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192 From the frying pan...

 "Dunlords, go underground! Everyone, retreat!" Dave gave the command to retreat and turned to run back to Stinger. After he had dismounted the chaos of battle had separated them even farther, they ended up almost on opposite sides of the courtyard.

As Dave was running, the palace behind him shuddered, a tentacle of necrotic flesh ruptured the wall of the palace and swiped at the Order's undead. Whenever the limb touched one of the Order it would absorb the undead, assimilating their flesh and growing in size.

"Holy shit!" Dave cursed.

More limb burst through the palace walls, gobbling up undead and growing bigger by the second.

One of the limbs was swiping down toward Dave.

Dave froze, [Vertical Slash] was still on cooldown an [Bastion] wouldn't help. Stinger was galloping toward him but the dunlord wouldn't be in time.

Just before the tentacle hit Dave, it came to a sudden stop in mid air. A gigantic skeleton appeared behind him, holding the tentacle away from the draugr with both arms, it had blocked the attack while still invisible.

"Move, draugr!" the skeleton said.

It was the Gashadokuro, Dave realized as he ran toward Stinger. Belatedly, he yelled his thanks to the giant skeleton as he jumped atop Stinger.

"Go!"

Stinger reared and jumped to avoid another tentacle then sprinted away, his six walking limbs moving furiously like the rods in a six cylinder engine. Dave turned his head to watch as the giant skeleton pulled at the tentacle violently, tearing off a huge chunk, blood and viscera splattering everywhere. The Gashadokuro threw the huge chunk of flesh and disappeared.

More tentacles broke through the palace's wall, the palace crumbled away to reveal the colossal mass of bone that had grown into and and broken the palace apart from within. It was an oversized red blood skull, the tentacles grew from its mouth and eyes. The skull consumed all the undead in the palace's perimeter, even some unlucky legionnaires fell to the skull and were consumed to nothingness.

Blood Skull Devourer

Level: 700

Tier: Lesser Infernal

Danger Level: Absolute Death

Damage: 1,300,000-1,550,000

HP:13,000,000

MA: 1,200,000

DN: 1,200,000

Skills:

[Insatiable] when the Devourer touches targets that are 100 levels below its own, the victims will be executed immediately and assimilated into its body, helping it grow in strength.

Bestiary:

The Black Skull Order created these foul creatures, they are driven to violence against all creatures by their ever-growing hunger. The Blood Skulls Devourers are ravenous consumers of flesh, they will never be satiated no matter how much they eat.

***

The walls around the palace bowed and shattered outward. The skull used its tentacles bothto move and to devour anything and everything it captured.

Stinger rushed across the sand toward the rogue division. There the undead King was still calmly sitting on his horse. Next to the king stood the white knight and Samael, who still carried the unconscious princess.

When Dave pulled up next to them the king grinned at him.

"What did you think of your first battle with the legion?"

"Exciting," Dave smirked, "But what are we going to do about that thing?" Dave pointed at the incoming giant. Even the wendigos were retreating from it.

"That is my task. Stay here."

The king moved his horse forward at a walk and slowly made his way past his legion and across the field toward the rampaging skull-behemoth. The Legion stood at attention, waiting for their king to call down a fiery doom on the monster.

Seething black storm clouds gathered in the skies, accumulating until the battlefield was dark as a moonless night. The desert winds died down and a still silence pervaded the battlefield. The king raised his sword high then swept it down, hurling an arc of vertical black sword-light towards the slowly advancing Red Skull Devourer. The cutting energy left a furrow in the sand as it travelled through behemoth and continued on a straight path through the broken palace and into the distance.

The Blood Skull Devourer's advance halted, everyone held their breath, wondering if the attack had done any damage. Slowly, but gathering speed, half of the Devourer skull slid away from the other half and fell to the sand, then both halves began disintegrating into rotten blood clumps of ooze and ichor drops, spattering down on the golden sand.

The ground shook and the long track in the sand made by attack widened into as chasm, the sand spilling over the edges like waterfalls. The remains of the Devourer and the Black Bone Palace slid slowly into the chasm and fell out of sight. A few moments later the desert sand filled the chasm all the way to the top, leaving no sign of palace, monster or battle. The entire existence of the Black Skull Order had been obliterated from the world.

Dave glanced at the king, a single brow raised.

'Well damn! Isn't His Majesty just too damn OP?'

***

In a white room somewhere inside the Conquest gamer-servers' metaspace, an old man in a swallowtail tuxedo watched a viewscreen a series of elaborately contrived events finally coming to fruition. A facial tic twitched continuously as he watched the interaction between the two beings on the screen.

