Like a savior, Vainqueur’s friend rode through the portal on his dark horse’s back.
He looked exactly the same as the day he left, covered by his armor and swinging his scythe. Yet his posture had changed. He seemed more confident, with his back straight and his shoulders high. Vainqueur knew his friend had become the apex of a chief of staff, second only to his dragon master. Two skeletal servants followed after him, carrying bags and a black cup.
The crowd exploded into cheers at the Vizier’s triumphant return, much to his silent surprise. “Wow, they look really happy to see me,” Friend Victor muttered to his mount.
“Don’t count me among them,” the horse complained. “You’ve somehow gotten even heavier to carry around.”
Manling Victor narrowed his head at the sight of Knight Kia standing on the opposite end of the arena, before glancing up at Jolie, and finally his master. “Have I come back just in time for the tournament, Your Majesty?”
“You could not have said it better, minion!” Vainqueur cleared his throat. “Citizens of Murmurin! To celebrate the return of my chief of staff, Grand Vizier Victor shall do the thing! He will fight Knight Kia instead of Corpseling Jules!”
“Oh, thank Camilla,” Jules rejoiced, knowing his master’s honor was saved.
“Fight Kia? What?” Manling Victor looked at his future opponent. “What the Happyland?”
“Come on, it will be fun!” Knight Kia said, eager to be defeated by a dragon; even half of one.
Vainqueur’s Vizier didn’t sound keen on the idea, perhaps out of a misplaced fear of embarrassing his master. “You actually want us to fight?”
“Actually, I’ve daydreamed about it for a while,” Knight Kia admitted, before quickly adding. “In a friendly spar way!”
“Kia will crush you like the rest!” Jolie boasted on behalf of her minion. “She is the strongest minion in the world!”
“Your Kia may be a legendary chief of staff, but mine is better trained!” Vainqueur defended his chief of staff, who had been his starting minion since he started adventuring. “And he has the overwhelming [Dragon] type advantage!”
Victor let out a sigh, before climbing off his horse. The animal immediately teleporting away with a moan of relief, the skeletal servants after them. “Can somebody tell me the rules?”
As Vainqueur reminded everyone of them, the Vizier listened in silence, before muttering, “Six fighters, you give us orders as our trainers and… Wait, is this a dog fight? Are we the dogs?”
“Kia Kia,” Manling Kia replied with heavy sarcasm, clearly stressed at the thought of fighting a half-dragon.
“Oh you, shut up,” Friend Victor replied while swinging his scythe. “I can’t summon minions, but are animated items allowed?”
Vainqueur considered the matter, the problem having never presented itself in a previous minion battle. “Yes,” the dragon said. “So long as they stop working in the unlikely case you are defeated, for the sake of fairness.”
“Good, although it sucks hard that I can’t summon,” Victor complained. “It removes a third of my spell list.”
“I will let you take the first swing then,” Kia said, jumping on place to stretch her legs. “Impress me.”
“Alright, your loss of sleep then,” Victor replied, raising his scythe. “[Nightmare Lord]!”
The very world shifted around Manling Victor, unnatural energies spreading through the arena. A noxious, purple miasma filled the air and covered the ground while screaming, ghostly figures made of mist swirled around Knight Kia; fanged skeletal maws surged from below, while yellow eyes grew on the walls alongside a thick, crimson moss.
Kia backed down, as the Colosseum became alive, the walls growing decorations such as mosaics of whispering humanoid skulls. The strange effect stopped right at the border of the arena before it could spread to the stands, although the phantom eyes glanced at the citizens in the stands with hunger.
|Your arena turned into a [Nightmare Realm] Field!|
Of course, the minions cheered at the spectacle. “Best special effects!” “Crush her, Lord Victor!” “Show her!”
“What the…” Knight Kia bristled, as the mist ghosts passed through her chest, turning her skin whiter.
|[Kia Bekele] is being [Drained] of her HP/SP!|
“Kia, use the beam!” Jolie barked orders to her minion. “The sunbeam!”
Her chief of staff raised her sword, calling upon her last reserves of SP to use her most powerful ability. “[Solar Judgment]!”
