“I need a raise,” Victor said while in cup form.
“Me too,” the goddess Shesha replied. The reptilian deity and Camilla had settled in the hidden chamber, the skeleton guards bowing before them. Apparently, the divinities had no problem hearing Victor's thoughts in item form.
“You need a raise?”
“Although I have been commissioned by your dragon friend to revive you and Cybele’s chosen, bringing a mortal back to life is much more expensive without a vessel to work on.”
“We can discuss it a bit later,” Camilla said. “There are a few things we wish to confirm with you first, Victor.”
The cup waited in silence.
“Yesterday night… you achieved a greater understanding of the universe through drugs.” Camilla seemed deeply embarrassed. “Do you remember anything? Like seeing us gods in a compromising position?”
“I don't remember much,” Victor wisely kept the truth to himself. “It was very blurry after the slime totem part.”
“Good,” she said with relief. “Good. Our worshipers are not ready.”
“And now, for my own concern.” Shesha nodded, her gaze turning harsh. “Can fomors level up?”
Victor would have nodded if he had a head. “Yes. Yes, they can.”
Both goddesses listened to him, as he gave them a report of the battle with Wotan, including what he had learned through [Monster Insight]. The more he spoke, the deeper the divinities frowned. “This is very worrying,” Camilla declared. “I will share the information with everyone.”
“There has been an increase of fomor Wild Hunts around the world,” Shesha added. “First in Gardemagne and the Winter Kingdoms, then to Serica, the eastern continent. Now I understand why.”
“They’re grinding,” the Vizier realized, horrified. “Like us. They’re preparing for war.”
“Usually, the locals of Serica would have organized and pushed them back by now, but the magical plague spread by the fomor Mell Lin disrupts everything,” Camilla lamented, herself the goddess of illnesses. “I’ve had my worshipers work on a cure, but progress is slow.”
“Can a fomor become a god?” Shesha asked the scariest question. Both Sablar and Dice had been created by one, so… perhaps a fairy could ascend to Valhalla upon reaching level ninety-nine.
The mere possibility of a fomor deity silenced everyone for a good minute.
“It’s not going to happen,” Victor swore.
“No, it won't,” Camilla replied with firm resolve, “And for that, Vainqueur will need you alive and well.”
“Unfortunately, you do not meet my cost requirements,” Shesha said.
“Surely, we can draw into Murmurin’s gold reserves,” Victor proposed.
“No, you barely have enough funds in your entire empire, to fund both resurrections,” Shesha corrected. “With yours being slightly less expensive, since your soul remains anchored to the material plane.”
“What? That’s bullshit!” Victor protested. “You can alter reality on a whim, but rebuilding a mortal body from scratch cost too much?”
“Do you take death for a revolving door?” Shesha replied. “As strange at it sounds, yes, rebuilding a mortal coil tailored to the original soul is harder than it looks, especially when the target has already been reincarnated already.”
“Even for you?” Victor asked Camilla. “I mean, I don’t want to beg for favors, but you are the goddess of necromancy.”
Camilla shook her head with reluctance. “Victor, what do you know about deities? How do we function?”
“You triumph at Valhalla and gain phenomenal cosmic powers?”
“True, yet far from the whole picture,” Camilla replied. “When we proved ourselves in Valhalla, we won our hundredth level: that of the supreme [Deity] class. Among many, many benefits, it upgrades our mortal classes and perks into divine variants. I, for example, have thirty levels in [Ascended Necromancer], and ten levels in [Ascended Plague Doctor].”
“Ah, and that’s what determines your portfolio as a deity?” Victor guessed. “Shesha must have been a capped [Merchant], and you a [Necromancer].”
“But that also means that our cosmic powers, while vast, are bound by our choice of classes, and we cannot change them after apotheosis. Thanks to a divine Perk, Shesha can buy anything, even a new life, if mortals pay her enough money by the System’s standards.”
“Of course, I take a twenty percent cut,” the goddess of commerce said. “I cannot let a crisis get in the way of my profits.”
“Since I never had levels in classes that could allow true resurrection, I can only revive my followers as undead beings,” Camilla said with sadness. “As far as I know, outside of Shesha, only Sablar and Dice could fully revive you, each through a different method.”
“While you… you can revive me, but only as an undead?”
“As the goddess of death, I can do so indeed,” Camilla said. “But I would prefer you to return to full life.”
Huh? Victor too, since he liked being alive, but why was the goddess of necromancy opposed to him becoming an undead? Because she wanted him to become one on his own?
“If you are destroyed as an undead, you will have no more do-overs,” Camilla explained. “Unless you take levels in the [Lich] or [Dracolich] class, and you do not meet the requirements for either. Considering your propensity for getting yourself killed...”
