As it turned out, Charlene had been right. Victor did end up in Hell after all.
It was a horrible place, but not for the reasons Victor had expected.
Hell was a fiery, brimstone cave, like the religions of Earth foretold; but they had moved away from burning souls and into new, more inventive forms of punishment. On one side, Victor noticed row after row of captive humans bound to chairs in front of a large mirror, forced to watch some kind of horribly acted, medieval reality TV show. On the other side, other damned souls fashioned tiny, hand-held mirrors reminding the adventurer of mobile phones’ screens, while being whipped by imps.
Victor would have loved nothing more than free those poor souls from their eternal torment, had he not been surrounded by insectoid fiends. Three dozen of the creatures looking like thinner, moth-like cousins of Malfy pointed sharp, poisoned spears at him.
One figure, however, differed from the others and looked at Victor with pupilless blue eyes. A hybrid creature between a woman and an insect with greyish skin, she had two large, golden moth wings with a skull motif growing out of her back. A black, skintight dress covered her entire body, except for sharp claws where the fingers ended, and a mink-jacket like ring of white fur around the neck. She was eerily beautiful and elegant, in a creepy ice queen sort of way. Only two horn-like antennae growing out of her long, silver hair betrayed her demonic nature.
Her face looked a bit too much like Brandon Maure’s to Victor’s liking, though.
“A new sacrifice.” Much to Victor’s amazement, the female demon sounded remarkably soft-spoken. “You are not a virgin maiden.”
“Neither have I been mistaken for one,” the adventurer replied, tightening his hold on his scythe with one hand and looking under his cowl for the Agarthan Warp Stone with the other. He had no idea if it could teleport him out of Hell, but he saw no other escape route.
The bug fiends raised their blades against his chin and his hands, stopping him dead in his tracks.
However, the demoness leader raised an eyebrow at him, more confused than anything. “You can understand High Infernal?”
He wasn’t supposed to? Thank the twelve gods for that Perk, maybe he could talk his way out the way he did with the Moon Beast. Victor immediately used Monster Insight on the fiends’ leader, desperate for a morsel of information.
Archdevil of Vanity and Mindless Entertainment (Demon/Insect)
Strong against: Light, Darkness, Drain, Mind-Control effects, Insta-death, all negative status effects, Frost, Lightning, Unholy, Fire, Acid, Screens.
Weak against: Holy, Wind, Demonslayer, and Bugslayer.
The mistress of blades, and one of Hell’s corporate overlords. The fiendish mind who invented procrastination, gladiator fights, and Outremonde’s equivalent of reality TV. Owns many businesses dedicated to enslaving souls through the power of screens, such as Infernal Cable and Helltube, but secretly regrets sacrificing her golden years for her career.
Uh oh. “You smell of dragon, and is that a soul I see trapped in your scythe?” The demoness asked, her eyes set on Victor’s scythe. “Furibon? Is that you?”
“Kill him, Your Highness!” Furibon shouted from inside the scythe, Victor doing his best to keep his poker face. “This is an enemy of King Maure!”
“What is he trying to say?” the demoness asked. “I can see his teeth move on the scythe’s edge, but I cannot hear a word of it.”
“He is complaining about his old master executing him for screwing up opening a Hellgate,” Victor lied through his teeth.
“Ah, so this is what happened. I was wondering why the portal had been reinforced without warning. I had an army of thirty thousand fiends waiting behind it.”
“And you are…?” Victor trailed off, although he already knew and Furibon kept screaming without being heard.
“Archdevil Isabelle Maure, Mistress of Blades, Chief Demonic Executive of Maure Hellcorporated.”
“The mother of Brandon?”
“Oh, you know my Braniño?” Her delicate face showed some worry. “How is he? Has he conquered Gardemagne yet? The gate was supposed to open from his side but never did, I worried so much.”
“Wait, he didn’t inform you?” Victor sweated internally, thankful for Maure’s carelessness.
