Chapter 30: The King’s Conquest, I

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Word that someone challenged Mammon had spread.

Shroud sat on one end of a large card table, which Mammon had set as the place of the duel; the Market’s ruler faced him from the other side, Mur held in a birdcage on his left. The guests surrounded them from all sides, a sea of blurred faces and strange visages rejoicing at some excitement.

Shroud noticed most of them stood closer to Mammon than him, trying to cultivate his favor; or they were just plain afraid of him. Network also told him they expected his demise to be quick.

“So, Ace, who are you betting on?” Lugh spoke, seeming chummy with her. “The invincible King, or the doomed challenger?”

“I have a soft spot for the underdog,” she replied, smiling at Shroud. “One hundred soul gems on the newbie.”

“Betting against your employer?” Lugh let out a laugh, before raising a fist at the audience. “You heard the lady, bets are open!”

“Two hundred on Mammon!” “One thousand the King wins by a landslide!” “My soul on Mammon’s victory!”

Shroud sighed at the lack of support. Why were homicidal chests so popular around here?

“Thank you, thank you, you are too kind!” Mammon declared, extending his hands. “Today a poor fool challenged I, King Mammon, to a new game called Orpheon. My dear Ace told me the rules, and I admit I like the concept! I’ve played similar games before, of course, and won every time.”

“Not against me,” Shroud replied, ticked off in his pride.

“Mur bets the human will kick your ass, Mammon,” Mur taunted his holder in defiance. Mammon slammed the bird cage for good measure.

“The rules are simple,” Ace declared, working as the arbiter. “If the challenger and his minions kill our beloved King Mammon four times, the challenger wins; if King Mammon kills the challenger once, our invincible champion wins.”

“Just give me my dyn-glasses and let’s get on with it,” Shroud replied, eager to end this deadly farce as quickly as possible.

Mammon laughed, his court echoing him. “Glasses he said…” His body shone with a twisted aura of violet and orange. “Behold my almighty Lock!”

Before Shroud could react, a blinding, mismatched flash of both colors swallowed him whole. His body became numb, its molecules decomposing and reassembling before his eyes.

Mammon's Lock activates, creating a game like reality for him.

The effect reminded him of the Mapmakers’ teleportation, yet different. The gambling hall overturned before his eyes, yet it looked as if someone plastered a new layer of reality over it instead of changing it outright.

As the light subsided, and his surroundings came into shape, Shroud recognized the area before the process even ended.

When Mammon’s spell subsided, Mathias Martel stood in front of a throne of bones, surrounded by reptilian guards and lava. The cathedral-like boss room he had designed for his own game level, Castle Noirceur.

He recognized every detail, from the statues of giant, stylized snakes surrounding the path to the throne, to the altar on which he had intended to sacrifice a princess at a quest’s conclusion.

His own body had changed to match his shadowy, roguish game avatar. “Amazing,” he muttered to himself, touching the illusory chainmail. He felt the sensation of touch and the heat of the room. Mammon hadn’t created a virtual reality; he had created a real-life simulacrum of it. Only a faint, pervasive taint of orange and violet in his surroundings revealed the magical trickery.

Considering the headache he struggled with, and the loss of his attention, Mammon’s magic had disabled Premium Thoughts. An attempt to call upon Lightbringer didn’t help either.

“Maya?” Shroud spoke, trying to summon the game’s artificial intelligence. No one answered. Reptilian guards, serpents with hands carrying spears and scimitars, did, hissing in response to his words. These creatures should have attacked a human on sight, yet in this game, he was their master.

He noted floating numbers above their head.

Level 13 Serpentfolk Magiblade

LP: 800.

STR: 80
AGI: 115
CON: 150
INT: 100
CHA: 75
LUC: 80

Skills
– Enchant Blade (Fire, Ice, Lightning)
– Snakeskin (Physical damage -30 percent)
– Venomous Fangs (Inflicts Venom)
– Cold Vulnerability

If Mammon had turned their reality into a game, did it also grant him in-game powers?

To check, Shroud moved to sit on his throne of bones, his mind expanding in response. As the boss of the level, he could oversee and direct the entire area as long as he sat on his throne.

First, his own stats appeared in front of him.

Mathias Martel
Level 17 Snake Charmer (Humanoid/Reptile)

LP: 1820.

