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“[Elemental Burst],” Manling Victor cast spells on his master with his scythe, geared up for war, “[Veran’s Acid Mantle], [Delayed Hasten]...”

Your [Fire], [Water], [Earth], and [Wind] attacks will be greatly strengthened for half an hour. You will receive the benefits of a [Hasten] spell within ten minutes. You gained immunity to [Acid] for one hour and will inflict [Acid] damage on physical contact.

“Are you done?” King Wotan asked, surrounded by his Valkyrie flock. He had been watching Vainqueur and his minions buffing themselves for almost half an hour.

“Soon,” Vainqueur replied after Manling Victor cast his final spell, checking on his new potential class combination.

[Fisher King]: The legendary incarnation of a nation, its people, its land, its joys, and sorrows. Specialties: Monster Creation, Geomancy magic, and Leadership. Major growths in HP, SP, Vitality, and Charisma. Perks affected: [Monster Husbandry].

Good. If it had affected prized Perks like [Geomancy], he would have refused the fusion. Vainqueur gave his blessing to this combination, having the feeling that it would be his last class upgrade.

Choice registered. Your [Dungeon Breeder] and [Geomancer] fused into [Fisher King].

[Monster Husbandry] changed to [Genius Loci]. [Genius Loci]: You are intimately familiar with the region you rule, allowing you to intuitively sense disasters befalling it. Additionally, all your stats are raised by one stage when you fight within your nation’s borders.

“You’re sure you don’t want to go warn Gardemagne first?” Manling Victor asked Knight Kia, who had insisted on joining the battle.

“I want to see this gate for myself,” the [Paladin] replied, finishing activating her own Perks. “And if Odieuse is there, you will need all the help you can get. You all remember the ambush raid strategy? Is everyone immune to fire and acid?”

Vainqueur nodded. After the last disastrous battle with Odieuse, his minions had developed a strategy to corner the fairies and prevent them from escaping. Trap the enemy, change the field, go straight for the commander. Manling Victor’s mightiest spell would signal the beginning of the attack.

This time, no more playing around.

“You ride Gorynych, I ride Noirceur,” Manling Victor said while mounting his nightmare horse. “I switched my [Black Horseman]’s mounts, tested the potential synergies with Your Majesty’s [Rabbit Plague], and I forewarned everyone with [Scarlet Study]. They’re ready.”

“Aww, but Gorynych wanted to show master his new [Ranger] perks,” the Zmey complained, as the [Paladin] climbed on his back. “Kia is nice, but she is not master!”

Vainqueur was somewhat happy that his chief of staff had seen the unnatural error in trying to ride a Zmey, but clearly Knight Kia would remain knee-deep in sin. “Open the gate, Dragonbane,” Vainqueur all but ordered the fomor lord, before drawing upon the power of the land. “[Nature Wonder].”

His body brightened, as natural energy moved from the soil to his limbs.

All your stats have been raised by two stages. Your [Unstable Magic] condition has been fully lifted.

“I take no orders from anyone,” Wotan replied, but did open a giant-sized fairy ring, large enough for the group. “Move forward, Knightsbane. I will close the march.”

Vainqueur went first, preparing himself to unleash a torrent of dragonfire at the first sign of attack, while Manling Victor and Knight Kia followed on their respective mounts. King Wotan and his servants went last.

In an instant, the dragon left the borders of his empire, for the heart of the Dark Forest.

Even under the morning sun, the area felt gloomy and darkened, the foliage so dense that even sunlight struggled to break through. The grass beneath his claws was poisonous weeds, and red-eyed, carnivorous trees glared at the manlings present with hunger. However, Vainqueur’s mere presence caused them to subtly back away in fear.

Before them stood a throne of blackened wood and thorns, which smelled of the vile, half-Furibon fairy, and enormous gates of stone. Vainqueur immediately recognized them as fomorian design and Mag Mell’s vile work.

As he closed the march with his own soldiers, King Wotan closed the fairy ring behind him. He then hit the ground with his spear, a thunderous sound echoing across the forest. Birds flew in all directions, and the woods turned eerily silent.

