“Hi, Charlene.” Victor waved at the poor office manager, as he rode through the town square while on top of his new mount, the Black Beast of Murmurin. “What’s up?”
The guild manager glared back at him. Her ‘office’ was composed of a board, a desk, and a chair in the middle of the town’s square, gnolls and kobolds often checking the few requests available.
Murmurin had grown thrice-fold since the ‘War of the Hoard’, with minions building more houses or tents to accommodate newcomers. A giant stone statue of Vainqueur stood in the middle of the town, with Vainqueur Junior buried underground right next to it, ready to ambush anyone trying to pull the false sword.
They had been forced to equip the locals with axes and spears, or otherwise, Junior became jealous and tried to eliminate the competition. Even Victor’s rapier had suffered his envious wrath.
Since he reaped most benefits by wielding a scythe, Victor gave Red Ranger the musket which he stole from Vilmain. The raptor had proven himself an incredibly deadly shot, gaining [Gunslinger] levels at a pace that surprised even the chief of staff. The Kobold Rangers had become the official sheriffs of Murmurin, keeping the monsters in line. In fact, they had even started taking requests from Charlene as official members of V&V, chasing rogue monsters who didn’t submit to the ‘Emperor’s’ authority.
They had a pretty effective strategy too. The weaker rangers ganged up on and exhausted the troublemaker, and then Red swooped in to deliver a finishing blow.
Kobolds being kobolds, they surrendered their gains to Vainqueur all the time.
“I hate you,” Charlene told him, clearly not happy to be here. Since she was the most familiar with V&V, having named them, the higher-ups had transferred her to Murmurin instead of someone else. “I hate you and that dragon so much.”
“No need to be snappy,” Victor replied. “I’m still sore about that iron plate. Our company destroyed an ancient lich who killed gold-plated adventurers, and we’re not even bronze?”
“They took the politically safe path with your company. I wonder why.”
Since civilized species feared Vainqueur, only other monsters and unsavory characters had started moving into Murmurin. Which meant only monsters or close enough creatures like Jules the ghoul made up the company, and with his new Perk, even Victor counted as one now.
They were the first fully-inclusive monster adventurer company.
“Also, just feel thankful I let you keep your adventurer fee behind Vainqueur’s back,” he told Charlene. “No tax, so spoke the Emperor.”
“I wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t told that dragon about classes and levels.”
“If it had been anyone else getting that rapier, Vainqueur would have destroyed the nearby villages in his fury,” Victor pointed out, before glancing at the board. “We’re looking for princess-oriented quests. With three princesses, and which would make Brandon Maure's life miserable if possible. Do you have any?”
She gave him the ‘are you serious’ look, then twitched upon realizing he wasn’t. She stared at him blankly, then turned around, seized an isolated request on the board, then gave it to him.
‘The Demon King’s Captive
Giver: King Roland Gardemagne.
Brandon Maure is a fiend infamous for collecting foreign beauties as trophies. Imperial princesses from the fallen Sablaris empire, noble ladies from the Harmonian League… and the king’s own niece, Princess Merveille, abducted as a child during the war and kept as a political hostage. The King offers a boon to the rescuer of Merveille, so long as it is within the bounds of reason.’
“A harem? Maure kidnaps women as brides?”
“No, of course not. He sacrifices them to demons for power.” Yeah, somehow that made it sound better. “Maure has captive princesses kept in his capital of Mauria, so if you want to die to the demon king, please consider picking it up.”
Like the salt of the earth, Croissant joined them, aiming for Victor, but his eyes getting sidetracked upon catching sight of Charlene. “Oh,” Croissant looked at the office manager like an appetizing meal. “Vic, you didn’t tell me you knew such a pretty woman.”
The guild manager smiled, slightly charmed. “Thank you.”
“I love mature women with lots of meat on them.” Victor shuddered at the wording, while Croissant put an arm on the guild’s counter. “What’s your name, pretty one?”
“I’m Croissant. I run this town.”
“He did,” Victor clarified, the werewolf glaring at him. This just encouraged the adventurer. “Now he’s run over.”
“Did they ruin your life too?” Charlene asked Croissant, giving him a sympathetic look.
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” The werewolf returned to his flirting. “Why don’t I give you a tour of the place, especially the spots the dragon doesn’t know about yet?”
Charlene’s mood improved tremendously. “This town may not be so bad after all.”
Yep, they would end up together. Although Victor still wondered if Croissant intended to eat her or flirt; maybe even both. “Before I vomit on Charlene’s counter, why are you here Croissant?”
