Victor Dalton, Grand Vizier of the V&V Empire, thought he had developed tinnitus for a minute. The world had gone completely silent after he heard Vainqueur’s latest words.
“I’m, I’m sorry, what did Your Majesty just say?” the Vizier asked as he regained his hearing, the demolished imperial palace standing to his left as a ruined testament to today’s chaos.
“Manling Victor, meet my new minion.” The dragon patted the Tarasque’s carapace, as the glowing, giant monster feasted on sea serpents. After the battle, Goblina had wisely ordered all the dead [Lesser Leviathans] piled up next to the imperial palace, before the two giant creatures could turn their hunger on the citizens. Even now, goblin and oni guards kept all but throwing food at the reptiles. “It shall breed with my dodos, to father a new generation of emergency rations.”
Yeah, Victor still didn’t understand. Or rather, he didn’t want to understand.
How the Happyland did Vainqueur even manage to tame that thing? “Sir, it’s… it’s a Tarasque.”
“Yes, minion, you have a gift for stating the obvious.”
“Gorynych thinks that it is cute!” Victor’s mount said, having been granted fish of his own. The Tarasque looked at the creature’s three heads, letting out a moan of happiness while the zmey wagged its tail in response. “Gorynych has a friend!”
“Your Majesty, these monsters are said to eat entire countries!” Victor protested. “Where will we find the meat needed to sustain it?”
Also, the Tarasque glowed green now. Nothing suspicious there.
“Minion, you do not see as far as I do,” Vainqueur replied. “This creature can regenerate from anything. Anything. So we will rip out its entrails, feed them to cattle, and then my new servant shall feast on the cows! The perfect solution to dragon world hunger!”
“How are we even going to transport this thing around?! It’s too big to fit in a portal!”
“Minion, simply mark it with your summoning Perk and stop spoiling my good mood with unimportant details,” Vainqueur dismissed his concerns cheerfully. “For today is a great day! That vexing fairy Mag Mell is, at long last, dead!”
True, and Victor had a new scythe to show for it, but the problem of the Tarasque remained. The Vizier thought about it, figuring out that he could mark the beast with [Black Horseman] while summoning Gorynych with [Zmey Rider]. The [Chaos Rider] imagined himself mounting the Tarasque, a creature greater than even Vainqueur, becoming an almighty lord of destruction that would make Sablar blush.
“Oh…” His vision went white for a second. “Oh…”
On second thought, maybe he could get used to this new monster.
Leaving the reptiles to their victory feast, Victor walked towards the palace’s gate, where Goblina had a drink with her generals and Ludvic Van. Meanwhile, Kia was praying to Mithras in a corner alongside the Arisen angels, doing their best to ignore everyone else with one exception.
She always kept a bound and gagged Orknoob within arm’s reach.
“Nice new scythe, Vic!” Goblina raised a goblet of wine in his direction, imitated by her men. “A great weapon, worthy of today's hero!”
“I still haven’t checked what it does,” the Vizier said, examining it more closely.
Quality: S- (Minor Sentient Artifact)
Purpose: Gather as many souls and knowledge as possible.
Material: Fomorian wood.
Weight: 4,5 kgs.
Bonus: +10 SKI damage, +30 critical, bypass non-magical protections. Inflicts a STR/VIT debuff on successful hits. Wielder can cast [Darkest Fear] at will and inflicts [Insta-death] on a critical hit. [Reaper] only.
A scythe created from the remains of Mag Mell, Harvest is still animated by the fomor lord’s lust for knowledge. Instead of existing independently, souls reaped by Harvest become part of a hive-mind devoted to its wielder, sharing their knowledge truthfully. In addition, Harvest’s edge does not cut through flesh, but souls; as such, while it bypasses all physical protections and damage incorporeal targets, it cannot harm a soulless creature.
“Neat!” Goblina said, having looked at the stats with one of her own Perks. “The more people you kill with it, the smarter you will get!”
“Let’s not go down that road,” Victor said, although he vowed to interrogate Mag Mell’s spirit as soon as more urgent matters were dealt with. “You’re surprisingly chill about this disaster.”
“I cannot believe that the resistance sank as low as to ally with the fomors to stage a terrorist attack,” Goblina said while offering him a goblet, which he politely declined. “Fomors! I will have to double the number of guards to better protect our citizens against their treacherous attacks.”