STR: 50
AGI: 115
CON: 100
INT: 100
CHA: 110
LUC: 80

Skills
– Dread Aura (Minor)
– Bard Songs (Level 17)
– Crown of Scales (Major)
– Archenemy Immunities
– Dungeon Master
– One with the Land
– Minion Master

“Show me the contestant,” Shroud ordered, a birds-eye view of the immense castle filling his mind.

His vision moved from his lair to the marsh surrounding it, to a distant meadow meant to serve as the arrival point for new players. A nameless goblin merchant had been placed there to help guide players and offer them items.

Mammon, unchanged by the magic, had manifested in the meadow, the monster glancing around himself; four flying, winged golden camera following his every move. Why would the king need—

“Hello everyone!” Mammon told the cameras with a bombastic laugh. “Welcome to today’s special stream of The King’s Conquest!”

Clapping sounds echoed out of nowhere through the entire false world, as Shroud’s avatar blinked in astonishment. “This episode is translated in every language known on every Midnight Market holo-channel, to our trillions of fans across the universe! Prepare for an amazing episode of tearful drama, mindless violence, and epic laugher, as I face my deadliest challenge yet… that human over there.”

A golden camera popped up out of nowhere right in front of Shroud, zooming on his face. Booing sounds replaced the previous clapping. The sorcerer himself had no idea how to react to this turn of events.

“Yes, the king is not impressed either,” Mammon said, the booing turning into a sitcom, cringeworthy laugh. “Our contest, Mathias Martel, challenged me to a Firman virtual game called OrpheonOrpheon is a virtual reality built on the same system as the tabletop games from last season. As you know, my dear viewers, my magic makes the chosen game real for both contestants until a clear winner is established. Which means that my enemy and I are now characters of that world and bound by its laws.

“The rules are simple. The human cowardly hides in his fortress,” Mammon pointed a finger at castle Noirceur. “Which I will conquer, before eating the challenger. If the human and his minions kill me four times, my enemy wins. ”

Mammon raised his humanoid palm at the camera. “To make this challenge fair, I will only use five,” he moved his fingers, “Yes, five percent of my unlimited power to win!”

Shroud clenched his fists on the other end of the level. Fair?

Then again, the joke was on the Midnight King. His game was only winnable because he allowed it; now that he had all the cards in hands and no reason to hold back, the game designer had the advantage.

“Hello, traveler,” the goblin merchant started haranguing Mammon, “the road is dangerous ahead. I’ve got some potions—”

“This is one of my props, a copy of a real person destined to die.” Mammon’s humanoid torso approached the camera closer as if to whisper to the camera without lowering his tone. “They think they are real, so shush.”

“I what?” the goblin asked since Mammon made no effort to avoid him eavesdropping.

“Hello, prop,” Mammon replied. “What do you have to trade?”

“Potions, antidotes, antivenom… everything that can help you survive this terrible swamp.”

“Ah, a good merchant braving the frontier of civilization to bring the joys of free market economy to all living beings. You, sir, are everything that makes the world turn round.”

“Err…” The goblin seemed confused. “Thank you?”

“The King, unfortunately, is in no need of your services, but who knows? Maybe I will need your help to de-stress later.” Mammon gave the merchant a tap on the back. “My wealth sense is tingling people! Let’s see what we have.”

Leaving the confused merchant alone and none the worse to wear, Mammon moved to the center of the meadow, digging with his hand, and bringing out of the mud a small, golden trinket.

The medal collectible.

Orpheon hid medals in remote areas to reward exploring players. They had no use in-game except for bragging. Yet, following a long and ancient tradition of video game players, Mammon put the main quest on hold to gather useless trinkets by striding through the swamp.

On the bright side of things, it gave Shroud time to prepare. The sorcerer took a look at Mammon’s stats, as the monster strode through the swamps faster than his strange biology would suggest.

King Mammon the First
Level 80 Infernoid Mimic (Slime/Fiend)

LP: 6666.

STR: 380
AGI: 350
CON: 400
INT: 310
CHA: 330
LUC: 300

Skills
– Shapeshifting (Item)
– Regeneration (300 LP per round)
– Improved Wealth Detection
– Improved Critical Hit

Infernoid. The word brought bad memories to Shroud and made him twice as wary as he was before. If Mammon was involved with the Maleking…

Point for him, mimics didn’t gain dangerous abilities beyond level ten in Orpheon, besides greater health and stats. They had never been designed to progress further. According to his statistics, Mammon could detect treasure, regenerate a certain amount of health, and inflict vastly increased damage using his own body as a weapon. Nothing to brag about.