“Savoureuse has brought a newcomer and is waiting for you at the town’s entrance, and Sis and Allison have a problem with a summoned demon who won’t let himself get killed at the temple. This’ gonna sound strange, but that woman outside creeps me out more than the demon.”
Victor would have loved to say this was the weirdest problem he had to deal with in Murmurin, but it wasn’t. At all. He sighed, then had his monster walk to the town’s entrance.
He found Savoureuse talking with a woman his age whose raven hair was tied with a white flower; she wore some kind of university uniform, and felt, for lack of a better word, off-putting.
“Hey, Vic!” Savoureuse waved at him. “How are you? I hope work isn’t stressful.”
“Not as stressful as getting kidnapped by a lich while you watched,” Victor replied with heavy sarcasm.
“Yes, but my life was in danger,” Savoureuse said. “I could not help.”
Yeah, right. Why was he friends with her again? For the food, he decided. And maybe the Crests, if she could smuggle one as he asked her to. If only Furibon had left one behind, but he had sent all of those found in the region to Brandon Maure to empowering his soldiers.
His eyes settled on the newcomer. “And who might you be?”
“Remember the woman I told you about?” Savoureuse asked, slightly embarrassed. “This is her.”
“My name is Lucie Lavere, of the Royal University of Gardemagne,” the newcomer said with a formal, professional posture. “I heard a lot about you and your master, Lord Victor.”
“Oh? From whom?” According to Savoureuse, this woman belonged to the Nightblades, and so she was bad news.
“Many, but especially my new friend Henry. Since the debacle with the Scorchers, I keep an eye on him so he does not get into trouble.”
Somehow, her tone implied something sinister… which it probably was. “Are you here to keep an eye on us too?” Victor asked, suspicious.
“Depends. Are you going to meddle with the wrong crowd?”
The conversation had taken a sharp turn towards the tense. He could play the game too. “Not unless you do it first.”
“I will not.” She smiled at him, but behind the smirk, there were sharp teeth. “I choose my friends carefully, and I think you may be a trustworthy, reliable fellow.”
He immediately used [Monster Insight] on her.
Lucie Sinistra Lavere
Alchemical Vampire (Undead/Humanoid)
Strong against Sunlight, Moon, Alchemy, Darkness, Unholy, Blood, Frost, Necromancy, Drain, Insta-Death, Mind-Control, Disease, Poison, Fatigue, Sleep, and Beast (Boss Undead, huh?).
Weak against Holy, Fire, Life, Berserk, Manslayer, and Deadslayer.
The archmage Nostredame’s prized student and top spy. Secretly a deadly monster lord and the criminal mastermind behind the Nightblades syndicate. She’s Evil with a capital E, MUCH stronger than anyone in Murmurin except Vainqueur, and currently reading your thoughts with creepy undead mind-reading. She knows you know.
In short, thou art BLEEPed.
“How the hell can you walk under the sun?” Victor asked, his hand reaching for his scythe while Savoureuse watched, disturbed.
“Fairy flowers, gifted from one of my teachers,” she replied, caressing the flower in her hair with her fingers. “I am repaying the favor by carrying some politically-minded tasks.”
“Savoureuse told me you asked the Nightblades to support the Scorchers,” Victor put the two and two together, growing more and more uneasy. “You are the one who handed Henry to Gustave and Vilmain. Are you working for Ishfania?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes, I work for Gardemagne. Nostredame asked me to report on your new ‘empire.’” The name amused her as much as it did Vic. “But do not worry, I have no intention of bothering you. Unlike that lich in your scythe, I am not stupid enough to pick a fight with a dragon.”
‘In hindsight, I would not recommend it, no,’ Furibon whispered from in the scythe, annoyed.
“I have come for Nightblade business alone. We are looking for a warehouse that could serve as a relay for our black market endeavors. If you agree to leave us alone, so will I. I will even turn a blind eye to your desertion. You know the usual punishment.”
“Are you threatening me?” Victor wasn’t amused. “No repossession here, or waste disposal, or Vainqueur will have you killed.”
“Certainly,” Lavere said. “Who in their right mind would try stealing from a dragon?”
Victor glanced away.
“You were.” The vampire chuckled. “Oh my, how far you have gone since then. You have even learned necromancy. Perhaps I could even give you… private lessons.”
Was she flirting or threatening him? Victor couldn’t tell and didn’t want to. In any case, she was creeping him out like nobody else ever did.
“As a token of good faith, I will tell you a secret,” Lavere said. “After you took out Furibon, Brandon Maure has decided to get off his throne and come for you personally. Expect an ambush in the near future.”
Well, that made attacking him in his capital a preemptive counterattack then. “Sav, give her the official history of Murmurin, ‘The War of the Hoard.’ It has been transcribed from our emperor’s mouth to paper by our scribe, Pink Ranger, and then duplicated by mimic printing presses.”
