“I’m sorry, but you can’t get into Heaven right now.”
Sitting on a chair in the middle of an endless, white expanse, Victor glared at Miel. The angel winced behind her ivory desk, the enormous pile of paper representing his case sitting on it. “But you said I would get in Heaven if I died in the line of duty against the forces of Hell!”
“That would be if you had taken the Heaven+ Plan, instead of the Standard Karma Insurance.”
“I didn’t know I would die in weeks!”
Also, death hurt like Hell.
At least Brandon Maure died, from what Miel told him. Vainqueur’s guests, proving almost as dangerous as him, had eaten their way to victory both on Outremonde and Hell.
“Unfortunately, you also died protecting a village of monsters where demons buy souls openly and most citizens have an evil or chaotic karma,“ the angel replied, embarrassed. “I will do everything I can so we accept you into Heaven on merit since you were instrumental in the bankruptcy of Maure Hellcorporated, but you may have to wait months in limbo. The fact you died a virgin on Earth might help convince my superiors of your hidden saintliness.”
Could it? Because he did his best on Outremonde to catch up on that front.
Months sitting in a chair? Victor loathed bureaucracy. “What about the lower place?”
Miel made a frustrated face, but searched in the papers and gave them to him. “As my client, I will tell you the other offer, but I strongly advise against it,” she said, Victor reading the document. “Infercorp made a request that you be reincarnated as a demon mortal consultant… however, since they lack the power to dispel the [Necrophobia] status your murderer put you under, they cannot reincarnate you into a new shape. Your soul will end in Hell as it is now: helpless.”
“Like those Isabelle Maure tortured last time I visited?”
“I do not recommend it.”
Curse that fairy. Victor understood why Vainqueur couldn’t stand the fomors. “Have I no other option?”
“Two deities have a claim to your soul, namely Dice and the Moon Man.” The angel hesitated to speak again. “We also received a surprise third afterlife proposal from Camilla, the goddess of death, for, I quote, ‘exemplary service to the undeathstrial revolution and continued friendliness towards the church’.”
At this point, Victor might as well entertain the various offers. He hated Dice for abducting him to Outremonde, but Camilla was a goddess with a dangerous reputation. He would rather try the chaotic deities first. “Okay, what do the first two offer?”
“I will send a request for a meeting.” Miel wrote on a parchment with a feather, the paper vanishing at once. “Thankfully, the Moon Man should be in one of his ‘good’ phases. No rampage.”
No sooner did she say that, that an entity materialized next to them with a rumbling noise. Victor had to look up to see the full, titanic creature.
The other creature was an enormous version of Thul-Gathar, a monstrous moon beast over sixty feet-tall; a titan far bigger than even Vainqueur. It wore old, tattered yellow robes over its body, leaving only the tentacled, squid-like head and hands exposed. It also used a sorcerous, pine-sized cane to walk.
“Is this an appointment? Did I forget it?” Much to Victor’s surprise, the Moon Man sounded more like his elderly grandfather than an abomination from outer space. More worryingly, it spoke in the human’s head through telepathy, rather than through words.
“Hello, Mr. Moon Man,” Miel said with a cheeky smile. “I am Miel, a junior angel insurance counselor. My client here, Victor Dalton, is the prophet of your Murmurin cult; your spawn Thul-Gathar claimed him on your behalf.”
“I have a prophet?” The Moon Man sounded confused. “I have a religion?”
When Thul-Gathar complained about his patron deity being absent-minded, he wasn’t kidding. “Don’t you hear the prayers of your followers?” Victor asked.
“I hear voices often, but prayers?" The ancient abomination shook its head. "Cats and dogs rule your Earth. You think they are enemies, but they have a secret pact. The pets in presidents’ houses? They are the presidents. Kennedy’s dog Charlie ordered him assassinated when he threatened to reveal the truth.”
Victor blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Mmm?” The giant squid replied. “Yes?”
“What did you say about dogs and cats?”
“That you should eat them after cuddling?” The deity touched its tentacles with its hand as if it were a beard. “I am getting old, so my memory is not all there.”
“He is the god of madness,” Miel whispered to Victor. “He’s not all there.”
“Sometimes I feel like I am becoming a star, with a burning core and ionized breath,” the Moon Man continued. “Can you feel my gravity?”
The more he heard, the more Victor doubted that god could even provide him an afterlife at all.
