From the oppressive quiet of the Satyr’s garden, to a the bustling sounds of a country town in the blink of an eye.
Max looked around.
Tudor-style housing, marble-stone walls, a castle on the nearby hill.
People were everywhere!
Suddenly, details started jumping out at him.
Different skin colours, oddly-shaped ears, fur, tails. Some of the beings were anthropomorphised rabbits or foxes. Others were very obviously elves. Many were humans, like him. They were all busily running in all directions and everyone seemed to be in a great hurry. Where was Wildflower?
Suddenly, a prompt appeared, but unlike previous prompts, this one was actually read out loud.
The voice was the Satyr’s. It boomed all around, but no one but Max seemed to hear.
— Dong! —
Look fast, soldier, for battle is neigh! This is the last stronghold of Master Builder Jonathan Stone in the eighth Trial by Conquest. The enemy is coming! Defend your comrades!
Defend? Max thought. How? Everywhere he looked, beings of all shapes and sizes were shouting and calling out to each other, strapping on armour and arms.
A sound like a set of dice being rolled clattered across the fortress. Three cards appeared in Max’s vision.
— Swordsman —
Become a resident of the Barracks to massively upgrade your sword level and abilities.
— Archer —
Become a resident of the Archery Range to massively upgrade your archery level and abilities.
— Alchemist —
Become a resident of the alchemy lab to massively upgrade your potion-making level and abilities.
Max read the cards quickly and snatched the Archer card. He couldn’t see how potions-making would be any use in a battle and the bow would probably be more useful in a siege.
The moment his fingers touched the card, a light shot from it and surged into his body. Knowledge, skills, abilities, they powered through his brain! He could feel them! He knew how to breath to stabilise an arrow shot. He knew he could hit a goblin’s eye in the dark at fifty paces. He knew he was the most bad-ass archer the world had ever known!
Max was shocked out of his trance when a cat-woman careened into him, bounced off with an ‘uff’, and continued on with a shouted, “Don’t just stand there, human!”
Max looked around the chaos again. Suddenly everything seemed sharper. He could make out things at distances he couldn’t before. But what now?
— Dong! —
Suit up for battle!
Find Sergeant William in the barracks to get your equipment.
Time remaining to failure: 5:00 minutes
Five minutes?! Max whipped his head around the Tudor-style town buildings, as though looking for a sign to show him the way. There weren’t any, so he tried bringing up his map and, yes! Thankfully, it was filled in! The town was large. It had to have thousands of different buildings, but afters scanning the many labels, he found the barracks. It was far up this main road and to the right. But what were all these other buildings? Moon shrine? Mage tower? Water slide?! Max started running.
And he still hadn’t seen Wildflower!
Max barrelled through the gates of the barracks to find the inside courtyard just as chaotic as the streets outside.
“Clawtooth, move! Derrik, Get that barrel on the wagon! Peterson, send a message to the left wall! More crystal on the way!” The shouting man in the centre caught sight of Max.
“Private Rum!” the man bellowed. “What are you standing around for?!”
Max was a bit thrown that the man knew his name, but he supposed it was needed for him to fit in. “I need my equipment!” Max called back
“Then go see Sergeant William!” the man bellowed back, pointing to a door to the side.
Max ran to the door and slowed as he entered.
— Dong! —
Time to next task 4:00
There was the sound of more dice rolling, but after a few tense seconds, nothing seemed to happen.
Max let out a breath.
He had a little time to rest and to get his stuff.
There was only one man in the room standing by a row of armour — a tall man with a bushy moustache. Max assumed this had to be Sergeant William, and now that he had time to actually look properly, Max realised that the gear the sergeant was wearing—that all the soldiers he’d seen wearing, in fact—were all mind-blowingly intricate. Lions and eagles and rams heads were forged from the very metal, in-laden with diamonds and jewels. The metal seemed to reflect light in strange ways and Max was sure he saw what looked like lava flow through thousands of tiny streams inside the plates.
“Private Rum?” The sergeant said on catching sight of him. “Where in the Great Dragon’s name have you been?!”
“Well, never mind. You’re here now. Get your gear! Since you’re late, you’ll have to settle for an older suit, but if you wanted better, you should have been here sooner!”
Max’s eyes widened when he picked up the breastplate being offered him.
— Ding! —
You have found Divine Breastplate of the Wind.
Item quality: Epic
+ 10 to agility
+ 7 to archery
+ 3 to constitution
+ 2 to bravery
His eyes dragged over the myriad other pieces. Wrist-guards, gloves, boots, shoulder-pads… pants!
Max nearly dropped the breastplate as he made a lunge for the trousers. Seconds later, he’d tossed aside the suit-jacket and shirt around his waist and was hastily pulling on the brilliant bifurcated britches. Moments later he stood there with his hands on his waist grinning like a loon.
There was a loud clearing of the throat. “Private Rum, don’t ever show me that again.”
Max had the grace to look sheepish. “Yes, sergeant. Sorry, sergeant.”
“Get the rest of your gear on!”
