Tree. Tree. Tree.
Oh, another tree!
“Minions, the fairies know nothing of landscaping!” Vainqueur snarled, flying above a gigantic, impenetrable forest of oaks and alders. Minion Victor followed him on Gorynych’s back, while Knight Kia trailed them while riding her griffin, having traded her [Plot Armor] for her normal clothes for the day when she couldn’t stand the artifact's terrible lines anymore.
It had taken Vainqueur some effort, but he had convinced Jolie to lead a group of minions further west rather than carry this sorry excuse of a knight on her back. Even after the Declaration of Minions’ Rights, many of his kindred looked at his niece’s behavior with condemnation.
“Their forests all look the same!” Vainqueur kept complaining, although a flock of his kindred were busy redecorating it with their deadly breaths; each of them escorted by a group of flying minions, in case fomor thralls ambushed them with dragonbinding bottles. Further west, the Tarasque Emperor moved in a straight line, he and his brood eating anything in their path.
As it turned out, they weren't picky about whom or what they consumed.
“Can Gorynych help with redecorating?” the zmey asked, eager to please a true dragon. “Gorynych good with drawing faces!”
“Mmm, I expect nothing, but I will allow you to show me your zmey art.”
“Thanks, Big V!” Gorynych began to scribble a large drawing with his breath. The result was a hideous sphere with a mouth and eyes, colored somewhat yellow by the embers.
Much to the Emperor’s concern, his chief of staff had remained silent so far. “Minion?”
“Isabelle will give birth anytime soon!” Manling Victor shouted anxiously at once, startling the group. “I will miss my daughter’s birth if this war continues!”
“Where is Odieuse?” Knight Kia grumbled to herself, just as restless. “It’s been three days since the landing, and there’s been no trace of her!”
“We have fought countless thralls so far,” Vainqueur rasped. “And yet, no fomor dared challenge me. The enemy minions are suicidal, but their masters are hiding from my wrath.”
“I take this as a warning sign,” Knight Kia said, turning towards Manling Victor. “Any news on the dragons’ souls?”
“Jules successfully raised a dragon killed by the golems,” the Grand Vizier answered. “Only creatures - dragons and minions alike - vaporized by the nuclear blast could not be revived at all.”
“Odieuse must have enchanted the warheads,” the [Paladin] guessed. “With the question being… where did the missing souls go?”
Vainqueur guessed where, and it infuriated him.
After taking over Prydain’s shore, the V&V Empire and the dragon army—helped by their Gardemagnian minions—had progressed deeper within the fomors’ territory, destroying forests, annihilating legions of warbeasts, and establishing outposts all over the southern part of the island. Yet neither did the fairy lords nor their dolphin thrall showed up to confront the dragon army ravaging their home. No new arrow of light fell from the skies. And the thralls who trapped Vainqueur’s kindred inside bottles managed to escape.
“We are near the area where Stonehenge should be on Earth,” Knight Kia said. “Since the place was of significance to the fomors on our world, I assume its Outremonde counterpart must be too.”
“There.” Manling Victor pointed at a lone clearing amidst a sea of trees.
The area instantly reminded Vainqueur of his battle with Mell Lin, and the world beyond the Earthgate. A circle of carved white stones pulsated life at the area’s center, surrounded by cats and dragons.
A group of wyrms, among them Genialissime, laid on their backs near the bones of seasoned cows. Vainqueur immediately landed nearby, imitated by his minions. “Cousin!” The dragon rushed to his family member’s side. “What happened?”
“Too spicy…” Genialissime complained, clearly suffering from a nasty indigestion. At least he had been sensible enough not to bring his children to the frontline. “The sauce…”
“Too much…” another dragon groaned, paralyzed. “It was too much…”
What kind of terrible creature could bring his kindred so low?
Vainqueur smelled the leftovers of their meal, before his eyes focused at the stone ring's center.
The area seemed to be some kind of cat sanctuary, for hundreds of felines had made this strange temple their home; according to their fattened looks, they used to be minion rations before deserting. They formed an assembly, surrounding a lone purple cat with boots and a fancy, feathered hat.
The furred creature cooked a sweet, tasty sauce in a cauldron, waving a paw at the newcomers. “Oh, hello there!” he said with a honeyed, sweet voice. “Have you come for the free meal?”
“[Monster Insight],” Manling Victor said the second he set his eyes on the purple cat.
“A free meal?” Vainqueur asked, recognizing the sauce’s smell. “Could this be…”
“My secret family recipe of ‘special guest sauce,’” the booted cat explained proudly. “Your fellow wyrms could not resist it!”
The poison sauce... Vainqueur salivated upon remembering this sweet, delightful taste.
How could it bring dragons down, when it had given Vainqueur his first personal Perk, and fond memories? The thought brought him back to his early, carefree adventurer days, when he didn’t have the shoulder the fate of all of dragonkind. That his fellow wyrms could not stand nor appreciate the taste disappointed Vainqueur greatly.
“Come on, take a sip!” the purple cat tempted Vainqueur. “My treat!”
“You cats have always been excellent hosts,” the dragon declared, happy to meet someone civilized in this savage country.
