Victor had done drugs once.
It had been a surreal experience, which broke a friendship, made him a hero of Happyland, and allowed a mortal to access the realm of gods. Higher understanding of the universe through mushrooms.
It didn’t prepare him for his current trip.
Victor felt his soul separated from his body, his flesh taken over by alien sensations as the universe twisted and folded. The black hole which swallowed him, Vainqueur, and Crom Cruach transformed into a corridor of swirling light. Victor’s spirit moved inside a chaotic rainbow, his mind bombarded with information.
Images flashed inside this strange, spatial hallway. Visions of Happyland, of Heaven and Earth; pictures of nine realms linked together by a giant tree, of an ancient city ruled by an undead abomination; the vague, incomplete design of a colossal machine constantly rebooted; the sight of a crew of men, harpies, and minotaurs navigating an endless ocean, of martial artists meditating around a black lotus, of an alternate earth where potions could grant the power to rule the world.
Victor had heard many people call Outremonde a crossroads between realities. Now he understood why. The visions continued, from pictures of worlds straight out of the wildest works of science-fiction, to phantasmagorical dimensions which made absolutely no sense to his human mind.
These visions were but a mere glimpse of the endless multiverse, of which Outremonde was only a small corner.
The journey seemed to stretch for eons condensed in the span of seconds, only to end as abruptly as it began.
Victor’s soul and body suddenly resynchronized without warning, granting him back his five senses and motion controls. The lights of the infinite corridor were replaced with a starry sky, and the back of Vainqueur for some kind of marble platform.
Owing to his luck, the Vizier crashed against it face-first.
“Ugh…” Victor heard Vainqueur complain next to him, the dragon had landed next to his rider. Whatever space-time mojo they went through had removed some of their buffs, returning the duo to their original mortal forms. Perhaps their spells had simply run out of duration inside the time corridor.
“Your Majesty, are you alright?” Victor asked his friend, rising back to his feet.
“I am,” the dragon replied, shaking his neck and leg as he rose back up too. Having recovered from the emergency landing, Vainqueur looked at the skies. “Where are we, Friend Victor?”
The Vizier had no idea. He glanced around, and the more he saw, the more impressed he grew.
The duo had crash-landed on a large, circular marble platform the size of a football stadium, floating aimlessly in the void of space. Or at least a dimension that looked like space; the stars in the heavens glowed with weird and lurid colors, from green to purple. Crimson nebulae swirled in the shape of storms and hurricanes, while constellations rearranged themselves in an incredibly complex dance. Suns fell down like meteor showers on the horizon, while wonderful cosmic auroras provided light.
Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
Victor turned away from the alien skies and examined the platform, the ground covered in ancient pictures carved in stone. Most represented scenes of dragons and fomors, or of ancient creatures which the Vizier didn’t always recognize. One carving represented the Dread Three, facing down an army of angels; another represented Mithras radiant, defeating a fomor as mighty as Mell Odieuse. Each god had a scene consecrated to their success, showcasing an epic feat.
Immense gates thirty-meters tall, made of an alien black metal, stood in the middle of the platform, closed, and locked.
What was this place?
A System notification answered him.
|You have entered [Valhalla].|
“Friend Victor, you told me one needed to reach level 99 to access this place,” Vainqueur said, having received the same notification.
“I thought so, and we aren’t high level enough yet,” Victor replied. “Mell Odieuse was, however. She must have accidentally pulled us in when she attempted to achieve divinity.”
“Did she succeed?” Vainqueur asked warily. The fomor was nowhere to be found, nor was her castle, but if she managed to become a deity...
“I don’t know.” The dracolich had tried to force her way through, and Victor had the feeling the System didn’t treat would-be cheaters kindly. “Maybe she died.”