A new fairy ring opened in front of the group, a pied piper made of wood stepping through, backed by two metal giants. The two machines immediately reminded Vainqueur of the tinfoil golem he had scrapped in the Winter Kingdoms. These ones, however, were streamlined, nimble metal knights with wings, swords of light, and cannon shields. The fairies had painted them with silver and gold as if to mock the very essence of a hoard; each machine could match Vainqueur himself in size.

As for the piper, the emperor would recognize this dragon-killer anywhere.

Mell Lin.


Mell “Hamelin” Lin

Soulcrested Fomor (Fairy/Plant)

Level: 50 (Eldritch Piper 25/Necromancer 15/Verminlord 10)

Strong against: All status ailments, Critical Hits, Necromancy, Sound, Disease, Fairy, Plant, Darkness, Poison, Insta-death, Physical attacks.

Weak against: Fairyslayer, Plantslayer, Dragon, Fire, Starmetal.

The vicious and cowardly Piper of Hamelin, brother of Mell Odieuse, and the source of the fairy plague scourging the continent. His music can raise the dead, unleash plagues, and summon monsters; tried to have both you and Vainqueur assassinated on dozens of occasions, and now keenly aware that his much more dangerous sister’s patience with his failures is running out. What this bad seed lacks in bravery, he more than makes up in cunning and weediness.

Get it? Bad seed, weediness? Because he’s half [Plant]!

A [Bard] promotion with some nasty [Performances], good spellcasting, summoning capabilities… but easily exploitable vulnerabilities. Victor frowned, however, as his gaze turned to the golems next. As he had worried, the last one had been a mere prototype. How many could the fomors field?

“Where is Odieuse?” Wotan asked, glancing down at the monstrous piper with contempt.

“She is busy planning the lesser races’ annihilation, and sent me instead to take your tribute.” The pied piper glared at Vainqueur. “Why is he still alive? Don’t tell me that you wish to kill him before my eyes, the warrior way?”

“Odieuse asked that I bring his head to her. Since you represent her, I did.”

The pied piper seemed truly shocked by this response, as if the idea of Wotan turning against him was unthinkable. “You betrayed the master race?”

“I did not betray myself,” Wotan replied with aloof disdain. “I fulfilled my oath.”

“Then you know the consequences.” The piper glared at Wotan, the atmosphere even tenser than before. “Your kingdom will burn for this. Only if you kill them now, will my sister overlook this treachery.”

“I welcome her challenge,” the fomor lord replied, unconcerned, before opening a portal of his own. “But I do not believe you will live long enough to threaten me. War does beget war. Let us return to Asgard, my Valkyries.”

The shieldmaidens nodded, most of them crossing the portal. “Farewell, Knightsbane,” Wotan said, a last nod at Vainqueur.

The dragon grumbled but returned the gesture. The fomor lord vanished and collapsed the fairy ring behind, leaving the two groups to stare at one another.

“I do not understand him,” the pied piper said, “Why court death for principles? Even with a soul, this is beyond me.”

And to punctuate his words, he immediately attempted to open a fairy ring and escape.

“[Glitzy Theater]!” Vainqueur snarled, an immense cage of golden energy covering most of the forest like a dome.

Bump.

Mell Lin hit his face against his own portal, unable to cross it. He touched it with his hand, before suddenly realizing that [Glitzy Theater] prevented him from running away. “Oh,” he said, before turning to face the group. “You truly wish to fight good ol’ Hamelin?”

“You say this as if we should be afraid of a battle,” Vainqueur taunted him. “You, cowardly rat, spent years trying to avoid one.”

“Maybe, but you know what they say Knightsbane.” Mell Lin brought out his pipe to his lips, ready to play a melody. “A cornered rat will bite a cat. I thought our friendly warning last night would have taught you that.”

“Not only do you threaten entire nations with bombs best left in storage, but you are the source of the plague scouring the continent,” Kia realized, her gaze turning to hard steel. “You are not going anywhere.”

“The plague… one of my best ideas, won’t you agree? I wonder how many tears were shed this year.”

The knight raised her sword, only for the two golems to shield the fomor, the atmosphere growing even more electric. Victor quickly scanned them.

Talos Titan

Advanced Talos Golem (Artificial/Fairy)

Strengths and weaknesses variable (depends on [Barrier Change]).