“The resistance… ah, the [Propaganda Machine] course!” Victor remembered that one; it was one of the few courses that he didn’t ace. “And don’t forget that your army managed to fight back the fairy armies, while we cleaned up Mount Yagami on your orders!”
“Exactly! Finally, the citizens of the Teikoku Empire know that their Shogun can protect them from anything. Especially from themselves!”
“I must say this was an interesting turn of events,” Ludvic Van told Victor. “But it distracted us from what truly matters. The sooner we finish your training, the sooner you can live up to your end of our delicious bargain.”
“I spent all the potions I intended to use for the ritual,” Victor admitted sheepishly. “And it will take a few more days to set up a portal and gather the reinforcements needed. Can we put it back to a few days?”
“If we must… then I encourage you to take a few days to indulge yourself, make peace with your family, you know. Even with all the preparations, your chances of survival are slim.”
“Hey, Vic, what did you get into this time?” Goblina asked, confused.
“I’m going to attempt the Kamacybele,” Victor explained, the goblin’s face turning white, “to level up in a prestigious class.”
“Vic, don’t do it!” the conqueror all but begged her former academic rival. “It’s suicide! You know what happens at the end!”
“I have to try,” the Vizier said, having made peace with the risks. “I must.”
“You aren’t going to survive it on your own!” Goblina insisted, but the Vizier remained firm in his decision. “Fine, I’ll help then!”
“No, no,” Victor protested, trying to let her down gently while Ludvic raised an eyebrow. He must have found his student a bit disappointing. “I’m sorry, but you can’t. You just can’t.”
“Nonsense! I have the best spellcasters on hand, I will figure something out. I’m not leaving you to die… not like this. Not like this.”
“It’s fine, Goblina,” Victor hugged her as if they were meeting for the last time. “It’s the thought that counts.”
Kia chose that moment to end her meditation, moving towards the group with a scroll in hand. “Vic,” she said, blatantly ignoring the goblin conqueror. “We need to address a crucial matter.”
“Orknoob,” Victor said, glancing at the captured orc.
“Orknoob,” Kia nodded grimly. “What are we going to do with him?”
“I asked Marbré through [Scarlet Study] to prepare a Moon rocket with his name on it, but Thul-Gathar put his veto on it. He said that criminals and exiles are welcome, but sending that orc will be interpreted as an act of war.”
“How far can your rockets go?”
“In the dwarfs’ words, as far as needed,” Victor replied firmly. “Mars, maybe this dimension’s equivalent of Pluto.”
“Make it Pluto. The farther, the better.”
“I will have the launch ready for Samhain,” Victor decided, while the captive orc silently protested. “May the gods forgive us.”
Now that the fate of the villainous orc was decided, Victor turned to the other problem: the flock of winged insurance salesmen glaring at him. “Fraudster,” one of the angels said, as Kia and the Vizier approached his group.
“Scammer,” Victor replied calmly, the angel immediately reaching for a flaming sword in fury. The securities the Vizier had put in the [Arisen] revival process prevented the bird from striking, much to his frustration. “What do you want from me?”
“Send us back to Heaven, you thief of souls,” another angel all but ordered. “We came to your help in your hour of need. Reward us appropriately.”
“You came to my hour of need fifteen minutes late!” Victor replied, astonished by their entitlement. “I owe you nothing!”
“You cast us down to Hell, heathen!”
“No, I didn’t! I sent you to Happyland, and you earned your stay there!”
“Heaven will not take you back,” Kia said. “I asked my patron, Mithras, and he said that you need to ‘repent for your deceitful ways’ first.”
“Repent?” one of the angels laughed with contempt. “What, like mortals?”
“We are angels, we are good by definition,” another replied.
“And that mindset is the root of your problem,” Kia replied firmly, raising her arms. “Look, neither Vic nor I make the rules. Stick to them or go back downstairs.”
The angels exchanged glances. The Vizier suddenly realized that after living off the souls of mortals for so long, they had lost all understanding of ethics beyond vague concepts.
“Look,” Victor pointed his scythe at the devastated city, “if you want to make up for your afterlife scam, start by helping the living. The capital is in ruins, thousands are homeless, and there’s a plague sweeping the continent outside this island. If you aren’t all talk, then act now.”
The flock grumbled, but saw the wisdom in his words and took flight, to help rebuild. “It’s not going to help,” Kia pointed out once they were out of earshot. “They still haven’t admitted that they did anything wrong.”