“He never visits and only calls when he needs something. ‘Mother, Brandon wants a new demon horse’, or ‘Mother, Brandon needs more infernal power!’ I know I birthed him in the first place so I could expand into the overplane, but a little affection would not hurt. I am not a cold-hearted hellspawn all the time.”
“Parenting is a thankless job,” Victor replied, half trying to be nice and half trying to talk his way out of an early grave. “What about his dad? Maybe you could ask him for support.”
“Oh, I drained him of life while we conceived Brandon,” she said, sending shivers down the adventurer’s spine. “He wanted a child to perpetuate his inbred, infertile bloodline, and I wanted an agent on Outremonde. A win-win. Unfortunately, elves are frail with few health points, so he died halfway through. A shame. Braniño inherited his good looks. Have you had children, Mister…”
“Victor,” Victor blurted out, but thankfully the name didn’t ring a bell to the woman. Brandon Maure really didn’t call his mother often. “A werewolf chick asked me to breed, but I had to refuse. She was crazy.”
“Werewolves,” Isabelle Maure sneered with elitist disgust. “You did well, they have fleas. So, Victor, you are my son’s new executioner? How did you end up in Hell, Mr. Victor?”
“I’m a chief of staff, actually. That Melodieuse woman sent me here with a spell.” Technically true, and so far the charade had kept him alive. If Victor survived this, he promised himself to take levels in a Charisma-oriented class.
“I told Braniño he shouldn’t listen to that woman,” the demoness said with a frown as if Victor confirmed a previous opinion. “Nothing good can come out of dealing with fairies, I told him. What we fiends do for business, they do for pleasure.”
Victor guessed what this Melodieuse was, and decided to avoid her at all costs. He was thankful she sent him there instead of killing him on the spot.
“I will correct this mistake,” Isabelle said, the bugs lowering their weapons.
“I am most thankful, ma’am. My master is waiting for me though, so I shouldn’t be away for too long.”
“My ungrateful son will wait,” she replied with a tone that brooked no disobedience. “Thank me by indulging me over imp brewed coffee. I want you to tell me everything Braniño has been up to. Then you will be killed.”
“With pleasure…” The last words suddenly registered. “What?”
“Then you will be killed,” she repeated flatly. “I will be correcting Melodieuse’s mistake and make sure you die this time.”
“I can understand what the lich says, Victor Dalton. I was playing dumb partly because I wanted to see if you were trustworthy, and partly because I enjoy playing with my dinner.” She smirked at him, and behind the lips, there were sharp teeth. “If you tell me everything about Braniño, I may make it painless. Since you ruined a century of efforts on that gate, you better be entertaining.”
“Oh, I will have a hell of a time watching this,” Furibon rejoiced.
Victor’s hands moved to grab the Agarthan Warp Stone, but two bug soldiers caught his arm and restrained him, SWAT-style. “Take him to the tea room, and prepare the spice for the seasoning,” Isabelle asked.
“Halt!” A new voice came up. “This is a violation of our rights.”
Malfy? Victor recognized the voice, as the fiendish manager walked into sight, backed by two similar, thinner bugs clad in suit and ties.
“Infercorp?” Isabelle Maure didn’t hide her surprise, as her soldiers pointed their weapons at the newcomers. “What the Heaven are you doing here?”
“Protecting our client.” The bug in a suit handed a huge paper file to a surprised Isabelle. “As per our procedures, Victor Dalton here present is protected by our Faustian Associate Protection Program. He is a true mortal partner of Infercorp on Outremonde, and thus protected by our non-competition clause.”
“Give me that.” Isabelle grabbed the file and read it, her frown deepening. “Murmurin? But it is part of my market!”
“It was, now it’s ours,” Malfy replied, before turning to Victor. “Mr. Victor, fancy meeting seeing you here. You’ve come under a lot earlier than I thought.”
“Hi, Malfy,” Victor replied, still sore as the demon soldiers kept him restrained. “What’s up?”
“It’s Vice-President of Mortal Market Development Malfaisant now. The shareholders loved the new Murmurin project so much, they promoted me after they chocolatined my predecessor. You can still call me Malfy though, Mr. Victor.”