“It’s just my third time!” Victor complained but realized that she had a point. Becoming a fiend could perhaps help, but he would rather avoid becoming hellbound for the rest of his existence.
“I cannot proceed with the revival without your consent,” Shesha said. “The choice is yours.”
“Doesn’t my Claimed by Shesha Perk grant a discount?”
“Yes, and I already applied it.” Damn. “Out of curiosity, who killed you so thoroughly this time?”
“Akhenapep, Sablar’s prophet.”
“Him again?!” To Victor’s surprise, the greedy goddess’ serene face transformed into pure fury. “He is alive?”
“I wouldn’t say alive, but yes, he still exists. You know him?”
“That wicked bastard ruined my entire resurrection business!” Shesha loudly complained, her divine voice making the walls tremble. “Once, heroes paid me mountains of gold each year to raise their own, until he designed his cursed Vizier Stratagem list and shared it with every would-be overlord in the world! At the apex of its popularity, no villain left a body behind to raise within an adventurer party’s budget!”
Camilla made discreet sign language sentences to Victor while Shesha kept ranting. ‘Don’t tell her we have a course based on his teachings at Scholomance,’ the cup interpreted it.
“In spite of my best efforts to obscure that fact, elite criminals now either destroy the bodies or seal the souls of their victims, to deny me my rightful market share!” Shesha kept going on, completely oblivious to her fellows. The more she spoke, the more she reminded Victor of a demon marketer. “Now villains who simply leave corpses behind like this Mell Odieuse can be counted on one hand! Has Vainqueur destroyed that wicked one for good?”
“I… I dunno, maybe?” Victor replied, disturbed by the fire in the goddess’ eyes.
“If he has, I will make him a [Saint],” Shesha declared. “With a lifetime reduction card.”
Since the goddess had finally calmed down, Victor pondered his own case. While he wanted to return to life, the cost of raising both Allison and himself would economically cripple Murmurin, at a time when it needed every resource available.
“Revive Allison alone,” Victor decided.
“Are you sure?” Camilla asked him. “Do you want me to raise you as an undead? Or return to Happyland?”
“Give me time before either,” Grail-kun replied. “With my soul anchored to that cup and my existing resources, I’m sure I can figure out a way to revive myself. Even if nobody’s found out a way before!”
“That’s the entrepreneurial spirit.” Shesha appreciated his resolve. “When the existing offers aren’t satisfactory, innovate and conquer the market.”
“To motivate you further, if you manage to revive yourself without divine help, I will grant you a present.” Camilla winked at him.
“Oh? What kind of—”
Before Victor knew what hit him, his cup body teleported all the way from Kukulcan to the ruins of El Dorado, right before a furious dragon.
“Minion!” Vainqueur glared at the [Black Grail], “How dare you refuse to work? After I invested so much in you?!”
“Your Majesty, I swear I did it to save you money! I can raise myself at a cheaper cost!”
“You better!” Vainqueur complained, a bit calmer than before. Victor noticed that he had grown much fatter, his belly full; had the dragon feasted on cattle while he partied in Happyland?
Thankfully, as he had expected, the group had managed to defeat Akhenapep, turning El Dorado from a pile of golden rubble, to a pile of stone rubble. Chocolatine and Felix had recovered, alongside Furibon’s explorer buddies. Kia was busy praying next to him, while he noticed Jolie and the Kobold Rangers tending to a giant dinosaur in the background.
The cup almost asked where the locals had gone, before marking a short pause. “Wait, you can understand me?”
“I adapted your soul frequency so it works as telepathy.” Furibon glanced down at Victor, holding his scythe in his hands. “That was how I could communicate with Lady Maure while trapped in your scythe, during your first visit to Happyland.”
“I only did it because the dragon would not stop pestering me, not because I care,” Furibon shrugged with a tsun-tsun skull face.
“Do not believe for a single second that it makes us even, lich.” The two nemeses glared at one another, Victor almost seeing the lightning between their eyes.
“Finally, manling, you have taken a form befitting of your station.” Felix the cat licked his whiskers, while Vainqueur was too busy glaring at his enemy to pay attention. “You have become the perfect litter box.”
“No!” Victor complained, but the cat already started climbing him. “Somebody save me! Help!”
“Felix, bad cat!” Chocolatine quickly grabbed Grail-kun and kept her close to her chest, far away from the feline’s vicious attention. Victor would have found the situation comfortable, could he feel anything.
“So, Vic, I only ask the goddess Shesha to revive Allison?” Kia briefly interrupted her prayers. “I can only cast [Contact Deity] so many times.”
“Yes, I will figure out a cheaper way to revive myself, and as they say, ladies first,” Victor replied.