The finalized version of the Talos golem, Mell Odieuse’s chosen soldiers and instruments of destruction. These relentless automatons have their souls and free-will suppressed because of Odieuse’s trust issues. These killing machines can inflict [Dragonslayer] damage, shift their weaknesses to adapt to any current threat, fly, and are equipped with magically-enhanced Earth weaponry.

You aren’t dealing with the average mooks anymore.

“Your Majesty, they’re even more powerful than the one we fought in the Winter Kingdoms,” Victor warned Vainqueur. While the plan called for them to target the piper first and they had gained forty or so levels since they fought the prototype, these two golems couldn’t be underestimated.

“Golems designed to kill, well, everything,” Mell Lin mused. “But mostly dragons. We have thousands of them waiting in Prydain.”

“A million of them would not protect you from me,” Vainqueur warned, more focused than Victor had ever seen him. Yet both groups maintained a tense stand-off, unsure who would make the first move.

“If we fight here, the Earthgate will not survive.” The piper channeled magic through his fingers. “Watch what you’re missing out on.”

While Victor raised his scythe and almost gave away the signal, the giant stone gates slowly opened.

Instead of showing the rest of the dark forest behind, the area beyond the threshold was awfully familiar, Victor having seen it in pictures. A vast touristic landscape under a grey sky, covered by a circle of huge, druidic stones. The vision flickered in and out of existence, as if the world beyond the portal was a mere illusion.

“Stonehenge,” Knight Kia said, just as astonished as Victor himself.

“You came from this place, didn’t you?” Mell Lin asked. “You can return. Your loved ones are waiting for you on the other side.”

“I only see a circle of stones,” Manling Victor deadpanned. “I had a course on [Evil Temptation] you know, you get passing grades.”

“Are you sure, manling?”

The picture of Stonehenge shifted, the open field of nature replaced with a familiar apartment.

Victor’s eyes snapped wide open, as a familiar couple of humans came into sight. After almost a decade spent in Outremonde, both in and out of Scholomance, he had almost forgotten how they looked. The long brown hair and that motherly face, turning strict whenever she pushed him to study; this stern-looking man whose Uncle Ben-like lessons his son had always pretended to hear, without ever following them.

They were cooking the same way they always did, as if he had never left.

“Mom?” Victor blurted out. “Dad?”

“You see, I have been researching both of you, Bekele, Dalton. While opening the gate is draining, we can see anything through just fine.” Hamelin gave them a nasty smirk. “And I know where your families live.”

Mell Lin waved his hand, and the portal split in two, a second vision coexisting with a reminder of Victor’s own life. Kia froze, as a Morgan Freeman lookalike appeared beyond the portal, teaching a five years old child how to fish.

“Your mother died of grief, Bekele,” Mell Lin taunted the [Paladin]. “She blamed herself for your death. Because she let you date that stupid boy. As for your father, your death took something that never came back. Look at him, struggling to fill the void with a new family, a new child… don’t you feel sad watching this?”

“Shut up,” Kia replied, her hold over her sword tightening dangerously. “You think you can scare us by threatening them?”

“Oh, far from it. No, I reveal this to you as a peace offering. If you let me go without a fight, I will open the door for you and let you join them. Not a bad deal, eh?”

“Do not listen to his lies, minions,” Vainqueur said, tensing like a leopard ready to pounce on its prey, but still waiting for Victor’s signal. “His promises are naught but cruel jests.”

“I am genuine in my kindness,” Mell Lin argued with a soft, honeyed tone. “Why won’t you return to a pointless, normal life and leave us Outremonde natives to fight our own wars? Walk away. Return to your loved ones.”

Victor instantly noticed something odd in the fairy’s wording.

Intelligence check successful.

“You said normal life,” the [Reaper] said, guessing what he meant. “The System doesn’t fully work on the other side. We are powerless there.”

“You overestimate yourselves,” Mell Lin mocked them, toying with his pipe. “You are always powerless. My sister cannot be defeated, you know that. Resistance is pointless.”

“Big words, from cowards who ran away to escape me every time we fought,” Vainqueur replied, unimpressed.

So of course, when he saw his argument didn’t work, the piper immediately aimed for the heart. “Are you truly so cruel as to let your own blood suffer in ignorance of your survival?” he said, looking especially at Kia. “The people of this world do not need you… but the ones beyond this portal do. Are you that selfish?”