The Vizier tried to check on his new private plane of existence, to see if they had managed to seal Crom Cruach before the apocalypse, only for his magic to short-circuit.
|Teleportation and outside summoning impossible while a trial is ongoing.|
“[Emergency Teleport]. [Magellan].” Victor frowned. “[Succubus Booty Call].”
|Teleportation and outside summoning impossible while a trial is ongoing.|
That was a hard rule. Victor pitied the summon-oriented adventurers who made it this far, only to find themselves deprived of any outside help. “I cannot transport us out,” the Vizier told his dragon partner. “We’re stranded there.”
“Stranded? We are where we should be, Friend Victor.” Vainqueur moved towards the gates with confidence, dramatically raising his hands to open them. “This is where we belong!”
Except the doors didn’t budge.
“I said, this is where we belong,” Vainqueur repeated, pushing further, to no avail. The dragon grew frustrated as the doors refused to open.
Victor attempted to help, knowing his [Skeleton Key] would help him overcome any form of magical lock. But neither his feeble hands nor his perk could overcome these doors.
Level insufficient. You cannot achieve [Apotheosis].
Only the thirteenth may pass.
“The thirteenth god?” Victor asked.
“I have not journeyed so far to be stopped by closed gates!” Vainqueur snarled, punching the doors to no avail. These gates could not be opened by anyone short of level 99, and V&V were short dozens of them.
Now, if the duo couldn’t pass the gates nor return home through magic, what could they do? Buffing Vainqueur and casting so many spells in quick succession had drained Victor of his SP reserve, leaving him with very precious few options.
Wait. Why hadn’t they leveled up yet? If they bested Odieuse and sealed her nuclear arsenal, they should have—
A chilling cold filled his bones.
|You have entered [Dracolich] Mell Odieuse’s [Voracious Siphon]!|
“[Darkest Fear], [Accelerated Piercing Magic Arrow].”
The attack struck Victor before he could even shout a warning.
With his connection to the Black Grail severed and no way to protect his soul from it, the fomor spell took root in his spirit and drained it away.
|HP and SP reduced to one! Charisma check successful! [Terror] and [Necrophobia] negated!|
And then, before the Vizier could even turn around, a projectile went through his back, pierced his armor, and impaled his heart.
His body went numb, his eyes widening as he collapsed on the ground. Victor heard Vainqueur shout a cry of surprise, and the Vizer closed his eyes.
Vainqueur’s sight turned red, as his friend’s body collapsed on the ground, a golden arrow shot in his back.
“Victor!” the dragon shouted, catching his friend’s lifeless body. He immediately attempted to heal him back. “[Healing Mantle]!”
|[Anti-Heal] applied by Mell Odieuse! You can no longer regenerate HP! [Healing Mantle] and [Master’s Shield] negated!|
“I told you I relished the thought of killing him again.”
The dragon turned to the source of the voice, smoke coming from his nostrils.
Mell Odieuse flew over the platform, having hidden below, out of sight, for the last minute.
The [Black Crests] on her chest had vanished, and she had regained her original size like Vainqueur, but the journey through space had affected her in a spectacular way. Most of her flesh had been cleansed from her body, leaving only a skeletal body fueled by spiritual flames. Once shielded, her core was exposed within her rib cage, the whispers of thousands of anguished souls coming out of it. As her empty eye sockets flared with a spark of pure, undiluted hatred, Vainqueur thought that she looked closer to an incarnation of death than a rotting dragon.
The Forgotten One’s [Permascan] was still active, revealing her HP bar.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t returned to normal.
“Just you and I, Knightsbane,” the skeletal horror stated as it landed on the marble ground, facing Vainqueur. Without their respective size-buffs, both foes were evenly matched in size. “As it was meant to be.”
|You are challenged by Final Boss Mell Odieuse.|
According to the [Dracolich]’s gleeful face, she must have received a similar notification. “This is why you could access this place,” Odieuse whispered to herself, her voice brimming with malice. “You are not the new god… you are my Valhalla trial. My final challenge.”
“No,” Vainqueur glared back, putting his minion’s body behind him for eventual revival. “You are mine.”
Without a word, both foes opened their final battle with their breath weapons.
