It was offering day, and so Chocolatine decided to bake three cakes: one for her god, one for her crush, and one for her brother.
Humming to herself as she dressed, Chocolatine explored her and her brother’s farm looking for the pantry. She kept a lot of demon flesh salted and fresh, and an imp in an iron birdcage. The demon looked at her with his big eyes. “Kill me,” the fiend pleaded. “Send me back to Hell, you crazy wolf.”
“Maybe later,” Chocolatine replied cheerfully, looking inside the cage. “I need eggs.” Savoureuse had given her one of her own, but it wasn’t enough for three cakes.
The imp looked inside the straw that worked as his nest, giving her four black eggs. “Only four?” Chocolatine complained, putting the eggs in a basket. “That’s twice less than last week!”
“I’m hungry,” the imp complained.
“But I give you meat all the time!”
“Demon meat! I would rather starve than eat my kindred!”
Chocolatine rolled her eyes. Damning souls and working for a lich was fine, but cannibalism wasn’t? What was the logic behind that? “I will give you a homeless inquisitor if I find one, but they are getting rarer. Or a gnoll. Do you imps eat gnolls?”
The imp nodded with energy, Chocolatine making a mental note to ask Jules for leftovers. She put the sugar, baking powder, and some of the strawberries Rolo gave her last week into her basket, then moved to the pens outside her ranch to milk her cow, Raisin, harvesting three bottles. She took a second to oversee the pigs’ pen; unlike that prickly imp, they gladly accepted demon meat, growing fatter and gaining tiny horns. With further animal husbandry, she would create a new breed of demon pigs who could sustain the village.
People thought her odd, but that was because she cared. As a priestess of Isengrim, it was her role to maintain the balance of nature, and a village full of carnivorous monsters presented unique problems she had to solve. One day, she would find a way to make the community sustainable, even if she had to keep importing food from Hell.
The vestal then went to the kitchen to bake, finding blood-splatters everywhere, even the oven. “I forgot to clean?” she asked herself out loud. Bah, she would do it tonight. Nothing better than the smell of sheep blood to get pumped while cooking.
After an hour of steady work, she finished the three strawberry cakes, the most beautiful she had ever made. Each of them, she shaped like a heart; the symbol, not the organ. She tried once, it didn’t take.
Congratulations! For creating delicious cakes with love while using morally dubious ingredients, you gained a new level in [Monster Patissier]!
+30 HP, +1 AGI, +1 SKI, +1 CHA, +1 LCK!
Croissant entered the kitchen just as she finished, lured by the lovely smell. “Good morning, sis.”
“Good morning, brother.” Chocolatine gave him his present inside a lunch bag. “Here is Charlene’s cake, with extra flavor.”
“Thank you, sis. You are sure there will be no secondary effects? The last cake bit me.”
“I told you, it was a Birthday Mimic, not my cake!” Since her Victor mass-promoted every monster he could find in order to prepare Murmurin for war, Chocolatine had no end of trouble with those shapeshifters. “None of my desserts killed anyone yet!”
Croissant gave her ‘the stare,’ but took the cake anyway. “Why three of them?” he asked, noticing the other two lunch bags she prepared, “One is for Isengrim, but the other?”
“It’s for my crush,” Chocolatine replied, without mentioning the name. She knew her brother couldn’t stand her Victor since he politically emasculated him.
“When are you going to tell me who it is?”
“So you make him run away like the last one?”
“I didn’t chase him, I ate him,” Croissant defended himself. “According to the taste, you were too good for him.”
“You’re not eating my new crush, brother.” Of course, she knew her Victor would laugh it off, but her brother’s overprotectiveness annoyed her. “How would you react if I ate Charlene?”
“Touché,” Croissant admitted. “At least promise me it’s not a gnoll this time.”
“No, he’s way cleaner,” Chocolatine chirped happily, taking the two lunch bags and leaving the house with her brother. “He is strong, charming, and forceful.”
