In Murmurin, the day before the invasion of Prydain, the dragons played a very loud game.
“Open fire!” Vainqueur declared, as two dozens true wyrms unleashed their breaths at a crater. [Fire], [Frost], [Lightning], [Poison], [Earth]… almost every element known to dragonkind was used, turning their target into a delightful show of light and destruction. The ground trembled for miles, minions fled in all directions, and a single figure stood in the middle of the destruction, unmoved.
“Uncle, you are harming her!” Jolie protested, as the only dragon present who refused to participate.
“I wish I did!” Vainqueur replied with wounded pride. “More power!”
“Cousin, I have a piano!” Genialissime said as he landed next to Vainqueur, showing off a black, half-crushed manling musical instrument. “I found a piano!”
“Throw it at her!”
So his cousin did, launching the musical instrument like a projectile. Linnorms and Zmeys, who lacked imagination, imitated their trueborn brethren by throwing boulders, stones, houses, trees… and in one case, even a cow.
“No cow throwing!” Vainqueur snarled, trying to keep this contest civilized. Gorynych lowered all his heads in shame, apologizing for being born.
At long last, the dust settled, and the dragons groaned in frustration.
Their target lived.
Unscathed, Knight Kia kept muttering nonsense, standing alone amidst ruins and devastation. She had shielded the cow with her body, as a true minion should.
“Congratulations, Kia!” Jolie chirped, shouting encouragement at her failure of a chief of staff.
“Believe in yourself!” Knight Kia replied, her words no longer her own. “I believe in you!”
While Vainqueur remained obstinate in his desire to overcome this [Plot Armor], quite a few dragons were starting to doubt. “There has to be something that works on her!” the emperor complained. They had been at it for six hours!
“It only protects her from death and direct damage,” Genialissime noted. “What if we throw her into the Moooooon? Or have a minion teleport her away?”
“No!” Jolie protested.
“No,” Vainqueur said hastily. “Even she does not deserve such a horrific fate.”
Even if Manling Victor had sent many minions unto that faraway, dark planet to protect them from fairy retaliation, Vainqueur privately thought they may have been condemned to a fate worse than death. He hoped that they could retain their sanity long enough for him to eat Odieuse.
What was the Forgotten One doing? Could he not turn that cursed lead ball to gold?
“Guys, it has been amusing, but I’m taking off the armor,” Knight Kia said, as she left the crater, “or else these lines will give me diabetes.”
“Maybe we can harm her this way,” a dragon suggested. “With the power of this ‘diabetes’.”
“What about the [Life] element?” Genialissime asked, “Does anybody here breathe cancer?”
While his fellow dragons discussed how to best overcome the [Plot Armor], Vainqueur decided to take a short break and oversee his army. Tomorrow would be the moment a flight of dragons and V&V’s forces landed against Prydain’s shores. Vainqueur Day.
In preparation for this historical event, his minions had gathered on great ships near the shores, or boarded copies of the Piggy Bank II. Each soldier, from the tiniest kobold to the mightiest ghoul, carried an overfed cat on their back. Vainqueur somewhat regretted that he didn’t have the time to breed these felines with cows, but took solace in knowing no minion would die of starvation.
All other minions, those who couldn’t fight, were being evacuated through portals to Happyland, the Planet Moon, or other safe zones. Were it not for the presence of dragons, Murmurin would have become a ghost town. Only the monsters necessary for the war effort remained behind, to help support the main army.
One of them was Troll Barnabas, whom Vainqueur had summoned to his castle alongside goblin smiths—the dwarven ones had all fled underground, to avoid the thirst of drunken wyrms.
“Your Majesty,” The troll bowed, as Vainqueur landed in front of his castle’s entrance, “you have need of us?”
“Yes, minion. For I wish to keep my hoard on my person at all times.”
Although the thought barely crossed his mind, the dragon understood that he might perish in this conflict. Unlike Icefang, he could not bear to leave his hoard behind, to die away from his hard-won fortune.