Victor knew, in his head and in his heart, that the fomor was toying with them, preying on their emotional weaknesses. But while he had always thought that he had moved on, the sight of his parents alive and well made the Vizier hesitate.

They looked so close, and yet so far away.

“No,” Kia said, at first hesitant, and then more firmly. “No. No.”

Victor exchanged a glance with her and immediately understood what she thought.

Even if she might have loved returning to her world and father, she would never abandon this planet to Odieuse for anything.

As for Victor…

“Why?” Hamelin asked, genuinely puzzled by Kia’s reaction. “I don’t understand.”

“Why? I have sixteen reasons why!” Victor shouted, before sending the signal. “[Za Warudo]!”


Vainqueur immediately lunged at Mell Lin, although time shifted before he could reach him.

When time resumed, the effect of Manling Victor’s spells had become visible. Poisonous clouds covered the Dark Forest, both within his [Glitzy Theater] and out. A mighty figure overshadowed the golems, as he had towered over Vainqueur when they fought; and a new, friendlier golem had joined the fray.

Weather condition changed to [Acid Rain]. Everyone exposed to the rain will take continuous [Acid] damage, with damage doubled for [Plants]. [Acid] and [Poison] effects will be strengthened, while [Plant] and [Life] effects will be weakened.

His [Delayed Hasten] activating and enhancing his speed twofold, Vainqueur moved past the golems protecting Mell Lin and punched him in the face. His closed fist being as big as the fomor himself, it sent him crashing against the stone doors of his own portal; the portal flickered in response, becoming blurry and indistinct.

“Thralls!” the piper snarled while dodging another [Victory Fist], Vainqueur’s punch creating a small crater. Instantly, all carnivorous trees around began to move, uprooting themselves and swinging their branches like flails. Those outside the arena scratched it furiously, while those within attacked Vainqueur’s minions from all sides; the acid droplets melting their bark did nothing to delay them.

“Rolo farms!” So Rolo the golem answered both Manling Victor’s call and the challenge before him. The [Farmer] hastened himself before punching his way through every plant monster between him and Hamelin; his every move shattered trunks.

Mell Lin’s golems moved to intercept Vainqueur and protect their master, only to be stopped by a larger shape. They looked up.

And up.

The [Tarasque Emperor] let out a bestial roar, casting a great shadow upon the forest; even the golems barely reached up to his waist.

As Kia summoned her [Solar Judgment] to incinerate the plant monsters, and Gorynych tackled a golem from behind, Manling Victor joined the Tarasque attacking the other one. The reptilian titan was so huge, that he easily lifted the machine like a toy and savagely plastered it against a wall of the [Glitzy Theater]. The entire landscape trembled, as his feet crushed dozens of tree monsters with every step.

[Talos Titan] used [Barrier Change: Poison Wyrm].

[Talos Titan] became immune to [Acid] and [Poison].

The poisonous acid rain dripped down the golem’s armor, unable to harm them. Neither could it affect Vainqueur’s own allies though, shielded by protective spells.

With no one left to protect him, Mell Lin suddenly teleported within a few meters of Vainqueur himself, much to his surprise.

“Ah, I see, your arena blocks portals and teleportation out, but not into or within its confines,” the piper observed, bringing his musical instrument to his lips while putting as much space as he could between Vainqueur and him. “Come, my servants. [Vermin Shield].”

A horde of cat-sized black rats crawled out of the grass below Mell Lin’s feet, forming a monstrous barrier.

While Vainqueur wanted nothing more than smash or incinerate the piper, he remembered the strategy and stuck with it. Instead, he anchored himself to the ground, and called upon his magic, leaving the piper to Tinfoil Rolo’s care.

“[Terraform: Non-Magical Terrains, Volcano]!”

Answering Vainqueur’s order, magma seeped through the earth and set the grass ablaze. Almost every plant within a mile caught fire, the monstrous trees wailing in pain as the world turned hostile to them. Some rats died from the heat, but most survived the flames by using the corpses of their brethren as a bloody carpet.

Meanwhile, Mell Lin prepared to sing a song, only for Rolo to reach and tackle him with his shoulder. Even with his native resistance to physical attacks, the blow made the fomor bleed golden blood through the mouth.