“Eh, you can present him to me once you’ve caught him.” Croissant shrugged, as they separated, him going to Charlene’s office and her to the temple. “Maybe we’ll get along.”
She doubted it.
Chocolatine cheerfully reached the temple she shared with Allison, finding the dryad praying her goddess with Rolo. The golem had brought a sheep, asking Cybele to bless it. “[Multiply Cattle].” Rolo touched the sheep and activated his Perk, the animal dividing into two, then four, then eight.
Chocolatine waved at the two, then attended her deity’s needs. She placed the cake in front of Isengrim’s deer statue, knelt, and spoke the prayer. “God of the Hunt, Lord of the Beasts, I offer you my sacrifice. I ask you for your blessing. You are the great white deer who roams the summer woods, the bringer of spring. Oh, Isengrim, please accept my gift.”
With the prayer, she sent a few of her SP to her god, and the cake vanished from the altar. Her lord had accepted the offering.
“Chocolatine, my favorite vestal, your cake tastes delicious!” The deer statue’s eyes shone, the god Isengrim speaking through with his youthful, cheerful voice. “You have done well maintaining the natural equilibrium in Murmurin, ousting the lich Furibon from power, and hastening the extinction of demonkind. I am proud of you, keep up the good work!”
“Thank you, my lord,” Chocolatine nodded. “Can I ask for your guidance, oh Isengrim?”
“Of course. What is troubling you, my child?”
“There is a boy I want to breed with, but he will not. How do I breed with him?”
“Is that that Victor whose name you keep repeating in your prayers?” Chocolatine nodded ardently. “Is he married?”
“No.” If that was the problem, Chocolatine would have solved it long ago. She had lots of poison in her pantry. “He is single, although he does not like it.”
“Have you offered to lay with him during the mating season?”
“Yes, I did, but he said he didn’t want to break our friendship.”
“While I am the god of the hunt, that kind eludes me. I will ask my friend Cybele, goddess of love, on advice on your behalf. Otherwise, try perfume. The sweeter the smell, the greater your chances of catching your prey unaware.”
“Thank you, great Isengrim!”
“Good luck, Chocolatine!”
The priestess ended her prayers, the light leaving out the statue’s eyes. She found out that Allison and Rolo had finished her own prayers. “Choc, are you available this evening?” the dryad asked her. “We need anti-vermin spells to help protect the culture from depredation.”
“With pleasure.” She owed the dryad one. When her Victor tried to make a move on her, proving that the ‘friendship’ could be overcome, Allison had said that she liked girls—which was true, but she liked boys just as much—to fend him off. The sisterhood resisted! “Do you think we could feed a big city, after the dragons are gone?”
“Ten thousand, if we finish the irrigation canals,” Rolo replied. “With judicious use of my, and Allison’s [Grow Plant] Perks, we could hasten the landscaping.”
“You wish to invite more settlers,” Allison guessed.
“Cousins from other tribes,” Chocolatine nodded, pumped by Rolo’s answer. “I thought about it while in Gevaudan: why do civilized species hate us werewolves, monsters, and predators?”
“Because you eat them,” Rolo replied.
“Because we eat them, and we eat them because we lack enough meat; to retaliate, the humans and their kin chase us away from the cities which could sustain our hunger, and the cycle continues! Mimics, vampires, and others adapted by infiltrating civilization, but that is not enough! We need trade, import! By creating a city of monsters which can sustain itself, we can inspire our kindred to imitate us, and ‘civilized’ species that we can feed in harmony! Maybe even trade!”
“You meant live,” Allison picked up. “Live in harmony, not feed.”
“Yes, same thing,” Chocolatine replied cheerfully, as the two worshippers of Cybele exchanged a glance.
Her service done, the vestal carried the last cake with her to the new building in the north part of Murmurin. Bug fiends under Malfy’s direction had constructed a large, ivory-draped, six-floor building there, the tallest next to Emperor Vainqueur’s own statue. Chocolatine didn’t particularly like the rounded architecture—which the fiends called ‘modern and trendy,’ but the place stood out.
