Veran, goddess of war and fire, knew how to set the stage.
“To graduate from this academy, each of you must craft a personal artifact, according to our guidelines,” she declared, the ceiling flickering with phantom flames. Hiding her whole body behind a thick shell, she looked more like an infernal, fire-powered golem than a dwarf. “The [Solomonari’s Grimoire] is the classic, but I would prefer more imaginative proposals for this session. Like a gun! Or a sword, with a gun!”
As one of the students sitting in the amphitheater, Victor scribbled down every damn word of this [Cursed Artifact Crafting] class. His classmate, Goblina, raised a hand to ask questions. “Can a ballista work?” she asked.
“If it is magical, nigh-indestructible, and destructive!” the goddess replied. “The essence of artifact creation is to pour your soul into the task. Literally! Creating an artifact means surrendering part of your lifeforce, of your max HP, and imbuing it with a personal touch!”
“What kind of artifacts did you make in your heyday?” a regal, crowned imp asked. Victor knew him as some kind of fallen demon prince eager to make a comeback but had little interaction with him.
“Jesty created his [Deathscythe],” Veran replied. “Although he killed so many people with it, surrendering his lifeforce was just the last push. Camilla crafted the [Crystal Skulls] which first spread vampirism and so many forms of undeath. As for me… oho, it would take a whole year to list all of mine! I was, and still am, a very busy crafter! The sword [Revengeance], the [Anvil of Catastrophe], the [Slime Machine]...”
As announced, the Dread Three did give classes, although most of the teacher body included ghosts of past overlords, mad prophets, and ancient horrors whose every lecture forced a Check against [Madness].
The curriculum focused on various courses each year, with the first focusing only on statecraft and ‘mindset.’ The teachers had taught Victor classes based on Akhenapep’s one hundred stratagems, although they went deeper into the practical applications. He had lost count to the number of times he had to hide a fake artifact from classmates acting as heroes, or minion HR sessions. While it only refined things he had already learned, the knowledge would serve him well in Murmurin; it had even opened his mind to new ways of managing Vainqueur’s new nation.
For the second year, the teachers would finally teach the students sorcery, item crafting, and more practical skills. After spending a good hour listing and detailing some of her proudest artifacts, Veran began to explain the process of crafting one. Victor scribbled down some ideas; since the process would take years, he had to quickly settle on a concept.
When the class ended with Veran turning into a pillar of flames, the students left the amphitheater into the dark, dimly lit corridors of the school. “See you at the [Infernal Alchemy] course, Vic,” Goblina told him.
“Nah, I’m attending the [Necromancy] course,” Victor replied. Partly because he liked the subject, and mostly because Isabelle Maure gave the lecture on [Infernal Alchemy].
“You must be the only one,” she said, before leaving him to find the class on his own.
As Victor walked around the windowless school, he mused that the worst part wasn’t the lack of sun, the constant company of unethical psychos, the unnerving presence of Isabelle Maure, or the intense work schedule. No. What Victor struggled with was a more primal, intimate problem.
Not getting laid.
This place was worse than a monastery! His classmates ran the gamut from goblin to animated armor, and even a psychotic mad alchemist, but no female humanoids! As for the teachers… Isabelle Maure seemed to take sadistic glee in teasing him, and he didn’t feel attracted to dwarves, especially world-conquering ones.
Victor had strongly considered summoning Chocolatine, before realizing that she would remain trapped with him for at least six more years if he did. He hadn’t breached the subject with the teachers, so he had no idea how they would react; nor how would the werewolf. Trapping her in that castle for a quick relief from his pain sounded very selfish.
Finally finding the [Necromancy] amphitheater, Victor found himself the only one sitting on the stands. He didn’t have to wait long before the teacher teleported inside amidst swirling miasma.
The creature before him… was the greatest beauty the Vizier had ever laid his eyes upon. A dark elf whose skin was as black as a moonless night, pristine, and pure; her crimson eyes were shining rubies, her hair a white waterfall. Her wizard robes fit her perfect, voluptuous curves in an entirely supernatural way. She smiled at him, vampire fangs whom he would have happily sink into his neck and—
When he realized who he was looking at, Victor forced himself to focus on another mental picture; namely, Vainqueur. Somehow, imagining the dragon barking at him immediately broke the elf’s spell over him.
Forced abstinence was slowly driving him mad.
“You are the only student?” Camilla, goddess of death, plagues, and the undead, asked with a disappointed face.
“Apparently. I dunno why though.”
“Since undead have become accepted, necromancy no longer has a…” Camilla considered the word, “Bad Boy appeal? Being a nice, mass murder-raiser is no longer a popular career choice.”
“Everybody wants to be some kind of crafter shieldsman nowadays,” Victor deadpanned. “But I’m all about the classics.”