Something fell on Miel’s desk with a weak sound, causing Victor to look at it.
He found himself facing a twenty-faced dice, surging with magical power. Each of its faces had living, multi-colored eyes located inside or next to the numbers. All of them watched back at Victor with expectation.
“Roll me,” the dice asked with a kid’s voice.
“Roll me!” the god Dice insisted like a child. “For your afterlife! Roll me!”
Victor stared blankly at the dice, while the Moon Man looked at it with curiosity. Miel winced, embarrassed by the scene.
That… that thing was a god?
The one who brought him to Outremonde at that!
Eventually, with nothing better to do, Victor grabbed Dice and rolled it. The dice eventually landed on its ‘tenth’ face. “Ten!” said the god of magic. “Average afterlife! Reincarnated as a part-timer in Japan!”
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Victor complained.
“I am a god!” the dice boasted back. “I don’t have to make sense!”
“Chaotic deities,” Miel said with a forced laugh, clearly uncomfortable with the situation.
Victor knew he should have worshipped Allison’s pleasure goddess, Cybele.
Reincarnation in Japan tempted him; even if it sounded somewhat terrible, he could probably find his way back to the United States and his family in time. Would they recognize him though? For all he knew, he could be reincarnated as an entirely new person.
Another look at Dice trying to roll by itself on the desk made him change his mind. He wanted to rant at that creature for bringing him to Outremonde, but he couldn’t muster the energy at the sight of its stupidity.
“I think I will wait for Heav—”
A new figure popped up with a golden glow next to him before he could finish his sentence.
The newcomer had the upper body of a golden-scaled, graceful winged woman, and the lower half of a green serpent. Snakes made up her hair, and she carried a bag full of paper scrolls on her back. Her slithering eyes sized up Victor like a ruthless merchant examining a product.
The human instantly recognized the goddess.
“Oh, Miss Shesha!” The angel sounded giddy at the goddess’ sight. “What a surprise!”
“Miel, good to see you again.” The goddess of commerce immediately turned to Victor, clearly all-business and much saner than her competition. “Victor Dalton, this is your lucky day.”
“You’re betting on my soul too?” Damn, Victor had become more popular in death than he ever was in life. At least she looked like an actual, dignified deity.
“Better. Mortals paid me a generous ‘church donation’ for your revival on Outremonde.”
The human blinked. Didn’t she charge a huge amount of money for that service? Who could have paid for it? Victor briefly thought of Vainqueur, before realizing that the dragon would never part ways with any coin. No, the villagers of Murmurin had probably pooled their funds to revive him.
“Wait, what about the [Necrophobia] status?” Victor asked.
“I am a goddess. While the caster’s level approaches the divine, overcoming it is trivial.” The goddess gave him a cunning smirk. “Now, my services are expensive. Since I have a result obligation, I will not cash my reward in if you refuse to return. Between us, if you do accept, I will grant you a free Perk.”
“Are you bribing me in front of witnesses?”
“No, no, I am sweetening a deal. It has been a while since someone could afford a resurrection.”
Victor was sure he had been there before.
“As the goddess of commerce, I am very interested in what you and your dragon associate are doing on Outremonde. While I am… conflicted… about your undead and demonic ventures, a tax-free commercial zone appeals to me. Hopefully, we will discuss investment terms after your return to the living.”
Classic merchant, wording the request by implying he already accepted.
Victor hesitated. The other options weren’t all that good, but returning to Outremonde meant continuing his life as a minion, with all that it entailed.
Victor thought back about what Savoureuse told him, before the fight with Furibon. That he had the opportunity to make a good life in that new world instead of trying to chase after the past.
Victor would never admit it out loud, but he had grown attached to Outremonde, and the people he met there. Even that crazy dragon.
Especially that dragon.
“Will I still get into Heaven if I return?” he asked Miel.
“You will have to take a new insurance plan,” Miel flashed a smile at him, which he didn’t find innocent at all. “A better one this time.”
That settled it.
“Excellent choice,” Shesha said, happy with the transaction. She touched his left arm with her cold fingers, a tattoo representing a coin with a snake symbol on it materializing on his skin.
Congratulations! You earned the [Claimed by Shesha] Personal Perk.
[Claimed by Shesha]: When you level up, you have an additional 10 percent chance to gain a Charisma or Intelligence point. Merchants, bankers, and entrepreneurs always see you as a trustworthy partner and will give you a 20 percent discount.
