Noblecoeur hadn’t changed at all.
One of Gardemagne’s greatest cities, located near the eastern mountains and the fallen Harmonian Republic, Noblecoeur had been spared from the horrors of the Century War, making it a refugee center. Those fleeing the advance of the vicious fomors, from beastkin to northern elves, established themselves there, built new districts, brought their culture. To an outsider, Noblecoeur looked like a motley of various architectures cobbled together, fortified beastkin camps bordering elegant manors; yet somehow, the final result looked harmonious.
Victor Dalton, Grand Vizier of Murmurin, greatest of Vainqueur’s minions, hadn’t visited the Nightblades’ Headquarters in years, yet he felt some kind of kinship to this place. This old manor, whose basement led to tunnels sprawling through the city, had a classy charm which he couldn’t fully describe.
When the god Dice reincarnated him, in the wartorn countryside of Gardemagne, only thieves took him in; and at the cost of joining them. They taught him about classes, turned him into an [Outlaw], and then introducing them to their larger, more nefarious parent organization; the Nightblade crime syndicate. While mostly focused on assassination, the group had fingers in every illegal pie; and through corruption, blackmail, and threats, they made the very city of Noblecoeur their fortress.
Upon realizing that staying with the organization meant falling in further with a very bad crowd, the Claimed backed out and reconverted into an adventurer. Lucie Lavere hadn’t taken over the syndicate back then, or at least not that Victor knew. The vampire had transformed the politically neutral cartel into weapons of the fomors, first against Gardemagne, then against Murmurin itself. Lavere and most of her followers died in the struggle, leaving the winners to clean the mess she left behind.
To think he would end up, by a twist of fate, take over the organization he left.
Or rather, that was what he thought would happen.
“So let me get this straight,” the Vizier began. “You decided to create a union?”
Sitting around a large table, he and his assistant, the vampire Charlene, faced a dozen cowled assassins armed to the teeth; most of them were ratkin, rat and human hybrids, humans, or vampires. Only one very young lizardkin, with brownish scales and claws sharper than razors, stood out from the rest. With the night outside and the candles providing little light, the meeting resembled a shadowy cult’s gathering. Which it was.
“Due to the fall of the previous administration, and the huge amount of turnover that followed,” a cowled woman said, a crossbow within arm’s reach. “We decided to organize in order to preserve our livelihoods against a lay-off.”
“By turnover, you mean the fact our army killed all the assassins you sent after us?” Victor asked for an explanation.
“We have renounced the previous administration,” the assassin replied with a tone that reminded the chief of staff of PR speakers. “We turned our coat in the right direction. However, to defend ourselves, and to promote gender equality, we have created a Mixed Gender Commission to represent our professions. We will not disband until our demands are met.”
Now that she said it, Victor noted that they had an equal amount of women and men holding knives at him. Not that they had the levels to threaten him, since he wore full armor, carried a deadly scythe and bazooka, and was around twenty levels higher than the second-strongest person in the room. “Which are?”
“We want higher wages, security of employment, a retirement plan instead of a ‘river retirement’ plan, and a severance package instead of the current ‘body severance’ package.”
“Security of employment,” Victor repeated. “You’re criminals. You’re by definition outside the law’s protection.”
“Which doesn’t preclude a charter. Theft is a very dangerous activity and we want shortened working days, and a better pension for old assassins who cannot kill as well in their old age as they did in their youth. If our demands are not met, we are ready to go on a nationwide strike.”
A strike? “Like what, you won’t kill people anymore?”
“Yes!” the representative replied, leaving Victor speechless. “We will no longer kill nor steal, nor run prostitution rings or distribute drugs to minors until we have improved the criminal class’ working conditions!”
“How did Lavere run things before me?” Victor asked with a dry tone.
“She singled out the ‘stupidest’ of us, and then murdered them to set an example,” a ratkin replied.
I am starting to understand why, the Vizier thought.
Charlene must have read his mind. “To be fair, you and Your Majesty killed, jailed, or sent to the Moon all the competent people during Lavere’s attack,” she said. “Leaving only… them.”
“To the Moon?” one of the assassins whistled. “Is that a new slang of execution? I didn’t know it!”
“No, the correct one is ‘Chocolatined,’” Charlene corrected.
“Mmmm… the first sounds better.”
Victor turned to Charlene, who approached her ear to listen. “Are they serious?” he muttered, his assistant nodding. “What do you suggest?”
“A good purge, to start with.” Her newfound vampirism had turned the once plump, slightly overweight blonde secretary and Victor’s voice of reason into a thin, unnaturally pale model; but also clearly made her more ruthless. “Not the bloody kind, although that would have been my first option had Deathjester not asked for mercy, but we can easily replace them with obedient minions.”
“I’m not sending minions to replace criminals abroad,” Victor replied. The only reason he even agreed to take over that organization was to prevent the fomors from making use of them. Worst case scenario, he would disband them rather than waste resources.