“Any violence against our client will be seen as an act of corporate warfare, and we will have to send the imp ninjas,” the bug in a suit, clearly a lawyer of some kind, argued to a livid Isabelle Maure. “We ask that, for the sake of our mutual investments, you will abandon all pursuits against Mr. Dalton.”
“Of course, since you now understand the benefits of having friends in low places, I expect you to approve our construction project in return,” Malfy whispered to Victor.
“The one you will find on your desk tomorrow morning.”
Congratulations! For pulling off a Houdini on Isabelle Maure and getting a crash course on corporate impunity, you have earned the [Get out of Hell Card] personal Perk!
[Get out of Hell Card ]: As long as you maintain favor with infernal powers, true Demon-Types affiliated with Hell cannot use direct violence against you, although they may still scheme or use proxies. If you use violence against a Demon-Type affiliated with Hell, you will lose this Perk.
“Is this a common thing?” Victor asked, curious, as the bugs reluctantly released him.
“Yes,” Malfy told Victor. “We have made sure that rich people get away with everything since you mortals invented capitalism.”
Vainqueur opened the battle with his secret weapon.
Furiously raising his index finger, Vainqueur attempted to poke the elf in the face. Moving with incredible speed for his feeble kind, Brandon Maure dodged the strike by leaping above the hand and landing on his arm.
Before Vainqueur knew what hit him, Brandon Maure dashed on the arm, jumped, and struck him in the neck with his blade. “[Estocade]!” he shouted as his blade grazed Vainqueur’s neck, unable to pierce the scales.
|Insta-death negated by [Dragonscale]!|
|Brandon Maure’s Agility, Skill and Strength have increased, but his Vitality has drastically decreased!|
The elf began to move with greater speed, faster than a fly or even the evil Furibon. He danced around Vainqueur’s limbs, nailing the dragon’s ankles with his blade. The dragon felt some itches on his legs, growing more and more annoyed with every second the grass-eater stayed alive.
“Come back here!” Vainqueur attempted to smash the elf, who leaped atop the fairy crystals holding the princesses. The dragon carefully aimed, humming and preparing to unleash a stream of fire at the elf without harming his new treasures.
“[Faena Muleta!]” Brandon Maure rose his strange red cloth in front of Vainqueur. The dragon’s eyes fixated on the red cloth, finding it strangely mesmerizing. For a reason that escaped him, his flames died in his throat.
Intelligence check failed!
Your strength has increased, but you can only use physical attacks against Brandon Maure!
What? Vainqueur hummed again, but he could only unleash hot air out of his mouth. The elf had cast a spell on him! “[Spell Purge!]”
“This is no magic trick, Vainqueur!” Maure raised his blade and red cloth piece in a stylish pause. “This is all Brandon Maure!” The crowd cheered at his words, singing his name the same way the kobolds usually cheered Vainqueur.
|The love of his fans has empowered Brandon Maure! His blade will now deal [Dragonslayer] damage!|
“[Airblade!]” The very winds swirled around Maure’s sword. And quick like the wind, he leaped off the crystal and struck Vainqueur between the eyes.
This time, the sword didn’t make his scales itch.
This time, it felt much worse.
Vainqueur let out a frustrated growl, moving his hands to scratch the elf off his head. The damn insect backflipped before the dragon’s claws tore him apart. Brandon Maure sliced the air in the middle of his fall, unleashing cutting blades of wind at the great calamity. Each strike hitting his scales made his body itch worse and worse.
Vainqueur tried to blast the upstart with fire, but yet again, it didn’t work. Neither could he take his eyes off that cursed piece of cloth. It infuriated him so much, all he could think was to charge at it like a bull.
And so he did, his horns and crown first while snarling. They smashed the arena’s walls, collapsing them alongside a good chunk of the stands, with the audience fleeing towards higher areas. Yet, his majestic attack failed to even hit Brandon Maure, who raced below Vainqueur, slashing him on his soft belly.
