there was a spell he had been dying to try out for a long while.
To Victor, the world appeared covered by a purple lens, muting every color. Sound abruptly vanished, people stopped moving, and Vainqueur never finished playing his card.
“Nice,” Victor said. “I could cast a few spells in the—”
Time resumed, the world returning to normal.
Victor hung to his scythe in disappointment. The spell actually lasted ten seconds, instead of stretching much longer.
Kia’s voice calling him from below. Victor looked down, to find his [Paladin] friend below, drunk, bloodied, and looking like a mess. “Wait, you can see me?”
“I could hear you scream your spell’s name, dummy!” she replied clearly drunk as Happyland. With strength and skill he wouldn’t expect from someone in her state, the knight quickly climbed the house to join him. She extended her hand, touching his face. “Here you are!”
“That’s my nos—” Victor complained before she accidentally put her finger in his eye. “Hey!”
“Sorry!” Kia apologized, sitting next to him while managing to grab his shoulder. “Why are you hiding from me?”
“I’m not hiding from you, I’m hiding from everyone,” he replied. “I just wanted some quiet.”
“Quiet is for people who don’t have fun!” Well, her current state broke the picture of a perfect Paladin she usually projected, but at least she seemed to enjoy herself. “Vic, I, I got the level! I got the level and I can taste the beer! Punched that minotaur and that giant squid to kingdom come, it did the trick!”
“That’s great,” he replied, although he worried about her hangover. “Just don’t insult Seng again.”
“I knew who she was deep down, but I hated it!” Kia blurted out, putting an arm around his shoulder. It reminded him of his old university parties when his fellows ended up so drunk that they started rambling random shit at him. “I hated it because when I looked at Seng, I saw myself!”
Realizing that she would drunkenly confess him all her sins—and not leave him alone—Victor sighed and patted her on the back. “It’s okay, Kia. It’s okay.”
“Vic, I’m just saying, I, I know one day we’re going to fight, and it’s going to be glorious, but I’ll be sad too. Because I’m having fun hanging out with you and Vainquy? Can I call him Vainquy?”
“No, you can't, and I don’t want to fight you.”
“Vic, you’re my Sasuke,” she told him with what could pass for a straight face. “I’m Naruto, and you’re going to be my Sasuke. We’re going to fight and then I will beat you, then you will be redeemed.”
What the Happyland? Was that how she felt deep down? “Beating up someone into agreeing with you is not redemption," he protested, "That’s bullying!”
“I was afraid when my boyfriend drove our car into a car too,” she replied, apparently not really listening to him. “But I kept thinking, and I realized it was not a car, but a truck. Did he drive into the truck, or did the truck attack us? Now I know the truth, Vic. I know the truth.”
“That trucks are out to kill us?” Victor joked. He remembered Allison mentioning that one of them had killed her under embarrassing circumstances, sending her to Outremonde.
“Not trucks, Vic!” Kia replied, her eyes so feverish that she looked possessed. “The truck! It’s always the same truck! It’s a conspiracy-driven truck that sends people to other worlds! I kept warning Kevin, but he never believed me!”
But doubt crept into his heart, so he tried to remember how he died.
He had been shanked in an alley trying to protect a girl from being mugged, that was certain. However, Victor struggled to make sense of the memories that followed; people gathering around his body as he bled to death while half-delirious; the sound of an ambulance carrying him away to the hospital; the feeling of a deadly crash sending his body flying, and headlights rushing at him to—
“We were all killed by the same truck?” he shouted, causing a few people to look up at the roof. Since only Kia was visible, they probably thought that she had lost her mind.
“It’s Truck-kun,” Kia blurted out. “It’s a serial killer car, Vic. A serial killer car!”
Thing is, at this point in his life, it wouldn’t surprise Victor much. “Still, I’m not going to fight you,” he replied. “I’m not a saint, I admit it, but can’t I just confess my sins to you and then get right back at it, like a civilized person?”
“That’s not the [Paladin] way,” she replied. “I would love to have an on-and-off switch though. Not the good part, the lawful one.”
“Isn’t there a flexible good class equivalent?” Victor suggested. “Then again, so far, Mithras hasn’t punished you for associating with us.”
“Yeah, I asked him. He considers you guys a necessary evil, and since it makes me happy he’s giving me some leeway. He’s horribly blunt, but he’s pretty nice. You know Gardemagne wants to help against Prydain?”
“Really?” Victor’s head perked up. “How do you know that?”
“Kevin sent me a message. Mithras wants a new crusade, and King Roland wants to stop the Wild Hunts.” She put a hand on her face, before regaining her bearing. “We really need that [Plot Armor] Vic. We need it extra thick.”
“We’ll tackle the dungeon contest when we have the time,” he promised, letting out a yawn. “Damn, I want to sleep. Today was exhausting.”
“Huh?” Kia said with a frown, “I got a screen. Somebody tried to scry me.”
“Somebody is trying to scry on the both of us?” Victor realized. Who could—
|Intelligence check successful.|
The fomors. It could only be the fomors, but why? Why did they want to know their location?
“Hey, look!” Kia pointed at the sky. “There’s a new star up there!”
The Vizier glanced above him, watching a greenish, fiery falling star making its way from the west.
“What the Happyland is this?” Victor wondered as the star seemed to get closer and closer, aiming for Vainqueur’s castle on Mount Murmurin. They weren't the only ones to notice this phenomenon. Wotan and Grandrake, who oversaw a fight between a Valkyrie and a kobold, both glanced up at it; the fomor seemingly more bothered than the wyrm. Even Vainqueur interrupted his victory dance over his latest card battle to look up.
“Vic, get down!” Kia screamed while forcing his face against the roof, her reflexes taking over. The shining star hit the north side of the mountain, the one opposite of Murmurin.
The flash that followed was blinding.
The earth shook, a brutal shockwave spread through the air, and the city's windows all exploded at once. To Vic, it seemed that the entire country trembled. Minions screamed at the sudden explosion, although the mountain protected the city from the blast; even Vainqueur was shaken by the mighty explosion, although he hung on. Wotan looked at the impact point with a shocked face, his lone eye widening in surprise.
Victor himself could only watch in terror, as the night sky turned ablaze.
A gigantic, mushroom-shaped mass of fire erupted behind Mount Murmurin, a dire warning of things to come.