“You want us to create a [Bottomless Bag]?” Troll Barnabas asked. “They often eat what they are fed.”
The mere thought of coins spilling from a purse horrified Vainqueur. “No. I wish to wear my hoard on my person. To feel my gold and gems against my scales at all times; to always have them within sight, so I may protect it with my last breath if needed.”
“So…” Troll Barnabas scratched his throat. “You want me to take all of your hoard, and make what, an armor out of it?”
This was a new, innovative dragon solution to hoard management. It didn’t surprise Vainqueur that a minion failed to understand his vision, and so the dragon shared his reasoning.
“That [Plot Armor] is powerful but ridiculous,” Vainqueur said. “My hoard is the most beautiful, most perfect in existence. Its brightness blinds the strong and kills the weak on sight! If I wore it, I would be beyond invincible. I would be… shiny!”
And, although Vainqueur would never admit it publicly…
His true hoard was his empire and the minions that followed him.
They were the ones making the gold come in, the ones who died to fuel Vainqueur’s everlasting wealth. Just as Manling Victor was the crowning jewel of his fortune, every minion was a coin the dragon needed to protect.
Vainqueur had to remind his minions of what they stood for. The naked sight of his hoard, shining on his person, would bolster their morale and carry them to victory; the other dragons would also understand that they fought for the very survival of the dragon way of life. That they had to win at all costs.
Vainqueur’s fortune would become more than a pile of riches.
It would become a golden symbol!
“You shall take my hoard, my beautiful hoard of gold and jewels,” Vainqueur said. “And you shall use it to craft me a [Hoard Armor]. Something shinier that the [Plot Armor], that will remind Knight Kia of her innate poverty. I want it ready for tomorrow at dawn.”
Unlike the [Paladin], Vainqueur already knew which wise lines he had to say.
By the time the war ended, all would fear the power of gold!
Croissant had done well for himself.
As he waited in front of a cottage built from the remains of elephant-sized spiders; with Chocolatine’s arm around his, Victor took the time to study the V&V Empire’s Moon colony.
At first glance, it looked like any ordinary hamlet, except built inside of a lead valley and with the blue planet of Outremonde in the skies above. The settlers had farms, although they cultivated strange alien trees and raised tentacled black horrors instead of goats. A portal to Murmurin pulsated in the village’s central square, newcomers crossing into the area to find a refuge away from the war.
Victor recognized a few familiar faces among the village’s inhabitants, mostly the people he had exiled here over his Vizier career. He did notice an unusual settler though, sitting on a bench in cephalopodian company.
“Victor!” Ludvic Van raised a hand at his former apprentice, a monstrous, squid-like horror sitting at his side. One of the creature’s tentacles caressed the [Fiendish Rake]’s hair, while another brushed against his left leg. “Fancy meeting you there!”
“I see you didn’t waste time!” Victor shouted back.
“All along, I tried to find happiness in men and women,” Ludvic said, looking into his new lover’s hundred eyes. “But as it turned out, a genderless outer space squid fulfills me completely.”
“Oh, sweetie!” the abomination replied in her horrifying R’Lyehan language, holding Ludvic’s hand with its tentacle. “You make my pseudopods all sweaty!”
Victor wisely focused back on the cottage, having no desire to watch a live Japanese porn movie. “Come on, come on!” Chocolatine couldn’t stay in place, furiously knocking on the door. “What is he doing?”
“Choc, relax,” Victor said, patting her hand to help her calm down.
“I can’t help it,” she replied, her eyes bloodshot like those of a drug addict suffering from a high. “All my stats are raised here! I want to howl all the time!”
Seeing her in this state made Victor wonder if having her stay with her brother for a while was a good solution. According to Jules, it wouldn’t harm the babies, but she had been over-excited since they set a foot on the Moon.
Isabelle had already returned to Happyland, while the rest of Victor’s family had been dispersed either across the planes or welcomed into his own pocket dimension. He would rather avoid having everyone in the same place, both for their safety and to prevent jealousy.