Holy nuclear flames and a stream of tormented souls clashed in a massive explosion, covering the arena in a cloud of smoke. Vainqueur immediately activated [Spell Purge] and [Fire Crown], covering his body in flames and protection from spells.
“[Fire Immunity]!” the dracolich cast on herself as the dust fell down, Vainqueur’s flames licking her body without inflicting damage. Why she bothered to protect herself from this element in spite of her enormous HP bar, the dragon didn’t understand.
Did she believe that Vainqueur could deplete it in a prolonged battle?
If so, she was right.
Vainqueur immediately rushed to engage Odieuse in close combat, much to her disdain. Rather than confront him in physical combat as she did with Wotan, she called upon her vilest ability. “[Soul Slaver].”
The dracolich hung back as her rib cage briefly opened, two enslaved ghosts emerging to challenge Vainqueur on her behalf.
A mighty fomor king of thunder, carrying a spear of lightning, and a frost dragon whom Vainqueur once called his rival.
This was a dirty trick meant to weaken both his heart and spirit, but the dragon remained steadfast. He would give both the final, glorious death which both his worthy rivals had deserved.
“[Glitzy Theater]!” Vainqueur covered the platform in a golden dome, to better exploit the passive arena bonus that his homefield provided him with; he stopped the dome's expansion at the edge of the platform, preventing Odieuse from escaping it. “[Victory Fist]!”
Both specters rushed at him while Odieuse hastily closed back her rib cage, Wotan’s ghost assaulting Vainqueur with lightning, Icefang’s with ice shuriken. The frozen projectiles melted before they could hit his scales, but the thunderbolt managed to bypass [Spell Purge], and it hurt.
|You have fallen below half your HP!|
His previous wounds from the earlier battle had remained, but Vainqueur had fought against worse odds. He engaged both ghosts in close combat, Starmetal claws extended. All his battles, all his trials, all his class progression had meant to prepare him to this day; for this last trial before godhood.
And Vainqueur would not falter.
What he lacked in firepower, Icefang’s ghost made up in agility, dodging a mighty strike. Wotan’s specter, however, took a punch to the face, [Victory Fist] allowing Vainqueur to hit the incorporeal target. His paltry specter, unworthy of the great deeds he had achieved in life, collapsed into nothing, its remains returning to its captor’s cold embrace.
Wotan had asked Vainqueur where fomors went when they died. While he had despised Dragonbane, the emperor swore to offer him a better afterlife than Odieuse’s belly.
Icefang, more stubborn, continued his assault by covering his phantom claws with sharp magical icicles. The ice survived contact with [Fire Crown] and grazed the [Hoard Armor], both dragons engaging in a deadly dance of claws. The same foolish ferocity that Icefang had shown to Mell Odieuse, he now unleashed on Vainqueur.
“[Overheal]!” Odieuse took the opportunity to replenish her HP-boosting effect while Vainqueur fought off her own victim. The red dragon’s lifeforce slowly depleted as the fight went on, while her own only grew. If she engaged Vainqueur in melee, her colossal HP reserve would put him at a disadvantage.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she cowardly remained at safe distance and focused on supporting her servant. “[Magical Suppression].”
|Mell Odieuse failed to suppress [Hoard Armor]!|
Her feeble magic couldn’t outshine a true hoard!
Still, Vainqueur’s instinct told him something was wrong. Odieuse hadn’t hesitated to engage Wotan in melee, and she shouldn’t fear it with her lifeforce reserve. Something was amiss.
“How about making you fight your own slave next?” Odieuse chuckled, only for her laugh to turn to confusion. “Wait, where is it? Where is his soul?”
The dracolich glanced at the spot where Vainqueur had left his friend’s body, and found nothing.
As Vainqueur pushed Icefang back against the Glitzy Theater’s closest wall, a shadow leaped over Odieuse’s back and hit her between the ribs from behind. The dracolich let out a snarl of surprise and rage, her foe having sneaked up on her while she had focused on Vainqueur.
