In the end, Cupling Victor miscarried six times.
With each attempt, the newborn’s quality improved, from half-formed insults to dragons, to a perfect copy of Manling Victor without the skin. The grail kept wailing, surrounded by an enormous pool of blood and corpses, while everyone else watched him in silence. None dared to speak up.
As the grail produced a bubble of blood, Tasty Malfy joined the party, stepping through an infernal portal. “What did I miss?” The fiend noticed the cup and the lake of blood, his mood improving noticeably. “Is that… is that what I think it is?”
“My minion is giving birth.” Vainqueur wondered if he had misunderstood the minion biological cycle. “To himself.”
“A satanic resurrection!” Malfy raised his pincers. “I never saw one before! Mr. Victor, you can do it!”
“Minions, stop saying nonsense,” Vainqueur said, glancing at Indebted Allison. “You, help my chief of staff carry the body to term!”
“How, Your Majesty?” The dryad dared to talk back, Vainqueur blaming her stressful debt rather than lack of minion education. “Putting my hands in the blood?”
“Do not speak, minion! Do!”
“The body…” Victor the cup screamed, as the blood bubble became bigger than a house. “The body is coming!”
“I hope it’s a girl!” Jolie said with giddy joy.
“I hope it’s a princess!” Grandrake added.
“I’m going to vomit,” Knight Kia said, showing a complete lack of support for Cupling Victor’s suffering.
Finally, the bubble exploded, releasing Manling Victor back into the world with a flood of blood.
The body washed up on the pavement, groaning all the way while the cup turned inanimate. Vainqueur glanced at the newborn, and to his pleasure, the seventh time had been the charm. No more mismatched wings, no more mismatched organs, and no more snakes for fingers.
“Oh BLEEP,” Manling Victor said, as Sweet Chocolatine and Untasty Allison helped him get back to his feet. “Oh BLEEP that sucked.”
“But it was cheap,” Vainqueur declared, proud of his Vizier saving him money.
“I think my liver is in the wrong place,” Manling Victor complained, Knight Kia casting healing spells on him. “It felt worse than King Wotan’s lightning.”
“Wotan?” Grandrake scratched the back of his head. “That name sounds familiar.”
“A lightning fairy that would not die,” Vainqueur reminded him, before dismissing him. “I buried him under a volcano.”
“Yes, that petulant fairy child!” Grandrake laughed as if reminiscing a funny joke. “I still remember him trying to get my attention by throwing lightning at me and take back my Fairy Princess. It was amusing for a while, but I had to gently poke him in the eye to make him stop.”
“Well, this was a complete waste of time,” Furibon said, backed up by his expedition’s members. “Now, can we decide what to do with the reward? I will take my leave and forget you all afterward.”
“The reward?” Vainqueur glared at the lich, before glancing at the enormous pile of loot left behind by the mummy and El Dorado’s locals. Everything there impressed him with its shininess, but he would need his chief of staff to identify the exact value with his [Eye for Treasure] Perk.
“Furi, is that the dragon you kept telling us about?” Vainqueur once more paid attention to Furibon, finding him backed up by a group of would-be minions. One elf, one orc, a ratkin, and a birdkin; they carried themselves with the confidence of experienced adventurers. “Vainqueur Knightsbane?”
“No, it is another dimwit dragon,” Furibon replied with heavy sarcasm, before calming himself. “It is him, unfortunately.”
“He’s so huge!” The ratkin looked up at Vainqueur with awe.
“Yes, it is I, Vainqueur Knightsbane, but you will call me Your Majesty,” the dragon declared with pride. “With a capital M. I can tell the difference.”
“How?” The elf frowned, before taking a step back as Vainqueur glared at her.
“What do these paupers say?” Grandrake asked.
“Nonsense I should expect from a lich’s lackeys,” Vainqueur said.
“Ah, a lich, is that what you are?” Grandrake nodded at Furibon, unaware of his depravity. “That reminds of that Lich Princess I caught in Tsaria, after a long chase through a winter storm. A remarkably proud and ancient creature she was, but alas, incapable of socializing. She kept killing my minions for no reason, due to undead rabies; I had to euthanize her.”
“There are dangerous princesses?” Jolie asked, eager to learn from the best.
“Of course, the world of princesses is full of wild predators… none worse than the Manling Princess. Beware Manling Princesses, young Jolie. For out of all animals, they are the only ones who kill for money.”
“Yes, yes, can we split the loot now?” Furibon said hastily, consumed by greed. “We can divide it into three parts, one for each group that contributed to the battle.”
“Excellent idea!” Vainqueur replied, separating the hoard into three shares. The brightest, which included the dragon-sized ring, he took for himself.
“Jolie, here is yours.” To his beautiful niece, he granted a large share, including armor made of shining stones. The pure-hearted dragonling immediately jumped on her loot, as if it was her own hoard.