While Vainqueur focused on terraforming the land, he glanced at his allies to oversee their progress. The acid rain and the magma, both against which his minions had been protected again, had quickly felled most of the tree monsters. Only the golems were left.

One of them had engaged Knight Kia and Gorynych in an aerial battle near the arena’s ceiling and amidst acid clouds; the machine tried to impale the zmey with its blade, while he and Knight Kia retaliated with elemental breaths and light rays respectively. Both sides were [Hastened], but the golem took more than it gave.

The other machine fared terribly against the Tarasque, who was busy tearing in half with brute strength alone. Manling Victor even abandoned the reptile to take care of its prey to assist Tinfoil Rolo.

“Rolo remembers how you burned his fields,” the [Farmer] told Mell Lin, ignoring the rats biting his ankle to punch the fomor once in the face, then twice. “Rolo will use your corpse as a fertilizer.”

“I do not remember all my victims,” the piper replied as his vermin servants managed to slow down the golem by drowning him under their sheer mass, giving him a brief respite. The fomor brought his musical instrument to his lips and sang a melody. “But they all remember me.”

As the song echoed across the burning battlefield, a horde of diseased, greenish specters swirled out of Mell Lin’s pipe. They looked like plague victims, diseased humans, beastkin, and other creatures howling their grudge against the living with a strident sound.

Mell Lin’s [Hamelin Melody] summoned the ghosts of his victims.

Rolo protected his face with his hands, but couldn’t stop the flood of specters attacking him from all sides. While he was strong, he couldn’t hit intangible foes, and the rats impaired his movements. Rushing to the rescue on his nightmare horse’s back, Manling Victor started targeting the ghosts with his scythe, consuming the souls.

“You’re sure Cybele won’t be too mad?!” the Vizier shouted to the [Farmer], while Vainqueur finished terraforming the area and the Tarasque swallowed his last foe’s scraps whole.

“Old trees must often burn for new seeds to bloom,” Tinfoil Rolo replied, before turning his attention back on Mell Lin with the last ghost gone. His role in the battle was to occupy enemy spellcasters in close combat, preventing them from mounting a defense against other minions’ assault.

The lion’s share of the work, however, befell Vainqueur. Even his favorite Manling’s purpose was only to buy him time, so he could unleash his overwhelmingly powerful attack.

His rats forming a barrier of flesh around him, Mell Lin began to sing a strident, horrifying dirge, and surrounded himself with eldritch power.

Mell Lin’s [Azathoth Lullaby] will su—

“You do not face a magnanimous dragon today, fairy!” Vainqueur roared, as the stage was set. “You face the Great Calamity of this Age! [Geomancy]!”

Geomancy activated! Field Type: Volcano.

Effect: [Eruption].

Everything inside the [Glitzy Theater] erupted in blinding flames.

Shielded from fire and acid by spells, only Vainqueur and his allies survived the magical firestorm; some like Tinfoil Rolo were thrown away by the blast’s power, but the heat could not harm them.

All of Mell Lin’s rats, meanwhile, were instantly vaporized, as was the last enemy golem. The fomor’s song was laced by a howl of pain as his wooden skin burned from the searing flames, his magical pipe melting in his hands.

You inflicted massive [Fire] damage!

The stone gates shattered before the mighty blast, unleashing rainbow-colored lightning in all directions. Space itself seemed to tear itself apart into an unstable rift, flickering in and out of existence before collapsing on itself.

Surrounded by ashes, the dragon turned to the last enemy standing. The scene reminded him of his first confrontation with Wotan, whose powerful [Ragnarok] had shattered the Piggybank and cast the dragon down before he could retaliate. The wyrm had to thank Dragonbane for teaching him this tactic.

Yet, alone, agonizing, and with all his enemies converging on his location, Mell Lin kept singing.

In response to his odious song, more rifts in space appeared within Vainqueur’s [Glitzy Theater], but these were black holes opening to the heart of Hell itself.

The lead side of the Moooooon!

Purple tentacles bigger than the towers of the dragon’s castle emerged from the rifts and thrashed around. The Tarasque roared at the challenge, only to be seized by the throat and the limbs, struggling against an unseen monster even bigger than him. Another tentacle caught Rolo from behind and tossed him against the ground.