“And for that, Victor Dalton, you have my sincere gratitude,” the goddess said with kindness. “Thanks to your efforts, the cause of the undeathstrial revolution is making headway in the Mistral continent... and your devotion shall not go unrewarded.”
… don’t imagine her naked, she didn’t mean it that way, don’t do it, Vic, don’t do it...
“Since you are the only student, we can make this a private tutoring class,” she said, either unaware of Victor’s less than saintly thoughts or ignoring them. “Why did you choose to study [Necromancy]?”
Yes, let’s talk magic! “I have started learning the fundamentals of magic, but I never fully explored Necromancy in depth. I know spells are divided into tiers of power, and specializations, but not what these subschools do.”
“As a [Reaper] of your level, you should have access to [Necromancy], [Ritual], and [Diabolism], correct?” Victor nodded, as the goddess took a professional tone, absorbed in her lecture. “[Necromancy] is sorcery focusing on the powers of undeath and death in general; it is obviously, my favorite.”
Figures. “What about the others?”
“[Diabolism] is sorcery focused on the lower planes, opposing [Sacrament], which calls upon the so-called heavenly planes. It gives you access to fiend summoning or sacrificing souls for wicked powers. As for [Rituals], they are very long, complex, but extremely powerful spells with a long spellcasting time, specific ingredients or needing conditions such as planetary events.”
So the virgin sacrifice to summon demon lord kind of magic.
“You also have access to [Universal] magic, which any spellcaster can use, but if anyone wanted to be a good one, they would have become necromancers,” Camilla said. “Luckily for you, [Reaper] has one of its best Perks for spellcasting.”
“[Soulmaster IV],” Victor guessed, “[Reaper] levels now count as caster levels for the purpose of class restrictions. What does that mean?”
“That your Reaper levels can serve as a stepping stone to access more powerful, elite spellcasting classes, like [Lich]. Your current tiers will also stack with new ones for the three schools of magic you have access to.”
“I would rather explore my existing classes before looking for new ones,” Victor replied. “I have perks like [Darwinist] which could synergize well with necromancy, like allowing me to use undead-only spells on myself.”
The goddess put a finger on her smiling lips with her eyebrows furrowing, deep in thoughts. “Most necromancy spells focus on killing or raising the fallen as undead,” she said. “But it also opens the path to many stranger abilities, which can both enhance your abilities and mesh with your natural management skills.”
“You have experience with that?” She obviously had to be good at raising undead armies.
“I’m the one who kept my guild organized and grounded,” Camilla said. “Jesty is all about striking against the establishment, while Veran is the establishment. Making sure everyone gets along has been a tiring experience, but a rewarding one.”
“About that, why did you create a school like Scholomance? I never imagined that kind of establishment could exist in Outremonde.”
“We Dread Three believe that we can achieve greater things if we cooperate, than if we war with each other,” the goddess replied. “If Mithras and the gods of the politically correct can band together to push their retrograde agenda, why can’t we do the same? We defeat our enemies by making them our friends, or our zombie slaves; which is something the fomors could never understand.”
Victor thought she had a point, except for the undead slave part. “You know, I came here to think back on my life first and foremost.”
The Vizier nodded. “V&V is the most unstable nation in existence, but it is also the only place where monsters from all corners of the world can live in harmony and somewhat peacefully. We succeeded at amazing things too; we even reached the Moon!”
Camilla chuckled as if laughing at a private joke. “You came a long way.”
“So even if Vainqueur created it by accident, I wouldn’t mind helping a monster civilization grow prosperous,” Victor said. “Monsters are seen by adventurers as the enemy, and vice-versa… but it doesn’t have to be. While our values differ, peaceful coexistence is possible. I would like to show that to all of Outremonde, with V&V as the case study.”
“So you will expand the empire’s borders until the world is united under your benevolent iron rule?!” Camilla said with a dramatic voice, making Victor raise an eyebrow. “Sorry, I was channeling Veran for a moment.”
For a goddess, she sounded like a closet dork. “I’m always going to follow Vainqueur. I’ve sworn it and I stand by my words, even if I must toil forever to grow his hoard. But besides my duties, I want to see the house I built prosper.”
Camilla listened patiently, before nodding. “Would you like to become my apprentice?”
Victor blinked. “Apprentice?”
“Since you are the only student interested in necromancy among the studies, so I might as well go further with you. I can help you progress into your [Reaper] class until you cap it at thirty, teach the tricks of the trade.” She giggled. “If you reach level sixty by the end of your stay, I may even reward you with a little something.”
That kind of reward? He couldn’t help but think.
“Shesha did say you were easy,” she laughed, having read his mind much to his shame. “But let’s keep things professional within this school's walls. We will first start by reviewing every spell under Tier IV...”
Congratulations! For receiving the private tutelage of the goddess of Undeath, you earned two levels in [Reaper]! You earned the [Nightmare Lord] class perk!