“Minion, dodge!” Vainqueur ordered, but his minion disobeyed.
“[Spirit Shield].” A purple, spherical barrier of ghostly energies surrounded manling Victor, deflecting the pillar of light. “[Victor’s Summoned Skulls].”
Two dozens floating golden skulls—Vainqueur approved of his minion’s taste—appeared around the shield, before flinging themselves at Knight Kia. The paladin adopted the defensive pose she used against Buzz and Rollo, expecting a physical attack.
Instead, the skulls opened their mouths and fired ghostly rays at her.
The knight deflected the beams with her sword, but the skulls soon circled her and attacked from all directions. Meanwhile, the arena’s specters kept draining the legendary minion.
“[True Breath of Life], [Protection from Holy], [Necromantic Ward], [Eldritch Benediction], [Fallen Auspices], [Elemental Veil], [Vorpal Blade]...” Manling Victor replied, casting spells to reinforce himself from the safety of his shield. “[Fear Aura], [Breath of Plagues]...”
All your minion’s stats have been raised by one stage!
Your minion will now resist [Fire], [Earth], [Wind] and [Water]!
Your minion’s [Killer Scythe +] has been greatly bolster—
As a long, long list of messages appeared before Vainqueur’s eyes, one of the skulls managed to hit Kia in the shoulder, making the knight angrier. “[Sunburst],” she declared, her body radiating a burst of holy flames, vaporizing the skulls and even repelling some of the specters. “[Full He—]”
“[Black Curse]!” Manling Victor cast, a dark aura surrounding Kia and negating her healing. Vainqueur guessed the minion’s strategy: exploit the field to weaken the legendary minion, prevent her from healing, then catch her after wearing her down enough!
“I hate disruption tactics,” Kia said, summoning a circular barrier of light around herself. “[Mithras’ Grace], [Hasten]...”
She copied his chief of staff! What a hack! “Minion, do not let her make a fool of you!” Vainqueur ordered. “Attack!”
“It will cost me HP, but here I come…” Manling Victor replied, “[Pact with the Archfiends]!”
Sinister energies converged around the Vizier, whose body underwent a radical transformation as his spirit shield collapsed.
|What? [Victor Dalton] is evolving!|
The Doer of the Thing grew in size into a twelve feet tall behemoth of muscle, with cloven hooves for feet; a stinger grew at the end of his dragon tail, and his face changed into that of a skeletal ram. His armor and scythe grew to fit his new size, turning him into a fearsome figure.
|Congratulations! Your [Victor Dalton] evolved into [Demonling Victor]!|
While the few angels in the audience recoiled and booed at the sight, the fiends in the audience became all but possessed.
Vainqueur, meanwhile, was furious. “Minion!”
“What, Your Majesty?” Demonling Victor replied, his voice transformed into a guttural growl.
“You were supposed to become closer to the majesty of dragons, not to livestock!”
“Oh, you know that spell?” Knight Kia replied, more curious than surprised. “It’s been years since I saw a wizard cast it. Don’t you go to Hell if you die afterward, though?”
“Not if you have soul stock-options,” Demonling Victor spoke, as a dark aura surrounding Knight Kia. “[Death Hex].”
|[Demonling Victor]’s successful armed attacks against [Kia Bekele] will become critical hits.|
With a dragonlike roar, Demonling Victor charged at his rival, carried on by Vainqueur’s cheers.
And charge he did. Even if tainted by livestock blood, his chief of staff moved faster than ever before, almost as much as the Maure insect in his prime. He crossed the light barrier as if it wasn’t there, and raised his scythe for the kill.
Knight Kia, worn down by the misty specters swarming the arena, shrouded her sword in light and parried the blow. Even with the difference in size, the warrior matched the Vizier in strength; even if Vainqueur hated to admit it, she had been one of the few beings capable of harming him, and it showed.
Demonling Victor parried the strike, as both fighters engaged in a deadly dance of blades. Knight Kia, moving inmanlingly fast, dodged the scythe time and time again; while the Vizier parried a few swings, the paladin proved herself too difficult to counter, her blade piercing his armor on half a dozen occasions. Yet at no point did she manage to shed blood, much to her frustration.
|[Demonslayer] effect negated by [Darwinist]!|
While he slowly pushed his foe against the arena’s walls with a flurry of attacks, Demonling Victor failed to get past the knight’s guard. She hopped around the demonic chief of staff like a slime, her speed slightly exceeding his own.
