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5000 gold coins per person.

“Never!” Vainqueur roared almost immediately, his head hitting the ceiling and causing the entire hall to tremble. “Never!”

“That’s evil,” Friend Victor added, a flying mirror floating near his face, as he examined the barrier preventing them from accessing the dungeon’s depths. It was a purple replica of the shield around the Murmurin castle. “I’m sure he raised the price somehow.”

Vainqueur had thought the Forgotten One reformed after he put a dragon statue in his dungeon’s first hall. But instead, the lich made a twisted mockery of it, forcing noble, generous dragons to make the ultimate sacrifice!

The lich hadn’t abandoned his old tricks. If anything, he had become even worse!

“Paralyzed by indecision yet?” Furibon’s voice echoed through the walls, the Forgotten One having hidden in the depths of his domain while V&V had been teleported at the entrance. Safe from the dragon’s wrath.

“A dragon does not pay a fee!” Vainqueur declared, activating [Spell Purge] and attempting to get through the barrier. Instead, the field around him hit the magical protection like two pieces of armor colliding with one another, one unable to break past the other.

Your [Spell Purge] couldn’t affect [Furibon’s Anti-Vainqueur Barrier]!

“Did you truly think I would not counter that Perk, after you used it to take over my castle?” Furibon’s voice cackled at Vainqueur with great smugness.

“I will break the ceiling and get around it!” the dragon snarled back, refusing to give up in the face of the lead devil.

“Your Majesty won’t be able to do so,” Manling Victor said, he and Knight Kia inspecting the magical defense. “I’ve analyzed it with spells, and it forms a dome around the dungeon.”

“Could you disable it?” Knight Kia asked the Vizier. “You can cast Tier IX spells now, no? That barrier must be in the same tier range.”

Furibon’s laughter echoed through the dungeon. “Tier X, [Paladin]! Tier X!”

“Even if it was, it would take me months to create a counter,” the chief of staff replied. “Don’t you have in-built antimagic? I thought [Saints] could ignore most spells.”

“I already tried,” the [Paladin] replied. “If it can resist Vainqueur’s [Spell Purge], no anti-magic will pierce it.”

“In that case…” Manling Victor casually strolled through the barrier and walked to the other side, none the worse to wear. “Ta-da!”

“What the…” the Forgotten One’s voice turned almost embarrassed. “How did you do that?”

“[Skeleton Key],” Manling Victor replied with great smugness, having turned the tables on the lich. “It makes me count as invited for the purpose of any magical protection. It caused me a few problems, about time it was useful.”

“I accounted for anti-magic effects, but not Perks playing on the entry condition…” Furibon grumbled to himself. “I will patch it out.”

“Can you carry us through, minion?” Vainqueur asked, his friend shaking his head. Apparently, his Perk only counted him as ‘invited.’

It appeared that, for the sake of the one million coins prize, the dragon had no choice but to compromise.

“Manling Kia,” the wyrm said with a heavy heart, looking at the frail, unworthy creature in the eye. “Pay for me.”

The [Paladin] was so floored by the fact Vainqueur deigned to give her life purpose, that her tiny mind couldn't handle the request. “I am sorry?”

“I shall not fold before the Forgotten One’s greed!” Vainqueur declared. “We cannot let him win the war for our hearts. So pay for me.”

“Why me?” Knight Kia protested, pointing her blade at Friend Victor. “Why not him? That’s his job!”

“Spoiling me is your destiny!” Her insolence annoyed Vainqueur; he kept giving her chances to prove herself as a minion, but she always disappointed. “And unlike you, Friend Victor has children to take care of.”

“Yeah, I just received a parental raise,” Manling Victor replied, before looking at the ceiling. “Hey Furi, is your spell a souped-up version of [Spirit Shield]?”

“It was an inspiration,” the dungeon’s owner replied. “Though I am surprised you know that spell. Clearly, you have studied magic since we went our own ways.”

“Since it can cover a whole dungeon, do you think it could protect a city?”

“Could be. How big of a city are we talking about?”

While Manling Victor and the cruel lich engaged in a spell debate, Vainqueur kept his attention all on Knight Kia. He gave her a stern, focused stare, that of a parent asking a naughty child to behave.

“Guys, could I…” Knight Kia cleared her throat, finally realizing that there was no evading her duty this time, “could I borrow some money?”

“No,” Vainqueur said flatly.

“Kia, you can’t pay your fee?” Manling Victor asked, astonished by the female manling’s stinginess. “It’s just five thousand, ten if you pay for Vainqueur’s fee. It shouldn’t be such a big deal.”

“I’m, I’m short right now, but I’ll pay you back as soon as I can, I promise!”

Charisma check… Failed!