As he donned the rest of the gear, Max wondered about the reactions of everyone he’d encountered so far. Obviously the dream quest thing he was in was making allowances for his presence. He doubted there had actually been a Maximus Rum who was a private back in the eighth Trial by Conquest. People also seemed to be more accepting of strangeness around him than he’d expect.
Max pulled on the last boot to mostly complete the set and looked at himself in the mirror. He was like a jewelled knighted god! The magical bonuses to his physical abilities from the armour felt incredible. He felt like he could bench press a thousand pounds and wrestle a troll for desert. This gear was insane!
“Rings next!” the sergeant shouted.
Max goggled as a small box was slapped down in front of him and opened up to reveal twelve rings, all with jewels of different colours and cuts. Some of the bands were made of gold, some of silver. Others from strange metals he didn’t know. A quick inspection of one revealed it to be a +4 ring of frost resist and they were all similarly enchanted. He finished up by hanging the last two rings by his ears. The fact that his ears were actually pierced surprised him. He didn’t think he was the type.
As Max turned to the mirror again, he felt the wave of power from the rings rush through him. He didn’t feel it was possible to feel any better than he had before, but he did. He felt like he could walk through a house fire and out into a blizzard and be totally fine.
“Haircut next!” Sergeant William bellowed. “Move your arse, Rum! And don’t forget your helmet!”
Haircut? Max snatched up the Norse-like helmet as he dashed from the room. What was this about?
— Dong! —
A Haircut to Die for.
Find Emily Cuts at the Salon for your pre-battle haircut.
Time remaining to failure: 5:00 minutes
Max put the strangeness of the quest out of his mind to bring up his map again. Four minutes later, he was sliding into Emily Cuts’ hair salon.
— Dong! —
Time to next task 6:00 minutes
Five minutes later, Max was running out of the salon with a new haircut
— Ping! —
You are styling.
+ 2 to bravery for the next battle (max 24 hour duration)
+ 2 to leadership for the next battle (max 24 hour duration)
What followed was a ridiculous series of tasks sending him all over the gods damn town. Max played darts in the tavern, ate pork chops in the banquet hall, got a shoulder massage, and even had a go on the water slide.
After each task, from each town building, he got a new buff for the battle ahead.
He visited the mage tower and picked up a whole bandoleer’s worth of multi-coloured potions in vials, all far stronger than the simple potions he’d just found up in the dungeon. He visited the fletcher to pick up a bow that was no less ornate and no less magical than his armour. His quiver held an enchantment that summoned arrows from a nearby stockpile! And after producing one of those arrows, he saw that the tip was made, not of metal, but of lightning.
Everywhere he went, soldiers just like him were dashing in and out of all manner of buildings to receive equipments, weapons, items, and buffs.
Max marvelled at the sheer chaos of it all, but even more that, he marvelled that underneath the chaos, someone had put an incredibly large amount of thought into how exactly they could make an army in this world as powerful in battle as it could possibly be.
Godlike almost felt too small a word for how capable all this magical gear made him feel. Max almost felt drunk on power. It was too bad there was almost no chance he’d be able to keep any of it after the dream ended. That would be the cheat to end all cheats.
Still no sign of Wildflower though.
Suddenly from up above, there was the sound of dice rolling. The Satyr’s voice filled his ears once again, heard only to him.
— Dong! —
And so on the eve of battle, the brave forces of Master Builder Jonathan Stone assembled to make their last stand. Relief was at least 24 hours away and the enemy was closing fast. But the winds of fate are strange indeed and things did not go as they might.
Max frowned. Things did not go as they might? What was that supposed to mean?
As though in answer to his question, three cards descended from the sky. They whirled around his body before floating a few feet from his face, insisting he choose one.
— Swiftest with the Mostest —
The enemy force arrives twelve hours early, but with only half their troops and a fatigue penalty.
— Slow and Steady —
The enemy force arrives twelve hours late, but bolstered with 25% more troops and a well-rested buff.
— Advance Relief Force —
15% of the relief force arrives before the battle and joins the town garrison, reducing the final relief force by 15%.
Max’s eyes flickered between the three cards. He eliminated option three since it did not change the difference in absolute strength between the two armies. It was then a tossup for what was the better option between both their forces being ill-prepared, or surviving a shorter engagement with a superior foe and hoping the relief force would bail them out.
Ultimately though, there wasn’t really a choice.
Max hated waiting.
He knew he hated waiting, because as he looked at the card that would mean he’d be sat here twiddling his thumbs for an extra twenty-four hours, he thought, ‘Man, I hate waiting.’
Twelve hours early it was, then!
The moment Max’s hand grasped the card, the other cards vanished, and a horn blasted through the air of the town.
There were gasps and screams all around him. A woman in a doorway started crying and her baby followed suit. The pace of running picked up. Generally, the shouting was along the lines of, “Shitting fucking fuck! They’re here! THEY’RE ALREADY FUCKING HERE!”
Had he just made a mistake?
— End of Chapter Fourteen —
This chapter was released to patrons four chapters before the general reading public and constitutes an alpha release. Any feedback, reactions, or discussion is highly prized.
— Bong! —
You have received a repeating quest.
Head over to the discord server and react to the chapter in the exclusive , patrons-only trial-by-conquest channel.
Reward: A happy LeadVonE