Finally, the lizardkin Savoureuse opened the door. “Vic, Choc, my favorite couple!” she said upon seeing them, overjoyed. “I’m so happy to see you again!”
“Me too, Sav,” Victor said. She hadn’t changed much in the last few months after the Nightblades incident, although she had traded her adventurers’ clothes for an apron and a chef’s hat. The Vizier had somewhat forgiven her for her betrayal, as he did with Croissant’s, but still condemned them both to community service.
“Come inside.” Their host let the couple enter her place before closing the door. The [Reaper] smelled a delicious scent of fish and honey, as he was led into the dining room. “I already set Chocolatine’s room upstairs. I even made four cradles, each with a different color!”
The main room reminded Victor of some hunter’s sanctuary. The walls around the dinner table proudly displayed trophies straight from seventies sci-fi movies, from the head of a xenomorph-like aliens to hundred-eyed spiders.
It appeared Croissant had to fight dearly to protect this community.
Speaking of the werewolf, he was waiting for them expectantly. “Sis!” Croissant immediately hugged his sister, as if he hadn’t seen her in years. Compared to last time Victor had met him, the werewolf had grown taller, heavier, and wore a suit made of some pink creature’s fur. “Welcome home!”
“You’re squeezing me too tight, brother!” Chocolatine complained, although clearly pleased by the attention.
The male werewolf then turned to his in-law, although the atmosphere became considerably colder. “Victor,” he said, somewhat neutrally.
“Croissant,” Victor replied with the same tone, shaking his hand. There was no warmth in the contact, but no animosity either. Water under the bridge.
Something else, however, bothered the Vizier greatly. “Sav?”
“Why is there a bound child in your dining room?” the Vizier asked, pointing at a chained, tiny humanoid lizard forcefully sitting at the table’s end.
“Silly, he’s the main course!” Chocolatine replied with a smile, much to Victor’s horror.
Thankfully, his brother-in-law reassured Victor. “I found him sneaking inside, trying to put a space shark in my bathtub. He was good and stealthy, but he had nothing on the spiders...”
Croissant’s gaze wandered off, like a war veteran undergoing a traumatizing flashback. “The spiders… crawling everywhere… the Moonlanders, they were watching...”
“A space shark?” Victor asked with a frown, as he sat around the dinner table next to Choc. “I heard of sand sharks, but space ones?”
“There are space and sand versions of every sea creature,” Savoureuse said. “Like moon squids.”
“Yes, but…” Although Victor had grown used to strangeness—enough to casually discuss over a dinner table with a child assassin bound in a corner—space fish crossed a line. “I dunno, it sounds like a god got lazy somewhere.”
“They had a UFO…” Croissant said, completely trapped in some horrifying memory, “They had a UFO, and they were drunk… but it wasn’t my cart! It wasn’t my cart!”
“Brother?” Chocolatine asked, shaking Croissant out of his PTSD episode.
“S-sorry,” the older werewolf said, regaining his sanity. He shook his head a few times, before settling in his chair and continuing with the previous discussion as if nothing happened in-between. “I would have eaten little Potiron, but he’s apparently Sav’s nephew.”
“You have been a naughty child, Potiron,” Savoureuse scolded the prisoner. “No dessert for you!”
“I wasn’t trying to kill anyone, Auntie!” the tiny reptile argued, clearly more sorry about the dessert than his attempted wolfslaughter. “Just a life scar, maybe a little maiming too.”
“Charlene asked him to ruin our relationship, and make me suffer,” Croissant explained, sighing. “She will never let me live it down.”
“You tried to eat her,” Victor pointed out, although he didn’t agree with her methods of payback.
“Haven’t we all tried to eat a boyfriend or girlfriend in this family?” Chocolatine replied. “Vic, that’s how our relationship started!”
Ah yes, she had considered making a stew out of him the first time they met. Victor had forgotten that detail. “I will have a word with Charlene,” the Vizier told Croissant. “These attempts will stop, I promise.”
He couldn’t let these events spiral into a feud.