Problem for Shroud, Mammon played a level eighty character in a level meant for characters seventy levels lower.

He only had to look at the stats of his minions in comparison to see they wouldn’t last long against the King. A single blow of his could fell any enemy in the entire level, his own in-game avatar included. Neither could they inflict more damage than his regeneration could heal.

Shroud’s own skills focused on increasing the power of his monsters and disorienting foes; he had designed the boss fight for a party, turning allies against each other while coordinating his own forces. A single, overleveled player his minions couldn’t hurt disabled most of his options.

If Mammon reached the throne room, Shroud would die. The end.

He couldn’t let the beast get that far.

Shroud considered his strengths. Thanks to One with the Land, he could affect various aspects of the area, namely, the terrain, the winds, the plants, and most rooms of Castle Noirceur; while he had to leave a clear direct path to his throne room according to the game’s rules, he could slow down Mammon or trap him. Minion Master also allowed him to communicate with and redirect the monsters within his domain.

However, considering Mammon’s power and regeneration, Shroud either had to either kill the king instantly or inflict an enormous amount of damage his healing factor couldn’t undo.

Also, nothing in Mammon’s stats indicated any resistance to status ailments, such as poisoning, petrification, or paralysis. While direct combat would always favor the Midnight Market’s ruler, Shroud could perhaps kill him through indirect means. Petrification would also cause a game over if Mammon couldn’t recover within ten seconds.

He only saw two clear options; the sphere of annihilation on floor three, which would kill Mammon instantly if he touched it, and the petrification trap on the door of his own throne room, on floor four. The rest of the traps, Mammon would breeze right through.

Shroud had sixty minions available, forty of them inside the castle and the rest dispersed across the swamp. Among those monsters, almost all of them were reptiles wielding poisoned weapons. He also had three minibosses geared towards direct combat, but who couldn’t inflict status ailments. At best those three would slow Mammon down, and little else.

Poisoned weapons though…

Shroud also knew the level inside and out, including the checkpoints where Mammon would reappear at if killed. That gave him a tactical advantage.

His vision of the field shifted to the marsh, and the first ambush there, a frog-like marsh giant and a trio of serpentfolk archers. “Marsh Giant, move south and prepare to intercept the intruder,” he ordered, his voice carried by Minion Master. “Serpentfolk, stay where you are, camouflage yourselves, and wait for my command.”

The monsters obeyed, the reptiles hiding beneath the mud or the foliage, with the giant walked away, carrying a huge tree trunk as a makeshift mace.

By then, Mammon had made quite a bit of progress. That chest was fast, smashing trees out of the way instead of making turns. While the marsh giant hid in the foliage, his skin making for perfect camouflage, the chest crawled over a bed of moss.

Shroud activated One with the Land. Thorns sprung from the moss, catching Mammon and impairing his progress. Emerging from the foliage with a roar, the marsh giant swung his mace at the surprised Mammon.

“Reload!”

With a flash of purple, Mammon vanished from his difficult spot, reappearing where he was three seconds earlier. The marsh giant’s mace only hit thorns.

… of course, Mammon kept his sorcery.

While Shroud himself didn’t.

That chest cheater!

Mammon looked in confusion at the marsh giant as if he had appeared out of thin air. Shroud’s minion tried to exploit this opening, only for Mammon to punch him in the chest with astonishing force.

HEARTSHOT CRITICAL! – 3420

The sheer power of the blow caused the marsh giant to explode into a rain of entrails, blood, and broken bones. Within the span of a second, the remains had vanished in an explosion of orange particles. The Market King briefly paused, as if expecting more trouble, before raising both fists in front of the cameras. “And the King wins again!”

Yeah, physical combat would end in a quick death.

Mammon’s brief confusion intrigued the game master, though. If he reloaded his whole body instead of just a body part, then perhaps he erased his own memory. His own brain was reloaded along with the rest.

Was there a limit to how far Mammon could do that? If there wasn’t, nothing short of instant death would take him down. If there was…

Time to check.

“Archers, apply poison to your arrows,” Shroud ordered to his serpentfolk trio. “Take turn firing at him, three seconds between each shot.”