Knight Kia didn't sound in the black!

Friend Victor wisely doubted her words, and assessed the financial risk. “How short?”

Knight Kia made an embarrassed face. “... a short shade of red.”

“You’re in debt?!” The Vizier replied, making the [Paladin] wince.

“Don’t say that out loud, they’re live streaming it to Hell!” the knight protested.

“I knew it!” Vainqueur shouted, caring nothing about poor-shaming her. “That was why Grandrake could not hear you!”

“Kia, how can you be in debt?” Friend Victor was at a loss of words. “You’re the Shining Knight! The greatest hero in the land!”

“I have a noble domain, but wandering alcoholism is not a sustainable lifestyle!”

“But we were paid a fortune to conquer J—” Manling Victor stopped, as the knight glared at him. “Oh right, you didn’t participate.”

“This is on you,” Vainqueur declared. “This is the Elder Wyrm’s punishment for your poor money-management skills.”

Instead of taking this wisdom as a chance to improve, the [Paladin] held to her insane delusions. “I would rather live poor, than get rewarded for unethical behavior.”

“You know what, alright,” Manling Victor said before Vainqueur could taunt her mercilessly, “I’ll loan you ten thousand, so you can pay for your and His Majesty’s fee.”

“How much will I owe you?” Knight Kia squinted, suspicious.

“No usury, no interests… although I may take your soul as collateral...”

“Don’t push it, Vic.”


After Knight Kia paid Vainqueur’s entry fee with borrowed money, the group progressed down the cramped stairs of the dungeon, quickly making their way into an immense, incredibly long underground hallway. The path went down, and down, and down...

Skill check successful!

Click.

When they were a third of the way down, something heavy fell right behind the trio. Vainqueur peeked over his shoulder to look back. “What is it?”

An enormous, fiery boulder the size of the dragon himself had fallen behind them, rolling down and threatening to crush the group.

Unable to turn around due to the cramped space, Vainqueur lazily raised his tail at the boulder...

And whipped it!

Strength check successful!

The rock crashed against the back entrance with a loud noise, embedded in the stone. The flames had licked Vainqueur’s scales, filling them with a pleasurable sensation.

“Seriously, a boulder trap?” Manling Victor asked, clearly disappointed. “That’s cliche!”

“I knew this would happen,” Furibon’s voice complained. “I knew this would happen, and I still let them sweet-talk me into it…”

“Wait, it’s Starmetal,” Knight Kia walked below Vainqueur to observe the rock more closely. Her face turned red with outrage. “You have tons of Starmetal. The most precious material in the world, which is super effective against the fomors… and you used it to make a trap boulder?”

Furibon marked a long pause afterward. “Once again, my artistic soul remains unappreciated. Alas for you, even if you stopped my rockfall, you shall never survive this hallway of dea—”

“Sweet!” Manling Victor shouted as he discovered a trap hidden in the walls. “Booby-trapped wands! Who wants one?”

“Give them to me, minion,” Vainqueur said, always eager to add new trinkets to his collection.

“I’m sure there is a pit going forward,” Knight Kia said, slowly advancing while checking the ground with her blade. “Stay behind me, I got this.”

Friend Victor, meanwhile, had the time of his life disabling the magical traps. “A wand of [Dire Wilting]! I always wanted one!”

The Forgotten One’s frustrated sigh was music to Vainqueur’s ears.


What followed was a casual waltz through the dungeon, with Vainqueur taking the time to rate the architecture of each room. While the vile Furibon was best left forgotten, the dragon had to admit that he had a talent for building cramped spaces.

“Eight out of ten, leaning on nine,” Vainqueur decided after he and his minions went through a wall full of gargoyles. The statues had briefly animated to stop them, noticed the dragon, then wisely returned to their original spot. “I find the dedication to perfect symmetry dizzying, but this dungeon seriously lacks in warmer color. Such as red and gold.”

The sound of rats in the walls was a nice touch, although it made him hungry.

“Oh, a wand of [Big Metal Unit],” Knight Kia rejoiced, upon observing the pile of magical items Manling Victor carried in his arms. “I thought no one could cast it directly? Can I—”

“No touching, until you pay your debt first.”

The [Paladin] punched the Vizier in the arm, before opening the doors to the next room. Unfortunately, they proved very small by dragon standards, forcing Vainqueur to squeeze through.

“Three out of ten!” Vainqueur snarled, as he struggled to get through once reaching the halfway point. “This dungeon is not dragon-friendly!”

“This is a design feature,” Furibon’s voice mocked him. “Just tall enough to let a large dragon through, but cramped to make it as uncomfortable as possible!”

His cruelty knew no bounds!