“Holy Happyland...” Manling Victor raised his scythe from atop Gorynych. “That’s not a cat! That’s a fomor with class levels!”
A fomor? Impossible, he didn’t smell like one… although the dragon wouldn’t put it past a fairy to cause such mischief, and he trusted his chief of staff unconditionally. “Finally!” Knight Kia said upon climbing down from her griffin and unsheathing her sword. “I thought they had all fled!”
“A fomor?” The cat cleared his throat, anxious, “Manling, be serious! Would a fomor offer a delightful, tasty sauce to dragons?”
The scheme suddenly became clear to Vainqueur. “You foul villain!” the dragon roared, claws extended. “You took the shape of a beautiful feline to lead my kindred astray with your sauce, and steal their cat food!”
“Wait, wait, let me explain!” the purple cat protested, backing away as the group prepared to pound his temple into dust; the other felines cowardly hid behind him. “I am not a fomor, but a future cat!”
“The future?” Vainqueur frowned, puzzled.
“The cat resistance sent me to the past,” the fairy furball explained, detailing his outlandish tale. “In the future, cats have almost been exterminated by dragons, their descendants becoming even more advanced beings to survive!”
“That’s ridiculous,” Manling Victor said. “You can’t expect us to believe that!”
“Is it more believable than a fomor taking the shape of a poor, lonely cat?”
“It does not add up, false cat,” Vainqueur said, immediately finding the hole in his lie. “If you came back to the past and changed it, then your new self should not have any reason to return to the past. This is a paranormal.”
“Paradox, Your Majesty,” Manling Victor said. “It’s called a time paradox.”
“Or maybe by going to the past, the cat set into motions the events that led him to travel back in time in the first place, creating a time loop proving that free-will is meaningless.” Everyone turned to Knight Kia, who became a bit embarrassed by the attention. “I like thoughtful time-travel stories.”
“Personally, I believe in parallel universes,” Manling Victor said, using words even his master did not understand.
“Also, I’m pretty sure the only creature capable of time travel is Sablar, and he’s a lazy asshole,” Knight Kia added, threatening the purple cat with her blade. “Even capped [Chronomancers] can’t pull it off, and you clearly aren’t one.”
“Does Gorynych have a sister-daughter in the future?” the Zmey asked the purple cat, having completely missed Vainqueur’s logical argument.
“You will die alone!” Vainqueur brought the zmey back to reality, the lesser reptile saddened. “As for you, false cat, I shall answer your lies with flames!”
“Hey, hey, no need for violence!” the purple feline complained, raising his paws in surrender. “I was joking! Joking! Damn, usually, dragons’ brains freeze from confusion when I tell them that, but everyone is a skeptic nowadays...”
“I started with a square root sixty-four intellect,” Vainqueur pointed out, proud of his genius. “Your cunning is no match for mine.”
Knight Kia, however, was most disappointed by the fairy’s cowardice. “I have yet to meet a fomor surrendering...” she complained. “Not that you look impressive.”
“I am Cait Sith, the fairy king of cats,” the tiny fomor protested, his furred fellows meowing in response. “I sat out of this war, but these felines are my people and descendants. I will not let you wyrms eat them.”
“Now I understand where cats’ arrogance came from,” Manling Victor mused, before frowning. “You’re a Soulcrested Fomor, which means you received your soul from Odieuse. That doesn’t inspire confidence.”
“Yes, yes, I received a soul from a Soulcrest, and I was all for eating manlings... but then I realized it would threaten my feline people, and that I cared for them more than I thought I would,” the cat admitted, before glaring at Vainqueur, “You wyrms are the worst! You enslaved my people and turned their nine lives gift into a curse!”
“I resent that term,” Vainqueur defended his choice of army ration. “This is war, and war calls for desperate measure. Cats are the solution to dragon hunger, and their suffering will save countless minion lives!”
“You were never meant to eat cats, dragon!” Cait Sith protested. “We created cattle to get you off our back! Stick to cows!”
“Now, furball, you forget yourself,” Vainqueur said. “The Elder Wyrm created all cattle for us dragons to feed on.”
“Fomors created cows, cats, and all the creatures of this world,” the feline lied through his fangs, raising his paw. With a wave of his claws, the cat summoned a beautiful, meowing cow from the earth. “See?”
“I heard of this fomor ability, but this is the first time I see it in action,” Knight Kia muttered, astonished by this simple trick.
“We dragons can do the same!” Vainqueur protested, trying to keep face. “We simply never bother, for the Elder Wyrm filled the world with bountiful minions already.”
“I doubt that,” Cait Sith replied with a sarcastic tone.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Vainqueur replied while giving the fairy cat a stern stare. “For you are starting to sound like food.”
“That is the whole problem,” Cait Sith said, valiantly holding the dragon’s gaze. “My cats have feelings! You cannot eat them again and again!”
“Wait, if you can create life, why did Mag Mell need dragon blood to make a Soulcrest and thus a soul?” Manling Victor asked, confused. “Can’t you manifest a soul from nothing?”