The serpents spat some of their venom on their arrows, aiming for Mammon once he came into view. The Market King behaved a bit more careful and alert. His countless eyes turned to the spot where the archers hide.

One of the archers fired first. Mammon instantly reloaded himself, vanishing and reappearing at a previous spot, as if an editor had taken his frame and edited a short action sequence. The arrow missed, impacting on a tree nearby.

The second archer hit Mammon’s humanoid chest with another arrow before he could react. The arrow barely grazed the abomination’s skin.

Negligible Damage! – 2, Venom Ailment! (Mammon 6664/6666)

Regeneration, +300 (Mammon 6666/6666)

Realizing he had nothing to fear, Mammon retaliated with a spell of his own. “Formless.” His humanoid arms elongated like fleshy whips, firing at the archer squad from both sides in a scissor motion. The combination of strength, speed and range cut anything caught in the middle, from trees to serpentfolk archers.

– 1140

While the gory spectacle made him wince, Shroud thought their sacrifice to be worth it. He had confirmed that Mammon’s Reload spell had a limit of a few seconds and a cooldown of some kind, or else he would have undone the second arrow.

Next, and most importantly, Mammon wasn’t immune to status ailments.

Regeneration, +300; Poison – 66 (Mammon, 6666/6666)

Since Mammon’s healing factor allowed him to regain more health than the venom affecting him, he didn’t yet notice it. Instead, the monarch kept deforesting the surrounding area with his arms, as if expecting to root out other ambushes.

Regeneration +300; Venom – 134 (Mammon, 6666/6666)

Thankfully, most of the remaining monsters outside the castle, mostly serpentfolk and other minor beasts, hid farther head. “Regroup to the castle,” Shroud ordered them while preparing to use One with the Land again.

He summoned more vines to keep Mammon in place while increasing the strengths of the wind blowing against him. He needed to slow down Mammon until the poison’s increasing damage would take him down.

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 268 (Mammon, 6666/6666)

Mammon’s arms returned to their original length, the monster closing his chest to protect his humanoid tongue from the wind. The monster managed to fend off the thorns and stayed on the move if slowed down.

Finally, the round where the poison overwhelmed Mammon’s healing factor arrived.

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 536 (Mammon, 6430/6666)

“Argh!” Mammon snarled, stopping as if hit on the head. He instantly reloaded himself, glancing around himself after reappearing. While he didn’t keep his memories, he certainly knew if he had applied time magic on himself.

Timesense, maybe.

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 536 (Mammon, 6430/6666)

Mammon let out a surprised snarl and glanced around. He didn’t rewind time this time. “It is okay, my fans,” the king told the cameras. “The King is just winded.”

Shroud had counted the time. Mammon could only reload himself up to three seconds and not twice in a row. Meaning he carried all the ailments and injuries he received beforehand and couldn’t undo them.

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 1072 (Mammon 5658/6666)

“What’s happening?” Mammon complained, the chest dangling. “The pain is getting worse…”

Shroud smiled. Poison damage increased over time until healed, and Mammon had neglected to buy an antidote from the merchant.

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 2144 (Mammon 3814/6666)

The pain must have been unimaginable, for Mammon thrashed around in anger. “You poisoned me!” This time, he guessed the source of the attack. “The human poisoned me! I am immune to toxins, how can this be?!”

Perhaps outside the game, but while inside, Mammon had become bound by the same rules as normal characters. Sorcery or not. Shroud rested on his throne, in the same lazy pose he favored for watching comedy movies.

“Reload!” Mammon once again rewinded time, only to suffer the damage right afterward.

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 2144 (Mammon 3814/6666)

“ARGH!” Mammon screamed. The monster thrashed around in impotent rage, trying to make a dash towards the castle in spite of the strong winds. He didn’t get far.

Five, four, three, two, one…

Regeneration + 300; Venom – 4288 (Mammon 0/6666)

Mammon let out a final scream as the chest opened, the humanoid torso holding its chest as if suffering from a stroke before falling on his own fangs. The monstrous mimic dispelled into blood and shadows, alongside the camera.

Shroud let out a breath of relief. First blood was on him.

The Market King reappeared at the meadow in a flash of light, surrounded by his cameras. The mimic paused for a few seconds as if meditating on what just happened. “Yes, my fans,” he spoke. “The King… has lost one round. Killed by cowardly poison.”

The booing sounds echoed through the level, making Shroud shrug. What a drama queen.