1 VIT, + 2 SKI, +2 AGI, +2 INT, +2 CHA, +1 LCK.
[Nightmare Lord]: By sacrificing half your max SP, you can change an area up to a mile wide into a [Nightmare Realm] Field for thirty minutes. Each minute, non-mindless creatures must pass a Charisma check, with each failure inflicting a status ailment. One check failed: [Drain]. Two checks failed: [Terror]. Three checks failed: [Madness]. Four checks failed: [Nightmarish Sleep]. Five checks failed: [Insta-Death], with the soul trapped as if targeted by [Helheim]. Any successful check resets the cycle. [Nightmare Realm] ignores ailment Resistances, but not Immunities.
Very nasty, if costly, effect, but by Dice, his stat increases didn’t turn out good.
Victor knocked at the door, but no answer came.
|[Skeleton Key] activated!|
His perk caused the door to open on its own, the Vizier stepping in as he heard a voice beyond the threshold.
“No, Braniño, I will not pay the goddess Shesha to revive you! I no longer have the funds! I have asked the goddess Camilla and… yes, I know you do not want to become an undead matador, yes, but this is the cheapest… yes, I love you...“
The Vizier walked inside Isabelle Maure’s room, although condo might have been a better term. The Dread Three had granted Isabelle Maure a royal suite fitting her ego, including a boudoir, a large bedroom, and golem servants to attend her needs. The archdevil herself sat around a dinner table, speaking in front of a silver mirror, whose surface shifted like smoke.
“No, Braniño, I… I am in a temporal anomaly, of course, I cannot call anytime!” She frowned upon seeing Victor enter. “Braniño, I have a guest… yes, I will call you back…”
With a sigh of frustration, the archdevil put down the mirror. “He’s just as entitled in death as he was in life, isn’t he?” Victor guessed.
“I am getting tired of it. He wants me to use all my remaining assets to revive him, so he can take revenge as if I could afford it.” The archdevil made a hand sign and the room’s door closed behind Victor. “How did you get into the room? I warded it magically.”
“A special Perk of mine.”
“Wonderful for assassination attempts,” she replied, although clearly not intimidated in the slightest. “To what pleasure do I owe your presence?”
“I decided to attend the [Diabolism] class and bolster my spell list,” Victor said, much to her amusement. “Since I missed the first few lectures, I thought you might have documents to recommend.”
“So you have come for private lessons?”
Of course, she chose that wording on purpose. “I will cut straight to the chase,” Victor said. “What do want from me or Vainqueur? A settlement?”
“Sort of,” Isabelle Maure said, inviting him to sit; which he did. “Furibon told me that I had more to gain by allying with you.”
“He’s right.” Becoming Vainqueur’s enemy hadn’t worked out well for her, like everyone else who tried to take the old wyrm down.
“The slim possibility of bringing my company back from the brink is the only reason I entertain the idea, instead of fighting,” she replied, serving them wine. “I still harbor a grudge against Infercorp for stealing my market, so you better have excellent terms.”
Victor smirked at her arrogance since he held most of the cards. “What do you bring on the table?”
“I will drop my revenge against you.”
“We beat Brandon, we can beat you too,” Victor replied, unimpressed. “If you are even considering the deal, then you no longer have the strength necessary to enforce threats.”
“I can live forever, gather resources over centuries...”
“So can Vainqueur. Who do you think will be in a better position in the long term?”
|Charisma check successful!|
“Then let me rephrase,” the archdevil said. “Tell me what you want, and I will tell you what I want, and we will see if our goals can align.”
“We indeed need you to drop your vendetta, but also soldiers, magical weapons, anything which can help our country prosper in the long-term,” Victor said. “Have you considered a merger?”
“A merger?” Isabelle snickered. “With those upstarts of Infercorp? Never!”
“Then I have a proposal,” Victor said. “Why not become one of the empire’s officials? Like a governor?”
“You want me to bow to the dragon?” Her expression twisted into one of absolute disgust.
“With favorable terms,” Victor said. “You will be granted a permanent foothold in Ishfania or the new territories we intend to annex in the future. While not as large as what Maure controlled, you could administer a region of our empire as you see fit so long as you remain loyal, provide soldiers and support for our wars. You will be allowed to offer services in the empire like Malfy, and granted protection from adventurers trying to unseat you.”
Isabelle listened, her face softening. “I will be allowed to rebuild Maure Incorporated with no reprisal?”
“We won’t allow Brandon to return, which will be enforced through contract.” Not after the trouble the so-called Demon King caused them. “But otherwise, if you sign guidelines ensuring you won’t be aggressive towards us or cause too much trouble, you can go and sell souls in your territory. We already allow that in Murmurin.”
“This is not optimal,” she said. “But these are generous starting terms. I am surprised why you even offer them if you are truly in a strong position.”