As if the terrible itching wasn’t humiliating enough, the elf kept taunting him. “You are a bull, Vainqueur! All strength, no skill! You are no emperor, but a beast who should have stayed in its cave!”
Argh, this creature was as frustrating as Furibon! But like the lich, the dragon only had to hit him once. Vainqueur just needed to take the grass-eater by surprise to catch it.
“Blink!” Much to his displeasure, the dragon did not turn invisible. That fairy’s attack had broken his magical items.
“Magic? I should have expected that from a feeble dragon!” The insect taunted him, standing within the reach of Vainqueur’s hand and yet unharmed. “While you savage beasts ate cows in your caves, we elves ruled the greatest empire in the world!”
“We made the world first!” Vainqueur snarled back. “I had more power as an egg than your entire inbred species!”
“You crass beast, while in diapers, Brandon Maure was stranglings manling monkeys with his mere han—”
While the elf was busy ranting, Vainqueur grabbed some of the arena’s sand and threw it at him.
Surprised, the elf took the sand right in the eyes, while the crowd fell silent. “Maure’s eyes!” The elf started crying, as his kind usually did, while Vainqueur opened his mouth. “Maure has sand in his eyes!”
Vainqueur swallowed Brandon Maure whole like a snack and gulped. Finally, he had caught the frustrating cattle.
The audience came out of its silence to boo at him.
The crowd condemns your dirty fighting! All stats decreased!
Vainqueur didn’t care. He had won. Now, he would enjoy his reward, put the princesses in the princess bag, and then find his chief of staff...
Wait. His stomach started to feel… feel sick...
A sharp, horrible feeling made him throw up Brandon Maure at a wall like a projectile, raising a cloud of dust.
|You have lost a quarter of your HP.|
For the first time in his thousand year long life, Vainqueur realized dragons could feel pain.
The elf rose out of the dust, but he was no longer an elf. The walking cattle had transformed into a white and golden humanoid moth, with jet black wings and a mouthless face. A red wing grew below his left arm, replacing the cloth, and the sword now shone like the sun. With a swirling movement, he cast Vainqueur’s saliva off of him, sparkles on his skin.
“A true Matador’s pride is unbreakable!” the bug buzzed, with the demons’ cheers becoming deafening.
|The crowd’s electric enthusiasm raised all of Brandon Maure’s stats!|
His eyes set on the crimson wing, and his fiery breath turned to hot air.
Faster than Vainqueur’s eyes could follow, the moth dashed at him and sliced the dragon’s chest. The emperor’s world briefly turned white from the pain, and he collapsed on his back with a loud sound, blowing off dust all over the arena.
You have lost half your HP!
He… he was being matched? By an elf?
They eat grass!
“You are no emperor, Vainqueur! Thou art a beast, fit only to have your horns cut!” The moth raised his blade, as the crowd acclaimed him. Items and jewels materialized around the dirty creature, with a furious Vainqueur realizing that the fiend had activated his own [Crowd Favorite] Perk. “Brandon Maure rules supreme!”
“Brandon, best demon! Brandon, best demon! Brandon, best demon!”
Vainqueur raised his head, feeling something warm on his belly. A shining, beautiful golden liquid flowed on his scales from the place where the bug had cut him.
It looked like dragon blood.
Vainqueur could bleed?
A text notification added insult to injury.
Warning: You failed to properly defend your [Emperor] title by steamrolling Brandon Maure.
All of the [Emperor] class perks are ineffective until you regain your honor.
Vainqueur had to win.
For the hoard.
Giving up when faced with a true challenge was what a manling would do. Vainqueur was a dragon. The apex species, a supreme beast of legends, the greatest calamity of this age! Dragons never gave up, because, in the end, they always win!
|[Dragon Arrogance] triggered! All debuffs removed!|
Roused by his pride and his pure love for his treasure, the great calamity forced himself back up on all four, much to Brandon Maure’s surprise.
“I will not fall!” Vainqueur roared with defiance. “For my hoard!”