“But a King is bound by his promise.” Mammon’s humanoid torso snapped his finger, although Shroud didn’t see any effect. “But I tell you, this means war. This Firman, the Shroud, is the most underhanded fighter I have ever fought. The King will take off the kids’ gloves… right after our ad interlude!”

The cameras turned away from Mammon, the monster approaching the goblin merchant. “Prop?”

“Yes?” the merchant asked, readying his wares.

“I, King Mammon, need to de-stress. Would you like to help a royal person?”

“I am not sure, I have some water but—”

Mammon responded by raising his hand in a karate chop before lowering it, ripping the goblin in half from the elbow to the waist.

– 1140

Shroud watched the warm blood spray on the meadow’s grass and Mammon’s chest teeth chew on the corpse with disgust. After chewing the goblin into ground meat, the mimic spat out the merchants’ clothes, grabbed the guide’s wallet, and showered his humanoid torso with its coins.

“Ah, ah… this feels so good…” Mammon moaned as the merchant’s remains vanished into orange particles. “I feel so much better. Ace, Ace, ACE!”

“Yes?” his assistant’s voice answered from nowhere.

“Buy Martel’s planet, so I may blow it up.” Shroud froze at his casual tone.

“Unfortunately, it is a Concordian colony. Those are not for sales.”

“… Ace, don’t buy his planet.” Then, tossing away the wallet, the King turned to face the reactivated cameras. “And we’re back!” he said, his audience unaware of the brutal display of violence he hid from them. “As I promised, the King will now turn serious for this round. No words, no comments. Only action!”

The monster underwent a noticeable transformation, as his flesh and chest both grew a thin layer of diamond-like substance. Within seconds, no patch of Mammon’s body remained unprotected. Then, an orange aura swirled around it, reminding Shroud of the Reinforce spell.

“Teleport,” Mammon spoke. With a flash of bright violet light, Mammon teleported to the spot of his demise, before moving to the castle. Shroud immediately summoned thorns and gusts of wind to slow him down, as the cameras popped up right next to the king.

“Bulletstrike.”

The colors of Mammon’s body turned to various shades of purple and violet. Like a movie character sped up by a watcher, the king’s movements accelerated thrice fold, the monster charging through his obstacles like a knife through butter.

Shroud’s attention focused on his forces guarding him. His castle Noirceur stood as a towering black fortress, with various lizard-like archers watching from six towers—Shroud himself occupying the tip of the highest one. On the ground, a squad of serpentfolk and marsh giants protected the main entrance.

A direct assault should be suicidal, yet he had the horrible feeling the king would prove him wrong.

In record time, Mammon exited the swamps and dashed towards the entrance. “Archers, use poisoned arrows!” Shroud commanded. “Giants, throw boulders to slow him down!”

The guards did as they were told, unleashing a barrage of deadly projectiles on the assailant.

The King didn’t even pause. He didn’t teleport, didn’t reload; he just charged through the onslaught, the arrows, and boulders bouncing off his diamond skin like water against the shore.

ERROR! Failure to inflict damage!

What? Even the weakest attack should inflict one point of damage!

“Gorgon Gaze!” the king spoke, almost so fast Shroud didn’t understand him. Mammon’s countless eyes lit up, unleashing an orange flash in all direction. When the light died out, every single of Shroud’s minions had turned to gold statues.

The Market King tossed those in his way aside, before smashing his way past the giant door with his head first like a battering ram.

Realizing just how precarious the situation had turned, Shroud furiously tried to find a solution as he followed Mammon’s movements on the first floor out of five. The monster powered through trapped hallways, shrugging off hidden spikes like he did the arrows before.

Mammon learned. With his spells turning him invulnerable, poisoned weapons wouldn’t work again. Damn, what else could kill him in that state?

Shroud turned to the magma surrounding his throne room.

Immediately, he used One with the Land to look at and deflect the magma draining system, the tunnels distributing the lava across his lair. “Evacuate!” he ordered his minions on the second floors, as he diverted the fiery magma there. A dozen of his reptilians guards fled through the stairs as lava started filling the ground, eating through the stone floor.

Mathias had never designed the level with this in mind, so he had no idea how long it would take for the floor to dissolve under the heat.

Meanwhile, Mammon had reached the chokepoint which the Werners could never get past through. An ancient, immense circular arena, with crimson, bloodied sand littering the ground, and Aztec-styled statues encircling the battleground.

