Fourth day of the experiment.
Progress had been slow, especially with the final battle against the wicked-yet-forgotten Furibon, but resumed immediately afterward. The Dodo Daycare, or “Dodocare,” was almost entirely operational. [Exp Dodos] could roam the island freely inside vast, demon-guarded pens, interacting with one another and the wildlife the empire would introduce.
With his dwarf lackeys having opened a portal linking the island to Murmurin, Vainqueur had converted the whole island into a minion breeding resort, under Tasty Malfy’s supervision. The fiend intended to build facilities such as hostels, beach services, and cruises. In time, Vainqueur hoped to even open a princess wildlife sanctuary there.
But for now… now it was time for the final stage of the Dodocare experiment.
Vainqueur looked over a group of dodos sleeping beyond a fence, then at his lab assistant. “Minion Victor.”
“I have the slime.” His Vizier raised the chosen creature, a pinkish jelly struggling within his arms. “The [Pink Molester], which can reproduce with anything. This thing is the Mick Jagger of slimes. If it moves and isn’t a minor, it will BLEEP it. Sometimes, it’s not even that discriminate.”
“What about the genes? Does it have perfect genes?”
“It has elite stats in every category. Malfy even told me that some of its offspring… could shine on their own.”
“Like gold?” Vainqueur asked, immensely interested. If true, then his dream of making the ultimate, golden dodo might finally be within his grasp! “Is it willing to breed?”
But clearly not with the bird; the slime simply couldn’t resist Manling Victor’s raw sexual energies, and the Vizier barely kept it from hugging his face. “For… some unexplained reason… it has taken a liking to me.”
“Good. We shall redirect its breeding frustration towards the birds.”
“Are you really sure you want to do it though? Once unleashed, nothing will stop it.”
“Minion, we must save the [Exp Dodos] from extinction, no matter the cost. It is for my own good.” Vainqueur gave the fateful order. “Release the beast.”
And so, Manling Victor painfully threw the lustful slime beyond the fence, introducing the [Pink Molester] to the dodo pen. Sulking angrily at the Vizier’s rejection, it turned towards the birds, ready to breed with every last one of them. It immediately tackled the one nearest to it into a bush.
Manling Victor turned away, too soft-hearted to see what would happen very soon, but Vainqueur could not allow himself to do the same. He had to guarantee the breeding program would stay on track.
So he watched everything.
Congratulations! For creating a wildlife sanctuary for the [Exp Dodos] to save them from extinction (whether they like it or not) and making peace with the lich Furibon, you earned one level in [Witchfinder General] and three levels in [Dungeon Breeder]! You earned the [Improved Hybridization] and [Rabbit Plague] class perks!
+60 HP, +30 SP, +3 STR, +2 VIT, +3 SKI, +3 AGI, +2 INT, +4 CHA, +2 LCK.
[Improved Hybridization]: Your minions can now produce hybrids that should not make anatomical sense... such as the mighty OWLBEAR or the elusive Manbearpig! Monsters that do not share a common [Type] will create a dual-type offspring that possess one type from each parent. This Perk will not affect creatures unable to reproduce at all, such as golems or skeletons.
[Rabbit Plague]: If you or any of your minions use an ability meant to summon another monster, they call an additional creature of the same type. Can you breed the ultimate minion?
Oh yes, he would!
Vainqueur glanced at the evil Furibon and his living followers, who vomited at the sight. As if they had never seen a bird and slime breed before! “You cannot understand free love between species, lich,” the dragon said. “I said I would forget you. Do not remind me for too long.”
“Believe me when I say that I do not intend to meet you ever again after we teleport out.”
“I haven’t thanked you for saving my hide from those adventurers,” Victor told the lich. “I still owe you one.”
“You convinced Knightsbane to stop bothering me,” Furibon replied, Vainqueur doing his best to ignore him. “As far as I am concerned, that makes us even.”
“So, what’s next? We’re going west after this ‘experiment’ is done.”
“There is too much of the New World to explore to cross the sea further,” Furibon replied. “Maybe I will try to find this ‘Holly Wood’ you earthlanders keep babbling about.”
“So this is farewell?” Why did the Vizier seem sad? “It was just a one-time deal?”
“At least until Sablar comes after all of our heads,” the lich replied grimly. "And he will."
“Furibon is just being gloomy,” his elf cohort replied. “I’m sure we’ll meet again soon. I’ve got the feeling things are about to get funnier as time goes on.”
“Now that you are finished with cliche, stupid lines, I will teleport us away before my diabetes worsens,” Furibon declared, before casting his spell, sending a final glance at Manling Victor. “Dalton.”
“Yes, Bone Daddy?” The minion braced himself.
“You are an unbearable manwhore and a complete screw-up,” Furibon insulted his chief of staff back, making the dragon glare at him. “But I had fun.”
And so, with those words, Furibon finally vanished, allowing Vainqueur to forget him. Finally, they could go back to the truly important thing.
“Grab a dodo and help.”
His Vizier made a very strange face, as if he was silently screaming.