“We fomors can bring life to items, plants, and animals,” Cait Sith explained, relaxing a bit now that Vainqueur held off on eating him. “But we cannot create souls. They come from somewhere else.”
“From dragons,” Vainqueur stated the truth, while Cait Sith shrugged.
Manling Victor took this information with great reverence. “Dragons,” he muttered to himself. “Souls come from dragons.”
“No, Your Majesty, don’t you see?” The Vizier looked his master in the eyes. “At one point, fomors and dragons got along!”
What? What kind of rubbish led him to this conclusion? “Impossible,” Vainqueur declared. “Us, getting along with fairies? Pff…”
“Think about it, Your Majesty,” Manling Victor insisted. “We know only dragons and fomors are true natives of Outremonde. If fomors can only grant life but not souls, then how do you explain all the sentient species present in this world? Not all of them were like us humans, abducted from other worlds.”
“Because we made them!” Cait Sith lied, boasting wrongfully about his species.
“We made the world first!” Vainqueur contested.
“What if…” Manling Victor thought out loud, clinging to his insane theory. “If dragons wielded soul magic, then maybe they granted fomors souls, and in exchange, the fomors created creatures for the dragons to feed on? That would explain all the monsters running around. The System links class levels to the soul, which was the purview of dragons, but it was only activated when Dice, a fomor sentient artifact, went on a rolling spree. The System needed both of the species’ magic to activate.”
“That’s a bit farfetched, Victor,” Knight Kia said something sensible for once.
"You have a better explanation?" Manling Victor rasped.
"It's Truck-Kun," she replied with firm belief, "It all comes down to Truck-Kun."
“This is a conspiracy theory,” Vainqueur replied, brushing it away. “As far as elders like Grandrake can remember, we dragons and fairies were at war with each other.”
“This is a debate for another time,” Knight Kia agreed. She pressed her shining sword against Cait Sith’s throat before he could react, the Starmetal blade within an inch of drawing blood. “We need to find Odieuse before she uses her nuclear arsenal.”
“You will not find her there,” Cait Sith hissed. “This is a fairy cradle—my cradle—not a lair.”
“A cradle?” Manling Victor frowned.
“This is one of the spots where the Eldest, the progenitor of all, breathed life into the first fomors,” the false cat meowed with pride. “The wild magic in this place often grants life to more of us on Samhain.”
“If Odieuse is not there, where is she?” Knight Kia asked threateningly.
The furball immediately found an opportunity to bargain, as fairies do. “You will leave my cat children alone if I tell you?”
“Now, you are asking too much!” Vainqueur snarled. “You ask me to weigh the salvation of the entire minion race against this information!”
“If we don’t find Odieuse, Your Majesty, there won’t be a minion race to care about,” Manling Victor argued. “Time is not on our side.”
Mmmm… his minion, once again, had a point. Vainqueur imagined many breeding solutions that could solve dragon hunger, but none that could survive in a radioactive wasteland.
“Fine,” the dragon said. “I, Vainqueur Knightsbane, vow to outlaw cat eating once the war is won.”
He would replace them with half-Tarasque hybrids.
“See, not so hard,” Cait Sith replied, proud of himself. “The other fomors are boarding the Crom Cruach on the western island. From what I understood, it’s due to launch anytime soon.”
“The Cromawhat?” Vainqueur asked.
“The flying castle with which Mell Odieuse says that she will wipe out all life in Outremonde.” Cait Sith marked a short pause, as the silence stretched on. “Hello? I thought she had advertised enough about it.”
Vainqueur let out smoke from his nostrils. “Explain yourself, false cat.”
“Odieuse built an ark for the fomors, full of those miracle weapons,” Cait Sith explained with heavy contempt. “It will reach the skies, and then shower all the earth with flames. Only those aboard the castle and Prydain shall be spared from the devastation, so I have been trying to get as many cats safely on the island before the deadline.”
The dragon and his minions exchanged tense glances. “Can it be done?” Manling Victor asked Knight Kia. “Blowing up the whole world?”
“If the castle can fire the missing nuclear missiles and reaches a certain orbit, she could credibly hit all of Outremonde’s major population centers at once,” the [Paladin] admitted, horrified. “Even if some cities survive thanks to Furibon's shields, the resulting nuclear winter will devastate them.”
“That’s why we have only fought thralls so far,” Manling Victor muttered under his breath, “They aren’t trying to win, just to stall until they can wipe us all out.”
“The fairies would rather burn the world than let us dragons have it?” Vainqueur snarled, amazed but not surprised by their insanity. He turned to the furred fomor. “You, cat, shall lead us to it.”
The purple cat hesitated, torn. He probably weighted Vainqueur’s chances of success against those of Odieuse, and clearly needed help to see the light.
“I have sworn, on my honor as a dragon, to stop hunting your kind,” Vainqueur argued. “Has the vile fairy Mell Odieuse? I think not, for nothing will ever satisfy her thirst for blood! She will not stop at killing dragons, as she feeds on life itself! Your cat children may satisfy her cruelty nine times, in the end, they too, will die!”
“Alright,” Cait Sith said, albeit hesitantly, “I will guide you to the Crom Cruach.”