Mammon stepped inside the battlefield, a hidden stone door closing the path behind him. The cruel monarch briefly paused at that, his tentacles tensing up as his eyes glanced around for an exit.

His challenger, hidden in the shadows, spoke a word of power. Flames erupted around Mammon, fire licking his invulnerable body.

Curse of Arson: Debuff, Fire Vulnerability!

Letting out a frustrated growl, the unharmed king turned towards the sound’s source.

Shroud’s champion, the castle’s first miniboss, flew out of the shadow.

The witch, Violet, had been designed after a fairy game character Mathias once had a crush on. A majestic, angelic woman in white, with long blonde hair and butterfly wings. Now that he looked at her again with new eyes, she did look a lot like Samantha…

Violet opened the duel by speaking another word of power, snapping her fingers. A sphere of fire ignited from the friction, flying at Mammon and impacting on his face. Mammon’s diamond skin heated up with a red glow.

– 10 Fire Damage! (Mammon, 6656/6666)

Shroud’s eyes lit up in hope.

Regeneration +300 (Mammon, 6666/6666)

“Fmls!” Mammon spoke too fast for Shroud to fully understand, his fist extending at Violet like a cannonball. With speed matching that of the king himself, the butterfly woman dodged, the king’s fingers piercing the wall behind her.

As per her parameters, Violet had buffed herself before the fight, increasing her firepower and speed. Enough to match Mammon’s time-enhanced agility.

The witch only had less than a thousand life points, however. A single blow would fell her like the rest. Shroud hoped she would last longer than the guards outside, or Mammon would avoid the trap before it even activated.

Mammon unleashed a barrage of elongated punches with speed that wouldn’t disgrace a Gatling gun. Violet flew towards the ceiling, the king’s attacks narrowingly missing. Each blow took a shard of the ceiling with it, weakening the structure.

While Mammon shrugged off the falling boulders, Violet’s fireballs inflicted some damage.

Regeneration +300; -10 Fire Damage! (Mammon, 6666/6666)

Regeneration +300; -10 Fire Damage! (Mammon, 6666/6666)

Mammon’s regeneration allowed him to recover from any damage, but fire could harm him.

The mimic, perhaps suspecting Violet’s assault of having a hidden effect like the poisoned arrows, stopped ignoring the fireballs. The time-boosted mimic crawled at high speed around the battlefield, dodging the miniboss’ attacks as she did his.

The Midnight Market’s ruler then positioned himself at the center of the arena, at a spot meant to see from every angle.

Shroud guessed his foe’s next move and warned his miniboss. “Violet, take cover behind the statues!”

“Gon Gz!” the King snarled.

At his command, his minion flew behind a feathered serpent statue, right as Mammon unleashed a deadly flash of light in every direction. Shielded by the stone’s shadow, Violet suffered no ill-effect.

Mammon’s spell only affected those touched by the light the eyes cast. Like the legend of Medusa, it couldn’t curse through barriers or shields.

Proving himself a cunning tactician, Mammon extended his humanoid arms on both sides, then swirled on himself like a deadly tornado. While Violet flew out of the way, the deadly motion shattered every statue in the room one after the other, sending stone shards flying in every direction.

Now, with his foe having nowhere to hide, Mammon prepared to cast another Gorgon Gaze spell… when a fiery drop fell on his shoulder.

Regeneration +300; Critical Hit! Minor Fire damage! – 3 (Mammon 6666/6666)

Mammon raised his countless eyes to the ceiling, just as it collapsed, spewing an ungodly amount of magma.

While Mammon could see it coming with his time-acceleration, he couldn’t move fast enough to dodge. Instead, he took a magma shower head on, the lava covering the arena’s ground like a bathhouse. Violet flew out of the magma’s way, laughing like a maniac; Shroud himself let out a breath of relief.

Regeneration +300; Critical Hit! Heavy Fire damage! – 3600 (Mammon 2166/6666)

The sorcerer skipped a heartbeat. Mammon had survived that?

One of the king’s elongated arm, its diamond skin falling off like a snake’s skin, sprung from the lava, aiming to grab a wall.

“Violet, target the wall!” Shroud shouted before the king could extract himself from the trap. “Not the enemy, the wall!”