“[Freezing Edge].” The warrior’s sword released a chilly glow, before piercing Demonling Victor’s hide again. This time, the sword cut deep and made the chief of staff snarl in pain. “I knew it! Your Perk doesn't cover elemental weaknesses, only type-determined ones!”
“[Envious],” Victor replied, the chilling edge of the sword vanishing to reappear around the Vizier’s scythe instead. Before Knight Kia could recover from the surprise, Demonling Victor hit her in the chest with a cheap shot, the sheer strength of the blow propelling her against a wall. Jolie let out a squeal of horror, worried for her minion, while Victor's wounds healed on their own.
|Critical hit! [Insta-Death] negated!|
Knight Kia almost immediately stood back to her feet, avoiding a new swing by lowering herself. Victor’s scythe slashed through the wall like butter, much to Vainqueur’s horror.
The knight reapplied the chilling effect to her blade and attempted to backstab her foe, but Demonling Victor acted quicker. He summoned a wall of bones below his feet, rising above the blade before it could pierce his hide. Then, using the high ground, he leaped on the knight and attempted to crush her under his heavier body. The knight barely managed to dodge, with the demodragon instantly forcing her on the defensive with a series of vicious attacks.
“Minion!” Vainqueur shouted, as his minion failed to get past the knight’s impervious guard. “Use your V-Move!”
“The what?” his minion replied, as he barely blade-locked the paladin’s sword before it could hit him in the eye. Knight Kia began a counterattack, inverting their positions.
“THE V-MOVE! The Vainqueur-Move!”
“Oh, right!” Demonling Victor inhaled, locked Knight Kia’s blade with his own, and then unleashed a mighty stream of flames at the paladin from his maw.
“I’m immune to fir—” Knight Kia let out a groan of pain and surprise, as it turned out nothing could resist dragonfire. Her flesh and armor began to melt from dark flames. Why was Demonling Victor’s firebreath black though? Vainqueur wondered. Did his chief of staff indulge in drugs?
“Kia!” Jolie shouted in fear, seeing her legendary minion pushed to the brink. “I believe in you! Use your V-move too!”
Knight Kia, now cornered, used the last of her strength for a final counterattack. “[Holy Sun of Mithras].”
She opened her free hand and materialized a miniature sun within it, and then shoved it against Demonling Victor’s face. Determined to win, the chief of staff kept overwhelming her with his dragonbreath.
What followed… was completely unexpected.
Both attacks resonated with one another, the energies of the holy sun mixing with Demonling Victor’s unholy dragonbreath. Both swirled and contracted, before violently exploding.
The mighty detonation that followed shook the entire Colosseum, and even Vainqueur struggled to stay on his promontory as a blast of flames and holy energies cracked the walls and terminated the Field effect. A massive cloud of dust covered the battleground, leaving the fate of the battle ambiguous. The crowd turned silent, at the edge of their seats.
When the cloud of dust settled, the outcome became obvious.
Both fighters laid unconscious on the ground, with Demonling Victor having regressed back to Manling Victor—a relief to Vainqueur, who wouldn’t stand a half-goat chief of staff. Knight Kia still breathed, but couldn't get back up.
“Double knockout!” Batling Charlene decided. “It’s a tie!”
“Kia!” Jolie immediately flew to her minion’s side.
Vainqueur sighed in relief. While he would have preferred for his champion to win, the empire’s honor had been defended. “Citizens, it is time to congratulate the two winners of the day,” the dragon said. “My niece and I, for raising the strongest minions in the world!”
The crowd erupted in cheers, which made the emperor happy.
“Now minions, go heal my chief of staff!” the dragon ordered. “The rest of you, breed, and sin no more!”
Murmurin. The one place where you can leave for seven years/days, and then be expected to fight a paladin five minutes after your return. He would have been proud of tying with Kia, if he didn't owe that result to dumb luck.
Last time he used an [Unholy] attack against a [Holy] one.