Vainqueur unleashed a dozen fireballs at the new enemies, but Manling Victor focused on the piper. “Ignore the summons, hit the summoner!” the [Reaper] shouted before unleashing a [Hades Blast] at the fomor. Mell Lin leaped away, singing desperately while almost tripping on ashes.

Descending from the skies, Knight Kia and Gorynych dived towards the fomor. A tentacle stopped the zmey midway, but the [Paladin] leaped off his back and reached the fomor.

Slash!

In one swing of her blade, Knight Kia severed the fomor’s right arm, the one holding the pipe. Mell Lin let out a snarl of fury as his melody was interrupted, the rifts closing and cutting the tentacles. The fomor tried to dodge a lethal strike from the [Paladin]’s blade...

… only to move closer to Vainqueur.

“Wait!” The fomor raised his last hand in desperation. “Please, I can—”

Vainqueur crushed him with his fist, shutting him up and pinning him to the ground.

With the portals closed, Gorynych landed next to the group, while the Tarasque happily feasted on the tentacles. “We won!” the zmey rejoiced, Rolo patting him on the side. “Gorynych helped!”

“You tried to have me killed in my sleep, Mell Lin, and you hurt dragons when they could not fight back,” Vainqueur told him. “Your death will not be a dignified one. Manling Victor.”

His chief of staff raised his scythe.

“Good ol’ Hamelin may die...” Mell Lin replied with a glare of utter hatred, slamming the ground with his left hand.

“Carry out the sentence,” Vainqueur ordered his Vizier.

“But never alone!”

Manling Victor beheaded him in one swing like he did with Mag Mell. Hamelin’s twisted soul let out a final scream, as it was dragged into the spectral scythe; his body turned to ashes, returning to the blasted earth that gave that vermin life.

The brutal, one-sided battle had lasted less than five minutes; as he cancelled his [Glitzy Theater], Vainqueur realized that he hadn’t even taken a single wound.

Congratulations! For organizing your minions and leading them to an overwhelming victory, you earned a level in [Kaiser]!

+30 HP, +10 SP, +1 STR, +1 VIT, +1 SKI, +1 AGI, +1 CHA.

Even the System seemed to find it too easy.

Luck check failed.

Manling Victor’s eyes widened in horror, upon noticing a glowing inscription where Mell Lin had slammed the ground. A green rune.

“We need to evacuate!” he shouted. “Right now.”

Skill check successful.

Vainqueur immediately sensed why, as he raised his eyes at the skies; seeing them aim for their location even with the clouds obscuring them.

A falling star.

"[Golden Road]!" Vainqueur opened the path to his hoard, his minions rushing through his portal... with one exception. "You, get through!"

The Tarasque looked up at the missiles, unimpressed, and then returned to feasting on the leftover tentacles.

Vainqueur almost used [Alpha Magnetism (Scales)] to make him behave, but realized that he didn't have that much time. With great annoyance, he crossed the portal and closed it behind, right before the bomb fell.

Having left the Dark Forest for the warm confines of Vainqueur's vault, the group let out a sigh of relief. "Wow, that's... that went well," Manling Victor said, his horse letting out a proud humph. "Epic Parties, uh?"

"We had a Tarasque," Knight Kia replied from atop Gorynych's back, before frowning. "Where is it?"

"Check up on him, minion," Vainqueur ordered. He knew the creature was all but indestructible, but he worried about its safety still.

"[Camilla's Scrying Mirror]," Manling Victor cast, a phantasmal mirror appearing in front of him. The surface shifted into a representation of the Dark Forest... or rather, what was left of it.

Hamelin's last curse had razed a large chunk of the region, turning miles of woods into smoking craters. Tons of debris and flames had elevated into the atmosphere in the shape of a giant mushroom, a testament to the fairies' willingness to destroy their own home if needed. A rainbowy crest had appeared near the ashes of Hamelin, a trophy waiting for the victors to claim.

And amidst the devastation, the Tarasque was busy feasting on cooked tentacles, none the worse for wear.

He was glowing even greener than before though.

"Well," Manling Victor said, "I guess cancer rates aren't going down anytime soon."

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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