“What?” Victor asked.
“I said, return home, and do your prophet work,” the Moon Man replied, as confused as Victor himself. “I think…”
Shesha snapped her fingers, a luxurious private jet materializing out of the nothingness right next to the Moon Man. “I am the goddess of commerce,” Shesha told an astonished Victor. “Trains are out of fashion, and I have taste.”
The door of the private afterlife jet opened, and Victor walked inside. Miel waved at him. “Come back soon!” the angel said.
While death had been painful, resurrection felt like waking up from a happy sleep.
No sooner did Victor open his eyes, that he found Chocolatine’s visage approaching to kiss him up close.
“Argh!” Victor jumped in surprise, the startled priestess backing away. It was a trap!
“You see, Chocolatine, I told you he wouldn’t need CPR,” said Allison. Victor realizing most of the minions and Murmurin’s important inhabitants, from Charlene to Croissant, had gathered around him in a circle. Malfy carried his scythe. “Welcome back, buddy.”
“Chief!” Pink Ranger cried at the scene. “You are alive!”
As his eyes acclimated to the light, Victor realized he had been revived deep inside the vault. The gate to Hell was closed, with Vainqueur’s guests sitting in front of it, bellies full, shocked, and silent.
“You pooled your money to fund my revival?” Victor guessed.
“We all did—” Croissant began.
“No, we did, even Savoureuse,” Allison replied, glaring at the werewolf. “Vainqueur forced you to.”
“But it was nowhere near enough to satisfy the goddess' greed, Victor,” Jules Rapace admitted. “She demanded a price too high.”
Then who paid for the difference?
“How could a dragon…” Icefang said, his gaze empty and distant. “Why would any dragon?”
Victor slowly rose up and glanced around.
Most of Vainqueur’s hoard had gone missing, with a large, empty hole in the middle. Only a few thousand gold pieces, random magic items, and the crystallized princesses remained. Vainqueur himself was whining in a corner, more saddened than Victor had ever seen him.
“My hoard,” Vainqueur whined his hands on his eyes. “My sweet hoard…”
Victor struggled to find his words, staring blankly at the hole, then back at his dragon master.
“I think we should leave you two alone,” Allison said, glancing at the others. Malfy handed Victor the scythe, and the chief of staff absentmindedly took it, his mind working on autopilot. Even the dragons followed their example, leaving the old duo alone in the emptied vault.
“Why?” Victor finally asked, Vainqueur looking at his chief of staff with destroyed eyes. He only had that word on his mind. “Why? This is your Bragging Day!”
“You are the crown jewel of my hoard…” Vainqueur regained some of his composure, forcing himself to adopt a proud dragon face in spite of being clearly shaken. “If it hadn’t been for you, I would never have gathered it in the first place. You were worth more. With you gone, what was there to brag about?”
That very instant, Victor realized he would never leave Vainqueur, no matter what.
He no longer wanted to.
“You know,..” Victor trailed off. “You have become a lot more than a ‘master,’ Your Majesty. You have become a friend.”
“What is a friend, some kind of minion?”
“That means I will stick to you no matter what, even if I’m released from service.”
“You better, Minion Victor, because I forbid you from sleeping until you have reimbursed your debt to me, which is…” Vainqueur took a long breath. “Twelve million, five hundred forty-five thousand, one hundred thirty-three gold coins! Which is added to the life debt you owe me for raising you as my prized chief of staff!”
Twelve million in debt? Damn, it was his student loan all over again. “Okay,” Victor replied, strangely at peace with it. “I will find a way, Your Majesty.”
“Then you will work until we both become gods, and order this greedy goddess to reimburse me in full for this vastly overpriced service!”
“Sure,” Victor replied, as Vainqueur kept ranting and venting off, the dragon regaining his previous proud demeanor. He could settle on becoming god of minions everywhere.
It paid well, and from what he had gathered, he wouldn’t be worse off than the others.
After he finished cursing Shesha, the gods, and merchants in general, Vainqueur calmed himself. “Minion Victor.”
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“As you wish, I promote you to my first and only ‘friend’,” Vainqueur declared, in his own, greedy way. “You better prove yourself worthy of that honor.”
“I hope so,” Victor replied, before correcting himself. “I will.”
“I want to puke,” Furibon finally spoke up from inside his scythe. “Watching you gave me diabetes.”