“You should.” Chocolatine nodded. “Nobody harms my dear Croissant but himself!”
“I would appreciate it,” Croissant said, ignoring the remark. “Thing is, I deserve her scorn for trying to eat her, yes, and I understand how she feels. I have made peace with the fact I screwed up something amazing.”
“It allowed you to meet me,” Savoureuse tried to cheer him up, the werewolf smiling thinly in response. The display shocked Victor, who could never imagine Croissant as… wiser? Friendlier?
The werewolf [Ranger] had definitely grown since the last time they met. Managing a penal colony had done wonders for him.
“You could try to make up for your past,” Victor suggested, but more for himself than Croissant.
“I tried,” the male werewolf replied, scowling sorrowfully. “But… she isn’t interested in forgiving me, and clearly never will. When a door remains closed from the other side, you should walk away instead of trying to force the lock.”
“You are all so negative!” Savoureuse said, forcing everyone to sit in a perfectly symmetrical way around the table; even her prisoner. “We are here to celebrate wonderful news.”
“Yes, Victor, thank you for impregnating my innocent sister,” Croissant said with cutting sarcasm. Thankfully, Chocolatine was too happy for the free meal to notice. “How about Charlene? Did you impregnate my ex too?”
“... not yet,” Victor replied, knowing his terrible luck. “As far as I know.”
Croissant said nothing for a while, clearly displeased by the lackluster answer. “You are not going anywhere near my lonely single mother.”
“Agreed. So long as you protect Chocolatine while I’m away.”
“Aw, Vic.” Chocolatine rested her head against Victor’s shoulder; while Croissant remained in a sour mood, the shadow of a smile formed at the edge of his lips. “I wish that I could keep an eye on you in Prydain.”
“I wish I could keep you close too,” Victor replied, scratching her between the ears. However, he stopped Savoureuse before she could give him cutlery. “I won’t stay for dinner.”
“Victor, I cooked a space calf whale,” Savoureuse complained. “Do you know how rare they are, and how difficult to catch?”
“Is it legal to hunt whales?” Chocolatine asked, mindful of the environment. “Not that it would stop me if I am hungry, but…”
“In space it is!” Savoureuse replied happily.
“Vainqueur has a level safari planned, and he requires my presence alongside our elite warriors,” Victor justified himself. “This may be their last chance to level-up safely and evolve into more powerful forms.”
Even Allison had agreed to participate, although the event offended her sensibilities. Only Furibon wouldn’t attend, the lich being busy setting up shields around Gardemagne’s major cities.
Someone knocked on the door. “You’re waiting for someone?” Victor asked Savoureuse, who shook her head. The Vizier rose from the table, using the opportunity to let the werewolf siblings catch up.
Victor opened the door, to find an angel on the threshold.
The Vizier froze, as he faced an old face from a lifetime ago. A blonde angel with mismatched wings, and an adorable face frozen in an expressionless mask.
“Miel! I’m so happy—”
“Mr. Victor, I am only present because Lord Mithras himself asked me to,” the angel quickly replied with impersonal professionalism. “I have no intention of seeing you any longer than necessary.”
Victor froze at the cold reaction but somewhat expected it. He decided not to waste any time. “I just wanted to say sorry,” he said, “for my scam.”
“Mr. Victor, I do not begrudge you for your fraud.”
She didn’t? This surprised Victor. “You don’t?”
“In a way, I think I always knew, but I was in denial,” the angel admitted, sheepishly joining her fingers. “I did some soul-searching, and I understood that I may have been a little… a little corrupt.”
Duh. The [Heartless Angel] should have been a giveaway.
“But Mr. Victor, you lied to me, abused my trust, and destroyed my reputation in front of all of Heaven,” Miel continued. “I may have been pushy with your Karma Insurance, but all I wanted was to save your soul and push you to do good. I should have seen you for what you are: a karmic sink.”
“I did good,” Victor defended himself, although the excuse sounded weak even to him. “I mean, I exposed heavenly corruption. Shouldn’t it count for good behavior?”