At least the citizens looked very, very happy to see him again, the Vizier mused from below the thick blankets of his king-sized bed. Not only did they pile up tons of healing spells on him, even though he still had a long way before recovering, his fans spent minutes touching his skin as if he was Jesus reborn.
What happened to make them miss him so much?
They had even rebuilt his mansion, down to the last detail. Vainqueur’s minions had painstakingly recreated every room into identical copies of the original, from the hall to the chimney room. Even his bed felt the same.
Instead of undead servants though, Charlene had replaced the staff with female living monsters, most of them strong, fit, greenish orcs. Each of them carried strange letters and had leered at him with less than pure intentions; although the Vizier wondered if they just found him appetizing as a potential meal.
Speaking of Charlene... “Vic, thank the twelve gods you are back.” The vampire said for the tenth time. “We missed you so much!”
This sent up a whole lot of alarms. The vampire was never too affectionate with him, even while in a good mood, and yet she had remained at his bedside for the entire evening. He also noticed the ‘glow’ marking her for the [Mook Promotion] perk surrounding her body. “Thanks?” he replied, unsure how to deal with her strange behavior.
“You don’t have to worry about taking a break anymore,” she said. “Savoureuse will always prepare your favorite dishes now, the best trainers in all of Ishfania will take care of you after work, you will be protected from every poison, disease, toxin, assassinations, everything that could possibly threaten you. Nothing bad will ever happen to you again.”
“But you have to stay,” she insisted as if her unlife depended on it. “You don’t need to leave anymore.”
While it had started comforting, her behavior now raised a huge number of alarm bells. “Charlene, what is wrong? Are assassins listening in a corner?”
“No, of course not. If you need anything, everyone will have it. Because we love you, in Murmurin. You are finally home, forever.”
What the Happyland happened in his absence? She sounded like she wanted to chain him up in his basement forever. “Why did you replace the undead servants with orcs?” the Vizier asked, smelling a trap.
“Vainqueur organized a speed breeding event at your manor,” Charlene said. “They’re here for you. All for you. So long as you stay.”
If this was meant to be a speed dating event, why was he the only guy in the manor, as far as he could tell? Did Vainqueur expect him to—
Oh no, not this mess again.
"Charlene, I just took a sun to the face," Victor grumbled, "And my entire body feels sore, even the dragon tail. I am not in the mood for breeding."
"So what do I tell them then?" the vampire asked with astonishment.
"Tell them to come back when I’m healed, and maybe have an orgy in the basement if they can’t wait," the Vizier deadpanned, tired and annoyed. "Lavere probably did worse down there."
“But you won’t leave?” Charlene suddenly asked again. The Vizier looked at her, then at his wounds, then back at her. The vampire understood the silent message and left him alone, closing the door behind her.
Victor could still hear her discuss with the orcs outside. “So? Who goes first?”
“He doesn’t want to breed.”
“Damn, he’s very, very sick…”
Did they take him for a pervert? True, he liked female company, but he didn’t think about them all the time either. Victor wasn’t a rabbit.
Anyway, the Vizier allowed himself to close his eyes and rest… but his respite didn’t last long.
“Mr. Victor, how good to see you back!” Victor opened his eyes, seeing a very familiar angel at his bedside with a pile of documents in her hands. “So we can talk about your karma!”
How the Happyland did she always manage to enter his room without raising an alarm? Probably an angel Perk. Still, Miel’s presence felt way more comfortable than Charlene’s right now.
“Good to see you too,” Victor said, especially since he noticed the glow around her; she was ready for a monster promotion. “What do you want to talk about? My karma files should be stainless.”
“That is what I do not understand,” she replied, too sharp for her own good. “Your karma still appears as chaotic good, after you used a spell to transform into an archfiend to fight a paladin.”
“I had to learn the spell to fight one of the most skilled villains of the age.” Which was technically true. “A teacher mastermind so dangerous, so relentless, that a friend and I had to fake a rivalry for three years just to stand a chance of catching him off-guard. We even had a real, dangerous battle with spells and tricks and everything.”
“It was in a time anomaly, it’s complicated.” Victor shrugged off. “In any case, I won’t let the power corrupt me.”