“Victor!” Vainqueur recognized his friend as he landed on the ground, but Icefang’s specter prevented him from assisting. The red dragon attempted to reduce his maneuverability, but the phantom reptile proved as slippery as an eel. “You are alive!”
“How?” Odieuse tried to squash the chief of staff with her hand like a cockroach but proved too slow to do so. Every failed attempt infuriated her further. “How?!”
“It’s called [Final Problem],” Friend Victor taunted her, as he dodged the fairy’s phantom breath by leaping to the side. “You should have followed Akhenapep’s seminar!”
Vainqueur suddenly remembered that this Perk allowed his chief of staff to survive with one HP… and Mell Odieuse’s [Anti-Heal] prevented him from recovering. A single hit would finish him off.
“Victor, fall back!” the dragon ordered; since he couldn’t hit Icefang in physical combat, he prepared to get rid of his specter with an area of effect attack.
But his minion refused to listen to his wisdom and went on the offense by leaping through the air. The much bigger Odieuse stepped back and protected her body with her arms, but in a masterful display of dragonliness, Friend Victor used his wings to slip past her defense. He hit the [Dracolich] in the chest again with his scythe, the phantom edge bypassing the rib cage and hitting the core beneath. The fairy let out a roar of fury and humiliation, a frustrated lion having been bitten by a flea.
“Two of them, Your Majesty!” Friend Victor shouted, recognizing something as he landed on the ground. “She has tw—”
Without warning, Odieuse opened her maw and blasted the Vizier with her terrifying breath. This time, the attack snuffed his chief of staff’s life, the body falling on his back alongside his scythe. His soul emerged from his corpse, only to be swiftly absorbed into Odieuse’s vile heart.
“You should have stayed down, Dalton,” the fairy rasped angrily.
Vainqueur’s gaze hardened. “[Shining Majesty]!”
His body radiated light in all directions, vaporizing Icefang’s ghost and forcing it to return to Odieuse’s core. The flash couldn’t affect the fairy due to her [Light] immunity and astronomical lifeforce.
Vainqueur answered this display by opening his mouth the second she opened her rib cage. “[Sublime Breath: Wind]!”
His flames turned into a holy tornado, hitting Odieuse head-on by surprise. The Dracolich hastily closed her rib cage, protected herself with an armor of solid light, and began radiating an unholy brightness.
|All of Mell Odieuse’s stats have been raised by one stage, and her [Light] attacks will inflict twenty percent more damage!|
Two? Two what? Why had his minion sacrificed himself for such a foolish, suicidal move? Why target the chest? Vainqueur observed Mell Odieuse, and the HP bar displayed over her head in an attempt to figure it out… and noticed something strange.
Why had Odieuse max HP gone down, but her main bar up? Vainqueur remembered Wotan grazing the core and depleting her amount—
Odieuse’s maximum HP had gone down when Wotan hit her core. After which she had avoided melee entirely. She hadn’t cast [Fire Immunity] because she thought Vainqueur could destroy her body, but because its area of effect may damage something even more precious.
Two of them.
“Two HP reserves.” Vainqueur understood what his minion had meant to tell him, as he caught his breath. “You have two HP reserves, one for your body, one for your core!”
Like the vile Furibon, Odieuse’s body was a mere decoy, which she could revive at will! She could increase the body’s HP, but the core, the vessel of her soul, always remained vulnerable. Attacking the body was a waste of time and effort, a distraction.
The fearful glint in the dracolich’s cold eyes told Vainqueur that he had guessed true.
She immediately widened her skeletal wings and took flight, Vainqueur pursuing her. Odieuse attempted to open a hole in the [Glitzy Theater] with her breath, but she was no Tarasque Emperor. Her spiritual attack bounced off the proud golden walls.
Vainqueur’s [Wind] breath, though, hit her at full force. While she protected herself with her body, the sharp blast of air slipped through her ribs, grazing the core.
As he had thought.
