Victor Dalton, Grand Vizier of the V&V Empire, woke up with one hell of a body change.
Gone were his limbs, his mouth, his wings, and his tail. He could feel a ghostly impression of them as if he had been amputated, but he had no hand to facepalm with. Scratch that; Victor no longer felt, or at least, not in a human way. He could no longer distinguish cold from warmth, scents, or tastes. He could only see and hear as if watching through a television screen.
Observing the world through the sculpted eye sockets of his [Black Grail], Victor Dalton had become something more than a man.
He had become a cup!
As expected, his soul had moved into the [Black Grail] after Akhenapep murdered him. He had cheated death, even after losing his Heaven Insurance. And from what he could see, Xolotl had the [Black Grail] placed on an altar inside an underground sacrificial chamber, like a holy relic.
Nobody was around, except for two skeleton guards standing watch over the entrance.
Victor was finally safe.
Congratulations! For pulling off a karma houdini, avoiding the consequences of violating your Karma Insurance, and dodging divine judgment through your villainous artifact, you earned two levels in [Moriarty] and two levels in [Weathermaker]! You earned the [Asteroid Dynamics] and [Zmey Rider] class perks.
+60 HP, +40 SP, +2 STR, +2 VIT, +3 SKI, +1 AGI, +8 INT, +4 CHA, +6 LCK.
[Asteroid Dynamics]: Whenever you are in combat, your evil genius predicts the movements of your enemies by subconsciously analyzing all variables, granting you a boost to precision, evasion, and criticals equal to half your Intelligence.
[Zmey Rider]: You can summon a unique [Zmey] as a familiar. A [Zmey] is a fiendish, dimwit lesser cousin of true dragons bringing rainfall wherever they go. If your [Zmey] is killed, you lose the Perk.
Sweet. Since he gained experience and Sablar hadn’t come to kill him permanently, Victor assumed Vainqueur and/or Kia had prevailed against Akhenapep. He hoped there weren't too many casualties…
Wait, he could gain stat boosts as a cup? Without a body?
Huh, interesting. Could it be that the stat increases, Perks, and system benefits were linked to his soul, instead of his body?
"Hello?" Victor attempted to talk to the skeletons, but no sound came out. Not even a telepathic contact of any kind. "Take me to El Dorado, and I shall grant you more power than you can possibly imagine!"
The skeleton guards ignored him.
And here he thought that diabolical whispers was a feature of all evil artifacts… He attempted to call for help through [Scarlet Study] and came back with a system screen.
|Usage of Perks impossible while inhabiting improper vessel.|
He would have to solve that design flaw next time. Thankfully, he could still control all the [Arisen] his Black Grail had created, [Enthralling] them to do his bidding. He just needed one to bring him to El Dorado, spray his ashes with black blood, problem solved.
Now that he thought of it though… did [Enthralling] sentient beings count as slavery? Even if they literally owed their unlife to him, and that it was only for one task? Considering Vainqueur’s own stance in the matter, he had to tread carefully with it.
Victor decided he would just send a telepathic SOS message through their bond, and hope his undead creations would feel grateful enough to help.
|Nearest [Arisen]: 15 kilometers.|
Only fifteen kilometers? Had he raised new undead during his drug trip in Kukulcan? Victor hesitated to call that good but thanked his luck all the same as he called out for rescue.
|Your [Arisen] are moving to your position.|
Great, he just had to wait.
How long could it take?
As it turned out, a long, long while. Gratitude was much less persuasive than magical command.
Victor first tried to entertain himself by counting sheep, then asking riddles to the skeletons. After a while, it grew boring, so he considered what new name he should use while in cup form.
Grail-kun it was.
"Hey, I’m Grail-kun! I’m immortal, but don’t tell anyone!" Victor called out to the skeletons, feeling like an idiot afterward. Truly, he was going mad. How long had it been since he sent a SOS?
|You have been a [Black Grail] for two hours.|
Two hours? What were his undead saviors doing?
|Nearest [Arisen]: 5 kilometers.|
Damn, the confinement would drive him mad. He had to do something. Maybe the skeletons would sound the alarm if he moved?
Argh, moving as an inanimate item was hard! No wonder the One Ring became such an asshole, Victor felt like a quadriplegic!
Finally, using all of his willpower, Grail-kun managed to tip himself over, falling from the altar. "Freedom!" Victor screamed in silent satisfaction, as he hit the ground and rolled towards the skeleton. "Suck my cup!"
And it worked! The skeleton glanced down at Victor, seizing him gently… and then put him back on the altar before returning to its post.
This body was a mistake.
What else could he do? His Grail had been linked to both Happyland and his scythe, allowing him to transfer souls to an [Arisen] vessel. While he couldn't send his own soul to his scythe without risking the disruption of his own tenuous anchor to Outremonde, he could always summon a captive. If his scythe remained intact, he could use them as messengers.
"Come to me!" Victor ordered. "Grail-kun commands it!"
A shade appeared right next to the cup, invisible to the skeletons, but not to Victor. The Vizier instantly recognized her as Wotan’s Valkyrie, Sigrun... although, for some reason, she appeared to him naked.