“We are ready to last months,” the main speaker threatened.
“Don’t listen to them, sir,” the young lizardkin interrupted him. He had remained apart from the others, refusing to form a united front with his fellow. “They’re just lazy and never did anything worthwhile. I can still work!”
“Why, you really need blood money?” Victor asked.
“Oh, no, I just love killing,” he replied with cheerfulness, the other assassins booing him for his eagerness to impress the authority. “I was doing it for free before Aunt Savoureuse told me I could make it a career.”
The Vizier sank in his chair, finding the teen’s cheeky smile far more disturbing than the army of thugs asking for higher wages. “You’re… Potiron, right?” Victor asked, remembering Savoureuse mentioning her nephew a few months ago.
The young lizardkin looked up at Victor with adorable eyes, in stark contrast with his next words. “Your boss is an absolute dictator, right? Do you have political rivals to silence? Or, or, maybe newspapers who need a ‘friendly visit’? Or do you want to reduce poverty by eradicating the homeless? I’m trying to expand my CV, so as long as it’s not people I know, I’m looking forward to any opportunity to improve!”
Was this hellion for real? He sounded very serious. “We, uh, we kinda enjoy a huge level of popularity in our country,” Victor said, blaming Vainqueur’s absurd charisma. “Our citizens love us.”
“If not an enemy of the state, maybe hookers?” Potiron asked. “I don’t have professional experience in that field, but I learn quickly! If you need a demonstration—”
“I will think about it!” Victor said hurriedly before the psycho went through with it. “As for the rest of you…”
“We will not budge before intimidating tactics,” the speaker warned. “We are ready to die for better rights!”
“Then you will certainly enjoy our official Minion Healthcare,” Victor replied. “You get the security of employment, higher wages, and even magical assistance.”
“As official minions of Murmurin, you are entitled to a tenth of the profits you make, which is more than your old rate,” Charlene said. “You are guaranteed a post-mortem pension either as an undead or another vertical plane of your choice, alongside universal free healthcare, education, mook promotions…”
Victor watched the assassins exchange glances, as his assistant detailed the impressive list of benefits they would receive by signing with the empire; a stark contrast with the harsher system of Gardemagne. All the work these past months had paid off.
While Potiron clapped, the other assassins exchanged between each other, until the main speak came forward. “You are not like we expected.”
“You bet,” Victor said.
“Well then, perhaps we can discuss other—”
“The Emperor is a dragon, and he has been known to eat entitled minions and enemies alike. He listens only to me.” Victor joined his fingers in a calculating pose, deciding not to spare them the rod. “I am also very, very friendly with the highest authorities in Hell, now rebranded as Happyland, and I capture souls in my scythe to power myself up.”
|Charisma check successful! You reminded the peons of the food chain!|
“Now, knowing this, do you have other, other requests?”
“... no sir,” an assassin replied for the rest of the strikers.
“Excellent,” Victor said, “Charlene will take over until your organization has been reorganized. You are now a branch of the Murmurin Empire, and everything you do will benefit it in some way. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir!” Potiron spoke up, imitated by the others.
“Charlene will take care of managing the transition,” Victor said. “She will be my main representative, and you will obey her as you would obey me. With all modesty, I am your god’s prophet, and she is my apostle. Don’t make her go Old Testament on you.”
“Old Testament?” the lead assassin repeated. “Is that new slang?”
Victor sighed in despair, before sending the assassins away. Only Potiron remained behind. “Sir—”
“You will get an internship in Murmurin,” the Vizier replied if only to keep that hellion under watch. “With your aunt.”
“Cool! Practical experience!”
The Vizier sighed, finally alone with Charlene. “So, how do you like your promotion?” Victor asked his assistant.
“I could get used to it,” Charlene replied. “This is definitely a step up in my professional career.”
To think that they started on the wrong foot… it felt like years since Victor had met Vainqueur.
“They possess a sizeable stockpile of stolen Crests, which we can redistribute to our minions,” Charlene continued her report. Alongside Victor’s own [Mook Promotion] Perk, this would help tremendously in building up an army to destroy the fomors. “You also inherited Lavere’s cat.”
Victor nodded, then froze upon realizing what she just said. “A cat?”
Five minutes later, Charlene all but dumped a fluffy white cat in front of him. Victor glanced at the animal, who stared back with curious eyes.
“What is this, a manling with wings?” the cat spoke with a shrill voice. “Are you my new pet?”
Victor looked at Charlene, who clearly hadn’t understood. The truth quickly dawned upon him.
He could understand any monster.
“I am Felix IV von Meow, Emperor of the World, King of Cats, and Despoiler of Milk. But you may call me Your Catness.” The cat put himself on his back, his belly exposed. “Now you will pet me, manling. You will scratch me behind the ears and on my soft tummy. But no more than five minutes each, or I will punish you with my claws.”
“Yeah, I don’t have time for this—”
“I am a cat,” the beast brazenly interrupted him. “You are now my minion.”