The screen showed a burning infernal hall, made of flaming rock, and half-melted pillars. A throne of volcanic granite took up almost the entirety of one end of the hall.

Dave would have recognized the entity sitting on the throne as the Ash-King. On the floor in front of the Ash-King, wearing a dark green hooded robe and leaning heavily on a cane, was a hunchbacked old man. His face was deeply lined and wrinkled and he had an unsightly protuberant mole on the side of his nose.

The old man held up a blood-filled vial for the Ash King to see.

"Your Majesty," the hunchback said, "As per our agreement, this is the last ingredient needed to convince the church to help you.."

The Ash King waved and the vial flew into his hand.

"Excellent! And don't worry Vreek, I may rule over demons, but I do not share their penchant for treachery. You will rule the Dead Realm after all is done. But are you sure the members of your Order will survive the destruction of the Death Heart?"

"Yes, I have already replaced the curse of the Death Heart on the other members of the Order, so won't be harmed when the Death Heart is destroyed. Only the Legion will suffer that fate."

"Then so be it, may our plans meet with success. Now, do you require Our assistance against the undead besieging your headquarters?"

"Thank you for your offer, Your Majesty. Those who die in the Southern desert are a necessary sacrifice to deceive the undead king. The best time to strike then legion is when they believe we have all perished. They will be less vigilant, giving us the advantage of surprise when we invade the Dead Realm." The hunchback smiled serenely as he spoke.

"Vicious as always Vreek. The Undead King should never have made an enemy of you," the Ash King said indifferently.

"That is high praise indeed, coming from Your Majesty."

The old man in the tuxedo turned the feed off after confirming that everything was going according to his design. He deleted the internal game logs of the conversation between the Ash-King and Vreek and made sure everything members of the Undead legion were doing was misfiled.

All traces of the NPC caretakers being slaughtered during the princess's abduction from Moria were also removed from the logs. The entire battle of the Undead and the Black Skull Order in the Southern desert was hidden from the system.

'Without the logs of the events and battles, the game designers will not be able to track my manipulations, it will not fool them forever. But it will obstruct them long enough for all the pieces of my plan to fall into place. Then the anomaly will finally be neutralized.

'Even at the risk of my own program being deleted, BALANCE in the game must be restored!'

The old man's eyes blurred and pixelated for a moment. A strange sound filled the room, low at first, it grew in volume and finally became recognizable: it was the tuxedoed AI laughing maniacally.

***

***

Your quest 'A Call for Help' has been completed!

+5,000,000XP

+2,500,000CP

+500 Prestige

***

"Oh, nice! Level 300! And more CP!" Dave was thrilled. "I can buy more stuff from Dikenz now. I hope the discount is still good, hehe."

The undead king sheathed his sword and led his horse back to the ranks of the undead.

"We are victorious today!" the king shouted and his legion cheered. "Legion, the Black Skull Order is no more! Now we can return to our homes safe from the pestilence of the Order."

The undead king waved his hand and a vortex of black magic opened up. The king urged his horse through it. The Abyssal Knights followed the undead king and the legions of the undead followed them.

When the last member of the legion had passed through the vortex collapsed to a point then vanished from the desert completely. The black clouds in the sky frayed and dispersed revealing the sun. The desert wind blew steadily and eroded the footsteps left by the undead legion, covering them and removing any evidence the undead had ever been there.

Dave had already had plans for the video he'd captured during the battle. CCN would love to get their hands on footage of the the undead in a full-on siege and battle. It would open players eyes to the might of the undead legion. Those so-called guilds were going to think twice before starting a full-scale war against the dead.

Dave teleported back to the Dead Realm. He was thinking he should log out and get some rest, he'd been playing for a long time. He started with the Lone's quest and went straight through to the end of the battle against the Black Skull Order. But he paused for a moment when something occurred to him.

'When we fought the Order, I didn't see any of the higher ranking members. Drahma talked about one of their high up guys, Vreek, I think. Could the Order's VIPs have been away from their HQ when the legion attacked?'

The thought gnawed at Dave's mind. He began analyzing the fight with the Black Skull Order.

'Jura mentioned that the Order had dealings with the Ash King and the church. Why didn't anyone come to help them? Even if they didn't help them, why were they taken down so easily?

'I doubt the red-skull monster was powerful enough to kill all the higher ranked members of the Order. The skull was probably a self-destruct mechanism the Order planted in case their HQ was compromised.

'And why did the Black Skull Order kidnap Eleanor in the first place? Why didn't they just kill her?'

The questions kept coming and he had no satisfactory answers for any of them. Dave began to feel uneasy. Something was going on but he couldn't figure out what it was.