“Shouldn’t good actions matter, even if the intent behind is selfish?” Victor asked, more for himself than the angels. The [Paladin] shrugged her shoulders, having no answer to this. “What about your drinking problem? Can you celebrate Mag Mell’s death with us?”
“Mithras told me that he couldn’t lift another deity’s curse, but that he would try to talk to Seng,” Kia said, her neutral face slowly turning into a gloomy expression. “Which means that, when the adrenaline and dopamine from our recent fight leave my body, I will have to face the meaninglessness of existence without booze.”
She looked devastated, and the Vizier hated to see her like this. It reminded him of his early days as Vainqueur’s sidekick. “Maybe you can transfer your alcohol addiction to something healthier?” Victor suggested.
“Like what, cigarettes? I don’t think Outremonde even has tobacco.”
“I was going to suggest sarcasm or sex since they are my own coping mechanisms. I know that your [Full Heal] spell will cure your lungs, but I can’t recommend smoking.”
Kia scowled. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked out loud, sounding well and truly angry. “I saved the world and I feel miserable, while you conquer countries on a whim and get rewarded for it! Major villains run away screaming when they see me, while they keep throwing themselves at you, even if we are evenly matched in levels!”
“Why, yes,” Victor replied, letting her blow off steam. “If you’re the strongest [Paladin] in the world, of course every sane villain will flee. While if you’re painful annoyances like Vainqueur and I, everyone wants you dead, angels, and tyrants alike.”
The [Paladin] looked at him with a strange look.
|Charisma check successful!|
“Mithras warned me that if I keep associating with you, the only direction is down,” Kia said suddenly.
Victor put his scythe on his shoulder. “That’s a bit harsh. I do admit I may have been a bad influence on Miel, but I’ll make up for it.”
“About that…” Kia made a face, before handing him the scroll she carried. “I asked Mithras about your intent to go to Heaven, and he teleported this to my hand. It’s her writing.”
“She’s doing okay?” Victor asked, immediately grabbing the message.
“Apparently, she managed to turn her resignation into some kind of political protest and established her independent afterlife agency. She’s fine.”
Victor understood the message.
Miel could have met him directly, but chose not to.
The Vizier opened the scroll with his free hand and quickly recognized Miel’s writing. The more he read though, the more his mood soured.
“Vic?” The Vizier was thankful the concerned [Paladin] couldn’t see his crushed face beneath his helmet. “Vic, you’re alright?”
“No,” he said, closing the scroll and extending his wings. “I’ll join the feast later.”
“Vic, you let me cry on your shoulder for five hours, you can do the same with mine if you need it.”
“Thank you, but I would rather be alone for a while,” the Vizier replied, flying away much to the [Paladin]’s consternation.
Victor moved above the devastated city, watching angels grudgingly helping the locals clean up debris; he briefly stopped by the carpet-bombed ruins of the Loli House, before wandering off aimlessly. He thought moving and stretching his wings would clear out his mind, and it helped, but only a little.
Eventually, he sat on the city’s outer wall, as far away from people as he could. He removed his helmet, put it next to him alongside his scythe and the scroll, and then watched the sunset in silence.
He had no idea how long he waited there, watching the sun slowly vanish beyond the ocean while Vainqueur and everybody else feasted to their heart's content. But eventually, he sensed a presence manifest next to him, a superb lady manifesting from nothing.
“Greetings Victor.” The goddess Camilla had traded her usual dress for a fancy purple yukata with white flower symbols. Her Claimed smelled a sweet, honeyed perfume coming from her. “I am sorry I could not come to you beforehand; as the goddess of plagues, I have been very busy lately.”
“I wish I had been there when you unlocked the eighth tier of spellcasting; at this point, the balance completely breaks down and the real fun for magicians begins! I have so much to teach you, especially with that new scythe of yours.”
Victor said nothing.
The goddess winced at his depressed mood, before sitting next to him. She quickly noticed the scroll he was carrying. “What is this?”
“A letter of resignation, a restraining order, and the lifelike picture of a ship sinking.”
“From the angel girl?” Camilla shook her head. “It could not end otherwise, Victor, and you knew it.”
“I try to do good deeds, but I don’t find them enjoyable or they backfire; I don’t have the stomach to go full Akhenapep either,” the Vizier complained. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“Of course not, Victor,” she said, her soft hand moving to his armored shoulder. “You are just bi-neutral.”
