“So, if I understand right, you want advice on how to change mortals’ perception of you?” Victor asked the goddess Cybele, scribbling notes while they sat on fungi thrones around a mushroom table.
“Most mortals only remember me for the pleasure aspect of my portfolio,” the goddess complained, her face and body hidden beneath a white cowl. “I cannot shake the stereotype and it bothers me. The few times mortals acknowledge my focus on nature and forests, they only imagine wild orgies in the woods; even my early sponsorship of Mithras, when he was a mortal [Paladin], has been forgotten. I thought that as a professional prophet, you might have ideas to help my church’s reputation… perform better.”
“It is true that this stereotype is widespread,” Victor admitted, and it was the main reason he had even considered worshiping her in the first place.
As expected of Cybele, forests and natural locations made up most of her planar realm, with a strange focus on fungi. Victor found their current, grove-like location quite relaxing after the previous dimensions. Especially after visiting Deathjester’s realm in particular.
So many traps...
“Is something wrong?” Cybele asked, Victor shuddering as he remembered that prophet session. “Was that too much to swallow?”
“It was nothing,” the Vizier promised, adjusting his fungi throne. The plant squealed as he did so, much to his shock. “Nothing at all.”
“I also wished to apologize for our last meeting,” the goddess said with warmth, the mere sight of her face having almost killed the [Reaper]. “I am glad that you managed to tighten through the Kamacybele.”
“I asked for it, and the [Fiendish Rake] class was worth the hassle,” Victor replied. “Speaking of your condition, I have perhaps a solution.”
“There is none,” Cybele replied with a heavy sigh. “I tried everything to solve this issue. But I appreciate the attention, Victor.”
“Through Mag Mell’s captured soul, I have gained an understanding of Soulcrests and Black Crests, and how they interact with souls,” Victor argued. “You said you had Ludvic’s charisma before you ascended?”
The goddess nodded. “My current charisma score is the result of the [Deity] class, which juices up my original stats.”
“So it only builds upon the original charisma stat.” As Victor had guessed. “In this case, have you tried an amulet like Ludvic’s?”
“Yes, but they cannot affect a deity. I cannot be debuffed by any profane effect.”
“Then I believe that with my current knowledge, resources, and your assistance, I could create an artifact version that would reduce your original charisma stat. Perhaps enough to counteract the inflation from your [Deity] class.”
It couldn’t be more complicated than creating a Soulcrest, or a Black one. Black Crests in particular were… not a cheat, but an exploit in the system. They passively shored up magic, then boosted the user’s soul to trigger a very specific class and a set of Personal Perks. Unfortunately, [Fairy Beast] prevented the user from receiving any experience afterward, trapping them in their current state.
All in all, it meant that while the System’s rules couldn’t be broken, they had loopholes that one could exploit.
“You will have my gratitude if you succeed,” Cybele replied, before adding with cynicism. “But I remain skeptical.”
Well, Victor liked his odds. “For your image, I believe you need to add more prestige to your priests.”
This offended the goddess. “Are you saying that it is not prestigious to serve under me?”
“Not at all, milady,” Victor replied quickly while taking a deferential tone. Unlike a Seng or a Vainqueur, Cybele didn’t need to be flattered, but she expected respect. “But they are too accessible. I mean, the first time I met Allison, we couldn't arrange a friendly date because she was overbooked managing werewolf orgies. If you are too easy with your worshipers, then they will take you for granted.”
“But I believe in free love and happiness for everyone,” Cybele replied. “Except for Sablar and his worshipers, whom I strike with infertility.”
“Well, I—” Victor frowned. “Wait, you can do that?”
“Victor, I am the goddess of agriculture, and thus fertility. I can turn it on and off for any mortal.” Her fingers fidgeted in subtle embarrassment. “This is how I curse people who annoy me. Why? I cannot make you infertile, Victor; I bet too much on your family line.”
“Oh no. I would have asked before I actually had kids, but now that I realize they are cute and wonderful and that I love them and I want as many as I ca—” Victor suddenly calmed himself, before he went into another dad rant. “But, isn’t there a way to turn it on and off? It would remove many headaches.”
“I do not understand.”
“Lady Cybele, look at me.” Victor extended his arms. “I am easy.”