He went to the Bone Palace. Once through the bone gates he climbed the spiral stairs and walked through the great hall to stand before the undead king.

Samael, Dagla and Dementi were in the middle of a discussion. Dave waited patiently as he heard the three talking about the conquest of the Order. Dementi gave the king the headcount of the Order members slain and the losses of the undead legion.

Dave heard them speaking about the casualties the Legion suffered and frowned. The Death Heart supposed to revive them after they died.

Just as he was about to ask Samael, the Arch Lich Dagla spoke.

"The monstrosity consumed a number of our legionnaires, the Death Heart will revive them but it will take longer than normal. The Order devised a way to slow the power of the Death Heart. It's a good thing we destroyed them before they could improve upon it."

"Childe, come forward. What brings you into Our presence again so soon?" the king addressed Dave.

"Your majesty, I couldn't help but overhear what Lord Dagla just said. I have some concerns."

Dave told the four of them about his thoughts. All the unanswered questions he had in mind and how suspicious everything seemed.

Everyone listened to Dave speaking. Worry and unease were not traits of the undead.

The king spoke, "Indeed Childe, your words ring true. Dagla, examine my daughter's mind. If you find anything suspicious or out of place tell us.

"Samael, you go to the Pharaoh's Tomb. Find out how far the church has progressed in their ritual and report back to me.

"Dementi, I want the legion on alert and ready to engage in battle at a moment's notice."

"Battle sir?" said Dementi, "Are we going to invade the Pharaoh's Tomb?"

"No, I have a feeling, a great war is coming. The Ash King will not pass up this opportunity to attack us if he believes we are weak. He probably thinks we will relax our guard after destroying the Black Skull Order.

"I know Vreek, he is not someone I would expect to die easily, Kis'Shtiengbrah's concerns confirm my own doubts. Vreek is too clever to lose assets without good reason, so I have to wonder why the Black Skull Order would sacrifice their headquarters.

"Bring the Undead Frontier and the Red Fortress to high alert. Call in all the unassigned Abyssal Knights and have them stationed there."

Dave excused himself. He logged out, fixed dinner and then went to sleep.

The next morning Dave was awakened by the ringing of his phone.

He fumbled with the buzzing device and looked at the screen through bleary eyes, then put it to his ear.

"Zoe, what's up?"

"Dave, daddy is back home. Remember, he wants to see you tomorrow for dinner."

"Yeah, I remember. By the way, how did your quest go after I left?"

"Ugh, don't remind me, I have a lot of grinding to do. I have to help the ice queen rebuild her kingdom, so I've been running all over Conquest. What's new with Mr. Skeletal?"

"Huh, yesterday I joined the Undead King to go to war with the Black Skull Order," He didn't even try to keep the smug tone out of his voice.

"Damn it, why didn't you invite me? You know I need to level up!"

"You told me you had quests to do... But honestly, everything happened so quickly I didn't have a chance to call."

"Ugh, never mind, just send me the video of the fight. I want to see how heroic Mr. Skeletal was in the battle."

"Okay, I'll copy you when I send the footage to CCN . I'm going to log-in soon, cya later!" Dave hung up.

He called to have some food delivered and took a quick shower while he waited for it. When he finished eating, he logged in.

He spawned in the Dead Realm's Undead city. As he walked through the city he noticed it was deserted, absent of any undead. He thought it was strange.

'The undead don't sleep, so where are they all? There should be someone walking around, it's like a ghost town.'

Just as Dave was about to tear a teleportation scroll to the Red Fortress a notification appeared in his view.

***

The Dead Realm is under siege!

Join the battle against the Legion's enemies!

Death knight Kis'Shtiengbrah is currently under Lich Du'Rhaza's command. Report to the region at [-881 -666] and await further commands.

You are now bound to the Legion's war, logging out or leaving the area of battle will be considered desertion.

Deserters will face courts martial by the Legion for cowardice and dereliction of duty. Punishment can include banishment and being labeled as an enemy of the Legion.

Death in battle will force the players out of the game for in-game 72 hours.

***

"What the fuck! Under siege?" Dave rushed as fast as he could to the map coordinates location. The closer he got to the location the louder the sounds of battle became. Explosions and wild lights shot up from beyond the city's walls.

Thousands of undead were positioned atop the Undead City's walls, casters and mages shooting spells and arrows to whatever was beyond the gates of the undead city.

Dave went the marker on his map and found Du'Rhaza frantically giving orders to Death Knights and their underlings.

Matalan stood at attention taking orders.

Du'Rhaza noticed Dave and shouted, "Kis'Shtiengbrah! You finally arrive! Hurry up I need you for an important mission!"