She found a crowd of monsters gathered in front of it, including the Kobold Rangers, and Malfy himself. A ribbon kept the doors closed, her Victor ready to cut it with his scythe while riding the Black Beast of Murmurin.
The voice of Malfy, enhanced by a spell, resonated, the monsters focusing on him. “Welcome to the grand opening Nethermart, the first fiendish magic item shop in all of Outremonde, open to all monsters and mortals! If you cannot pay with coins, you can keep a tab with us for the low, low price of your soul as collateral! And to celebrate the coming war with Maure, we offer a thirty percent sale on weapons! An axe in every home!”
The crowd of undead, kobolds, gnolls and other monsters cheered as one.
“The Emperor couldn’t bear to watch his minions buying stuff with the money he pays them, so he sent me to inaugurate it in his stead!” Victor said, raising his scythe. “In his name, I declare the Nethermart open!”
He narrowed his weapon and cut the ribbon. The monsters immediately rushed to the gates, with Malfy the fiend barely having the time to move out of the way.
Only Chocolatine, Malfy, and Victor remained outside. She immediately worked on her crush. “Vic!” She approached him with a leap. “What a coincidence, I was looking for you!”
“Oh, really?” He didn’t sound half as enthusiastic as her. Had she overdone it? “What for?”
“I know you are super exhausted with preparing the Bragging Day, so I prepared you lunch.” She offered him the cake, but his free hand didn’t reach for it. Instead, the Doer of the Thing appraised the gift with wariness.
“Is it poisoned?” Victor asked.
“Of course not!” Chocolatine replied, offended. “If I wanted to kill, I would eat you, and eating poisoned food is unhealthy.”
“That is reassuring,” Victor replied, before taking the lunch. “Thanks, Chocolatine.”
Her crush started opening the lunchbox, whistling upon seeing the cake. It was working, it was working, it was working…
Then Victor popped out of existence with the cake before he could take a bite, leaving his undead mount behind.
“Unfortunately, that is happening more and more,” said Malfy, moving to shake ‘hands’ with the astonished priestess. “Chocolatine, how beautiful you are today. Thanks for coming to our opening day.”
“You’re welcome, Malfy. You are my best import source.” The werewolf shook the fiend’s pincer, regaining her cheery disposition once the bitter disappointment and shock had passed. Unlike other followers of Isengrim, she didn’t hate fiends and undead; they were just easy, bountiful prey whose hunt her god condoned. “You look so happy, too!”
“Nethermart’s share value is through the roof on Soulwell Street. Thanks to the goodwill gained from our current partnership, we will make a killing on the soul stock exchange.”
“Nice,” Chocolatine said, although she had no idea what he meant. She glanced around, in case someone was listening, asked him for advice. “You sell everything?”
“Almost. Following the mysterious mass disappearance of swords in the region, we no longer sell those.”
Junior strikes again. “Do you have love potions?”
The bug looked at her with what Chocolatine took for disapproval. “We no longer sell love potions. They are unethical, and the equivalent of slipping someone a roofie. We respect our clients’ free-will, which is the cornerstone of our bottom-line.”
Chocolatine pouted. “But you come from Hell! Shouldn’t you offer that kind of solution?”
“We are no longer called Hell,” Malfy replied. “After decades of benchmarking studies, our Corporate Overlords identified the name as no longer politically-correct. We have now been rebranded as Happyland.”
“Happyland?” Chocolatine raised an eyebrow. “It sounds like a fair.”
“Exactly the reaction our marketing department looks for. We expect mortals to assimilate the new branding within fifty years, correlating with an increase in soul revenue. I insist that, in spite of what the name would imply, Happyland does not sell mind-control devices.”
Why couldn’t she find an easy solution? “May I ask who is the victim?” Malfy asked, curious.
“Ah, Mr. Victor? I understand the cake part better.” The bug let out a sound of interest. “You would be such a good influence on his ethics. Can I offer you my help?”