“You are attracted to both good and evil. You’re young, so you’re still exploring your karmic identity. It’s fine. I had a bi-neutral phase too when I was younger.”
Victor looked at her with an eyebrow raised. “You did?”
“Yes, there was that dashing paladin my adventurer party kept fighting...” Camilla sighed as if reminiscing about shameful days. “Victor, it is time I give you the talk.”
“The talk about what?”
“About where falls and redemption come from. You see, when a [Paladin] and a [Necromancer] get close enough, sometimes, they start having unprotected charisma checks. It’s fun, very fun, but eight months later, it results in a redemption or a fall. It’s a really messy process.”
“Are we talking about sex or [Paladins]?” Victor blurted out.
“About [Paladins],” Camilla clarified her intent. “There was a knight my party had a feud with when we were both mortals. He had a high charisma stat, me too, we kept having close encounters... you can see where it led. We never went beyond kissing and making out, but it was passionate. I even left my party and necromancy behind for a time; Jesty tried everything to make me reconsider, shouting that I was making a mistake. He was right, but I was curious, and smitten.”
It didn’t take a genius for Victor to figure out who was the [Paladin] in question. “The scriptures never mentioned that part.”
“Because it ended poorly, for both of us. I was making efforts to mend our alignment differences, but he wanted more than I was willing to give. He asked me to have a redemption, while I didn’t want that kind of commitment; I was ready to make a compromise, stop necromancy if I could keep a harem on the side, but he wanted it all. So-called good guys think they mean well, but in the end, all they want is to control you. Reshape you in their image, make you conform. Very narcissistic when you think about it.”
He could practically taste the bitterness in her voice. Of course, while the Vizier kept it for himself, he knew that she was probably biased; he only had one side of the story to listen to.
“We had fights, and I returned to my necromancy to blow off steam. Eventually, he tried to lock me up after I woke up an ancient Cyclops [Lich] to get his [Wand of Mass Destruction]; I felt so betrayed, that I invented vampirism to spit on that sun my white knight loved so much. Nasty breakup, I hope that you never experience one like it. But you know who stood by me when the dust settled? My party. They always had my back, even after I blew them off.”
Victor thought about Vainqueur, Jules, and the other people who had stuck with him one disaster after another.
Camilla must have read his mind. “Karma, lovers, and [Paladins] come and go Victor, but friends like your dragon? They remain.”
“Is that the moral of the story?”
“No, the moral is, do not have unprotected charisma checks with Kia Bekele. Use [Protection from Good], maybe [Protection from Order] if you feel paranoid.”
The Vizier felt a strong urge to facepalm. “Okay, but it doesn’t apply to my situation. Miel was a friend that I did manipulate for my personal gain.”
“Which fits my point,” Camilla replied. “Friends are special people that you must always treat with respect, because they will stand by you when you make a mistake. Everyone else is expendable, but you must never take a friendship for granted. Do not abuse their trust or goodwill, lest they run out of it. Now, why did you want to get into that dreary Heaven?”
“Because I liked Miel, that I thought that she was bi-neutral too and that I could get into a good afterlife by paying for it.”
As he spoke, he suddenly understood the hidden question. No, he hadn’t tried to get to Heaven on merit; his own scam proved it. Neither did the good, unforeseen consequences of his own fraud make up for the selfish intent behind it.
While it hurt, Miel was within her right to ghost him. She had genuinely tried to help him, and he repaid her trust with lies because deep down he had been unwilling to fully commit to her program. Camilla was right; if he had respected Miel he should have been honest with her from day one.
Maybe he should start with being honest with himself. Accept that he had made bad choices and live with the consequences.
“I’m fine with a balanced life,” Victor realized. “I'm fine with not living up to Heaven's standards nor going all the way down like Goblina did; I should just do what I feel is right and makes me happy.”
“Exactly, and there is nothing wrong with being neither an angel nor a fiend,” Camilla gave him a supportive nod. “You can be both.”
“I’m bi-neutral and proud of it!” the Vizier declared. “And who cares if I can’t get into Heaven anymore? I’m still going to get that [Fiendish Rake] class!”
“And I would be very glad to help with that,” his patron goddess said. “I did promise you a gift if you managed to revive yourself on your own…”
“About that, I have a friend in trouble with Seng,” Victor said. “Can you help with that instead? As you said, I have to stick to my party.”
Camilla looked extremely disappointed.