Creatures capable of transforming in nearly any items had turned out surprisingly useful, once Victor could provide them directions. He would order one of them to keep an eye on that woman while she stayed in town.
“It won’t work,” Lavere replied, reading his mind, before taking her leave with Savoureuse. “See you soon, Vic.”
Victor rode to the village’s main temple a lot less confident than before.
The temple the gods Isengrim and Cybele shared wasn’t a temple as much as a druidic circle, ten olive trees circling two statues of the deities. Isengrim was represented as a white deer whose horns ended in blades, with the goddess Cybele was an incredibly beautiful woman, with flowers for hair, vines for a dress, and horns of wood.
Victor climbed down his undead ride, who Allison had forbidden inside the area, and walked inside the circle. He found his fellow earthling and Chocolatine keeping watch over a huge prisoner.
The priests had trapped a demon in a circle of runes, a huge, bipedal, insectoid monster with ice plates for an exoskeleton and sapphires for eyes. The creature looked big and nasty enough to tear Victor in half with its two pincers. He immediately used [Monster Insight] on the fiend.
Bug Demon (Demon/Insect)
Strong against Unholy, Frost, Water, Physical, Disease, Poison, Critical Hits, Petrify, Bug, and Swarms.
Weak against Fire, Holy, Demonslayer, and Bugslayer.
An ice demon with unconventional ideas and a greedy streak that rivals dragons. Local manager of one of Hell’s corporations, Infercorp, which is a completely legitimate business mindful of post-mortem customer safety. Has come to investigate the ‘demon slaughterhouse.’
“It was an accident!” the young werewolf retorted. “I intended to summon an imp like always, but a major demon came through instead!”
“Three hundred lesser fiends went missing after using your summoning line, and my superiors sent me to investigate,” the demon rasped with a smarmy voice, glancing at Victor. “Are you the legitimate authority? The Grand Dragon Vizier Victor Dalton?”
“Lord Victor for short.” He was sick of his full, pompous title. “Malfaisant, is it? Your kindred had… how to say it, dragon accidents, and then were recycled.”
“I do not follow.”
Victor pointed at animated demon skeletons building up a house next to the druidic circle, the bug fiend looking at them, then at Victor, then back at the undead. “You killed my kind, to raise them as mindless slaves?”
Victor cringed at the wording but nodded, as the demon’s cold eyes peered into his soul. “You mortals say Hell is other people, but they are wrong. Hell is people like you.”
The fact it came from a goddamn demon made it all the more shameful.
“Which is to say, Hell needs people like you.” The demon’s tone turned admirative, much to Victor’s confusion. “People who care about the bottom line. About profit. Mortals who are ready to sully their hand for their greater good.”
“Wait, you’re not mad?”
“Please, Lord Victor, call me Malfy,” the demon replied with a charming voice. “No, I am not mad. In fact, I misjudged you. I feared that you were cunning demon hunters, but you have the trappings of a good business partner. Let’s make a deal.”
“So I can keep summoning demons for more food?” Chocolatine asked, hopeful.
“Not in the temple!” Allison chided her. “And no!”
“But we have more carnivores than meat! We cannot sustain our ecological niche without sacrifices!”
Her argument surprised Victor, who found it rather well-thought out. Not that the demon cared. “I will reroute the summoning channel to send you victims of corporate downsizing and violent layoffs. By having you deal with the severance package, we can cut corners on our execution costs and you get free labor. Everybody wins.”
Victor wanted to be horrified at the sheer callousness, before realizing he should have expected something like that from a hellspawn.
“Lord Victor, since you seem interested in economically developing your region, I have fantastic opportunities for you. Succubus brothels, casinos…”
“You are seriously asking me for Hell’s permission to invest there?” Victor asked, dumbfounded.
“Taking over the mortal world by force? Treacherously twisting the terms of Faustian bargains? It damages our PR, and Angels have a killer marketing department. If we want to improve our shareholders’ soul dividends, we must offer clear deals where mortals are so happy with our customer service, that they convince their friends and families to sell their souls too. ‘Buying souls by doing good business.’ That’s my motto.”
Victor had more urgent matters to deal with than vague corporate promises. Also, Hell. "We picked a fight with the local Demon King's forces."
"Brandon Maure? His mother runs a demon corporation different from ours. We often cooperate on joint-ventures on Outremonde, but there is no love lost between us."
That made it better, but just barely. “If you want to come, you have to bring food, do whatever labor we ask of you, and respect the law, which includes no lead. In return, you won’t pay taxes.”