“And the third part,” Furibon threatened to take it, so Vainqueur immediately grabbed the loot for its own protection. “Is mine too, as the elder dragon’s share.”
“What?” The Goldslayer dared contest this fair sharing of resources. “This is theft!”
“Furi, don’t mouth off at the giant dragon…” his orc friend pleaded, while the lich remained full of hate.
“If you take it, you will turn it to lead!” Vainqueur glared at Furibon. “Never again will you touch a baby coin on my watch!”
“Turn it to lead?” Grandrake frowned.
“He is Furibon the Goldslayer, enemy of all hoards!” Jolie showed her excellent judgment, glaring at the lich. “He turned Uncle’s gold to lead with evil magic to hurt him!”
“Once!” Furibon replied as if it excused his loathsome crime. “Once!”
“Once too many!” Vainqueur replied.
“I do not understand you, young lich,” the elder dragon told Furibon. “With that kind of magical talent, you could have used your powers for the greater greed.”
“I turned a hoard to lead once in my entire existence!” The lich let out a scream of rage. “I have no interest in antagonizing you dragons anymore, and I have helped you loyally against Sablar’s chosen! Am I not entitled to a second chance?”
“It is true that you saved my Jolie from death and a costly resurrection,” Vainqueur granted him that. “But it does not even begin to make up for your crimes against dragonkind.”
“What will it take then?”
Vainqueur frowned at the undead. He had taken his protests as mere deception, but the more he listened, the more he doubted. Could Furibon truly desire to atone for his sins against him?
“You,” Vainqueur turned to the lich’s allies, who hide behind their undead master, “Why do you stand with the wicked one?”
The lich’s minions exchanged glances, until the elf mustered the courage to speak up. “Look, Your Majesty, I know Furibon is hard to live with sometimes. He is an undead abomination against nature, cranky, he has no sense of humor—”
“Your support warms my heart,” Furibon lied, since he had none.
“—but he is a good teammate.”
“He has been with us since the country of Barin put us on an exploration fleet,” the ratling added. “I can’t remember the number of times he saved us from monsters.”
“Yeah, he helped us map out the jungle so people can settle the frontier, and he never asked for anything in return!” the orc said. “I know there’s bad blood between you two, but… maybe you could… consider burying the hatchet?”
Vainqueur was confused. How would burying a weapon settle the matter?
Still, the lich’s minions did not appear mentally controlled, or entranced by Furibon’s vile power. Did they… did they genuinely like him? Had Vainqueur’s nemesis truly turned away from his evil ways?
Jolie seemed confused. “Uncle, what do we do?” she asked. “He is evil, but my [Paladin] class asks that I give a chance at redemption to any villain who asks for it.”
“I have already helped you,” Furibon said. “What more proof do you need?”
“Well then, I have been under a tiresome curse, and I have been looking for a wizard capable of lifting it.” Grandrake cleared his throat, ready to dispense wisdom. “Since I can hear you, that means you are wealthy enough by my minion standards.”
The lich froze. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You can repay your debt to dragonkind by assisting me in my princess hunts,” Grandrake offered, leaving Vainqueur in awe of his boundless dragon generosity. Could the wyrm truly offer a second chance to that puny lich?
Even Furibon was left floored by this magnanimous offer. “Neve—”
“I am a dragon,” Grandrake reminded the undead warlock with a paternal smile. “You are now my minion.”
“Furi, maybe we should listen to that proposal,” the lich’s elf ally said. “It can’t be that bad.”
“Do you want to be a dragon’s slave?” the lich insulted the ancient dragon institution.
“Minion!” Vainqueur defended the rightful dragon way. “Slaves do not have vacations!”
“I mean, we get paid for our work, right?” the lich’s orc friend asked the difficult question.
“One one-tenth,” Grandrake answered with a kind nod.
“From what you told us about Victor Dalton, he ended up gaining sixty levels and untold riches in less than a year,” the orc explained his reasoning, “We get to explore the world with a dragon to protect us—”
“You are seriously doing this to me right now?” Furibon said, astonished.
“Do you refuse to reform the proper dragon way?” Vainqueur asked.
“I will not become a dragon’s servant like Dalton!” Furibon refused the offer for rehabilitation, bound by his evil ways.
“Then,” Vainqueur fearlessly expanded his wings. “There is only one way to settle our differences, lich.”
“Bring it,” Furibon replied, lightning crackling between the two rivals’ eyes.
Ugh, Victor felt terrible.
Your soul has a new vessel. You regained use of your class and personal Perks, and your bond to your [Black Grail] and [Scythe of Charon] has grown stronger! Your type has been changed to [Slime/Dragon].
Permanent +6 VIT, -6 SKI and -6 AGI. You gain immunity to [Unholy] and Critical Hits, but you are now vulnerable to [Holy] and [Blood] effects.