In the end, Manling Victor and Knight Kia had to push him through, Vainqueur’s back reaching against the ceiling.

Thankfully, his efforts were rewarded with the sight of a dozen treasure chests; poor, lonely coffers waiting for a caring dragon to loot them.

Only Knight Kia, in her pauperness, remained doubtful and drew her sword. “This smells like a mimic trap.”

“Of course, stay back,” Manling Victor said. “I’m good with them.”

Upon hearing him speak, one of the chests immediately hopped in Victor’s direction, startling Knight Kia. The Vizier looked at the animated item, radiating warmth and caring.

The mimic asked, almost hopefully, “Daddy?”

Manling Victor gasped. “Kids!”

“Daddy!” All the chests in the room grew legs and rushed towards the Vizier. “Daddy!”

In a display of fatherly affection, the [Reaper] dumped his wands and scythe on Knight Kia, before rushing to embrace the loving chests. “I’m adopting you!” Friend Victor all but squealed like a little girl, as the mimics purred in happiness. “I’m adopting you all!”

“You see, minion?” Vainqueur shamed Knight Kia, who watched the scene with a strange face. “This is what true minion brotherhood looks like. This is something you will never experience!”

“This has gone on long enough!” Furibon snarled, the walls opening.

Immediately, Knight Kia adopted a fighting stance, while Manling Victor was too busy hugging mimics. Ferocious quaking echoed through the room, as ducks emerged from the secret passages. Their eyes burned with anger, and the primal desire to see the world burnt.

The dragon in the room rejoiced. “A free buffet, at long last!”

Then the ducks noticed Vainqueur… and the saliva going down the wyrm’s mouth. The birds’ expression turned from cruelty to abject fear.

Singing for days made a dragon very hungry, and he could never say no to roasted ducks.


In the end, Friend Victor adopted half the monsters in the dungeon, after Vainqueur ate everyone else. The ducks in particular were so spicy and delicious, that the dragon considered breeding them with cats, to enjoy devouring them again and again.

“You know, I was worried about this being a 'painful' dungeon, but so far it is a very pleasant and relaxing experience,” Knight Kia said, a trail of monsters following Manling Victor like children at kindergarten. “I would come back.”

“Me too!” Manling Victor carrying a purring, tiny metal slime on his shoulder.

“No!” Furibon’s angry voice echoed. “No!”

“Quiet,” Vainqueur ordered his minions, old and new. “I smell gold.”

A short while later, they finally made their way to the dungeon’s hoard!

And what a treasure it was! Hills of coins, gems, and shinies, sealed in a vault even bigger than Vainqueur’s own! Just the thought of adding all this wealth to his own filled his heart with rainbows!

Yet as soon as the entire group walked in, and before the dragon could engage in a golden bath, the door closed behind them. The coins shifted on their own...

“No…” Vainqueur shook his head in panic, as the hoard took the shape of a humanoid. “Impossible!”

He faced the ultimate defense against dragons. A living hoard!

A humanoid coin golem challenged V&V, a monster bigger than the ones defending Vainqueur’s own hoard. The creature shone bright with the splendor of a million coins and gems, something as terrible as it was shiny.

Vainqueur could not harm true gold, could not bear to do the deed himself.

So he had no choice but to throw a pauper at it.

“Knight Kia, do it!” he ordered, before turning his head away as the [Paladin] charged forward with a wicked grin. The dragon couldn’t bear the sight of the following massacre.

Yet he heard every sickening moment. Every clash of poverty against wealth; every sword strike cutting a coin in half. Manling Victor had to pat his master on the arm during the whole ordeal, to appease him.

A minute later, powered by her drive to alleviate her debt, Knight Kia had murdered the poor hoard. She would carry this sin, and the guilt, for all her life.

“Is it done?” Vainqueur asked, averting his gaze until Manling Victor assured him it was safe. The dragon looked at the treasure left for him, taking comfort in that the gold would alleviate his wounded heart.

Intelligence check successful!

Vainqueur immediately turned suspicious. “Forgotten One, are you up to your old mischief again?”

The lich waited a moment to answer. “No…”

“He doesn’t change gold to lead,” Manling Victor said after examining the hoard, before immediately changing his tune, “Because this is already lead turned into gold. A spell simply reverts the coins to their original state once they get past a certain perimeter.”

“Makes sense,” Knight Kia said. “A dungeon like this one must be crazy expensive. It would surprise me if Furibon had enough funds to maintain it and afford a treasure so big.”

“You could turn lead to gold at any time, Forgotten One?” Vainqueur was outraged. “Why? Why did you even use your power for lead in the first place? You could have saved the Moon!”

Furibon sighed in true and utter defeat.

“Just take the items and go.”

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), 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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