“Fairy ring, open!” Odieuse snarled, frustrated when her fomor magic failed her. Instead of retaliating against her enemy, she kept trying to evade and distance him while spellcasting. “[Teleport]! [Emergency Teleport]!”
“All this power,” Vainqueur muttered with contempt, as he kept hounding her, “and all you can think about is running away?”
Even a soul couldn’t cure cowardice!
“[Summon Talos Golem]!” Odieuse frantically attempted to call reinforcements, before realizing she was on her own and cornered. “[Morrigan].”
Her luminous body divided into a murder of crows made of light, each growing into a copy of the dracolich. All dispersed across the [Glitzy Theater], confusing Vainqueur. Had she shapeshifted?
No. It was a mere illusion. Smoke and mirrors were the trade of fairies, and Vainqueur had grown used to their tricks. The dragon focused on his sharp hearing, capable of distinguishing the M from the m…
|Skill check successful!|
Vainqueur identified the real one; Odieuse had landed on the ground to his left, gathering light. He immediately dived down in her direction, claws extended.
In response, Odieuse collapsed her illusions and unleashed a devastating attack. “[Rain of Destruction]!”
Her body exploded into a massive flare of light, unleashing beams in all directions. Vainqueur barely had the time to protect his face with his hands as the onslaught hit him head-on.
|Massive [Light] damage!|
Stray rays of light hit Vainqueur’s wings and pierced them, forcing the dragon to make an emergency landing. He managed to land on his legs, only to become the target of more deadly beams; the attacks were so powerful, that they pierced his [Hoard Armor] and the scales beneath.
Warning: You have fallen below one-quarter of your HP!
Critical health! [Bravo Bull] activated! Strength sharply raised!
A ray almost brought Vainqueur down, but the dragon refused to kneel, his Perk and desperation empowering him. Even as his body bled out gallons of golden blood on the marble ground, he refused to show weakness.
“I was born the supreme existence,” the fairy boasted arrogantly, as she kept unleashing her barrage of attacks. As always, Odieuse remained at a safe distance, giving Vainqueur no opening to exploit. “The strength of fomors and dragons, the weaknesses of neither! The blood of the world’s makers runs in my veins! All will fear my name!”
|[Terrifying Aura] negated by [Dragon Honor].|
“I am not afraid of you, fairy,” Vainqueur replied, his eyes shining. “You are afraid of me. [Geomancy]!”
Geomancy activated! Field Type: Valhalla.
Effect: [Godlike Spark].
A powerful, divine energy filled Vainqueur flesh and bones, his senses sharpening, his might increasing. An influx of power greater than anything he had ever experienced.
|All your stats have been raised by six stages for five minutes!|
The world seemed to slow down, Vainqueur’s senses and agility heightening. The rays seemed to move at the speed of slugs.
For the first time, the dragon dodged a beam, found an opening, and stepped towards the dracolich. When a panicked Odieuse renewed her assault, he avoided the rays, closing the gap between the two opponents.
“You are always afraid to face me!” Vainqueur snarled. “Like you were afraid of Friend Victor!”
“I fear nothing!” Mell Odieuse replied, frantically trying to blast Vainqueur with light and breath, but always missing. From the dragon’s side, it appeared she spoke slowly, like a stupid zmey. “For no one is beyond my power to kill!”
“You are afraid of everyone!” Vainqueur shouted back, quickly gaining ground. “Why do you try to exterminate all minion races, if you are so mighty? Certainly they should be no threat to you!”
Always, the fairy had hidden and fled. She had hidden behind an entire army, wasting all her minions until she ran out of them. She had created weapons to hit Vainqueur’s capital at a distance, without ever endangering herself. Whenever threatened, instead of facing danger, she tried to escape it.
Beneath all her mystic and the terror she tried to inspire, Odieuse was a coward. She spread death because she feared her own.
The vile fairy panicked as the dragon closed the gap between them, using her last trump card. She opened her rib cage as quickly as she could, unleashing another soul from her reserve.