The goddess marked a short pause, as if he had stated the Earth was round. “I know. That is why I Claimed you.”
“But since I made myself easy, now everyone takes me for granted and wants a piece of me,” Victor argued. “It was flattering at first, but now I literally had to clone myself to complete important work. You have the same problem; you and your priests are so nice, that you are taken for granted.”
|Charisma check successful.|
The goddess shifted in her seat, a bit uncomfortable. “My vestals and followers can say no to pleasurable activities. I strongly believe in the right to consent or not. My problem is that people only approach my priests for these activities, instead of other services.”
“That is why I suggest putting separation between various religious services,” Victor said. “A time for blessing the fields, a time to provide ancient knowledge, etc… this will allow you to weed out false worshipers only interested in indoor activities, and cater to potential followers interested in other aspects of your portfolio.”
The goddess silently pondered the proposal.
“Instead of having vestals providing pleasurable services to everyone all the time, I suggest making sacred prostitution a special occasion once a month,” Victor pressed his point, “Make your religious service a big ceremony where supplicants must follow a strict protocol to receive ancient wisdom, bless the fields to favor fertility, and then have the kinky stuff at the end.”
It worked for the Greeks’ oracles. Cybele only had to do like every civilization, copy them, and rebrand their ideas.
“So you suggest improving my godly prestige by making access to my vestals something rare and exclusive?” the goddess asked, Victor nodding. “You know you sound a bit too much like Shesha?”
“Maybe, but does it make it any less true?” Victor smiled behind his helmet, having pinpointed her problem. “Do you want people to like you, or to respect you?”
|Charisma check successful!|
Cybele nodded to herself with newfound enthusiasm. “A ceremony that honors all my portfolio without a singular focus on one domain…”
Well, Victor knew that it would always be about pleasure for some people, but it was her best chance to rework her image. “How about the ‘Greenhand Reunion’ for your ceremony’s title?”
“How about the Sutra Cybele?” the goddess replied, making Victor squint behind his helmet; unfortunately, she took his silence for something else. “Sutra Cybele it is.”
Reforming her image was going to be a tough and difficult war. “So about the fertility issue, it is not that I don't want any new kids now; but I want to know when and with whom I have them. Exclusivity and rarity.”
“In that case, if you do not want a child, you simply have to say a safe word,” Cybele said. “Scream my name.”
Well, won’t that be awkward. But at least it removed a thorn in his foot. “Thank you, Lady Cy—”
Cybele seemed rather surprised. “But the time is not up yet!”
“Minion… minion… minion!”
Not even the gods could prevent Vainqueur from summoning Victor to his side, as his body was torn from Cybele’s planar realm and brought back to his friend’s hoard.
“Minion…” Vainqueur whispered, sitting on his golden hoard. “There you are… there you are, minion...”
“Your Majesty?” Victor frowned, surprised by his master’s voice. “Why are you whispering? Are we being listened to?”
“I sang for a day and a half…” Vainqueur rasped, massaging his neck with his hand. “My throat is sore…”
A day and a half? Gods damn it, the pantheon won’t let him get anything done.
As if to answer his thoughts, Kia teleported in the vault in a flash of bright light, ignoring just about every magical defense they had set in place. “Thanks for the lift, Lady Leone!” the [Paladin] shouted, before turning to the V&V members. “Here you are.”
“Manling Kia… heal my golden voice…” Vainqueur ordered, the shining knight casting a [Full Heal] spell on the dragon. A second later, the dragon could again speak normally. “Better. Now I can sing once again!”
“No!” Kia panicked, much to Vainqueur’s displeasure. “I mean, Your Majesty floored the entire planet already!”
Finally, after so much time spent around dragons, she had learned how to handle them. Almost.
“Minion, why should I deprive the world of this pleasure?” the dragon asked pompously.
“If Your Majesty does it again, it will lose its luster!” Victor came to her support. “Please, do not turn this imperishable memory into something mundane! Let the bards sing for you instead!”
“Excellent idea, minion,” Vainqueur said. “Order Pink Ranger to create a new war song, to inspire my troops as they carry on to our inevitable victory.”
That may have been even worse.
“About that, we have just enough time before the invasion of Prydain to finally do this dungeon sidequest,” Kia said, still determined to claim its prize, “and obtain the [Plot Armor].”