“You better. I would be loath to adventure with a crippled party.”
Victor paused. “What?”
“No way I’m letting you go anymore, your party always gets the best fights,” Kia declared with an air of finality. “I have also come across highly sensitive information that we need to discuss.”
“Me too. It’s about the fomors, isn’t it?”
The [Paladin] nodded. “You remember the adventurers who ambushed both our teams?”
“Those with the rifles and Earth weapons? A fomor was among those who attacked us in the Winter Kingdoms.”
“I wondered where they got all their advanced weapons, and I believe I do now.”
“Yes, yes, we will deal with the fairies in due time,” Vainqueur interrupted the discussion. “Now get on with the resurrection, minion, and end my wallet’s silent agony.”
“It’s a shame we don’t have remains of your body, Vic,” Kia sighed.
“I kept a strand of your hair,” Chocolatine purred to Victor. “Would that be enough?”
“... why did you keep my hair?” Victor asked.
“To sniff them in your absence, of course!”
He cupwalked right into that one.
“Hair could have served as a [Phylactery] or a [Torc of Soul Vestment], but not a full resurrection,” Furibon replied. “Could you not leave a bone behind for safekeeping?”
How could Victor know Akhenapep would vaporize his body? Even Wotan’s Valkyries had settled on molesting it instead.
Besides his allies, with his Perks negated, he could only call upon the [Black Grail]’s abilities. The Vizier could use the black blood to restore an [Arisen] and perhaps transfer his soul within, but he would only count as an undead.
Victor had designed the [Black Grail] to restore a person’s body, no matter the damage, by spraying it with magically transformed black blood. It could restructure flesh, even only for the purpose of creating undead.
Yet… yet if he used the [Black Grail] to coalesce its prepared blood into the shape of a body, using a DNA strand as a template...
|Intelligence check successful!|
Yes, that was it! “Choc, can you throw my hair inside my cup, and add a lot of fresh blood?”
Millions of gold coins!
Million of gold coins from his castle’s gold reserves, thrown down the drain to revive one minion and not even his best one at that! If Vainqueur hadn’t been generous, fair-minded, and a perfect paragon of wealth, he would have rampaged afterward.
Yet the dragon managed to keep his self-control, as the vile Shesha answered Knight Kia’s silent prayers. Untasty Allison’s body reformed in a flash of green light right in front of the [Paladin], completely restored.
“I am… I am alive again?” she asked, surprised that her minion deathcare covered destruction through disintegration. “I can’t believe it…”
“You better change your tune, because you are indebted to me for the next…” Vainqueur caught his breath. “Four thousand, five hundred, and ten years! Which is the time it will take to reimburse that cursed goddess’ resurrection fee! I expect you to work for free until you fully pay back my due!”
“As usual,” the dryad replied with a strange tone but wisely bowed before her emperor. “I am… I am very thankful for Your Majesty’s decision. I thought you would only ever raise Vic.”
“You may be a lowly minion, but you died in the line of duty, to save the honor of gold itself,” Vainqueur replied. “I would be an inconsiderate master if I did not recognize your extraordinary service.”
Over time, the dragon had come to recognize that minions should not be thrown away casually. They had feelings of their own, and more importantly, they fueled the hoard’s growth more alive than dead. Vainqueur’s fortune had increased exponentially as his minion count did, ergo, both sustained one another.
“Now, go make me some money and help my chief of staff,” the dragon dismissed her. Leaving Cup Victor to his cheaper revival attempt, Vainqueur had asked his minions to gather today’s loot in one place—from the battle and what he recovered from eating all the local inhabitants—so he could personally claim it all for himself.
He refused to give an inch to Furibon, not even after their short-lived alliance. The second his chief of staff would return from the dead, he would send that lich to the crypt from whence it came...
“Uncle, Uncle!” Jolie brought him a shy, intimidated elven maiden. “Look!”
Vainqueur’s [Virgin Princess Radar] bleeped at the sight. “Jolie, is that what I think it is?”
“Yes!” The young dragon boasted proudly. “I caught my first princess, all on my own!”
“Congratulations!” If Vainqueur were a weak, soft-hearted manling, he would have cried of joy. Instead, he nuzzled his niece kindly. “I am so proud of you, to catch a princess at your age! I cannot wait to tell Genialissime!”
“Stop Uncle, you’re embarrassing me,” Jolie weakly protested, as her uncle showered her with affection.
“Did I hear princess?”
Vainqueur and his niece looked, as the shadow of a third dragon circling above the pile of loot, before making a dignified landing right next to it.