Victor had a frightening impression of déjà vu. “No,” he said, already having too much with one colorful megalomaniac on his plate. “Just no.”
“Look at me. Look at me, manling!” The white cat glared at him with imperious eyes. “I am the best thing to ever happen to you! Your god exists, and he has whiskers!”
“Pfft, not impressed,” Victor replied, only for the cursed animal to leap on his legs when he least expected it.
“You should clean yourself, you smell like a dog-loving peasant! But your legs are warm, so I will grace them with my sleep.” And like that, the cat curled on his legs and fell asleep, as if he owned Victor’s lap.
Not amused, the Vizier grabbed him by the collar, rose up, and opened a window with his free hand. “I’m already taken.”
“Wait, wait, minion, what are you—” Victor threw the cat outside, and then closed the windows.
“You threw a cat away,” Charlene looked at him with disapproving eyes. “And you wonder why your karma is in the negatives?”
Victor shrugged as he sat back in his chair. The more he grew, the less he cared.
Last warning: Will you merge your [Grand Vizier] and [Assassin] classes into the [Moriarty] class?
If you refuse, you will keep leveling in the two classes separately.
Ah, true. He had almost forgotten about that part. Having disdained [Assassin] since he first got levels in it, Victor immediately sacrificed them.
Choice registered! Your [Assassin] and [Grand Vizier] levels have been transformed into [Moriarty] levels. [Assassin] and [Grand Vizier] are no longer accessible.
[Is-No-Good] replaced with [Scarlet Study]: You can assign a number of ‘Crime Tokens’ equal to your number of [Moriarty] levels to willing accomplices; by mentally focusing, you can telepathically contact one of them. Your ally must be on the same plane as you to be contacted, although this does not remove the token.
[Blade Stinger] replaced with [Final Problem]: Once every twenty-four hours, if your HP would be reduced to zero, you survive with one HP instead. You can convince your killers that you are truly dead on a successful Skill check; this is an [illusion] effect.
[Forktongued] replaced by [Diabolical Mastermind]: Whenever you face a check in a criminal, commonly illegal, or morally reprehensible situation, you gain a bonus equal to half your Intelligence stat.
Now officially an evil mastermind, Victor turned to the last item on his agenda.
Deathjester’s letter of admittance to Scholomance.
Besides what Kia had told him, Victor knew very little about this establishment. His predecessor, Lucie Lavere, had trained there and received a soul-stealing grimoire for her grim work. She may have become a vampire there, in fact.
Not that he thought he should attend, but curiosity overwhelmed him. He might as well learn about the place, in case he and Vainqueur ever needed to shut it down.
The second he opened the letter, the paper inside hopped out of its container and on the table, and a cheerful, impish voice came out of it.
“Have you ever wanted to take levels in ‘evil’ classes, without being oppressed by self-righteous adventurers?” the voice asked, but didn’t give Victor time to respond, “Have you ever dreamed of delving into forbidden knowledge without being judged? To rub shoulders with fellow social climbers who understand your ambitions? Or perhaps you have followed a seminar on dictatorship, and you want to learn more about peasant oppression? Then seek no more!”
The letter’s ink shifted into the shape of a foreboding castle, in the middle of a lake.
“The University of Scholomance is the answer! Created by the Dread Three, Scholomance is the premiere school for aspiring overlords, necromancers, and criminal masterminds over level forty! Our alumni include celebrities such as the Masked Mage, Genociboy, or the Bloody Duchess! Become the best of the best in a mere seven years’ time—”
“Seven years?” Victor interrupted the presentation. “I can’t be absent for seven years!”
“Yes, I’m afraid the empire will crumble in less than one without you,” Charlene lamented.
“At Scholomance, time works differently, thanks to one of our generous sponsors, Ur-Pharaoh Akhenapep!” the letter continued, Victor noticing the cat furiously scratching at the window, “One day outside, is one year inside. A whole curriculum in one week! Further your expertise without threatening your existing operations!”
Realizing he had asked the question as if he already considered attending, the Vizier shut up and let the letter finish.
“Only ten students will be allowed to enter the school, where they will remain until graduation! The valedictorian will gain access to the elite [Weathermaker] spellcaster class, but the dunce will remain in the school, to serve as the next headmaster! Do you have what it takes to become the best of the darkest?”
“[Weathermaker]?” Victor frowned, curious. “Tell me more about—”
Victor felt the pull of Vainqueur’s perk teleport him across the world, and onto Murmurin’s marketplace.
“Minion, we have to save El Dorado!” Vainqueur shouted at Victor with crazed eyes. The vizier fell on his tail and crawled back in surprise, only to be stopped by a cart, “We must!”
“W-what’s happening?” Victor panicked, his dragon friend overshadowing him with a terrified expression on his face, “The fomors? Lavere rose up? Akhenapep?”
“We must save El Dorado from Furibon!” the dragon kept spouting paranoid nonsense. “The Moon, it was him! He is behind everything! Everything!”