“As a wise goddess said, I defeat my enemies when I make them friends.”
|Charisma check successful!|
The answer seemed to satisfy her. “Let’s discuss the fine print then...” she said, serving them both wine.
They ended up talking for hours about the details of a peace settlement, eventually reaching out an agreement. She has a prodigious appetite, Victor thought, as the archdevil wanted no less than an area the size of Indiana and complete autonomy; the Vizier, a hard bargainer himself, eventually talked her down into accepting an area the size of Maryland and with oversight, albeit a lax one. In exchange, the archdevil accepted to swear fealty to Vainqueur and V&V in general, provide access to her resources, her web of contacts… and as he expected, she had an ace up her sleeve.
“You know Furibon’s current location in the New World?”
“I knew this would interest you,” she said, sensing an opportunity. “Now, I am not giving up an old ally to his demise for free, even if he abandoned my son.”
“He saved my life and decided no longer to antagonize us,” Victor pointed out. Hell, he had grown slightly fond of the cranky lich. “So I am tempted to simply let him be. I just want his location to talk to him if needed.”
“Of course,” she said while clearly not believing him.
After they finally settled on an agreement, which was to be signed under the supervision of demon lawyers, the discussion turned to more personal subjects. “... and you did not sleep with the angel?” Isabelle Maure asked, mocking him. “Not that I can blame you. Like their services, they are overrated.”
“I dunno,” Victor said. “I wanted to. Still want. But I didn’t want to cause a mess by breaking Chocolatine’s feelings either, so I forced myself not to indulge.”
“The werewolf seemed open to the idea, from what you told me,” Isabelle replied. “And neither did she seem willing to settle down yet. The problem comes from you… although I do not see what it is.”
“I’ve thought about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am simply wary about committing.”
“You said that you forced yourself,” Maure pointed out, before making an elaborate guess. “I understand. You want to return to your homeworld, and deep down you are afraid that if you attach yourself to one or more women, then it will end in tears.”
Victor nodded. “I even considered asking one of the Dread Three if they could send me back after Vainqueur and I are done with the fomors.”
“My advice is, do whatever you want. I spent my whole existence building a career, never taking vacations, sacrificing my youth to build my company! Before I knew it, centuries had passed, and I had an ungrateful brat for a son and no time left. Besides, you should have no problem enjoying yourself.”
“You are nothing like the scrawny twerp that you were when we first met,” she said, “Now you are strong, confident, and even dashing. The way you negotiate advantageous terms without disrespecting me... you would make for the perfect diplomat. I thought I would have to put on my charm to gain more concessions. I may still.”
Victor guessed managing V&V did improve his confidence, and he had had a major increase in Charisma lately.
"You said considered," the archdevil noticed, "Not consider.”
“I’ve thought about it here in Scholomance, and in the end, I am where I should be,” Victor said “Sure, I would like to send a message to my family on Earth, if they still live… but I am building Outremonde’s future. I am making a difference, and I want to continue.”
As for his romantic aspirations… After a long period of soul searching, Victor decided he would rather remain a bachelor. As the archdevil said, he had all his life ahead of him, and while he had grown fond of a certain werewolf girl, Victor didn’t want to settle.
It didn’t help that any romantic relationship would come after his own duties to Vainqueur.
“I wish I had an assistant like you working under me," the archdevil said, clearly teasing him with the phrasing. “I still cannot believe you started renovating that sandy dumpster you call a country.”
“Brandon never tried?”
“Braniño loved titles and the glory, but never development,” she said, before mimicking his voice. “Mom, I am the demon king! Mom, buy me a brighter red capote! I swear, I did not raise him like this. When I think of all that I sacrificed, and yet nothing satisfies him.”
“I trust that the settlement will make up for the mess he causes.”
“I might have actually won more than what I started with,” the archdevil said, “A flourishing, populated region under my direct control is worth more than a country-wide desert left to the whims of an unruly son.”
The mirror let out a sound similar to a phone, causing the archdevil to sigh as her son called her. “I can solve this,” Victor said.
“You can?” She raised an eyebrow.
Victor brazenly took the mirror, and simply threw it away. The fall shattered it while Isabelle’s eyes bulged at the sight, ending the buzzing sound; the silence caused the archdevil’s features to soften, while golem servants worked to pick it back up.
“The mirror’s price will be coming out of your grade,” she said.
“Guess I will need more private lessons then,” he joked, before realizing his mistake. Don’t imagine her naked, don’t imagine her naked...
Her amused eyes met his own, and it was all over.
Congratulations! For sleeping with twenty women since you arrived in Outremonde, almost all of them monsters, your [Romantic] Perk has evolved into [Seducer]!
[Seducer]: You gain +10 CHA when interacting with the opposite sex, and +5 CHA with your own. This replaces [Romantic].