She was a beauty, a Scandinavian, muscled beauty with long, braided blonde hair and ocean-colored eyes. With her feathered wings, she reminded Victor of Miel.
On a closer look though… she looked somewhat wrong. The lines of her face were too symmetrical, her body proportions a bit off. She looked like a statue shaped by someone with only a rough academical understanding of humans. Since Wotan had created her as false princess bait, it didn’t surprise the Vizier much.
Victor should have probably lusted after her, but didn’t. He assumed his new body’s lack of hormones and brain chemistry prevented him from feeling arousal, or even physical pleasures. No more of that sweet dopamine.
Why can’t cups have nice things?
“You…” The woman glared at him. “Was condemning me to silent suffering not enough for you? You have to degrade me with your cold stare?”
He did gain a strange kind of satisfaction from her annoyance though. His evil artifact instincts had already kicked in.
Also, he recognized her voice. "Wait... you’re the one!"
“The one?” At least she could understand him.
"On that island, after our first battle with King Wotan—"
“Your crushing defeat at my master’s hands, you mean,” the Valkyrie replied with pride.
"You asked if my corpse was still warm!" It had bugged Victor for days. "Why?"
“... I have no idea of what you are you talking about.”
Victor glared at her, and then remembered he had no eyebrows. What an underrated body feature. Instead of giving that liar the stare, he gave her the silence.
After a long, awkward moment, the Valkyrie glanced away, embarrassed. “We are not called shieldmaidens for nothing,” she admitted.
"So not only would you have violated my corpse, you would have done a hack job at it? I am deeply offended, on both counts!"
“You were supposed to be dead,” she said as if it was his fault. “Do not remind me of that missed opportunity, dragon slave.”
"I assume you aren’t going to help me call for assistance?"
She answered with a silent glare of her own, except she had the eyebrows to make it work. Victor grumbled to himself as he furiously pondered what to do next.
He could always hope for an [Arisen] or necromancer to make their way into the chamber, true. But the more he waited with that infuriating shade for company, the more he wanted a quick way out.
“Even if your allies survive, you will stay a cup for all eternity,” Sigrun taunted him. “My sisters and my king live. They will come for you, for your dragon master. There is only doom for your damned soul.”
That was it! The [Black Grail] could select damned souls from Happyland to return to the material plane! Since he was the cup itself, Victor could probably project his consciousness into the infernal planes!
"Sigrun, you are a genius!" Victor thanked the surprised Valkyrie, focusing on his link to Happyland and leaving her hanging.
Victor Dalton awoke in a dark room, back in his original body; or rather a ghostly, astral projection of one.
Was it Happyland? He couldn’t see anything, although he heard a few whispers in the background. “Hello?” Victor called out. “Is someone there?”
Someone switched on the light.
Victor backed down, as he found himself surrounded by a massive crowd of thousands of demons, all acclaiming him.
The Vizier noticed Malfy, his lawyers, and his usual summons among them, alongside the host of archfiends and succubi he dealt with at Scholomance. But countless others he didn’t recognize, from many-eyed green slimes to fallen angels in business suits. Imp ninjas acted as security, their tiny eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.
The room they occupied looked like a demonic variant of Wall Street’s famous stock market room, with screens showing the latest ‘soul dividends yields’ and ‘corporations’ credit notes’ embedded in skull pillars. Multiple banners with slogans such as ‘Happy Damnation Victor!’, ‘Our Hero Dalton,’ and ‘Happy Hellday’ had been attached to them.
“W-what the?” Victor blinked, not having expected something like this. "What's happening?"
“Mr. Victor, I am so glad to see you again!” Malfy couldn’t suppress his tears, a demon lawyer wiping them away with a bloody handkerchief. “I threw this party at the last minute after His Majesty defeated Akhenapep, and I was starting to wonder if you would ever fall downstairs! Unfortunately, Mrs. Maure couldn’t make it in time.”
“Gentlefiends!” The biggest demon in the room clamored, silencing everyone. Victor recognized the entity, a massive, crowned black fly-human hybrid, as the dreaded Beelzebub. “Your attention please!”
The fly lord raised a cup of bloody champagne and started an inspiring speech.
“You all know me as Beelzebub, CEO of Infercorp and honorary Chairman of the Corporate Overlords Board. I have been, to some of you, a boss, a father, a competitor, or a cutthroat challenger. In one case, all at the same time. But tonight is not the time for rivalries in Soulwell Street; tonight is a friendly Sabbath for all of demonkind, where we can all celebrate our collective achievements.”
“Thanks to our efforts, we have lowered the average age of work on the material plane to six, six years old! We created millions of jobs for children everywhere!” The demons clapped, while Victor stood there, his mind unable to compute the scene before him.
“Thanks to our progressive policy of constantly lowering mortal salaries, we managed to achieve man-woman equality of wages! I could go on, talk about how our rebranding increased our damnation conversion rate by fifty percent or this year’s historical soul dividends. I will do none of that. For today, we gathered to acclaim one, who is a hero to us all.”
The fly lord raised his glass to the Vizier. “All of us, a round of applause for our shareholder Victor Dalton!”