The red dragon instantly recognized the gold statue from El Dorado’s main square, brought back to life after the curse ended. The great, famous princessnapper hadn’t much changed since the emperor’s childhood, although he had grown bigger; even more than Vainqueur himself, by a head and a half. The lightning dragon’s blue scales were marred with scars, and a row of metallic horns formed a beard-like decoration around his head. His azure eyes crackled with lightning.
“G-Grandrake?” Jolie’s tail wagged in giddiness, at the sight of the draconic legend.
“Ay ay,” the old dragon said. “It is I, Grandrake. I came to this El Dorado looking for golden princesses, and that is all I remember.”
“A wicked villain put this area under a curse of false gold,” Vainqueur said, still furious over that fiasco. “I had to lift it.”
“That voice… is that you, young Vainqueur?” The older dragon looked at his crimson fellow with impressed eyes. “My, last time I saw you, you were but a wyrmling! How much you have grown, almost as big as me!”
“Indeed, great Grandrake, I am now the strongest and richest dragon in the world,” Vainqueur boasted, while Jolie gazed at the princess hunter with awe. Her uncle nuzzled her to approach the dragon legend. “This is my adorable niece, Jolie, who just captured her first princess!”
“An elf princess?” Grandrake examined the shy elf, who took refuge behind her dragon catcher. “And a pure-blooded one at that! Not one of these human-elf mongrels. I see that you have an eye for quality, even at your young age, young Jolie. Elf princesses are canny, and are rarely found in the wild! She reminds me of that one I caught in the Sablaris Empire...”
“We found that one and your princess hoard, almost all of them rabid from isolation,” Vainqueur pointed out, “I will have our family's veterinarian, Genialissime, domesticate them back into princess society.”
“That one? That was my first hoard… or maybe my second? I keep losing them since that fairy-blooded wizard cast his spell on me.”
“Is this Grandrake? The Princessnapper?” Knight Kia casually approached the dragon group like the uppity minion she was. “I heard they ask princesses to disguise as men in the Winter Kingdoms, to prevent you from claiming them.”
Grandrake frowned. “What did that manling say?”
“He cannot hear Kia?” Jolie asked her uncle.
“Ah, yes, Grandrake has grown deaf in his old age,” Vainqueur told Jolie. “But only to poor people.”
“So wyrmlike,” Jolie said, impressed by Grandrake’s dragonliness.
“That’s degrading!” Knight Kia complained.
“What did the little homeless manling say?” Grandrake asked.
“That you were too wealthy for her,” Vainqueur taunted the [Paladin].
“That is true indeed!” Grandrake said with an utmost expression of dragon snobbery. “I have lost more wealth than you will ever earn!”
“Please, can you tell me about one of your Princess Hunter adventures?” Jolie begged the elder dragon. “My uncle Genialissime always read me one when I was a wyrmling!”
“Ohoh, with pleasure! What about the time I caught a Mermaid Princess?” Jolie listened with rapturous focus, ignoring Kia sulking next to her. “After hunting the Crocodile Princess in the jungle of Scirocco, I looked for a challenge in the eastern sea. I knew she would be a most difficult animal to catch, for the Mermaid Princess is shifty. Do you know that they can stay seven days and nights underwater, without having to breathe at the surface?”
“Seven days?” Both Vainqueur and Jolie repeated at once, amazed.
“Seven days and they only need five minutes of breathing before repeating the cycle! I knew that if I wanted to catch her, I needed to pursue the Mermaid Princess until she had no choice but to return to the surface. For seven days and nights, I chased her across the eastern sea, never sleeping, never giving her a respite. The beast, cunning as she was, led me to the Great Barrier Reef, where her kind created a coral colony; the same place where I felled a leviathan in my youth. I knew the creature could camouflage among coral, and perhaps, she intended to use her own fellow mermaids as a decoy while she slipped away. But a true Princess Hunter always prepares. To catch a princess, you must think like a princess.”
Jolie inhaled. “What did you do? What did you do?”
“I laid a trap,” Grandrake boasted. “I let the animal believe that she had lost me, and then—”
The dragons turned at the source of the scream, facing a most horrible sight.
A stillborn abomination of bones, flesh, and chicken dragon wings laid on the ground, covered in black blood. “Oh gods…” Cup Victor panted, like Jolie’s mother when she laid her eggs. “Oh gods, trying again!”
Every minion onlooker except Chocolatine—who looked at the spectacle with hunger—took a step back in horror, as a half-formed hand rose from the black blood spilling from the cup.
Vainqueur immediately understood the situation.
“My chief of staff is giving birth and just miscarried! Stop shaming him!” The dragon ordered his horrified minions, before looking at the screaming cup with sympathy. “Do the honorable thing, and support him in embarrassing silence!”
So they did, patiently waiting as Cup Victor kept screaming.