You gained the [Bloodborn] monster Perk.
[Bloodborn]: You gain a +4 bonus for checks against physical stat debuffs, disease, paralysis, poison and hostile polymorph effects. Blood-draining and blood purification attacks inflict super effective damage against you.
… a slime. He counted as a slime. This day just kept getting better and better.
Oh, gods, Victor had become a humanoid mimic. Better not to mention that to anyone. He was clearly slower and had a harder time with limb coordination, probably due to his mind adapting to his new flesh. “That was horrible,” he stated. “I’m not doing it ever again.”
“We women do that for eight months instead of hours,” Allison teased him. “You got off lucky.”
“Stop comparing it to childbirth!” Victor replied angrily. “I’m not a male seahorse!”
“I’m sorry, you’re just too amusing,” the dryad said, her face turning sympathetic as she put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Thanks for carrying on that burden for me, Vic. I will not forget it.”
“It’s fine, just make sure I don’t die a fourth time. I get the feeling it will be the last.”
Victor managed to hang on his feet, regaining enough motor control to stand up without help. Chocolatine gave him a towel to hide his fleshy part, while Kia handed him his scythe back. “Thanks,” he said, using his weapon as a cane. “I, uh, I need a shower.”
“Yes you do,” Kia pinched her nose with two fingers.
“And new armor, Mr. Victor,” Malfy said, patting him on the back, “With Happyland’s logo on your back.”
“About that, Kia, can you help me contact Miel?” Victor asked the [Paladin], “She won’t answer my telepathic calls.”
“Well, it’s weird because I haven’t been able to summon any angel since yesterday, not even during our battle with Akhenapep.” The knight glared at Malfy, as the demon chortled on his own laughter. “What?”
“I need to apologize for something,” Victor said. “Is there a way to enter Heaven? Except dying?”
“You can always walk there,” Kia shrugged. “We found a portal to the elemental planes, so there must be one for Heaven somewhere.”
“Like the one in the castle’s basement?” Chocolatine asked, Felix the cat jumping in her free arms. “How do angels taste?”
“Like fiends!” Malfy said, before rolling on the ground uncontrollably.
“That’s what I wanted to speak about,” Kia said, crossing her arms. “I have discovered that fomors created gates to various planes of existence across the world, which they used to catch slaves and bring them to Outremonde. The hellgate in Murmurin may be one among many more.”
Remembering her previous statements, Victor instantly guessed what weighed on the [Paladin]’s mind. “You think the fomors have access to at least one doorway to Earth, and that they smuggle weapons through it.”
Now that he thought of it, it made a lot of sense. His [Monster Insight] told him that Wotan had inspired the Odin legend, which implied he had visited Earth at least once in the past.
“I have considered the matter, and I now firmly believe the local humans descend from fomor captives, brought from Earth to Outremonde in ancient times,” Kia explained. “As were the elves, the dwarves, and many other species inhabiting this planet.”
“If they had access to Earth for so long, why didn’t they conquer it though?” Allison asked. “It’s not like our ancestors could have been a match for a monster like King Balaur.”
“Perhaps their powers are limited there,” Kia suggested. “Outside of reincarnating Claimed, even the gods have no influence on our world.”
“The fomors are born of raw, wild magic,” Allison considered the matter. “In all likelihood, on a plane devoid of it, they can only maintain their existence for a short while before needing to return home to 'recharge'.”
“Do any of you want to return home?” Chocolatine asked, her ears down. She dreaded the thought of her friends leaving her alone.
“No,” Allison replied with a sour face. “I have nothing to return to.”
Kia shook her head. “There is too much to do here.”
“Same, besides informing my family I am still alive,” Victor replied. “I agree with Kia. If the fomors have a gate to earth, they aren’t only threatening our world, but Earth as well. Now that they can level up, they are even more dangerous.”
“Level up?” Kia asked.
“Fomors can level up now,” Chocolatine said. “I recognized some of Wotan’s Perks as those of the [Stormlord] and [Kaiser] classes.”
“I don’t know how, but they've gained souls of their own,” Victor said, Kia’s fists tightening. “Camilla and Shesha informed me the fomors are running Wild Hunts in Serica, for the purpose of grinding.”
“Since Outremonde is round, if we continue West, we should reach whatever version of Japan or Australia this world has.” Kia hit her left palm with her right fist, clearly ready to take names. “I say we hit them hard while they remain vulnerable.”
“Agreed.” Victor nodded. “If they widen the level gap, they may become… huh?”
For the first time since the beginning of the discussion, he noticed Sigrun’s shade in the background. It had always been there while he remained in Grail-kun form, but… she should have vanished now that he had a body of his own.
“What are you doing here?” Victor asked the naked shade. The Valkyrie just glared at him.
“Vic?” Chocolatine asked. “Vic, who are you talking to?”
“I think I see dead henchmen now…”