The crowd acclaimed him instantly, their warm congratulations deafening. “Uh, thanks,” he said, completely lost.
“For your extraordinary act in the service of Happyland, the Board of Corporate Overlords unanimously decided to grant you the Medal of the Order of the Fly; the highest decoration known to demonkind.” The fly archfiend approached Victor and put a winged cross medal on his ghostly chest, while the cheers redoubled in intensity. “You are a hero, Mr. Dalton, and you will always be welcome among us.”
What the Happyland did he do? Definitely something terrible.
Afterward, the demon lord called for an orgy, and trumpets resonated through the market room. Lines of naked succubi and their male counterparts, the incubi, walked into the marble-paved hall, playing instruments or carrying golden plates full of drinks, toasts, and cocaine.
With a completely clueless Victor in the middle of it all.
Demons swarmed to the Vizier like a horde of groupies, so many at once that he could barely make sense of their words. Some congratulated him, one offered him drugs, a few offered alliances, and a fiendish slime even asked to bear his child.
“Get away from me!” the chief of staff shouted, confused and lost. “I only want fresh air!”
Immediately, his summons formed a ring around him and pushed away most of the crowd, allowing him to breathe at last. Only Malfy could get past the safety cord.
“Congratulations, Mr. Victor.” The bug fiend handed the Vizier a glass of bloody champagne. He also noticed a demon lawyer sniffing cocaine off a succubi’s breast in the background. “I had that gut feeling you would become Happyland’s greatest champion, and by Mammon did you shatter all my expectations!”
“What did I do?” Victor asked. “Is it about Heaven? What did I do to Heaven?”
Malfy still threatened to cry in joy but managed to keep his composure this time. “They gave up.”
Victor froze. “They gave up?”
“The angels gave up!” Malfy replied cheerfully, before finally realizing his associate didn’t get it. “The pigeon. She tried to stop you when you undressed in public. Don’t you remember?”
“No.” He didn’t even know Miel had attended the party. It made sense in hindsight since Vainqueur had activated [Golden Road] to bring reinforcements.
“But then you put her right in her place by revealing your insurance fraud to everyone!” Malfy relished in the memory. “She slapped you many times in return, but you seemed to enjoy it very much.”
Oh, gods. The Vizier vowed to apologize to Miel after this mess.
“As usual for fraudsters, the pigeons arrived in mass to ‘smite down the wicked one.’” Many demons chuckled in the background. “And you beat them all!”
“I beat up angels?” If the insurance fraud hadn’t barred him out of Heaven, that part certainly did.
“Yes! And then… and then you revived them with your [Black Grail] to ‘apologize’!” By now Malfy could barely make coherence sentences, laughing in the middle of his sentence.
“So the angels gave up on me.” Victor accepted it as just and fair, having brought it upon himself. “Does it really warrant all this partying?”
“You don’t get it, Mr. Victor,” one of Victor’s marilith bodyguards said, clearly struggling against her mirth. “You raised angels with your [Black Grail].”
“But…” Victor finally got it. “The Black Grail can only raise souls bound to…”
“As it turns out…” The marilith began to tear up.
“Angels go to Hell when they die!”
Every demon within earshot exploded into diabolical laughter afterward, no one even contesting the use of Happyland’s old branding.
“The face they made… I nearly choked,” Malfy caught his breath. “You almost killed me back then, Mr. Victor. You almost did.”
The unresponsive Vizier guessed centuries of exhorting mortals for SP did decrease karma.
“After that humiliation, their whole system crumbled!” An imp ninja provided Malfy with a wine glass of his own. “They reevaluated their old client files and realized that a large chunk of them had committed frauds like you. Twenty-three point five percent, according to my inside sources. I heard Mithras is furious.”
One out of four? That could happen with a lot of angelic corruption. Victor really, really didn’t like where this was going. “They… the angels no longer sell insurance?”
“No!” Malfy gloated. “Oh, certainly, they will keep accepting pure souls on merit, but not only have they completely backed down from the neutral karma market, but they also canceled all their existing subscriptions! You destroyed the pigeons’ credibility all by yourself!”
“Malfy, am I evil?”
“Only ‘accidentally’,” Malfy reassured him, only to ruin the sentiment right afterward. “Which gives you plausible deniability in a court of law. You are a model for all of us, Mr. Victor. Oh, also, do you want wine with your cocaine?”
“No, no drugs!” Not ever! “I need to go back to Outremonde, and get revived, now.”
“You can always become a Fiend, Mr. Victor,” Malfy proposed. “Your soul only needs to absorb Happyland’s energies to trigger a transformation. Usually, you would start at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but as a major shareholder, we can speed up the climbing process.”
“Wait, my soul becomes a demon? What happens if I die again?”
“Maybe you will go to Heaven!” Malfy teared up, throwing his wine everywhere on the marble floor.
Yeah, he would rather go back to a human body instead of becoming a giant fly. If only to properly make up with Miel.
The Vizier heard Camilla’s voice in the back of his mind, sensing the goddess speak to his cup form. And she wasn’t alone.
“Return to your cup,” the goddess Shesha spoke to his mind. “We must talk.”