“You, Vainqueur, are a worthy, well-bred, noble beast!” the moth said, adopting a wary fighting stance. “Your guts honors this arena! It will be an honor for Maure to kill you!”
Charisma check successful!
By impressing the cruel crowds of Ishfania with your fighting spirit, you earned the [Bravo Bull] personal Perk!
[Bravo Bull]: When your health is critical, your strength is greatly raised.
Vainqueur couldn’t take off his eyes from the moth’s red wing as he paraded; he couldn’t even close his eyes. So long as he couldn’t breathe fire, he was at a disadvantage. He couldn’t hit that Maure cattle with physical attacks, but he could only use them against him.
Vainqueur suddenly realized the key flaw in that [Faena Muleta] Perk.
He extended his wings and unleashed a strong gust of wind at Brandon Maure. The demon elf protected his face with his crimson wing, vanishing from the dragon’s sight behind a veil of sand.
Vainqueur couldn’t target the moth elf with his fire.
The Perk didn’t say anything about incinerating the stage.
And so did the dragon unleashed fireballs all over the arena, unable to see that cursed crimson wing nor its owner; he carefully avoided the crystallized princesses, but blasted the rest of the battlefield into ashes. Hopefully, he hit the grasshopper.
|Your flames are inflicting heavy Holy damage to Brandon Maure!|
While the moth couldn't use that cursed Perk on him, Vainqueur turned to the true source of the bug’s power.
Without giving the spectators a warning, Vainqueur chomped at the stands, eating a good dozen dark elves and fiends by surprise. The cattle’s cheers turned to screams, and they ran off in panic as Vainqueur kept on chewing more of them.
These fiends tasted like spice!
Within seconds, the crowd dispersed, fiends flying away, dark elves stepping on one another, others jumping over the stands’ ledge...
You interrupted the [Demon Corrida]! All stat changes have been canceled!
By feasting on the spicy thralls of Brandon Maure, you recovered some HP!
“The dragon kind!” Vainqueur boasted, proud of his tactic’s success. “No more minions to support you, grasshopper!”
“You only delay your inevitable defeat, Vainqueur! Cheering fans or not, Maure will triumph!”
Vainqueur roared to the heavens, extending his wings and facing the moth elf in a show of dominance. The moth raised both his sword and crimson wing, ready to finish the fight.
Then Manling Victor teleported between them with a cloud of rancid smoke.
“Huh? That’s less damage than I imagined.” In stark contrast with both fighters, Vainqueur’s chief of staff looked unharmed. “Your Majesty? Damn, you look savaged!”
“Minion, you are back!” Vainqueur rejoiced, although he kept his focus on that cursed moth elf.
“Dalton?” the moth elf raised a blade at Vainqueur’s lackey. “Thou have escaped Hell?”
“As expected of my chief of staff!” Vainqueur boasted. “I trained him well.”
“Braniño?” Minion Victor waved a hand at the moth while holding his scythe with the other. The annoyed visage of Furibon reflected on the blade’s polished surface. “I almost didn’t recognize you for a second.”
The demon king of Ishfania made a short pause. “How do you know that nickname?”
“That’s what your mother called you. Why, is it forbidden?”
Much to Vainqueur’s displeasure, the moth lost interest in the fight and pointed his blade at Manling Victor. However, before the dragon could blast him with flames, the bug also paraded his red wing in his foe’s direction. “What have you done to my mother, ruffian?”
“Nothing. My infernal lawyers saved my hide, and apparently I have full immunity from fiends. Your mother did insist on sending me back there herself for some reason.”
The bug’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Brandon Maure knows why. He’s half-fiend, and he loves piñata.”
The minion blinked, before adopting a defensive stance. “Wait, wait—”
Vainqueur attempted to squash the bug with his hand before he could attack, but even slowed down from the loss of his stat boosts, the creature moved faster than the dragon.
In the blink of an eye, the moth elf closed the gap between his minion and himself, before stabbing Manling Victor through the chest.