“I will put it as a ‘heroic sacrifice,’ but do not abuse this spell,” Miel said, clinching his files with a worried look. “Please?”
“It’s a last resort,” Victor said. “I will do my best not to cause you harm with your higher-ups, especially now that they finally accepted to promote you. Congrats by the way!”
Much to his confusion, her face crumbled. “No. An Old Testamenter wrote a scathing review and the archangels vetoed my promotion for the next decade.”
“What? But you have done an excellent job! And I can [Mook Promote] you just fine, so you definitively met the conditions!”
“You can promote me?” Her head perked up before she caught herself. “No, I cannot… I cannot have a mortal promote me, it’s against the rules.”
“Look at me,” Victor said. “I can literally transform into a demon, and still keep my good karma! Because I chose what’s right, over what is ordered! Because I buried my hands deep in trashes, so others could keep their own clean!”
The angel listened, before frowning at him. "Mr. Victor."
"The armor you wield," she said, "I asked my superiors about it. They said that it applies the [Cursed] ailment to pure souls who follow the path of goodness."
"Then, if your karma remains truly pure... why are you not [Cursed]? You do not seem to have immunity to it."
Victor was tempted to tell the truth. He truly was.
[Diabolical Mastermind] activated!
You gain a +30 check bonus to get away with your insurance fraud!
But then, reflexes honed over seven years of [Eldritch Philosophy] classes kicked in. "Well, that's exactly my point," the Vizier replied, "Heaven's methods are outdated."
The angel's frown deepened. "Excuse me?"
"If Heaven considers me good karma, but my armor doesn't, then it means karma is fundamentally subjective," Victor argued, "And thus useless as an objective measurement of one's worth."
"But that's impossible!" the angel protested, "Our karma analysis has been refined over centuries! My, it is even confirmed by the System ruling Outremonde!"
"Then how do you explain the contradiction? Or the fact that someone's karma can suddenly change from good to neutral or evil through only one action? That one action can condemn you forever to Happyland, even if you change your mind afterward? Does that system seems fair to you?"
Miel remained silent, pondering the weight of his words.
"I'm just saying that instead of following the judgment of someone else, you should do what you, yourself, believe is right. Because in a purely subjective world, this is the only true answer!"
|Charisma check successful!|
“You are right, Mr. Victor,” the angel believed his helpful lie, “I should follow what I feel is right, instead of bowing to outdated regulations! My methods are unconventional, but they brought the most SP to Heaven since the Karma+ Insurance! I deserve a promotion.”
The angel seemed to pump herself up until she finally said. “You know what? I quit!”
“You quit Heaven?”
“Yes, but not for Happyland! I will promote myself to my own boss, and create the best afterlife service across the planes! The Miel’s Little Angels Company! I will show them all!”
“Then I will gladly be your first employer,” Victor encouraged her. “You have the talent and my support. The empire’s support. Would you like to become a governor?”
“A governor?” The angel’s eyes shone brightly. “Like a regional manager?”
“With unlimited resources and very little oversight,” Victor said. “I’ve been toying with the system, and with the Empire expanding overseas soon, I believe you more than earned a chance to manage things as you wish.”
After all, how many angels would have had the patience to deal with him and Murmurin? Precious few, from what he had gathered. Victor would rather keep good recruits on the Empire’s side, especially with a war on the horizon.
“Thank you, Mr. Victor,” the angel said with gratitude. “You are the best client an angel could want. I will pack my belongings, and then… I will take you up on your offer.”
The angel vanished in a flash of feathers, leaving Victor alone.
The Vizier wondered how she would react to Isabelle Maure, though. He would keep their territories as far from the other as possible.
Someone knocked on the door. “Yes?” Victor called.
“Viiiiic, it’s me!” Chocolatine called out. “I’m with Allison!”
“Come in!” Victor replied, relieved to hear the werewolf safe and sound. Ever since he failed to contact her through his Perk, the Vizier had worried if something had happened to her.
Chocolatine entered the room dressed like the little riding hood and with a huge basket in hands, while Allison waved a hand at the Vizier from beyond the threshold. Then the dryad politely closed the door, giving the two some privacy.