“I received a divine mission to participate in it as well,” Victor added. “If only to meet one of the nominees.”
“Then it is settled,” Vainqueur declared, enthusiastic at the idea of winning a prize and stretching his legs. “We complete this quest, right after I take a gold shower.”
Vainqueur was in a great mood for this last-minute quest.
Not only had he improved the living conditions of minions worldwide, but the Conclave had listened to his wise words and awoken the slumbering dragons all across the world. It had been a tiring, exhausting ordeal, and the dragon enjoyed the feeling of his hoard against his scales.
His chief of staff and Knight Kia had prepared themselves for this adventure with care, fully equipping themselves with armor and weapons. The Vizier had knelt before Vainqueur while holding his scythe, praying his godly minion to bring the quest to them.
“Please, Lord Deathjester, can you summon us to the dungeon contest?” Manling Victor closed his eyes, as if listening to an invisible voice. The more he heard, the less he liked it. “Do I have to say that? She is right next to me, you know. That would be rude.”
“He wants you to insult Mithras in my presence, doesn’t he?” Knight Kia asked, her arms crossed. “Before you do it, I will remind you that my god kindly agreed to your selfish request.”
“Hey, I have nothing against Mithras personally: it’s not my fault my patrons and yours don’t get along.”
“Minion, get on with it,” Vainqueur ordered. This was their last quest before their final dragon-fomor war, not a minion dispute.
Manling Victor sighed, before raising his scythe [Harvest]. “Screw the law, and paladins too.”
As he spoke these words, a flash of bright light swallowed the trio whole.
You are being forcefully teleported! [Immovable] activated...
[Immovable] overridden by [Deathjester].
In the blink of an eye, Vainqueur found himself transported in the middle of a sandy, dome-like arena of solid stones; and duly welcomed by thousands of cheers. Knight Kia fumed in anger at his left, and Manling Victor stood at his right.
Separated from the trio by high walls, the stands were packed with hundreds of cloaked undead, Agarthans, beastkin, fiends, and other creatures. The dragon even noticed the strange naga that originally proposed the quest to them in the higher rows.
“Greetings everyone!” Vainqueur glanced at a promontory overseeing the arena. A raven beastkin, an armored dwarf, and an elf vampire were sitting on thrones there, the first of them talking with a showman’s charm. “Finally, I thought we would never have a decent adventurer team for this year! Now, I know the current times are a hard one for the dungeon industry, with dragons demolishing them left and right...”
“The adventuring market is changing so fast these days,” the dwarf added, before pumping her fist. “But that only means our engineers must innovate and adapt.”
“I am so excited about our current edition,” the dark elf added, before blowing a kiss to Manling Victor; the Vizier returned the gesture, much to Knight Kia’s annoyance. “Even more since our challengers are none other than the mighty V&V!”
“Who else?!” Vainqueur showed his chest proudly, acclaimed by the audience. “Behold, the greatest dragon in the world, and the most perfect minion!”
“And Kia Bekele,” the birdkin added, the audience booing the [Paladin] upon recognizing her unworthiness as a minion.
“Mithras protects us from this madness,” Knight Kia whispered, trying to keep some dignity.
“I’m afraid prayer won’t help here, unless they’re prayers for death!” the raven said, clapping his hands. “Can these three survive all our architects’ best traps? You will know it by staying tuned on this new edition… of the Deadie Awards!”
The stadium erupted in cheers, Vainqueur basking in their adoration.
“This competition shall be shown to all of the lower planes in real time, thanks to our partnership with our co-sponsors from Infercorp and Maure Hellcorporated,” the birdkin announced, flying mirrors appearing all around Vainqueur’s group. “I am Deathjester, this is Camilla and Veran; together, we are the Dread Three.”
“While we sponsor this event and ensure everyone will respect the rules, the choice of best dungeon will be left to the V&V team's judgment,” the dark elf, Camilla, took over. “So far, only a few dungeons were nominated for this year. If the entire team survives, they will receive a monetary prize and—”
“How much?” Vainqueur immediately asked the important question, wanting to hear the magic number.