“Find them good partners whose loot-worthy Perks can be passed on to the lineage,” Vainqueur clarified his intent, since his chief of staff couldn’t see as far he did.
In three generations, he would have his golden dodo.
Riding on a dodo’s back wasn’t fun for either party.
Victor shifted uncomfortably on the back of his mount, as the bird carried him away from the daycare and towards the beach, where he was to meet with Kia for the purpose of training. While the creature had enough strength to carry his new rider, it clearly had no training with it. It was a constant struggle just to stay on it.
Still, the beast endured with great courage. Victor had decided to name him ‘Dodolion’ to honor his bravery.
As the mighty team strolled through the beach, they caught sight of another unlikely duo training on the sand. Victor couldn’t help but blink at the sight.
“Master!” Gorynych wagged his tail, while Noirceur the horse struggled to sit on his back. “Gorynych gained a level in [Ranger]! Because Gorynych is good with horses!”
Victor and Dodolion looked at the inbred dragon’s rider, who glared back.
“What, you think a horse cannot be a [Chaos Rider]?” the nightmare asked. “You two-legged racist, I will show you.”
Victor and his mighty bird looked at them for a full minute and continued forward without a word.
They found Kia tanning on the sand, wearing only a black swimsuit with her sword and blade within arm’s reach. Hearing them arrive, the Paladin looked at Victor, then at the dodo, and then struggled not to laugh.
“Shut up,” the Vizier said. “I’m doing this for the exp.”
“Is it working?”
Congratulations! For loyally serving as your liege’s hand against Furibon, proving your worth as a true duelist, and fearlessly riding the rarest of all monsters, you earned two levels in [Chaos Rider]! You earned the [White Rider] class Perk!
+60 HP, +2 STR, +1 VIT, +1 SKI, +1 AGI, +2 INT.
[White Rider]: While you fight mounted, when you cast a spell or use a Perk with you as its target (such as a buff), your mount counts as an extension of your own person and will gain the ability's benefits. You can add two more creatures to your marked mount stable.
“Yes.” Incredibly, Dodolion was worth so much exp, that just riding him helped him level up faster. At least now his horse would stop complaining about not being marked. They would stay a few more days to train and then continue the journey west.
Kia glanced at the creature, then decided the humiliation wasn’t worth the extra experience.
Victor couldn’t help but examine her closely, having never seen the [Paladin] without her armor on. As expected, she was the very picture of an amazon, with the body of a professional athlete that would make Chocolatine, Charlene, and probably all the women he knew jealous. He didn’t notice any scar or blemish he would have expected from someone with her lifestyle, which he attributed to her healing spells.
Victor could have sworn she had gained fat and then lost it recently though, a glimpse at a whiskey bottle next to her telling him why.
“You’re making me uncomfortable,” she said, noticing his gaze.
“Sorry,” he said, focusing on her face. “Kia, can I ask you a personal question before we begin? Why do you look so unhappy when you drink?”
She shrugged. “I don’t feel alive unless I’m fighting.”
That wasn’t an answer, but Victor read between the lines. “I don’t understand you,” he said. “How can you be unhappy? You’re a hero, everyone loves or admires you… I get that you feel at your highest in a fight, but you shouldn’t feel down the rest of the time.”
“It’s not... did you ever have a purpose in life? Like Vainqueur watching his hoard grow?”
Victor thought about Vainqueur, Murmurin’s development, the war with the fomor, the gods, and everything that brought him all the way from the Albain Mountains to this island. “Making Vainqueur happy, and creating a place where monsters and civilized species can coexist in peace.”
“I didn’t have a purpose on Earth, and it always gnawed at me,” she replied. “Then Mithras and Leone gave me a literal divine mission to defeat Balaur. For a decade, I had a clear goal. My life had meaning. It was like playing a game where you know you have to keep pushing forward until you reach the ending. Those were the best times of my life.”
“But then you reached the ending, and your life kept playing.”
As Victor had guessed, while she hid it well, Kia struggled with depression.
“And I only recapture that sense of fulfillment when I fight,” she admitted, her hand aiming for the bottle; and not in a funny way.
The sight spurred him to action. “Maybe you can find another,” Victor suggested, trying to keep her attention away from the drink. “Like conquering Valhalla. You’re by far the closest, and it would keep you motivated.”
“I thought about it, but what afterward? I become another ascended [Paladin] like Mithras and Leone?” She shook her head. “They want to expand their chosen countries, improve Outremonde step by step. They have visions. Call me unimaginative, but I always saw myself as a soldier.”
Victor wondered how she would feel if she realized the gods played dice with the universe but kept it for himself. He had the sense to keep it quiet for Camilla, he wouldn’t blurt that out now.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my life, my status, or anything. I just don’t feel happy in general when I have no higher calling to aspire to.”
“What about your teammates?”
“Kevin found his calling in politics. He always liked ‘Kingdom Building’ and translated it into real life. The others… depends. A few hit the road, others looked for a way to return to Earth.”