“That your action resulted in good means little if you never expected that result,” Miel replied. “If you try to kill someone, even if you fail, you still wanted to harm someone else. You cannot separate action from intention, and while you may have done some good Mr. Victor, it was rarely done out of altruism.”
“Okay, I am not perfect, or even a good person,” Victor admitted. “I don’t have what it takes to become someone like Kia. But I’m trying to make up for my mistakes and take responsibility for them.”
He had a lot on his plate, but so far, Victor thought he was making progress. He took responsibility for his kids, helped Kia with her issues, convinced Furibon to set up protective shields around major cities, found the cure of the plague and went behind Vainqueur’s back to make it free… maybe he was no saint, but he was no devil either.
“You are trying to improve,” Miel conceded, “So am I, especially with Lord Mithras’ guidance, but I do not want any temptation. Your company is trying, and I have enough of it.”
“I understand,” Victor replied, before turning silent. He wanted to ask her so many questions. What had she done since leaving Heaven? Did she do well for herself? Where did she work now?
But he said nothing.
He could feel that their old friendship was irremediably gone… and that as much as it hurt, he had to respect Miel’s right to keep her personal space. Even if it hurt him, she didn’t exist to make him happy about himself.
He had to let her go.
“Here is the cure for Hamelin’s plague,” Victor said, searching in his armor’s pouches for the potion and handing it to the angel. She carried the bottle in her immaculate hands as if he had granted her a holy treasure. “I wanted you to have it.”
“Me?” she asked, surprise breaking through her emotionless mask.
“I hope some good will come out of this mess… and that you will benefit from it,” Victor said. “I don’t know if it will make up for the shame I brought upon you, but this is my dearest wish.”
He owed her at least this much.
Miel’s lips twisted into some expression of concern, although she quickly regained her composure. “I pray that you do not die in Prydain, Mr. Victor.”
With nothing else to add, she opened her wings, glowing with a halo.
“Miel,” Victor said, his old insurance advisor sparing him a few more seconds. “Thanks for giving me closure. For all it is worth… you were an awesome shoulder angel.”
She hesitated for a second, then gave him a short, final nod.
The angel vanished in a flash of light without a word, leaving Victor alone with the cold silence of the Moooooooon.
At twilight, Vainqueur crossed the portal to Daltonia, where his minions and closest allies awaited him next to a dodo pen.
Junior the Excalitrap, who carried Buzz Jelly and a dozen slime children on his back; Corpseling Jules and Tasty Malfy, eager to begin; Untasty Allison and Tinfoil Rolo, who weren’t; the Kobold Rangers, and his beautiful niece Jolie; Batling Charlene and Knight Kia, who had traded the [Plot Armor] for her normal one; even Gorynych and his horse friend had been allowed to participate.
Manling Victor teleported in, completing Vainqueur’s minion set. “Sorry to be late,” he apologized. “Choc just wouldn’t let me go.”
“We understand, minion,” Vainqueur replied, the dragon having shared one last golden shower with his hoard before letting Troll Barnabas do his work. “We all need hoard time, to prepare ourselves for harsh trials.”
As if to answer their master’s desire, a dodo looked over the pen’s fence, offering his body for the dragon’s pleasure.
“Is there no other way?” Untasty Allison asked, touched by such display of self-sacrifice. “Killing helpless animals is… I know we need these levels, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”
“He lived a good life,” Vainqueur replied. “This is the bird that fathered so many slimes.”
“Also, does this one look helpless?” Batling Charlene pointed an athame at a ferocious dodobear, resting on the grass.
“We need to cull the hybrid population,” Manling Victor argued to the dryad. “We are preserving the local ecosystem, not harming it.”
“This is my last chance for promotion,” Tasty Malfy added, clearly the most enthusiastic of the group.
“I always wanted to check if [Exp Dodos] could be raised as undead.” Corpseling Jules joined his hands. “For double the experience.”
So did Vainqueur. So did Vainqueur.