“One million gold coins!” Veran the dwarf shouted in response, much to Vainqueur’s—and the audience’s—delight, “Alongside the famed artifact, the terror of overlords everywhere… the terrifying [Plot Armor]!”
“Let us introduce our nominees!” Deathjester snapped his fingers. “Who have been recently reduced to two, after the competition vanished under ‘mysterious circumstances’!”
Two pillars of flames erupted in front of Vainqueur and his minions, familiar faces manifesting before them. The first was the dark shape of the Forgotten One, his ancient and now ignored enemy, the evil lich Furibon. The second a goblin with blackened nails and a crimson cloak.
The lich waved at the audience with smugness, before noticing Vainqueur and freezing in place. The goblin simply pissed himself at the dragon’s sight. The critter looked vaguely familiar too, like the one they had met in the Teikoku Empire…
“Oh, hi Furibon!” Victor waved a hand at the lich with friendliness, overtaken by the undead's fiendish charm. “It’s been a while! We need to talk as soon as possible.”
“First of all, our favorite,” Deathjester announced with a booming voice. “The lich Furibon—”
“No,” the Forgotten One declared immediately, shaking his head once, then twice. “Just no. I give up.”
“Me too!” the red-cloaked goblin screamed for his life.
“Wise choice!” Vainqueur replied although the public didn’t share his vision. Every spectator started booing the nominees.
“You forfeit your dungeon’s nomination in the Deadie Awards?” Deathjester asked the nominees, most displeased. “We do not tolerate quitters in this competition. Turn back, and you shall never be nominated again!”
While doubt overtook Furibon, the goblin persisted. “I give up!”
Vainqueur squinted at him, now sure that he had seen that critter somewhere...
|Skill check successful!|
His old chief of staff, who abandoned him in his sleep!
“It was you!” Vainqueur roared with such anger, that it made the entire arena tremble. “You cowardly, good for nothing goblin! It was you all along!”
“Send me back!” the goblin pleaded, as Vainqueur opened his mouth to eat the treacherous creature. “Send me back!”
Vainqueur’s jaws closed on an empty spot, the goblin having teleported away at the last second.
“Veran, you could have let him finish his meal,” Deathjester chastised the armored dwarf, “That would have been appropriate for the current situation.”
“Jesty, he is my chosen’s father,” Veran argued. “You know how much I value family.”
“Oh, that makes me think, your wedding anniversary is next week, right?” the dark elf of the trio asked her colleague. “I am almost finished with creating the [Zombie Clowns].”
The birdkin coughed, forcing his two colleagues to focus. Vainqueur himself growled in frustration, but reassured himself in that he knew where this treacherous goblin lived. “Furibon, give us your answer. I would be loath to cancel this competition, so make the right choice.”
Everyone looked at the lich, including a furious Vainqueur. He seemed trapped in an inner conflict, debating with himself. “Knightsbane…” he muttered. “But my award! But Knightsbane… but no competition!”
“Furibon, if it reassures you, personally I’m mostly here to have a serious conversation about the shield you set around Murmurin’s castle,” Manling Victor said. “We can skip straight to it without trashing your dungeon first.”
“Truly?” the lich asked, clearly eager to spend as little time in their presence as possible.
“Minion, what are you talking about?” Vainqueur chastised his chief of staff. “I am not giving up on one million coins!”
“I would like the [Plot Armor] too,” Knight Kia said.
“In that case, we can discuss the matter while tackling your dungeon, Furibon,” Manling Victor changed his tune, trying to save the one million coin prize. “It will be like when we attacked your castle during the War of the Hoard.”
“That does not help your case,” the lich hissed angrily. “At all.”
“But we will do it right this time!”
“We will do it by the book,” Knight Kia argued. “Quickly and efficiently.”
“That’s what he said,” Deathjester cackled, the knight glaring at him.
“Don't you dare deny me one million coins, Forgotten One,” Vainqueur warned. “I may have forgotten your past transgressions, but do not remind me of why I despised you in the first place.”
“Do it!” the crowd shouted, “Do it! Do it!”
In the end, the Forgotten One had no choice but to submit to the people's will. “Fine,” Furibon said, before dramatically waving his hand at the crowd. “But you brought it on yourself. We shall discuss this shield matter as you suffer in the Tomb of Furibon… the Painful Dungeon!”