The miniboss did as asked, firing a fireball at the chunk of ceiling Mammon tried to anchor himself to and causing it to fall down. The king’s hand only grabbed a piece of stone, which soon fell on his head; pushing him back into the magma, and to his agonizing death.

Regeneration +300; Critical Hit! Heavy Fire damage! – 3600 (Mammon 0/6666)

Mammon melted with a final dying gargle, the butterfly witch chuckling in delight.

Mammon reappeared at the castle’s gate, shaking with anger. He quickly regained control of himself when the cameras caught up to him, but Shroud had seen his true face. “The King… your beloved King… has lost a round.”

The mimic snapped a finger, lowering his head. All sounds in the level died out, with Shroud imagining the audience falling in silence at the shock. The situation looked like those fake, pre-Concordia reality tv shows.

“The King will not lie, this… this may be the toughest challenge yet…” Mammon insisted on each word, to heighten the drama. “But the King cannot disappoint his fans. Even in the face of such a dangerous enemy, HE. WILL. PREVAIL!”

He immediately turned his skin to diamond again, reinforced it with his Orange spell.

“Teleport!”

Nothing happened.

“… I said, Teleport.” Mammon’s spell failed again. “Teleport.” And again.

Mammon said nothing, then began to call for assistance. “Ace. Ace! AAACEEE!”

“Yes, my King?” Ace’s voice echoed from the cameras.

“Why can’t I teleport inside that castle?”

“Let me check… Orpheon dungeons are protected against teleportation effects to prevent players from sidestepping it and get to the boss early.”

Even with his sorcery, Mammon couldn’t violate the rules of the artificial world.

Wait, Shroud realized, why didn’t Mammon try to teleport to him the first time, instead of targeting the swamps? Could he only teleport to areas he had been before?

“Are you telling the King that he must do that castle all over again?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Mammon’s scream of frustration brought a chuckle out of Shroud.

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First, a personal thanks to my newest patron Dex, for pledging to me yesterday; you can find your Wandering Inn inspired Lock on the Player Database, since I noticed you were a fan of it; and of course, warm thanks to BlissForgotten, Warwick Robertson, Johnathan, Marc Claude Louis Durand, Rhodri Thornber, Drekin, Bald Guy Dennis, Floodtalon, Dax, Karolus, Daniel Zogbi for pledging to me on Patreon. I love you all!

You know, one half of the drafts that would become Magik (besides my older work Dis Acedia) was a semi-VR story called Orpheon, with Mathias as the dungeon master of a reptile-themed lair (focusing more on traps, ambushes and attrition than big monsters, like the Tomb of Horrors). The story would begin when his dungeon ends up materializing in the real world, with Mathias trying to get his monsters to coexist with Evermarsh nearby. 

I went pretty far into that outline and its early chapters before reworking it as Magik (most of Evermarsh ‘local’ characters, including Smokefang, come from this particular draft). The stats and systems of this two-parters are leftovers from the original skill system.  

As usual, would you kindly leave a vote for Magik on TobWebFiction by clicking on that link: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=magik-online

6 Replies to “Chapter 30: The King’s Conquest, I”

  1. This incarnation of Mammon seems give the impression that it’s much more impulsive compared to its past incarnation. Certainly an interesting change.

    Or perhaps this is all an act. The demon is playing the long con and wants Shroud to win this bout to make him overconfident and vulnerable to more subtle manipulations. If that is the case, then the cost of humiliation must be outweighed by the potential benefit. Mammon founded the Midnight Market, so it you’d expect something like that from it.

    Of course, the impression Network provided seems to refute that, unless Shroud’s Lock is capable of being fooled into giving false readings. We know it’s not infallible since usage can be detected by the target (though perhaps they have to be Yellow-aligned like Kari and Manah? Affinity of Ace could also be yellow. Could she be affecting the mimic’s luck?) Mammon’s own Lock doesn’t seem capable of interfering with Network and it seems to prefer Violet and Orange spells, unless its keeping its true affinity concealed.

    This might point to Manah been the one who set up the entire situation in order to give Shroud more experience/get stronger and maneuvering the Dragonslayers into a favourable position while simultaneously eroding Mammon’s authority. There is the possibility of Mammon suspecting something like this and is using Manah’s scheme as part of a greater plan to advance his own interests.

    1. Ace didn’t detect him mind-reading; she guessed when he named Mammon as the culprit without prior hint from her. Since she read he was a Blue Sorcerer, she put the two and two together.

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