“You will?” The bug nodded. “Great! Any idea on how to catch him?”
“I believe the quickest solution would be assassinating your rivals for Mr. Victor’s affection.”
“I can’t kill half the world’s population!” Chocolatine protested. “It is impractical, and against my religion.”
The fiend summoned a pen and a paper, while the first clients exited the Nethermart with weapons, potions, and other items. “Let me ask you, what relationship status are you hoping for? Shotgun wedding? Deadly mantis coupling? Cat and mouse relationship? The more details the better tailored my solution.”
“No wedding.” Chocolatine hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I just want him to break into my temple, tie me up with ropes to my god’s statue, then say ‘time to desecrate this holy place,’ and—”
“I do not imagine Mr. Victor in that kind of situation without severe use of mind-control,” Malfy interrupted her, scribbling notes. “Which I cannot endorse.”
“I just want him to use his [Monster Rider] Perk on me at least once a week.” Her brother’s overprotectiveness had left her frustrated and starved.
“That Perk can apply to this kind of situation? Thank you for the information, I will tell the Succubus Department.” Malfy took notes. “So no marriage? What you want is a purely physical relationship?”
“I would like some foreplay, tension, excitement…”
“Yes, but no tying down. Good. As a demon, I cannot, in good conscience, support marriage.” The bug considered the matter. “We at Nethermart sell magical items which can increase your charisma, but Mr. Victor may lose interest upon reaching the naked part of the process. A more rewarding, longer-lasting method would be refashioning you.”
“Before I became manager, I was a damnation coach for the Succubus Pickup Scene. We had fall from grace down to a science. Thankfully, Mr. Victor is, what we call in Happyland, a ‘good-hearted lecher,’ one of the easiest marks. We have many protocols for him.”
“Protocols?” Chocolatine frowned. “You were planning to seduce him?”
“We fiends have been subject to libel-filled PR campaigns from angels since our arrival in Outremonde. Unfortunately, Mr. Victor has been influenced by this heavenly propaganda, which slows down our progress in Murmurin; I even discovered he agreed to a Karma insurance plan with them, which means Heaven tries to enter our market.” The fiend shook with anger, before calming himself. “We will launch a holistic lobbying campaign aimed at nudging Mr. Victor, and through him, the Emperor, towards a complete paradigm shift on the subject of Happyland.”
Chocolatine did not understand half of the fiend’s buzzwords, but she got the gist of it. “You have a plan.”
“Yes, I recommend opening the seduction with Redemption Signaling.”
Chocolatine listened in with rapturous attention, the fiend explaining himself with a professional tone.
“It is a technique where you send mixed messages to the mortal target about the possibility of redemption. The idea is to qualify yourself as a PRT, or ‘potential redemption target,’ and then his heroic instincts will kick in. Mortals are suckers for broken birds. Now, you have to maintain a careful balance, like ‘I steal, but I fight worse people,’ ‘I’m not bad, I just don’t follow the rules,’ or ‘it is not my fault I am like this, blame society.’”
“And it works?”
“All the time. It would have been even better if we could make a ‘cat burglar’ motif work with you. The core of the strategy is to make the target believe they can change you, that you could ‘go straight’ with a special person’s love, which they will believe to be themselves. Play hard to get so the mortal believes he has to work for it, and they will fall into the trap.”
“It sounds very manipulative though,” Chocolatine pointed out.
“Do you want him or not? Then show him signs of the wounded heart beneath your… predatory… exterior, look vulnerable when he thinks you do not know he is watching, and over time, he will get attached.” The fiend handed her over the paper note. “Here is a script for you to follow.”
Chocolatine read it with great attention, her eyes widening as she went on. He even had a tree chart for each possible answer.
Could she really be desperate enough to follow his advice?
“And what happens if you are nice for real?” Chocolatine asked, finding that option nowhere in the chart. “Not pretending.”
“I do not understand,” Malfy replied. “You mean a double-layer trap? I would not recommend it, only an expert can pull that off.”
She would give it a go.