A winged half-dragon, and the one creature whom Vainqueur would never hurt.
The dragon emperor blinked, as his chief of staff’s specter stood before him.
“Obey, thrall!” Mell Odieuse ordered, immediately closing her ribs to shield her weak point. “Kill your master!”
An expression of determination appeared on the ghost’s face. And then, Vainqueur understood. Why Friend Victor had given up his life without fear, after having tasted death so many times already.
Odieuse wasn’t the only expert at trapping souls.
Suddenly, instead of attacking, Friend Victor’s ghost flew back into the core, much to Odieuse’s surprise. The dracolich let out a roar of pain and surprise, as her heart let out a flash of ghastly light.
Instead of whispering, the souls inside Odieuse began to scream. The ghastly reflections of Dragonbane Wotan, of Icefang, of countless wyrms and deceased minions formed a chorus of the dead, drowning their captor’s roar.
|Your friend’s spirit weakened [Dracolich] Mell Odieuse’s core from within! Her captured souls are revolting! Mell Odieuse can no longer unleash trapped souls or use her [Souldrinker Breath]!|
Friend Victor had created an artifact called the [Black Grail] to house his soul, and capture others. He knew how a device like Odieuse’s core worked from within… and how to exploit its vulnerabilities.
Vainqueur doubted this inner conflict would last long, but Victor had willingly sacrificed his life to give the dragon a fleeting tactical advantage. This was a bold and risky gamble, one that relied entirely on trust. An iron bond forged through tears and laughs and blood, but stronger than the fairy’s own castle.
Struggling against this inner rebellion, Mell Odieuse couldn't continue her bombardment, allowing Vainqueur to close the gap.
With all his might and fury, the dragon punched her in the chest, the mere shockwave of his attack causing the platform to tremble. The blow propelled Odieuse against the wall of the [Glitzy Theater], her core leaking energy.
Claws extended into the fearsome poke style, Vainqueur started pummeling Odieuse at full speed. His hands moved as fast as bullets, the golden walls trembling as the dracolich became trapped between the anvil and the hammer.
In every strike, Vainqueur put all his wrath and desire to win. Each claw carried his anger at his friend’s death, his sorrow at Icefang’s brutal demise, and his fury at the fairy’s cruelty towards his minions. A single strike would have leveled a castle, and Vainqueur unleashed dozens of them.
The dracolich attempted to bite his neck, but Vainqueur backhanded her, sending fangs flying. He kept his fury focused on the chest, pummeling it until every single rib laid shattered on the ground. Her bones bent backward with sickening noises; the same sound Wotan’s body made when Odieuse slew him.
“Hoard!” Vainqueur found his battle cry, as he relentlessly poked her in the heart. “Hoard, hoard, hoard, hoard!”
Yet, while some of his words carried the pain of losing his gold to her schemes, his mind mostly remembered all the minions she murdered in their endless feud. Every crack in her core made him closer to releasing their trapped souls, and the thought fueled him more than the [Geomancy].
Unable to muster a defense, the dracolich almost crumbled on herself, kept only from collapsing by the assault’s momentum. The golden wall in her back had cracked, while her core was leaking energy.
Both her HP bars plummeted at full speed, one faster than the other, until Odieuse’s core was one poke away from destruction.
Instead, Vainqueur grabbed the core and ripped out of the dracolich’s shattered rib cage, the undead body collapsing on the marble ground. The Calamity of this Age built up energy within himself, intent on thoroughly annihilating this beast once and for all.
Vainqueur raised the core above his head and opened his jaw.
“No,” Odieuse whispered, her broken skeletal body struggling to move without the core. “If you take my soul, I will lose… everything...”
“You deserve nothing,” Vainqueur replied. “[Charged Attack]!”
Nuclear energies built up inside the dragon’s gullet, coming out in a stream of destruction.
The devastating force hit Odieuse’s core while she let out a final scream, and Vainqueur’s light blinded all of Valhalla.