And none of that interested her. “What about adventuring with Jolie?”
“It’s fun, but without an overarching goal…” She smiled at him. “Look, Vic, you’re very kind, but Kevin spent two years asking almost the same questions and it got us nowhere.”
“I won’t give up on you,” Victor replied. He may not be as close to her than most of his other friends, but she had repeatedly come to his and Vainqueur’s help when they needed it. No way in Happyland would he turn his back on her.
“Maybe we can talk about something a bit less gloomy?” Kia suggested, changing the subject. “Have you managed to learn [Hasten]?”
After he confirmed it, she jumped back on her feet and stretched. “Good. From what I gathered from our battles, you really don’t fare well in a close encounter.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re literally optimized to kill monsters in close combat.”
“Yes and no. I did plan my classes to improve that way, but I mostly figured out how my Perks and spells could synergize best on my own. What I don’t understand is that with your level, equipment, and abilities, you should be a lot harder to kill.”
Victor sighed. “Thing is, I have many powerful Perks with devastating synergies, like [Charon’s Grim Harvest] and [Nightmare Realm], but they do not prevent friendly fire.”
“Ah, I get it. You have a Boss build. You’re not meant to fight with a normal party, except summoned minions.”
“Sort of.” On his own, he could simply summon undead or fiends immune to his most dangerous abilities, then control the battlefield with his other abilities. Pretty much like Akhenapep. “And while I’m good at creating and leading undead, the fight at El Dorado taught me that I’ve very few ways of damaging them. They’re my kryptonite.”
“There are necromancy spells that harm the undead as easily as the living,” the knight pointed out. “That’s not my field of expertise so that I leave you to solve that on your own. Which leads me to what I believe is your Achilles’ heel.”
Victor listened in silence, finding it refreshing to discuss with a professional ahead of him in the [Epic] department.
“I think you have too many Perks and options,” Kia said. “Which is a problem my party faced when we reach a high level. We end up with so many abilities we do not quite figure out which ones have become obsolete, which ones have untapped potential, and so on.”
“I always figured out it was better to have many options.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. A good Perk isn’t one that can solve a single problem, but many problems at once. Like your [Darwinist] saved your hide many times.”
“Except with drugs.”
“Except with—” She marked a short pause, looking at him if he was joking, then straightened up. “If you have too many abilities to draw on, it creates decision paralysis in battle, which can cost you a lot. The most dangerous [Epic] level foes I’ve met are those who mastered a few, but very powerful strategies. Masters of None don’t get anywhere.”
“So you suggest that I cut down my options? Like using [Perk Forge]?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “If you haven’t used a Perk in say, a month, you should consider discarding it, especially if you can make a stronger one. As for the rest, I suggest we develop a few go-to strategies that maximize your effectiveness. Would you mind showing me your stats?”
“No harm in that.”
They spent a good half an hour discussing his Perks and build, identifying the monster Perks he should fuse, which spells he could now ignore—his old [Death Candle] spell would no longer help in dangerous fights—and Victor's key strengths.
But most importantly, after reviewing his stats, Perks, and equipment, the two realized that the Vizier always inflicted critical hits with his scythe. “Wait,” Kia said with a frown. “You have a Perk that allows you to use your [Scythe] as a spellcasting wand?”
“Yeah, it was one of the earliest ones I got from [Reaper].”
“Then your crit chances should transfer to the spells you cast,” Kia realized.
“You can crit with spells?”
“With some offensive ones, yes. You never noticed?”
Victor shook his head. He had almost entirely focused on buffs and summoning spells and rarely used direct damage ones. “Why didn’t Deathjester tell me this?”
Kia made a face at the reminder that opposite deities claimed them, but remained professional. “Deathjester was an assassin. He killed the old fashioned way, using illusions to disorient his foes before he landed a killing blow.”
“And he never considered the feature.”
“Unfortunately, your best Perks combination, [Nightmare Realm] and [Charon’s Grim Harvest], will target anything that isn’t you, an undead, or summons immune to their effects. If you were a ruthless dark lord leading hordes of undead, you would be very tough to fight.”
“So you suggest that I instead focus on offensive spells that can crit when I fight with allies?”
“Yes.” She nodded with a smile. “Alongside buffing yourself up with tricks like [Hasten], especially with your Skill stat. While most of your physical stats are average or mediocre for your level, your Skill is through the roof. If sufficiently enhanced, you should be night impossible to hit.”
“‘Magicrit Dodgetank,’” Victor mused.
“You also need to get new armor,” Kia warned. “You’re hard to hit, but squishy. We will also need to practice your reflexes.”
Why did it sound like she would use him as target practice?
|Skill check successful.|
Victor froze, as he noticed something at the edge of his vision. He turned to face the whiskey sea, noticing a flock of birds flying straight towards them.
Kia’s hand grabbed her sword, while Victor raised his scythe, Dodolion making a shrieking sound.
“Our sister,” one of Wotan’s Valkyries pointed a blade at Victor, as the others formed a flying circle around the group, “give her back.”