“No taxes?” The demon’s head perked up. “This is way better than I thought. I will gladly use my control swarm ability to assist with food production. Part of the revenue from our ventures will also find their way to your pockets, alongside VIP privileges.”
“Are you bribing me in public?”
"No, of course not, I donate to the community.”
Yes, a bribe. Victor would keep one one-tenth for himself and send the rest to Vainqueur, to avoid trouble.
“I would expect a demon to stay in Ishfania,” Allison said, doubtful.
“‘King’ Maure imposed a heavy tax in order to fund ‘the inevitable war of annihilation against Gardemagne.’ Now, human sacrifices and slave gladiator combats, I can get behind. But losing two-thirds of my hard-won savings? Never!”
Charming. “Is he telling the truth?” Victor asked Chocolatine.
“It’s a circle of demon binding, he is forced to,” the werewolf said, before joining her hands. “Please, please, say yes.”
Victor rolled his eyes, before considering it. They needed food and money that much, and he had already stepped as low as selling corpses for money. On the other hand, he was wary to give a demon a permanent residency in Murmurin, even one promising to behave.
“Okay, at least for the demon downsizing,” he decided, Malfy letting out a happy sound and Chocolatine smirking with cruelty. “But summon demons outside the town next time. For the... investments... I need to consider it more thoughfully.”
“I will return to Hell and come back with a proposal from management. Thank you for your trust.” Malfy vanished in a cloud of white smoke, the circle following afterward.
“Thank you, Vic,” Allison congratulated him. “I don’t know what I would do without you. You just ooze authority now.”
“I’m still trying to get the Earl Jones tone right,” Victor joked, “Like ‘You have failed me for the last time.’”
“You sound like Tim Curry, more creepy than awesome.”
“Okay, I’ll try again. ‘The emperor is not as forgiving as I am.’” Which was true.
“No, seriously,” she laughed at his performance. “Stop, it sounds ridiculous.”
Victor had quite a fun time hanging out with Allison, talking about Earth, about their respective experiences, and life in general. She wasn’t that different from him; she died a stupid death by causing an explosion while tinkering with a car’s fuel reserve and adapted to the new world in spite of being surrounded by monsters.
She liked gardening and was very passionate about making the desert green again. Her partner, Rolo, couldn’t be bothered to do anything but gathering seeds and disdained everything else. Much like a certain other creature...
He could definitely feel a connection brewing. “Hey, Allison...” Victor plucked up his courage. “Would you like to have that drink tonight?”
“I’m kind of fully booked with the orgy, but we can try tomorrow. Is tomorrow okay?”
That wasn’t the answer Victor expected. “You are breeding with other people?”
“What? No.” She looked at him strangely. “I am a vestal of the goddess of pleasure, and the Moon Man cult is organizing an orgy. Since our cults are friendly, I have been asked to help with protective spells.”
“And you… you participate?”
“Vic, this is an orgy for werewolves. During the full moon.”
His brain betrayed him and provided him with a mental picture. It felt like an ice shower. “I’m sorry, I need to go out,” he blurted out, struggling to breathe. “I need air.”
“We are outside Vic… Vic?” Allison called him, as he fled the druidic ring. “Vic, what’s up?”
Victor’s mind blocked out her words, as the picture wouldn’t leave his mind. Goddammit, now he would need to drown himself in work to forget! He climbed on the back of his ride, ready to return to the castle when he noticed Chocolatine following him outside. “Yes?”
“So, mm, Victor, about that orgy...” Chocolatine gave him a cheery smile.
“Do you want to breed?”
Victor gave her a blank, empty stare that should have made her drop dead. She took it as encouragement. “It’s okay, I’m on the pill. No full moon transformation. We can put that Monster Rider Perk to gooooood use.”
Okay, that was too many details, too soon. She skipped a lot of steps. “I didn’t know you saw me that way…” said the adventurer, unsure how to answer without her slicing his throat in his sleep.
“I didn’t either until you killed that lich with your scythe,” she swooned, putting her hands on her cheeks, “The way you rode that undead beast and trapped his soul for eternal torment… and the way you showed that demon who was the boss...”
Victor suddenly realized that his monster-oriented Perks combined with his increased charisma meant monsters may see him as quite the catch. All that time he had failed at pursuing human women when he should have asked out werewolves instead.
On one hand, she was cute, and somewhat nice when demons and undead weren’t involved; but on the other hand, she was Chocolatine. And the crazy gleam in her eyes...
No. Definitely not. “I’m sorry, but, I don’t want to ruin our friendship,” Victor lied, leaving her crestfallen.
No way he would BLEEP her except to save the human race.
Even Victor had standards.