And they would need privacy.
“I baked you a medicine cake to help you recover,” Chocolatine said, after kissing the Vizier on the cheek and sitting on the bed. “I hope you like it.”
That woman was sugar. Bad for the health, but sweet.
That was what Victor thought until he opened the basket. A scaled hand stood on top of the bloody cake like a twisted candle.
“Oh, I mixed them up!” She immediately took back his cake and put it out of his sight, as if ashamed of it. “I’m sorry, this one was for Croissant...”
Victor took back what he said. Chocolatine wasn't sugar, but LSD. Pure, undiluted LSD. Still, he had grown surprisingly fond of her. “Choc, I have to admit something,” the Vizier said with a sheepish face. “Which you may take badly.”
“Uh, me too…” she replied with the exact same tone. “We go at the same time?”
Both inhaled, and then quickly said, “I cuddled Allison!” “I cuddled Satan!”
“Satan?” Chocolatine blinked. “Who’s that?”
“Not actually Satan, but an archfiend… and her cousin… and her trainee…”
“Then you cooked them with beans and ate them?” the werewolf asked with morbid curiosity. “Is that how you transformed into a demon? Can I do it too?”
“No!” Victor protested. “No, you can’t!”
“Oh,” she said, very disappointed but not mad at him either.
"So, you and Allison?"
“She was really lonely and burning out with all the city management work. I invited her home to console her, and I was lonely because you were gone and we had broken up and one thing led to another, and… and… and you're not mad?”
"That's why I asked for a break, no? So we could both figure ourselves out. Thing is… I did, one [Eldritch Philosophy] class at a time."
The werewolf listened in silence, suddenly tense and dreading his answer.
"I really like you, more than I should," Victor admitted. Like a drug, take it once and you can no longer do without. "But I value my freedom more than anything, and while a committed relationship probably has its own Perks, I don’t want the compromises that come with it. I don’t want to settle with someone, and I don’t want to string you along either.”
The werewolf listened with growing sadness but showed surprising maturity afterward. “I can’t tie you up,” Chocolatine admitted, before adding, hopeful. “But can I still tie you up? With ropes?”
“Sure, why not?” He had done much worse in Scholomance, and if that made her happy, he was willing to stay open-minded. “We can stay friends with Perks.”
“I can live with that,” she said, before resting her head against him. Victor let her and scratched the werewolf behind the ears. "You're still totally going to fall in love with me. Give it time."
Someone knocked on the door, and Allison walked inside, smiling at the sight of the ‘couple,’ but also carrying a huge pile of files. “You listened to everything, didn't you?” Victor asked her.
“I have, although I didn’t intend to,” the priestess replied. “You seem a lot more confident, as if you cleared up an internal conflict. And if I am not mistaken, you seem to have aged a little more than seven days.”
“I have,” Victor replied. “I’m no longer on the fence about what I want with my life.”
“Good, because no way I’m filling in for you as a chief of staff, ever again,” she said, all but dumping the paper pile on the bed. “Here are the incident reports for the last week. I must also inform you that I covered the entire mansion with protection spells and that you may wish to avoid the basement for a few days. It will smell terrible.”
“And you’re fine with…” Victor trailed, glancing at Chocolatine and then back at the dryad.
“Vic, I am a priestess of the goddess of pleasure,” Allison replied. “If anything, free love is my religious service.”
Goddamn hippies. Victor grabbed the papers with one hand, while still cuddling Chocolatine with the other. I guess it’s too early for a democratic council, he thought upon reading the long list of catastrophes. Definitively local governors.
"Seven days, Allison!" Victor complained as he went through the reports, "I left for seven days."
"Ah, I also forgot the damage bill," the dryad handed him another paper with far too many zeroes. "Charlene said you would find the budget to cover it."
That was his student debt all over again.
Vainqueur "Best Dragon" Knightsbane
Level: 56 (Augustus 27/Witchfinder General 10/Kaiser 15/Dungeon Breeder 3/Geomancer 1)
Victor "Minion" Dalton
Level: 60 (Monster Knight: Red Dragon 20/Reaper 29/Moriarty 9/Chaos Rider 2)